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Painful Lessons Of Independent Film

Painful Lessons Of Independent Film

It’s soon time for painful lessons of independent film here at Raindance. Let me explain. On the Labor day weekend in America (Labour Day if you are Canadian like me), we finalise the schedule for the Raindance Film Festival which means that a lot of filmmakers get let down because we just can’t show everything that we want to.

Year end is sentimental because I am reminded over and over again of all the trials and failures of the past year, and also of all the things I have tried to achieve since I launched Raindance on the unsuspecting British public in 1992. I also get serious year end as I prepare to clench my teeth and make another series of New Years resolutions.

It’s especially poignant this year, because so many British film organisations have disappeared: In London the New Producers Alliance crashed against a financial wall, and in 2011 the UK Film Council was legislated out of existence by the new British coalition government. Which makes Raindance the longest surviving independent film organisation in the UK.

Which is really strange music to my ears, because i remember exactly how it all started:

When I made the decision to start the film festival, I had exactly £150.00 ($225.00) to my name. Britain was in the throes of a recession far worse than the current one, and there was no internet. I typed a one page press release and faxed it to every sales agent and producer I could think of until the money ran out. And it all happened that first year. With a budget of nearly nothing.

So sitting here today, another milestone for me personally, and for the festival. I am reminded of three extremely painful lessons I have had to learn the hard way, and indeed which I often forget and have to learn over and over again. I am sharing these hoping that you can avoid the painful mistakes I have made.

1. The importance of content

The business we work in relies on stellar content. I have learned the hard way that if a script I am flogging, a newsletter I am writing, an event that I am promoting, or a line-up of films I am announcing at the festival is not the very best the city and country has seen, then I am simply wasting my time.

This sounds harsh, and it is harsh. But it is a reality of our business.

Scripts, programming and events need to be the best ever. And everytime I have had to go out for something new, I have had to re-invent myself or Raindance – and often without the content demanded by the market. Painfully empty screens and classrooms. Lonely. Painfully empty bank accounts.

2. It’s not how hard you work

Anyone who knows me personally, or has worked with me in the office, will know that I am about as obsessive as they come. For years I have prided myself with my stamina and energy. I have worn my ability to work 100 hour weeks year in and year out like a badge of honour. I can dazzle anyone with my ability to stuff envelopes, to multi-task and to go days without sleep.

Then this year, it hit me. It’s not how hard you work. It’s how smart you work.

I used to marvel at how less-energetic rivals of mine would succeed when I, with all the hundreds and thousands of hours I have worked, have not.

And this weekend – it’s just hit me again – envelope stuffing is part of the territory, but if you can’t take your eyes off the ground and look to the horizon, you are definately going to miss a trick or two.

Ouch. This one really hurts. And makes one feel very lonely.

3. Lady Luck’s painful lessons

Some of my rivals here and abroad have definitely had lucky breaks. And I used to think Lady Luck just waved her magic wand and caught you unawares.

This just isn’t so. I believe one’s ‘luck’ is not pre-ordained, or a matter of chance or destiny. I believe it is earned through a combination of hard work, insight and good business sense. Which means, in my case if not yours, one has to keep focused and keep tweaking and re-evaluating the game plan. Some day, it will get easier (or so they tell me).

Closing Credits

In the 5th year of Raindance I went to Sony because I heard they sponsored film festivals. “Come back when you are ten years old” they said.

So I waited and waited 5 long years and went back again, in 2003.

“We no longer sponsor film festivals!” they said.

Does that mean I was a victim of misfortune? Or just stupidly tenacious?

In May of 2013, Raindance received a 4 line letter rejecting our thirtieth (30!) application for festival funding from the civic fathers that dole out public funds. God damn – it took the team three weeks to prepare!

How should I react to this latest painful lesson of independent film?
Should I curse and swear like a sailor
Should I threaten a PR campaign?
Or should I realise that this is nothing more than professional jealousy: Raindance is far too contemporary for the hallowed halls of Those In Command?

I will let you decide!

I will ask you a favour though.

We need you at Raindance. We have a zero marketing budget this year, and if you could tell just one friend, or Tweet or Facebook one message about what we do at the festival, I and the entire Raindance Film Festival Team will be most grateful.

Here is the Raindance Twitter account – blow my ego and follow Raindance.
For extra marks, why not like our Facebook page?
We try to put interesting stuff up there.




Filmmakers have two competing brands to develop: That of their films, and that of themselves. Why waste your quarantine hours? Use it to create and develop your personal brand.

As a filmmaker you want to create an image of yourself and how your work is unique. Film festivals, distributors, financiers and creative collaborators will seek you out if you create the correct image of yourself.

1. Customize your Social media URL’s

One of the easiest ways to let people know where they are is to customise the URLs on your different platforms. Most social media websites like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter will allow you to customise tour assigned email. This is usually done in the Contacts or Your Profile section of the website.
It’s also important to get the URL that best represents you or your film. Once you have secured a URL like you have the option of creating an email with [email protected] which looks a whole lot more professional than [email protected]. Now you have email and other social media profiles strongly in your name that you can proudly put on sinatures, posters and business cards.

2. Get Personal

Everyone loves a good story. You can relate to a really good story. Stories also elicit emotion. Suceed in this and you will instantly differentiate yourself from everyone else. When you are writing your CV remember that your experience is unique to you and the story of what happened to you at each stage of your proferssional or educational experience is how we can relate to you and remember you. It is your personal story that marks you and which establishes your personal brand.

So to, the story of your movie or screenplay is unique. Make sure you select the stories and experiences that match your brand values and are consistent. Do it right and you will achieve what every marketeer and brand consultant dreams of: you will get other people talking about you and your story.

If you want some professional guidance on how to maximise your personal self branding, check out Self Branding for Scriptwriters and Filmmakers

3. Creating the title and your personal genre

The first thing a stranger sees about your movie is the title. The title is your first chance to sell your movie. A good movie title should be two or three words, taut and tense. Your personal profile too should have a few words that clearly state what it is you are and what you do.

When you need to add a bit of texture to your headline or title.  Create a log line. A good log line for a movie will suggest a visual image. Visual images are another great way to give people an idea of your brand.

4. Create a gallery of your work

The old adage: You’re known by your work certainly holds true in the creative industries.

Why not start a cataloguing system for your work? Select the pieces that best represent what you’re trying to do. Start assembling your work in one place so you have a handy link to point people to.  Before you open up your gallery, design how it will look: the logo, the font and the colours . These will all be ways that you can start explaining to people what you are like.

Sometimes a social media site like FaceBook will allow you to upload videos and images. But don’t you want to have total control about how you organise your material? Perhaps you want to group images and movies into separate folders. And perhaps you also want to group articles and research you have in a different folder from rants and musings. Your own website is the perfect place for this. There are many different free, or nearly free website development sites you can use for this.

The important consideration is this: no matter how you collect your work, what is important is how you catalogue it – making sure it is really easy to find. Using the right keywords in the meta-tagging of your movies on Vimeo or YouTube will make it easier for the right people to find you.

5. Specialise

I’m just returning from Central Europe where I was at a well known film festival. Most of the films shown were ‘drama’ and the trouble with ‘drama’ is that ‘drama’ is too general and non-specific. All stories are drama.

Do you remember the last time you needed a place to live? Did you not go to an estate agency sit down and answer the question ‘What are you looking for?’ And what if you answered: “Find me a home?” The agent wouldn’t have a clue what you were looking for. On the other hand if you had said one bed, two bed, this price or that price they would know what you were looking for.

In movies we use the tool of genre to define the type of movie you have. Is it horror? Comedy? Romance? Usually we see a genre blend: action adventure, romantic comedy being the two most popular. And what about the poster? This visual tool should be like a ‘visual headline’ or, as they say in advertising, a campaign image, that instantly lets the onlooker know what kind of film they are in for.

For filmmakers seeking work, we broadly distinguish between above the line (the supposed talent: producer, writer, director, actor) and the below the line (crew). Further we distinguish below the line through the Heads of Department: Camera, Sound, Art department, Effects, Editing. Each department will have different ranks of jobs that you can align yourself with to make it clear to an onlooker what you are capable of.

Sometimes you will be in a position of being a jack-of-all-trades. After all, didn’t you write, direct, produce, shoot and edit your first few shorts? If you list all these categories on your profile you could cause confusion. Better I think to limit yourself to two or three. The golden key to success in the creative industries is to get known for doing one thing so well that you are the go-to-person for a particular skill.

In other words: Specialise. Don’t generalise. Make sure the specialities you list are those that sit well within your personal brand.

6. Commendations

Some websites like LinkedIn have a ‘recommend’ tool where you can select from a range of skills and recommend someone. It’s kind of satisfying to have hundreds of recommendations, as I do, but nothing beats the good old-fashioned attributable quote. Send a piece of your favourite content to your favourite person and/or celebrity and ask them to comment on it.

Fade Out

Creating a compelling social media profile is the key to success in promoting yourself. It’s your first point of contact to potential employers, investors, cast, crew, journalists, festival programmer and acquisition executives. You need to ask yourself the tough questions, and explore your brand. MAybe you can become one of the new breed of filmmakers!

So get going and make your profile. Members of Raindance can get my instant reaction to their social media profiles.

One last thing – one of the best and easiest ways to get known is to comment on other peoples articles. Like this one! Have a thought, a rant or rave? Type it into the comments box below and start expanding your circle of influence!

Did you know?

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    At Raindance we make filmmakers.
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