Nov 24 2014

Indywood South

By: Christopher Louis Romaguera

The idea for Indywood, like most great New Orleans ideas, came in a bar. Unlike most great New Orleans ideas, the bar was in Prague. Will Sampson was attending film school. While drinking with two friends, they stumbled upon a way to answer two of independent filmmakers’ biggest questions: “How are you going to fund your film?” and “How are you going to distribute it?” Will says they figured out a way to “combine crowdfunding with online distribution” in a one-stop-shop website.

Many high-fives later, Will contacted a cousin who runs his own business. Book list in tow, Will started reading about how to get this business off the ground. But Will is a filmmaker; he doesn’t have the same passion for business. And like a bookmark that is tucked away in a story you know you should finish but will never get around to, the business got lost in the fold.

On Fat Tuesday of 2013, Will was riding his bicycle when an unknown assailant punched him. He woke up on Ash Wednesday with a bunch of neurosurgeons staring at him. Sister Hayley Sampson came to town to help Will out. On the last day of Hayley’s visit, Will convinced her to take him to a lecture on why the Louisiana film tax credits should be cut.

The lecture sparked an interest in the business-minded (and savvy) Hayley, and she decided to move to New Orleans to spearhead the website project with Will. But this is not a Hollywood story. Financial backers thought the website idea was risky. Artists kicked the siblings out of an art co-op for being “heartless capitalists.” After some travails, Hayley said she talked “to the people that knew us, trying to get a gauge of what they’d want our company to actually be, and they just wanted to see films…especially the local films.”

Neighborhood movie palaces have a rich history in the city. Prytania has cheated death multiple times and still shows films. Zeitgeist is a good neighborhood theater with a strong following. But there wasn’t a theater on this side of Canal Street. Indywood may not be a palace in a classical sense — it's small, taking up residence in a former laundromat — but it is every bit a neighborhood movie theater.

Indywood shows everything from second-run films to the classics, from independent films to cult and foreign films. They’ve hosted festivals such as the New Orleans Horror Film Festival and were a BYOB venue for this year’s New Orleans Fringe Festival. Free beer was given out during an event for the New Orleans Film Festival. The siblings have hosted multiple short films contests and screened some films from the 48 Hour Film Project (including Will’s El Pogo Fuego).

The Future
Will and Hayley’s aspirations include teaching youths how to make films. Will says, “Filmmaking is very much an art form that can appeal to the youth.” The siblings also strive to create a space where people can go to rent equipment, the idea being that Indywood would be a place where one can go to learn how to make a movie, then make, screen and distribute that movie.

Until then, Indywood will continue showing movies, hoping to initiate conversation and spark epiphanies, acting as a cross between a café for writers and an offshoot of “Come out and support local films.” As Will sums it up, “If we’re actually going to have a self-sufficient film industry here, we have to have filmmakers working in pre-production, production and post-production who all live here, who all are working here, who are making movies that are coming from here, not just being shot here. It’s crucial to teach high school kids how to make movies and turn them on to movies now.”

Indywood is trying to make a footprint in the film industry any way they can. And like when watching a good movie, I’m loving the ride. 

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