MINNEAPOLIS — Duluth, Minn., is poised to become a TV capital. The Independent Television Festival, formerly headquartered in Los Angeles and now based in Vermont, announced Monday that it’s moving to the Lake Superior port city.
“We’re dang excited,” said Riki McManus, director of the Upper Minnesota Film Office, who won over ITVFest Executive Director Philip Gilpin with her tour of Duluth’s historic arts and theater district and its rugged beauty. “It’s planting a flag that Minnesota could be the state for independent television.”
ITV’s claim to fame since its founding in 2006 has been a five-day festival that brings together nearly 1,500 participants, including more than 100 representatives from HBO, Disney, Netflix and Bravo, all sniffing for new talent to fill the ever-growing appetite for shows.
Major deals take a back seat to networking; up-and-coming talent like “Drunk History” co-creator Jeremy Konner and “New Girl” actor Jake Johnson have credited past fests for helping them make significant connections when they needed them most.
“We’ve become known as a place where a first-time filmmaker winds up sitting next to an Emmy-winning producer,” said Gilpin, walking around downtown Minneapolis last week without a coat, just like a veteran Midwesterner. “A lot of time, it’s not so much about selling a concept as it is people getting to know each other. A quaint environment with a small-town vibe helps.”
Gilpin thought he had found the ideal setting when he moved ITV’s operations from L.A. to Manchester, Vt., in 2013. Industry bigwigs and producers fell in love with the scenic atmosphere and local energy, enough to give serious thought to developing projects in the area. But the state’s lack of a film commission and tax incentives for shoots were problematic.
Gilpin shared his frustrations with Melodie Bahan, executive director of the Minnesota Film and TV board, when he came to Minneapolis in September to speak at the Minnesota WebFest. She immediately pitched the Twin Cities. He passed.
“It was clear that he didn’t want to be in a metro area where people could be distracted by other events,” Bahan said last week.