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!
I didn’t intend to take two weeks to write about my Fantasia experiences, but there ya go. It was busy, I was super tired afterwards, and now I’m finally catching my breath with a couple of weeks of fresh country air (still working, but in an idyllic setting on beautiful Elbow Lake).
To recap for those who haven’t been obsessively following my life and times: I went to the very awesome Fantasia Film Festival in Montreal for two reasons.
Reason #1 was to attend Frontières, the international co-production market. It was the second year of Frontières, and I’ve wanted to submit a project since last year.
I pushed hard to get the team behind Manborg to put together an application for their next film, The Void. The project got in on the strength of their awesome concept and story, but I did a lot of the coordinating to ensure our application was on time and complete, and to coordinate meetings and set a schedule for us once the project was selected as one of the “official 12” that were going to be profiled and featured in the market.
Reason #2 is because a very cool horror film that I executive produced, The Demon’s Rook, was having its world premiere there. I’ll write more about that rewarding experience in a future blog post.
In addition to those two reasons to be there, we were also hanging out with and introducing another set of filmmakers we’re working with to some people who may be able to help with their project – a doc about the psychology of horror called Why Horror? A team from the film was in town for unrelated reasons, attending the Just for Laughs fest, which coincides with Fantasia (oh, Montreal, why are you so busy?!), so we managed to squeeze in a meeting and a bit of strategizing with them as well.
On the whole, I would say that Fantasia was a huge success. Our pitch was well received and the meetings were all very positive and hopeful. While Colin sat with the Void team and took meetings about their project, I circulated the speed-dating-esque room and met with some of the other projects that were being pitched, and talked up Ultra 8 Pictures to the other producers in the room.
The schedule at the market was as follows:
- 9:30am – 3:00pm – meetings every half hour with a brief break for lunch.
- 3:45pm – 5:00pm – panel discussions / industry sessions on topics such as indie film financing and distribution
- 5:00pm – 7:00pm – cocktail parties on the terrace of the Concordia building we were in – a chance for participants to schmooze and get to know each other in a more informal setting
- 7:00pm – midnight – dinners and movies – people either went off to eat and keep chatting or to experience some of the films in the fest
- midnight – ??? – everyone descends upon the Irish Embassy, the festival’s official pub, which has a delightfully huge back patio and serves booze till 3am (I guess that’s a Montreal thing, not a that-bar thing).
I was pretty conservative with my late nights at the Irish Embassy – even though it’s a great place to meet people and even though team Demon’s Rook was representin’ there most nights, I knew there was no way I would be able to make it for a 9:30am meeting if I didn’t stumble out of a bar until 3am. Maybe in my 20s, y’all. But no longer.
Anyway, I left Fantasia feeling very optimistic about everything. But I also left feeling like “oh god, now the real work begins”.
First and foremost, the work of figuring out some basic agreements with the filmmakers we’re currently collaborating with on a totally friendly basis, to provide a bit of mutual comfort and protection should things suddenly develop faster than we anticipate. Or even at the exact pace that we anticipate.
There’s nothing more awkward than having to draft up a legal document among friends that basically says “hey, we’re working on this together and we agree not to screw each other over”, but sometimes it’s necessary. Everyone seems to have at least one horror story of working with friends and getting shut out of some amazing thing that they helped develop, or having their idea taken away and produced by someone else, or being promised something big that never materialized, or whatever.
So, agreements. They’re awkward, but they’re necessary. Right now, I’m knee deep in trying to sort them out for various projects, most of which are progressing pretty slowly, so there’s no urgency. But the ones we were at Fantasia with – those are actually moving along at a decent clip, and if we have no paperwork to reassure everyone of their role, someone’s going to end up feeling mistreated in some way.
I’ve spent the past week collecting sample agreements and templates and having phone calls with producer friends. I think I’m starting to wrap my head around it?
Their opening night is a week away, and my trip to Montreal doesn’t start for another five days after that, but what can I say, I’m really excited!
So, what am I looking forward to most?
1) The movies, obviously! There are a lot of great films playing throughout the fest, but here are my top five most anticipated, which happen to be playing during my week there:
- The Machine (I’m pretty sure it’s about a robot babe, so I’m sold already)
- Big Bad Wolves (I’ve never seen a horror film in Hebrew, but I can’t wait to see this one, which was one of the most buzzed about films in the Cannes market, at least among my horror-fan/genre-programmer pals)
- L’Autre Monde (a Richard Stanley documentary about mystical stuff? sure!)
- Rewind This (how can I resist a doc about ye olde VHS? I CANNOT)
- The Complex (new film by the director of the original Ringu – I’m in)
- OH YEAH, AND ALSO THE DEMON’S ROOK, EH?
2) Seeing international pals. It’s a blessing to have good friends from all around the world, and it’s an even greater blessing to be able to take a short, cheap train ride to Montreal and see dozens of them all at once.
3) The BUSINESS. I’m obviously super excited about all the stuff that I talked about in my last blog post, including the premiere of The Demon’s Rook and the Frontières International Co-Production Market. I hope it’s really informative and interesting and fun and fruitful. If last year’s inaugural edition is anything to base my expectations on, it will be – and more.
4) The amazing Fantasia gang. Seriously, the programmers and staff at this festival could not be more smart, funny, delightful, welcoming and genuinely enthusiastic. What a bunch of super great adorables.
5) Eating all the foods. Montreal has some delicious snacks to offer. I intend to have four of each.
6) The fact that this year, unlike every other time we’ve gone to Fantasia, Colin will be travelling without any TIFF programming tasks hanging over his head (which makes for a stressful and work-filled trip), because by the time we leave town, his slate of films for this year’s fest will be fully locked. A July getaway and we aren’t packing TIFF screeners? A very rare summer treat.
I only wish I’d been able to extend my trip by a few days in order to spend more time with my Montreal pals who aren’t Fantasia staffers or film types. Alas, the schedule is tight.
The news is finally in and I am free to talk about one of the big things that I’m super excited about this month: the super fun horror film from Georgia that Colin and I are Executive Producing, The Demon’s Rook (remember all that stuff about colour correction? that’s the one) has been accepted into Fantasia, and will be having its world premiere there on July 27th.
In case you’re not familiar with it, the Fantasia International Film Festival is a wildly fun and very well programmed (if I do say so myself!) three week genre-film-a-thon in Montreal. It usually starts around mid-July (this year it starts on the 18th – my birthday, and clearly a good omen) and goes until early August. I don’t know how the staff manage to maintain their crazy enthusiasm throughout. Ten days of TIFF, Cannes or Berlin wipes me the hell out and I’m not even officially “working it”. The stamina of those Québécois film buffs is impressive.
ANYWAY, GO BUY A TICKET AND COME TO OUR PREMIERE, EVERYONE!
SATURDAY JULY 27, 11:55PM, IMPERIAL THEATRE
I was already going to Fantasia between July 23 and 29 for Frontières, the international co-production market. I am there representing (along with four others) the new project by Steve Kostanski and Jeremy Gillespie, the fabulously talented filmmakers who brought you Manborg. Their new project is called The Void, and we’re quite excited about pitching it to some potential international partners in Fantasia. The To Do List for The Void is very long. It includes sending info about our project to the Fantasia team, finalizing copy for a brochure & info packet we hope to print, keeping on top of everyone else to ensure they meet their deadlines (finishing the script, the teaser trailer, etc), putting together a temp website / online EPK (electronic press kit, yo), and waiting for information to be published about industry delegates who will be attending the event so that I can pounce on it and start requesting meetings left, right and centre. I will also be writing the “script” for Colin’s portion of the pitch session, putting together a rough budget and contacting a bunch of last year’s participants to talk to them about their experiences and hopefully end up with a better presentation thanks to their feedback.
Of course, I’m not the only one working hard. The writer/director duo have been crazy busy as well. They’re finishing the script, revising the treatment to reflect some changes they’ve made to the story, and – get this! – shooting a bunch of amazing prosthetic effects tests into a two minute teaser trailer specifically for this event, just to show that they’re able to pull off the ambitious FX stuff they say they want to do. It’s impressive, and I am pretty proud to be affiliated with such a creative and ambitious (and productive!) team.
File under “unpaid work I do in exchange for a credit and the opportunity to keep learning about my new-ish chosen profession”.
We’ve been incredibly lucky that Fantasia scheduled The Demon’s Rook on the same weekend that we will be there to participate in the co-production market, so that we didn’t have to take two trips (not that I mind spending more time in Montreal, but time and money are in short supply these days). This means I will not only be able to be there to support The Demon’s Rook team, but I’ll also be able to invite all of my international film industry friends to see the film, since they’ll be there for the market anyway. It’s pretty much the definition of win-win.