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    The Newport Beach Film Festival 2018 - Riki Kuchek

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    Every wonder how the Newport Beach Film Festival is put together?  Writer/producer Joe Becker (joebeckerfilms.com) interviews programming director Riki Kuchek to find out.

    The Newport Beach Film Festival bills itself as the biggest social event in Orange County.  And they might just be right!  Each year over fifty-five thousand people attend a screening or buy a ticket to one of their nightly parties during the eight day event in late April of each year.

    The festival began in 1999, and now, nineteen years later, NBFF is bigger and -- few would deny -- better than ever before.  Over three hundred films are screened in multiple south OC locations, principally the Lido theater and the Triangle Square theater complex on Newport Boulevard.

    I chatted recently with Programming Director Riki Kuchek, and what she had to say is of great interest to screenwriters and filmmakers here in the OC and worldwide:

     WHAT CRITERIA DO YOU USE TO VET FILMS?

    They have to be good.  We’re open to all genres, open to anything.  Our team reviews them, and it’s like anything else.  Things are subjective.  You have five people watch, and they all put their comments in.  They say, “I liked it” or “I didn’t” and why.  Then we go from there.  If all five agree then it’s easy.  If it’s a split decision, then we discuss it, and sometimes we bring in a tie breaking person.

    We’re looking for quality.  What we tell the programmers, we say, “Would you pay ten dollars to see that (film) and walk out thinking that was a good film?

    Shorts are tougher because a lot of the are liked, so then we have to whittle down.  Features are really the same, we have to whittle them down too. So it’s, “Lets see what we end up with and if there’s spots.”

     Sometimes, but not usually, we get too many docs or we’re narrative heavy.  But usually it sort of falls just fine, amazingly.

     But we also have films that we invite in.  A lot of distributors bring in films.  And we have the same criteria for them.

     We want a strong films for the spotlights, but sometimes submitted films are great films and we call and ask if we can move them into a prominent position.

     Riki Kuchek

    I DOUBT ANYONE EVER SAYS NO.

     Rarely.  Sometimes the studio will give us films in a pre-screening situation.  They want smaller screenings.  Usually for promotion, a little buzz in advance.  The film hasn’t opened, and it will open shortly after the festival. 

     

    FROM A WRITER’S PERSPECTIVE, IS THERE A GENRE THAT MAKES GETTING THE FINISHED FILM ACCEPTED INTO THE FESTIVAL MORE LIKELY?

    Horror would be tough.  Look at our list.  We’re across the board.  It’s because we say (to our programmers) look at the film as a film itself and ignore anything else that’s out there.  The films all stand on their own.  Once we’ve selected what we like, then we try to make decisions as a mix.

    So we end up with a huge mix.  And we have a huge mix audience.  We don’t target for a specific audience.  And the programming team is of mixed ages and genders and varying backgrounds.

    Only thing we target specifically is “Action/Sports” because it is big down here, especially surfing.  And this year, food.  Chefs seems to be of interest this year.

    So, short answer, we aren’t a festival that targets genre.

     

    BUT YOU SAID HORROR IS TOUGH.  WHY?  SO MANY YOUNG FILMMAKERS GET THEIR START WITH HORROR, ESPECIALLY LOW BUDGET HORROR.

    We will do horror if it’s strong, and they feel it will play well.  They will schedule it.  But a lot of them (horror films) tend not to be strong films.  I’ve had some.  My experience has been it’s tough to do a quality horror.

    I would caution filmmakers (making horror) to treat it as quality film and not just exploitation.

     

    IF NOT GENRE, DOES BUDGET OR PRODUCTION QUALITY INFLUENCE THE DECISION MAKING?

    I’ve had stuff that’s really low budget.  The acting was great.  And I’ve had big production value and big casts that we pass on.  It’s how the film is put together that counts.

      RikiKucheck

    ANY OTHER CRITERIA?  DIVERSITY OF CAST, FOR EXAMPLE?

    We don’t watch for diversity.  We have a programmer who focuses on women in film, and targets them to bring it in, but it still has to be a good film.  It doesn’t mean you’re going to get in.

    In a particular year you might get a whole bunch of films on a particular topic, like LGBTQ.  But that’s a reflection of what’s going on out there in the world, not what’s gong on in our decisions.

    We want to avoid that.  And that creates diversity in our films, because we’re just looking for quality, what catches your interest, drags you in, a good story line, that’s played well.   That’s the criteria.

     

    IS REVENUE FROM TICKET SALES YOUR BIGGEST SOURCE OF INCOME OR SPONSORSHIP?

    It’s a mix.  We get a huge amount from ticket sales.  Significant funding comes from sponsorship.  And submission fees are a little chunk.

     

    WHAT ARE SUBMISSION FEES?

    It depends on what you submit, and when.  If you submit early, it’s $35 for a short, and $40 for a feature.  If you submit late, it’s $85-$100.

     

    WILL YOU COMPROMISE QUALITY AT ALL TO DISCOVER NEW TALENT?

    No.  Quality is never compromised.  But a lot of our filmmakers are first timers.  They’ve never done anything.  Then we establish relationships with the them, and they want to come back.

     

    YOU HAVE BOTH A YOUTH AND A COLLEGIATE SHOWCASE.  TELL ME ABOUT THOSE.

    For the collegiate, we have various schools that we work with.  And they decide what to send us.  We tell them, pick the best of your program, then they chose their shorts and send them to us.  OCC or Chapman, for example, will select five or six shorts.  We don’t vet them.  We want to give local filmmakers that are starting out in college the opportunity actually get their short on the big screen and have an audience.  It’s no cost to them. 

    The youth program is a little different.  It’s not free, but it’s really cheap.  Sometimes we waive fees.   And we have a lot of local schools.  Any kid that’s eighteen or under can submit to us.  Of course we look at those films differently, but you’d be surprised what some these kids put through.  We’ve actually had one that we moved into the regular shorts program.  (And, if a student wants to enter a short and compete with everyone else, we offer a discount.  It’s twenty dollars.)

    Since youth gets viewed by youth, we have separate viewing for them.  We can only play eight or nine, and we get about 200 submissions.  It’s a way to get kids involved in film making.

     

    AND IT CREATES LOYALTY.  SOMEDAY NBFF WILL SHOW ONE OF THESE KID’S WORLD PREMIER.   SPEAKING OF THAT, WILL THERE BE ANY WORLD PREMIERES THIS YEAR?

    Yes.  Several.  A can tell you a couple:  “Another Time.”  “Cardinals.” “Another Kind of Wedding.” “The Pretend One” (That’s an Australian spotlight)

     

    YOU DO A LOT OF FOREIGN SPOTLIGHTS.  ANY REASON WHY?

    Consulates work with us.  Sometimes they’ll fund the screening fees or underwrite the party or help bring talent out.   Canada is a big underwriter.  So I’m always big on the Canadian.  And France has worked with us.  Korea.  China.  The UK.   We work closely with UK film board and the Irish film board.  And we do events in LONDON prior to BAFTA. AUS films and the Australian consulate has been wonderful.

    The consulates will cover screening fees and help to bring the filmmakers out.  Ireland just offered to help bring the filmmakers out.  We’re really tight on our budget, so for us to fly people from Europe can’t happen.  But they’re willing, and that’s great!  Always nice to have the filmmakers for Q&As.  And it’s more fun for the audience, more rewarding

     

    A LOT OF DISTRIBUTORS ATTEND THE SHOW.  HOW MANY DISTRIBUTION DEALS WERE MADE AT NBFF IN THE PAST FIVE YEARS?

    Quite a few films have been picked up.  I know of one distributor that bought five shorts last year.  We have quite a few buyers on my industry list who come each year.  But I don’t have an exact numbers.  They usually don’t tell me.

     

    WHAT WILL TOMORROW LOOK LIKE AT NBFF?

    Well, we hope there’s a tomorrow.  It’s always tough.  We’re a non-profit.   It’s always year-to-year and paycheck-to-paycheck.  Trying to keep sponsorship going.  What we have, and what we have going, is what will be tomorrow.  And I don’t see our audience changing too much.  We have a good mix of age and ethnicity.  It’s not a niche festival.  We’re always on the look-out for good films.  Which makes our job a little tougher.  What’s hurting us a little bit is all the theaters are converting into smaller venues.  Theaters are going away, and if you don’t have a place to play…

    Right now everything is DCP (digital cinema package) and we play through real projectors.  So far, between Triangle and the LIDO I think we’ll be okay. 

    We’re looking for a big twentieth anniversary year next year.  But we’re a non-profit.  We relay on donations.  We have 250-300 part-time volunteers.  Twenty to thirty interns.  And a lot of Full-time volunteers like me.  So support us.  Here’s a link to send a donation!

    WWW.NEWPORTFEACHFILMFEST.COM

    Joe Becker is a board member of OCScreenwriter’s Association.  Visit him at www.joebeckerfilms.com

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