The Seattle Film Summit Aims to Build Local Filmmaking Community

It was 2013, and actor and producer Ben Andrews distinctly recalls the moment when he realized something needed to change with filmmaking in Seattle.

A transplant to the Northwest, Andrews had spent plenty of time in front of the camera and like many actors, was ready to tell a story behind the camera. So, he donned the hat of producer and director and plotted a course to get it made.

In this new position, Andrews came upon a moment when all the players around him could fuse and create something amazing. Something inspiring.  Instead, a lack of faith in Seattle’s filmmaking infrastructure and what felt like a heavily siloed community would eventually doom the effort.

Andrews has never told his story.

But now, just a few weeks out from the 5th annual Seattle Film Summit (SFS18), Andrews realizes he was trying to tell the wrong story. The Summit, a reality born out of his own experience, is the narrative that needs to be told.

Coming off its most successful year, the film and writing festival is open for registration with more than double its offerings for attendees. It also boasts a new screenwriting competition, the Bigfoot Script Challenge, which is uniquely positioned to showcase Northwest talent to Hollywood insiders.

From education and distributor panels, to casting and screenplay pitch sessions, SFS18 brings together the Northwest’s best creatives and pairs them with some of Hollywood’s decision makers – something that’s been tough to do in the past.

None of this would have happened had Andrews not had that gut-wrenching experience with producing years earlier. There’s now an opportunity for local storytellers to get their foot in the door that once was so elusive for Andrews.

“The local pool of talent is incredible. It’s getting the content created and in front of the right people that becomes tricky,” Andrews said.

Ben noted the region’s businesses, dripping with opportunity to help creatives tell their stories like Amazon, Vulcan, and Microsoft. He wondered what it would take to get them focused on their own back yard. Some of them are now at the table of SFS18.

The first couple of years of the Summit were tough, Andrews admits. But by year three the rag-tag band of volunteers saw attendance top more than 150 and the right people were starting to take notice. Last year’s event drew the largest crowds yet with more than 425 attending over two days with bigger names booked as speakers and panelists.

Last year was a game changer. Andrews, along with perennial partner Lorraine Montez, a local actress and marketing guru, were introduced to Bellevue native and Writer’s Guild of America Screenwriter Jonathan Keasey.

“That was a tipping point for us. He brought legitimacy through his connections and experience, Andrews said of Keasey.

Keasey has been hired to write for virtually every major studio in Hollywood and studios throughout Europe and Asia.  With feature films in development for Will Smith, Justin Lin, and even the legendary Norman Lear, the connections paid off for SFS18.

“I’ve heard over and over again Hollywood is looking for new talent. Why can’t we be the place they find it?” asked Andrews. “And Jonathan was the influencer we needed.”

Keasey has parlayed these connections to bring people to Seattle that are renowned in their respective fields.

Screenwriting legend Norman Steinberg who penned “Blazing Saddles” is coming to talk about his early 70s Mel Brooks-directed movie at a screening. Joining him will be “Blackish” Executive Producer Brian Dobbins. The two men will join a panel discussion on the current state filmmaking and discuss what “Blazing Saddles” would look like if made today.

Keasey and partner Jeremy Dodd of Seattle are also introducing the Bigfoot Northwest Script Challenge where $6,500 and unparalleled Hollywood access will be awarded to the next great voices in screenwriting.

Winners will be announced at the event on November 17-18, 2018, at the Hotel Interurban in Tukwila, Washington.

“We have amazing screenwriters and filmmakers right here in our backyard, “said Keasey. “It’s time the industry took notice and Seattle Film Summit and Bigfoot are the vehicles to make that happen.”The Seattle Film Summit will bring in more Hollywood executives than any other Northwest-based event in recent years.  From pitching your film or screenplay, to hearing studio executives explain how to get your foot in the door, SFS18 is the best springboard for aspiring Northwest filmmakers. This year’s panelists and presenters (SFS 2018 Panelists) include:

Brian Dobbins, Producer – “Blackish”

Chris Lockhart, Senior Story Editor – William Morris Endeavor

Mary Rohlich, Producer – “Horrible Bosses”, “Gleason”

Gary Glushon, Producer – “24 Hours to Live”, “Valerian”, “Straight out of Compton”

Ava Greenfield, Literary Agent – ICM Partners

Norman Steinberg: Iconic screenwriter for “Blazing Saddles.”

John Cheng, Producer – Kevin Hart’s Hartbeat Productions

Sean Robbins, Studio Exec – Paramount Pictures

If that weren’t enough, film industry expert and Stage 32’s founder Richard Botto will bring an entire track of learning sessions to SFS18, adding to an already impressive lineup.

“The amount of talent found in the Pacific Northwest was staggering,” said Botto about SFS 2017. “We’re very excited to bring our team up again for this year’s event.”

The November event will also feature a filmmaker trade show and creators can connect with heavy-hitting decision-makers, content consumers, distributors, and panelists from Hollywood. They’ll also benefit from local panelists associated with notable organizations like the The Film School, Northwest Film Forum, Seattle University and the Northwest Screenwriters Guild .

As for Andrews, he’s long past that feature he wanted to make and just happy that Northwest-based creatives are getting increased opportunities for their content.

“I’ve grown out of the need to tell that story,” Andrews said. “I believe we’re about to bring unparalleled opportunity to digital content creators in the Northwest. That’s that story I’m focused on telling now.”

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