BIG NEWS, FRIENDS! A film I’m co-writing with James Sizemore and producing with Tim Reis (the dynamic duo behind The Demon’s Rook) has been selected as one of the official projects for the next edition of Fantasia’s Frontières co-production market.
Without further ado, let me say to the world, for the first time ever, that I am involved in this awesome thing, and it is called Rite of the Witch Goddess.
This is the news I’ve been dying to share since … well, since Monday when I found out, while in the Frankfurt airport, that we were selected.
Here’s the Screen Daily article about it. All of the other projects seem very intriguing as well. Can’t wait!
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 feeling a bit overwhelmed lately. I have too many things on the go. I think my resolution for 2015 is going to have to do with simplifying my life, but it certainly isn’t going to happen in the next 12-15 months.
I’m managing a few special projects at REEL CANADA (the same part-time basis as before, but a few more hours per week this fall than anticipated), and I’ve got a new gig that I’m excited about which threatens to swallow up a lot of my upcoming time (more on that soon).
Then there’s the fact that I want to move into a bigger apartment, which (considering Colin’s work-related travel schedule – and these days, mine too) has to be very strategically timed, so the search has to happen in hurried bursts of activity. Maybe I should hire a realtor. And, I’m determined (determined, I say!) to complete at least one of the writing projects which have been on the back seat of my life for years and which I told myself I would make time for once I quit my full time job and went freelance.
Plus there’s the producing, which I am grimly resigned to giving most of my time to, even though it’s the thing that doesn’t pay. Here’s where those projects are at.
I love this movie and the adorable sweethearts who made it. That’s why I’m thrilled at how well it’s been doing since its premiere at Fantasia this summer. The film got great responses out of FrightFest (London, UK) and Scream Fest (Los Angeles). It’s playing Sitges (Spain) next. FEARnet, Bloody Disgusting and Fangoria have all posted really positive reviews. We got a great sales company on board (Raven Banner, the same fine folks who helped get Manborg out into the world), and there’s been some interest from US distributors recently, which I can’t talk about yet but am very excited about, obviously. Next up, I’m looking forward to digging into the director’s next script, for a witchcraft-y horror film. He gave it to us way back in the summer, but the pre-and-post-TIFF weeks were too hectic, so I’m going to read it now, while I’m out in the woods at the cottage, in the perfect setting.
The highlight of the Fantasia experience with The Demon’s Rook was not just getting to see the film on the big screen for the first time, but also getting to hang out with the lovely director, James Sizemore, and meet his beautiful wife and adorable parents. Not to mention DoP/editor/producer Tim Reis and HIS beautiful girlfriend and adorable parents. And the dozen or so other folks who came up from Georgia to support them. What an incredibly sweet group of people. I feel really lucky to be working with them.
Bye Bye Blackbird (working title)
This is the noir-ish murder mystery thriller that I’m working on with Peter Lynch. The script is so close to being done that I can almost taste it, and I’m super excited! I mean, it’s been “done” for a long time, but it’ll be at a polished, “ready to be sent out to people” level in a matter of days. We’ve been talking to funders, to other producers who might come on board to help us, and to sales agents. Everything seems to be progressing well enough that we might actually shoot this sucker next year – perhaps not as early in the year as we’d hoped (the original timeline had us in production by February) but soon enough.
If you ever saw a copy of the Ultra 8 Pictures brochure that we printed for Cannes, you might remember this one as the project with the creepy closeup of a witchy looking woman as its central image. It’s a supernatural thriller, and writer/director Terrance Odette passed a rough draft to me the other week for some preliminary feedback. I had lots of notes, but overall, I thought it was great. We even have some interesting funding prospects for this one, but I don’t want to jinx it by saying too much. Suffice it to say, I have very high hopes for this one.
This is a really smart body horror film by a German writer-director who we’ve been trying to hook up with Canadian partners, to do a German-Canadian coproduction. Finally, it looks like everything might be in place. Ultra 8 is not the lead producing entity on this one – but the person who likely will be taking the lead is a really good local producing powerhouse, so I’m quite excited about the opportunity to work with him. I can’t say too much yet, but we’re aggressively pursuing cast at the moment and we’ll be able to officially announce something soon. Woop woop!
After a successful market experience at Fantasia, I stepped back a little bit from this one. It’s a fantastic project, but there’s not much for me to do while the script is being worked on, and I’m damn busy with other stuff! Plus, it’s the only project I’ve been spending time on where there’s no agreement – written or oral – on what Ultra 8 Pictures’ role (by which I mean, mine or Colin’s) actually is, so it seems prudent not to prioritize it until we all have time in our overloaded schedules to sit down and discuss what needs to be done.
This documentary about the psychology of horror films and why we love to feel scared did some great work at Fantasia, Festival of Fear and TIFF. With a little bit of help from team Colin & Kat, they bagged a bunch of interviews with visiting filmmakers and got a lot of great shooting done. I can’t wait to get back to Toronto after Thanksgiving and meet with these guys, so that we can figure out where they’re at and what help they need next. Oh, and Why Horror? just launched a Kickstarter campaign. You can find it (and contribute!) HERE.
And their poster is rad, too:
I think that’s it. I need a nap.
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.