stuff, written by me

Monthly Archives: February 2014

Everything listed below either played in the official Berlinale selection, or is a Sundance title that was playing in the market, but has had its public debut already. I’m not doing real reviews here, just brief impressions of the small handful of films I actually managed to squeeze into my schedule. Surprisingly or not, everything I saw was pretty good, even the one that is “not for me”.

FrankFrank (dir. Lenny Abrahamson) – this film is, I guess, loosely based on a real person, Frank Sidebottom, a dude who actually played in a band with a giant papier-mâché head on top of his real human head. The film was written by a guy who played with him, so it’s based on “something”, but I’m not sure to what extent any of the actual plot points have anything to do with the real story. Probably nothing? I don’t think the actual Frank was mentally ill, but I could be wrong and the internet has been strangely unhelpful in this regard. Either way, I was charmed by this one and hey, it’s always nice to see Scoot McNairy in a fun role. I’ve really been a fan since Monsters.

GaloreGalore (dir. Rhys Graham) – this Australian coming-of-age-ish drama about three teens caught in an emotional triangle in a dead-end town is super heavy, and also really great. Two girls (Billie and Laura) are best friends in the insane and super intense way that only teenage girls ever can be. Laura has a boyfriend, but Billie is secretly sleeping with him, and it’s all very intense. The first time director really handled the subject matter deftly, and Ashleigh Cummings, who plays (the wild troublemaker) Billie gave a really powerful performance. Here, just watch the trailer.

god-help-the-girlGod Help the Girl (dir. Stuart Murdoch) – this ultra-twee musical was written and directed by the dude from Belle and Sebastian, and it shows. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, I’m just saying that if you like that kind of music, then this film is full of really great songs and absolutely adorable young people and perfectly perfect vintage  outfits, and an infinitely watchable confused young waif heroine. And you’ll probably like it. It’s about a girl who sort of gets over her anorexia by starting a quirky band with her nerdy friend who is clearly in love with her, and maybe 22 year old me would have loved it, but 36 year old me categorizes it as “not for me”. There’s nothing really wrong with it, you just have to be into “that kind of thing”, and if you’re not, it might give you a toothache.

GuestThe Guest (dir. Adam Wingard) – how many times can I say that this film is awesome? Not enough. It’s like if Drive was an action film (and yeah, Dan Stevens is at least as compelling, charismatic and menacing as Gosling), but actually better than that. Apparently Maika Monroe, who plays the sister, has also been in The Bling Ring and Labor Day recently, but I haven’t seen either of those films so I had no idea who she was and she’s now my favourite 20-something in Hollywood. I would like to aerobicise to the soundtrack of this film forever.

houellebecqThe Kidnapping of Michel Houellebecq (dir. Guillaume Nicloux) – if you are a fan of the author, then this faux doc (inspired by Houellebecq’s real disappearance during a promotional tour in 2011) will probably seem both hilarious and very engaging. If you don’t know Houellebecq from any other grumpy, chain-smoking old man, then you might just be puzzled by it. Either way, this imagining of what kind of kidnapping could possibly befall a man like Houellebecq is bizarrely charming.

thou-wast-mild-and-lovelyThou Wast Mild and Lovely (dir. Josephine Decker) – I went to see this one because Joe Swanberg stars in it and I’m a fan. And I walked out a big fan of Josephine Decker! This film is intimate and quiet and beautifully constructed, but it’s also super weird in the best ways possible. Swanberg plays Akin, a silent summer worker at a farm run by the gruff Jeremiah and his in-tune-with-nature daughter, Sarah (Torontonian Sophie Traub). Things quickly become tense (and intense) between the three, building to an unexpected climax. This film features a sequence from the POV of a farm animal, and it is wonderful.

Fun fact: most of the films I saw start with “G”. G is the title letter of 2014.


By Monday Feb 10, things were starting to slow down. If five meetings, a film, a reception, a dinner, and a party (which, to be honest, I skipped after the dinner turned out to be huge and German) can be called “slow”. I was feeling pretty good about my ability to not fall asleep during films and contribute meaningfully to meetings and only feeling slightly overwhelmed by the amount of work from back home that had piled up in my absence.

this (Frank) was the one film I saw on Monday

this (Frank) was the one film I saw on Monday

This is my #1 challenge to overcome while I am away on work-related trips: managing the work back home. It’s really hard to be very busy and still maintain a basic grasp on the same workload you would normally have at home. It’s different from being on vacation. When you’re vacationing people assume you will be doing no work, and that is ok. When you’re away on business, people expect that you will at least get back to them in a timely manner and get the work you owe them done on a slightly delayed but still reasonable timeline. You can’t just ditch everything for two weeks, it’s not only unprofessional, it’s also really brutal to come back from once you return home and discover that everything in your life is way behind schedule.

By Tuesday, I was feeling the need for a break, so I made a date with a ladyfriend from the UK to go dress shopping at my favourite Berlin boutique. She got a dress! I got three (I was trying to be so reasonable). I saw no films, but did attend a few meetings and managed to get a really fantastic schnitzel dinner in at a traditional German place before the most anticipated social event of the fest, the Fantasia karaoke party. Walked there from dinner (a 20ish minute much needed stroll to work off some of that delicious veal) with Colin and Tim Reis and talked producing, and sales markets, and all kinds of stuff that he’d been getting a crash course in all week.  A perfectly low-key day to end a very high-key (what is the opposite of low-key anyway) five day marathon.

this is how happy Colin was with our schnitzel restaurant

this is how happy Colin was with our schnitzel restaurant

Wednesday was the day I spend literally sleeping ALL DAY. I woke up at an appropriate time for breakfast, made some eggs and German sausages, ate them, and then went back to bed until 5:30pm. I haven’t slept for so long since I was a teenager, but the market really caught up with me and I needed the rest. This is how I avoid getting sick. Listening to the poor exhausted body is a must.


Saturday Feb 8 & Sunday Feb 9. Also known as the busiest two days of the market. By Monday, only four days after it began, lots of people will already be packing up and heading home. Seems crazy, considering the leisurely pace most people approach film festivals with, that a market should be so rushed.

This weekend involves a lot of rushing around, and I’m very grateful for my week-long pass to the public transit system. One of my top tips for anyone coming to Berlin is: get friendly with the subway. It’s efficient, clean, and really the easiest and best way to get around. There are buses and trams too. It’s extensive.

People who come from transit friendly cities like New York (or Toronto) will find this advice obvious, but take heed car-dependent Americans: the Berlin subway is easy to navigate and not scary. You will save a lot by not always taking a cab.

You can buy tickets from vending machines at track level (and the machines have an English option, of course) but if you’re not sure what kind of ticket would suit you best, look for a booth with a human working it – some of the larger hub stations have them. I went for the weekly pass. Since it all works on the honour system, I bought my ticket, validated it (basically a date stamp that you get at track level – don’t forget!) and then popped it into my wallet and forgot about it for seven days. While there are inspectors who come around to check whether you really have a ticket, I’ve never seen one, so I guess I could have easily cheated the system. But honestly, I am happy to pay into something as well run as the Berlin subway, because I still want it to be here every future time that I visit.

Potsdamer Platz, the "EFM station"

Potsdamer Platz, the “EFM station”

Saturday was Colin’s day to hang with other TIFF staff for approximately 100 hours. They had a lengthy staff meeting and dinner, during which I puttered around and then went to see The Guest. I have very high expectations for any Wingard/Barrett joint, and this film met them all.

I didn’t see any other films on Saturday because sometimes you have to end on a high note. Instead, I went to Berlin’s best chicken joint, Henne, where I ate a half chicken with my hands, in the company of some Fantastic Fest / Drafthouse Films pals and several other delightful people. Then off to the Canadian Embassy to party with Canadians. A lot.

The only 9am breakfast meeting of the trip was of course scheduled after the latest night, so Sunday morning we raced out of bed to the Mandala hotel to meet our Replace director, Norbert, and a UK company that’s shown interest in another project of his. Later, I meet a Danish dude who may be able to help with another project I’m working on – my only solo meeting so far. 

Later in the day, I saw The Guest again with Colin. I know. Again. It’s that good.

Quick sidebar about market screenings: you’re not supposed to review market films (and I don’t), because they haven’t necessarily “premiered” yet to a public audience. Since The Guest played Sundance, it’s more ok to post about that than, let’s say, the new Nacho Vigalondo film that also had an invitation-only EFM screening. That film’s official premiere will be at SXSW, as they recently announced, so mum’s the word till then.

In the evening, dinner with our lovely Replace compatriots, followed by the enormous Trust Nordisk party, where all the fancy, sweet looking pastries turned out to be savoury (thank you, Danes, you’re my kind of people). Apparently both Stellan Skarsgard and Lars von Trier walked past us at some point in that party but I saw nothing. I am not very observant.

We left Trust Nordisk early-ish in order to hang out with Joe Swanberg at the party for Thou Wast Mild and Lovely, which was much more relaxed. And it turned out to be the right decision, because apparently Trust Nordisk got wild and went late, and several of our friends didn’t make it home from that one until 6am. I would have cancelled Monday altogether if that had been me.


Friday Feb 7.

Yes, this day was full of meetings and running around, but for me the highlight was seeing Thou Wast Mild and Lovely, an experimental-ish, thriller-ish farm based American indie by Josephine Decker, which I went to see because Joe Swanberg stars, and I’m a fan. I loved the film, and I highly recommend it for fans of challenging and cool indie fare (and not just because there’s a five minute cow-POV shot in it).

By nightfall, I was ready for the “it’s a marathon, not a sprint” portion of the evening, featuring four separate parties: the British one, held at their embassy; NordMedia, the party for north German films with the greatest buffet room in party history; “Meet the Danes”, held at some cool former recording studio where everyone from Bowie to U2 has made albums, and the Finnish party, held in a church and probably featuring the largest concentration of our actual international buds.

I started the night pretty well.

fresh faced at the British Embassy

fresh faced at the British Embassy

I held up pretty well at NordMedia but honestly after that buffet spread, I was starting to lose steam.

phooooooooof

phooooooooof

By the time we got to Meet the Danes, I was feeling pretty Danish myself, if you know what I mean.

photo 3

oh, my liver

Don’t worry, though. By the time we got to the Finns, I’d caught my second wind.

zzzzzzzzz

zzzzzzzzz


Wake up feeling rested-ish. Take subway down to the Martin-Gropius Bau, the gorgeous old building that houses the bulk of the market booths & makeshift offices. Do a quick tour of the ground floor.

martin-gropius bau

Meet one or two people on the fly. Pick up party invitations for one Scandinavian party and a Korean one. Run into a dozen people I know, feel warm & fuzzy for having such nice international friends. Race back to apartment to meet Tim Reis, producer of The Demon’s Rook, who has just landed.

Take the “walking a colicky horse because if it sits down it might die” approach to helping Tim with his jet lag – drag him out of the house almost immediately for a whirlwind tour of the Martin-Gropius, the area around Potsdamerplatz where two of the main cinemas (the CineStar and the CinemaxX) are located. Take him to the Raven Banner booth (the sales company that is handling The Demon’s Rook) and take sleepy-eyed photos of him under a poster for the film he made.

Attend a few meetings, during one of which we see a totally naked woman through a window across the street romping around in her hotel room with all the blinds open. All parties are distracted, except Tim who is napping in a corner (poor bunny). Discuss werewolves for a while.

photo

sleepy but happy

Visit the WTFilms office (the sales company handling another film we’re involved with,  Devil’s Mile – which screened to cast, crew, supporters and fans for the first time just last night in Toronto) and admire their large Devil’s Mile poster.

Go home briefly to freshen up then head out to Kreuzberg for dinner with a few friends who work for the Fantastic Fest / Drafthouse Films empire. Eat delicious pizza that Eli Roth claims is the best he’s ever had outside of Italy (discovered during extended Berlin stay during shooting of Basterds). Discover that he is correct, it is damn good pizza.

nice Agnostic Front banner, pizza place

nice Agnostic Front banner, pizza place

Roll home and tell Tim a long story about a project we’re working on that hasn’t shaped up as planned. Crash into bed, only to wake up two hours later, thirsty. Drink water, pee, and then be unable to fall asleep for two hours, at which point a “full night’s rest” is pretty much shot. Manage to get some weird, freaky-dream-filled sleep, get up at 8am, repeat.


I am working on a regular festival diary for my first (successful!) day in the market but in the meantime, I have to share this fabulous news.

One of the projects I’m working on has finally been announced – a press release went out last night and it’s already getting a lot of great buzz. Replace is a smart and unique horror/thriller from a very talented writer/director. It features a cool female protagonist (a thing that I love) and is, in my humble opinion, totally going to kick ass. One look at the poster image and you’re sold, am I right?

replace

They misspelled my name in The Hollywood Reporter, but y’know what, I’m not gonna quibble too much:

replace news

The press release went out today and it’s already hit other sites like Bloody Disgusting and Dread Central among others. We’ve been working on this cool project for over a year and it’s such a pleasure to be able to share it with the world, finally!

Looking forward to sharing the rest of the adventure with our  Canadian partners at Agency 71 and 108 Media, and the German Writer-Director Norbert Keil and Producer Felix von Poser, the team who we affectionately refer to as “our Germans”. Congrats to all. A really terrific way to kick off EFM this year.


Today is a day of weird sleeping (fell asleep last night at 2am, woke up at 8am, got a lot of work done, crashed at 1:30pm, slept until nearly 4pm) and schedule-making.

Here’s my method for creating a film market schedule. I’m sure everyone does theirs differently. I request meetings with the people I have to meet with and let those filter back to me. I go through the screening guide and whittle it down to the films I would like to see.

I put all the confirmed meetings into the schedule (highlighted in blue) and all the parties and social events (in pink). And then I list all of the films on my “to see” list on the schedule. All of them. Even if there are five in a single time slot. Like this (except the schedule actually extends from 9am to midnight):

screen cap

Also, I use the 24 clock. When your schedule stretches over a 15 hour period, there’s a lot less confusion in being able to say “see you at 21:00” than “see you at 9” because lord help you if you forget to put the AM or PM down and screw your whole day.

Obviously, I do this very differently from the way I approach a film festival schedule, where I actually select individual films that I’ll definitely see in a given slot.

Markets are different, and I’m watching these films for different reasons (festival programming, acquisitions consulting, mysterious producing reasons, etc). Sometimes, I don’t watch an entire film, so it’s handy to know what else is playing in the same slot that I can pop into. Other times, I won’t know what my priority is in a given slot until after I’ve consulted other industry pals who may have heard more buzz than I have. And sometimes meetings run long and it comes down to “which theatre can I walk to in 5 mins”. C’est la [market] vie.

Today, I’m really hitting my stride, confirming meetings left, right & centre, and kicking the schedule’s ass. Unfortunately, it’s nearly 5pm the day before the market begins, so, y’know, I could have gotten into the zone sliiiiightly earlier.

This is, however, where the “travel early” advice also comes in handy. Here I am, 24 hours before it begins, comfortably sipping coffee at a desk and responding to emails as soon as they come in. If I was at an airport right now or on a flight with no wifi for seven hours, I’d be a mess of anxiety.