IFFR Reality Check asks whether films can still be developed
by Vassilis Economou
- Alternative techniques for film development, the variety of formats and innovative funding processes were the main topics discussed at the IFFR Pro conference
Organised for the second year by the industry section of International Film Festival Rotterdam, IFFR Pro, the Reality Check conference (27 January) dealt this time with one of the most crucial creative parts of the film industry – that of content development. Through a series of three panels and a breakout discussion, both the guests and the audience aimed to forge the right path through the various options and platforms.
The conference was opened by the head of IFFR Pro, Marit Van Den Elshout, who gave an overview of the challenges that film development faces, especially in a period like this, when a plethora of options are available. In his speech, IFFR director Bero Beyer also underlined this multidisciplinary aspect and the various possibilities and opportunities that content creators have to weigh up. Furthermore, he focused on the open spaces that are created, with an increasing number of players joining in, which can be beneficial – but at the same time, the cinema industry should be accepting of the changes, otherwise emerging talents might decamp to other media. Finally, in her keynote speech, Canadian artist-filmmaker Caroline Monnet presented a sample of her work and explained how the concept can dictate the medium. As she herself has Quebecois, Algonquin and French roots, her aim is to incorporate more diversity in her stories and give a voice to indigenous populations. Her upcoming feature debut, Bootlegger, which was developed at the Cannes Cinéfondation Résidence three years ago, deals with an indigenous female martial-arts fighter.
The first panel, “New Audiences/New Stories”, moderated by Wendy Mitchell, got under way by exploring the much-needed safe spaces that content creators have easier access to nowadays. Akua Gyamfi, founder of The British Blacklist, an online portal focused on the work of Afro-Caribbean British artists, mentioned the importance of diversity and the inclusion of multiple groups and minorities, which the new generation of talents is taking into account. Dutch filmmaker Nanouk Leopold shared her experience working with her producer Stienette Bosklopper, who helps her to establish her own safe zone. She also stressed the importance of protecting her own voice in an arthouse-film environment, especially when she is pushing her artistic boundaries by combining the various worlds of art, cinema and, more recently, theatre, in which she was working for the first time, also bringing in elements of video installations. Also, US producer Tamir Muhammad, the founder of Populace Productions and also the man behind the HBO series Random Acts of Flyness, emphasised how safe he and his director, Terence Nance, felt when they were creating their series in HBO’s incubator, which gave them the freedom to express themselves and to preserve their voices, especially when genres are becoming more oblique now and are overlapping with one another, creating a great deal of fluidity.
That fluidity of format was one of the subjects under discussion at the second panel, “Stealing from the Best: Alternate Practices in Development”, where it was posited that content creation must adapt and adjust. Starting with a case study on the hit Netflix series The End of the F***ing World, British producer Dominic Buchanan outlined the entire process that he went through, from adapting the graphic novel that the series is based on to the failed initial commission with Channel 4 and how the series, which had been scheduled to air on the E4 digital platform, became a smash hit worldwide on Netflix. On the other hand, filmmaker Noaz Deshe shone a spotlight on his alternative development processes, starting with his drama White Shadow [+see also:
interview: Noaz Deshe
film profile], which was shot and created in Tanzania after an intensive workshop. Also, his current work is being filmed in refugee camps in Greece, and he is now planning to explore the possibilities of working in Moldova after shooting a music video there. He underlined the importance of keeping an open mind when developing the project and being ready to readjust, as “the process dictates everything; it is an evolution”. Finally, independent producer Bruno Felix, representing Submarine, presented how he is currently developing a new project about a lone-wolf terrorist, and explained how his two screenwriters moved into the suburbs of Paris in order to get a better understanding of the mentality of the Bataclan terrorists.
The final panel, “Funding Models of the Future”, offered some insightful details on the European funding landscape and the new formats demanding their fair share of it. Linda Beath, of Ideal Filmworks Italia, emphasised the importance of the European market for SVoD providers: with 85% of houses wired, and a bigger population than North America, it is becoming an increasingly attractive market for such platforms. Moreover, with the European Commission’s law demanding that 30% of platforms’ productions be made in the EU, this should drive a huge proportion of the $17-20 billion SVoD investment to Europe. Despite the low level of European budgets, the rate of finalised productions is higher than it is in the United States, as one film is made out of every four that are developed, while in the USA, the ratio is one to ten. French producer Didar Domheri presented the process of producing the Cannes-premiered Girls of the Sun [+see also:
interview: Eva Husson
film profile], which had a development budget of €200,000, and opined that everything should be wrapped in a short period of time, despite the contributions from the CNC, MEDIA and regional funds.
In her input, Thai director-producer Pimpaka Towira explained the funding schemes in use in Thailand, which are quite different from the chiefly public funds in Europe, since financing there is mainly based on private investments. Plus, quite apart from the financial struggle, filmmakers have to deal with taboos within Thai cinema and consequent censorship. However, most of the discussion was devoted to the introduction and expansion of blockchain and crowdfunding as alternative funding methods. SingularDTV's Oliver Mahrdt championed the rise of blockchain, which may democratise and decentralise the filmmaking process. As the audience decides whether they want a share of a work of art, the creators are more independent, without having to get involved in the complications of using middlemen and thus avoiding the mistrust that may be generated. According to Mahrdt, the trust problem makes blockchain extremely attractive. That statement prompted further discussion among the panellists, with Beath stressing that the creative relationship between the producer and the film’s team is irreplaceable, and crowdfunding – with or without the use of blockchain technology – will potentially alter the producer’s role forever.
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