While already sparking a revolution in financing of independent film, crowdfunding sites have only begun to be felt in the industry, Chapnick said.
"I'm still waiting for it to explode," he said. "We have thousands of films on Indiegogo that have been made possible through raising money for production, pre-production, post-production, distribution, the whole enchilada. But people are only just starting to grasp how powerful it is to dis-intermediate all of the processes that have got in the way of films reaching their audience. Filmmakers can tap the passion of their audience according to their passion to participate."
Coming in second place at Wednesday's "Pitchfest" competition by a difference of a single vote was Stephanie Seldin Howard for her doc, "The Caregivers," about families dealing with the return of U.S. soldiers wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan. The concept for her film has been germinating for years, she said, but it was at last year's Westdoc that she got the needed encouragement to move forward.
"I met some people who inspired me to go ahead and start shooting," said Howard, already filming families in Kansas, Texas and various cities on East Coast. "All this time I thought I have to wait until I find funding. But you can't get the money unless you can show something."
She is director, producer and writer on the film, and she hopes to partner with an established production company. She called the pitching experience exciting but "unnerving." Howard said after, "I spoke from the heart. The film lends itself to that."
Among the week's panelists was producer Tom Jennings, a former newspaper journalist who moved into television in the '90s and won a Peabody Award for last year's "MLK: The Assassination Tapes." The hourlong Smithsonian Channel documentary drew on local television news footage surrounding the 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis, most of it unseen since the event.
Jennings drew a distinction between the "docu-tainment" of "Housewives of Beverly Hills" and the more serious likes of Showtime's "The World According to Dick Cheney," and both forms were represented at Westdoc.
"There is a delineation between what you'll see in the theater, what you'll see on some of the premium cable networks and everyone else," said Jennings, whose company is based in Venice. "Everyone else is looking for television shows, whereas those niche networks are looking for films. And therein lies the difference."
Ahead of the official opening of the conference, attendees crowded into a restaurant banquet room on Sunday for an optional "master class" on how to secure a network green light.
"What we should really call this session is, 'What they say about you after you leave,'" media strategist and co-host Ed Hersh said to laughs of the trials of pitching to network executives. "There are more people watching more content on more screens than any time in history. The business model hasn't yet caught up. How do you monetize that?"
Some habits are harder to break. Hersh noted that as soon as "Duck Dynasty" became a massive cable hit, cable network offices began the process of handwringing and looking for a version of the same show.
Added co-host Peter Hamilton, who publishes Documentarytelevision.com, "You don't get fired for imitating someone else's success."