Thursday, April 21, 2011

Guiding Lights Don't Shine.

I don't enter that many film festivals. Though I've had a pretty good hit rate on the ones I have. I like festivals, don't get me wrong, it's just that I cant afford a lot of them and honestly, I'd rather get on to the next film! I'm a filmmaker, that's what I'm about. I know my films need to be seen, and festivals are a great boost to a film's reputation and advertising. But after five or six festivals I just want to be writing again, getting the next film up and running.

With Emily's Song I put an enormous amount of time and effort into entering festivals and both Thomas and I spent a huge amount of money doing so. We got into about 30 film festivals, couple of big ones and won a few awards along the way, which was nice. But so much time passed while we promoted that film, two years in fact. When I wrapped that film I wanted to be shooting 6 month later! I thought I would, I had the next script ready to go. It was 3 years before I stood in front of a camera again. And even then it was just a no-budget doc short with friends, something personal for something to do.

Elliot Kotek once said something to me that made a lot of sense, he said "You only allow your films to be a successful as you want them to be," which is true. I could have pushed my other short films more, but maybe 140 wouldn't have happened. I could be pushing 140 more, but maybe Derelict wouldn't be happening. Again, I just want to be making films, and while festivals are an essential part of being an independent filmmaker, once I've done four or five of them I just want to on to the next film.

However, this attitude seems to have backfired on me a bit. I recently came across the Guiding Lights Mentorship Programme for aspiring filmmakers. Filmmakers in my position who have a few films under their belt, who have made a mark, got into festivals and won some awards. But just need that extra boost to get to the next level. I got very excited, especially when I saw that the mentors included the likes of Danny Boyle, Sam Mendes and Stephen Frears. I thought - This is so for me! 

So I got applying, jumped the gun of course and started filling in the application form first! Then I got to a couple of awkward questions and requirements. One of which was about film festivals. It asked that the applicant, me, send in two sole directed films that have been selected by and screen at a film festival from an approved list of film festivals. A list of about 100 of the most prestigious festival around the world. Eek! It's kind of like arriving at the door of a nightclub with a smart dress policy and realising you're wearing trainers and hoody!

Now Emily's Song had been to two, maybe three of those festivals, even got a special mention at one (Oberhausen). But ES was co-directed, it's not a sole project. Bill, For Short has only been to a couple of film festivals. It was a personal film never meant for festival. It was just of the off chance I sent it to a couple of familiar festivals and they picked it up, Bonus! Slán suffered from bad promotion at the hands of 140 and never really got pushed at all, my own fault! I hold my hands up to that. And as for 140 - a few fests, none on the list and it certainly isn't a sole directing project!!!

So I'm screwed. It seemed like the mentoring programme was made for me from the questions in the email:

Are you a talented, ambitious filmmaker with a proven track record?


Have you reached a critical stage in your career where high quality industry support would help you reach the next level?


Would a mentor’s expert guidance enable you to achieve your full potential?

ABSOLUTELY... where do I sign?!

If so, Guiding Lights is for you.

Awesome, I'm in!

As it happened those questions were completely irrelevant. The single most important question was waiting inside - Have you got into any of these festivals? No? - sling your hook pal, you can't wear trainers and a hoody in this establishment!

I guess it's my own fault, as I said above, I'm about filmmaking. I love festivals, they have certainly helped me along the way. But again I just want to get on to the next project. And again - I just can't afford it. I'm an Unemployed Dad, as my friend Mark likes to say! I spend my days looking after my beautiful daughter and pushing her buggy around town, grabbing time to write when she sleeps and organise with my Wife or my Mam to babysit her if I want to do a reading or rehearsal or get some work done with a co-writer. All my spare money goes to her. All my time too. Festivals can take a back seat to that. 

So I don't qualify. I'm not considered worthy of mentorship by the greats! My achievements, such as they are, count of naught here. Fair enough. Not for me. But I still find it odd that I, and many other talented filmmakers with heaps of potential I'm sure, get excluded because they haven't entered the right festivals. Doesn't seem fair or right. Shouldn't it be based on the work rather than the accolades?

Maybe not! Or maybe I'm just being sore?! Anyway, good luck to those who do get through. I'm going off to make another film.

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