Blog: Speed dating, festival-style

Entertainment lawyer, producer and Playback blogger Anita K. Sharma shares her experiences from the Producer's Lab at the International Film Festival Rotterdam.

ROTTERDAM — My jet lag disappeared the second I stepped into the bustle and excitement at de Doelen, the central hub of activities at the 41st annual International Film Festival Rotterdam.

I immediately felt lucky to be here as a participant in the 14th Edition of the Rotterdam Producer’s Lab, which runs concurrent with CineMart and the Festival.

The Lab organizers wasted no time getting the 78 producer participants who were chosen by CineMart’s International partner organizations such as Telefilm Canada, acquainted. With the ring of a bell, the Lab got off to a raucous start with a “speed dating” session between producers. Within just 10 minutes, I had met producers from Israel, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Scotland, Borneo, South Africa, South Korea and Costa Rica, just to name a few of the 20-plus countries represented here.

The speed dating very quickly broke the ice, and the trend continued at the cocktail party which followed, hosted by the Rotterdam Media Fund. From there, the festivities forged on at full steam with an amazing buffet dinner hosted by ProImagenes Colombia. Having dinner seated at narrow, long tables that seated at least 20 on each side made it feel like a wedding, except that all the guests attending have the same job description.

With so much going on within hours of arrival, I quickly realized that the Lab’s mandate – to help build up a producer’s network while immersed in the informal environment of CineMart and the Festival, in order to develop co-production opportunities and foster relationships, was more than just lip service.

This mandate became even more apparent the next day, when our first official session was a pitch workshop led by Ido Abram, director of presentation and communication of the EYE Film Institute in the Netherlands.

Ido was funny, entertaining and thought-provoking. He reminded us that “this is the global community sitting in this room,” and to take the opportunity to not only pitch, but to acquire knowledge directly from each other. We each had 30 seconds to introduce ourselves in front of the group, and to make a mini-pitch.

We learned quickly: pitch “dos” include stating your track record, the story and the specific ask, and being aware of volume, melody, and body language in your pitch.

As for the don’ts, don’t include the word “just” your opener – in “I’m just a first time producer”- or the word “only,” as in “I’m only here to observe,” as it diminishes what you have to offer.

At the end of the session Ido had us all on our feet saying, “I have something to offer” in unison. Sounds a bit hokey, I know, but it worked as a confidence booster.

Lunch followed (with wine served – one of the many reasons to love Europe), hosted by the New Zealand Film Commission, where we were joined by around 35 CineMart participants. The first co-production market of its kind, CineMart offers filmmakers the opportunity to launch their ideas to the international film industry and to find the right connections to get their projects financed.

A session with Kristina Trapp and Jean des Forets from the European Audiovisual Entrepreneurs (EAVE) followed lunch. EAVE is a professional training, project development and networking organization with a focus on European producers (which may explain why I had never heard of them). Although much of the info wasn’t applicable to non-Europeans, we did find out that we can apply to the EAVE Film Finance Forum held in Luxembourg April 19-22.

The last panel of the day was a fascinating Art:Film panel in which panelists -including Stuart Corner, film curator, the Tate Modern museum, Simon Field, producer, Illumination Films, artist/filmmakers Nicolas Provost and Wilhelm Sasnal and Meghan Tomeo, project manager, Anton Kern Gallery – explored and debated the relationship between art and film.

Provost, whose short Moving Stories is screening at the festival, was quick to shut down the idea that film is not art per se by arguing that “as an artist you are always a storyteller,” no matter what the medium. Corner agreed, citing as examples artists like Julian Schnabel, Steve McQueen and Matthew Barney, who have very successfully conquered the film world. He went on to outline the Tate’s plans to build a screening room since museums, unlike cinemas, are physically built around light, not sound (something I have never really thought about).

After just one and half days of the Lab, I can’t wait to see what tomorrow has in store.