TIFF12: Discussing market opps for first-time filmmakers

Festival international programmer Jane Schoettle says that first-time filmmakers are using inventive ways to finance their films, which lets them retain artistic control and work with leaner budgets.
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During the Toronto International Film Festival, Playback is featuring a series of Q&As with festival programmers and insiders on trends in the films they program and the buzz they’re hearing from distributors.

Here, Jane Schoettle, TIFF programmer for Australia, Israel, New Zealand and the U.S. indies, talks about funding trends and market opportunities for first-time filmmakers.

What are the market opportunities for first-time filmmakers at and beyond the festival?

They’re good – it all comes down to the content and quality of the film, and TIFF puts all of our value on that also. There are so many avenues through which to distribute a film these days that any and all acquisitions folks can find the right film for their needs at TIFF. So, as always, it’s less about being a first time filmmaker than it is about the film itself.

Regarding first-time filmmakers, what are some of the new trends you’re seeing in filmmaking?

Well, there’s just such a high volume of them that it can be difficult to make generalizations – but I do notice an increase in women filmmakers this year (always good) and more first films coming from artists aged 25 to 40. Lastly, I think there is a trend towards making films that question our current value structure, posing the question: can a person be moral in a world that far too often seems immoral? Important stuff.

And in funding?

Well, the money that dried up from 2008 to 2010 is slowly coming back, but I don’t think we will see a return to pre-2008 levels, and that’s perhaps not a bad thing. Young filmmakers are looking to private investors, crowd-funding, and other inventive ways to finance their films – and that means they retain artistic control. It also means leaner budgets, which means that you don’t need an enormous sale to recoup costs. And that’s a good response to the fact that distributors don’t really have the budgets to throw dough around indiscriminately.

What types of markets in particular tend to show interest in first-time filmmaker films?

Again, it’s down to the type of film and to the region – what works as a VOD release in one country might be a theatrical release in another country or a television purchase for another. As the expression goes, it’s ‘horses for courses.’

What are some of the trends you’ve seen in films you programmed this year?

There’s a lot of questioning, which is, I think, very healthy. Are we too consumerist (The Brass Teapot)? What are the losses when you uproot a culture (The Land of Eb)? Do we owe old soldiers the same society they fought for (Eagles)? All good questions, all good films.

Want to hear more from first-time filmmakers at the festival? The Fantastic First-Time Feature Filmmakers panel, part of TIFF’s Industry Dialogues sessions, takes place Wed. Sept. 12, 2012 in the Filmmakers’ Lounge at the Hyatt.