DULUTH – Before the next "Game of Thrones" or "Tiger King" gets into the hands of studios and producers, it might be shown in a downtown Duluth theater this week.
Or maybe a production of that size will end up wanting to shoot on the North Shore. Or someone with a budding interest in film will take the leap and meet the people to help them land that dream gig.
That's the premise of the Catalyst Content Festival, now entering its third year in Duluth: showcasing independent creators and connecting them to the people who hold the keys to the biggest audiences.
"What Catalyst does is discover new artists, curate their stories and advance their careers," said Philip Gilpin Jr., executive director of the Catalyst Institute. "We reach out into the world and help the industry that's looking for new voices."
From Wednesday through Saturday, a slate of screenings, workshops and table reads will take over Zeitgeist, Fitgers and other venues with an audience of creators, executives and fans who could very well determine the next hit series.
"To be able to come out to Catalyst, to mingle with people who have now seen our show and learn from others who are there — the networking is huge," said Justin Ryan Burns, creator of "The Come Up." The series follows Chicago teens navigating their world through slam poetry, the pilot of which will air. "The ultimate goal is definitely getting the series picked up, and I think streamers are the best fit for young adult content right now."
Many of the entries take on major issues like race, aging and relationships through scripted and unscripted dramas and comedies as well as animation. Some are pilots or short-form stand-alone films; others are documentaries like "Freshwater," which focuses on Lake Superior surfers while identifying issues facing the lake.
"We haven't had a series land on Netflix yet, so getting insights on how to pitch for those platforms that are looking for content will be key," said director Lynn Melling. "I'm excited to get some insight and look behind the curtain and see how things work."
Her husband and production partner, Ian Planchon, said they want to expand the documentary into a series, and Planchon recalled introducing his colleagues to the festival: "It's called Catalyst, and it's a big deal, and it's in Duluth."
Last year's festival was all virtual because of the pandemic, and this year's event is drawing a smaller crowd. But a few key things have changed since the festival premiered in Duluth in 2019: St. Louis County and the Minnesota Legislature have both created new film/TV incentives, which advocates say are key to competing with regions that offer robust tax and rebate benefits to lure productions.
"We now have a more compelling story to tell people coming to town for the festival," said Duluth City Council Member Arik Forsman, who sponsored a measure earlier this year to have the city look at its production incentives. "You don't want to miss opportunities, and we have all these talented local creatives, building trades and the incentive piece just building toward the next phase."
One Catalyst attendee from 2019, Aaron David Roberts, took inspiration from Duluth and is returning this year to "get his ducks in a row for his shoot in Duluth," said Riki McManus, chief production officer of the Upper Midwest Film Office.
"We're doing two tours this year, one in Duluth and one on the Iron Range, to really show the beauty of this area and the diversity we have," she said. "People don't want to be in L.A. anymore, or in New York anymore."
Brooks Johnson • 218-491-6496