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North Fork TV Festival celebrates the independents

The three-day Greenport event will feature panels and screenings.

Screenwriter and playwright Theresa Rebeck's indie TV pilot,

Screenwriter and playwright Theresa Rebeck's indie TV pilot, "The Russian Cousin," will be screened Friday at 7 a.m. during the North Fork TV Festival. Photo Credit: Bill O'Leary

The third annual North Fork TV Festival begins Thursday. Founded by Commack native Noah Doyle and his wife, Lauren, the festival celebrates independent television — a relatively new art form in this age of peak TV that, like its big-screen counterpart, tends to be low-budget and creatively off the beaten track. There were 52 submissions to this year’s festival while a jury of industry producers and executives selected four for special screenings.

The festival begins at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at the Gallery Hotel on Main Street in Greenport, when the Village Mayor George Hubbard will give “Blue Bloods” star Bridget Moynahan a certificate of commendation to honor her role as village Ambassador for the Arts. And like all indie festivals, there will be industry panels, including one with TV showrunners (Friday at 11 a.m.), and indie TV stars (Saturday, 1:30 p.m.). The screenings at the Greenport Theatre will be at 3 and 7 p.m. on Friday, and 4 and 7 p.m. on Saturday. Screenings are $15, while $125 gets you an all-day pass on either Friday or Saturday.

One of the participants on the showrunner roundtable (Friday at 11 a.m. at The Halyard restaurant is Theresa Rebeck. A successful playwright, she’s written 30 plays — four have landed on Broadway. She’s also a prolific TV writer. She launched her career at “NYPD Blue,” where she wrote 10 episodes and more recently created “Smash” for NBC.

I recently spoke with Rebeck, whose indie TV pilot, “The Russian Cousin,” will be screened Friday at 7 p.m. An edited version of our chat:

What brought you to the North Fork Festival?

I knew Noah and Jonathan [Shafter, one of the festival’s directors] from a project we’d been working on while Andrew Carlsberg [the producer of "The Russian Cousin"] and I had made this independent TV pilot and were looking for people to look at it, and then get it to the next step. [Christina Wayne, the festival director] said talk to these guys. I’m new to this piece [of the business] and people are still trying to figure out how to do independent TV. These festivals are an amazing first step, but we do have to figure it out.

Begs the question, what exactly is independent TV?

It’s a very fresh approach to television — the way independent features have a completely different feel, that’s what independent TV has. It’s so much more financially viable to do a much scrappier version of TV that’s not laden with a lot of executives and corporate and studio politics and power issues.

What’s special about the North Fork Festival?

It’s new and smaller and it’s got kind of a fresh — you know — kind of a down and dirty spirit, which is ultimately what independent TV and film should have. It’s scrappier and there’s a fun kind of energy. Some of the bigger film festivals have been corporatized now. This is the opposite of that.

What’s your pilot about?

It’s a very simple setup. The lead is Jessica, in her late 20s, lives in a sublet and her aunt calls up and says, I’ve been to Russia and you have a Russian cousin. Can she sleep on your couch? Jessica — the ultimate patsy — says for sure! Katya shows up and she is this fantastic and tantalizing and threatening and mysterious and very hypersexualized person.

How much did it cost to produce?

Twelve thousand dollars. Maybe a little bit more. We had to pay a little bit extra for music.

You’ve got another play — “Bernhardt/Hamlet” starring Janet McTeer — going into preview at the Roundabout soon. This will be your fourth to get to Broadway?

I’m proud and excited, but didn’t Lillian Hellman have more on Broadway? [In fact, Hellman plays have been staged a total of 18 times on Broadway over the decades.] Four is certainly a privilege.

With the play and a new movie coming out this fall with Anjelica Huston and Bill Pullman which you wrote [“Trouble”], when do you have time to think about TV?

I do tend to want to work. I like to work, and I don’t do well with downtime.

You live in Brooklyn now, but have you ever produced a play on the Island?

Years ago I did a reading at the Bay Street Theater [in Sag Harbor] with Kate Burton. I would certainly love to work out here.

CORRECTIONS: A previous version of this story included the wrong start time for the festival and the wrong name of  the producer of “The Russian Cousin” pilot, due to incorrect information given to Newsday.

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