Two TV fests, one main goal

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It's a perfect storm for aspiring TV writers, producers and performers. Los Angeles is hosting back-to-back television festivals this week that will feature some of the top names in the business sharing insights about their craft, showcase new talent and give attendees the chance to pitch ideas to TV networks, production companies and agencies.

NATPE's inaugural LATV Festival, coinciding with its fifth annual TV Producers' Boot Camp, runs today through Friday at numerous locations, while the Independent Television Festival kicks off its second year Friday and runs through Sunday at Raleigh Studios. (The fests joined Tuesday night to co-host a gala opening-night celebration at Raleigh Studios.)

For their part, NATPE executives decided to launch the LATV Fest to spotlight the work of producers here in Los Angeles. NATPE senior vp marketing Beth Braen says that the decision to schedule both fests in the same week was made to create a "nice week of video content celebration" in Los Angeles.

The LATV Fest will feature top executives from such networks as Showtime, Sci Fi Channel, Fox Reality Channel and TV Guide Network and from production companies including Lionsgate and FremantleMedia North America. Also on hand will be writers and producers from such shows as "Weeds," "Friends," "Sex and the City," "Entourage" and "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and a number of agency representatives.

The festival officially kicks off this morning with the first of three "Deconstructing a Hit" breakfast panels -- spotlighting NBC's "The Office" and ABC's "Supernanny" and "Lost" -- that are being produced by the Producers Guild of America and sponsored by The Hollywood Reporter.

ITVF founder and director AJ Tesler says there is a need for TV festivals -- even two that are running almost concurrently in the same city.

"I had a lot of friends who were writers and a lot of really talented people who weren't finding the opportunities I thought they deserved," he said. "There are a million film festivals; why aren't there television festivals?"

Perhaps demonstrating that need, the ITVF had 4,000 attendees last year, and Tesler is expecting to double that this year. The event, in which The Hollywood Reporter is a media partner, also is drawing A-list talent: Nicolas Cage will be at a Friday night screening for his ex-wife Christina Fulton's documentary "When Giants Collide," which stars their son Weston Coppola-Cage as well as fellow members of his high school wrestling team. Andy Richter is part of a panel on development Saturday, and Tom Hanks is featured in a docu that is screening this year. (ITVF organizers screen pilots submitted by entrants from around the world, including as far away as South Africa and Australia, in front of board members who determine the winners.)

"It was so well received by the networks and content makers and the attendees," Tesler says. "Anyone in the world who wants to come and is interested in television -- that's who we want at the festival."

For its part, NATPE sees it as its duty to help find new talent.

"As a nonprofit organization, we have a responsibility to support the continued success of our industry, and part of that is giving young, emerging content creators access to information and networking opportunities that will help their career," Braen says. "And we hope that by allowing them to put their best foot forward, our colleagues who are already working in different parts of the business will benefit because of these folks."

Both events already can boast of success stories. For example, NATPE's Boot Camp gave a big break to producer Amber J. Lawson and her partner Jay Leggett, who run the Los Angeles-based live sketch comedy/multimedia show "Comedy Cocktail." After pitching at last year's Boot Camp, the duo came on board at National Lampoon to produce its live events, starting with the "reimagining" of the classic music/comedy parody "Lemmings," which originally starred John Belushi, Chevy Chase and Christopher Guest.

"There are very few places where you can go and rub elbows with A-list executives and actually create opportunities that could change your life," Lawson says of the Boot Camp. "This is a dream come true."

Lawson and Leggett are now creating the all-new "Lemmings" show -- which she calls a "rock and roll, fast-paced, multimedia extravaganza" -- with plans to roll out the live show in the fall. They also hope to develop and pitch a "Lemmings" television show to networks down the road and are now developing other film and TV projects for National Lampoon as well.

Having worked in the industry for 10 years before their Boot Camp appearance last year, Lawson still can't believe how her life changed overnight.

"I have an office on Sunset Boulevard that I go to every day, and we create brand-new, funny stuff that will be part of people's lives for generations to come," she says. "It blows my mind how exciting that is."

"American Idol" producer FMNA, MSN and Talpa Content USA, which are sponsoring the NextGen Competition during the LATV Fest, are among the companies coming to the festivals in search of new creative talent and ideas. FMNA is offering six-month producer fellowships -- valued at more than $26,000 -- for two finalists, who will get exposure to everything from conceiving an idea to developing, pitching and marketing a project for TV as well as digital media.

"We're a global content company, and we always have to be on the lookout for new ideas and new, great talent," FMNA chief creative officer Eugene Young says. "This is a great way to incubate some of that talent by investing in young people who are creative, talented, hardworking and passionate and can develop the next great TV show."

Other companies sponsoring talent include Comcast, which is presenting $10,000 to each winner in ITVF's four categories -- drama, comedy, alternative and documentary -- to help them get their productions off the ground.

Meanwhile, several companies have joined to sponsor a total of 20 NATPE Diversity Fellows -- up from six last year.

Tesler notes the importance of the undiscovered indie producers in today's environment, where such emerging platforms as YouTube and Ziddio.com allow them to circumvent the traditional networks and get their projects seen.

"Television is a wheel -- you're seeing some renaissance in drama, but they're still trying to find what works in comedy, and I think the independent producer and audiences themselves have a better idea," he says. "We're excited about where independent television is going, and we're glad to be leading that charge."

For more details on either fest, visit www.latvfest.net or www.itvfest.org.
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