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.