SeriesFest, the annual pop culture festival for television held in Denver, will kick off its fifth season this weekend. To get prepped for the country's premiere TV fest, which has been dubbed the "Sundance of TV," I chatted with SeriesFest co-founders Randi Kleiner and Kaily Smith Westbrook.
The duo teamed up to discuss an important new partnership, the evolving TV landscape and why they chose Denver as their hub.
SeriesFest is a unique idea. How did the concept come about?
The concept of SeriesFest has really evolved over the past five years as we started as a three day festival and are now a year round, non-profit organization. The initial concept really began with a conversation we were having about the changing landscape of television. We were both surprised to learn that creators were financing and producing full length pilot episodes for series, but these creators had no way of getting into a once closed-door TV system.
We decided if we could bring together network and studio executives with creators in a festival atmosphere, we could disrupt the system and create a discovery platform and marketplace for independent television. And so the idea for SeriesFest was born. It was over the next after we had our first festival under our belt that as we both started talking to creators, meeting with executives, connecting with talent, that we realized SeriesFest was much more than a few day festival. SeriesFest was truly born out of the desire from artists wanting to support other artists - and that extends far beyond the festival and now is reflected in our year round programming.
Why was it important to be held in Denver?
It was important to the both of us to create a destination festival in which participants could truly immerse themselves in the week of events and programming. And not only is Denver is the birthplace of cable television, but it has a thriving arts culture, which continues to grow yearly. Denver has everything we could possibly dream of to not only host our annual festival, but to support the growth and expansion of our initiatives and educational programs. The community has embraced us and we love to showcase this amazing city to our attendees.
Earlier this year SeriesFest announced a partnership with Kyra Sedgwick and her production team. What made that a pairing you wanted to make happen?
SeriesFest launched our Featuring Women initiative two years ago with our first ever women script writing competition with Rose McGowan. Being two female founders, it is important to us to continue to find ways to support women in the industry. We were thrilled when we met Kyra Sedgwick at the Denver Film Festival in 2017 and learned that she was launching her own production company with two other incredible women, Meredith Bagby and Valerie Stadler. Their company, Big Swing Productions, shares our similar mission to develop, produce and support female stories and filmmakers. They are truly the perfect partner to continue on our Featuring Women Script competition.
Television as a storytelling device seems to have eclipsed film. Why is episodic storytelling so popular today?
It is truly the platinum age of television and there is more content out there than ever. Advances in technology have driven more quality content. Television series can often be thought of as 10-hour films. Furthermore, there are more distributors, streaming services, and devices to watch series on now - iPhone, tablets, TVs, computer- you can get content at any time, in any form, anywhere.
Series also give creators the opportunity to construct elaborate worlds with complex characters and integrated storylines, allowing audiences to immerse themselves in their favorite adventures week after week for 8 or 16 or 22 hours a year.
What hidden gems are you personally most excited for attendees to see this year?
This year’s theme is the ‘Year of Innovation’ and as part of that platform we are featuring 3 Innovation Talks with with industry leaders covering culturally-relevant and newsworthy topics. The talks will kick-off with Netflix’s Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos in conversation with Liberty Global’s CEO and Vice Chairman Mike Fries in conversation with; followed by Elvis Mitchell, renowned film critic and host of NPR’s The Treatment; and ending with Jane Turton, CEO of All3Media.
Shondaland 2.0 will give an inside look at the growth and innovation of one of the leading storytelling companies. Panelists include Alison Eakle (Head of Fiction & Non-Fiction, Shondaland), Anna Deavere Smith (Award-Winning Playwright, Actress, Professor, adapting Warmth of Other Sons at Shondaland for Netflix), Katie Lowes (Actress and host of the ‘Katie’s Crib’ podcast), Akua Murphy (Director of Short Form Content, Shondaland).
And finally, our opening night on June 21 will feature STARZ supernatural spy thriller "The Rook" produced by Lionsgate and Liberty Global, followed by a Q&A with series’ stars Emma Greenwell, Joely Richardson, Olivia Munn, Executive Producers and Showrunners Lisa Zwerling and Karyn Usher, and Executive Producer Stephen Garrett.
Gazette TV critic Terry Terrones is a member of the Television Critics Association and the Broadcast Television Journalists Association.