Television Never Looked So Good: ITVF Under the Fall Leaves in Dover, Vermont, October 5-9, 2016

The ITVF (Independent Television Film Festival) has a unique backdrop for it's awards ceremonies in Dover, Vermont.
The ITVF (Independent Television Film Festival) has a unique backdrop for it’s awards ceremonies in Dover, Vermont.

Where is the Sundance for independent television productions? It is alive and kicking in Dover, Vermont. One week to go and thousands of your favorite producers, network executives, press and party-goers will descend on this small town of 1400+ residents. They’ll network, watch films, solve the problems of the creative world and, mostly have a great time doing it.

Philip Gilpin, Executive Director, Independent Television Film Festival, Dover, Vermont
Philip Gilpin, Executive Director, Independent Television Festival, Dover, Vermont

USTimes Senior Editor, Cirina Catania, caught up with Philip Gilpin, the festival founder and interviewed him about ITVF. It’s an eye-opener. There’s a wealth of great product up for grabs and this is the place to be if you want to see it. Attendees will be treated to pilots for television shows, TV series, short films and documentaries. All under a canopy of brightly colored fall foliage.

The fest, which is sponsored this year by Akyumen TV, HBO and Dover, VT, opens on October 5th with the Vermont Student Short Film Showcase and screenings and the first day of the Jacob Krueger Studio TV Writing Retreat. Day two through five continues with a full schedule of screenings of TV shorts, dramas, comedies and documentaries as well as panels and fireside chats. See the full schedule here. And if it all gets to be too much, there is always Yoga and Coffee (pre-register for that one), a great bonfire at night or laugh-out-loud comedy shows.

For content creators or executives in attendance, Red is conducting a camera workshop featuring their Weapon 6K, Scarlet-w 5K and the Red Raven 4.5K.

Casting directors (open to everyone) will conduct seminars on subjects such as “The Art of Self-Taping,” (with Erica Arvold) or “On-Camera with Anne Mulhall.”

Bonfires burn bright for the crowds at the ITVF.
Bonfires burn bright for the crowds at the ITVF.

There is a wealth of information available, the opportunity to see new programming and, most of all, a way to network with like-minded creatives. For tickets, visit the ITVFest website.

Listen to Philip Gilpin’s interview. Click below:

If last year is any indication, this year will be great. Click Below:


Cirina Catania: Philip Gilpin, tell me, what is the ITV Festival all about?

Philip Gilpin: ITV Fest is the Independent Television Festival. It’s sole purpose is to showcase to the world the best new, independent, episodic productions. What I mean is, in film, everybody knows what the words independent film mean. These are films that are made by independent filmmakers, they’re financed and produced independently, and historically, that’s always been outside of the studio system. Well on the television side, in the last 10 years, with the advent of good, low-priced technology and self-distribution methods like YouTube and Facebook, people are now producing, independently, episodic television shows. There are hundreds and thousands of shows that are being produced that are regular television shows that are not being produced by NBC, ABC, CBS, FOX, HBO, and the rest. Those people need a place to be able to show their show, their level of talent. They need a place where potential buyers and agents, and people might come if they do want to pick it up and put it on a network. We run that parallel purpose as to what Sundance is for film.

Cirina Catania: What an amazing idea. I didn’t even, honestly, until I heard about the festival, I didn’t know there were so many independent television production companies. Do a lot of these projects actually get picked up?

Philip Gilpin: That’s an interesting question. ITV Fest has been around for 11 years, and just as an example, this year we had nearly 500 shows submitted from over 23 countries around the world. The quantity of shows that’s being made is exponentially increasing every year. In terms of have any of them been picked up, 1 or 2. Literally 1 or 2. The television industry, in its current state, doesn’t have a business model to handle an influx of high quality, independently produced content.

The film industry adjusted when Sundance went big back in the 80s and 90s, the film industry adjusted and they figured out a way to take in all of this content that was being produced and embrace it. You had art cinemas that started popping up. You had people that would go to movies just to watch an independent film. The film industry said, “Hey, this is part of our culture. This is a breeding ground for great ideas.”

On the television side, you still have a very tall steel wall with a very narrow door through it and only people who have agents or who know somebody, they’re the only ones who were getting onto network air.

Cirina Catania: Exactly. I mean, if you are not show runner, or you don’t know a show runner, the chances of getting on network television are almost impossible. Now what about things like Netflix and Amazon and Hulu? Are they opening doors?

Philip Gilpin: They are starting to and in fact, another kind of interesting parallel is there are thousands of film festivals in the country and there are thousands more around the world. There are 2 in the United States for television. There are 2 television festivals in the United States. We’re one of them. What’s happening is Hulu and Netflix and Amazon, they’re starting to pay attention to the fact that A, the festival exists and B, there is the world of content they have not figured what to do with it yet.

I’ve had conversations with all of them. They don’t dislike the fact that there are great artists producing great work because they know that they always need to find the next new show, but they don’t have the time, energy, staff, or it’s not part of their business model to pay attention to all of these artists and their content yet. What’s happening is artists are backing up at the gates, if you will, and they’re getting fed up and they’re self-distributing however they can, whether it’s YouTube or Vimeo or Facebook or whatever and they’re garnering big audiences and they’re taking a lot of eyeballs away from current network television because we all only have so many hours in the day and if I’m watching independently produced television show that happens to be airing on YouTube, I’m not watching NBC or ABC or Fox.

They’re starting to catch on that there’s some competition out there in the internet space and it’s not just a bunch of cat videos and people playing pranks on each other. These are legitimate, scripted, half-hour, hour long television shows and they’re starting to pay attention only simply because they have to because the audiences are drifting away from what they’re putting on television.

Cirina Catania: I think this is a great idea because I know that I have a lot of friends, obviously, who work in production here in Hollywood. It’s really hard to even figure out who to pitch. If you have a potential for a great series, who do you pitch at Netflix and Hulu? Especially Netflix, it’s almost impossible unless you have a reputation to even pitch to them, from what I understand. I’m not an expert at it, obviously. It seems to me like the ITV Film Fest is a great opportunity, like you say, to get these things in front of people.

Philip Gilpin: It is and just as a point of, we always laugh about this, it’s seen as a television festival, not an independent film festival.

Cirina Catania: Oh, did I say independent film festival? Sorry. I had Sundance on the brain.

Philip Gilpin: It’s a perfect example of how the lexicon, independent television doesn’t exist in our culture yet. Even people who are in the industry don’t understand. They know what those few words when you say them separately. They do not yet understand what they mean when you put them together and that’s why what happens here every year is so interesting because the people who are in the world know it and they love coming to a place where they’re celebrated and their work is celebrated. We’re not just here just to be a screening venue for shows. We’re here to actually have the dual purpose of educating the public at large that this segment of the entertainment industry even exists.

Cirina Catania: I have to tell you, I went on and I’m looking at your official selections for 2016 and I’m scrolling down and I’m scrolling down, and I’m scrolling down. There are so many projects here. I was shocked. I had no idea. I’m curious about one thing though. First of all, let’s talk a little bit about your background because you have a really interesting background for this. Tell us where you came from and what you did in your past life.

Philip Gilpin: My past life. Well when you live in LA, LA always feels like a past life when you think back on it. I grew up in Boston, I went to Boston College and when I graduated from there I moved to LA. Ironically my degree from college is a physics and math degree and I chose to move to Los Angeles to pursue theater and writing because I guess that’s what you do, I don’t know. When I got out there, I ended up actually getting a job working as a business affairs analyst at HBO so I got to see from the inside how the contracts work for all the big shows.

I was there during the time when Sopranos and Sex in the City and Six Feet Under and Curb Your Enthusiasm were all really big hits. It was interesting because my boss and my boss’ boss, they were the ones that were working on negotiating on a lot of these big deals, so I got a very intimate look at how one of the world’s biggest companies operate and how television deals flow and what the development slate’s like and all of those kinds of inside things. It was a great way to get a sense of how the industry operates.

Then at the time I was there, a couple of friends of mine, Adam and Jenny Tesler, they were television producers and in 2006, they were the ones that actually created and founded ITV Fest because they and a bunch of their friends had a lot of pilots but they didn’t have the connections and they were getting frustrated with being able to produce great things and not having a way to display them. They launched ITV Fest in LA in 2006 and a mutual friend of ours invited me to go because they wanted HBO to be involved and so I went and in 2007 HBO sponsored then.

I ended up leaving the industry entirely and move to Vermont in 2012, I think. Actually 2010. After a couple of years of being out here, the town I’m in, it’s Dover, Vermont. It has 900 full-time residents. It’s very quiet. It’s at the base of the ski mountain so we have the facilities and ability to handle an influx of a lot of people at once if we have to and I just thought to myself, this would be a great place if I could get all my industry friends together for a weekend a year and it would be a great retreat spot.

I called up AJ and we started talking about the festival and I took over the festival and they were busy being parents and we kind of worked together on moving the festival from LA to Vermont and it’s just taken off. The reason it’s taken off here, I’m sorry for the long-winded answer, but this is the really important part.

Cirina Catania: No, this is why I wanted to ask you. I think it’s fascinating.

Philip Gilpin: Well, it is and what’s fascinating to me is what I call the Vermont effect which is people have to make a choice as to whether or not they really want to be here. There’s no easy way to guess to where we are here in Dover, Vermont. You have to, from LA, you’ve got to take a plane and then you’re probably taking a train, and then you’re probably driving in from there. It’s a process just to be here.

What happens is when everybody arrives, we literally double the population of the town for a week and everybody that’s here knows everybody else that’s here to be supportive and to watch their work and to figure out a way to find the next job and, “Hey. Oh, you’re a writer? Oh, I’m a cinematographer. Oh, you got a project. Oh, let’s go and do this. Oh, I know so and so.” Or, “Oh yeah. I just saw your show on screen and I have an agent who needs to talk to you.” There’s the opportunity here in this town that you don’t get in a place like LA or New York or Denver, any of the major cities where-

Cirina Catania: Or Park City now. It sounds like the early days of Sundance. It really, it sounds like in the late 70s, early 80s when Sundance was first starting. That’s the way it was. Now the local residents in Park City call us the people in black. I’m serious. It’s really changed over the years. It’s gotten huge. I love the idea that you’re in Dover, Vermont and also the whole idea of an independent television festival, it’s fascinating. It’s really interesting.

Philip Gilpin: Thanks, yeah. I mean, it’s where the content is. There are a lot of people that are producing episodic shows now and they need an outlet, they need a venue. A lot of them have found outlets online. Just by looking at the numbers. If you don’t include this year and you look at just the previous 3 years, we’ve have 212 shows that have screened at ITV Fest so when you add in the extra 70 or so from this year, let’s call it 300 shows over the last 4 years. About 15 to 20% of those shows decided to go the public distribution route by putting themselves out on YouTube. That small percentage aloe has garnered over 50 million views. In a way, ITV Fest, the universe of ITV Fest, content that’s out there, it’s scattered around the web, but just based on the merit of how good the content is and how good the artists are that are making it, they’re all individually starting to collect their own audience bases. What our goal is is to put them all together.

Cirina Catania: We have to figure out how to monetize it for them. That’s the key.

Philip Gilpin: Well that’s always the big challenge.

Cirina Catania: Yeah, so you do workshops and panels. Can you talk about what’s gonna happen this … Also, tell people when the festival is this year.

Philip Gilpin: Yeah. The festival’s October 5th through the 9th. It starts on Wednesday and it goes through Sunday night when we have our big red carpet event and if everybody’s wondering why we’re holding our big red carpet event on a Sunday night because everybody has to get back to work on Monday, that Monday is Columbus Day so it’s a federal holiday for travel.
Cirina Catania: Perfect.

Philip Gilpin: Yeah, yeah. It also happens to be right in the middle of what is typically peak foliage season here so all the leaves are painted and it’s beautiful. Yeah. The panels and the workshops are really the biggest step up for us this year, just the sheer number of them and the cache and level of people that are coming with from within the industry. I mean there are some very publicly famous names with Bobby Farrelly, Brett Butler’s going to be here talking about her new TV goings on. We’ve got Tamera Tunie who stars in Law & Order. She’s going to be here.

Then behind the scenes, people that are more industry famous, Joel Surnow, the creator of 24, is going to be here. Randy Zisk, the Showrunner on Bones and Monk. Michael Rosenberg who was a Showrunner on Hung and the executive producer of Hell on Wheels. On and on and on down the list and there is literally, I think 50 to 75 of them that are all going to be here. You’ve got Kelly Edwards who’s the vice president of talent development at HBO. I’m missing a bunch but they’re all out of sight.

One of the things that makes ITV Fest so important, and one of the things that makes having it in Vermont so important is we don’t have green rooms. We don’t have VIP rooms. When people are here, they’re here and they’re at the same bars as everybody else and they’re at the same parties as everybody else and there’s no separation of, “Oh, you work at a major television network so here, why don’t you go into this room where there’s 50 other people like you and don’t have to worry about talking to everybody else.” We don’t do that here.

Cirina Catania: I love that.

Philip Gilpin: Yeah, I mean, the perfect way to sell up what ITV Fest is and what it’s all about happened last year. There were a couple guys from Burbank who have a television comedy pilot. They’ve been living out there for years and they live about 4 miles down the street from the Warner Brother lot and they’ve been trying for a long time to get a meeting at Warner Brothers, doing everything they could playing the LA game and meeting people and everything. Couldn’t get it. They come out to ITV Fest, they show their comedy pilot, great audience [inaudible 00:15:20] and as couple hours later they go to the bar next door, they start playing pool. Guy comes up, starts playing pool with them. Turns out he’s a gentleman who’s a head of show development at Warner Brothers.

One day, they’re back in LA in the office making shows. That’s kind of the vibe and energy of how this goes. ITV Fest isn’t a festival. It’s a community event and it happens to be a community of artists and executives that get to know each other because let’s be honest, Hollywood is a relationship-based business, right?

Cirina Catania: Absolutely.

Philip Gilpin: Yeah.

Cirina Catania: Well this is wonderful. I sure wish you the best of luck with it and you are exactly where we were many years ago when Sundance was first getting started. I think it’s wonderful and I think the television business really needs this. Where can people go to learn more about this? Where do they go to buy tickets to all of the events or do you get them when you go there, or how does that all work?

Philip Gilpin: Yeah. Different levels of passes. You’ve got your audience pass if you want to come enjoy all the shows and panels. We had a level of content creator passes which gets you into special content creator events but those have all sold out. If you can show up to the town and buy passes at the box office or they can just pre-order them online and pick them up when they get here. We only sell them by the day because let’s be honest, you’re not coming to Dover, Vermont just for a 90 minute screening. If you’re going to be here, you’re going to be here for at least a day.

Cirina Catania: Right. Of course. Of course. Before we go, I want to also ask you about Creative Network. Can you tell us a little bit about that? That’s an artistic community, right?

Philip Gilpin: Yeah, so what the Creative Network is is every month we hold meet events in New York and LA and next year we’re expanding to Boston and DC and Chicago, and it could be screening of a show that’s been at the festival, it can be a chat with an executive, and what we do is we try to keep the independent television community together and kind of give them an excuse to go out and hang out and see everybody again every month in whatever their whole area is.

There’s some great press out there on it but like last summer, I interviewed the new vice president of programming at HBO and it was just him and me and 50 people in a room in New York and we, for an hour and half, got to ask real honest questions and people get answers and very direct questions. Last month I was in LA and interviewed the new, I’ll mess up the title, but I think it’s vice president of originals over at Television Land, not TV Land, who’s doing a whole bunch of new things. The month before that it was the new director of programming at Hallmark.

We do these mini-events to give people, not just access, but a flavor of what ITV Fest is all about throughout the year and really just an excuse to keep everybody in touch and kind of keep the friend party going on throughout the year.

Cirina Catania: It sounds like a lot of the focus is on sales and distribution and outlets. Do you also work on the production, post-production side at all or are you strictly sticking to sales distribution area? I’m just curious.

Philip Gilpin: Yes. The festival files to the 501(c)(3) non-profit. We don’t sell anything in terms of selling shows.

Cirina Catania: No, I mean you’re teaching people, with what you do, it seems to me, and I may be wrong because I’m new to this. I’m just looking at this for the first time while I’m talking with you. You’re teaching people about the sales and distribution of the product that they produce so you’re working with content creators to help provide them with an outlet for their work. That’s the primary focus of all of this, correct? Am I correct in that?

Philip Gilpin: Yeah. Correct, yeah. We do a lot of … I see what you’re saying, I got it. We do a lot of production-based seminars and things. For example, this year, Sony Red Camera is going to be at the festival and for 4 days they’re going to be holding Sony Camera workshops where you get to and get these intensive small-group workshops that otherwise you pay probably 5 or $600 for. You’re going to get them here for free just for being here.

We hold these production level seminars but most of what we do is focused on, okay, you’ve already made your show, now what?

Cirina Catania: Right.

Philip Gilpin: Yeah.

Cirina Catania: That’s wonderful. I’m so proud of you. This is exciting. That’s very exciting and I’m sorry I hadn’t heard of it until recently. I’m brand new to your Creative Network community, but I’m looking forward to it.

Philip Gilpin: Welcome.

Cirina Catania: Thank you.

Philip Gilpin: I have no doubt there’s probably already dozens of people in it that you already know and it’s really funny every year when everybody gets here and they all look at each other and go, “Flint, I know you from Facebook,” or, “I know you from somewhere,” and, “I’ve seen you at this in LA,” or, “I’ve seen you at this in New York,” and they all get here and go, “Yeah, we all know each other.” Then by the end of the week, everybody just realizes that they already kind of know each other in 1 or 2 degree of separation kind of way. It’s such a, in a way, such a tiny little community of creators at the end of the day.
Cirina Catania: This is great. Tell us again where people can go to find out more about it.

Philip Gilpin: Yeah, so the website is ITV for Independent Television and then Fest for Festival, .com. We have the screening schedule posted. We’ll be posting the panel schedule later today. All the executives and people who are going to be visiting there, head shots and bios are up on the site so people can cruise through those. Most importantly, I would just encourage people to take some time, the next time you’re sitting down in front of your TV or in front of your computer and you find yourself flipping through Netflix again or flipping through the channels and you’re thinking to yourself, “I’ve got nothing new and interesting and good to watch,” go onto the ITV Fest website and take a look at the official selections page and just start watching the trailers and you’ll be amazed at just how many good shows are out there that you don’t have access to yet just because the networks or the existing distribution pipelines have decided to go with other programming. Just because somebody’s program isn’t on a major network doesn’t mean it’s not good and it doesn’t mean it’s not worth your time watching it.

Cirina Catania: Let’s help these people figure out how to monetize all of this. This is wonderful. You are at the forefront of what it’s going to become, a wonderful movement. Philip Gilpin, Executive Director of the 11th Annual Independent Television and Film Festival. Thank you so much.

Philip Gilpin: Thanks for the time.

Cirina Catania: I’m Cirina Catania with US Times. Thanks for listening and we will see you on the Hollywood and non-Hollywood trail very soon.