Cannes 2015 Entry #3 – The Divide

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The paradox of this place is that everyone is searching for money and spending money they don’t have. Or rather, the .1% here has great yachts (probably not the filmmakers – the CEO of Dolce & Gabbana perhaps) and spends with all riches while the 12,000 filmmakers cobble on the sidewalks and plea for development money. Where is the middle ground? There is one, of course, but it is harder to spot, as is the case when one critiques any walk of life/society. A further paradox is that everyone has to look like they do have money – this is Cannes – and so returns home completely out of stock! I’ll be taking that suit back for a refund…

The hotels. I discovered that the festival hotels on the Croisette, the Majestic, Carlton etc. aren’t even top dollar for around here. They are popping with glam and sleaze, but the stars venture further down the strip to a place beyond any apparent humane reach. One can begin to suffocate amongst all the comfort, though saying that, the lifts in the festival hotels are surprisingly tight-nit – don’t overload! I don’t mean to sound too critical, I mean who wouldn’t bath in these suites given the chance? It’s the self-absorbed entourage that picks my stomach.

Then there are the folks who don’t even hold a festival badge. They stand outside the Palais holding banners for invitations. I can’t see how that has ever succeeded when Lumière tickets are so sparse – perhaps I will defy my own convention and find a ticket for the old lady wearing her tired blouse; it’s certainly respect for the dedication of a cinematic experience. Then watch out for the cronies who will line the sidewalks with sticks of legs coated in their latest euphoric lotions – the suntans. Their eyes, mouths and ears lap over the iron bars to banquet on the red carpet. Then brace yourself for the selfie sticks that appear in their thousands (need I go down that route?); you grit your teeth as you try to get past the hordes to your far more urgent meeting regarding a potential future source of income! Either that, or you may stop to gaze, at whom I am not so sure – the (male) attention has many conduits to wonder in Cannes!

Cannes 2015 Entry #2 – The Consequences

The Coen Brothers – These guys are serious hard workers (and miraculous filmmakers) who are now heading up the Jury at Cannes this year.

The consequences of the reality of the film industry are quite simple: hard work (past the expiry date). Yet, you might say hard work that hides in plain sight, as everyone appears to be having a very jolly time. I can’t think of another industry where one minute the work could produce feelings in the nature of a catastrophic disaster, and the next, make one whistle amongst the stars.

Here are a few reasons why I expect hard work to be the key to some shape of success. The competition is so fierce, there are some 12,000 filmmakers in attendance at the market, which means you need to stand out and that won’t happen without hard work. Remember, even a genius with talent smoking from their ears needs to work hard. The industry is constantly changing and strategies are evolving, so how else can one keep up with the trends? Consistently renewing one’s knowledge seems likely. There are a thousand other factors, but the hard work will surely bring those other factors into being, they couldn’t exist without it.

Now in relation to this blogisode (could that work?), we should be talking about Cannes. What are the consequences of Cannes for a beginning filmmaker? There are fountains of film posters looking you in the eye and saying, “hey, I’ve already been made, I have representation, and don’t you wish I was yours?” This is in relation to the market, a fascinating place, and it makes one realise that the film only begins its life here, not during any phase of production but afterwards. It highlights the importance of thinking about marketing and distribution from an early stage in the game. Of course, big ‘players’ know this and are even able to raise significant budget numbers in pre-sales, but for the truly independents it is easy to forget and dive head first into putting a picture on the screen. Liaise with a sales advisor and ask them how your film will sell, I am sure you can even establish a firing line from your very first treatment.

More consequences? Attend film festivals. They are passionate places with people as crazy as you are i.e. they consume unholy amounts of cinema and talk about not a whole lot else (this isn’t a criticism – it’s a blessing). It will inspire you and give you a clear-headed perspective on what is actually on offer, in regard to careers etc. Or, actually, as in my case, it may just confuse you more – “now, there are all these other jobs to consider?” Frankly, confusion, in this sense, or complications, is beneficial as it widens your horizons and by offering more pathways can only serve to sharpen the mind. Once the mind is sharpened, then you are ready to follow the heart and soul of you career choices. Okay, that last note was a tad sentimental; let’s stop before this post turns out like an pre-dated self-help guide…

The Limelight Index: Maria Reinup – Writer/Director

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Maria is a bountiful and passionate young female filmmaker from Estonia. I had the pleasure of seeing her powerful short film Mai last year at Leeds Film Festival. The film is an incredibly impressive debut and completely blew me away. Fortunately, I have been able to catch up with Maria and ask her a few questions about her passions for film and the future of the industry.

She is currently wrapping her second short film, stills from which are shown below. (Stills by Andre Visnapuu).

When did you first become interested in filmmaking?

I am not the kind, who can recall wanting to make films since their childhood. I had TV at home until I was 6, then it broke down, my hippie-father sang “hallelujah!” threw it out and I never had one again. It took me a while before I got used to the audiovisual medium. Over the course of growing up – there was three influential films and the course itself that led me into the point I realized – filmmaking is for me. The Matrix was the first film I saw on big screen, then some years later 2046, which absolutely blew me and then in a few more years I got to see Bicycle Thieves. In some odd way, seeing these three films – the possibility to bend reality (not to say the future), the vision to make paintings alive and the fact how movies can touch you – was my early film school. Meanwhile, I did every job there was – from selling diapers via phone to being a chef in Barcelona. And it was when I was living in Spain after graduating high school, that I started noticing my diary I kept at the time was filling up with ideas for clips, videos or films. Then, on the set of my first music video, I felt it, I felt the magic.

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How did the idea for your short film Mai come about?

The story of Mai is a story that happened to me. I took the last bus from the suburbs of the city and there was just a friend with me on it that left after one stop. Two drug addicts entered, one of them in a really bad condition. And it was just the drug addicts and I. The bus driver did not care, nor did the people who slowly started to fill up the bus, as we were driving towards the center. I remember being there, when I had already called the ambulance, waiting for the right stop and thinking, “Really, is ignorance a bliss?” The fact how little we care… I don’t have words for this.

How did you attain distribution for your film?

In Estonia there is a quite unique deal for the short films – the professional shorts are compiled into one screening under a suitable name and then they hit the cinemas, marketing done accordingly. So for example, Mai was in the cinema together with 5 other shorts from the past 2 years. As a big production company, Allfilm, produced my short, I had not much to do with the distribution, the producer and the company took care of that. Also, they do most of the festival circulation.

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What are your plans for the future as a filmmaker?

I am currently in post-production with my second short, called Mann Tanzt. This is a very different film from the themes I am usually interested in. It’s about a man who finds a glowing cube in the middle of nowhere, and when he enters it, he realizes it’s a phone booth. Also, I am writing the script for my third short, which we will hopefully shoot this autumn. It is a story about two young women meeting through couch surfing at the verge of different difficult events in their lives and those getting mixed up. Slowly, but firmly, I am developing my first feature with a wonderful co-director Anna Hints, which is a very personal film under the working title I am, if everybody likes me and a script for another feature – a revenge picture. So, that’s easy. I have no other plans than to make the films I want to do. What bliss it would be if I could make films until I die and make a living in doing so.

Do you have high prospects for the Estonian film industry?

Estonia gained its independency after the Soviet Union collapsed in the beginning of the 1990’s. Along the old system falling into pieces, we lost the handicraft and big studios that we were used to being connected with (film stock tickling the 35mm cameras, films were made year around, big productions).  Not only did we have to build up our economy again, we also had to redefine our cinema – its funding systems and in a way, our cinematic language. Its about 15 years from the day our Film Foundation was established and gave out its first production grant. The system is developing and getting better, a change is thus happening, along with the fact that the generation of the Soviet titans (filmmakers who worked with Tarkovsky, or on the productions during Soviet times) is about to fade and the gap will be filled with the new generation. So the new era is almost here, but a reality check is always helpful – Estonia is a country of 1.4 million people (audience numbers equals money) and with no proper distribution system, meaning digitalized cinemas (which until today is just a few screens), distribution is not really working hand in hand with the productions.

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Why is it you love films and making them?

Besides being a filmmaker, I am also a festival programmer – my job is to watch movies. With both of these positions I find myself falling in love with movies over and over again. I love everything about it – from the making of films, upon seeing one on the big screen, but why? To me there are three simple reasons for that: as a young filmmaker I sincerely and really believe that you are able to deliver a message that matters and thus might be able to change something. I see the art of escapism and the need of it. Last but not least, to either make people think or entertained, or both, is simply wonderful and above all other mediums to me.

If I ever had a super power, I’d like to time travel. Damn, dreaming of that makes me itch. In a way watching films is like scratching that itch – suddenly I can not only time travel, but I can be anything! A taxi driver or a small happy pig, see places all over the world, get introduced to different cultures, to the fears and dreams of the humankind. How is that something you don’t love?

Finally, any advice on the industry?

I will say one thing: success means hard work. And a personal touch to this – it starts to make sense when you realize that you have to really love your work first.

Below is a short teaser for Mai (unfortunately it isn’t subtitled but you will sense the urgency!)

Wise Words from the Bosses Themselves

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Recently, there has been some big thoughts on the film industry coming from the big guns, George Lucas, Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese.

Firstly, Spielberg and Lucas were quoted last week saying that the film industry as we knew it would soon “implode.” But, what does this mean?

It refers to the mass uprising of media consumption and various forms of media outlets. Tracing back from the 80s to the dawn of cinema, audiences could only really consume film by going to the movie theatre, then they had video (VHS), Cable TV and DVDs, which arrived in the last 20 years of the 20th century. However, now we have hundreds of VOD (video-on-demand) outlets too. Shall I watch Netflix, Blinkbox, iTunes, YouTube or a DVD tonight?

The marketplace is clearly expanding and is thereby creating more room and opportunity for indie movies. At the same time however, costs for watching indie movies are dropping whereas studio films are getting more expensive to watch online. Why pay £12 for a new movie on iTunes when you can go see it at the theatres for £8? Wait… why not just watch a better indie movie for £2.50?

Spielberg and Lucas are suggesting that a system will emerge whereby you pay different amounts of money to see a movie based on that movies budget. This is happening. However, they also imagine that movie theatres will become decked out like sports arenas and offer more varied selections like TV stations. The small screen and big screen would have to finally call a truce and merge, but could you imagine going to the movies to sit and watch telly? Our lovely weather ladies may not seem so pretty.

This supports the fact that studio movies will continue to have bigger and bigger budgets, relying on franchises to recoup these budgets. The spots available to direct studio movies will become slimmer and slimmer, where working your way up from ‘below the line’ will be near impossible. Spielberg and Lucas are suggesting that one should work from the other side of this equation: take advantage of the vast expansion of media outlets and drop in production costs to make your own movies.

Spielberg and Lucas started the wave of the ‘film school generation’ of the 60s, 70s and even 80s. They hit the industry when it was on its knees and revolutionised the blockbuster. Everyone knows this: it is well-studied, the filmmakers are living legends and the film schools boast about them all the time. However, film schools can rarely boast about the present. The latest wave of filmmakers have not been from film school – they skipped it, grabbed their bags, cameras and lights and started making their own movies. We’ve all heard of Quentin Tarantino, Paul Thomas Anderson, Christopher Nolan, Robert Rodriguez, Kevin Smith, Guy Ritchie, okay you get the point.

The modern day director will work with smart budgets, reach their audience more directly, create a fan base and therefore demonstrate a market value. The film industry today is all about market value, those who have it stand a better chance at gaining investment capital for independent projects, or even better, representation and a shot at higher echelon jobs. Well, this is what Spielberg and Lucas think…

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Next up, Marty (I double-dared myself) has some pretty serious thoughts on where the movie industry in going in an open letter to his daughter. Everyone knows that Scorsese’s heart is living and breathing cinema, but apparently the cinema we all know and love is pretty much dead. But, Scorsese is quick to say that the future is in fact bright, just a tad unpredictable. I quote, ” The most unpredictable element of all? Cinema. And the people who make it.” Brilliant.

Scorsese is tapping into a similar message as Spielberg and Lucas, he mentions directors who have all managed to get their films made despite the tough times, including artists from around the world. He also mentions the vast complexity of different media outlets available today and how movies are so cheap to make. “In the future, you’ll probably see less and less of what we recognize as cinema on multiplex screens and more and more of it in smaller theaters, online, and, I suppose, in spaces and circumstances that I can’t predict.” However, movies are still hard to make and still require strong will and a clear vision. There is no getting off the hook just because it’s cheaper, “the tools don’t make the movie, you make the movie.” A quote for the books.

So, in essence, Scorsese, Lucas and Spielberg are pronouncing that the movie industry is their to be scooped up, it is at a crossroads and it is cheaper than ever to make movies (not necessarily easier), but Scorsese is also clear to state that there are no shortcuts to getting your movie made. I’ve got one: start now!

Read the full letter that was originally published in L’Espresso here.

And just for fun, here’s the trailer for Scorsese’s new film The Wolf of Wall Street:

16 Invaluable Online Resources for Filmmakers

In this new age there is endless content online for research, teaching, streaming, shopping, literally anything. I wonder, who needs school?

I always refer back to similar websites for training resources, various articles and film industry gossip. Below is a list I’ve compiled of all my favourite (top 16) resources for the independent filmmaker. These range from sites to help you get your movie made to those that fill your mind with futile trivia.

Screenwriting:

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John August – Learn everything you need to know about screenwriting with John August and his team – it’s that simple!

Writer’s Room – BBC writer’s room offers lots of useful tips on the craft of writing and opportunities for aspiring writers.

Craft and Technique:

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Phillip Bloom – A productive site on cinematography and filmmaking run by Phillip Bloom.

Vincent Laforet – Legendary photographer and DP Vincent Laforet shares workshops, tutorials and reviews on his highly resourceful blog.

Software:

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Video Copilot – Andrew Kramer is a stunning visual effects artist who shares all his knowledge via insightful and entertaining online tutorials.

Red Giant Software – The most innovative software for filmmakers and a great community of visual artists.

Distribution:

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Short Film Depot – A great shortcut for submitting your short film to festivals.

Festhome – Another great submission centre for shorts and features.

Film Buzz:

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Indiewire – Essential for film fans. I could spend a week on this website.

Raindance – It may be a film festival, but the website is full of interesting articles and news for independent filmmakers.

Social Networks:

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Stage 32 – A great networking site for film and theatre professionals. Share projects, find work and get paid!

Vimeo – The platform for good quality videos, which is largely a network of filmmakers and videographers looking to share work, get feedback and collaborate.

Opportunities:

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Shooting People – Enter monthly film competitions, find out about events and read great blogs!

My First Job in Film – A vast database for all the latest graduate jobs in the film industry and a nice place to share your work!

Watching:

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MUBI – Bringing you a fresh independent film each day and expert critique, MUBI is simply brilliant!

IndieRiegn – Distribute your own films and discover a world of others.

It’s official: I love the internet.

The Limelight Index: Michael Knowles – Actor/Writer/Director/Producer

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Above is filmmaker Michael Knowles best known for his film The Trouble with Bliss starring Michael C. Hall, Brie Larson and Peter Fonda. I got the chance to talk to Michael about how he got started with filmmaking, his vision as a filmmaker and ultimately why he loves making movies! It was an absolute pleasure and he gave lots of noteworthy expertise about the film industry and even some thought on life in general.

Hi Michael, when did you get into filmmaking and where does the passion stem from?

It started out for me as an actor. I did the senior play in my high school, Our Town, and absolutely loved it. I think it was the fact that everybody paid attention to me, when it was my turn to say my lines, everybody had to listen. It was an awesome feeling. From there, my passion gradually morphed into realizing I had the ability to express what was going on inside of me through characters; the character I was playing. I found this to be incredibly freeing and liberating, which, in turn, led to me writing. I enjoyed writing about what I was feeling and trying to get that out through the characters and story. This then led on to directing, it just all made sense.

So, it’s really about falling in love with telling stories?

Exactly, that is what ultimately came clear to me. However, it did take a while to realize what I was doing and why the hell I was doing it, but I finally realized that I just love sharing stories. It allowed me to express how I feel about things.

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Your films are very much about human relationships, are they personal to you?

Yes, my scripts are very personal and ultimately a lot about relationships. A lot about the relationship we have with ourselves. This is evident in my new film Old Friends/New Beginnings. It’s also about your relationship to a significant other, and then the relationship between you and society. So, my filmmaking is a lot about relationships and communication.

Could you tell me some more about your new film Old Friends/New Beginnings?

Yeah, so it’s coming along really well. I couldn’t be happier. We made this movie for very little money; it was shot on a micro-budget. I wrote the first draft of the script back in 2005 when I was studying screenwriting. My writing teacher always encouraged us to write about what we were afraid of and one of my biggest fears was about being lazy. So, I wrote about what it would be like if I become lazy, and this is the character I play in the movie: David. Because of his financial situation, David has lost his ambition and passion to create, which ends up affecting his marriage. His wife Julie, feeling undesired, invites an old friend and his new girlfriend to spend the weekend with her and David to hopefully stir things up but she never could have expected what happens over one long weekend.

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You worked with a small crew on this project. Do you feel that working in a small crew allows everyone to more clearly express the same vision?

Definitely. I really enjoy working with a small crew, which I did on my first movie, Room 314. The second movie, One Night, got a little bigger and the third, The Trouble With Bliss, even more so. But, with this movie I’ve gone back to the stripped down model, and I love it. You know where you are with everybody, there isn’t a chain of command where you have to wait five minutes to hear back from the person you need to actually get something done from. I love that intimate feeling on a small set, it’s cozy and warm and you feel as though everyone is really in it together. We’re all there for the same reason.

How do you manage all your roles; you work as a writer, director, producer, cinematographer and editor?

It’s hard work but I love having the knowledge in everything. It informs me on all the other aspects I do. So, editing has helped me to become a better writer, a more efficient writer, and directing has helped me to become a better actor and visa versa. It all feeds into one another and informs the storytelling process. It helps me to understand, just keep it simple.

Producing for me was something that was necessary to get things done – it just made sense. If I needed something done I could do it myself or try and convince somebody else to do it for me, it was easier to do it myself.

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Which filmmakers and films influence your work?

There are so many films out there, but I ultimately just love all movies and actors. Just watching great performances mostly inspires me; for example, Daniel Day Lewis I could watch all day and this motivates me as a storyteller. He makes me want to write better just so I could work with him one day. Woody Allen’s stuff is great and he is obviously a big influence. I find his work hilarious as well as dramatic.

As directors, I also love Sydney Pollack, Robert Altman. Their the kind of directors who work with ensemble type casts, who work on character driven pieces, I love those type of directors. For example, I love the fact that Steven Soderbergh can do so many different things.

Do you feel a director who tries out different genres is more masterful than a director who just hones in on one genre?

I don’t think about this too much, I don’t really care who is a master. I feel like Ang Lee is amazing that he can do so many different styles, but if you look at his stories there is still a similar theme. I love that he can tell the stories he is telling in all these different ways. I would find it to be a little bit boring if a director continued to do the same genre over and over. I don’t know how anyone would want to do that.

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Does anything inspire you outside of filmmaking; you’re also a martial artist?

Oh yeah this inspires me big time. It’s a huge influence. Martial arts is everything to me. First off, martial arts introduced me to meditation, which helps me tremendously to get focused and grounded, which ultimately helps me to see things clearly. Another important thing I learnt is about the exchange of energy that happens between people. Just like with characters in a movie. For example, the way that two characters wrestle, I apply this the same as when martial artists freestyle, it’s the same as signing a contract, it is ultimately about dominance and submission. We see this in real life all the time. Martial arts have helped me to see this clearly and have no doubt been a big influence on how I see the world.

What marital art is it you practice?

It’s called Soo Bahk Do Moo Duk Kwan, it’s a traditional Korean karate.

Is it similar to Hapkido and Taekwondo?

There are things in those martial arts that have similar moves to Soo Bahk Do. But, just to be clear, why I do martial arts is to find inner peace. This is why I want to tell stores, I want to help more people find inner peace.

And this is your vision as a director?

Absolutely one hundred percent. I want people to feel something and know that there are other people who feel the same thing, which gives a bit of peace knowing they are not alone. If you watch my movies, you will see that I try to remove all judgment, I don’t try and say what is right or wrong, or who is good or bad. I’m trying to tell stories and trying to help people understand that we are all doing what were doing because it is ultimately what we thinks best. I don’t judge any of my characters.

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Do you have any advice for young filmmakers starting out in the industry?

The things that I’m reminded of all the time, is to keep trusting myself. So, I would say to anyone who is up and coming to just keep trusting that gut feeling you have. No matter what anyone says to you, if your gut is telling you to go left, then go left. Even if at that time it seems wrong, just go with your gut feeling and see where it takes you. This is the biggest thing I’ve learned.

Also, for the most part, no one is going to do it for you, you’ll have to do everything for yourself. You are your biggest cheerleader, don’t wait for other people. However, if someone comes along and helps you, fantastic, thank them and thank them again. But, you will eventually have to keep pushing in and doing a lot of stuff that other people don’t want to do until your famous, and then everyone will be your best friend!

So, ultimately it’s a case of just getting out there and doing it?

Yeah, just start making movies. Don’t wait.

It’s been great talking to you, thanks Michael.

My pleasure!

Support the Kickstarter campaign here.

Find the film on Facebook.

Michael’s Website.