Sunday, 5 October 2014

Raindance Film Festival - First Impressions

Hey Guys,

   So last time I posted on here, I left you all with some wonderful news. After almost a year of waiting, hoping, praying, and rejection-facing, Stop/Eject got accepted into a film festival. And not just any festival - Raindance Film Festival, one of the biggest festivals in the UK, and the biggest independent festival in Europe. So this news was more than a bit wonderful!


At the Stop/Eject screening at Raindance
   I've been following the work of Raindance for a while now, dreaming of the day I got a film screened there, so there was no way I wasn't going to attend. Sadly the film's director, Neil Oseman, was committed to a film shoot during the festival dates (he's DOP-ing the fantasy web series Ren), but I knew that he would be there in spirit, and I had every intention of telling people this when introducing  Stop/Eject on the 30th September.

   I went down to the festival two days ahead of the screening, to help spread the word about Stop/Eject and to generally revel in the experience. When it came to the screening itself I was joined by the film's co-writer Tommy Draper, and star Georgina Sherrington - as well as my special guest, Sarah Lamesch, the female lead of Ashes. The air was buzzing and, needless to say, the film went down very well. I don't think I'll ever tire of seeing it on a big screen - I hope that we get chance to show it on one again soon!

   So, what did I think of the festival? Did it live up to my long-gestating hopes? Well, that's what this blog post is about. I'm certain that everyone who attends a festival takes something different away from it, because it's the kind of experience you shape for yourself. But here's my thoughs on one of the 'indiest' festivals on the block - and tips for anyone who wants to attend in the future.

   I've been to a total of five film festivals. Three smaller/regional festivals - Film Directing 4 Women International Film Festival (which screened The Opening Night), Bradford International Film Festival, and Derby Film Festival (which screened Ashes) - and two 'higher end' festivals - Cannes, and now Raindance. So I instinctively started making comparisons between this latest festival and my time at Cannes.

Stop/Eject promotional materials - I had to buy a bigger bag!
    When I came away from Cannes, my biggest regret was that I was under-prepared. I ran out of flyers quickly and hardly had any promotional materials to hand out - and I only had screener copies my films on a Blackberry. For Raindance, I definitely didn't make that mistake. I ordered a hundred Stop/Eject flyers, complete with screening details, plus fifty flyers for my upcoming Night Owls, and Neil stocked me up with press kits, DVD and Blu-Ray copies.

   I made sure to litter the festival venue -The Vue Cinema, Piccadilly - with the flyers, as well as handing some out in person. But, since my main goal was to make people watch the film at the screening, (and since I went home shortly after said screening), handing out DVD/Blu-Ray copies of the film would've been counter-productive. And for one reason or another, I didn't end up handing out any press kits, either. So I just lugged round a big, heavy bag of promotional materials, which tired me out much faster. Note for next time: be prepared for every scenario, but don't overload yourself unnecessarily. 

Me, Tommy Draper and a Stop/Eject flyer outside the Vue, Picadilly. Photo by Tony Bullock.

     Which brings me to my next point. If I lived in London, or if I was staying in a hotel nearby, it would've been easier for me to drop stuff off when I didn't need them - and to freshen up inbetween visits to the Vue! I had decided to save money (and raise my social levels) by sofa-surfing with different friends during my trip - and because of this, and all the various trains I was hopping on/off, I was a bit put off from attending the evening events (I even turned down my place to the prestigious Boozin' & Schmoozin' party). And unfortunately, as with Cannes, it's likely that most business is achieved at night.

   What did I learn from this? Well, I'm not going to say that these festivals are best for people who an afford to stay in hotels for nights on end, because that's a small majority. But I can see Raindance being a festival which particularly benefits London residents - people who can pop in and out as they choose, and people who can promote their film screenings to local people well in advance.

   If, like me, you're just passing through the festival - heavy bags in hand - then there is a sanctuary. Throughout the festival, Raindance HQ opened their doors to filmmakers - providing comfy seats, free WiFi and coffee (plus pastries and fruit at 'brunchtime'). As with the UK Pavillion at Cannes, it felt extremely welcoming, and it was easy to talk and network with other people sheltering there. Not only was it lovely to see inside the Raindance building (it has a wonderful 'backstage' look with old velvet cinema seats lining the walls), but the 'filmmaker cafe' offered extra advantages for its attendees. For anyone carrying a DVD copy of their film (as I was), there was a TV and player, which makes it easy to show your product to potential buyers if you're lucky enough to get a meeting there. Raindance also arranged for guest speakers to come into the cafe, such as an industry set & prop builder who shared some great advice with me.

    The only downside to the Filmmaker cafe? There were often only a handful of filmmakers there, and once I'd successfully chatted to them all, I had to leave my free coffee and venture back to the Vue. And once there, I definitely had a feeling of "we're not in Cannes anymore" - in Cannes, it was very hot, and a lot of people were quietly sat by the sea front, so you could easily slide up next to them and start a conversation. But inside the Vue, it was packed, and it was loud, with young excitable faces everywhere you looked. So networking in that scenario was a bit of a challenge, but it helped give Raindance Film Festival one heck of an atmosphere! To use that word again: it was buzzing.

Stop/Eject in the Raindance programme. Fame!
   When I went to Cannes, I shadowed Neil the whole time, and I cannot recommend enough having a 'festival buddy'. That way, whenever you need a bit of time out - to get away from the 'buzz' and find a quiet cafe - at least you have someone to go with you. You can talk to them and plan out your next move, rather than just winging it. I don't think I'll attend a festival alone in future (as I was for the two days before the Stop/Eject screening), but I suppose it does force you to be more sociable. That's advice for festival attendance in general, not just Raindance.

   Any negative thoughts on Raindance? Well, not really. It was very different to what I'm used to, but that's certainly no bad thing. The only thing that frustrated me was the fact I didn't understand the process of booking free passholder tickets. This is NOT to say that the Raindance team did a bad job, (they worked amazingly to make sure I had a free pass at all, as I requested one last minute), but more to say that, personally, I didn't understand the booking process. 

   Tickets in general would sell out quite fast (I was too late to get a ticket for the screening of Fourever, for example, which looked great) so in the end I chose to book & pay for my tickets in advance instead. I thought it was better to be safe than sorry.


Yes, that is Michael Madsen!
  That one minor niggle out of the way, let me say what the best thing about Raindance is. Unlike most film festivals, Raindance is also a film school, and so the events and lectures they host are first class. They're worth getting a pass for, perhaps more so than the films. I attended two lectures on UK funding (one of which was just a general introduction, so I didn't learn much new, but the second one really opened my eyes to some new possibilities) and I tried my (shaking) hand at pitching in Live! Ammunition. That was like X Factor with film pitches, where the 'judges' (industry members) don't mince their worlds at all, so I can definitely recommend it from an audience position. If you're going to pitch, genre-based pieces seem easier to explain in the allocated two minutes, because you can keep things snappy, and use a lot of (that term again) buzz words. But even if, like me, you have a drama film to pitch, how often do you get the opportunity to introduce yourself to representatives from Fox Searchlight and Curzon - and surprise celebrity judges (in my case, Michael Madsen!!!)?

Second in the queue - and looking very nervous - at Live! Ammunition. Photo by Raindance.
     So, those were my thoughts on this year's Raindance Film Festival. I'm so delighted to have attended, and I definitely want to go again if they'll have me.

  And now to hang up my Raindance Filmmaker pass with the others in my collection!

Sophie

p.s. don't forget to stop by the Stop/Eject website - www.stopejectmovie.com !