Even in this wondrous age of Too Much TV, the independent TV pilot remains a humble outlier. Produced on a shoestring, the "indie" is a work of passion and love, also typically a product of the creator's vision as opposed to a network's. Many travel the national film festival circuit in search of buyers or backers. Most find neither.
And that's where the North Fork TV Festival comes in. Kicking off its 4th annual event Friday at the Greenport Theatre on Front St. — $250 gets a two-day pass to screenings and parties (check here for schedules, here for ticket prices) — the NFTV celebrates the indie only. According to Commack native Noah Doyle, who founded the festival in 2015 with his wife, Lauren — both are lawyers with homes in Manhattan and Greenport — it has grown rapidly.
The Festival received some 200 pilot submissions this year, up fourfold from a year ago, he says. They come from around the world, but one of the winning pilots was from just around the corner. Recent Stony Brook University graduate and Babylon native Maxwell Pitagno, wrote "Distemper," about pathologist Louise Pearce's efforts to cure trypanosomiasis — African Sleeping Sickness — at the beginning of the last century. (It will screen Friday, 7 p.m.)
Another winning pilot, "Perception," about a neuroscientist who witnesses a murder, was shot at Adelphi's Garden City campus. (Friday, 1 p.m. screening).
Oh, yes, almost forgot: There will be stars on hand too, including Constance Wu and Kelsey Grammer, who will receive the NFTV's annual Canopy Award.
I spoke recently with Doyle and Elias Plagianos, the festival's director of programming, who also directed "Distemper." An edited version of our chat:
Why the rapid growth?
Doyle: When we started the concept, the independently produced TV pilot was like trying to find a needle in a haystack. We had to beg and do what we could to find [submissions.] Now, there's a competition for professional judges and dozens of high-quality pilots are submitted. Amazing how much has changed in a short amount of time.
How many other indie TV festivals are out there?
Doyle: You could count on one hand the number of festivals dedicated to independent episodic TV. That doesn't mean the big boys — the Sundances and the Tribecas — don't know have TV divisions [but] we like to think we were part of the story that forced the bigger festivals to add [indies].
How many pilots that have screened here been sold to networks?
Doyle: 'Up North' [about a couple of teens arrested for a crime they didn't commit, then thrown into the New York penal system] screened here two years ago and received a series order from Byron Allen's Entertainment Studios. I will say that even though there are many creators submitting pilots, the industry hasn't caught up. It's still an uphill battle.
With all these submissions, how exactly are winners chosen?
Plagianos: We'll watch all the shows and assign scores, and those with the highest scores move on to semifinals. I'll choose the final eight of those that are then sent to the four judges [who are professional showrunners].
What do you look for?
Plagianos: Some are so great, and some where you still see people trying to find their voice. We also look for production values, story, acting, and the most important thing is a hook or cliffhanger — are people going to want to watch this for four years [as a series]?
What's new this year?
Doyle: We added a script competition that was underwritten by our main benefactor, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. We had scripts submitted that had a science/technology theme — not science fiction but hard science. That lead to 'Distemper, ' which was shot over the summer and stars Abigail Hawk ("Blue Bloods") and Chiké Okonkwo ("Being Mary Jane").
No doubt exciting for you — certainly for Maxwell Pitagno — that a Babylon native won your first-ever science competition. How did that come about?
Plagianos: He's a recent graduate and scientist who just really felt the need to write this screenplay. He considers Pearce an LGBTQ pioneer who saved millions of lives. Max just had a great way of finding the story.
By the way, how exactly did two established lawyers get into the indie TV festival business?
Doyle: The idea for this began after a friend and I started a small production company and tried to sell shows. We sold a handful and they never went into production. After years of going out to L.A. we basically threw up our hands. That's when my wife [who is a partner with Milbank LLP] and I had the crazy idea to create a marketplace for the distribution of TV pilots. The genesis came from my own inability to get something into production.
WHEN|WHERE Screenings Friday starting at 1 p.m.; Saturday, starting at 11 a.m. Greenport Theatre, 211 Front St., Greenport
COST $250 for "all-access pass"