On the first day of Catalyst Content Festival, an attendee could learn the bare-bones of how to make an “Avengers” movie, meet a producer from the town where “Dawson’s Creek” was set, apply coat after coat of “Take It With You” podcast lip balm.
The five-day fest, set for the first time in Duluth, is designed as a chance for creatives and Hollywood executives to network, strut stuff, and offer tips and tricks far from the entertainment hubs of New York City and Los Angeles.
On Wednesday morning, some festival-goers started with a session led by Jeff Gomez of Starlight Runner Entertainment, who talked about a shift in narrative trends, and closed nine hours later with happy hour at Embassy 35, a pop-up art show at 206 E. Superior St. with large-scale projections and Duluth’s best eeps-meeps-and-knobs musicians like Tyler Scouton, Tim Kaiser and Robot Rickshaw. (Not to mention Alex Hecker on a mega Clarinet.)
There are about 125 executives at the festival, according to Riki McManus of the Upper Minnesota Film Office, including representatives from Hulu, Netflix, NBC and CBS.
“I’m thrilled that they want to come here,” said McManus, who is leading a tour of northern Minnesota locations on Sunday — and throwing in smoked lake trout from Russ Kendall’s Smoke House for the small group.
There is an almost equal amount of volunteers, some in red shirts directing foot traffic through construction areas on East Superior Street. The Greater Downtown Council turned the dirt, holes and orange construction fence into lemonade:
“Hey Catalyst! We have a construction set ready for you” a sign read. On another: “Our set is still under construction. We’re making it perfect before the curtain call.”
The festival's headquarters, located near the box office at the NorShor Theatre, had a steady stream of festival-goers stop in for ID lanyards and event swag bags with Duluth Coffee Company samples, invitations to after parties, pins and more.
Ben Phelps, a talent manager and producer from Los Angeles via Minneapolis, was in the double role of volunteer. He greeted people outside of theater.
“It’s about the networking you get in the intimate space,” he said.
Joe Stauffer of Wilmington, N.C., home of “Dawson’s Creek” and “One Tree Hill,” is the producer behind “Limbo,” a dark good versus evil drama.
This was his team’s first time at the fest.
“We’re just looking for people to check it out,” he said.
Some creators, as they’re identified on their lanyards, passed out film postcards with cover images, festival credits and contact information. Take It With You, the very Duluth-y podcast that records monthly in front of an audience, distributed lip balm next to a sign: “Helloooo, Catalyst! Welcome to Duluth. Take It With You cares for your lips as much as we care for your ears.”
Ben Kawalter, from Los Angeles, is showing “That’s Not Me” — billed as “unsuited for network television.”
“I’d love to have representation. I’d love for someone to want to turn this into a series,” he said after a session at Fitger’s on Wednesday. “I’d love for someone to say ‘Let’s make you the gay ‘Fleabag.’”
Arun Narayanan, who stars in the web series “Arun Considers,” will have his script “Adventures of Ash and Owen” read on Friday. This is his second time at the festival, which he credits with helping him to making good friends.
“It felt very intimate,” he said, comparing the not-Los Angeles to a destination wedding.
After a morning with sessions, there were screenings of short comedies, docs and dramas at Zinema and the Spirit of the North Theater. About 10 writers opted for a master class with Jacob Krueger, an informal festival-long session by a high-energy and amiable screenwriter and writing coach.
Among his notes: “Avengers” movies are superhero versus superhero with a not-super deep moral or political issue at hand, cue fabulous action sequence and the breakdown of Iron Man’s suit; binge “The Wire,” "it’s a masterpiece"; “Your audience is not as scary as you think” and “never pitch what you wouldn’t want to write.”
Lance Karasti, a local filmmaker, took a job with Catalyst so he could be on site. He is a venue manager by day, but at night he hoped to run into someone from Netflix. His last movie, “Hyperdark,” was made at 60 frames per second — which Netflix is designed for. But first he introduced a series of short dramas before they played at Zinema 2.