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Visiting With Modernciné Founder Andrew van den Houten At SXSW Film Conference

Moderncine founder Andrew van den Houten (left) with former NBA Superstar Shaquille O'Neal (right) At The SXSW Film Conference and Festival.
Moderncine founder Andrew van den Houten (left) with former NBA Superstar Shaquille O'Neal (right) At The SXSW Film Conference and Festival.
Courtesy of Getty Images

Filmmakers can be a special source of creativity and influence on aspiring directors, producers, writers and other industry hopefuls trying to land themselves on Hollywood's A-List. Whereas some of these hopefuls hit a homerun on their first try, like Callie Khouri's "Thelma & Louise" and Michael Arndt's "American Beauty," there are many that eventually become successful through perseverance and persistence.

Modernciné founder and director Andrew van den Houten is one such person that easily falls into this category. His passion for film is infectious and a great influence to those around him. He gives young filmmakers the opportunity to create something special, that most major studios are now reluctant to give. What his company does is broaden the appeal to young filmmakers to come to work with him and make the films they hope to make with the same passion that Andrew exhibits.

I was able to meet with Andrew and talk to him about things like TentSquare, his personal goals, the work he does to recruit young and passionate directors as well as expeirence at SXSW Interactive and film festival. He also gives a very important piece of advice for young aspiring filmmakers as well, so read this very special article with Andrew.

Let’s talk about Modernciné and Modern Distributors. What inspired you to create such prolific companies?

AVDH: I formed Modernciné my junior year of college while at Emerson in Boston. My mom Carola van den Houten helped me name the company. She had a successful corporate art consulting firm called Modern Art Consultants in New York City. The name Modernciné was a nod to her years of creative work, while also giving me a unique name to brand my creative ventures in film.

I have always been intrigued by film, as it is so multi-faceted. Almost all creative types of work go into the filmmaking process. It truly is a collaborative art form and watching a movie with an audience is a special shared experience. Modern Distributors grew out of the need to offer a wider range of services beyond the creative, development, financing and production services that Modernciné provides.

Through your company, you’ve given up-and-coming directors opportunities for their projects that other studios might not go near. How much importance do you place on giving these filmmakers the opportunity to express themselves visually?

AVDH: Through Modernciné we’ve been able to extend a family mentality to independent filmmaking in creating a safe place for directors to fully carry out their vision. We have supported our directors and make financial compromises a collaborative decision. Ultimately the director is steering the ship but it’s our job to make sure the director knows how much fuel we have and how far we can go. If getting to the final destination with a different route is the best way to honor their vision, we need to take that journey with them.

My mother was an advocate for new voices in the art world and I feel that part of my mission is also to bring new voices to the forefront of cinema. Mom pushed the envelope artistically with the work she did, putting together the first public nude show in New York City ever at One Penn Plaza:

Even after they moved the exhibit she continued championing her artists to make sure their art found an audience. I too have that responsibility to my directors.

When you look at screenplays or story ideas, what do you look for most that would lead you to say “yes” to that given project?

AVDH: I look for three things: originality, story and strong characters. When I read work that I believe and feel is fresh I get excited. Especially when I can relate to the characters. I love finding myself questioning my own morality when I read a script. How would I deal with certain situations and how far would I go given certain circumstances? “Jug Face” by Chad Crawford Kinkle is a great example of a film that has all of these elements.

Your company has attracted such upcoming directorial talents such as Lucky McKee, Christopher Sivertson, the McManus Brothers, Patrick Wang and Gregory M. Wilson. Can you briefly talk about what it was like to work with such immense talents? How involved in the creative process are you?

AVDH: The good thing about working with such amazingly talented directors is that they all have very clear and distinct visions and my job is to help them fulfill those visions. I usually am on set everyday and discuss every aspect of production with my team from the top down. It’s a family atmosphere when we all come together to create and we all have each other’s backs. To that end, I am involved with every project I do from development through post-production and finally distribution.

I’m on these projects longer than the directors, as it’s my responsibility to make sure our orphaned film finds a home. I am very hands on with the entire marketing process and I push and support our distributors during our movies’ releases. Ultimately, working with driven directors is what gets me out of bed everyday. The energy and passion each of these filmmakers display is astounding. They are in love with the filmmaking process and storytelling.

Tell me about TentSquare. How did you come up with this unique crowdsourcing concept? What does the name TentSquare mean / stand for?

AVDH: After meeting Sean Parker at a pre-wedding party for my good friend, I was inspired by his entrepreneurial drive and genuine interest in film. I figured if Justin Timberlake’s character from “The Social Network” can get into film, why not try and apply what I know in the business of independent filmmaking to the internet and new technology.

I wanted to create a place where people passionate about film could network and create content through competition and popular vote. Other industries have been using crowdsourcing technology but no one has applied it to fully crowdsource the story and major roles for a film. It seemed a natural evolution to apply this technology and engage an audience.

TentSquare originally was going to be called “iBacklot” with the idea of a virtual studio backlot, but due to trademark issues I had to change the name. After a sleepless week of brainstorming a list of close to two hundred names with my CCO Carlos Rodriguez and CTO Dan Fairaizl, in addition to lots of friends’ input, I came up with TentSquare. When I applied the word “Tent,” which was short for “Content” to the word “Square,” a place where people gather, bingo the name was formed! The creative business is undoubtedly a stormy environment and I want to provide a safe-haven and great place for networking amidst the superficial closed-door vibes of the business.

Why is it important for “the people” to have a say in how a movie is made?

AVDH: People know what they like and what they want to watch. I want to give them a voice through TentSquare. I love how the filmmaking process brings people together and I feel that through building an online community that is part of the creative process from the beginning I can help these members create offline connections as well.

People are social by nature so the idea of allowing the TentSquare community to create with each other should allow for some interesting commentary and interactions as well as provide a discovery platform for new, up-and-coming talent.

How did you go about choosing the first competition categories? Will more categories be available down the road for people to submit for?

AVDH: We chose the first competition categories based on the most high profile creative needs for a film: direction, cinematography and acting.

We have more competition categories that will be available for our feature film rolling out this summer. These include: editor, composer, singer/songwriter, make-up effects and others. Also, we are going to try and source 100% of our crew from the TentSquare community.

TentSquare recently participated at SXSW. Can you tell me a little more about what you had going on there?

AVDH: We went to SXSW to launch the site and build membership and brand awareness. One of my favorite moments was when Shaquille O’Neal walked over and I had to pitch him TentSquare. I couldn’t speak since I am such a fan…thankfully Jeffrey Reddick, TentSquare feature film writer and the creator of “Final Destination” bailed me out. It worked out as Shaq was a fan of “Final Destination” and wanted to be killed off in the next movie…more importantly he ended up really digging what we are doing with the website!

What is your overall goal with TentSquare?

AVDH: My overall goal is to create the number one entertainment community with a production studio geared towards making content that helps discover talent and launch careers.

There many aspiring filmmakers in this world. What advice would you give to those trying to succeed? (Besides, of course, to join TentSquare)

AVDH: 1. Don’t ever stop believing in yourself and your dream. Work each day to get a little bit closer to achieving it.

2. Rejection is only something to learn from and a reason to try and do it better the next time.

3. The more successful you become, don’t miss out on the gift of being able to help others' in reaching their goals. Sharing your success and supporting others' happiness and dreams in life is most important.

What is your favorite genre of film that you enjoy most?

AVDH: Horror of course and I am a fan of Comedy as well…love Mel Brooks and Christopher Guest!

Is there a particular film that you would love to make one day?

AVDH: We are working on the book adaptation of “The Undertakers” which I am super excited about! The horror genre needs more young adult movies.

What is your favorite film that you’ve been involved with and why?

AVDH: “All Cheerleaders Die” was an incredible experience. From shooting in a river in the Sequoias to the backlot at Universal Studios, Hollywood, it was very exciting. Also, the stunts we did for the film were amazing. Wirework and car chases were so much fun…very cool film to make and super proud that we pulled it all off given our resources.

To find out more about TentSquare and Modernciné , please follow the following links: