15 February 2012
Posted in Film
Tony Auguste reports back from the Berlinale
(Photo: UK Films @Berlinale 2012 reception)
‘Oh,’ said my Swedish film distributor neighbour from the hotel room next door to mine, upon hearing I was a writer. His perma-smile slips but recovers. ‘That’s interesting.’ He suddenly finds he needs to go in a different direction to me. I offer my card. ‘Sorry I’ve forgotten mine in my room,’ he says. ‘I’ll slip one under your door later.’ Suffice to say he doesn’t.
This particular scene was played out on day one of the 62nd Berlin International Film Festival, otherwise known as the Berlinale. Over 20,000 film professionals and journalists from all over the world congregate for ten days in Germany every February to buy, sell and pitch. A public facing event, more than 300,000 tickets are sold for screenings of all kinds, day and night, as distributors (those folk again) seek buyers for their acquisitions, drama or documentary, long or short form. But where does the writer fit into this rugby scrum of activity? Despite dozens of debates and workshops about everything from crowd funding to post-production processes and workflow, there is curiously little, officially, on offer. There is the sidebar of the Berlinale Talent Campus but even here there’s only one ‘Meet the Expert’ event that is specific to writers and writing.
‘It’s about relationships,’ says Anthony Alleyne, a writer from London. Here for another sidebar event, The European Film Market, he thinks that despite the lack of official presentations or workshops writers should attend — as long as they are prepared. ‘Do your research,’ he advises. ‘Know who’s attending. Target producers and film funds and pre-arrange meetings before you go. The more focused you are, the more you’ll get out of it.’ A lecturer at The Met Film School in Ealing, he’s raising finance for Borderline, a feature length thriller set in Italy which he will also direct and produce. I mention that I’d met Guild member Sam Snape at an event in November last year and I asked Anthony what he thought of Sam’s view that writers must consider themselves producers and position themselves as such, at the very least until someone else can come in to take the project to a higher level. ‘I think that’s absolutely right,’ Anthony says. ‘Especially at the lower-budget end (Borderline’s estimated budget is £500,000), writers for film are remiss not to. It’s your baby: no-one will care more about the project than you. It’s also a means to protect your ideas and sensibility more effectively.’
Rodney Charles agrees. Born in London but resident in Los Angeles for the past 12 years, Rodney has been a member of the Guild since 1991 and is here to raise finance for his second feature. ‘I would say almost every aspect of the Berlinale has something to offer a writer,’ he tells me. ‘One of the things that can happen is that we can be terribly isolated. What you have here is the opportunity to interact with many high level individuals from all over the world in all positions in the production chain. Whether it’s attending lectures on different aspects of filmmaking or just simply meeting people, this kind of immersive experience can really enhance your understanding and knowledge of the industry as a whole. You’re able to pick up on trends and identify where your work fits in, and even find producers who may be looking for writers to work on pre-existing projects. Be open to all possibilities.' He also agrees with Sam Snape’s view regarding writers as producers: 'Especially in LA, where filmmakers are conditioned to be more entrepreneurial, it’s pretty much imperative that writers adopt that position. You need to generate activity around the script: even if you have an agent you cannot rely on them to raise awareness. You have to be pro-active. Nothing happens without writing and writers. Learn to negotiate and leverage your power.’
Betty Leirner, a Brazilian author, filmmaker, painter and curator thinks the Berlinale is perfect for writers — but you must have experience. ‘If you come here as a newcomer you may be overwhelmed,’ Betty says. ‘There are so many films, projects and people that you can get lost in it all. It’s only really for accredited filmmakers, but if you are at a sufficient level it is a worthwhile experience. I’ve attended for seven years and whilst it’s a more commercial event now, it’s still useful for all kinds of projects. The Books at Berlinale event (where 12 novels are chosen to be presented to producers for adaptation) is a new opportunity for writers too.’
For me the event was undoubtedly worthwhile. I have three feature-length projects with international locations and was able to speak with producers, directors and national and regional film funds — all of whom took an interest. There certainly are people there that it’s pointless speaking to as a writer, and one or two were quite blatant about having no interest in talking to writers at all; time being money. It is a market interested in the here and now, in what can be bought and sold today, not in what might be made in the future. But there is nuance, and if you’re clear about what you want Berlin will provide.
I’ll leave it to Betty Leirner to sum it all up: ‘The Berlinale is like a sky with many stars: some are big, some are small but there is room for everybody.’ I wholeheartedly agree.
For enquiries about my film projects or more info about The Berlinale please email firstname.lastname@example.org