Top TV Networks Gather In Denver This Week For SeriesFest Premiere

Photo: Kaily Smith Westbrook and Randi Kleiner of SeriesFest
SeriesFest co-founders Kaily Smith Westbrook, left, and Randi Kleiner stand outside Denver's SIE FilmCenter on Wednesday, June 17, 2015.

More than 10,000 people are expected to attend the first-ever SeriesFest in Denver this weekend. And its founders hope to find the next “Friends” or “Mad Men.”

The festival focuses on emerging talent in television. SeriesFest runs through Sunday at the Denver Film Society’s SIE FilmCenter and will feature 26 independent pilots in competition.

“There are so many networks and platforms looking for content,” says co-founder Kaily Smith Westbrook, who grew up in Denver before moving to New York to pursue a career in film and TV. “We hope this opens the door for people who go on to win Emmys.”

SeriesFest organizers paid close attention when actor and Sundance Film Festival founder Robert Redford said in January, “Right now, my impression is TV is advancing faster than filmmaking.”

And Smith Westbrook says they hope to do for television what Redford’s Sundance has done for independent film.

Festivities kick off Thursday night at Red Rocks Amphitheatre with performances by musician John Legend and comedian Whitney Cummings. SeriesFest will also host panels and preview shows premiering on networks like ABC, AMC and FX throughout the festival.

A jury will select best director, best writer, best actor, best actress and best pilot. On Sunday, SeriesFest will screen those shows again during an awards block. You can watch the winning pilot through Comcast on Demand after the festival.

CPR spoke with Smith Westbrook in anticipation of the inaugural festival.

CPR: How did you choose the pilots that you’ll screen at SeriesFest?

Photo: Malcolm McDowell stars in 'Sanitarium' at SeriesFest
Malcolm McDowell stars in "Sanitarium," one of 26 independent television pilots screening at the 2015 SeriesFest in Denver.

CPR: What did the judges look for while selecting?

Smith Westbrook: TV is different than film in that it wants to meet syndication. To last for years, there has to be a foundation of the story and the characters. It can’t just look pretty and be funny. We had to know that it had a life. That was a huge factor in deciding what we accepted into the festival. We had some submissions that looked really pretty and had some celebrities, but we had to say, "You shot it well, but we wouldn’t want to watch this for more than half an hour."

CPR: Tell us about a couple pilots that excite you.

Smith Westbrook: We were looking for something new and interesting that we hadn’t seen before in television. We have an animated show, a game show, a few comedies that are all different and would end up on different networks.

I’ve been obsessed with “Two Close.” It was done by students at Chapman University, and I think it should be on ABC Family. It’s about a brother and sister that are twins. They are going to their first year of college and looking for independence. Someone messes up and puts the girl twin in the system as a male and they end up as roommates again. So it’s them as young adults trying to figure out how to deal with each other and all of the issues that come up during the first year of college.

My mind was blown when I started watching “The Wake” too. It’s a sci-fi drama set in the future. The production quality was one of the best I saw and it could go on any number of networks or platforms.

CPR: What’s the end goal for SeriesFest?

Smith Westbrook: Our goal is to create a marketplace for TV in Denver and to find new artists, creators and stories. Television is a little different right now in the sense that people aren’t spending the money or don’t have the ability to create entire seasons. Usually the networks like to get involved and be a part of development. And we have a lot of executive producers and people coming in from nine networks. Time will tell, but I think we could have a number of these pilots moving forward at least in a development process with a network. Our side goal is we would love to have a production arm here and to be shooting shows and series in Colorado. That’s our next step.

CPR: Considering people typically watch television shows at home or on a personal device, why dedicate a festival to this content?

Smith Westbrook: There are so many platforms and networks out there, from cable to Amazon and Yahoo. You’re turning on HBO or Netflix, and you’re seeing 10-hour films broken up into hours. People love to binge watch. I think TV is bringing us together more than people think. There’s so much content now that people are talking about it a lot.

Also, 10 to 15 years ago they didn’t do big premieres of TV shows in theaters. But you look at shows on HBO and Showtime, they do have huge premieres now with red carpets. At the same time, you have stars who would have never done TV years ago, now they’re dying to get a big TV role. It’s really changed.

SeriesFest in Denver starts today and runs through Sunday, June 21.