Reel East Texas Film Festival kicks off this week and something new is set to get the program in motion.

The event, set for Wednesday, Nov. 13, will take place the day before the third annual film festival begins and will include a panel of speakers giving valuable advice on how to shoot an independent film while also extolling the benefits of filming in a town like Kilgore.

“We’re calling it ‘Make Your Film in Our Backyard’,” said local filmmaker and RETFF Director Chip Hale.

“Essentially, it’s just a panel of two representatives from the Texas Film Commission, a filmmaker who has made films here in Kilgore specifically, as well as in L.A., and Sonya Waters from the City of Kilgore.”

The filmmaker, Mikaela Supulski, worked as a cinematographer on a 2019 dramatic short film and served as editor on Hale’s 2015 Kilgore College Rangerette documentary “Sweethearts of the Gridiron”, according to Internet Movie Database.

Texas Film Commission, founded in 1971, “supports our state’s global position as a premier production destination across all media industries,” according to its website.

The TFC representatives appearing on the panel are Michelle Habecker, production incentives specialist, and Kim LeBlanc, production and community relations specialist.

The reps will provide tips and advice about filmmaking in Texas, as well as guidance about how TFC can assist filmmakers on their projects.

“It’s also just a continuation of what footprint the film festival wanted to make in our community,” Hale said.

“This is one of the things we talked about when we first started, was how to get a film industry in Kilgore. There’s already a lot of films made in East Texas. We want something to entice filmmakers from around the region, from something more than 30 minutes away.”

This could involve spreading the word to local filmmakers about the benefits of filming in Kilgore, potentially drawing in artists and crews from beyond Tyler to the west and Marshall to the east.

One of the things the TFC reps will discuss is what makes Kilgore a “film-friendly city”, Hale said.

According to the director, many things make Kilgore a destination well-suited for independent filmmakers, but one of the most significant of those features is cost.

“Cost is always the first and foremost. When making a film, you always have to think of budget. You can have greatest film and actors but without the budget, it doesn’t matter.”

Hale commented on the recent trend of films, both big-budget and indie films, being shot in places other than the filmmaking hometowns of Hollywood and New York.

Indie film scenes have grown rapidly in recent years in “flyover states”, including Georgia and Texas.

One of the big reasons for this change? It simply costs less to film in those places and, for indie filmmakers, every dollar counts.

Another reason these places have become more popular is that the accessibility and affordability of digital filmmaking equipment has allowed more aspiring artists to take up the profession.

“What has changed the game is everything is digital now,” Hale said.

Gone are the days when filmmakers needed to rent or purchase expensive cameras, film stock and bulky editing equipment. Also, indie filmmakers can now distribute their completed projects to the masses without the use of a major film distribution studio.

“Everything being digital has made it much easier but there are also now places for your content. If you have a Netflix subscription, you know what I’m talking about. The game has changed.”

Hale said a primary goal of the panel is to let local filmmakers know they can announce their projects to TFC and secure assistance, such as official promotions.

For example, he referenced the 2010 independent drama “Winter’s Bone”, which launched the career of Oscar-winning actress Jennifer Lawrence while being produced with a low budget and filmed on location in Missouri.

“Who’s to say there’s not a filmmaker right now in Gladwater, Marshall, or Canton making something with the next Jennifer Lawrence?” Hale said.

Overall, the panel is intended to draw filmmakers to Kilgore, encourage them to take advantage of all available resources and to be one more baby step in the direction of creating a film industry in the City of Stars.

“This is us getting that ball rolling. This is us letting filmmakers around here know Kilgore is s a film-friendly city and kicking off the film festival in a tangible way. That is something we’ve wanted to do, it’s just taken us a minute to get our feet wet. This is now something that we want to be an event that we have annually, and that we add to it, so that next year we’re not talking about the same thing we did this year.”

Hopefully, Hale said, in future years, the panel will be discussing the films made locally in Kilgore over the previous year.

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