Blogging from Berlinale: Seeking sales agents and casting crews

Cher Hawrysh-1

This year, five TIFF 2012 Studio participants are attending the co-production market and other events at the Berlin International Film Festival. Over the next few days, they will blog about their experiences and insights gained from conversations with international producers and industry execs. Here, Phenomenal Films producer Cher Hawrysh writes about Canadian co-pros and the hunt for an international sales agent.

I arrived in Berlin on Thursday, Feb. 7 with Paula Devonshire, my colleague from TIFF’s Studio programme, after a long flight and short layover. After a brief nap, with dual alarms set, we made our way to the Canadian embassy to meet our fellow Trans Atlantic Partners (TAP) producers for what proved to be a an excellent kick-off to the Berlinale.

After a brief reception filled with welcoming hugs and double kisses and few new-to-meet-you handshakes, we headed into the theatre for a co-production case study on Ruba Nadda’s Syria-set, South Africa-shot Inescapable, an official Canada/South Africa co-production.

Ilan Girard, an industry veteran with extensive sales, financing and international co-production experience, led an informative Q&A style look at the financing, production and distribution of the film with producer Daniel Iron.

What made the session interesting, beyond the candid sharing of experience offered by Daniel, was the audience of TAP producers.  The room was full of producers from across Europe, Canada, the U.S. and South Africa, and it enabled the discussion to dive into the deeper details and intricacies of staying onside of co-production spend splits between the countries, striking the fine balance (often the challenge) of casting for the domestic and international market and marketing and sales.

We then spilled into one-on-one scheduled meetings with TAP experts including Phil Hunt from Bankside Films, Beatrice Neumann from U.K. sales company The Works, and Toronto based, international co-production savvy lawyer Ken Dhaliwal from Heenan Blaikie.

This was the first time TAP held an event outside of their usual co-production training program, and, with the intent of brokering international co-productions and providing an international network of colleagues and resources, it proved to be very successful.

It was a co-production market, before the official Berlinale Co-Production Market!

We then overran a restaurant with our business conversations and reverie of reuniting with international friends and colleagues. I had the good pleasure of sitting with Marco Mehlitz, Marty Katz’s German co-production partner on David Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method, and Andreas Pense, the lawyer (alongside Dhaliwal) who helped them close all the deals. So much for my ideas of an early night!

On Friday, word trickled through of the snowstorm/snowday in Toronto, so the cool wind and ice‐packed streets of Potsdamer Platz presented no challenge at all. I checked in at the European Film Market with producer Paul Barkin, with whom I worked as a co-producer on his feature The Colony starring Laurence Fishburne, Bill Paxton and Kevin Zegers. 

The Colony was screening at the market – its first market screening – which meant, along with the films sales agent, Sierra Pictures, we were hoping for several buyers to attend. And they did! It was a good turn out for a market screening and the film, which will be released by Alliance/eOne in Canada and the U.K., looked fabulous!  It was no surprise to see the announcement that Image Entertainment picked up the U.S. rights to the film that day.

Then it was on to other business at hand. For me, this meant focusing on finding an international sales agent for Bruce McDonald’s next feature Baby, How’d We Ever Get This Way. I’m lucky, as we’re double teaming on this one. I produced the film alongside Toronto-based Daniel Bekerman, who is also in Berlin as part of the Talent Campus. We began talking to international sales agents in September during the International Finance Forum at the TIFF and now that we have completed production, are showing the short teaser trailer Bruce and our editor Duff Smith put together in time for Berlin.

Baby is garnering a lot of interest and the process becomes a little bit like dating. Or maybe casting is a better expression.

I attended a Theme Talk during the Co-Production Market on Monday titled “Psychology on Set – the Secrets of Motivation”, where Marcus Loges (the line producer of Cloud Atlas, among other titles) and Scott Kirby (a first AD with an equally impressive resume including Inglourious Basterds) offered, alongside moderator Katriel Schory (from the Israeli Film Fund), their insights into creating a smooth production experience, resulting in, ultimately, a finer film.

Katriel said: “So often we are concerned with casting the stars, when equal importance should be placed on casting our crew.” It’s a great axiom, and one I’ll take away with me. Making, selling and marketing our films is indeed a passionate affair and finding the right fit is very important to both the experience and the results.

So, we have a few more dates, or casting sessions if you will, and will do our ever important follow-up, with plans to lock-in our international sales partners prior to Cannes – the next stop on the international market!

The Studio program is TIFF Industry’s first year-round program, open to Ontario-based producers and aimed at developing next-level creative and business skills and knowledge of the global marketplace through panels, programs and seminars with Canadian and international film experts.