Blogging from the Berlinale Talent Campus: Day five

In the latest installment from Toronto-based filmmaker Jason Lapeyre, the Keanu Reeves-produced doc Side by Side explores the film versus video debate, and producers Christine Vachon and Ted Hope discuss the future of the film industry.

Jason Lapeyre is a Toronto-based director, blogging from the Berlinale Talent Campus during the Berlin International Film Festival.

Six Lessons From the Talent Campus – #5: Plus ça change

More hooky this morning, as the European Film Market beckoned and the only workshops at the Talent Campus before noon were about Sound Design.  The Market was definitely winding down today, but I still had a couple great meetings with sales agents and learned a thing or two, like how to get free Wi-Fi and which sandwiches were best at the lunch counter.  It was an amazing experience to have worked my first film market and I can absolutely see the value in spending the money to travel to one now that I’ve broken through the mysterious barrier separating filmmaker from film market.

When I was done at the EFM I hustled over to a screening of the new American documentary, Side by Side, which was essentially the film vs. video debate had by the top directors and cinematographers in the industry.  Everyone from James Cameron to Christopher Nolan to David Lynch weighs in on the transition, each with a sincere, passionate argument that seems to ultimately come down on the side of video (the Arri Alexa appears to be the final step that convinces every DP except Wally Pfister to at least try digital).

Because the interviewer was Keanu Reeves, the doc had incredible access to filmmakers, including Andy and Lana (previously Larry, now the gender-reassigned Lana) Wachowski, who spoke in favour of not only digital production, but also a whole new model of digital consumption.  An incredibly inspiring documentary that makes you feel like running out of the theatre and experimenting with the tools yourself to find the medium best suited to your own needs.

The only panel I was able to get to today was called Killer/Hope Crossing The Lines, a discussion with Christine Vachon (of Killer Films) and Ted Hope, American independent producers extraordinaire, about where the future of the industry lay.   It was jam-packed with insight.  Ted Hope spoke about taking lessons from the music industry, which is facing the same kind of technological threat currently messing with film distribution models.  He talked about the onus it puts on the filmmaker to do their own marketing, and how filmmakers can connect directly by their audience by literally touring with their film much the same way musicians do.  Direct sales was another way of addressing the problem.  He readily admitted that he didn’t have a solution to the problem, but implied that it somehow lay in the power of the internet and in connecting directly with a steadily-built-up audience over time, and how the marketing power of a single loyal fan was worth its weight in gold.

In response to a direct question about how they finance their features, they replied that it was always some combination of pre-sales, equity and a North American deal, and that they tried to make that happen by making the project seem like it was inevitable in some way.  Whether it was just an image book or three different budget levels or different cast suggestions, the film is going to get made.  It’s always a question of creating that sense of glamour that attracts equity to the project and gives the film-to-be a feeling of momentum that makes investors want to get on board with it.

Ultimately, Vachon said, plus ca change plus c’est la meme chose.  When they were young aspiring producers, they faced challenges as huge as the ones facing producers today, if not bigger.  They were up against a closed Hollywood system that wanted nothing to do with them and there was no model for creating successful American independent film.  But they did it.  They set out to succeed on their own terms and they created something that, 20 years later, is
working for them.  The situation has changed radically, but if anything it’s less daunting, because at least the means of production has become democractized and access to the tools is available to everyone.  It’s going to be a question of ingenuity, passion and commitment for whoever solves the problem, just like
it was for them in the early 90s.

Only one day left at the Talent Campus.  It’s going to be a light, easy day tomorrow, which is great, because I don’t have any room left in my brain for inspiration.  It’s been an unbelievable week already, and has seriously changed my thinking about every level of how to make films and achieve my goals.  Now I just need another whole week to let it all sink in.