If you’re a Penn student (or Philly resident) who harbors dreams of making your own movie masterpiece, what you might not realize is that you’re living in one of the best cities in the country to make it happen. Time and time again, that was the theme of “Film in Philly 101,” an event put on by the Philadelphia Film Society on September 5 that brought together a diverse group of Philly film creatives to discuss how to get started with film in the City of Brotherly Love. While we might not be known for being a film capital of the world, you don’t have to despair because you’re not in Hollywood—there are a multitude of resources for aspiring filmmakers in and around Philly. Whether you’ve been creating for years, or you’ve just decided you want to get started with pursuing a project, here are the best places to look for advice, inspiration, feedback, and mentorship—straight from the people who know the Philly film scene best.
“Philly is always on the list of movie makers’ 'best cities to make films in',” said Temple professor and documentary filmmaker LeAnn Erickson, and what she told the audience (and other panelists nodded and echoed) was that a huge part of the reason why is the Greater Philadelphia Film Office. On their website (located at , which they snagged early on in Internet history and have nobly refused to sell since) you can find just about everything that you need to know about filming in Philadelphia: locations, permit information, funding sources, job and contest opportunities. However the most valuable aspect of the GPHI might be the people who work there. “They pay as much attention to M. Night [Shyamalan] as they do to one of my students,” Erickson said, so if you’re looking for guidance, don’t be afraid to
A big part of the reason that the Philly film scene works is the support of the Philly community—not only among filmmakers, but among residents and local businesses. Aleksandra Svetlichnaya (director of the DINNER short film series) told the audience that her filmmaking friends in cities like New York, where shooting a bar scene in a real, privately owned bar could cost hundreds of dollars, were shocked by the fact that places like bar–and–cultural–hub Tattooed Mom on South Street let filmmakers shoot scenes in their space for free. The panel advised listeners to “always appreciate small businesses when you can—half of the time, some of your budget can be waived by just being honest, by just saying ‘We’re making a film... if you could help us out that would be great',” writer Jes Vasquez said.
As hard as it might be to get started with filming, it can be even harder to begin a project and find yourself stuck, or to end up with a rough cut that you don’t know what to do with. If you’re looking for feedback and a supportive group of fellow creatives to give it, Rough Cuts might be your saving grace. Founding member Nic Justice spoke about the group, which meets every month “usually on the first Wednesday”, and why he started it. “You don’t have to make films by yourself,” he explained. “It’s actually near impossible to do so.” If you prefer to go at it on your own and want a venue where you can be broadcasted on the big screen, the Bryn Mawr Film Institute offers Open Screen Monday. Bring your short film and not only will they run it up on the big screen at their historic venue, but you can also hear what the audience has to say after.
While the Philly film community can be wonderful, it can also feel fragmented and hard to break into. A key refrain of the night was that one of the most important things you can do as a filmmaker is to find collaborators; for a lot of people, these are friends and acquaintances. But if you don’t know anyone who would work with you, the Philadelphia Film Society (which sponsored Film in Philly 101) might be the perfect way to meet your future partners. PFS puts on a number of events; from panels, to the monthly Philly Film Showcase, to the Philadelphia Film Festival, to low–key screenings you can catch at the Prince Theater. Their events could be your ticket to getting acquainted with talent—in Philly, in the U.S., and around the world—and catching some great films in the process.