It’s been six weeks since the 2012 Merge Summit – a two-day gathering of industry hopefuls, eager to impact Hollywood by bridging the gap between ministry and entertainment. Time enough to evaluate not only the short term benefits but the long-term trajectory of an event that closely resembles an industry movement.
Building community and awareness alongside Christian-based content barons like Tyler Perry and T.D. Jakes, says The Merge Summit founder Dr. Holly Carter, “is life changing.”
We had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Carter of Relevé Entertainment about The Merge Summit (TMS) and her plans for 2013 – the year The Merge Summit goes more mainstream.
Why did you create The Merge Summit?
After traveling to different markets and churches, and meeting people who always wanted information about the industry and access… I couldn’t do it all — it was overwhelming. I realized there was a need. I wanted to figure out a way to platform opportunity for other believers. I got the vision one day, and three years later, I got the courage to move. Now, we’re planning the 2013 Merge Summit — our fifth year.
Who were your strategic partners in starting this venture?
Andrea Goodman, David Hutchinson, Ronnie Pitre and Robi Reed. We all sat down and began talking about it. Everyone was onboard, they were waiting for me to kick start it.
What have been the most immediate milestones of TMS?
Being able to platform and achieve successful paths for people that are believers and actually giving them hands-on experience and information. There’s still so much to achieve. But being able to hear the stories and testimonies of success, at least captures that first level of the many milestones that I’m endeavoring The Merge Summit to accomplish.
You’ve used the term ‘believers’ earlier – who are they?
People of faith… people who have a heart for ministry, for affecting change in entertainment by offering content that promotes inspiration.
What do you anticipate being the long term prospects/possibilities of the conference?
I want Merge to go global, international. I want to see people walk away with film deals, I want to do… a small film festival within Merge. I want to increase and enhance the level of takeaway for people.
How many people attended TMS 2012?
Fifteen hundred. We exceeded last year’s number, which topped out at 800. However, the goal isn’t to reach tens of thousands of attendees. We want The Merge Summit to be manageable, intimate. We want people to walk away with a good experience for both consumers and influencers. It’s very important to me that the impressions we’re able to make, the feedback continues to say this event changed my life.
I attended a couple panels at TMS 2012. The number of creatives and industry experts in attendance was impressive. Fellow attendees seemed comprised mostly of people new to the industry. Why so few industry vets at a conference loaded with industry titans?
Our demo, and therefore our target audience, is comprised of those emerging, those of faith… we purposely set our sights here. I wanted to give them a voice, platform and access.
We haven’t targeted the industry as a whole. There are enough of those types of conventions. There aren’t enough for The Merge audience.
Our focus shifts a bit for 2013, we’re expanding our reach. Denzel [Washington] has committed to returning next year. The goal is to make year five the big industry event where everyone is welcome.
The Cosby Writing Program ended this year. How can The Merge Summit potentially fill the gap left by this platform-building program?
I’m looking to increase the level of opportunity for Merge participants. I want to have writing programs. I was thinking of a bootcamp – a writing workshop we’d host for two days. I’m also thinking of mentoring, internships. Internships are good opportunities for Merge attendees. There’s also jobs, casting opportunities, etc.
It would seem that the entire business model ecosystem in Hollywood is shifting from studio-based content, to content created by creative entrepreneurs. Do you consider yourself, and by extension, The Merge Summit, part of that change?
Yes. I bring relationships to the table that represent financing, distribution. Going forward, this is the direction I’d like to take. I’m an advocate, player and partner. For us to have this voice and get our message out, a lot of times we have to go independent and prove our viability and sustainability for this market.
Do you have plans to create some sort of content/distribution pipeline for content producers?
I’ve been doing this a long time. Now that the seed’s been planted, God has opened doors. As long as we remain faithful and creative in how we deliver the message of inspiration, doors will continue to open. The time is now for what we’re doing, what we want to do. It can only get better if we stay smart, resolute.
And judging by The Merge Summit success, that plan is working.