Working the Cannes Short Film Corner

May 8, 2013
posted by sheric

It is that time of year again when short form filmmakers start heralding the fact that their film is “playing in Cannes.” To the outsider, this seems like a monumental accomplishment because Cannes Film Festival is known the world over. But to those on the inside, there is a huge difference between being an official selection in the festival proper and participating in the Court Métrage (Short Film Corner or SFC).

This year, only 9 short films out of the 3,200 submitted will be in Official Competition. None are from native English speaking countries. However, close to 2,000 short films have been accepted into the Métrage. Registration costs  €95, but is reimbursed if your film is not accepted. With acceptance, filmmakers have access to the festival hall, the Marché du Film(the official film market) as well as a multitude of panels with industry executives. One may also register for accreditation as an industry professional and not have any film participating in the event.

With all of that competition, what is the benefit of applying to Cannes (besides access) and what should short form filmmakers who are attending do to maximize on their effort? I spoke with several filmmakers who have been to the Short Film Corner with their films to find out if their Cannes experience offered value (besides visiting the French Riviera in May!) and what they advise for those attending this year.

“The Short Film Corner basically accepts everything, as long as it’s not pornography,” says John Trigonis, who attended in 2011 with his short film Cerise  which was an early project that used Indiegogo to fund its production.  “The year I went to Cannes with Cerise, there were over 1,900 other short films in the SFC. So it’s really, in my humble opinion, a way for the Cannes Film Festival to bring in ‘easy money’ from hopeful short filmmakers like myself, and they pay us back in free Stellas and no Wi-Fi and a hope and dream that our film may attract a big name who’ll somehow see your short film on a tiny computer screen. First, that’s a myth –– no celebrities or big-time producers even look down in the basement of the Palais, and second, if our shorts were really that good, they’d have made it into Cannes proper as an ‘Official Selection.’” Trigonis chronicled his trip on the Film Courage site upon his return.

Chris Jones, a British filmmaker and entrepreneur who participated with his Oscar shortlisted film Gone Fishing agrees. “The Short Film Corner is the best and cheapest way to get your pass for Cannes. And it’s also one of the silliest places to hang out. The reality is that your film will only be viewed by fellow short filmmakers in the short film corner, and if you are going to Cannes for a pat on the back from other filmmakers, you are in many ways, wasting money you could spend on making another short film.”

Ok, so if most projects can be accepted, regardless of merit, why go? What can be gained from the experience?  “For me, the main advantage of attending the Cannes Short Film Corner was networking and meeting people who generally I would never meet face to face in my part of the world. For the 3 times I  have attended, I made it a goal to listen, look and learn as much as I could about how people work at such a huge event,” said Ronnie Goodwin, filmmaker of Replay Revenge , Shooter and Fly, a Legacy“Many people I have spoken to tell me they have gained nothing from going to Cannes, but if you don’t make the opportunity work for you, then nothing will happen.”

“Head over to the market [Marché du Film] and see how feature films, narrative and docs are represented and sold in the traditional way (with a sales agent). This trip to the market is worth its weight in gold. You will learn that films are bought and sold on genre, cast, poster, promo and little else. I personally sat in on a screening of one of my feature films where the buyer watched the film from start to finish, IN FAST FORWARD! He later bought the film too! It’s remarkably humbling, but it’s also empowering – there’s a lot of crap being sold really badly,” says Jones.

Roberta Munroe, a short film producer and noted author of How NOT to Make a Short Film says there are advantages to attending a world renowned festival like Cannes. She will be attending this year with a short she produced. “I think it provides filmmakers with the opportunity to be at a *real* film festival where business acumen is key. Primarily, I would say that  filmmakers who have a feature script ready to go stand the most to gain from the experience. Though, those with or without a feature, who are interested in meeting the prime European programming staff from other top tier festivals as well as broadcast buyers would also fare well. Alongside meeting key programmers and buyers are the copious number of events that happen all day, every day for filmmakers to learn, chat and fatten up their community of peers, colleagues and admirers.”

“These benefits are greatest for those who truly want a filmmaking capital C, Career. I’ve found Cannes to be the one festival  where no one seems to gives a fuck who you are or what you’ve done, they seem to most care about how to make a good film. So regardless of your past laurels, having a pristine script, a well crafted business plan, and the ability to have a conversation where you sound the least like an entitled western filmmaker are the only attributes that will get you anywhere in Cannes.”

Many times, filmmakers feel the pressure to print up posters and postcards, hire a publicist or sales agent to help represent their films, believing that it will lead to future opportunities or sales. While this may be true for films in competition at Cannes or other such prestigious fests, is it true for films in the Short Film Corner? “Because the Corner is a self contained and REALLY well organized space, my feeling is that a filmmaker could be their own publicist *unless* you’re a wall flower and *unless* you already have some financing (or producer, or cast, etc.) in place for your next film and your sole goal is to find European co-production monies or producers or both. It never hurts to bring a friend to such a huge event…so if that ‘friend’ happens to be your paid publicist, then good for you,” says Munroe.

“I don’t know what a sales rep would charge, but even at a low end, for a short film I don’t think it’s worth it at all. A short is either a calling card piece or something that you can self-distribute through online channels. There’s no real money to be made in shorts, and this is speaking as someone who got a distribution deal for one of my prior short films. I saw one check, and it didn’t even cover the coffee runs during the shoot ! So any money that’s put into a short film beyond basic marketing materials (postcards and posters) is essentially money ill-spent. We actually did have postcards made for Cerise when we were there, but posters, postcards and other standard promotional materials don’t really make a difference. You have to stand out. We actually gave out cherries with our postcards, and that, I’m sure, is what got us the bulk of our 17 views at the Short Film Corner,” said Trigonis.

“It was my job to get people to view the film at the short film corner where they have a database of all the films submitted, and as you can imagine, there are a lot of films. So with every opportunity, I would invite people to look at the film, and with only a week to do it, that was a pretty tall order. On returning from the festival, I received an invitation to screen Shooter at the Palm Springs Short Film Festival,” said Goodwin. Getting your film in front of festival programmers is definitely a benefit if you are looking for more festival circuit play.

How about reaching buyers and selling your short, will an appearance at the Cannes Short Film Corner help with that? Peter Gerard, co-founder of online streaming player Distrify, has some thoughts and some experience with it. “There are very few buyers for shorts in the entire world. I have sold shorts (my best deal was with Short Film Sales who’ve made several sales for me), and the way I got the films noticed and attracted buyers was by winning prizes at film festivals.”

“As at any market, there are hundreds of films in the videotheque library [a digital library of all the short films, accessible to buyers even after the festival is over]. I would doubt that having a short in the library at Cannes makes much difference to the buyers, but I cannot speak from direct experience since I’m not a buyer! The only time I’ve made a sale with a film in a videotheque was at Sunnyside of the Doc , where I had an hour-long graffiti documentary in the library and there was a buyer putting together a season of urban films for French TV so he selected it based on subject matter. If you have a topic-based film that could be used for a specific slot or season, then maybe a videotheque could be useful (though less so for shorts), but otherwise there has to be a reason the buyer already wants to see the film, typically a prize, great reviews, or festival buzz.”

Top takeaways for those heading to the Cote d’Azur next week?

“During the festival there are lots of things to do, and it is very easy to get yourself into a position where you want to do everything, see everyone and attend every party. My advice to anyone going to Cannes, focus on your objective, try not to deviate, and try to use the trip to move you further with your career. Get people to see your work.” says Goodwin.

“My feeling is that the skills necessary to make the SFC work for you (great networking skills, persistence, salesmanship, etc.) could be applied whether your short is in the videotheque or not. You are basically out meeting people and convincing them to be interested in you and your work. It’s far easier to send them a screener after the market than to convince them to sit down and watch it in the videotheque during a frenetic event like Cannes,” says Gerard.

“I do much better on Twitter in a day than I did [networking] in a week at Cannes,” says Trigonis

“Watching short films in Cannes is a waste of time that you should spend hunting down producers, scoping out sales agents (the good and the bad) and crashing the parties where the deals are being made,” said Jones

“If you get into Cannes (or another top tier festival), you can parlay that (with few exceptions) into being able to get your film in front of other programmers. Also, in my not so humble opinion, unless you have the funds and simply feel like spending a year traveling our great country [US], once you’ve screened your film at maybe 4-5 festivals domestically – what would be the purpose of spending money to submit to more? If someone said, ‘Roberta, I’ll give you $2000 to shop yourself and your short at Cannes Short Film Corner OR I’ll give it to you to spend on festival submissions…’ I would absolutely, without question, choose the former,” says Munroe.

Chris Jones made a video about his journey to Cannes with Gone Fishing in 2008. It is still pretty relevant today and I encourage you to watch it if you don’t know what to expect on the ground in Cannes.

 

You can reach the participants in this article via Twitter (Chris Jones @livingspiritpix, Ronnie Goodwin @ronniebgoodwin, Peter Gerard @accme, John Trigonis @trigonis, Roberta Munroe @robertamunroe)

 

Successful crowdfunding means personal connection

April 1, 2013
posted by sheric

It makes sense doesn’t it? Word of mouth doesn’t travel without a personal network of supporters, however small. For some reason, there is a misconception that free money just rolls in when a crowdfunding initiative is launched, despite the fact that there are many, many case studies available online (for FREE) from people who ran successful campaigns and report that it was very difficult work. Widening the audience is one benefit of a campaign, but you have to start from somewhere in order to widen out.

In a short clip I did with Film Courage, I talk about why crowdfunding may not be for everyone and the limitations one will encounter if not very active online.

An aspect of a crowdfunding campaign that isn’t as apparent as money, is building up a sizable contact list of engaged supporters. I can’t tell you how crucial this is not just to the one project, but to ALL of your future as a filmmaker. Developing and maintaining a database of personal contact details is invaluable because they have given permission (and expressed an interest in) for future communication from you. This list should be guarded with your life and not relinquished to any third party! It shows the trust people have put in your talent and in you as a person, a trust difficult to gain that can easily be destroyed. This list should never been taken lightly or sold/given away for short term gain (besides, it goes against CAN SPAM Act regulations unless each recipient has been given clear and conspicuous notice that his or her e-mail address will be shared with third parties for marketing purposes. Who would agree to that?).

While there are certainly companies and individuals asking to be hired to crowdfund for artists, I think skipping over the crucial step of putting in the personal work it takes to gain trust is missing by employing this tactic exclusively. Social media channels are truly a gift and an opportunity we have been given to get closer to our audience, to have a deeper and more personal connection through our work. It breeds loyalty, instead of disposability. Also, the ability to know that our work touches people and matters to people can keep you going when it seems the world is full of rejection or self doubt. Gathering a team to help is advisable (in all aspects of filmmaking), but allowing only the team (or worse, an uninvolved 3rd party) to have contact with your supporters is a mistake.

It is time that artists come to terms with the fact that the age of the bubble (where creation takes place only in private) has come to an end. The audience wants to feel close to the art and its creator. This isn’t new really, fan clubs have existed for decades, but now that closeness comes in Tweets, Facebook posts, blog posts, podcasts, videos, Pinterest boards  etc. and the ability to have a dialog directly. Make an effort personally to reach out to your audience, even get to know them by name, and you will see that effort come back to you in artistically, financially and personally beneficial ways.

 

The Fandependent Controversy

February 16, 2010
posted by sheric

I just want to take a moment, probably the only one I will take, to respond personally to my participation on the recent Film Courage show regarding Fandependent Films and its creator Ben Hicks.

If you didn’t catch this then probably you aren’t following indie filmmakers on Twitter or following Fandependent Films, so I will provide a brief back story. Filmmaker Ben Hicks has issued a few statements over the last few months profiling his views on the current state of independent film distribution and community. He is a contributor to the Workbookproject’s blog The New Breed and is considered to be a member of this up and coming group of filmmakers. He is trying to form a new venture called Fandependent Films that is attempting to provide a new online platform for the release of indie films as well as a communal type of filmmaking. An admirable goal.

Last week, he issued his manifesto outlining his intentions.  This document caused quite the stir on their Facebook page with many filmmakers commenting on his proposal. If you haven’ t read it yet, please do before you listen to the broadcast. I was one of the commenters and had many problems with his proposal. As such, Film Courage’s David Branin and Karen Worden asked me to be the voice of counterpoint on their upcoming show with Ben. I agreed. So, up to speed.

Anyone who reads this blog, interacts with me on Twitter or Facebook, has met me in person or has sent me email communication knows that I am a big proponent of independent films and filmmakers. It is not my intention to crush the spirit of indie filmmakers who offer suggestions and ideas on how to create a new model for the way that indie films are discovered and seen. I did have major issues with the  solution Ben proposed as did many other filmmakers I talked to and the comments I read. These need to be addressed and I still think that.

To suggest, as a few have, that I killed Fandependent Films by challenging Ben on his ideas and the holes in his plan is ludicrous and, if it is indeed dead as an idea, it wasn’t going to survive anyway. I have received overwhelming support for the issues I raised and a few criticisms. I stand by what I said. In any business world, ideas will be criticized and solutions will be challenged. It is my belief that you must listen to the criticisms and weigh their validity before you carry on with your plans. I hope Ben will take what I said to heart when finalizing his decision to proceed. Even before he starts his fundraising campaign.

There is an element of his plan that I think might work and it has to do with forming local screenings in communities all over the world. He suggests it by posse and only screenings for those in the posse will be organized, but let’s take this part out of it. Many communities already do this type of thing. I encourage all of you to support these organizations, join in their efforts, and, as filmmakers, I think you will find a new appreciation for what it takes to put on a screening event or film festival. Mostly, it is hours of unpaid work and lots of organizational skills to bring sometimes conflicting groups together to pull it all off.  In the manifesto, Ben seems to shun the efforts of festivals to bring indie films to the forefront of an audience. I wonder if he has ever worked on the inside of a festival? Not volunteered at just the event itself, but been a part of all the decisions to organize it and put it together? I think he would understand better why festivals and filmmakers need each other and appreciate the way some things are decided instead of only seeing it from the filmmaker’s side.

This isn’t to suggest that festivals are blameless in how they are run. Often, smaller fests are run by people inexperienced in business and lacking necessary organization and negotiating skills to make them successful from both a business point of view and a filmmaker’s point of view. Some are just outright fraud preying on the inexperienced artist by taking submission fees and offering little in return. Sometimes, in big festivals, they are run by people who have giant egos, looking for personal recognition and feel they are almost doing charity work for the community to enlighten them and charity work for filmmakers in giving them a platform.  These shouldn’t be the motivations to start a film event.

If you live in a small town and do not have such an organization, I call on you to form one. Start small, do not expect the local cinema to give you a venue (great if they did, but don’t count on it). Churches, multipurpose rooms in schools, libraries, convention halls, whatever place your town has for a community gathering. Gauge interest in your community by approaching the local theater troupe, symphony, dance school, other arts organizations that can provide you with feedback on your idea. The like- minded tend to congregate and support each other.

Then, reach out into the filmmaker community. Many, many filmmakers are more than eager to share their work with an audience. I am not even going to suggest payment for either the films or the screenings because transparency and taxes and LLC’s and nonprofit status all gets into complications. This is about connecting with an audience and encouraging them to support you as an artist; mentally, spiritually and financially. If you want to sell merch/DVDs or collect donations from those willing to give it, great. Support will come to you in some way if you are open to it and if you provide an exceptional example of your talent. Strive for exceptional!

I had other issues with his marketing method ideas which I think are born out of economy not quality work, but you will hear what I have to say in the broadcast. Just know that you get what you are willing to pay for! Competition in the film industry leaves no room for homogeneous work and I think it would be impossible for a poorly funded organization to run a group of marketers for hundreds of films all needing equal attention. Studios already do that, and even they outsource some help.

Ben, I wish you well in your filmmaking career and keep thinking through your ideas. I think you have some great ones, but they need a bit more construction before making them official.

You can join in on the conversation about this by following #fandependent on Twitter or accessing their Facebook page.