Saturday, May 03, 2008

The weekend interview

Here's a new strand to the blog - following on from Glimmer, the 6th Hull International Short Film Festival (HISFF from now on), I thought it would be interesting to interview people from across the whole spectrum of film, from writing scripts and producing films through to exhibiting and writing about film. So, here's the first "weekend interview" (think of it as your Saturday Review or Sunday Supplement), with Rose Chamberlain of "Film and Festivals" magazine. Rose is a Brazilian filmmaker and journalist who started the Brazilian Film Festival "Something from Brasil" in 2005, and she and I did the "Films, Filmmakers and Film Festivals" panel together at HISFF a couple of weeks ago. Here's what she had to say when I caught up with her last week:

As someone who has run a film festival and now runs a magazine about them, what would you say is the role of film festivals for writers and film makers?
Festivals work like a window, as a platform to support young and beginning filmmakers, right through to those for the super-professionals. Each festival has a particular feel, and defines its own audience. You may go for the market side of it if you’re a professional, for the networking side if you’re newer to it. It’s important for anyone in the industry to be in contact with festivals, to make contacts with people, build networks.

For short filmmakers in particular, do you think the internet is becoming more significant, or will traditional festivals continue to be important?
The internet needs to be used as part of the festival network. Events themselves won’t finish – it’s the same conversation as the one about digital distribution – the internet won’t end the idea of an event, the opportunity to go and socialise; the internet can support film festivals and support short film directors. I think the opportunity of new platforms, whether that’s the internet, video on demand, and so on, might be a chance for short film directors to make some money – it’s very difficult to make revenue from shorts but with Joost and Babelgum, for example, that use advertising revenue models, instead of a buyer model, and share revenues with directors and producers it might be possible. But I don’t think that will end festivals, festivals are an opportunity for showing a film and getting an audience. Directors should combine both models.

No-one knows exactly what model to follow right now. The distribution industry is going through a shift; the old model of distributing films has been broken, where you would get the posters, the opening night, the stars; the internet engages directly with the audience and independent producers can now do their own distribution, utilising free social networking sites for example.

You can achieve much greater access now, with almost no budget at all, plus the way people consume is changing. However , it’s important to take in consideration that not everyone has access to broadband yet. We are in the middle of big changes but no-one knows what’s going to happen and no-one has figured out how to create a stable economic model for the internet. Films still make money on DVD but for how long?

What strategy would you advise writers to take when thinking about festivals?
Figure out which festivals have workshops, or look at specific festivals for writers. Select festivals on the basis of who it’s for. Apply for as many labs as possible, that’s really important because it’s a good opportunity for access to some very good professionals in your field, plus you can meet others in the same position as you, and there’s an opportunity to engage with producers. You can write the best film ever but if you’re not making contacts, no-one will know.

What strategy should short film makers have?
Try to push the film as much as possible. With short films, directors need to think about their film as a distributor would think. Create a strategy, use the internet, create posters and flyers, and select festivals that are compatible with your film. If you get accepted by one, and you do well, you’re more likely to get accepted by others. Programmers talk to each other, ask what they’ve seen. Festivals are an opportunity to build your own audience. Put the film out as much as possible – often, no-one included promotion in the budget so there’s no money left after post-production. Filmmakers can easily spend up to $1000 on submitting to festivals, and you don’t even know if you’re going to get accepted.

Create a webpage, create a blog, make a trailer to go on Myspace, use all available platforms. Look at submitting to European festivals as they often charge less than American ones. If you’re in the UK, it’s worth looking at your regional film agency – they might have a budget to help you. Also the British Council select a number of films and support certain festivals, and they may help you go to the festival. It can be a full time job – you think you’ve finished your film, no you’ve just started! After all, if you make a film and no-one sees it, what’s the point?

Film makers should watch more films. If you want to make short films, you need to think of short film as a genre, it’s not just a squashed feature film. It might be worth doing short films as training, or as an opportunity to show your skills, but you need to be making the best short film you can. If you understand what short film is about, you have a better chance of creating a really good piece of work and then going forward with your career.

What are the most common mistakes writers and short film makers make?
Trying to squeeze too big an idea into a short time. You don’t have the time to do everything you would do in a feature, the epic idea isn’t going to work and it looks like the director just wants to show off.

Also, I don’t understand why so many people make short films that are so dark and down. Is this a British thing? I enjoy seeing films where there’s some joy, a snap of life. I hate short films that are 40 minutes long – that isn’t a short film. If it’s more than 15 minutes it isn’t really a short.

Before you even begin to make your film, look at festivals and figure out where you’d like your film to go, see what type of films different festivals accept, what is the time limit they work with, look at last year’s programme for a festival, get a better understanding of what different places show. It gives you a better chance of getting accepted.

The other important thing is that with digital technology, more people have access to cameras, so more films get made; it doesn’t mean everyone is going to be successful at making films. Of course when you make your film you think it is the best, but you may go to festivals and in fact see that it’s not. Try not to get disillusioned.

Also, it’s worth doing short films so that you can experience different roles, learn about as many different departments as possible. As a filmmaker it’s always good to be open-minded, not everyone can be a director, and there may be a different department that you love and find that working there makes you happy. Be open minded. There’s loads you can do and it’s very exciting!

Interestingly, on the day Rose and I spoke, there was a blog post at the Guardian from a film maker questioning whether film festivals were worth bothering with at all. And although Shane Danielson's first comment might come over as a little sharp, I have to say I agree with the gist of it. Not getting accepted doesn't mean film festivals are worthless. Maybe the film's just not up to scratch. Been there, done that. Learn from it, move on.
Anyway, hope you enjoyed the interview. Check back next week for an interview with a producer, and after that, hopefully there'll be writers, artistic directors, and whoever else I can get my hands on! Let me know if you have burning questions, or people you'd like to see interviewed.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

hey Sal, this is great, more of same please! - Helen

11:58 pm  
Blogger potdoll said...

Thanks for this Sal - enjoyed it very much. Useful, too.

10:13 am  
Anonymous Baxter Long said...

12th Annual LA Shorts Fest is the largest short film festival in the world. We are accredited by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences. In past years, 29 participants have earned Academy Award nominations. Last year’s award winners received prizes totaling over $100,000. The festival annually attracts more than 10,000 moviegoers, filmmakers and entertainment executives looking for the hottest new talent. We have honored some of Hollywood’s legends of the past: Charles Chaplin, Harold Lloyd, and Robert Wise; along with actors Martin Landau, James Woods, Gary Oldman and directors Tim Burton, Bryan Singer, Jan de Bont and Paul Haggis.

Final: May 26, 2008
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8:26 pm  

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