Wednesday, 13 April 2011


It is a couple of days since I attended the American Independent's day at Regent's College, London, and I have to say - I am still buzzing!

Christine Vachon, Ted Hope and a whole bunch of filmy people.
There were (at a guess) around 100 people, all at different places in their careers, and it made for a fun atmosphere. There were no ego's on show - just people with a common interest: Making films.

Our host Chris Jones did a splendid job organising the event - hats off to you, Chris - and the venue was a great choice.

As long a day as it was (10 am - 5 pm), it was never dull, as American indie producers Christine Vachon (Kids, Far From Heaven, Boys Don't Cry, Cracks, Mildred Pierce) and Ted Hope (Adventureland, Super, American Splendor, In The Bedroom, Happiness) bestowed their invaluable insight into their world of film making.

The main points of the day that resounded with me were -

* When pitching, state the bigger, underlying themes.

* The more specific the story elements, the more universally identifiable the theme.

* Keep pitch conversational. Don't go into pitch mode! You don't need a result now, it's a conversation that leads to something better.

* Use image books & sizzle reels. Don't do scenes as you won't have the cast. Many financiers lack vision and think your test scenes =the finished movie.

* Actors are loathe to attach themselves to unfinanced projects as their value decreases if it doesn't get made. And so does yours!

* There's no advantage for an actor to be attached to a project unless it feels inevitable.

* Both the director and producer need to protect the story - genuine collaboration required.

* One question to test if a director is crazy: Has he/she had a relationship with another living thing? A human being, goldfish, plant etc.

* Build your community, be authentic, give them context.

* You want a small, really engaged audience who will go out and take action for you rather than a large audience that goes ho-hum.

* Before the film comes out, help people appreciate and contextualise the movie to increase demand at the point of launch.

Crowd-sourcing (as a way of funding) and the various new platforms for financing/screening your movie were also covered (mainly involving downloads/on-line screenings), which certainly got me thinking. Alas, a lot of these new outlets seem to be for the U.S. only, so here's hoping things either change or similar opportunities arise in the U.K.

The day was rounded off with a pitching session, in which names were pulled from a hat, and the chosen few were given a chance to pitch their projects.

Pitching in front of 150 strangers. Yikes.

So what did I take with me, as I weaved my way home through the multiple service-disrupted railway lines?

Film makers need people like Ted and Christine, probably more than ever now.

These two people - or those with a similar passion, devotion and instinct - are the dream that all film makers and writers want.

Someone who will fight for the best of the project
Who genuinely strive for honest collaboration
Who aren't just thinking of their reward (Ha!)
Its not about ego, attitude, or dominance.
Friendly, pleasant, warm people; not in it for the glamour.

Art and creativity matters to Christine and Ted, and it showed. And if you're still uncertain, check out the films that they have made over the past ten or twenty years. Also, its important to add that the seminar wasn't an "Us & Them" deal (as can sometimes be the case) - Christine and Ted included YOU. It wasn't an exclusive club with chancers and wannabe's on the outside looking in. But nor did they unrealistically promise you the world. It was the possibilities and the positivity they conveyed that stoked the creative fires.

This post isn't intended to massage anyone's ego. But what struck me is:

I have seen that it's possible.
These types of people DO ACTUALLY EXIST.
I haven't made them up, or have had unrealistic expectations all this time.

Now if only we could clone them...

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