Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Auteurship and Narrative

Came across this from my studies at RMIT the other day. An interesting little read on the subject of establishing a director's auteur status and what qualifies the term.

Auteurship and Narrative – Week 7 Reading - 8 September 2009
Maya Kavanagh                                                                                               

Since the beginning of this course, we have been encouraged to accept the viewpoints of various auteur critics such as Bazin and Sarris as the gospel truth with rarely an alternative provided. That is until this week when we were introduced to Pauline Kael.  Not only were Kael’s critical observations of the cinema considered "witty, biting, highly opinionated, and sharply focused", they were also written by a woman, a fact I was most pleased with. For too long I have felt that the cinematic world has been overshadowed by the dominating presence of the masculine empire and here finally, we have been introduced to a woman who is equally ferocious about her opinions about film as her male counterparts. In this weeks reading, Kael criticizes Sarris’ previous observations about what makes a director an auteur, referring specifically to what Sarris calls “the three premises of the film theory”. In the first section of her essay Circles and Squares, Joys and Sarris in her highly acclaimed book I lost it at the movies, Kael explicitly criticizes Sarris’ belief that “a great director has to be at least a good director”. Kael explains that this statement is a rule that cannot be applied to the declaration of a director’s auteur status claiming, “the director MUST be judged on the basis of what HE produces”. This means that in relation to other directors, a director cannot be considered an auteur but, when his works are compared to each other, then and only then can one distinguish whether or not he is “a great director”. This ties in with the idea of the second and third premise which is for a director to further be considered an auteur, his work must reflect a personal style, and that the director’s personality itself is embodied within the film. When comparing say Jacques Demy’s Les Parapluies de Cherbourg, for example, to say Michael Scorsese’s Goodfellas, one can not concretely ascertain that Demy is a better director than Scorsese as both directors choose to work within different genres and approach different topics. However, when we compare Demy’s Parapluies to his other film Lola, we can see the similarities in style and expression which Sarris states are necessary for a director to be deemed an auteur. Therefore, Kael’s observation that an auteur’s status cannot merely be ascertained based on this principle alone is correct. Demy’s status as an auteur can only be proved when we compare his previous films to one another to determine whether or not he has imbedded a particular style and attitude into his work.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

BAFTA and British Film Council - SHORT SIGHTED LONDON

BAFTA and the British Film Council in association with Shooting People recently hosted SHORT SIGHTED, a highly insightful all-day seminar I attend November 5 about marketing and distributing your short film. I can’t even begin to tell you how informative the event was with a number of high profile filmmakers, sales agents, distributors, programmers, and creatives invited to speak. In the event that you can't be bothered reading my notes from each segment (I strongly suggest you don't do that) you can scroll to the bottom to read a quick summary of the major takeaways I gathered from all the attendees:

In Conversation with Jordan McGarry – Film London
Jordan McGarry, Head of Talent Development and Production at Film London and former Director of Curation at Vimeo, gave her perspective on short film commissioning and distribution and the exciting opportunities for short film today. Jordan’s interview was an excellent way to kick start the seminar, providing a number of helpful tips for how to get your short film noticed online. Here is a summary of the key points:
  • Identify your core audience and be specific; don’t generalise (i.e. women aged 18 to 40). Then identify where that audience hangs out online. For example, 16-20 year olds are more likely to watch the film on YouTube than Vimeo.
  • Create a user account on Vimeo and interact with other filmmakers by liking and commenting on their films. Identify filmmakers who have similar styles and tastes to your own and reach out to them.
  • To get your film noticed by Vimeo staff members, who select the Vimeo Staff Picks each week, make sure your film gets at least 13 likes.
  • Having a catchy thumbnail and logline will help your film standout.

Shorts Programming
Katie Metcalfe, Shorts Programmer at Sundance Film Festival
Anna Bogutskaya, Festival Producer, Underwire Film Festival
Johanna Brooks, Producer, London Short Film Festival 
Hosted by Will Massa, Senior Programme Manager at British Council Film

Will Massa did a brilliant job dissecting the role of festival programmers with three fantastic panelists. The discussion focused on what programmers look for in short films and the selection process of each festival.

The panel were generous in revealing the intricate details of each of their festival’s selection processes. As a start, they provided the following statistics:  
  • Sundance: 9000 submissions; 71 selected.
  • Underwire: 800 submissions; 80 selected.
  • LSFF: 2000 submissions; 350 selected.
To cope with the sheer number of submissions received each year, this is the process for each festival:
  • Sundance: 8 programmers and 2 directors split the submissions equally and watch every film submitted. Once this is whittled down to about 300 films, the team meet in LA over 4 days to discuss the collection. Of the 71 selected, 50% have to be from the US which leaves roughly 35 spots for international shorts. Katie was quite funny in pointing out this means that you have a 0.007% of being selected!
  • Underwire: 10 – 15 preselection team members. Program by craft. Anna directs the overall program.
  • LSFF: Preselection team of 4. Festival Director Philip Ilson watches every film and directs his team to review the sub selection he makes. Together, they work on whittling it down further.
Knowing how to stand out in your application is crucial to getting noticed by these selection panels. Here are some tips they provided on how to do this:
  • Bold, surprising, risk-taking films will catch the attention of the committees - something that invigorates or subverts the genre.
  • Clichés are a huge turn off – hands running through corn fields, alarm clocks going off, a shaky drag of a cigarette – are all too common in short films. Google classic short film clichés and avoid them.
  • Don’t send anything but the film. Gimmicky packaging, personalised gifts, and fancy letters go unnoticed and are usually thrown away.
  • Put something of yourself into the cover letter. Showing the panel your personality helps them get a better sense of the kind of filmmaker you are.
  • The length of your film is crucial for assisting selection panels determine where a film will fit into their program. For the most part, films between 10 to 12 minutes are ideal but shorter films (3 minutes and under) and longer films (over 20 minutes) are also helpful as standalone pieces. 3 minute films are great for screening before a feature.
  • Submitting your film at the beginning or end of the submissions period makes no difference to getting your film noticed though submitting earlier rather than later is helpful from a budgetary perspective to avoid higher fees.
  • Meet with filmmakers who have had a number of short films screened internationally and find out why their films did so well.
  • Sundance are happy to receive rough cuts and all panellists noted that there is a way to update your online screener after the submissions period has closed as long as the link submitted does not change.
  • All films submitted will first be watched on a laptop. Be mindful of this and address it in your cover letter.
An interesting point all three panellists agreed on was the fact that sometimes a film can be great but it just does not fit into the festival’s program that year. This is obviously upsetting but at the same time, it’s heartening to know the programmers would help out any filmmakers who fell into this category. Sundance also has a new strand of their programming that will take films that don’t fit into the program and screen them to industry members at the festival.

Filmmaker Spotlight
Nina Gantz, director of Edmond
Emilie Jouffrey, producer of Edmond
Toby Fell-Holden, director, Balcony
Ali Mansuri, producer, Balcony
Hosted by Briony Hanson, Director at British Council Film

Hearing from two very successful filmmaking teams about their festival journeys was incredibly insightful. Here is a brief rundown of each project’s festival successes:
  • Edmond: BAFTA and Sundance award-winning short animation. Nominated for awards at Edinburgh International Film Festival, Busho, BIFA, and SXSW.
  • Balcony: Won Crystal Bear at Berlinale. Won further awards at Alpinale European Film Festival, Bermuda, Calgary, Dinard, Film London, Flickerfest, Iris, Short Shorts Asia, Torino, and Urbanworld. Nominated for awards at BIFA, Busan, Leeds, Tribeca, and UK Film Festival. 
I feel like a need a breath after that. Needless to say, these guys know their stuff when it comes to the festival circuit. Here are the key points from their discussion:
  • Short films need to question something. Once you have the answer, there’s usually no point asking the question again in a feature format unless there’s more to be said (very philosophical response to adapting short films into features).
  • Find out from successful short filmmakers why their films were so successful at festivals.
  • If your film is selected by one of the bigger festivals (Sundance, Tribeca, Berlinale, etc) attendance is essential to meeting agents and producers who may be interested in working with you on your other projects.
  • Prepare postcards with details about the film’s screening and information about the filmmakers.
  • Invest money and time into your marketing tools BEFORE you make the film: websites and social media are great tools for generating an audience before the film is finished; discussions with your stills photographer about the poster will make your life a hell of a lot easier than trying to make a screenshot work; and most importantly, work on your logline until it’s a product of sheer genius – it’s the biggest drawcard.
  • Having a niche audience helps getting into festivals and gives smaller, more concentrated audiences a reason to invest in your as filmmakers.
  • Hiring a casting director can be make or break for a film
  • Hiring a festival manager is a costly and unnecessary exercise most of the time. It’s important filmmakers understand the process and going through the rigmarole of entering films into festivals at least 3 times before palming it off to someone else.
  • Winning awards is life-changing. It’s a stamp of approval and tells the industry you’re one to watch.

Anatomy of a Sale
Speakers included:
Chris Tidman, Vice President of Global Acquisitions at Shorts International
Emma Simpson, Company Manager, Journeyman Pictures
Rebecca Wolff, Producer, Grasp the Nettle Films
Hosted by Will Massa, Senior Programme Manager at British Council Film

If you’ve never used a sales agent for your short film before, this will convince you to get one. The role of the sales agent in selling short films is crucial for getting your film further exposed not just to a wider audience but also the wider industry. Interestingly, the panel include a sales agent who works with fictional shorts and another who works with factual. Here are some of the key points from the session:
  • Sales agents attend major festivals to scout for talent. The major ones not to miss include Clermont-Ferrand, Krokow, Cannes, Palm Springs, Tribeca, Sundance as well as the TV festivals like MIPCOM.
  • Broadcasters look at short films as short content – it’s just another way of marketing your film.
  • The best short film for fiction is 12 minutes – it’s easy to program for broadcast and other platforms. The best length for non-fiction is usually 25 minutes.
  • Factual short films are great for shows like Panorama, the ten o’clock news, Foreign Correspondent in Australia, and other current affairs programs.
  • They are also popular with The Guardian, The Daily Mail (don’t worry, Emma cringed as well), and YouTube who will pay good money to license your content. Emma’s company has connections with over 6,000 buyers – that’s a fantastic network to access!
  • Having something people want to buy has considerable weight for feature filmmakers. It helps to brand yourself which increases your chance of having your films bought again in the future.
  • Short film sales are getting tougher as the broadcast and theatrical markets shift away from traditional models: in saying that, there is still a market, just with different requirements and criteria.
  • Films that make it into festivals aren’t considered commercial and have a hard time getting sold. This is usually due to the fact that they’re too abstract for commercial audiences. Films that are commercial AND get into festivals are golden tickets. E.g Chris had a short film that was nominated for an Oscar that earned nearly $40k.
  • Films with major budgets don’t always make big sales. Vice versa, films with small budgets can sometimes sell really well.
  • The best time to engage with a sales company is when the film is post production. Sometimes withholding your film’s premiere status for sales is more lucrative than holding it for festivals. It all depends what your goals are.  

Speakers included:
Sarah Tierney, Founder and CEO of We Are Colony
Gavin Humphries, Executive Producer at NOWNESS
Hosted by Jemma Desai, Film Programme Manager at British Council Film

It’s a dilemma faced by every filmmaker: the film is finished, had it’s premiere, and done it’s festival run. Now what? Sarah and Gavin discussed what’s possible in the new digital age for short film distribution online and some of the key things filmmakers can do to increase their chances of successful launches online. Here is a summary:
  • Nowness is an online global channel for short films and art, design, fashion and creative videos. The channel is a major destination for industry members looking for that next big thing.
  • 60% of their traffic is generated by social media. Most of the time, hits are attracted by the cast attached to the film, then the title, then the logline. 
  • We Are Colony is a newer platform which features strong talent and genre with outstanding filmmakers or cast attached. They currently have a number of short films online starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Michael Fassbender, Martin Freeman, Felicity Jones, Ben Whishaw, Judi Dench, and lots more.
  • For Sarah, a laurel isn't going to tip them over the edge when it comes to acqiuring a short. The date of the film's release is also not crucial - the short with Felicity Jones was completed over 2 years' ago. In saying that, both companies prefer films that are new.
  • Both companies prefer short films that 'haven't been vomited all over the internet' for obvious reasons. This is why it's important to fully consider all the options for your film's release before your put it online.
  • Be ambitious with your distribution strategy. You are more likely to be noticed by industry members, you have to work out how to be heard above the noise.
  • Both platforms offer a central destination for your film's online premiere with a better environment for viewers than YouTube or Vimeo. 
  • Here is a breakdown of each company's major benefits:
    • Nowness:
      • Having short films showcased on their platform can be a great entry point for people who want a career in commercials due to the type of audience they attract. 
      • The company programs quite far in advance so if possible, you should engage with them as soon as possible so they can coordinate your premiere at a time that matches what they're looking for. 
    • We Are Colony:
      • The company is extremely flexible when it comes to quality, within reason. They have short films on their platform that were shot with iPhones. 
      • They tend to establish a wide footprint for the film and don't geoblock where possible. 
      • Offer a 70/30 split to filmmakers over a rolling 24-month license. 
      • Asia goes bananas for their content.

Shorts in Cinemas
Speakers included:
Afolabi Kuti, Producer, Home
Peter Middleton, Director, Notes on Blindness
Hosted by Jemma Desai, Film Programme Manager, British Council Film

The final session of the day was attended by two filmmakers who's short films had considerable success beyond the festival circuit and theatrical screenings across the UK. Afolabi's 'Home' had it's theatrical premiere at Picturehouse Cinemas whilst Peter's 'Notes on Blindness', a VR project, was distributed theatrically by Curzon cinemas. Here's what they had to say about getting your short film into cinemas:
  • Not trying to make money out of your theatrical screenings is a huge plus to exhibitors. If you offer your film for free, they're more likely to screen it before one of their features.
  • Length is crucial - a film that's too long and pushes out their program for the night won't work. Generally speaking, a film between 
  • Festivals didn't care about cast but the exhibitors did. Afo attributes his film's success to the fact that Jack O'Connell's Money Monster was released a few months before they started shopping around to exhibitors. 
  • Motion Picture Solutions were integral in getting 'Home' into 70 screenings across the UK.
  • 'Notes on Blindness' theatrical screenings were accompanied by an interactive VR experience inside the cinema. Having something else to offer cinema-goers was an excellent way to generate buzz about the screenings.
  • Timing was everything when it came to getting both films into cinemas. As mentioned, Jack O'Connell's appearance in 'Money Monster' helped Afo sell the film to Picturehouse. For Peter, the sudden interest in AR and VR helped them get the film made and distributed. 
  • Having a successful online premiere helped get exhibitors over the line. Both Afo and Peter couldn't stress enough the importance of preserving that event until you had the best options to choose from and investing time and energy nailing an airtight strategy for release. 

Key Takeaways:
As above, if you can't read my full post, here are the key takeaways from the event:
  • Festival screenings are extremely helpful in gaining sales and distribution but not all the time. Commerciality has to be considered as well. 
  • Think about how you are going to sell and distribute your film before you've made it. Make your strategy as bold and as ambitious as possible to make your film stand out.
  • Consider what you want to achieve with your film during post production. Do you want to win awards or make money? Is there a way you can do both? 
  • Audience as always is key. Consider who your film is for before you make it. 
  • The online presence of the film is important for getting festivals, sales agents and distributors over the line. If you can prove your film has a preexisting audience, it'll win them over.
  • Length is crucial for festivals, sales agents and distributors to determine where you film physically will fit into programs. Make this decision before you've made the film, not after.
  • Meet with or interact online with other filmmakers who have already experienced success with short films. Learning from other people's mistakes can help you avoid them too. 

It's a shame but I really can't say that I've ever attended anything like this in Australia. To be honest, I didn't even realise just how many opportunities there are for short filmmakers to get their films sold and distributed. Having companies like We Are Colony, Nowness, Journeyman Pictures, and Shorts International based in the UK has clearly benefited the local industry but that's not to say you can't too from Australia. Festivals are always going to be important for short filmmakers but thinking about how to sell and release your film will also benefit you getting noticed by industry members and hopefully, get that next project off the ground.