Karlovy Vary: U.S Indie Producers Give Advice on Breaking Into Hollywood

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Greg Shapiro

Make a hit at home, but always "pitch in person": Those were among the helpful tips presented at a lively "Conversation With Hollywood" held in association with The Hollywood Reporter.

KARLOVY VARY – Oscar-winning U.S indie producer Greg Shapiro had some pithy advice Sunday for European writers and directors dreaming of breaking into Hollywood: make waves at home before casting off for foreign shores.

Shapiro, who won an Oscar in 2008 for Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker and last year shot Moscow-set wartime thriller Child 44 at Prague's Barrandov Studios, said a filmmaker who has not had an impact in his own territory will be unlikely to impress Hollywood producers.

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"You have to make a first film in order to get a point of entry," he told a packed audience in Karlovy Vary for a "Conversation With Hollywood" session held in association with The Hollywood Reporter.

But when it comes to pitching a project, the direct approach is always best, he said.

"The most traditional way is to make a submission. The best way is to come up and introduce yourself; it happens to me all the time," said Shapiro, who quit university to work as an assistant with actor Nick Nolte before beginning his career as a producer.

It's an approach he uses himself, he revealed.

"I just met here [Yann Demange], the director of 71 [British film screening in Karlovy Vary sidebar Horizons]. I was overwhelmed by this film when I saw it and thought that was a filmmaker I need to talk with. Last night, I just went up to him in the bar and introduced myself."

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Milan Popelka, CEO of New York's FilmNation Entertainment, who moved to the U.S from the Czechoslovakia when he was a teenager, echoed that basic advice.

Would-be Hollywood writers, directors or producers from Europe do not have to make a big-budget epic to attract attention, but need to produced quality material that will get the attention of industry gatekeepers.

"Good material finds its way; if you create something great, as long as you get it out there, that is the main thing. We are constantly seeking great filmmakers. You have to get your material into as many hands as possible."

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Learning English was essential to success in Hollywood, said Kevin Iwashina, managing partner at Preferred Content, as it demonstrated a commitment to getting ahead in a foreign country.

That did not necessarily mean that every film proposed to independent producers had to be in English: Iwashina had great success with a Japanese-language documentary about the world's greatest sushi chef, Jiro Dreams of Sushi. The director, David Gelb, is now working on a Hollywood genre feature, Iwashina added.