Closing the Curtains & A New Chapter

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Filmstock Film Festival, as we know it, is no more. It has been a wild ride, but I am making the decision to close the doors (or more appropriately, the curtains) of the festival, and below is an open letter with my reasons.

While the film festival portion is coming to an end, the Filmstock name will continue to live on. Melissa Farley will be continuing the annual Filmstock Actor's Showcase as well as bi-monthly Filmstock Social meetups and theme nights for filmmakers and film-lovers! Please continue to follow Filmstock on social media and on Meetup.com for updates as we transition.

Friends, Filmmakers, and Sponsors,

I have no regrets about how the team and I went about our endeavor, and having the opportunity to reinvent Filmstock, the local Arizona festival that celebrated storytelling in short form, was one of the most noteworthy experiences of my life and career to date. Allow me to highlight some reasons below for this decision:

Firstly, there was the problem of revenue. When I took on the responsibility of this festival, I grossly underestimated how difficult it is to acquire (and retain) a loyal audience, which resulted in… well… not a lot of income for the festival. Over the course of five years organizing it, the numbers and revenue ended up in the red, and I was forced to fund much of the festival personally. Of course, there's only so many years I could sponsor the festival on my own, which is why this is the primary reason for us ending the festival chapter Filmstock.

Second, and almost as important, our lives as a core team have changed. I got married and joined an exciting new business. Bobby Shook, also instrumental to the festival, has moved to New York and has also gotten married, and other members of the team have also advanced in their careers. Due to these life changes in the core team, have deemed that we can no longer can run this festival responsibly.

Thirdly, I believe that I demonstrated poor leadership during the last few years of this festival. Poor leadership towards my team in regards to regularly communicating and meeting with them; poor leadership in the community by not bravely taking the steps that needed to happen in order to circumvent the first two problems, and poor leadership by not being decisive about making a decision on the matter sooner, though my instincts told me it had been time for a while now.

I can almost certainly promise you this will not be my last attempt at a festival or event like what Filmstock set out to be. However, a piece of advice I received as a younger man was to get out of a business when I knew I had lost the passion for it. I am heeding that advice today and following my gut, and happily following my passion of being a producer. The rest of the team is doing amazing things as well, and I couldn't be happier for them, or prouder of this amazing fest we built over the years.

I do want to close on a positive note by recognizing some of the amazing achievements and contributions of the team:

I want to first thank Bobby Shook, my roommate at the time of me becoming director of the festival, and my biggest confidant during the entire process. Through Bobby's involvement and leadership, we as a festival reached a total estimated amount of submissions of 5,010, with 4,000+ of those being within the last three years. Bobby was also instrumental in managing the film submissions themselves and helping vet some absolutely stunning content. Through my partnership with Bobby we decided we would program the best films possible, even at the cost of a few easy ticket sales to a local film crew or two. In the end, I believe this paid off big time. Bobby helped give the Filmstock name and brand a spirit of fun and joy, and I can't thank him enough for it.

I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Dan Senatore. If you thought Filmstock's posters, branding, website and 'feel' over the past years was cool or interesting, you have Dan to thank for that. Dan spent hours and hours collaborating with me on what we wanted to accomplish with the visual vocabulary, and then spending hours on the execution. Dan taught me how to work with visionaries like himself, and for that I'll be forever grateful. I'm proud to say that last I checked, our 2014 poster is still hanging in the management office at the Valley Art!

Melissa Farley is a name that has to be mentioned in the reinvention of the Filmstock name. Melissa created the Actor's Showcase, which was one of the most well received and successful parts of the festival, and something I'm very, very proud of. Melissa is someone I have a huge admiration and respect for, and someone who has an almost endless amount of love, patience and passion for the creative community at large. Melissa is also single-handedly responsible for the ongoing success of the Filmstock Socials we've had over the past few years, furthering her demonstration of her love for this community. A huge hats off to Melissa for her hard and tireless work in wrangling amazing judges, personalities and all of the actors involved in the fest. She even helped me proof this letter to all of you!

I'd be remiss to not mention Jeremy Keith Clayton and Ryan Pierson, the founders of the festival and the ones who gave me this opportunity in the first place. Ryan in particular has always stayed at the ready, giving me advice or a spiritual nature regarding the fest.

There are plenty of others that need mentioning - Cassandra Nicholson, Shannon Dia, Justin McNeil, Brandon Barnard, Charlie Gravina, Andy Nease, Chloe Anderson, Tina Thorup, Warren Workman, Marshall Moore, Ann Lerner, JD Herrera, my business partner Devin Berko for his insights, and Jason Carney for his ongoing advice and mentorship through this process. There are an uncountable amount of others who kept the Filmstock dream alive year after year, so THANK YOU to all of you as well – you know who you are!!!

I also need to thank the unbelievable filmmakers who inspired me and kept my faith in art, storytelling and movies.

And finally I want to thank my amazing and loving wife, Jaime. Without her I would not have been able to carry on the past few years. She has been a constant source of love and support.

In summary, we are closing the curtains because the circumstances of the leaderships' lives demand it, because I would rather end on a high note rather than risk dragging the reputation of other deserving fests down, and because I need to devote my time to my wife and family, and my other business ventures.

Thank you, to each and every one of you- anyone who ever said a prayer, supported me or the fest, or any of our plans. I am proud of how we promoted independent film, and I encourage all of you to keep attending amazing festivals, make terrific art, and keep the dream alive.

Peace, love and movies.

James Lee