Shreveport Magazine: Tell me three things people need to know about the Film Prize.
Gregory Kallenberg: I would say, people here in Shreveport need to understand that the Film Prize has become one of the preeminent film competitions in the country. I think they also need to know, maybe as part of number one, that we give fifty thousand dollars. It is actually the world’s largest cash prize given for a short film in the world right now. I would tell you that when I travel around, the film groups now know where Shreveport, Louisiana is and they know what it has to offer. It’s not even about the money, it’s about the people. So there is this weird emanating energy that is coming from Shreveport and getting into the hearts and minds of people outside of us. And last, I would tell people that the Film Prize has hopefully brought a wonderfully weird sense of pride because the Film Prize is not only breeding something amazing here, but as these people walk away from the Film Prize, they are walking away with the notion that Shreveport is one of the most amazing places they have ever been. I was on the phone today with people who are coming in from out of town. They are calling to ask where they can get hotel rooms. It’s people who are from Denver, Colorado; Albuquerque, New Mexico; Atlanta, Georgia. The Film Prize is a catalyst to make us a really amazing place.
SM: What is unique about the Prize Family voting system?
GK: What is different about our voting system in comparison to any other film festival voting system is that most voting systems separate out the popular vote and the jury vote. The reason they do that is because they highly regard, in my opinion, a professional jury person. We do bring in a professional jury—they do know a lot. They do have a certain sensibility that other people do not have. But with us, we have broken down the wall between the filmmaker, the professional jury, and the audience. The Film Prize is everything I love about film festivals, and I have expunged everything I hate. One thing I hate about film festivals is it leeches off a filmmaker. Like come to wherever city. We’ll show your film. We’ll put an audience in front of you. But you have to come here and sort of do you your dance in front of people and the return is zero. What makes the Film Prize so unique is there is a huge return at the end of the day. At the end of the day, we pay you fifty thousand dollars if you come to our city, make a film, and get into our finals. You still have to market yourself. You still have to be the sales guy. But at the end of the day, the direct result in being very successful is a huge payday of fifty thousand dollars. So we have done something that no one else has done as of yet. Somebody is going to figure it out and somebody is going to try to do it on some level. But the fact is, the Film Prize is a hard thing to replicate. At the end of the day, we are doing something so unique here that we should all embrace.
SM: Are all of the films filmed here in Shreveport?
GK: There is a seven parish region where the films are filmed.
SM: Tell us what we need to know about the Music Prize, Start Up Prize, and Food Prize.
GK: Let me begin with the prize I am most proud of: the Start Up Prize. The Start Up Prize has the most potential to change this city, and I’ll tell you why. When you look at the Start Up Prize, it is as much a recruiting mechanism or a connection mechanism to investors as it is anything else. This is only the third year, and you look at our finalists, which we have only had ten up until now, and forty percent of those have received offers of funding from our investor judges. The most exciting thing that came out of year two is the fact that one of the Start Up Prize finalists, a guy named Wayne Nix out of Lafayette, Louisiana who has an awesome invention called the Nix tool found his investor here through EAP. He is now relocating his company from Lafayette, Louisiana to Shreveport. If you look at the analogue of Austin, the home of the two brothers who did Yeti. Take that idea where they have a company and they find a city they love. They not only have now hired around thirty white collar branding and marketing people but they also manufacture in Austin. We see the power of the Start Up Prize in finding the next Yeti. It’s bringing somebody that is going to set up their manufacturing, marketing, and management here. The next thing you know, one hundred people are hired here in Shreveport. What’s even better than that is Wayne Nix going out and sitting on a panel at another entrepreneur conference and saying “I was in Shreveport, Louisiana. I moved there, it’s my home. I love the place.” To me, it has the most potential because it really does move the big levers.
SM: I think it’s very interesting that, as a Shreveporter, all the big investor guys, you kind of, you brought them out of the office. And by that, you made them reachable to a guy that has a new product.
GK: What it has done for all the big quasi-family, office, institutional money is that it’s brought them into the same room. Because of their kind support and participation, there is significant financial power in the Start Up Prize. When you look at this past year, we had entrepreneurs that came here from San Francisco, Houston, Austin, New Orleans, Atlanta, and Memphis, Tennessee. All of these people came here because there is word out there that this is a place not only where there are awesome resources, but also investors that really want to be a part of their lives.
SM: Ok, so tell us, because I want it to be documented, what do you say to people who look at the Start Up Prize and think Gregory watched Shark Tank one day and thought “Who are the Shreveport Sharks?”.
GK: I hate Shark Tank and I want to be on the record as saying I hate Shark Tank. I think Shark Tank has ruined an entire generation of entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs think that they go in front of Marc Cuban and his pals, put out a sexy pitch and the next thing you know, the Dallas Mavericks have all their stuff on, and like they are making millions of dollars. That’s not the way real business works. Startups are hard. And the Start Up Prize process is not an easy process. You are courting an investor. You are getting resources. You are meeting with marketing gurus who are saying, “Your stuff sucks, you need to change it to be successful.” In the end, the investor judges are able to see a progression and evolution of an idea or the way someone presents themselves. That is a weird power in the sense that we are giving them that opportunity to change. At the end of the day, when these investors look at this, when they begin to realize these guys have changed, they have bought in to the whole thing, then all of the sudden that investor has a relationship with that entrepreneur and that bond is created. That is really what the magic of the Start Up Prize is all about. It is really what makes it unique. Our investors are the ones that drive the Start Up Prize. It’s not me, it’s not my staff, it’s not the people who are the resources, it’s not the entrepreneurs, it is the investor judges.
SM: Tell us what we need to know about the Music Prize because there is a big difference this year.
GK: There is a big difference this year. We are grabbing big dice and rolling them on Music Prize. What we are envisioning for Music Prize is that we can continue to build what we are building, which is nurturing emerging artists, the way the Seratones came to us. We are betting on that part being an integral part of Music Prize forever. We are able to put together a music education—where we take a musician and show him it’s not just about playing an instrument; it’s about being a businessperson. Our people are putting them with Grammy winners. We are putting them with all the people that could give them success. But now what we are doing is we are kicking open the door to the rest of the populous and creating the beginnings of a bonafide music festival. This year, we are introducing band showcases with some of the greatest indie rock bands out there. The goal is to introduce a festival atmosphere where you can see the likes of Polyphone Spree on the big stage at the Revel/Music Prize MainStage or you can see Beach Slang or K. Flay in a club show. This year, Music Prize is going to be the most awesome “Choose Your Own Adventure” ever!
SM: Ok, tell us about the Food Prize.
GK: The Food Prize is something, where I should be labeled as the biggest idiot on the planet and not knowing that Louisiana and food simply go together, that’s me. I’m the dumbass who didn’t really realize that this could be our biggest and best part of the prize family. The reason being, last year, we sort of rushed into this idea of jurying in five local chefs. Let them battle it out “Chopped” style. At the moment where we could have blown it out, we forgot to market the thing. We just forgot. With that said, we put our tent in the dustiest darkest corner of the prize festivals, and we said this is the only place we can put it because we have food trucks here, and we have film makers there. Let’s just put it in the worst place and we’ll take really snazzy pictures. And then when two hundred screaming attendees showed up, we knew we had something. This year, what is so exciting about the Food Prize is, it is going to be a food experience from beginning to end. The interesting thing about the Food Prize is, it is the only thing we can do that is hyper local. We don’t have enough filmmakers to make the Film Prize hyper local. We don’t have enough musicians to make the Music Prize hyper local. And we sure as hell don’t have enough entrepreneurs to make Start Up Prize hyper local. The one thing that I know I can do, or we can do as an office, is we can promote the local food scene in a way that the local food scene gets to participate. Its this idea of these chefs jurying themselves in by a popularity contest or by having dinners for the society of the golden fork. We know that part is going to be kick ass. A part of what I experienced in Austin was a hyper almost violent reaction to supporting the people that are there making food in the space. And we want to celebrate that both through the Golden Fork, and the “Chopped” style competition.
But the thing we are doing differently this year is something called “Come and Get It”. We are going to do something very unique in that we are bringing in national chefs who are going to be paired with local chefs. We are taking the Jason Brady’s of the world and putting them with the Tom Ramsey’s of the world and let them cook for the crowd. And also put as much Shreveport-Bossier cuisine as we can into the mix. So this thing will be something where people who are high minded about food, people who are the major influencers to the food culture here are able to come together and enjoy the experience together.
SM: Describe Shreveport in one sentence.
GK: Shreveport is one of the most amazing places with the most potential that unfortunately does not have the ability to recognize its awesomeness.
SM: Describe the Prize Family in one sentence.
GK: I used to be right there with the moaners saying, “Shreveport doesn’t show up.” But after seeing what’s happening with the Film Prize, I can’t say that. After watching people stand in line in the pouring rain to get in a Film Prize screening, I can’t say that. Look at Shreveport Derby Day—you guys definitely can’t say that. But what you have to say is, there is an inability to recognize all the awesomeness that is here. As far as Prize Family, it is the most amazing grouping of people and events; bringing together the most amazing people to do the most amazing things on the planet. And I believe that—I really do.
SM: If you could only name one thing, what would be the coolest thing that has ever happened at the Prize?
GK: Can I say two things? I am a weirdly emotional person. It is easy to tug at my soul, to the good and to the bad. I have a temper, but I have a temperament that truly gets when things are wonderful. One of the most wonderful things I ever saw happen at the Film Prize: It was year three. It is pouring down rain. It is ten in the morning on a Saturday, and we are doing our panels at ArtSpace. All I can think about is trying to justify in my mind that this weather is going to sin the Film Prize. I’m looking through the rain and it is raining so hard that everything is obscure. And I’m looking across the street to this building, the Robinson Film Center. And at ten in the morning there is a group, in a line, outside in the rain waiting to get into a Film Prize screening. And that’s when I was like “What is this and how did it happen?” People in Shreveport don’t wait in a line for anything. And that’s when everything changed for me. That’s when I realized this place has a magic like no other place. It was awe-inspiring.
The other thing that was nuts is still associated with Film Prize. Last year I come around the corner from the Capri, and there were probably sixty people in line at the voting booth for the Film Prize. The only thing I can think about is our volunteers have all bugged out. All of our volunteers have left and we are screwed. So I of course grab my wife and my son Tobias. I was like “Get ready, we have to go man the voting booth. Everyone has left us.” In the front are eight people across and they all have their voting ballots in front of them. But the cool part is they open up their programs and they have taken notes on every single film. And all eight of them are not just writing down names. They are seriously thinking that they are giving somebody fifty thousand dollars. That at the end of the day, they are going to change somebody’s life with their vote. Which is insane when you think about it. Again, it is something where they are giving regard to something that is essentially a game, but they are taking the game so seriously. They are understanding their responsibility. And I swear, maybe there is too much Jewish mother in me, but I’m telling you it made me want to break down. It’s one of those things where some people who are giving so much to us of themselves—that is when something is really working.
SM: Your parents and grandparents are very well known community activists and leaders in our community. How has that influenced your choice to come back to Shreveport and the things you do in the community?
GK: If you ask me why I moved back to Shreveport, I mean I love my mom and my dad. But it all kind of started and stopped with my grandmother, Betty Phillips. She was such a bright spirit. Her getting older was something where I wanted to see her while I could see her and be with her while I could be with her. And I have to tell you, my wife was another one. She fell in love with my grandmother. And my grandfather was a great man too. But I think being around the magic she created, in a very microcosmic way. And I think that it is something that carrying that forward—as much as my mom can drive me crazy sometimes, the great thing about my mom is that she has created this DNA thread inside of me that in coming back, which I swore I would never do. Seeing her go at light speed and strong arm everybody out there to support these amazing causes that she is a part of has been a role model for me. I am that rebellious oldest child who is supposed to hate their parents and is supposed to not want to be a part of it. But my mom, and again my dad doesn’t like to be out there, but my dad also—to watch how much they deeply care about this place and they want it to succeed. As much as they give me a hard time, they also support me. That is incredibly inspirational. I could not have picked a better place to come back to or a better set of parents cheering me on.
SM: How has being a husband and a father influenced what the Prize Family looks like today?
GK: Personally, I will tell you that the Film Prize, Food Prize, Music Prize, and Startup Prize are all incredibly selfish ventures, and I’m hugely thankful to have a wonderful and patient wife Heidi who puts up with the Prize shenanigans. Really, it’s about creating my own fun with a team I really care about. I love a big out of control party and I think we’re on the way to building that. We are not there yet. But when the confetti cannons go off, I know I’m closer. But beyond that, Heidi and I want to build something awesome so that our kids want to come back here. When I left Shreveport, there was no one in my family telling me to come back. Nobody said there was something for me here. It’s not that I’m knocking my parents. It is that no one thought about the idea of having their family back here. We want you to help build a better city. I will tell you that, with my son Tobias, working with me and my daughter Daisy, who I hear in real time defend Shreveport as a place—that is what it is all about. And one of the things they grab onto more than anything, is they see Film Prize as the exact same thing they saw at SXSW. I used to take my kid around in a wagon at SXSW. We would go hear the bands together. We would go to the free shows and see great bands like Hold Steady back in the day. Tobias and Daisy are kids who were hipster Austin kids. But what Tobias has done in particular, he has brought that sensibility and has brought that sense of pride. Tobias, a seventeen year old cynic, I have heard him say to friends of his who would complain about Shreveport “Look around you. Have you been down to the Film Prize? Have you hung out at the Music Prize?” Without me saying “this is what you have to say.” If my parents did something like I did, I would have raged against it from the very beginning. But what I want to do is create something that they can be proud of and they want to be a part of when they get older.
SM: How would you compare SXSW to the Prize Family—past, present, and future?
GK: The spirit in Shreveport is not that much different to that of Austin at that time. The want, need, and desire to sort of realize something amazing is really not that different. What’s different is, and again, we are at the beginning of a trajectory, so we have to realize and have the patience that this is going to grow something into something amazing. One of the things that is different about Shreveport, and I don’t know if it is the oil and gas world that makes people think differently, but here, there is a mentality that you stick a pole in the ground and if oil doesn’t come up, then it’s a failure. And when oil does come out of the ground, it is awesome. What SXSW did so well was build something incremental. It was holding the reins on itself. And this was the genius of Roland Swenson. Hugh and Brent were so smart and knew they wanted to grow SXSW the right way. It wasn’t like “Oh my God, we have lightening in a bottle!” We preach patience. We preach the idea that we have to walk this path, not run this path. Just because something is there and has become successful, doesn’t mean you expand it to oblivion and then just watch the thing dissipate. To me, what is important is keeping that core of energy so that the outer layers sort of creep out on you. Like the guy next to me, I can feel his shoulder and I want to be next to that guy for the whole entire ride. As far as the future, I hear even my friends in Austin, they complain about the growth. Like “Oh my God, SXSW is coming in!” That is a problem I would love to have. But I think that also we have to realize in Shreveport, SXSW was a twenty-year process. You have to let this thing hop on its own, grow on its own, and become its own.
SM: Is the Prize Family evolving like you wanted to see? Better? Worse?
GK: I’m Jewish, so I am a natural worrier. I worry about everything. But I think that worry is good for a group of people like the staff of the Film Prize—Sabrina, Chris, Jana, Maddie in particular. They’re bursting with unending exuberance and boundless energy. And they work their asses off. To me, it is about us focusing and growing at the right pace. You ask if it is growing how I wanted it to grow. It is far exceeding what my expectations ever were. But that is sort of my character too. I want something to outpace what I think it is going to be because it will always surprise and delight me. Having an amazing team like these folks, that’s the key.
SM: Why do the Prize Family events matter to Shreveport—culturally and economically? For someone who has never been down to the event, why should they care?
GK: One, it is the most amazing time anyone will ever have in the country. What Shreveport makes the mistake of doing is comparing itself to the region. What we need to all do, and I speak to you everyone in Shreveport and Bossier, is to create world-class events. Where, if you are from Los Angeles, Minneapolis, or New York City, you would have a good time too. The thing I am hearing the most is when someone says “Hey! I cannot wait for the Film Prize this year! I have friends coming in from Los Angeles.” Or “Did you hear the McCarty’s are coming back from Denver, Colorado?” Or even, “Hey! I have a group coming in from New York because they love the Film Prize.” To me, that shows everyone else in the country and everyone else here that we are incredibly awesome. And this is just a small part of the other layers we could be, to be the incredible city that, if we try hard enough, we could evolve ourselves to be.
SM: So what’s up with the “Viva la Film Prize!”, tequila, T-Rex, all that?
GK: So it’s all about building tradition and it’s all about building mystery into things. And some of the things are as simple as getting way too excited at a particular moment. “Viva la Film Prize!” came out in weirdly spontaneous. I didn’t even take Spanish, I took French in school! You can call my buddies back in Austin, they will tell you I have always drank tequila. The guy that started ACL Fest, a guy named Charlie Jones, we were bartenders together back in the 90s. We had this thing called Tequila Sunrise. Every bartender would show up to my house around 3:00 am and we would drink tequila until sunrise. We would toast the sun! But we never toasted “Viva la Film Prize!” That was one of those things that sort of just popped up, and again it became infectious. What all these traditions do is they build a collective. People have come up to me at dinner, raised a glass and said “Viva la Film Prize!”. Part of me is wonderfully weirded out by it, but another part of me feels that those traditions are what bind us together. Getting to the spiritual and more emotional side of me, I believe that the only way we build a better city is to build a collective spirit. In Austin, Texas, we built a collective spirit—and they have all done very well for themselves.
SM: The Prize Family has a certain swagger. As an event promoter and an event guy, why is it important for your events to have that swagger and a culture of its own?
GK: It started sort of like a teenage insecurity like “I’m cool, right?!” It was almost more of a thought where if we would say it, people would believe it type of thing. I would get very passionate and emotional about people showing up for the Film Prize. And you have to think, in year one, there were four hundred of us if I counted every volunteer, every filmmaker, and my mom and all her friends. But last year, we had over 3,200 people. Now the swagger is legitimate in the sense that it is a swagger with everyone there. Anyone who shows up is the coolest person in town. I love getting to indoctrinate a whole new group and tell them what they are missing. I was at a meeting with the Shreveport Bar Association and they asked if anyone knew of the Film Prize. Out of 100 people, only two knew of it. You could tell they were embarrassed. But after getting to talk with them and share about the Prize, the Shreveport Bar Association is going to have an opening party for the Film Prize. These are lawyers that are going to have their own party down there. They are going to blow it out because they believe in this and they want to be a part of it.
SM: What is Shreveport’s biggest strength?
GK: I will tell you what Shreveport’s biggest strength isn’t first. We don’t have great beaches and we don’t have mountains. But what we have here, more than anything, and more than any other place we have ever been, we have some of the most kick ass people on the planet. And I am not just saying that. The great thing about Shreveport is if you want to start something here, they will do their best to not let you fail. One of the things that Shreveport will do is that, if you are pure in heart and have good intentions, they will support you. And that makes a huge difference. I am lucky in the sense that I have a family that has been here a long time, but I will also tell you that when I go out and raise money, I have to go far beyond anyone that has ever met me before or knows me, I still find people that totally get it. They want to support it and do whatever they can to lift it up. Not everyone can give money, but at the end of the day, if they could just tell me they are going to support it and show up, and they do show up, that means just as much. It is not the same in places like Austin or Dallas. There is a competitive nature there—and there might be here too at some point. But right now if you are willing to get in there, get your hands dirty, and create something, they will show up and be a part of it.
SM: So where do you see the Film Prize in ten years? What does it look like?
GK: I see a world that is really one of the preeminent festivals when people think of film, music, and food. And as hard as it is to put on, I want them to think of entrepreneurship. I see it as a small part of what Shreveport is, but I see it as a strong vernacular when people talk about what an amazing place this city is. Like, you have to be here for this, because this is an amazing part of an amazing city. The ultimate goal for me and my team is to be part of what makes this city a better city. I can’t fix roads, I can’t run city budgets, but I can create something that people can be a part of and proud of. Then take that thing that they are proud of and emanate that out to other parts of their city. If we can be a small part of that big solution, then we have been successful.