Lights, camera, action in St. Louis MO

Lights, camera, action

In Motion, a Midwest filmmaking conference, is launched in St. Louis and looks to inspire media creatives from all across the region

By Charlotte Beard

Downtown St. Louis has been a host to various conferences over the years but none of those conferences have been for media creatives across the Midwest. 

Nov. 2 marks the first annual Midwest filmmaking conference – In Motion. The conference will take place 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., with a happy hour that follows at Covo (former Mississippi Valley Trust bank building) located at 401 Pine Street. The conference’s emcee will be Pascal, Executive Producer/Host of The Pascal Show and morning show called Pascal in the Morning.

The conference is being hosted by Continuity, a nonprofit whose mission is to expand diversity in media production through skills-based training, mentoring and opportunities (www.continuitystl.com). All proceeds from the conference will support its programs.

 “This year a couple of our funders could not fund us; we had a funding gap,” stated Dan Parris, Continuity Executive Director and Co-Founder. “We were starting to think of creative ways to fund that gap. One idea that came up was (a conference) because it accomplishes our mission. It went from an idea to raise some money to a large event – potentially to be the largest of its kind in the Midwest.”

In addition to the conference’s nine committee members helping to make the premier event possible, the conference is being sponsored by a host of industry partners not limited to: Missouri Film Office, Cinema St. Louis, Explore St. Louis Film, Missouri Motion Media Association (MoMA), Hubbard Radio, Fox 2, KPLR 11, Nine Network, Seed and Spark, Wildlife Command Center (Movie Animals), The Kranzberg Arts Foundation, and Spiced Just Right Catering. Visit https://www.inmotionconference.com/ for a complete list of committee members and sponsors.

Michael D. Francis, Founder of Michael D Francis Presents (MDFP) and In Motion Conference Committee Member stated, “The impact of this conference on the area is really significant because it is bringing in resources, know-how, and the connections for people to really grow in their craft of filmmaking and production in general. It’s not just a St. Louis conference, it’s a Midwest conference. We’re pulling in the same type of people – filmmakers and production people – from the whole Midwest region. St. Louis is a very valuable place to shoot (films); it’s a cheaper place to shoot – it’s more cost-effective for production. (At the conference) we’re highlighting all the benefits to have production, bring production, and do production here in St. Louis but we’re doing it with people from across the Midwest region.”

Parris who is also the In Motion Conference Director shared, “According to MoMA there are 11,000 professionals working in the motion picture and commercial production industry in Missouri and there are 38 different film programs in Missouri at the different colleges and universities. In the city of St. Louis, we did a study on over 20 commercial production companies and about 400 staff; we found that less than two percent were African American. It shows that there is a large diversity gap which is one of the stats we talk about a lot at Continuity. We talk about the importance of expanding diversity – that’s important to our nonprofit but also to this conference. Having diverse speakers is also very important to us.”

The conference which will feature more than 30 speakers and six different breakout session topics will include speakers like Brittney Butler, a St. Louis native who now lives in Los Angeles and has worked with entertainment influencers such as Tiffany Haddish, Eve, Common, Snoop Dogg and others. 

Butler stated, “When I just had the love of taking photos and shooting video, (I didn’t know) it could be an actual career – seeing a lack of people who looked like me on television (as])directors or cinematographers. I went to the University of Missouri for engineering but that’s when I found my love for filmmaking. (At that time) there were no resources, there were no classes for me to take. I think YouTube had just started; (I) learned from there.”

Butler stresses the importance of creators using what they have when they start out and shares that it is what helped her to excel in the industry. She did not allow limitations in tools or other resources to hinder her from creating. The photographer, videographer, and video editor’s work has aired on TV One and other media outlets.

Butler went on to explain that she did feel she was missing a circle of influence from which to learn when she began exploring the industry.

 “Now, being a little further in my career,” stated Butler, “I am wanting to give back to my city (though) I’m in LA now. I still feel like there are a lack of resources, especially for the black community. I am trying to shoot a short film (in St. Louis) and I can’t find locations I need. There are not a lot of places to rent out equipment. Comparing it to LA – we have websites that have full directories. You can find what you need. If you need equipment, there is a website for that. You can rent from peers.”

Bobby Herrera, a Texas native who now lives in St. Louis shared what he hopes to impart to attendees at the conference.

 “I’ve had a pretty wide range of experience in production, producing and directing projects at various levels. I think it’s important for people in production and people with experience to share their experiences in producing at all levels because there really is no ‘one way’ to do any of this. I think it’s (important) for novices to listen, ask questions – (see) how our experiences can help shape what they are trying to do and accomplish, or create.”

Herrera has directed, produced, edited and developed work for Fortune 50 clients as well as brands, agencies, production companies, and networks. Two of his projects – “How’s Your Cart?” and “The Gray Seasons,” can currently be viewed on EPIX and Amazon Prime. Herrera, who like Butler did not attend film school, shares the importance of having resources when starting out in the industry.

“I didn’t know anybody in production, but I was able to pull together some resources and just begin my own project. (However), I really lacked a way to find people in the industry in this region. In terms of the St. Louis region, I didn’t know how to find them or who they were. I didn’t know to what degree other established professionals would be willing to help me or just have a coffee with me. To have a conference like this where you’re putting so many accomplished people under one roof with the goal of talking and networking… (this) is something I would have loved and needed when I was younger.”

Besides the breakout sessions that will cover various areas (next-level filmmaking, documentary and fiction filmmaking, distribution and film festivals, money-making on YouTube, funding, etc.) another important aspect of the conference is the pitch competition. Nine Network will provide onsite office space for one year to the winner of the pitch competition and mentorship from its network filmmakers. The pitch panel; made up of Tim Breitbach (one of the creators of Coolfire’s original entertainment division), Caitlin Mae Burke (Tribeca Film Institute), Markus Burns (co-executive producer for “Real Housewives of Atlanta”), and Ruth Ezell (Senior Producer of Public Media at Nine Network); will judge five pre-selected projects. The deadline to submit for the competition is Oct. 16; all details including other winner perks can be found on the conference website.

“Some of the (speakers) are doing one-on-one/VIP dinners,” shared Francis. “Attendees have the opportunity to spend an hour or so eating dinner and having one-on-one conversations with some of these people that could be beneficial to their careers.”

Butler stated, “Take (from this conference) what you need to continue to create the way that you want to create. You don’t have to box yourself. I remember when I first started (I was told) you (must) pick if you’re going to be a photographer or videographer. You (must) pick what kinds of things you want to shoot. No – never box yourself. Keep creating and keep growing, and you will figure out what you really like to do. Just be open.”

Novice and advanced filmmakers are encouraged to attend the conference, as well as anyone who is interested in connecting with creators who can utilize their interests (makeup artists, writers, clothing designers, etc.). Herrera contributed that he would also encourage high school students to attend.

 “I would encourage anybody (to attend) who has an idea to make something, but they just need a little guidance or a ‘partner in crime,’ so to speak,” stated Herrera. “If you’re just looking for a community to drive your career forward and refine what you want to do and how you want to do it, whether young or older, I think you should take part in this conference. Everybody that is going to be at this conference speaking are there because they want to help, and they want to meet people who have ideas. They want to be a part of the community. People like me and the other speakers there are more than happy to talk with people and answer questions.”

Herrera advises attendees to continue connecting with the influencers and others they meet after the conference is over. In addition, he stresses that attendees be quick to follow-up with those with whom they connect to show their interest.

Breakfast, lunch and parking at the Mansion House Garage (330 N 45th Street) is included in the conference costs. Visit the conference website to purchase tickets and see a complete schedule line-up (https://www.inmotionconference.com).

CUTLINE: Submitted photo The In Motion Conference Committee comes together for a planning meeting in launching this first-of-its-kind conference.