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Kathryn F. Galan Leads Preeminent Latino Media Organization

Head of National Association of Latino Independent Producers responsible for their growth in strength, stature, sophistication

By Al Carlos Hernandez - Contributing Editor
Published on LatinoLA: November 1, 2010


Kathryn F. Galan Leads Preeminent Latino Media Organization


Kathryn Galan grew up in Ann Arbor, Michigan and graduated Magna Cum Laude from Amherst College in 1980 as an English major. She moved to Los Angeles to do her masters studies in film and television history, aesthetics and critical theory at UCLA. She is a past board member of the AFI Third Decade Council, the International Documentary Association and she now serves on the Board of Directors of Women Make Movies.

Kathryn is the executive director of the National Association of Latino Independent Producers, a national not-for-profit arts service organization dedicated to the support and development of Latino/a film, television, documentary, and new media makers.The National Association of Latino Independent Producers (NALIP) is a national membership organization that addresses the professional needs of Latino/Latina independent producers. NALIP is the first such effort aimed at Latino production in thirty years and it is the first to last more than one year providing ongoing support for the Latino independent film and video makers.

NALIP stands as the premiere Latino media organization, and, for twelve years, has been addressing the most under-represented and the largest ethnic minority in the country. NALIP's mission is to promote the advancement, development and funding of Latino/Latina film and media arts in all genres. It is the only national organization committed to supporting both grassroots and community-based producers/media makers along with publicly funded and industry-based producers.

Kathryn F. Gal?n has been NALIP's Executive Director for nine years. Kathryn has overseen nine national conferences and created NALIP's signature programs: the Latino Producers Academy, Latino Writers Lab, Latino Media Market, Latino Media Resource Guide, and "Doing your Doc: Diverse Visions, Regional Voices."

She is responsible for the staffing, day-to-day management, millions in corporate and foundation fundraising, publicity strategies and branding, plus regional programs and chapter development. In her nine years with NALIP, she has established this organization as the preeminent national Latino media organization by taking it from an NCLR "special project" with a steering committee to an autonomous and substantial advocacy and professional development organization. She has overseen the growth of its membership 5-fold, plus created and programmed six respected Signature programs

Ms. Galan continues to develop motion picture and television projects. For two years Kathryn was partnered with Meg Ryan (Prufrock Pictures at Twentieth Century Fox) to develop and produce feature films that examined contemporary themes and issues. Their project THE WOMEN was adapted by Diane English ("Murphy Brown"), who directed it for New Line.

Between 1989 and 1993, Ms. Galan was Vice President of Production for Walt Disney Studio's motion picture division Hollywood Pictures, a unit that produced such high-concept, moderately budgeted fare as Frank Marshall's ARACHNOPHOBIA! (Gross $53 million) and THE HAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE (88 million).

LatinoLA.com Contributing Editor, Dr. Al Carlos Hernandez, a former (read "failed") screenwriter, had an interesting conversation with one of the pillars of the independent film community, Kathryn Galan:

AC: Growing up in Ann Arbor, what caused you to leave the Mid West and pursue a life in the film Industry in LA? What was your original dream and how far are you from achieving it - or have you achieved it already?

KG:I went to college in Massachusetts (Amherst; junior year at University College London). My love was storytelling, narratives I was an English major. I had a deep connection to Spain and my family there; I visited often and loved the 'story' of my father's escape from the Spanish Civil War. When I discovered film, I pursued it, first, academically I moved to Los Angeles to do my Master's studies in film theory, history, and aesthetics. I had a love of independent and international cinema. This led me to the career that I have had, and one that often supports or discovers the under-voiced.

AC: How has your ethnicity been a help and/or a hindrance in bringing projects to film?

KG: My personal cultural or ethnic background has had no impact on my bringing projects to production.

AC: What was your first success in LA? When did you know that you could make it in the entertainment industry?

KG: I had some great mentors and supporters in graduate school at UCLA, but really entered the entertainment industry with a summer job at Atlantic entertainment Group in 1981. I began as an assistant to the president at a very exciting and dynamic time for the art and independent film distribution business.

It was a small office that provided everything a first job should: hard work, access to processes and procedures, smart serious businessmen and women, and challenges to figure out the industry landscape. As that job grew in responsibility and scope, so did I, allowing me to acquire and support the production of some fantastic films and artists. It was a huge thrill to acquire my first film, Roger Donaldson's Smash Palace; to work on Atlantic's first in-house production, Valley Girl which was a landmark in independent film; and to follow that up with some of our hits like Teen Wolf with Michael J. Fox.

AC: Who have been your mentors? How have they helped you? What are the biggest obstacles for women producers to overcome in LA? Is there a gender gap?

KG: Women had a more difficult time in the 1980's than they do now, which is an excellent development. The senior women producers and executives like Sherry Lansing, Dawn Steele, and Anthea Sylbert were all leaders and inspiration for the women who now serve as producers, studio heads and top agents.

The challenge for women producers is that the major studios and funders support select producers with development and production support; these are usually past presidents and people with long relationships with the administration. Women under-index in terms of their overall deals, and their funding from major investors. Producing is a great job for a woman also running a family, but women producers may be perceived as 'out of the game' when they have children.

AC: How did you end up on the business side of things. How does one become a producer? What has been your biggest financial success and what should have been a success but failed?

KG: I have worked for 30 years in support of great stories, films, media makers and ideas. If that's the 'business side' of things, then it just followed on my working as an acquisitions executive, then a head of production for Atlantic, a VP at Hollywood Pictures, Meg Ryan's producing partner and producing, on my own. I have a solid understanding of the business the finance, marketing, distribution, contracting, the needs and concerns of funders as well as the creative side what makes a great story, who are strong creative talents, how directors need to be supported.

So, being a producer or production executive has always been the ideal marriage of those two sets of strengths. I also have a broad knowledge of film history, and I think that the more you screen and see and read, the better you are at identifying great stories and films.

AC: Why did you leave the commercial side of the business to work with a non-profit?

KG: It happened both gradually and over night, and I don't see myself still as having left the 'commercial side' of the business. I was working independently as a producer and new media consultant when a good friend of me asked that I consider helping NALIP for 3 months to produce a national conference, their third.

As a good producer and executive, as well as a Latina myself, I was excited by the prospect of helping create this event with her, and agreed to add other duties in the interim including take NALIP from a special project of NCRL to an incorporated 501-c-3 with its own board, bylaws, and programs. After the conference, which was a wonderful success in December 2001, I was asked to continue with the organization as it created a strategic plan with funds, benefits and programs for filmmakers. I found the entire process challenging and fascinating, and ultimately very creative and rewarding.

AC: Tell us about NALIP. What was the original mission statement when you got there? How have things changed during your nine year tenure? Your biggest success/disappointment?

KG: NALIP began as a special project of NCRL. It was always a professional development and advocacy organization to represent and support the needs of the independent Latino/a content creator, whether they were just starting out or very advanced, whether they worked in grass-roots media or in the mainstream entertainment industry, whether they made narrative, documentaries, or new media projects. That is the same.

We have grown in strength, stature and sophistication. We have created and institutionalized nationally-recognized signature programs. And we have expanded to include support to the spectrum of artists creating media content: writers, producer, directors, performers and creative crew; we include new media and multi-platform content creators; and although we are a predominantly Latino organization, we have certain multi-cultural initiatives, particularly for Native American and indigenous artists.

Our members and our programs are some of our biggest successes, as is our ability to grow and endure for 12 years as a non-profit arts service organization with a budget over $1 million in a very challenging environment. We are disappointed that, despite our training and advocacy efforts and despite the significant expansion of our percentage in the U.S. population, Latinos still remain wildly under-represented in all sectors of professional media, in front of and behind the camera as well as in executive and decision-making roles with little if any per capita increases in the past two decades.

AC: How has the downturn in the economy affected independent film makers? Are all Latino independent producers non profit?

KG: Independent narrative filmmakers are affected by the economic downturn because films $100,000 - $5,000,000 are funded by equity investments. There is less discretionary income, and fewer funds and investors available to take a shot on a film or a producer's slate of film projects despite certain state and federal tax benefits to try. For the documentary filmmaker, many of their projects are funded by grants alongside donors (rather than investors).

Foundations have less principal and interest to commit to media projects. Government has less money to support public television and arts councils. So, all the way around, there is less money for media makers. Are Latino indie producers non-profit? No more so than any indie producers: all narrative producers are in the game to make money, as well as to give a return to their investors so that they can make another film; indie documentary makers also need to make a living, as professionals, while they want to license their projects to broadcast, educational and international markets in order to earn back personal investments and develop new projects.

AC: What is the ratio between for-profit projects and non-profit productions for Latinos?

KG: As I said, there are certain documentary makers who either establish non-profit corporations for the production of an individual film, or partner with a Fiscal Sponsor in order to accept tax-deductible donations for the creation of their project, since most personal and social change documentaries in the United States are projects that do not expect to earn much more than their costs of production, if that.

AC: Are the traditional funding sources drying up? Where is the "new" money coming from?

KG: Media funding sources are cyclical. Individual donors and funds were available in the 80's, for a time in the 90's, during the tech boom and again during the real estate bubble. They will come back. So will international pre-sales, to a degree, as international buyers need additional product for their established and emerging distribution platforms. There are also new sources arising like crowd funding, where individuals donate small amounts to projects in development in exchange for a tiny share, and a sense of participating in an emerging media project.

AC: What kinds of films are people making today? Has the subject matter changed over the years? Where do you see independent films going in the future?

KG: I do not think there is any particular pattern to indie narratives, which is exciting. There are adult relationship dramas but also low-budget teen films and comedies; there are genre pictures and some very specialized projects for 'long tale' specific audiences or interest groups. The technology has permitted a great deal of freedom to jump in and tell your story. The key remains: it is best served by being a good story, unique and universal, with strong technique and performances, plus some sort of marketing angle so that you can attract the world to your project and they can find it above the media din.

AC: How has new media changed the way independent films are made, promoted, and distributed?

KG: It has transformed every aspect: new media includes the digital technologies that make it possible to shoot a film on a "prosumer" camera and edit on your laptop, then press your own DVD's and sell them out of your trunk; it has begun to open up the stranglehold that traditional distribution has had on a filmmaker's revenue stream, although distribution is still dominated by major companies, DVD and online (Netflix, etc.) distributors; and it has permitted audience building and promotion even as you are making your film, so you can tap your eventual audience to be anything from a funder to a cheerleader organizing requests to bring it to their town.

AC: Where are the new generation filmmakers coming from? What kind of support systems do you have in place to help them along the way?

KG: There are many degree programs now for filmmakers; we see a lot of new documentary and narrative makers writers and directors coming from these institutions. The trouble is, these are not very diverse programs, so this path to production and access tends to reinforce the lack of ethnic minority representation seen in mainstream media. We see filmmakers showing up in many more festivals around the country, building awareness of themselves and their films outside of Sundance and the LA Film Festival, which is also a great development.

AC: Do you prepare visionaries to go commercial like Robert Rodriguez? Is there a bias to keep projects non-profit?

KG: Robert Rodriguez, like George Lucas or Jim Cameron or Peter Bogdanovich or Spike Lee, are forces of nature who all begin on independent projects, and then seek to expand their canvass. Artists are like our kids, in the very best sense: they are who are they going to be; our job as their producers or their partners or their mentors is to realize their unique voice and vision, provide them support to the tools and opportunities available, and then, let them fly!

AC: What are some of the NALIP projects going on right now?

KG: NALIP has 7 national signature programs to support and develop filmmakers. We have a major focus on supporting and ensuring the production of these programs for the next couple of years. We have just begun a new Strategic Planning process with our board and stakeholders to see, what do, we do well, and where is there need for us to do and be more. The next six months will be very important for NALIP, as we look back at 12 years and plan for our next as a vital, viable, and visionary organization for our artists and the field.

AC: In a perfect world, what would be the best case scenario for the NALIP for 2011?

KG: Best case: we find the sponsors and donors to double our budget, so that we can ensure our programs, begin to re-grant to artists to fund their projects, stabilize our finances and slightly expand our staff so that NALIP is even better than we have already been.

AC: What do you see is in store for the Latino filmmakers of the future?

KG: Latinos have great stories, lots of talent, and nowhere to go but up! I see more Latinos in every sector of the art and craft of content creation, including as executives, managers, creative crew and leaders in the art and commerce of film, television and documentaries.

AC: What are some of the things on your bucket list which you haven't yet attained?

KG: I would love to produce some more films, and write more short stories and novels.

AC: When it's all said and done, how would you like history to remember you?

KG: As someone who was part of a fantastic family, first and foremost, from my grandfathers and grandmothers in Spain and Ireland through to my wonderful son. As someone who told and nurtured great stories, bringing forth the voices and visions of our culture's very best.

http://www.nalip.org/nalip/NALIP-About.html

About Al Carlos Hernandez - Contributing Editor:
Edited by Susan Aceves
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