Sunday July 27, 2014
By Sunday the meetings have mostly dried up and I can have a blissful few extra hours of sleep before heading to a lunch meeting with some pals. I spend a bit of time catching up on the press Frontières and Fantasia have been getting. I am delighted to discover that the lovely Andrew Mack selected Rite of the Witch Goddess as one of his top pitches, in an article on Twitch.
My favourite quote from the article?
The old school film geek in me says stay. The Jesus in me says ‘RUN AWAY!’
That’s exactly what we were going for!
In the afternoon I hop over to the panel on works in progress to catch clips of some pretty cool upcoming movies, including one Ultra 8 Pictures joint, the upcoming doc WHY Horror? Tal Zimmerman showed some clips and was super funny, as usual. It’s great to see clips of other films by awesome pals, as well, including Ted Geoghegan’s hotly-anticipated-by-me horror film We Are Still Here, and the Moorehead & Benson joint Spring. The whole idea of showing and talking about works in progress is a smart one, and builds buzz for the films while also providing a bit of insight into the process of filmmaking. Probably one of the most useful lessons in that regard is just about how damn long the process can take. Hint: longer than you think, plus another year.
In the evening I do dinner double duty with Tim Reis, first attending the end-of-Frontières dinner for producers. I have half of an amazing plate of lobster mac & cheese (Tim had the lobster roll, both were insanely full of lobster) and chat with a couple of Canadian producers whose proof of concept (for a film called To Be Continued…) in yesterday’s panel was pretty memorable, and Julianne Forde, the charming irish producer of Stitches, my favourite horror comedy of 2012.
Then Tim and I jet across town to Aux Vivre, James Sizemore’s favourite Montreal vegan joint, where we join James, his wife Ashleigh, Colin, and Tal, for dinner part deux. I eat half of a “dragon bowl”. The dragon sauce is as mysteriously delicious as promised. I regret not buying a bottle.
Last up, the market closing party, a karaoke shindig at a place close to the hotel & festival centre that’s so full and loud and crazy and sweaty that my food-stuffed-and-exhausted response is to spend almost the entire party outside on the front patio with the smokers and similarly overheated others. I meet the guys behind The Creeping Garden, one of my most anticipated documentaries of the year, and am delighted to hear that their premiere went well. It’s about slime moulds, guys! I read an article about how this wacky organism was being used to design the most efficient interstate system. This was years ago and I have wanted to know more ever since.
Four key takeaways from the party:
- SLIME. MOULDS.
- Montreal has a local wrestling league called Battle War, at which men throw each other into piles of thumbtacks and break many tables and chairs.
- Next time I’m in Montreal, I gotta go to Battle War.
- Battle War is a great name. For anything.
In spite of my desire to party hard, at this point in the market I’m terrified of catching the bug that has kept James in bed for the past few days and seems to also be ruining Colin. So I hug everyone goodbye and go home at the reasonable hour of 1:30am or so, after only one beer. I am such a grownup.
Saturday July 26, 2014
Big day. Meetings, sure. Frontières, of course. But also, the world premieres of two films I’m very excited about. Devil’s Mile, by my dear friend Joe O’Brien, and Goat Witch, the short by Team The Demon’s Rook. The first half of the day very closely resembled the last two days. Meetings, meetings, meetings, an industry panel, and a rooftop networking cocktail party.
The panel was terrific. It was on the importance of creating a proof of concept for your as-yet unmade film. My favourite teaser of the ones shown was for a film called Radius, that Frontières founder and badass babe Stephanie Trepanier is serving as a producer, which is very exciting indeed. The teaser was beautifully made and pulled me into the story (which I won’t reveal because they’re still in the process of pulling it together and I don’t want to spill the beans about anything they’re not ready to go public with).
The purpose of proof of concept trailers is manifold. They can visually illustrate the tone and style you’ll be going for in your film. They can also prove that you’re capable of pulling off something that might otherwise be a question mark in the minds of the people you’re trying to convince. They can be used to attract financing, but also other elements. One team spoke about the fact that in the broadest sense, their project was a “creature feature”. However, it’s also a romance, and the relationship at the heart of it really takes it out of any potentially shlocky monster movie territory. They used their gorgeous teaser to attract cast who might otherwise not go for a “horror” role.
The panel definitely made me feel fantastic about our decision to cut a trailer of original footage for our Rite of the Witch Goddess pitch from the footage shot for Goat Witch. Because one of the key elements we’re trying to sell this on is the practical effects, it was crucial that we show them off and make our audience understand that we are capable of pulling off the ambitious film we have planned.
In the evening, things turned way more film festivally. First, the premiere of Devil’s Mile, which was really fun and which the audience totally dug. Great Q&A afterwards, too. It was awesome to see Joe enjoy (or at least nervously endure) his moment in the spotlight.
We went for post-screening drinks, and everyone seemed pretty relieved and excited and basically in complete shock. An hour or so later we had to race off to the big Concordia theatre for Goat Witch, playing in front of a sold out crowd before Dead Snow 2. James gave a killer intro (so did Joe, actually, but way different vibes in the smart thriller 7pm crowd and the Nazi zombies midnight crowd) and the short played like gangbusters.
After all that, it was back to the Embassy, where I could only manage one drink even though I somehow ended up with five drink tickets. Golden opportunity for drunkenness: missed. The Fantasia fatigue had kicked in and I was ready to sleeeeep.
Friday July 25, 2014
9:30am meetings are a wonderful way to ensure that you’re either (a) very reasonable about your behaviour the night before, or (b) going to be getting sick very shortly.
Thankfully, I fell into camp (a) on the first full post-pitch day of the market. As I mentioned in my last post, the way the meetings at Frontières are structured is kind of speed-dating-esque. Each project has a table assigned to it, at which the team sits.
Every half hour, a bell rings and a new person sits on the other side of that table and you talk. They tell you what they do and you tell them a bit more about the project than you said in the initial presentation. They might be able to help you in the short-term (sales agents, for example, or distributors in a position to pre-buy a film that hasn’t been made yet in order to help you raise some of the cash money you need to actually make it) or they might not (festival programmers who want to track your project but really can’t do anything for you until it’s completed and ready to submit to them).
Either way, it’s very much to your benefit to make these contacts early, so that when your film is done and you set your sights on Sundance, you’re not just one of thousands of unsolicited submissions that they receive but can actually send a personal note to the programmer, who you met at Fantasia. Personal connections make a lot of difference. It’s not like “you have to know someone” but it’s like “it helps to know someone” and actually getting to know someone isn’t difficult at all, and you should probably invest the time and do it.
After the whirlwind day of meetings, another cocktail party on the roof of the Frontières home base, for more tiny snack foods and schmoozing with old and new pals. Sometimes, I feel exhausted and want to skip the social stuff, but I never do. I know that making connections in that setting can be just as important as the meetings, and it’s a huge part of the reason we’re all here. So, I soldier on, drinking free wine and chatting with the best of ’em. Life is so tough.
Well, I guess it can be a chore if you get sick with one of the dreaded festival viruses that often hang around like ominous thunderclouds, as poor James did after an overly raucous thursday night. Can’t blame him too much, though. It was his birthday!
Next up, dinner at Nouveau Palais, an amazing Mile End old timey diner with a deliciously new timey menu. I had a chilled celery soup and salmon with grits + fava beans because I was still too meated out from the night before. Everyone else had the highly recommended burger.
Dinner was followed by – what else? – more drinks at the Irish Embassy. Does it get old? Sure. But it’s also the best place to catch up with everyone at the end of the day and chat about all the movies you haven’t had time to go to. Not even the not-very-good cover band that plays on Fridays and Saturdays can ruin that.
Thursday July 24, 2014
The train ride on Wednesday was productive (I answered so many emails) and uneventful (no emergency calls from anyone I am working with on anything). When we got into town, we went immediately to the printer to get a copy of our poster printed, then to the presentation venue for a tech check (I cannot overstate the value of this part of the process, people. Don’t even wait until someone says “hey do you want to test your PowerPoint on our computer before you go on stage?” Demand it from the outset! Fantasia is, of course, fantastic and well-organized and we met the glorious Maria Reinup at the venue and sorted everything out and then went to the hotel for rehearsals.
We didn’t actually get started on practicing our pitch until around 9 or 10pm, so by the time we were done, it was pretty late. Still, going to bed late is about 100 times better than going to bed drunk, so we all still woke up bright and early on Thursday and ready for a day of pitches.
I kept swinging wildly between the extremes of feeling completely confident and totally terrified all day, but the other presentations kept me balanced. They were a good mix of totally polished and casual, and I could tell that almost everyone was just as nervous as I was. On the whole, I thought everyone did quite well. And it was good to remind myself of this fact before going on stage, because there were certainly moments during some of the other presentations when people flubbed a line or couldn’t get their slide shows or videos to work, and it was still fine. The audience is forgiving. People understand that it’s nerve-wracking and for the most part, they want you to do well.
The pitches were held in a small theatre so any A/V elements looked and sounded great on the big screen. Each team was allotted ten minutes, and both the director and producer(s) were supposed to speak. The presentations were done in three blocks of four, with short breaks. We were in the final block, so by that point the audience was getting a bit tired. The benefit was that we got to see most of the other teams do a wide variety of different kinds of pitches (funny, serious, slick, messy), so by the time we got on stage, we didn’t feel like we might be the only terrible one.
As it turns out, we did great. We were concise, we stuck to the 10 minute time limit, and we had a pretty killer proof of concept video of 100% original footage to show off our (by “our” I mean “James’s”) special effects skills.
I thought my voice was shaking pretty bad but when I got off stage people kept saying “wow, you sounded so confident”, so I guess I’m going to start saying “I was extremely confident and it showed” the next time anyone asks whether I was nervous.
The afternoon of speed-dating style meetings that followed the morning of pitch sessions flew by in a total blur. Every half an hour, a new person would sit down, we’d chat excitedly and then a bell would ring and everyone would play musical chairs. Of the many highlights were our two meetings with super-producers Travis Stevens and Brian Udovich, who did us the incredible courtesy o reading the current draft of our script in advance, so that they were able to release some hardcore real-talk on us about how to improve it. I feel very inspired to spend August working on the next draft.
In the evening, we went to the networking cocktail party to schmooze with pals. Everyone had so much excess adrenaline to burn off that it was really nice to do it over wine on a gorgeous rooftop terrace. We went for post-cocktail drinks at ye olde Irish Embassy because we had some time to kill before the post-birthday present that the world’s greatest husband had planned for me – dinner at Au Pied de Cochon, where I’ve wanted to overstuff myself with meats for yearssssss.
We watched the table next to us get a pig’s head with a lobster coming out of its mouth. It looked impressive. Our own family style meal involved foie gras, tuna tartar, clams in blue cheese sauce, a veal porterhouse steak, a crazy pot of pork belly, sausages and cheesy polenta, and the restaurant’s signature “duck in a can”. Oh yeah, there was also maple bread pudding and a rhubarb pastry that almost killed me.
I was mostly incapacitated after that meal, so a single drink at the Irish had to be followed by almost immediate lying down. Holy. The meat.
I’m on a train catching up on some Birdland casting business (we’re approaching some big names this week) and struggling to type with the insane nails I decided to inflict upon my hands for Fantasia (flashier nails = more confidence, right?) and texting my Rite of the Witch Goddess teammates and generally getting excited about Frontières.
By this time tomorrow, our pitch will probably be over. I keep having to remind myself that the me who is nervous about public speaking is the me of ten years ago and not the me of today. The me of today is at ease with a microphone in any situation except karaoke. And that’s not about confidence, it’s about the particular weird skill-set and personality required to enjoy doing karaoke, which I lack. I like watching other people do it! I can’t wait to see my cute friends sing their hearts out at the Frontières closing party. I hope Nicole raps.
Today is going to be a pretty full day. I arrive in Montreal at 2:30, get to the hotel by 3ish and head straight out to the presentation venue for a tech check with James.
After we test our trailer on the big screen to make sure it looks and sounds amazing tomorrow, I’ll be heading back for a workout at the hotel gym. It will clear my mind for a night of pitch rehearsals. Around 6ish, Tim will arrive in Montreal. We’ll probably get some kind of takeout dinner and hunker down for a couple of hours of going over our presentation until we feel extremely confident.
Then, an early night in. The last thing I want is to feel under-slept or hung over for the presentation. Everyone at Fantasia descends on a bar called the Irish Embassy at the end of each night, where jovial film nerds drink beer on a huge back patio until the wee hours. I will be skipping it tonight in favour of a really solid night’s sleep. But tomorrow? Look out Embassy!
I stole this photo from the excellent Jay Clarke’s excellent blog The Horror Section. This pic is from 2008, but coincidentally, the young lady in the black top pictured here (Serena Whitney) is going to be at Fantasia with me this year, because she’s the co-writer of one of the Off-Frontières projects, Mark of Kane. Check out their poster over on Fangoria.
Ok! Almost in Montreal. Time to get ready to get off this train.
Oh, projects. Why are there so many of you?
On this week’s agenda:
- Locking the August (and, to a large extent, September – because, y’know, TIFF) programming for the Royal and emailing all the distributors to request various titles for various dates. Colin is doing most of the emailing, thankfully, but I helped map it out. We have some cool stuff in store!
- Help Colin lock his TIFF films. I’m not a TIFF employee and I have no official role in this process, but I know how much of Colin’s time it will take over the next few days, so I’m trying hard to figure out ways to help, so that he can be TIFF-distraction-free when we get to Montreal, because I will really need some moral support.
- Finalizing my Fantasia pitch presentation (notes, slideshow of images, trailer, etc). Now that I’ve booked my manicure appointment and requested all the meetings, I can move on to the less crucial stuff like, y’know, making sure we have a poster to put up.
- Scrambling to figure out interim / gap financing for a project that is in the “waiting to hear from funders” stage. One of the funders called me today to tell me our package is very strong (yay) but that we’re disadvantaged by the fact that we only have about 30% of our financing secured, whereas many other applicants are in the 60-100% range (boo). I’m not sure what I can do to beef up those numbers in the next two weeks, but that is my timeline. Good luck, me.
- Updating the U8P slate brochure for Fantasia so that I have something to leave with the people I meet with. This involves sending updates to a graphic designer, because my layout skills pretty much topped out at MS Paint, and also checking in with various filmmakers to see if it’s ok to continue hawking the projects we’re working on. Some are on hold as other things move forward, and others are being pushed to the front, because I want to prioritize them. I should have done this weeks ago.
- Moving (most of) the U8P office from our fifth floor space to our new, brighter, more awesome second floor space (thankfully, within the same building). I’m hopeful that this can happen within the next few
- Having a birthday! It’s tomorrow. I’m not a party type, so I’m not having a party, but I am also going to try hard to not spend all day tomorrow working. I work all the friggin’ time.
I’ve also been averaging like five trips to the gym per week, which I’d sure love to keep up in this final seven-ish days before I zip off to Fantasia, because I want to be in peak physical condition when I hit the stage for that pitch. If I can squeeze it into my days, that is. Last year, the presentations were held in a classroom with a pull-down screen and a little projector. This year, they’re taking place hereThe new venue makes it feel way more nerve-wracking. I don’t usually get stage fright (five years of self-inflicted torture in the form of high school drama classes, many years of playing in bands, a toastmasters course once upon a time, and years spent making presentations to large groups of teachers for REEL CANADA) but this is my first time ever pitching a film, and especially one that I had a hand in writing. That freaks me out a little. I know I’ll be prepared, but I don’t want to involuntarily let anyone see me sweat. Y’know, like when you’re freaked out and your voice gets shaky? That. I don’t want that to happen. Maybe a shot of whisky 15 minutes before I go on stage? Or some breathing exercises.
I am really looking forward to Fantasia this year, for lots of reasons. Seeing a few movies, of course, including my lovely friend Joe O’Brien’s Devil’s Mile. I’d also love to see Faults and Mr. Go, which are playing during our trip there. And of course there’s Goat Witch, the new short James Sizemore joint, which is screening before the midnight film (Dead Snow: Red vs Dead!!) on Saturday.
Realistically, I shouldn’t even spend too much time looking at the screening schedule because I’ll get all excited about seeing stuff and then I’ll end up seeing nothing, because my Frontières schedule will be really packed.
For anyone who is reading this and will be in Montreal on Wednesday June 23, I highly, highly recommend Kumiko: The Treasure Hunter, an absolute fave of mine from Berlin. Really beautiful movie.
I’m also excited about seeing pals from all over the world (and Montreal) and doing fun things with them, like going to eat at La Prunelle, because that restaurant was my favourite discovery of last year’s Fantasia trip. The food is top notch, and it’s a bring-your-own-wine place, so it ends up being extremely reasonably priced. Colin (and our dining companion, John) both ordered the bison rib, which was the tenderest piece of meat I ever tasted, and also bigger than his head. I can’t even remember what I ate, because it wasn’t novelty-sized.
And, most of all, I’m equal parts terrified and excited about the actual Frontières co-production market, where we will pitch Rite of the Witch Goddess to the world for the first time.
My to do list for that still includes:
- Finalizing the pitch script with James and Tim
- Waiting with bated breath for our proof of concept trailer to be completed
- Compiling (with the team’s help) a slideshow of images to play during our presentation
- Sending the Fantasia team our list of people who we want to request meetings with
- Designing and printing a Rite of the Witch Goddess postcard
- Updating and printing the Ultra 8 Pictures “slate” flyer, which has info about the other films we’re working on
- Finalizing the Rite of the Witch Goddess LookBook, where we’ll be hosting all the documents & videos that are going to be part of our presentation, so that the people we meet can access all that info even after the market is over.
- Oh yeah, and I should get my nails done.