ITVFest attendee lands deal

Pitched idea for digital series, got a contract

MANCHESTER — Ever since Sonja O'Hara moved to New York City to pursue acting at age 17, she dreamed of having an opportunity emerge from her experience at the ITVFest.

After serving as a panelist at the independent film festival, the first year it was held in Manchester, O'Hara met with an executive from Adaptive Studios, a production company based in California. She pitched a dramatic thriller digital series "Astral."

"I didn't think anything would come of it," O'Hara said. "What I think

ITVFest is doing is really incredible, taking people with a lot of talent who don't have access to those big agencies.

"I'd like to think I wouldn't have gotten this deal if it weren't for ITVFest and Manchester opening their arms."

Adaptive recently rebooted HBO's Project Greenlight with Matt Damon and Ben Affleck and was involved in Netflix's Coin Heist. In addition to the aforementioned networks, Adaptive has partnered with Verizon, Miramax, FX Networks, YouTube Red, Fox Animation, and Lionsgate, to name a few.

ITVFest is a week-long public festival where creators showcase to TV executives, agents and producers in the small-town rural environment of southern Vermont.

O'Hara's Doomsday series previously won "Best Series" at ITVFest, HollyWeb Fest and Brooklyn WebFest. She was also chosen as one of the "Ten Filmmakers To Watch" by Independent Magazine and awarded "Best Director" at the New York Television Festival. Doomsday is available on Amazon Prime.

In Doomsday, O'Hara worked as a co-director and actress. She said working with Adaptive will be a bit different -- handing over the reigns more. Currently she's writing the first six episodes of the series to submit to a team at Adaptive who will look over the episodes and give O'Hara feedback to do rewrites. Out of the six, O'Hara will act in three.

"I see it as they're giving me a huge opportunity and giving me another step in my career," she said. "It's a big exciting next step as an actor and director to get my work seen by way more people."

She explained that this experience already has improved the success of other meetings with large filmmaking agencies because "they think of it as a lesser risk."

Because O'Hara embodies multiple talents in the film industry, she said she finds acting easier. Having directing as another piece to the entire puzzle allows her to spread her focus.

"It made acting much less emotional for me," she said. "Sometimes there's roles for myself in that script and I have to run off the actor part and focus on the script as a director. Now that I feel like I've graduated a little more, it's a different split of focus. I try to schedule my scenes over a couple of days so there's moments where I can focus on just the directing."

She also said she'll have the ability to act in one project and direct another instead of eventually eliminating one occupation.

This spring O'Hara is meeting with the top five talent agencies in the world. Her goal is to make a television show that's an hour long drama for a major network or bring a feature film to the Sundance Film Festival.

Sundance takes place in Park City, Utah every year for independent filmmakers. ITVFest executive director Phil Gilpin Jr. said he heard people say the town of Manchester had the same atmosphere as Park City did during Sundance when ITVFest started.

"The fundamental most important part for the Manchester experience is the incredible support of everybody who lives here locally," Gilpin said. "A number of artists and executives were saying they've never been in a place where people are so interested. It's a really welcoming atmosphere that a lot of these artists don't get in New York or Los Angeles. That was really the golden piece of it."

ITVFest was held in Dover, Vt., from 2013 to 2016 and relocated to Manchester in 2017. It's existed in Vermont for 13 years. Gilpin said the ultimate goal is to expose the area in the hope that families, filmmakers and producers will move to Vermont to live and work there. To support that initiative ITVFest is working on incentive and production packages to give people a reason to be in Manchester year round, not just during a week-long festival, Gilpin explained.

O'Hara attested that she can't wait to return to shoot shows in Manchester.

"What we've been building toward for all these years in Vermont is how do we attract as many productions to this area as possible year round so there's enough work here," Gilpin said. "A lot of young families want to get out of the city and if they could live in a place like Manchester they told us through surveys and directly that they would love the opportunity."

Other artists have made deals as a result of the 2017 ITVFest, but Gilpin said the details can't be released yet.

"I can't express how truly unique and rare and special this kind of deal is," Gilpin said. "The fact that you had a creator from New York and an executive from Los Angeles going to Manchester to focus, relax and meet each other .. there aren't very many deals that get done in the independent TV world; only a few per year. It's pretty unique."


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