Ahh, day two. The most action-packed day of them all.
On Friday we had eight scheduled meetings, and the Directed by Women pitch session, which showcased seven early-stage projects by female writers/directors/producers.
I enjoyed the pitches and am glad that Frontières decided to boost female participation by including this session in the first place, but I wasn’t crazy about the format. The filmmakers had three minutes to pitch, and then got immediate feedback from a panel of experts – filmmakers, producers, sales agents and festival types.
In some ways, this was informative and useful, because the panelists had good feedback about the actual content of the pitches. But in other cases, it turned into a (very kind and gentle) critique of the person’s pitching abilities, which didn’t seem particularly fair, since these were all projects in their early stages and most of the filmmakers had little or no pitching experience. One thing that every shy and nervous person knows very well is just how shy and nervous they are. They probably don’t need it pointed out to them in an already high-stress situation, no matter how kindly.
The anxiety-inducing critiques aside, there were a few good comments and the questions from the panelists gave each person or team a chance to expand and/or explain their project in a bit more detail, which was helpful.
After the pitch sessions I headed to the meeting rooms to dive into an entire afternoon full of meetings.
Meetings are short (20 minutes – barely enough time for everyone on both sides of the table to repeat their well-rehearsed spiel) and they’re back to back. When the time is up, a bell rings and the tough (but very loveable) taskmasters of the Frontières staff make sure everyone gets moving and to their next appointment. Projects are assigned tables and they sit there all day. Everyone else moves from table to table when the bell rings. They run a tight ship, and bless their little hearts for it because everything would descend into instant chaos if they didn’t.
Generally speaking, the meetings went like this:
Us: Hi, this is who we are and what we do!
Film project team: Hi, this is a recap of our project and what we’re looking for!
Us: Thanks! This is what we can and can’t help with.
Film project team: Cool! Can we send you a script or follow-up materials?
[exchange of business cards, bell rings, aaaaand switch]
After a long day of meeting with the projects and also with other visiting producers, we took the elevator up to the rooftop and enjoyed the no-longer-muggy weather and beautiful views of Montreal.
One of the best thing about Frontières is the fact that every day of the market concludes with a networking cocktail at which you can reconnect with everyone you just spent all day with. It might sound redundant but it’s actually great.
One of the best ways to figure out whether you really want to work with someone is to combine professional meetings with quality social time. Sit at a table and talk hard numbers. And then have a glass of wine and chat about your favourite movies (or even better, something not movie related).
Making a movie takes a long time. You want to be absolutely sure that the people you’re choosing to work with are people you want to spend a couple of years with.
We decided to branch out into another part of Montreal for dinner, so we asked Frontières director Lindsay Peters for a vegetarian-friendly recommendation that would accommodate everyone. Her response was “this place has a great burger”. Bless! The place she recommended did indeed have a phenomenal burger, but also enough veggie options to satisfy our whole crew.
So, by way of Lindsay, I now recommend to you: Nouveau Palais. If you’re looking for very high quality comfort food in a no-frills diner and a cool neighbourhood, it can’t be beat. Go for the burger then walk up the street and check out the Drawn & Quarterly bookstore about a half-block away.
After dinner, I made our entire (very full) crew walk to one of Montreal’s legendary bagel places (we went to Fairmount, even though I’m kind of a St Viateur girl, don’t judge me) because our crew of American and Mexican dining companions had never tried this baked-good wonder.
This is one of my top tips for visitors who come to Montreal for Fantasia: EAT A BAGEL! THEY ARE VERY GOOD AND UNIQUE AND NOT LIKE OTHER BAGELS! REALLY, DO IT!
Sometimes I wonder if I feel more strongly about this than some Montrealers do?
After our “bagel dessert”, we walked a bit further to one of my favourite Montreal bars, Casa Del Popolo – a place that has remained almost totally unchanged since I used to visit (and occasionally play there with my old band) around 2002-03.
Here’s another great tip for festival travellers: talk about things other than movies. My conversations on Friday spanned every topic, from childbirth and parenthood, to illness, music, childhood, life and career plans, hobbies and so much more. The best way to make real friends is to actually delve a bit deeper into people’s lives and hearts than just what their favourite Carpenter film is. Although, we did also have a fantastic discussion later at the Irish Embassy about our favourite Carpenter films. Colin’s, for the record, is The Fog. Mine is Prince of Darkness.
As always, our night ended at the Irish Embassy, but we wisely chose to just have one drink, do a quick walkabout to say hi to everyone, and then go to bed. I know that there are plenty of folks my age and much older living it up until 3am every night at the Embassy, but I’m very much ok with my own days of near-all-nighters being over for all but the most special of occasions. I’m still chipping away at a year’s worth of cumulative sleep deprivation. Sleep > partying.
On a muggy Thursday, it begins …
The first day of the Frontières market always starts with the pitch sessions. The presentations take place in the big theatre where Fantasia has many of its screenings.
I missed last year’s edition due to bébé, which means that I missed the move to the big theatre as well. It was great to see such a large room filled with so many people eager to hear about the projects.
The first time that Colin and I attended Frontières, the pitch sessions were held in one of the small rooms now used for the speed dating-style meetings that the projects will spend the rest of the market participating in. It didn’t seem small at the time, but it didn’t take long for them to move to the J.A. de Sève theatre, which seats about 160 – more than double the people you can squeeze into the original room. While we were away the market made an even bigger jump, to the big (nearly 400 seat) cinema space, which gives the market a few more years’ worth of room to grow!
Because there were 20 projects to get through, the Frontières team held them to a fairly strict eight minute time limit. It’s amazing how much the level of polish of these presentations has increased over the years. In past years, there were always one or two presentations that seemed unrehearsed. Not any more! People are bringing their A-game.
In the past, I’ve recommended that people attending these kinds of markets bring a proof of concept video to show what the film they are hoping to make will look and sound like. In principle, I still think this is a good idea if it’s done well. The massive buzz created after the Frontières presentation of The Void in 2013 was almost entirely thanks to the killer trailer that those filmmakers made. A good proof of concept can work wonders.
If you don’t have the capacity to shoot original material, it can still be helpful to put together together a “mood reel” out of clips from other films. However, be mindful of whether your source material is in line with what you realistically hope to achieve. Including shots from The Shining in a pitch for a $1-2 million project might not seem realistic to the financiers in your audience.
“Proof of concept” has become a buzz term in recent years, and many filmmakers are doing the smart thing and making a short film that serves as a proof of concept for a feature that they hope to make, but also stands alone as a short. Several of the presentations at this year’s sessions used clips that were from their own thematically-similar shorts. One of those, The Home (which Screen Anarchy also singled out as one of the best pitches of the market), is available on Shudder and is really worth checking out.
But, great proofs of concept aside, there’s something else that can be just as important (if not more so) to showcase your talents in a pitch presentation: the good old fashioned director’s reel. Director reels are hardly a new concept, but now that everyone has jumped on the proof of concept train, they’re starting to feel fresh again.
This is something I also realized when we were evaluating the pitch videos for this year’s edition of Shudder Labs. The ones who made a proof of concept were effective, but the ones who just included a well edited reel of clips from their previous work were also very effective.
It actually shouldn’t have taken so long to realize the power of the filmmaker reel, because I experienced it myself at Frontières a few years ago when I came with Tim Reis and Matt Swinsky. Matt’s reel included extremely impressive work from a lot of slick, high concept music videos for a number of very notable hip hop stars. Everyone we met with was very impressed. One company (which does film packaging and represents talent) still brings him up every time we meet with them.
The pitch sessions were interesting this year because of the variety and diversity of the projects. For me, there were a few stand-outs (I loved Black Bats, The Cleaner, The Home, The Saviours and Zoo – with honourable mentions going to Nameless and The Restoration at Grayson Manor), and a couple that surprised me because I enjoyed them more than I thought I would. I’m not normally a huge fan of straight-up fantasy (of the Excalibur / Ladyhawke type), but The Stolen Child (a medieval fairies & knights type of tale) totally won me over with a great pitch and a great video edited together from a trilogy of shorts the filmmaker had already made about the magical world in which the feature takes place.
After the pitch sessions, we went for lunch (at the always delicious Fantasia/Frontières fave, Kafein) for a healthy salad to counterbalance last night’s rib-fest, and then took it easy. Most of our weekend is packed with meetings, but Thursday was totally clear, so we got to have a little bit of downtime before the opening night BBQ and the inevitable late night at the Irish Embassy (though we kept it to a reasonable two drinks and then went to bed – gotta be sharp for all those meetings).
My priority for this Frontières market is to catch up with friends and colleagues from all over the world, make some new connections with people who are attending and who I think I’d like to one day work with, meet with the projects that I think we might be able to help by introducing them to the right partners, and figure out whether there’s a project here that we might want to get involved with on a deeper level. Let’s see how I do on all those goals by the end of the weekend.
The Calm Before the Storm
Colin and I have been attending the Frontières market since it began in 2012. Collectively, we’ve presented three projects. He, along with Peter Kuplowsky, brought The Void in 2013, and I brought projects by James Sizemore (The Demon’s Rook) and Matt Swinsky (check out some of his music videos here) in subsequent years.
Hot tip about Frontières: the word is French, and it’s pronounced “frontier” – the S is silent. I say it wrong all the time. I can’t help myself! Learn from my mistakes. At least I pronounce “Cannes” correctly!
I think we’ve only missed one edition of the market in Montreal (they also have Frontières events in Cannes and elsewhere), in 2016, and it was because we had a very fresh baby on our hands.
This year, we decided to come to Frontières and sit on the other side of the table – as producers who are looking for projects, not ones who are pitching them. We aren’t necessarily looking to pick up a film to produce ourselves, but we have many friends and clients who have approached us over the past few months and asked for our help in scouting for all sorts of stuff – projects, completed films, talented filmmakers and writers, and more. So, we’re here to see some pitches, meet with a lot of people and hopefully do a bit of productive matchmaking.
We’re also in Fantasia for another reason – I’m on the festival’s New Flesh jury (the aptly-named first feature jury), watching and judging a dozen films from all genres and all parts of the world. Obviously I can’t say anything specific until after I’ve seen them all and the jury has deliberated and made its decisions, but so far, the films have been quite varied and quite good. Job well done, Fantasia programmers!
We arrived in Montreal on the evening of Wednesday July 19th, and headed straight to Bar-B-Barn with a group of friends, an annual tradition that we started a few years ago with our Shudder colleague Sam Zimmerman. It’s a very old-school chicken & ribs restaurant that really has to be seen to be believed.
When we mention the Bar-B-Barn to most of our Montrealer friends, they give us the quizzical looks of people who remember being taken there as children, many decades ago, but who can’t fathom why anyone would still go there in the present day. Because it’s still great, guys! Trust!
After the enormous plates of ribs were reduced to a few Flintstones-sized bone piles, we hopped over to the Irish Embassy (the pub where every single night of Fantasia seems to end, and a very handy place to congregate and meet up with pals). We said hi to everyone and then decided to be reasonable and go to our hotel early because the pitch sessions started at 9:30am on Thursday. If there’s one thing you don’t want to be when facing four hours of presentations in a darkened theatre, it’s sleepy and hung over!
Our hotel is a 10-15 minute walk from the Concordia campus buildings where the market takes place. It’s not the most interesting part of Monreal by any means, but it is very convenient to be walking distance from home while you’re at a festival or market. You never know when you might need a change of clothes, or a 30 minute power-nap, or an hour of uninterrupted time with your laptop to catch up on something. Being able to zip back to your home base without it being a half hour commute is crucial.
Note: I wasn’t originally thinking of doing a Frontières diary, but then our lovely friend Abraham (programmer at the very awesome Morbido film fest) told me he was looking forward to it, so … here we are!
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.