Back to Berlinale – More Festival, More Great Filmmakers, More Films

Berlin Film Festival

The next big film festival after Sundance every years is the Berlin Film Festival, also known as Berlinale for short. Celebrating its 68th year, the Berlin Film Festival kicked off today (Thursday, February 15th) in Potsdamer Platz in the middle of the city. This is my fifth year in a row covering Berlinale, it’s always a good time, the festival runs smoothly and all of the venues are top notch. Most of their screenings are on time, they’re always totally packed, but the crowds are focused on the film and ready to enjoy some cinema. This is a festival for the city, for locals to attend, but there’s also a huge contingent of press who fly in from all over the world see a few world premieres. I’m just happy to keep watching more films at another great fest. ›››

Continue Reading Back to Berlinale – More Festival, More Great Filmmakers, More Films

Deepfake Challenges Facing Filmmakers

Nic Cage as James Bond

How would you like the iconic John Wayne or Elizabeth Taylor in your movie, though long dead? It’s closer than you think. Deepfake allows a simple face swap using publicly available software.

Let me explain:

Altering images has been going on for as long as men and women could draw. But altering moving images is a century old practice and one noted for a painstakingly slow and tedious step after step.

In late 2017 an amateur hobbyist developer in America’s West Coast created software “DeepFakes.” Using a publicly available algorithm he was able to upload multiple images of someone’s face allowing the software to superimpose the images onto another’s body. All this using readily available free source software.

Within weeks, spoof videos of Donald Trump appeared on various animals and the race was on to exploit this new technology.

Deepfakes rapid rise

I don’t want to draw on the age-old algorithm that the porn industry fuels most filmmaking advances. Yet again porn has driven the use of DeepFake with blinding speed. Hobbyists began mimicking the faces of their favourite movie stars and putting them onto porn performers.

When news of this app starting popping up just after New Year 2018 the application process was time-consuming. The images had to be altered one-by-one and frame-by-frame. Automation seemed at least a year away according to message boards on Reddit.

That was in January 2018. But how quickly this has developed using deep algorithms and basic artificial intelligence software.

Redditor UnobtrusiveBot put Jessica Alba’s face on porn performer Melanie Rios’ body using FakeApp. “Super quick one – just learning how to retrain my model. Around 5ish hours – decent for what it is,” they wrote in a comment.

How do Deepfake apps work?

Deepfake apps like FakeApp use “machine learning algorithm” a form of artificial intelligence to mimic a person’s face. The app searches the internet for images of the subject. by using stills from social media websites like Instagram and clips from online videos the software places images frame by frame onto another face. It is very time-consuming, and even though automated the process can take an hour or two per minute of screen time.

If the subject skin tone and hair are similar to the base image the results are surprisingly convincing.


FakeApp mimics an actors face by analysing and ‘learning’ from hundreds of online pictures and videos

Deepfakeapp told me in a Reddit direct message that his goal with creating FakeApp was to make deepfakes’ technology available to people without a technical background or programming experience.

“I think the current version of the app is a good start, but I hope to streamline it even more in the coming days and weeks,” he said. “Eventually, I want to improve it to the point where prospective users can simply select a video on their computer, download a neural network correlated to a certain face from a publicly available library, and swap the video with a different face with the press of one button.”

Are Deepfake images legal?

Using anyone’s image without permission is illegal and wrong. Placing someone’s face on that of a porn star, for example, could open the door for a defamation suit claims Tony Morris who is a partner at London’s intellectual property firm Swan Turton and Raindance lecturer. He says that actors and actresses ‘could sue for defamation should they themselves be viewed negatively’.

Morris also can see that such images could be viewed as an invasion of privacy leading the victim to reporting such actions to the police. Acts such as these could also lead the victim to launch a lawsuit for ‘unlawful intrusion into their privacy.’


Videos featuring the likes of Arianna Grande (computer generated image) could not simply be immoral, but also illegal

Non-porn examples of Deepfake

As one would expect, Deepfake is used in satire images. for some reason Nicholas Cage’s face has been superimposed on a series of other actors faces in well-known movies

Reddit user Z3ROCOOL22 combined footage of Hitler with Argentina’s president Mauricio Macri in a decidedly quirky movie.

Opportunities for filmmakers

Scary but true, subject to clearing image rights there is no reason why John Wayne or Elizabeth Taylor couldn’t star in your next indie short or movie. And then, of course, the question remains: What happens to all the new and talented actors attempting to break in. No longer would you be competing with living actors but the greats of the past as well.

Fade Out

We were all warned about the potential for worryingly easy to use and free software available to make these movies. DeepFake apps are the way of the future. The really frightening thing is how they could be used by terrorists to create world leaders spouting off hostile messages and provoking yet more war.

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Self-Distribution For Filmmakers

It used to be that film self-distribution meant getting a van, a bunch of fly posters, and hitting the road. A few days before you pulled up into a town, an advance person would leaflet the place, and when you arrived, you would do some local radio, screen your film at the local rep cinema, collect the box office (minus the venue’s share) sell T-shirts, posters, CD’s and whatever else you thought you could sell, collect all the nickels and dimes, tank up the van with fuel and hit the road again.

Probably the most successful self-distributed movie we ever had at Raindance Film Festival was an ultra low budget comedy/horror/adventure/musical called Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter. Filmmaker Lee Demarbre Filmmaker Lee Demarbre took this film on the road in his native Canada and the States for over a year and reputedly earned back at least ten times the films budget. Y  You can watch the trailer here. Lee used the profit from the tour to make another movie, Harry Knuckles.

The beauty of self-distribution is that you cut out the middleman – the much loathed and feared distributor. These days it doesn’t mean that you have to do all the work yourself. You can hire publicists, theatre bookers and so on. But it does mean that you have to do more work.

Before you go any further, be sure you read the Cluetrain Manifesto. This genius work, created in 1999, concludes that success on the web demands integrity and originality

Here’s a taster: “Tell us some good stories and capture our interest. Don’t talk to us like you’ve forgotten how to speak. Don’t make us feel small, remind us to be larger. Get a little of that human touch.”
– The Cluetrain Manifesto.

Here are so recent success stories that might help you to parlay your film into a distribution success.

1. Bottle Shock

When “Bottle Shock” played at the Sundance Film Festival, it appeared to possess that mix so tantalizing to well-heeled indie distributors. It had a name cast, including Bill Pullman and Alan Rickman. The director came with a track record and a critically acclaimed short film. And the story, about a small American winery that triumphed over its French competitors in a blind tasting in 1976 and changed the world’s view of California wine, was an accessible one for audiences who flocked to “Sideways” a few years back.

But “Bottle Shock” found no love among distributors in Park City, Utah. So the director, Randall Miller, opened the film himself the next week in 12 cities. With their hopes for conventional movie deals increasingly dead on arrival, more and more indie filmmakers are opting for a do-it-yourself model: self-distribution, once the route of the desperate, reckless or defiant, has become an increasingly attractive option for movies otherwise deprived of theatrical exhibition. “Ballast,” “Wicked Lake,” “The Singing Revolution” and “Last Stop for Paul” are among the indies currently or recently taking the maverick route.

Read the complete article here

2. Navigating the Digital Divide

Filmmaker Magazine in the States has some of the very best filmmaking articles around. This one, by indie hero Lance Weller, gives a pretty comprehensive detail of the elements of self-distribution. Get it here

3. Hybrid Distribution

Peter Broderick is well-known for having founded the cool film finance and distribution company, Next Wave Films. He was one of the first to recognise the allure of hybrid distribution. Read one of his many excellent articles on the topic here.

4. Singing the Indie Blues with John Sayles

WHAT she’d really like, said the film producer Maggie Renzi, is “a big check and a lot of help.” So far, getting the help hasn’t been a problem. The big check, however, may depend on how well she and her longtime companion, the director John Sayles, can counter all the changes in the independent film business, effect a few of their own and reinvigorate an audience that most movie distributors write off as AARP, if not R.I.P.

Twenty-seven years and 16 features after they began their mutual career with “Return of the Secaucus Seven” in 1980, Mr. Sayles and Ms. Renzi — still enthusiastic despite the demanding life of independent filmmakers — are prepping for the public consumption of “Honeydripper,” which features an virtually all-black cast and is set around an Alabama juke joint (in about 1950) that Danny Glover’s character tries to keep in business. While the movie takes place in the past, its marketing campaign involves a forward-looking synthesis of digital projection, colleges, blues bars, underserved movie houses and the Internet.

Read the rest here

5. Four Eyed Monsters

I can’t believe there are still any filmmakers on the planet who haven’t heard of or seen this film made for a shoestring and which was seen by more people on the net than many Hollywood blockbusters, Here is Indiewire’s blog. Probably the most successful self-distributed film of all time, by numbers of people who saw and admired this film.

6. Beware the 5 Year Exclusive Contract

At this year’s film festival several so-called acquisition executives representing different websites waved an internet distribution deal at filmmakers. Amazingly, this ‘deal’ from so-called ‘acquisition executives’ offers little or no money up front, and generally handcuffs the film to the website even to the point of not allowing festival screenings or being attached to compilation dvds. I can’t think of a worse position to place yourself in, especially since promised revenue streams are always net of the website’s distribution expenses.

If you decide to opt for an IPTV deal, why not consider our very own

What next?

So there you have it. There are no rules. It’s a nascent opportunity.

Make a film. Understand the process. Get a bit of seed marketing money. Roll up your sleeves. Launch your career.

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Ten Thousand Hours Rule for Filmmakers

In 2008 Malcolm Gladwell published an influential book Outliers in which he unveiled his ten thousand hours rule for the first time.

What is an outlier? According to one dictionary definition, an outlier is ‘something that is situated away from or classed differently from a main or related body’. Kind of the definition of an independent filmmaker, isn’t it?

And Gladwell’s book examines what it takes to be a genius. At the same time, he deconstructs the commonality between genius’ of different fields. For example, Mozart started composing a the age of eleven but wrote nothing masterful until he was twenty-three – more than ten years late.

By examining the lives of a multitude of genius Gladwell discovered that what they shared in common was each had diligently concentrated on their particular skill for about ten thousand hours before they got really really good.

In the clip below, Gladwell discusses how the Beatles played live together more than 1200 times before they broke into America in 1964. And the reason? Because they were determined to undertake meaningful work.They were willing to throw their heart and mind into something they believed in – and then they were able to get something back.

Malcolm Gladwell explains it much better here:

So my question to you on this New Year’s Eve is simple:
You know you have the talent – or you wouldn’t be reading this.
You know you want to make movies and write scripts, right?

How much time are you prepared to devote to what you love? Are you prepared to undertake ten thousand hours of meaningful work to make your dream come true?

Here are some Raindance ideas for your ten thousand hours:

Your first 100 days as a filmmaker
[500+ hours]

A step by step guide, almost a daily diet of activities you can undertake to start honing your craft.

Your First 100 Days As A Filmmaker

Some Raindance film course ideas

Here are some of our mouth-watering film classes. Remember – we don’t teach filmmaking. We make filmmakers. and that’s going to take ten thousand hours.

MA Info Session 10 January 6pm-7pm

[1 hour]

Postgraduate Film Degree [1800 – 3,000 hours]

HND Level 5 BTEC [1800- 3,000 hours]

You’ve heard about our revolutionary Postgraduate Film Degree? Drop in for an evening chat on how this revolutionary programme could enhance your filmmaking career. Register for a free place here

Taster Day Saturday 13 January 11am-3pm + Networking drinks 

[6 hours]

OK, so you’ve heard that Raindance doesn’t teach filmmakers, we make filmmaking. This is your chance to meet the filmmakers who will teach you how to become a filmmaker. Eight taster tutorials PLUS a drink on us. All for a fiver (Or free for Raindance MembersBag a ticket here

99 Minute Film School 16 January 6:30pm-8:30pm

[2 hours]

You can’t learn filmmaking in an evening, can you? Let us try to teach you with Raindance founder Elliot Grove taking you behind the black curtain. Just £25 or free for members.
Find out more here

Directing Essentials 18 January 6:30pm-8:30pm

[2 hours]

If you’ve ever fancied yourself as a film director this is it! Take this short, sharp class on film directing basics. Just £25 or free for members.
Find out more here

Saturday Film School 20 January 10am-5pm  

[8 hours]

This is the one-day introductory film class everyone is talking about. Taken by over 15,000 wannabee’s since it’s launch a few years ago. If you’ve wanted to write, produce or direct a film, this is a must. With Elliot Grove and Patrick Tucker
Just £150 or £59 for Raindance members.
Register online here

***Writing for Comic Books and Graphic Novels 20 January 10am-5pm 

[8 hours]

Brand new and hot off the press, featuring one of the most successful graphic novelists around. It’s #1 New York Times Best Selling Author Tony Lee. Find out if your idea has legs as a comic book.  Then learn how to adapt your writing to the strictures of the graphic novel script format. Finally, discover what to do with your work once you’ve finished it. Exciting.
***Save 33% Until January 2nd!

***Ate de Jong Directing Masterclass Sat & Sun 27/28 January 10am-5pm

[16 hours]

This weekend film directing masterclass is presented with one of Europe’s most respected and seasoned film directors: Ate de Jong. He will be illustrating his masterclass with clips from his films such as DROP DEAD FRED, ENIGMA, DISCOVERY OF HEAVEN, HIGHWAY TO HELL, MIAMI VICE, DEADLY VIRTUES, LOVE IS THICKER THAN WATER and many more.
Don’t miss this chance to study with a master
***Save 33% Until January 2nd!

Raindance Foundation Certificates – London

Six different evening classes – five nights each. Pick your poison and specialise!

Filmmaker’s Foundation Certificate begins January 23rd

[30 hours including assignments]

Writing, directing, no-budget producing all explained in this information-packed evening session.
Want more?

Writer’s Foundation Certificate begins January 24th

[30 hours including assignments]

Learn how to take that idea for a movie out of your head and onto paper in five Wednesday nights.
Don’t procrastinate!

Directors Foundation Certificate begins January 25th

[30 hours including assignments]

The basics of film directing. Learn how film directors look at a screenplay, cast and work with actors, direct the shoot and oversee the editing process.
Learn how to join this class here

Producers’ Foundation Certificate –  begins February 27th

[30 hours including assignments]

In filmmaking it’s about getting the script, then getting the money. Getting the money means getting the paperwork together. Learn how to create the business plan, plan the legal contracts, prepare the budget and schedule and finally how to get the money. Find out how.

Documentary Foundation Certificate – Begins February 28th

[30 hours including assignments]

If you’re interested in causes or issues of social justice then learning how to create and monetise a documentary might be the route for you. Documentary filmmaking is hotter than hot right now. Don’t be left sitting on the sidelines. Get some.

Technical Foundation Certificate – Begins March 1st

[30 hours including assignments]

Learn the basics of editing, sound, lighting, shooting with DSLR, and low budget special effects in five single evening classes. Take them all, or take the one(s) that interest you. Let Raindance’s professional tutors help you demystify the technical side of filmmaking. Get some.

Higher Film Education at Raindance

Raindance Special Events

Boozin’ n’ Schmoozin’ – Second Monday of every month

[Many hours – networking is such an important part of your career]

This is our monthly networking event, free to members. It’s a chance to pick up cast and crew, or commit yourself to someone else’s project. Or just get drunk and exchange business cards. Suit yourself.

Of course, this is not all that’s going on between now and the end of 2018. We’ve got countless more courses, events, talks, workshops and networking parties to get through. You can really build up your ten thousand hours. To see them all, check out the tab on the right-hand side of the page here or take a look at our super-packed London Calendar.

We hope to see you at a Raindance event soon! And remember: make 2018 yours. Kick yourself into filmmaker!

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13 Annoying Habits Filmmakers Need To Break

I spend hours on Skype these days with many of our online Postgraduate Film Degree students. I guess I have many annoying habits. For example, I wear headphones and engage in all sorts of debates about independent film-making in all its varied and changing forms.

I’ve just hung up with a prospective student in Thailand, glanced around the office and noticed that everyone is wearing headphones. Was it, I wondered, that they were heads down watching festival submissions?

I have just done a quick verbal poll and was told that the reason they were wearing headphones is that my Skype conversation was so loud they couldn’t hear themselves think.

I did some quick research on Google and found myself typing in ‘when you wear headphones does your speech sound as loud to you as to others’ and found to my dismay that in fact, it sounds much louder to others.

From now on, I vow to make my Skype calls from the loo, or out in the corridor on a bench.

Now is the time to ask yourself: Are you guilty of any of these annoying habits? If so, maybe you better start to cut these out.

13 Annoying Things Filmmakers Do

1. Bitching about anything and everything

Here’s the routine here in London. Meet a filmmaker, they ask if you have time for a coffee, you agree, sit down and then a big ‘Cheese Us – that person at [name the government organisation] is a real dick.’ And soon an outpouring of venom against a public body that funds films. It usually ends with a comment like ‘I’m gonna kill those bastards.’


Talk like this is futile and pointless. It creates bad karma around you and your project. Besides, if your project really is as good as you think it is, why do you need public finance at all? Let these organisations fund the Ken Loach and Mike Leigh films of the next year while you go out and get some real money without the taint of a freebie from the tit of public funding.

Don’t confuse the role of public funding with your ambitions as a filmmaker, and don’t ever take it personally or make it personal by slagging an individual off. It could come back to bite you in the butt.

2. Asking people to do things on their days off

Most people work like stink. Off days are glorious and rare for just about everyone in the working world. Don’t you just love getting emails that say “I know it’s your day off, but could you just do this one small thing?”


So, I’m on the Raindance tour last month, and I’m in New York and I let everyone I work with know that I am taking a Wednesday off. What do I get? A dozen emails from the same person!

Stop calling or emailing people on their day off!

3. Not thinking ahead

So I know it’s pretty scary getting a film off the ground and trying to plan for everything in advance. But you need to think ahead. When you screw up and forget something you need to be able to recover and decide how best to rectify the damage. Panic will get you nowhere.

Last year I was in Rome giving a lo-to-no budget film-making class when I get an (expensive) call on my cell from someone who was using our rehearsal rooms who had forgotten the key! How the hell could I possibly help? I was in flippin’ Rome!


Start thinking about what you need BEFORE you need it. Don’t assume anyone else is there to help you!

4. Asking a mate if you can “pick their brain.”

What is this? A horror movie? Or a version of a cannibal’s tribal ritual? What right have you to go and plunder others’ ideas and input. Especially when you don’t say even the quickest thank you in return?


Don’t call in favours until you have given your mates a reason to let you ‘pick their brains.’

5. Not cleaning up

Ever shared a flat or room with someone who was a total slob? Have you ever found yourself picking up after someone else?

The number of times I have had to clean up after lending a space for a shoot would make you retch. Or the stories I hear of the horror genre, about filmmakers who have trashed a location, would make you shun all filmmakers forever.


Think nobody knows it’s you? Trust me, people can always tell.

6. Sending movie links without a note

How many times do you think busy people get emails in a day? I get dozens and dozens. You send me a link without a one or two-liner contextualizing the link and a reason why I should click on it and I am pretty much going to ignore it. I am also going to be perturbed at you for wasting my time.

Even worse – an email asking me to waste time watching your film or trailer. Why should I give up a slice of my life for you?


Make a clear and easy-to-understand reason why I should click on your link. Pahleez.

7. Talking privately in public

If you have to make a personal call, leave the premises. Go somewhere quiet. I don’t want to hear your booming voice. And it’s just weird to talk on your phone in a screening. (That’s one of those things I’ll never understand.)


Stop taking personal calls in public.

8. Eavesdropping is another annoying habit

Don’t you just love it when you are talking to someone when a near stranger barges in and adds in their two cents worth?


I know filmmakers especially can feel awkward about jumping into a conversation that’s happening halfway across the room. You need to brush up on your social skills and know when to read the social cues of when it’s OK to join or not.

Sometimes your conversational gems are going to be best kept to yourself.

9. Asking questions easily answered on Google

I can’t believe how many calls I get from well-meaning but, erm, lazy screenwriters and filmmakers asking questions like ‘Have you the telephone number for the BFI?’


While you are at it, do a quick Google on anyone you are about to meet or call. Find out something newsworthy you can weave into the conversation.

Think before you ask. Can you find the answer yourself before you waste a silver bullet on something obvious?

10. Replying all on email when it’s not necessary

How many emails do you get in a day? And how many group emails? And of the group emails, how many times do you get copied into a private comment that has nothing to do with you?


Don’t add to the barrage of emails.

11. Working when you’re sick

Working with others when you are sniffling or complaining of a headache wins you no points in my book.


Raindance London is in a basement where ventilation is barely above the legal requirement. Come in here when you are ill spreading your lurgy to those here will make earn you a big black mark.

Everyone gets ill sometimes. Don’t spread it around!

12. Tapping your foot

… And chewing gum, chewing pens, and humming, and breathing loudly. Basically, any repetitive noise you make can and will drive your fellow team members crazy.


I have a really bad habit of chewing on a pen in meetings. I don’t even realise I am doing it unless one of the team points it out. If you realise you have a bad habit, stop it.

If someone tells you to stop, don’t be offended. No one likes being distracted.

13. Being late

You’ve arranged to meet someone and they are late. And they are late for every single meeting.


Of course, there are times when there’s traffic or other disasters. But keep someone waiting twice and you will get labelled as frequently late, and perhaps unreliable too.

Leave plenty of time to get to meetings.

What are your pet peeves? Share in the comments below!
And what of your New Year’s resolutions?

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Santa’s 7 Lessons For Filmmakers

Holiday season again.

I meet filmmaker after filmmaker on the streets around the Raindance Film Centre in London’s theatreland and they’re all lamenting the fact that this town is closing down for a good solid fortnight and they can’t get answers on their projects.

Bah Humbug.

Why moan and complain? Are you worried about what kind of gifts you’ll get?  All you need to do is learn from the master of independence itself: Hey Ho! Santa Claus!

Santa’s 7 Tips For Independent Filmmakers

1. Branding is everything

Santa’s biggest achievement was to create an internationally recognised brand – the same goal any filmmaker1. Did he await the big cheque?

Not at all. Santa Claus started from a tiny workshop with a physically disabled crew from a small island in the Arctic north.

You too can learn about branding both for your film, and learn about how you brand yourself as a filmmaker to create a career strategy.

2. Create memorable characters

Develop a strong character with instantly recognizable features and character traits. That’s all Santa did: His character shows a strong development of 3 distinct types of traits used by professional storytellers:

  • Physical traits with his flowing white beard, the red suit trimmed in white, the hat with the bobtail,
  • Sociological traits: he is an arctic northerner who runs a small manufacturing company
  • Psychological traits: he is a jolly happy guy when you are good but pretty mean and unforgiving when you are naughty.

3. Research your audience

It’s really interesting that Santa knows what you want under the tree on Christmas morning. He polls the children all over the world. They write letters telling Santa and he delivers exactly what they want. The Elf on the Shelf reminding children to be nice has been one of Santa’s overwhelmingly successful marketing and audience survey requests.

Never mind that the words to Santa Claus Is Coming to Town, written in the 1930’s, taken out of context sound more like a Stasi nursery rhyme: “He knows when you are sleeping, he knows when you’re awake…”.

Another little Santa secret is that he knows the movie money is in the music. Although his lyrics and tune are now public domain, my guess is he raked in enough dough to keep his workshop going for centuries. Astute filmmakers will learn about music rights as a way to fund their ventures.

4. Credit where credit is due

Santa didn’t take all the glory – he gives credit where credit is due. Even his reindeer get named credits, and the lead reindeer even got his special effect with the glowing nose.

Saying thankyou properly is one of the simple things one can do and it makes a huge difference to the morale of your team.

5. Don’t forget the food.

Tradition dictates that children leave cookies and milk as a midnight snack for the great-bellied one to charge up on before dashing off to the next home.

Your cast and crew too appreciate food to keep their energy up. If you have an early start make sure you get there half an hour early so the coffee, as Dov Simens would say, is “Perked not Perking” ready to set your crew on fire.

6. It’s better to give than receive

If Santa operated his workshop on the profit and loss basis that big toy companies do, Christmas would become an endless boring rhyme of profit participation, fees, deferments and buy-out dates. My guess if that was the case there’d be no Christmas.

Here’s what we can learn from Santa. If we concentrate on the giving side and recognise the intrinsic benefits of our filmmaking, things like creative fulfilment and personal satisfaction then the spirit will have a chance to take hold and you can reward yourself with the Christmas spirit.

7. Stamina

Can you imagine the physical strain of visiting all those children in a single night? It makes travelling on the rush-hour tube seem like a dawdle.

Santa has stamina. I bet he eats right, gets lots of rest and exercise. You do this too. Why? Because, like Santa, we want to see you and your newest film next year at the Raindance Film Festival.

Fade out

There’s lot’s of other things Santa does we can learn from. Like merchandise. Santa merch is everywhere. Wouldn’t you die a dreamlike death if your merch was at every corner of every country in the world? Like his use of social media – how does he handle all those letters?

I am sure I have missed something.

What have I missed?

Leave your thoughts in the comments box below.

Happy holidays

Elliot Grove




Elliot Grove

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What Filmmakers Can Learn From Gaming

The 21st century is the age of the image. Thinking critically about film, the most common medium of the moving image, is going to be a key asset. Film is a very young medium, and it’s evolving extremely fast. It influences all other visual mediums: television, virtual reality, gaming…

Visual mediums

In the hundred-year history of film, a breakthrough has come every so often that changed everything. First there was the moving image itself -or the illusion thereof, created by putting 24 still images one after the other in one second. Then there was the cut. It was about giving meaning to two images one after the other in order to express an idea. Then came the addition of sound, and then came colour. In recent years, 3D came adding another technical improvement (and a premium for studios to rake in the dollar bills). Those incremental steps are what has made film the medium that it is today.

The advent of computing in filmmaking in the last quarter of the twentieth century added a new dimension to filmmaking. It opened up new horizons for the medium, with companies like George Lucas’s Industrial Light & Magic and Pixar -just to name the behemoths.

The main brains in that branch of the American industry were always crossing over from one to the other. Ed Catmull, who is now President of Pixar and Walt Disney Animation was once hired by George Lucas from the New York Institute of Technology for his computer division, which later spun off into Pixar upon investment from Steve Jobs (another man who revolutionised computing at the same time).

Film is influencing virtual reality. Steven Spielberg -known to be an avid gamer and tech buff – has personally invested in virtual reality companies and is planning to create promotional VR content for his next feature, Robopocalypse. Lucasfilm is doing the same for The Last Jedi.

Virtual reality has tremendous implications for story viewing but has also already seen great applications of interactive narratives. Gaming is a medium that filmmakers should definitely take a closer look at.

Episodic storytelling

Games are built with an overall goal, and episodic missions help the main character that you’re playing as reach that goal. The closest we filmmakers have to game in terms of how the storytelling develops are television series. Ideally, a television series will have an overall arc over the course of a season, and individual arcs in each episode which will advance the overall plot to some degree – and cliffhangers are preferred. Each mission will have to be different in order to get the character closer to their goal and raise the stakes.

This is a structure to remember when you’re developing a series– even more so for a web-series, as the web has such a plethora of content, you need to hook people in and make them beg for more. This works for movies as well, albeit on a smaller scale.


An inescapable aspect of a video game is that the player has to embody a character on a mission. The character’s goal has to be clearly defined, and each individual step has to be clearly explained as well, especially in how it relates to the larger goal.

The episodes allow for development of that character, but a well-written video game, as well as a well-written movie or series, will have to have a compelling, engaging protagonist.

Characters are, of course, defined by their physical traits. Yet any screenwriter will tell you that a great character is defined by their action.


Video games are all about action. A character has to actually do something in order to achieve a goal and go to the next level. The character has to overcome weaknesses and follow a plan. Luke and the rebellion had to plan the attack on the Death Star, and they emphasized how slim the chances were. Isn’t it a wonder, then, that he managed to achieve that extraordinary goal by finally embracing his true identity and fate, which he refused to in the beginning of his adventure?

That’s what Michael Tierno in his classic book Aristotle’s Poetics for Screenwriters describes as the “action-idea”, which will be the driving force of the narrative. It will make the protagonist active, and will help us root for them not just generally, but will also get us to root for them to do something specific.

This is what will find its way into your logline as well. Example: despite initially refusing to take over as Godfather, Michael Corleone will have to embrace his destiny by taking revenge for his father’s death. “Taking revenge” is the action, and destiny is the theme (or at least one of them).

And so…

The film medium is bridging into video game terrain now with interactive filmmaking (which is a fascinating experience). Virtual reality is still quite experimental but we’re discovering new ways of displaying narratives that are based on the film grammar, and some VR experiences are game-induced. Those mediums steal from one another as they all are visual storytelling experiences. The key is to give a goal and a character to root for. Which medium you apply it to is up to you.

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Christmas Filmmaker’s Toolkit

Put down the Christmas cake! Make movies!

There’s no reason to delay your movie. Move from amateur to professional. Stop making excuses. Stop blagging the blag. Get off your couch and start doing something meaningful! You don’t need no film school!

1. Know your plan and make it realistic

There’s no point in telling your friends that you are going to make a film, or to tell everyone you are going to make it your way and reinvent the industry. It just ain’t that simple.

Try doing what Shane Meadows did when he was starting out and make a series of short films – one a week – until you get really good. I asked him what the budget was for a short of his that we screened at Raindance Film Festival in 1997. His answer? £1.69. The main actor was mildly diabetic and was having a sugar low, and the cost of the cheese sandwich he needed was £1.69.

Good businessmen make business plans. Why don’t good filmmakers make business plans, too? It doesn’t need to be complicated or extreme. Just attainable. Bite-sized chunks or even chunkettes are far more sensible than signing up to an imaginary project so large and unrealistic that not even your top trust fund baby filmmaker could pull it off.

I’m not bragging here, but I recently found a business plan I did a few months before the first Raindance Film Festival in 1993. To my surprise, Raindance today is pretty much how I planned it. Have a peek and see for yourself how my plan worked out.

2. Get a screenplay and make sure it’s great

How often do we say it? “How did they get the money to make that movie?” Here are the three basic ingredients of filmmaking success: Script. Script. Script.

We spend nearly half our teaching focus at Raindance on screenplay. It is that important. Until you get a script, you are a nobody.

How do you know what to write about? Here are 8 Questions Writers Must Ask When Developing Audience Profiles

John Truby has become one of America’s most influential screenwriting analysts. In 2010 his 25 years of study finally paid off, and he is now visited by a stream of top story and development executives from the biggest production companies in the world, including Warner Bros and Pixar.

Read his movie story advice here:
Why 3 Act Story Structure Will Kill Your Writing
10 Story Techniques That Sell Scripts

I am shamelessly plugging his upcoming Anatomy of Story teaching gigs in New York and London, too. John is an excellent teacher.

3. Get your social media going

In this day and age, there is no excuse for not developing your own social media profile. Your blog, Twitter, Facebook and Youtube accounts are essential ingredients to filmmaking success.


It’s always been about the people that watch or read your stuff. This is how you get people to watch and read your stuff in the age of social media. Just do it.

start with the basics
learn how videos go viral
lose the new media phobia

See how we do it: Raindance has the world’s 10th largest Twitter profile of any film festival.
Follow Raindance on Twitter! Want our free weekly newsletter?

Another great way to build your lists and your audience is to comment on relevant articles. Have you commented on this article?

4. Get some money

lkit for filmmakersNow that you have your excellent script and business plan, you need to get some money. But how much money? There are loads of things you can do without much money at all. Consider development money.

There are 10 ways you can finance your film. Each investor you approach will want to know what’s in it for them, and how you can de-risk their investment. The more you can learn about the flow of money and the different ways you can finance your film, the better off you will be.

You can get big tax inducements from British taxpayers who invest in your project. You don’t need to be a British taxpayer to access this money, either. Read up on the Enterprise Investment Scheme. Use the EIS risk assessment tool here.

Maybe you want to crowdfund your film. You can see how we crowdfund here.

5. Get going

Enough is enough. At some point you just need to take a deep breath and do it. You will never have enough money. You will never be totally happy with the cast and crew. You just need to take the plunge and do it. Practise makes perfect!

your basic low budget kit and crew guide
don’t ‘cross the line’
how film directors screw editors

6. Be submissive!

Once you’ve finished your film, it’s time to get it seen at a film festival. But what festival to choose? There are thousands around the world. Film festivals fall into 5 types or categories. To help you wade through the myriad of film festivals, here are our recommendations for the top 100 film festivals around the world.

There are 4 reasons to submit to film festivals. The main one is to get a distributor to see it and buy it. But beware of creepy people preying on naive festival newbies. Don’t fall for one of these 5 cons filmmakers fall for.
If you have made a short – here is a short film distributor list – this should save you tons of time. Read out list of the top 100 film festivals for shorts, too.

Raindance Film Festival is open for submissions until June 1st.

7. Trouble shooting

Are you making these deadly filmmaking mistakes?

What about your screenplay? Have you forgotten the basic elements of a storytelling?

Fade Out

What are you reading this for, anyway, when you could be out shooting, writing, or planning?

But wait, before you go, here are 7 things successful filmmakers eat for breakfast.

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Thanksgiving Reminders For Filmmakers And Refugees

I’m Canadian by birth, now a British taxpayer. Every culture has its own harvest festival. Like many in Europe I am now painfully aware of the American Thanksgiving reminders. In my home country, and in the United States, these annual rituals were originally started to give these two young nations a sense of national identity. And to foster national pride.

Reading Ishaan Tharoor’s excellent Thanksgiving post this morning reminded me how closely independent filmmakers are aligned to the early Pilgrims in the early 1600’s.

Here’s a quick historical update. The Pilgrims were a band of deeply passionate individualists who fled the tyranny of the Church of England. They were labelled Puritans – let’s call them separatists – who endured relentless persecution. They believed that the Church of England needed to be ‘purified’ of the excesses of the Catholic Church. They fled to Holland. Then, after ten years, they realised their way of life would lead to financial ruin if the winds of political change continued, so they hired two ships to take them to America. One of these ships was the famous Mayflower.

America’s East Coast was home to many bands of religious immigrants fleeing the European religious programs of the day. The Pilgrims set up camp in Plymouth. In the first two years, they flirted with extinction; disease and starvation decimated half of their group. The following year, thanks to the help and training of the indigenous people of America, they prospered through hard work. That autumn their crops were bountiful. With the addition of five deer hunted and killed by the Indians, they had a feast to celebrate their survival and a new store of food that would carry them through the winter. It’s become our annual Thanksgiving reminder.

As Ishaan Tharoor notes:

“Neaarly four centuries after the Mayflower set sail, the world is still full of pilgrims — men and women who want nothing more than the chance for a safer, better future for themselves and their families,” said Obama in 2015. “What makes America America is that we offer that chance. We turn Lady Liberty’s light to the world, and widen our circle of concern to say that all God’s children are worthy of our compassion and care. That’s part of what makes this the greatest country on Earth.”

Barack Obama

Today’s America is much different. Trump bellows a nationalistic narrative that belittles the immigrants of his country. He is attempting to stem the flow of refugees to America with disastrous results.

The Pilgrim’s Thanksgiving reminders for independent filmmakers 

Firstly, they fled the corporate religious structures of their day. Isn’t this similar to the way independent filmmakers struggle with the corporate finance and distribution models of the studio system and with government funding programmes? Do not today’s filmmakers rebel against the corporate rules as our Pilgrim forepersons did?

Secondly, the Pilgrim’s agricultural success came from their ability to collaborate and to integrate with the local people. In the case of the Pilgrims, this benefitted them for sure. It proved an unmitigated disaster for the indigenous people of America as we well know. But as filmmakers we need to collaborate. To share. To help each other. To watch each other’s backs. And to fight for what we believe is true and just, regardless of the story type or medium. The early Pilgrims, just like us independent filmmakers, were multiculturalists.

Thirdly, and an important Thanksgiving reminder – the Pilgrims had investors. A little known fact is that their journey to America was financed by investors that expected a return. In their case, the investors wanted goods from the New World. Isn’t this a familiar ring for an independent filmmaker facing a group of investors wondering when they are going to be repaid?

Fourthly, the Pilgrims embraced disruption. Their original protests in Britain and their subsequent messages challenged the existing structures. Like all early disruptors, they were persecuted. But disrupt they did, much like independent filmmakers who revolt against the existing film financing structure with, for example, crowd-funding, or how they challenge the century-old distribution models with self-distribution.

Fifthly, the Pilgrims had to adapt their survival to new techniques demanded by the brave New World they entered, much like how independent filmmakers adapt the techniques of visual story telling with new mediums like virtual reality.

In conclusion, I believe we live in deeply troubled times. It is strange to me that at this important juncture in our history, we can learn from the success and failures of the Pilgrims. Two important trends threaten our very being; one is the ecological damage we are wrecking on the planet.

The other is beautifully expressed by Ishaan Tharoor:

Strangely, at a time when the American far right decries the existential threat posed by refugees with supposedly fundamentalist religious convictions, they have no problem aligning with the country’s original migrants.

Can we as independent filmmakers learn from the Pilgrims? Can we use their Thanksgiving reminders? Can we, like them, find the courage to voice our independent visions? Are we strong enough to avoid their mistakes and embrace the people of all nations, religions and cultures? And can we all work together to make better movies and tell compelling stories that will make our world a better place?

I think we can.

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Net Neutrality: Filmmakers, This Concerns You Too

Our age faces some crucial fights: on top of issues such as climate change, lack of representativity in western democracies, the rights of minorities and human rights in general (just to name a few) we now have to stand for net neutrality.

What is net neutrality?

This week, the United States Federal Communications Commision (FCC) chairman announced a plan to repeal net neutrality. This would be another move from the Trump administration to diminish the legacy of Barack Obama. Beyond the petty political motivations, there are broader implications to this decision. This is not just an issue that Twitter-addicted media types or Silicon Valley entrepreneurs will have to care about.

Net neutrality is the underpinning principle that any data on the Internet should be treated the same by governments and providers. This means that you can’t be charged more if you log into such website as opposed to another. It is based on a similar principle adopted after the invention of the telephone: you’ll pay the same whether you make a business call or a private call. If this sounds abstract: let’s imagine ourselves a few steps ahead.

In a few years’ time Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. will have managed to takeover Sky, your internet provider. If net neutrality isn’t rule of law, this means that you are likely to have a heftier bill if you’re a reader of The Guardian than if you are a reader of, say, The Sun. (If they manage that takeover, we now know what their next step is.)

In media environments that already create bias and misinformation in the eyes of citizens, this would add a layer of plain censorship.

Users or consumers?

The repeal of net neutrality has huge implications. Politically, this means that Trump is once again trying to repeal what Obama did. The FCC chairman announced that “the federal government will stop micromanaging the internet.” Economically, this puts regulation of the internet in less benevolent hands. Should it go through, this means that telecom lobbies will be handed a major victory.

Most western democracies have developed with some understanding, even in the most economically liberal nations such as the United States, that infrastructures were necessary to the economic development of the country and the upward social mobility of citizens. So far, the internet has been considered to be the contemporary equivalent of what railway lines and roads were in other eras, and has been treated as such. The Obama administration legislated on the issue, and now this could be rolled back.

Just as the internet or digital tools are not an end in and of themselves, net neutrality is one of those broader fights that underpin everything else, from identity politics to political institutions.

On the subject of climate change, Matthew Todd wrote: “could it be that there are things that we must also raise our voices for, that are more important and on which all other issues rest and rely? The DUP’s position on equal marriage, the BBC gender pay gap, Piers Morgan’s views on non-binary people – all are meaningless if the fight that future generations face is for clean water or surviving wars caused by migration that will make the Syrian crisis, itself partly driven by extreme drought, look like a children’s tea party.”

The same goes for net neutrality. Plainly, the freedom of information and communication is now very much at risk of being taken away from people and put at the mercy of for-profit organisations. The existing gaps created by sociological determinism and economic disparity will only grow wider. Users of communication infrastructures are now forcibly turned into consumers.

Creators, this concerns you too.

Indeed, this is worrying. This is a matter of human rights, democracy, and free speech. It obviously concerns artists: by virtue of our position in society, we do have a duty to speak up. One reason, in particular, makes the issue of net neutrality particularly relevant to filmmakers. The reality of the business means that our work happens on the web. This is where we collaborate. Most importantly, this is where we share our work.

Every evening, Netflix accounts for a third of the Internet traffic in the United States. There has never been a better a time to make a film. Production resources are more accessible than ever and you can release your movie immediately to an audience of roughly 7 billion people in the blink of an eye.

That is, of course, if they and you have access to free internet. Creators need it as a platform to communicate and build audiences. Films can bring, and have brought social change. If you have to pay extra to upload a politically charged movie, and the audiences most in need to see it don’t have the funds to access it, creativity and activism are firmly stifled.

21st century filmmaking

After the death of Federico Fellini, the New York Times published a piece that lamented the unreadability of his films. Martin Scorsese took it upon himself to respond, not about the taste, but about the narrow-minded attitude towards a different kind of films that American audiences are not used to.

The attitude that I’ve been describing celebrates ignorance. It also unfortunately confirms the worst fears of European filmmakers.

Is this closed-mindedness something we want to pass along to future generations?

If you accept the answer in the commercial, why not take it to its natural progression:

Why don’t they make movies like ours?
Why don’t they tell stories as we do?
Why don’t they dress as we do?
Why don’t they eat as we do?
Why don’t they talk as we do?
Why don’t they think as we do?
Why don’t they worship as we do?
Why don’t they look like us?

Ultimately, who will decide who “we” are?

Scorsese’s argument can be used now as well. In a world that has become a global village, as per the term coined by Marshall MacLuhan, repealing net neutrality anywhere -not least in the nation with the most influential soft power- means that, as citizens, we are deprived of the power of deciding who “we” are.

If you want to make your voice hear: you can sign the petition on the White House website here.

The post Net Neutrality: Filmmakers, This Concerns You Too appeared first on Raindance.


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