Six Ways Independent Filmmakers Leverage Film Festivals

Film festival roles have seen dramatic changes over the past two decades. Filmmakers struggle with distribution despite the power of the internet. Film festivals themselves seem to come and go – the festival attrition rate seems to be higher than ever.

So what is the point of a film festival? This is something I’ve struggled with since Raindance Film Festival started way back in 1993. Nonetheless, Raindance has continued and indeed has managed to flourish. today where I sit from Planet Raindance I feel that more than ever a film festival roles are more important for independent filmmakers than ever.

All film festivals are the product of the vision of their creators and the result of thousands of hours of dedicated staff who work, often for little or no financial reimbursement to put on their film festival. Usually, as with Raindance – with little or no public funding. Without wanting to sound bitter (I’m not) a film festival, properly run, offers these six terrific benefits for independent filmmakers.

film festival roles1. Film festivals offer theatrical distribution

The role of a film festival is to deliver a room full of people to watch and admire your work.

The fact is independent films rarely get played in a cinema. A festival plays films in a cinema. Filmmakers can use this for their red carpet screening hoping to attract an audience. Many filmmakers use a film festival tour to kick-off for their online distribution.

film festival roles

Ken Loach receiving an award from Festival director Elliot Grove at Raindance Film Festival 2016

Film festivals offer awards

There’s nothing quite like being nominated for an award. And nothing quite as sweet as winning an award – slamming the laurels onto one’s website and postcard for your film. Although the festival you attend might not be known at all, the mere sight of a laurel wreath somehow adds credibility to your film making it a little bit easier to convince someone else to watch your film.

As a filmmaker one tends to favour festivals with key jury members who presumably watch your film and deliver to it the accolades you know it deserves.

film festival roles

Film festivals develop a filmmaker’s brand

Festivals like Raindance release a hundred films in a week. In order to attract audiences festivals describe their catalogue as a series of genres. Sometimes the festivals are genre specific. London, for example, has the famous Frightfest and London Sci-fi festivals.

Getting the branding right for your film (and your career) is the trick. for example: here is a list of essential horror and fantasy film festivals.

Whichever festival you choose, and whatever festival accepts your film, make sure that it fits your branding.

film festival roles

Journalists at the Berlin Film Festival

 

 

Festivals start the hype

The unique aspect of screening at a film festival is how the goals of the festival and the filmmaker merge. Both sides need to get people talking about the film. the festival needs the hype to attract punters to the cinema. And a filmmaker needs good reviews to add to their press kit. Hiring a press agent is often a good strategy for a filmmaker in order to maximise the festival apprearance. And hiring a publicist is an essential for a film festival.

film festival roles

Film festivals are a test screening

Many film screenings at Raindance are essentially feedback sessions. Filmmakers pass out survey forms and questionnaires. It’s not uncommon for a film to be recut after a festival screening. The festival screening itself is interesting here at Raindance because our programmers choose films from all over the world. often a film that plays well in its native country, like Canada or Japan, won’t gather the same type of audience response as it has done in its home territory. Festivals are a cost-effective way for filmmakers to test their films in front of an impartial audience.

film festival roles

 

 

Film festivals provide a community

It’s at a film festival where you meet like-minded people – not just festival attendees but fellow filmmakers. Festivals are a great place to meet new collaborators, and also to bask in the warmth of praise for your work. One of the key film festival roles is to provide an environment for networking.

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Raindance

“Ocean” wins at the Toronto Smartphone Film Festival

Raindance MA alumni Lia Tarachansky won the Women in Film Award at the Toronto Smartphone Film Festival for her short film Ocean.

Lia Tarachansky is a Russian-Israeli video journalist who reported on the attack, on the rockets Gazan militant groups launched in return, and on the rise of a pro-war movement in Israel.

Ocean happens at the time when, in 2014, the Israeli army began another round of bombardment on the Gaza Strip. The film was entirely shot with an iPhone 5.

Lia Tarachansky Ocean

Congratulations Lia!

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Raindance

Watch: 5 Skills That Can Help Make You a More Successful Film and Video Editor

There are a lot of skills that all good editors seem to have, but here are 5 you can focus on.

What does it take to be a good editor? It’s difficult to determine simply by observing their work, because 1.) edits are largely supposed to be invisible, and 2.) the brilliance is in what’s not there as opposed to what is. So, if you’re just starting out and aren’t really sure which skills you need to work on to get to the next level of your career, editor Justin Odisho names five in this informative video that you can get started on right away.

The job of an editor is rough. Not only do you have to hole up in a tiny room and stare at a timeline for days, weeks, or months, but you also have to have proficiency in both creative and technical skills. You have to know how to tell a story visually and know how to set keyframes in an NLE. You have to know how different edits affect audiences psychologically and know how to establish an efficient workflow.

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No Film School

Beautiful Second Trailer for Bong Joon Ho’s Animal Rescue Film ‘Okja’

Okja Trailer

«Everything you believe you know about Okja is a lie.» Netflix has launched a second full-length trailer for Bong Joon Ho’s Okja, which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival last month to quite a bit of good buzz. The film stars Ahn Seo-hyun as a girl named Mija who befriends a giant pig-hippo-cow creature she calls Okja. When the company that created Okja comes to collect it, Mija goes off on adventure trying to rescue and bring her home. Tilda Swinton is back (from Snowpiercer) in the cast, along with Jake Gyllenhaal, Paul Dano, Lily Collins, Steven Yeun, Giancarlo Esposito, Devon Bostick, Shirley Henderson, Daniel Henshall, and Choi Woo-shik. I saw this in Cannes and enjoyed it, saying in my review: «Only someone as daring, innovative and skilled as Bong Joon Ho could come up with and pull off a film like this.» ›››

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5 Hottest Novels by Women Ripe for Making into Film

With director Park Chan-wook wooing audiences around the world with his sumptuous, imaginative reworking of Sarah Waters’s novel Fingersmith, in his erotic thriller The Handmaiden, you’d be forgiven for thinking books by women get snapped up to be made into film all the time. Yet frustratingly, female writers are still routinely dismissed as being ‘too domestic’, when in truth the clarity of their storytelling and their nuanced examination of human relationships scream ‘ready-made for cinema’. There are entire bookstores of novels by women that haven’t (as yet!) been adapted. So here at Raindance we aim to rectify that situation, with our pick of the hidden gems – the Top 5 Hottest Novels By Women we believe deserve a book-to-film deal:

5 Hottest Novels by Women Ripe for Making into Film

THE GUSTAV SONATA by Rose Tremain (Vintage)
A familiar World War 2/Holocaust backdrop but in an unusual, visually enticing Swiss setting, Tremain spins the tale of the unlikely friendship lasting into middle age between a well-heeled Swiss boy and an anxious Jewish piano prodigy. The film industry could use a fresh angle on the impact of war on relationships, and this novel, structured in three movements (echoing the sonata of the title) might just provide it, especially if accompanied by a soaring score to reflect the agony of lives half lived.

 

 

INVISIBLE THREADS by Lucy Beresford (Quartet)
Part missing person thriller, part exposé of India’s sex trade, Beresford’s shortlisted novel is also a love story. Searching Delhi for answers about her husband’s mysterious death, English doctor Sara falls for her low-caste driver Hemant but gets sucked into a world where prostitutes as young as seven writhe in pink polyester saris. As might be expected from the host of a radio sex show, Beresford’s novel has pungent things to say about sexual desire. It’s City of Joy meets Taken, with a plucky female heroine (we’re thinking Felicity Jones) – the perfect formula for film adaptation.

 

 

THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS by Ursula K. Le Guin (Orbit)
With Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale newly adapted for British television, now is a good time to revisit other feminist works of alternative universes. Le Guin’s novel from the 1980s has stood the test of time in its explorations about gender and politics. It’s set on a planet called Winter where the weather is semi-arctic, and all people are all sexes rolled into one. Plus, if you believe the world needs a more feminist Lord of the Rings, Le Guin’s imaginative world gives masses of scope for a big-budget film within the fantasy genre.

 

 

 

STATE OF WONDER by Ann Patchett (Bloomsbury)
Patchett’s shortlisted novel lays bare the powerful rivalries within academia, as scientist Marina journeys deep into the Amazon rain forest to search for her colleague (and secret lover) Dr. Swenson who might have found a miracle cure based on tree bark. Think The Emerald Forest meets Medicine Man, but with two terrific female leads, as Marina clashes with a former medical mentor. It’s a story we reckon contains plenty of scope for a meaty on-screen battle of ideas as well as cultures.

 

 

BLACK DIRT by Nell Leyshon (Picador)
Frank has come home to die, a morphine drip controlling his pain. As he drifts in and out of consciousness, Holy Grail myths and enchanting stories from his childhood compete with uglier memories and the immediate need to make arrangements for his disturbed son. We envisage a film adaptation which celebrates the rural idyll as much as it charts the end of a life, to make a thoughtful, atmospheric film along the lines of The Sea Inside by Alejandro Amenábar – reunited perhaps with Javier Bardem to play Frank.

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Raindance

The Most Important Film You Can Make

Any creative person who has ever had that feeling of having a major breakthrough in the creative process – that moment when you find the key to a scene, a character, the theme of your story – knows how rare those moments can be. There are countless quotes from luminaries of yesteryear that will remind you that inspiration isn’t “business as usual”. It’s quite the opposite.

Inspiration is like waiting for sleep to come: you’ll be tossing and turning for what feels like ages until you find yourself waking up the next morning having had a good night’s sleep (hopefully). You’ll be at your desk, or in a coffee shop, staring at the flashing cursor on a virtual, but really blank, page. And then your force yourself to type the magic words that go: Fade in. You got this, you’ve done it before. Before you know it, you’ve got a first draft.

Then you’ve got to do a second draft to re-assess the structure. Then you’ve got to do a third draft to make sure that the theme of your story is apparent. Then you realise that you may want to make a character’s motivation more apparent. Then there’s the dialogue. Then there’s something else and before you know it you’ve done half a dozen drafts and you can’t see the end of it. You know you’re close but you can’t.

Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling described the best moment of the writing process as being two-thirds into a book, when the plot comes together and she’s done most of the work and she can see the end.

Managing a career in the creative industries is an incredible challenge that requires resourcefulness, toughness, single-mindedness, relentlessness and all around the attitude of a torpedo going that was just launched towards its target —and that’s just if you’re lucky enough to have made it your day job.

Maybe you’re at the stage when you’re doing a film on your iPhone with your mates every weekend. In that case, you’ll need all of the above, times ten.

Does that sound depressing? Maybe. Maybe not. At any rate, there’s an upside to it. (And if you’ve got that single-minded torpedo attitude, you’ll be one to look at upsides to fuel you.)

Creativity is a muscle. And just like every other muscle, you need to train it and keep using it in order to know how it works and be more efficient when using it. That way, you’ll be ready when the day comes that you need or want to run a marathon. That way, people will notice how good you are when you’re applying for a job. That way, your work will get better as well.

I may be a partisan of the fact that there is no progress in art, or only marginally so, but I do think that there is an improvement in how to use one’s tools, and that includes your creativity. A director will improve their skills at figuring out a theme, a style or a characterisation. A producer will figure out how to make a production leaner, or more efficient and provide the best circumstances for other creative to do their best work.

The rewards for this are obviously not immediate. The learning process is long and frustrating, and if you can’t motivate yourself no one else will do it for you. But the only opportunity that you will have to learn about yourself and your process is when you’re actually doing the work and flexing those muscles.

Everyone gets stuck sometimes. There is a story of Robert De Niro walking on a set and intimidating everyone around him, simply by virtue of him being Robert De Niro, and when the cameras started rolling, he let them roll and didn’t do anything. He just whispered “I don’t have it… I don’t have it…” until he eventually found a way to deliver the lines, and found the place where his lines were supposed to be coming from.

That is why everyone needs training. It can be formal – university – or informal -watching movies non-stop and making them as well. Either way you need to practice and get feedback in order to get better at what you do, and be ready all the time.

Screenwriting guru William C. Martell tweeted a story the other day about just that: being ready. In the 70’s, the head of Paramount Studios Robert Evans (the man who helmed The Godfather, Rosemary’s Baby, Chinatown and many other classics), was doing a Q&A session. At the end of the event, he asked anyone in the audience to give him their script and promised he would read them —but Martell didn’t have a script. He finishes his post by asking his reader: if you ran into Steven Spielberg himself at the grocery store, would you be ready?

Would you have a script to shove (politely) into his hands? Would you have a showreel to redirect him to? If you’ve practised your craft and have kept pursuing your endeavours, you’ll have something substantial enough that he can commission you for a rewrite, or maybe hire you for another job.

That’s why the most important film you can make is the next one. It may not be your masterwork, it may not be the one that will get Spielberg to call you (plus you’ve already met him at the store anyways), but it’ll show that you are industrious enough and practiced enough that you’re a force to reckon with and you’re someone they’d want to work with.

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Raindance

Seven Deadly Sins Film Directors Make

The most glamorous job in the film industry is that of a film director. Everyone wants to direct. There are seven deadly sins film directors make (even the experienced ones). Avoid these and you stand an excellent chance of launching your career.

Seven Deadly Sins Film Directors Make

1. Striving for perfection

Directors, particularly new ones, believe they have to be perfectionists. No. Films exist because of constant compromise. Compromise is key. A director’s talent is the quality of his/her compromises. Combined these compromises become your signature.

2. Burn the Budget

OK, there are two ways of looking at this.
A. Make sure you use all the money you have (and a bit more if you can).
B. Don’t fool yourself into thinking the budget determines the quality of your film. It certainly determines the production value, and therefore possibly distribution and how many people you reach, but NOT the quality.

3. Only good scripts become good films

Not true.

Dialogue is nothing more than body language, the same value as the way a character walks, or their smile, or their clothes. Plot is a vehicle with a flat tire a few days later. The only three things that make a film:
A. An interesting vision of the director.
B. Making the right shots (the camera tells the story, not the script).
C. A good story of course (which you stumble on while you shoot the film based on a bad story).

 4. Sex, Drugs and Filmmaking

There is no good way of making a film. Peckinpah was a drunk. Perhaps Spielberg sniffs coke like perfume. They’re not bad filmmakers. Some directors are miserable tyrants, misogynists, or empathetic to a fault but still profess to love their children. Talent is like cancer. It moves into a person without any prejudice.

5. Personal Films are a Must

See, I believe that’s true. But it’s a bit the same as saying: “There’ll be sunshine after the rain.” It may very well be true, but there’s nothing you can do about it. You, as a director, can only be what you are. Every filmmaker makes personal films. Every one of them. Only the audience perceives some more as personal than others mostly because the audience is pre-conditioned and brainwashed. In fifty years it may very well be different.

6. Be nice to your crew

I distrust directors who treat their crew like close family (and usually treat their close family like a crew).

Filmmaking has a selfish side and you better believe it. Be fair, be stern if needed, kind if possible, but never pretend you’re there for anything else than making your film. You’re not there to hold hands and sing kumbaya at the close of each shoot day. If you don’t fake, the crew will love you more in the end.

7. Who cares?

In the light of the universe and eternity nothing matters. But we live in the now, and to me the now matters. If you can make a film that excites people (even just a few), gives them a thought, an emotion or something that holds beauty you have achieved something valuable. You have communicated and have given value to your existence and that of others. That’s a treasure you can be proud of.

Ate de Jong presents a film directing masterclass at Raindance in London. In this weekend class De Jong will show you the tricks and traps of the trade he has learned from his own experience making two dozen films in Europe and Hollywood. Film directing masterclass details can be found here.

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Raindance

A Vibrant Year — My Favorite Films from the 2017 Cannes Film Festival

2017 Cannes Film Festival

What are the best films out of this year’s Cannes Film Festival? Which ones should you be taking an interest in? What films should be a priority for you to see? After 12 days at the 70th Cannes Film Festival, after 30 screenings, it’s time to present my 2017 list of my Top 5 Favorite Films. This was my 8th time back to this festival, and I love being there in the middle of all, committing fully to seeing as many films as I can. These five below are the ones that I adore, that connected with me emotionally or intellectually, and I hope everyone plans to check them out when they arrive in their neighborhood. They are worth the wait. There were many great films this year, and this is my final recap of the fest (with my list of all the films at the end). ›››

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