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World of Wonder’s Fenton Bailey & Randy Barbato: “No is the beginning of yes”

World of Wonder's Fenton Bailey & Randy Barbato: "No is the beginning of yes"

What’s the secret behind the success of Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato, the duo responsible for “Becoming Chaz” and “RuPaul’s Drag Race” and recipients of the 15th Annual Outfest Achievement Award? According to Tori Spelling, who moderated Outfest’s panel with the producing partners on July 9th, it’s their motto: “No is the beginning of yes.”

“Few acts can balance mainstream popularity with cult status and maintain their independence, singular vision, and relevance – especially in the mood shifting LGBT landscape,” praised Kirsten Schaffer, Executive Director of Outfest, when announcing that Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato would be receiving the festival’s 2011 achievement award, which was given to John Schlesinger in its inaugural year (1997) and last year to Jane Lynch.

It’s no doubt that Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato know how to put on a show. At the Tori Spelling-moderated Outfest panel, which took place two days after the achievement award ceremony, a tribute reel summed up Bailey and Barbato’s dizzying array of credits ranging from “Party Monster” to all six seasons of “Tori & Dean.” Spelling joked that the duo have a “no is the beginning of yes” drawer in which they keep projects they won’t give up on no matter how many potential buyers pass over the years.

While accepting their Outfest award, Bailey and Barbato pitched their most recent passion project to the captive audience at the Orpheum Theatre. “Picture this,” hyped Barbato, “‘Entourage’ meets ‘Flashdance’ with Abercrombie & Fitch sprinkled on top.” And onto the stage danced the attractive Shaping Sounds troupe to perform a well-received interpretive dance number.

Between the two Outfest events, Bailey and Barbato spoke to indieWIRE about their thoughts on how the independent film and documentary landscape have changed over the years and why they consider today a golden age.

Barbato: In terms of independent film, we’ve watched it go from kind of ‘niche but exciting’ [in which] you’d discover and hear from new voices, and a lot of those happened to be gay or lesbian because it was really the only outlet. But then we watched independent film almost become mainstream and become co-opted by the mainstream in many ways.

Right now we’re at an interesting time where there’s such a thin line between the mainstream and independent film.

Bailey: One of the big changes that we’ve seen is that the separate worlds of independent film and the world of television are converging.

A lot of people talk about Reality TV often in quite negative terms, but we see a lot of Reality TV – not all, but a lot – as being an incredible renaissance for verite filmmaking, for documentary storytelling.

Sometimes the differences between these different genres are more emphasized than the things that they have in common. We feel not much attention gets paid to that. And that’s why it was so very special to get that Outfest award last night. We have made some feature films, and we’ve also made theatrically released documentaries, and we’ve done a lot of television. But the way we see it, it’s about storytelling.

What’s so exciting about the time we’re in is that there are so many different ways to tell a story – far more ways than there once were. It’s technology, it’s cameras, it’s more media, it’s more channels, it’s more outlets.

As for the model of how you distribute – or monetize – your film, there are so many different ways to do it now. It used to be maybe you’d take your film to a festival, and try to sell the film at a festival to get a theatrical deal. But now to get your film seen by people, it’s not always necessary that your film be released in theaters. It could be on the small screen, it could be via Netflix – there are so many ways to get your film out there. And depending on what your story is, what kind of film it is, I think you just have to look at each case individually and see what works best.

It’s a great time to be in the world, telling real stories. It’s an amazing golden age.

While they were looking back, Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato congratulated indieWIRE on its 15th anniversary…

Barbato: indieWIRE has been the place to go for 15 years, and Fenton and I have been regular readers that whole time. It’s often where we not only get our information but also get some of our juicy gossip.

Bailey: The success and growth of indieWIRE speaks to the seismic changes in film in that period of time. Because when indieWIRE started, I don’t think anyone necessary thought that it would become the go-to place…to get your news in that space. So the success of indieWIRE, the underdog, is very exciting. Because in regards to monolithic structures, it’s all changing. IndieWIRE rises, “News of the World” falls.

Barbato: It’s exciting turning 15 – going from puberty into adulthood. In the past year or so there have been interesting and exciting changes that make us look forward to indieWIRE’s future.

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