Feb 12, 2013: DAY 7
This morning, in spite of having gone to bed a bit earlier and a lot more sober than I had the previous few nights, I still struggle to get out of bed in time for a 9:00am screening.
Thank the film gods I didn’t give up on it, because Escape from Tomorrow – a film that premiered at Sundance and has a super interesting story behind it – charmed the hell out of me. The black and white film was shot covertly on the premises of various Disney theme parks in Florida. It starts out as a family vacation story but quickly evolves into magical realism as the dad’s fantasies about two girls he sees at Disneyland spiral into a strange, fantastical journey.
When I heard about the film during Sundance, I wondered whether the Disney brand was simply “in the background” of an unrelated story, but satisfyingly this was not the case. Disney was a character in the film, a big one, and it’s amazing that the filmmakers pulled it off and haven’t gotten sued (yet).
Feeling triumphant after my first amazing screening, I spent the rest of my day stopping in to see people in the market who I hadn’t yet had a chance to meet with. It’s only Tuesday, but many people are already packing up their booths. By the time the market officially closes on Thursday or Friday, it’ll already be a total ghost town. I stop in to see a friend (a Canadian who now works for a UK based international sales company) and find out about an interesting film fund in the UK for low budget films (think $250K or thereabouts) that can be accessed by international co-productions as long as there’s a UK producer on board.
I stopped in to see this friend mainly in order to ask about how her wedding prep was going and ended up finding out some really valuable info that might benefit a few of the projects I’m working on. The more I attend these markets, the more I realize that this business (like a lot of others) really is all about “who you know”. I don’t mean it so much in the old fashioned sense of nepotism, but in the sense of how valuable it is to meet people and “be seen” by them – sometimes over and over again before it clicks and they actually remember who you are. There are a few sales agents and producers who I’ve met at various festivals three or four times before they greet me with “hey, Kat!” instead of “I think we may have met before?” or worse yet, a blank stare. And there are many people I don’t remember either.
It’s easy to take that stuff personally, but my best advice is: don’t. Ever. These people work insane hours, they meet hundreds of people, and many of them are forced to be “on” for days at a time in a language that isn’t their own. It’s exhausting, and they’re not going to remember every single person they meet. That’s life. After attending three or four markets, I’ve built up enough of a presence that people at least remember seeing me around, which means that even if they’re not 100% sure who I am, they take me seriously as a professional.
This is the kind of “who you know” I’m talking about. The more you are around in the professional circles you want to work in, the more people assume you’re their peer (even if you feel like a poseur), the more they are candid with you in their comments and observations (from which you can learn a lot about the inner workings of the industry), and the more likely they are to take meetings with you when you have a project to take to them. Travelling around the world from festival to festival is an expensive way to “see and be seen” but it certainly is a fast track to meeting all the right people.
Tuesday night is the hotly anticipated Fantastic Fest / Fantasia karaoke party, the only party I’ll attend all week that doesn’t have an open bar, and the only party I’ll attend all week at which literally every single person who’s in Berlin and has any interest in genre films will be at. The Austin and Montreal fantastic festivals host this annual do in Berlin and Cannes. It’s always karaoke, it’s always in a weird dive, and it’s always a welcome antidote from the shi shi parties I’ve been at all week.
In my regular, non-festival life, I know very few people who regularly do karaoke. I can count them on one hand, easily. And yet for some reason, in the film world, everyone seems obsessed with it. I haven’t figured out why, but I have started building a small army of “I watch, but I don’t sing” types to surround myself with when the pressure gets high. At the party, I run into Felix, a German producer Colin and I are working with who’s trying to get a psychological thriller / horror film off the ground. He marvels that everyone he’s had meetings with all festival is at this party. I nod knowingly. Monster Ronson’s Ichiban Karaoke (which judging by all the poles & private nooks and booths, was definitely a strip joint in a former life) is the place to be.
Feb 13, 2013: DAY 8
Today, it really feels like everything is shutting down. I’ve got a lunch meeting and a dinner date with some folks, but otherwise the day is wide open and I might even get a chance to hang out with a friend who moved to Berlin last year. As I stroll through Potsdamer Platz trying to figure out my likely subway route to Kreuzberg, the cool east Berlin neighbourhood where my lives, I spot a few other refugees from the festival circuit, also sneaking away for a bit of sight-seeing and shopping.
If the market screenings hadn’t dried up, I actually would have dedicated most of today to finally catching up on movies, but unfortunately the screenings are just about done. I understand the logic of this, as most of the important buyers and programmers who these screenings are really for have packed up by this point in the week. However, with all the hundreds of screenings crammed into the opening weekend, it’s difficult to fit it all in, and you have to choose between watching movies or meeting with people. For Colin, meetings take priority and he requests DVD copies or secure online links for anything he must see but couldn’t fit into his schedule. I don’t have the clout of a veteran programmer for a big festival, so nobody’s going to give me a DVD copy of their unreleased film, which means I have to choose between movies and meetings. I mean, ok, if Colin gets a DVD and watches it in our living room, chances are, I will see it too. But you get the point I’m making. This trip is about establishing relationships, meeting people, and trying to get my fledgling producing career off the ground, so movies take a very distant back seat.
Tonight, I attend a dinner hosted by some friends who work for a US-based foreign sales company. Their Executive Vice President is a major foodie, and we all know a dinner organized by him is going to kick ass and would probably be way out of my price range if I was paying. I have to assume that I won’t be, which feels a bit snotty, but that’s how it is. When someone invites you for dinner in a friendly-yet- still-businessy context, you can’t exactly say “only if you’re paying”, but in most cases, that is assumed. My dad once said something to me (I forget if it was a quote from a famous person or a friend of his) along the lines of “you have to work very hard to afford bread and milk, but the best champagne and caviar are always free”. A cavalier quip, perhaps, but also really, really true.
After dinner, I decide to go straight home instead of joining some of the other attendees at a party. I feel like I’ve discovered the holy grail of not getting sick at a festival – going to bed at a reasonable hour. It makes me less fun, but a lot more productive, which is probably for the best. At the end of the night, everyone gives each other a European-style double cheek kiss and says “see you at SXSW?” (alas, I won’t be attending) or “see you in Cannes” (but of course!) and we all nod and say we can’t wait for the next dinner.
I’ve probably spent more hours working hard over the past five days than I do in two or three weeks at home, but at moments like this, when it feels almost like a caricature of being in showbiz, I can see why my friends back home joke that I’m always on vacation. I swear, though. I work super hard. Kiss-kiss, see you in Cannes.
Feb 10, 2013: DAY 4
One of the things that I find fascinating about festival culture is that the people who come to “do business” (that is, not just to watch films all day) never seem to take time off, unless you count the industry parties that everyone finds themselves at in the evening. Colin and I found a brief window in our Sunday schedule to visit a crazy flea market and go shopping for antiques and junk. We saw some awesome stuff, bought a candleholder, and even though we were only gone for two hours, I felt really refreshed afterwards.
When I returned to the hustle of the market and told people about my mini-break, the most common reaction was “oh, I wish I could do that …” And, the thing is, a few of the sales agents, publicists, distributors, and other buyers and sellers really can’t take that sort of break, because they’re in their booths or makeshift offices by 8:00am and back in their hotels ready to crash by 10:00pm with no real breaks in between. Their jobs are exhausting and hats off to them for having the stamina. The rest of the participants, on the other hand, simply don’t allow themselves to take a moment off. You can see the frenzy in their eyes by day three, and it’s a wonder they haven’t had a breakdown by about the midway point.
Here’s my pro tip to those who want to “do” a market – aspiring producers, budding programmers, first time filmmakers, and the rest of us who haven’t done it a million times and are still excited about every single aspect of a huge event like this: take breaks. Don’t schedule meetings at every half hour increment all day. Don’t forget to eat breakfast, survive on party hors d’oeuvres and schedule meetings at every half hour increment all day. Don’t schedule your flights so that you don’t even have half a day to recover from jetlag at the start of your trip or relax at the end, no matter how much time or money you are trying to save. It’s a bummer to talk to people who’ve been attending Cannes for a decade and have never dipped a toe in the Mediterranean, and it’s even more tragic to visit a city with as much history and beauty as Berlin and never leave Potsdamer Platz.
Not only will you not miss anything crucial (or even particularly important) if you take a break, but when you tell people that you took an hour to check out a gallery or stroll by the river, they’ll look at you with a kind of envy in their eyes that says “wow, this person’s really figured out how to do it right”.
Feb 11, 2013: DAY 5
Monday is just as full of meetings as any other day here, but I’m forcing it to be my “tipping point” day, where I actually start watching movies and don’t spend all my time just having coffees with people and talking about projects, either theirs or ours.
I attend a whopping two screenings, both in the market. The first is an as-yet-unfinished, super fun genre pic from the US, for which I had to wrangle an invitation from the sales company, because the screening is on total lockdown for festival programmers and buyers only. No one’s allowed to talk or tweet about it, so I won’t say anything more here, except that it was pretty damn fun.
All kinds of films screen in the market – some that are completed and looking for sales or distribution help, or hoping to be selected for a festival premiere, others that have already had a festival run but haven’t yet been sold for distribution, or are looking for distributors in certain territories, and others that aren’t “festival titles” and don’t have aspirations to have a big premiere in Toronto or Sundance, but still want to be sold to a distributor who can put the film out on DVD, for example.
The variety is huge, and the quality can’t be judged as though they were all comparable, because they really aren’t. A modest genre title that’s aiming for a simple DVD release isn’t in the same league as a major, big budget festival title, and it’s really quite nice to be able to see both kinds of films, not only because the variety is fun but also because it’s useful to know what kinds of films are being made, and what the big sellers are that you’ll never see coming to a big Cineplex or festival near you.
At my first market screening, I run into a Canadian pal and get talked into seeing a German action film called Guardians, featuring German action superstar Til Schweiger, who not only stars in the film but also wrote, directed and produced it.
The film is having its public premiere at the Berlinale so it’s a bit safer to talk about. The film looks slick and was obviously very high budget, but I leave thinking that maybe Schweiger should have left one of those jobs to someone else, because in spite of the fun fight and chase sequences, it includes way too many slow dramatic scenes, and is at least half an hour too long.
After Guardians, I realize that I’m so exhausted after three days of running around from dawn till dusk that if I don’t eat some dinner and get the hell to bed at a reasonable hour, this day won’t only mark the tipping point of me starting to see movies, it’ll also mark the tipping point where I fall victim to the vicious colds and flus (and horrible sounding stomach bugs!) that have been ruining other people’s Berlin experiences all around me.
With a heavy heart, I decide to skip the Estonian reception (which I was looking forward to because I met so many awesome people when I attended the Black Nights film fest in Tallinn in December) as well as the Korean one. Instead, I get some pretty good pasta with a couple of friends and then trudge off to the apartment. I’m in bed by 10:00pm, but end up answering emails and confirming meetings until 1:00am. I guess my “go to bed early” plan was about 50% successful.
Feb 8, 2013 – DAY 2
I start my second day by grabbing “the dailies”, daily issues of the big industry publications that are covering the market – Screen, Variety and The Hollywood Reporter. These magazines contain the most up-to- the-minute info about what deals are going down around the market, as well as ads for the films represented there, so it’s a handy way to keep your finger on the pulse of the market as a whole, as well as finding out about films you might want to see that you missed in the market screening guide, or that didn’t seem as interesting based on the dry descriptions on the EFM website.
For example, in today’s copy of one of the dailies, I saw an ad for a film called The Hot Flashes – a comedy starring Brooke Shields, Darryl Hannah and a few others as a group of sassy menopausal broads that reunite their old high school basketball team in order to win some money to save their community’s mobile breast cancer testing unit. You guessed it, their team is called The Hot Flashes. If not for the ad, I wouldn’t have ended up actually seeing the first half of this film later in the day when I had 45 minutes to kill before my next appointment. Maybe that’s not the best example. My point is only that the dailies are a really helpful resource and even though it’s a drag to carry around a half dozen magazines in your bag all day, every day (and then be left with a mountain of paper in your hotel room at the end of the trip), it’s kind of worth it.
I’m feeling pretty spry on the second day because of my wise decision to go to bed early the previous night, but as commitments and party invitations start piling up I can see that it won’t be long before I’m waking up exhausted and my entire schedule is out of whack. I owe the party invitations largely to Colin, who’s built up enough good will over the years to get invited to events by pretty much every company he deals with. When I was a starry-eyed university student and film fanatic, getting a ticket to an official festival party was like the holy grail of partying. Little did I know that there were dozens of such events happening every night that I was definitely not enough of a VIP to know about, let alone get invited to.
Tonight, we head to Meet the Danes, an annual party that the Danish contingent host at every market. I’d “met the Danes” in Cannes in May, and I wanted to meet them again. They really know how to have a good time, and even though I was totally committed to my plan of getting to bed by midnight, it’s past 2:00am when my head finally hits the pillow, and I can already tell that I’m likely to fail in my ambitious plan to check out Maïna, the new feature by Quebecois director Michel Poulette, at 9:30am.
Feb 9, 2013 – DAY 3
I really feel like I’m inching toward seeing a movie, and any day now, I will actually get to see one from start to finish. Today, after totally sleeping through the beginning of the first feature I was planning to see, I took baby steps by watching several “promo reels”, essentially reels of trailers and full scenes representing a given company’s slate of films. Many of the films I saw promos for today will be ready by May, so anyone who was intrigued by the excerpts can plan to see the finished product in Cannes. Others won’t be done for quite some time, but it’s never too early to make buyers and programmers aware of your product.
On my way out of the theatre, a table full of flyers catches my eye and I check out a slick looking postcard for a new film. At least, I thought it was new until I realized that it starred David Carradine (who died in 2009, in case you didn’t remember just how long ago that was). The film’s obviously about five years old and simply hasn’t been sold to anyone yet. This is an aspect of the film biz that I’m incredibly fascinated by – just how long it can take to get a film out there.
So many films are made and never distributed (or distributed only in certain countries or in a limited way), that it can be a bit depressing to talk to veterans of the markets about films they saw and loved years ago which have never found a home with a distributor. Considering how difficult and expensive it is to make a film – especially a good one – it seems insane that such a high percentage of them never end up being seen by audiences anywhere. I’ve seen it in my own limited experience as well, when titles are screened at TIFF that I watch and enjoy only to be disappointed that they never seem to return to theatres or even DVD so that I can share them with my friends. Realizing just how common this is has been shocking, eye opening, and also a real downer. But I guess some determined sellers never give up, and who knows. There may be a brand new David Carradine title coming to DVD stores near you in the foreseeable future.
Tonight, I am thrilled to attend the Telefilm party at the Canadian Embassy. Not because Telefilm is known for throwing amazing parties, but because I’ve finally made it onto their party invite list in my own right, and not just as someone else’s plus one. For six years while I worked with REEL CANADA, an organization that’s funded by Telefilm and does work they’re proud to support (showing Canadian films to high school students across Canada), I had to make an embarrassing phone call to their communications person every single year in late August to say “hey, can I please get an invitation to your TIFF party, I’ll be representing REEL CANADA there and want to say hello to some of our supporters, blah blah blah”. I mean, I love parties, but I don’t want to be that idiot who’s always chasing people down for tickets, so I was extremely pleased when the invite arrived in my inbox unprompted.
They really went all out with the Canadian theme, even erecting a maple candy stand on the sidewalk outside. You know the kind – where maple syrup is poured on shaved ice and swirled onto a stick? It was a smash hit with the party guests.
Feb 6, 2013: ARRIVAL DAY!
I arrived in Berlin a day in advance of the opening of the Berlinale (that’s the pretty big deal film festival there) and accompanying film market feeling pretty confident that my experience in Cannes would prepare me for the experience.
After all, once you’ve been to the granddaddy of film conventions, you can handle anything, right? In a way, yes. I was totally right. Perhaps due to that much touted German precision, attention to detail and superior organization, this festival ticks like well oiled clockwork.
Unlike Cannes, the European Film Market (EFM for short) that’s hosted in Berlin doesn’t require quite as much elaborate “proof” that someone trying to register is, as they claim to be, a film industry professional. No letters of reference or lengthy CVs were required, and I managed to register in advance on the strength of the shiny new website for Ultra 8 Pictures (www.ultra8.ca) that Colin and I spruced up just in time for EFM.
Picking up our accreditation and info was simple, and the woman we dealt with actually handed us documents which explain how the market badge can be used and how those with festival accreditation (which is separate and costs a little bit extra) can pick up tickets to public screenings. No crystal balls required to comprehend the system here. If you want to see a public screening, you walk up to a clearly marked booth the day before, point to the title of your choice, and if it’s not totally sold out, you walk away happy, ticket in hand.
This year, Colin and I rented a small room in a shared apartment (think “hostel for adults”) that’s a five minute walk from the festival centre. Berlin is an amazing city and very much worth exploring, but we opted for convenience instead of grabbing a cooler, larger place to stay in nearby hip ‘hood, Mitte, where many of our friends are staying.
Remember when TIFF was centred almost exclusively around the Yorkville neighbourhood and when out of town pals would come in for the fest, all of us Torontonians would say things like “nobody actually hangs out here when it’s not TIFF time” or “I wish you could see another part of the city, it’s really way cooler than this”. That’s kind of the situation with the Berlinale, or at least the EFM, which is clustered around Potsdamer Platz, a modern, sky-scraper- y, business district with a futuristic town square and a bunch of fancy hotels. It’s right around where the old east/west divide used to be, and is pretty close to Checkpoint Charlie, which is historically interesting (and it’s certainly neat to be given directions to a cinema or hotel that include the words “turn right at the Berlin Wall”) but it’s not the prettiest part of Berlin. Alas, we’re not here to sightsee, are we?
After getting a whirlwind tour of the cinemas around Potsdamer Platz, and the two main hotels in which some of the larger companies hold offices (the Ritz and the Marriott), we settle in for some traditional Berlin dinner – a takeout container of Turkish doner. Turkish pizza and doner / kebab places are as plentiful around downtown Berlin as currywurst stands (Google it – sounds a bit gross, tastes delicious), which at least makes cheap snacks easy to find just about anywhere.
We do the wise thing on our first night and actually go to bed early in an effort to get some decent rest and speed up the jetlag recovery process. Unfortunately, this backfires and we end up wide awake by 5:00am. At least this results in some productive emailing time before the market opens at 9:00am and we can go for a tour of the booths.
Feb 7, 2013: DAY 1
The actual market – the place with all the booths filled with producers, distributors and sales agents eager to show you their cinematic wares – is housed in a beautiful old neo-rennaisance building that used to sit right on the east/west border, Martin-Gropius Bau. The building’s got a glass dome in its spacious central atrium which fills it with natural light and makes it feel like the totally polar opposite to the low-ceilinged and fluorescent-lit modern convention centre in which the Cannes market is housed. This joint definitely classes up the whole market experience. Colin is primarily here to scout for films that he might program for TIFF, his main gig. There are market screenings to attend, but the bulk of his time is actually spent meeting with producers, sales agents and distributors who will have stuff to show him in a few months, closer to his actual programming crunch time. For him, Berlin functions mostly to cut his Cannes work in half, because he’ll already know what’s coming up, who’s got promising contenders to show him, and what the ‘must sees’ of the Cannes market are going to be.
For me, this trip is all about meeting people and learning more about what it takes to produce feature films, which is the line of work I’m slowly transitioning into. I recently got involved with a feature by a super cool Canadian director, and I don’t want to mess up my first real opportunity to get into the game and produce something really interesting, so I am here to tag along to as many meetings as I can, hopefully have a few meetings of my own, soak up the atmosphere, and learn. It means I likely won’t see a lot of movies, but I’m starting to get the feeling that a lot of people who attend these markets don’t get to see a lot of films while they’re there.
The first day isn’t too meeting-heavy but we do walk around all the booths in the Martin-Gropius Bau to visit with anyone we didn’t manage to set up a meeting with inadvance. Some of them have time to chat on the spot, others pencil us in for later in the weekend. As with Cannes, the first three days are a mad rush, and then a lot of people pack up their bags and go. I’m here for the full ten days, but after the opening weekend the work will slow down, and by Wednesday it’ll practically be a ghost town, which means I might actually get a chance to see some films before we leave.
In the evening, I go to dinner with a small group of friends and colleagues to a restaurant called Henne, which serves the best fried chicken I’ve ever had. We follow it up with cool cocktails at a bar that used to be a Jewish girls’ school. There’s no sign outside, but inside, the atmosphere is relaxed, the music isn’t cranked so loud that we can’t talk, and the cocktails are incredible. The bartender turns out to be from Istanbul by way of Kamloops, and we bond over our immigrant Canadian-ness while she concocts an insane tequila cocktail with ginger, fennel, black pepper and vinegar. I know, it doesn’t sound like the most delicious thing you’ve ever had, but trust me, it is. The drinks are so good, we end up staying much later than intended. It’s only the first day of the market and I’m already going to bed after midnight. This doesn’t bode well for my fantastic