Helmers panel reaches out to East Coast filmmakers

New York may never supplant Hollywood as the center of the film world, but that doesn’t mean it has to be the red-headed stepchild of the biz, either.

In one step toward bolstering its Gotham presence, the org recently refurbished the New York/Eastern Region headquarters building and theater facilities so it will no longer be confused with, say, the Port Authority. The fourth annual DGA Honors, which will be held Sunday at the Waldorf-Astoria, also will shine the spotlight on the Big Apple as a center of filmmaking.

Last year, determined to make a bigger mark in the org, a group of prominent New York indie filmmakers followed in the footsteps of their West Coast counterparts by establishing the DGA’s Independent Directors Committee East. Since it was founded in 1998, the IDC West has created several programs designed to reach out to independent helmers who are not yet members of the guild.

In addition to trying to replicate the L.A. office’s successful programs, the IDC East is working to boost film production in New York. “There’s a problem of runaway production to Canada, so we’re trying to meet with other unions to try to make it possible to film in New York,” says director Mary Harron, a member of IDC East.

Led by chairman Steven Soderbergh and Raymond De Felitta, the IDC East is made up of directors Dan Algrant, Brad Anderson, Darren Aronofsky, Michael Caton-Jones, Tom DiCillo, Griffin Dunne, Harron, Marc Levin, Alison Maclean, Mira Nair, Nancy Savoca, Rose Troche and Gary Winick.

“We’re trying to establish the IDC East as a real community,” says DiCillo. “It’s sort of a support group for indie filmmakers.”

“The idea is to have a forum to talk about all of the creative and practical struggles that we all go through as filmmakers,” says Winick, who directed 2002′s “Tadpole.” “Because we do it under the auspices of the DGA, we feel that maybe they’ll get solved or get heard.”

Most indie directors shooting low-budget digital pics on the streets of New York view the DGA as an ivory tower that has no interest in allowing them entrance or that will be too expensive to join. But that’s a misconception, says Winick, a partner in Gotham-based digital production company InDiGent.

“The big thing for indie filmmakers in New York is that they think they can do it differently and be outside the system to make films the way they want without people interfering,” he says. “But what they don’t realize is that joining the DGA is helpful for a lot of reasons. Even though I’m making films in a very indie way, the DGA is looking out for me.”

Since the guild’s low-budget agreements cover projects made for $500,000 or less, many indie directors are unaward they are eligible to join the org.

Educating helmers about how the DGA can help them is one of the IDC East’s primary objectives, says Russ Hollander, eastern executive director.

In order to attract indie filmmakers to the DGA, the IDC East sponsors a number of outreach events, including mixers. Through its Directors Finder Screening Series — a program imported from the IDC West — the committee makes the DGA Theater available to indie directors without distrib deals.

The IDC East also has transplanted L.A.’s successful Under the Influence program. Most recently, it sponsored a screening of “The Graduate” followed by a Q&A with director Mike Nichols and Steven Soderbergh.

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