Friday, April 13, 2012

PlayGround Film Festival Blog, Episode I

I first went to PlayGround at Berkeley Rep four years ago and my partner Kim and I enjoyed it and the whole concept so much we decided to subscribe. It was the first time in my life I’ve subscribed to any theater company. That’s how much we liked it.

So a couple of happy years of Monday evenings rolled by and I kept thinking that there was so much potential here to make films with all this material. About a year ago, I mustered up my courage and gave Jim Kleinmann a call and he courteously agreed to meet me for breakfast at Au Coquelet in Berkeley. We chatted away about film and theater and who we knew and what we could do and it was all very nice but it looked like nothing much was going to come of it … probably like all the other meetings Jim has had with similar kinds of dreamers.

But I thought on the idea for several months and by then I had gained some experience and knowledge about the difficulty of selling “one-off” projects (notably my own feature film SNIFF which is now finally getting distribution). I called up Jim again and he agreed to a second meeting where I suggested the idea that cable companies are interested in series because they can “build an audience”, and that the vast library of tried and tested PlayGround material would lend itself to such a project.

This seemed to light a fire for Jim who started to see possibilities, so we started meeting more regularly and eventually we came up with the idea of a Film Festival competition, not only as a means to an end, but as a renewable entity in and of itself. 

We had many meetings. I drafted up several versions of competition rules and we argued and agreed about how much and how many and why and why not … but it really was all just a possibility until at the end of one of the meetings Jim said “You know, Barry, I love what we have created, but I can’t just go and ask PlayGround to shell out a whole bunch of money from our regular budget that I still haven’t finished raising. What are you going to contribute to all of this? At least if you came in with a thousand dollars I’d have something to go to the Board with.” 

So that for me was when the rubber met the road. I realized I would have to go out and raise some cash or this scheme just wasn’t going to happen. I had raised significant chunks of money for my own film, so I couldn’t go back to any of my heavy hitters. I needed a new method. Without much forethought I just started telling people about the project and asking them for a hundred dollars! It didn’t take me long to realize that our plan was a pretty good one because people just kept saying yes. That and the magic of the number 100. It’s a significant amount of cash for most people but just manageable. People loved the idea of bringing more work to the Bay Area and supporting Bay Area writers and the idea of enjoining the theater and film community. So they kept saying yes. Even my friends in Canada who have no connection to PlayGround other than me. “Sure I can throw in a hundred" or "well, I can’t do a hundred but I can do fifty or forty.” 

I got a huge amount of pleasure calling up Jim every time I reached the next 500 mark. He played it pretty cool to start with but I knew he was excited. The next phase was a gradual introduction of the idea to the board and I’m glad to say they were all excited by the potential and agreed to get fully behind it.  So all we had to do (!) was fine-tune the rules, get the plays in a readable form online, work out a much-too-hasty timeline, get the word out to the potential filmmakers and hope that we had left them enough time to pick a play and apply.

Stay tuned for PlayGround Film Festival Blog, Episode II: The Competition!

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