Rebecca O’Brien has been an independent film producer for over twenty five years and runs the production company, Sixteen Films. She has produced fifteen feature films directed by Ken Loach, including LAND AND FREEDOM (Best Film EFA 1995), MY NAME IS JOE and LOOKING FOR ERIC. In 2006 THE WIND THAT SHAKES THE BARLEY won the Palme d’Or in Cannes. THE ANGELS’ SHARE won the Jury Prize at Cannes in 2012. She has also produced a number of other films including BEAN (1996), PRINCESA (2001) and CITY OF TINY LIGHTS directed by Pete Travis which is currently in post-production. Her feature documentary/interactive project about Ken Loach’s career is currently in production, directed by Louise Osmond. She is developing feature films with British director Tim Fywell and Palestinian director, Sameh Zoabi. Her new Ken Loach/Paul Laverty project I, DANIEL BLAKE has just finished shooting and will be released in 2016. She is currently on the boards of PACT and the European Film Academy and is a member of the British Screen Advisory Council.
Shaheen’s feature film credits include Anton Corbijn’s CONTROL (BIFA Best British Film, Director, Supporting Actor & Most Promising Newcomer 2007), David Mackenzie’s STARRED UP (BIFA Best Supporting Actor 2013, LFF Best British Newcomer 2013), J.A. Bayona’s THE IMPOSSIBLE (Goya Awards 2013 nominated for 14 awards won 5 including Best Director and Best New Actor, London Critics Circle Film Awards Young Performer British of the Year 2013 & Naomi Watts nominated for SAG Award, Golden Globe and Academy Award) and Peter Strickland’s BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO (BIFA Best Director, Best Actor 2012, Evening Standard Film Awards Best Actor 2013). In the past year Shaheen has worked on Academy Award winning director Paolo Sorrentino’s next feature film YOUTH, once again with J.A. Bayona on his forthcoming feature film A MONSTER CALLS, based on the acclaimed graphic novel by Patrick Ness, TRESPASS AGAINST US directed by Adam Smith, THE FALLING directed by Carol Morley and Ben Wheatley on FREE FIRE.
Shaheen has also worked on several acclaimed television projects including MARVELLOUS (Bafta TV awards Best Single Drama 2015), PEAKY BLINDERS (RTS Awards, Best Drama Series 2014), SOUTHCLIFFE (Bafta Best Actor 2014), MURDER : JOINT ENTERPRISE (Bafta TV Awards, Best Single Drama 2013), BLACK MIRROR (International Emmy Awards, Best TV Movie/Mini-Series, Rose d’Or Light Entertainment Festival – Golden Rose, Best Comedy 2012), FIVE DAUGHTERS (RTS Awards, Best Drama Series 2011), THE UNLOVED (Bafta TV Awards, Best Single Drama 2010) and the forthcoming drama series THE LAST PANTHERS for Sky Atlantic/Canal Plus.
Marnie Podos was born in New York City and grew up in New Jersey. She was an undergraduate at Princeton and moved to the UK to pursue a Masters and PhD in English at Oxford. She then worked her way up the industry ladder, starting out as an intern at Working Title Films in London. She joined the Film/TV/Theatre Department at United Agents in 2010 and was promoted to agent two years later. Her list focuses on screenwriters and filmmakers, with a particular interest in talent that appeals to both UK and US audiences. She works closely with her clients, helping to build spec scripts from scratch and put their projects together.
Tess has been writing since she could walk (not 100% true) and her first words were ‘Elvis is the King!’ (100% true). Her latest screenplay, the romantic comedy MAN UP, made the 2011 Brit List, was picked up by Big Talk Pictures, co-produced by Studio Canal and BBC Films and released in 2015 directed by Ben Palmer and starring Simon Pegg and Lake Bell. Tess is currently writing original screenplay SECRET SANTA for Big Talk/Studio Canal and TEXTBOOK BEHAVIOUR for Big Talk/BBC Films. She is also doing a rewrite on a feature for Sony in the US.
In 1997, she won the Lloyds Bank/Channel Four Film Challenge for her short film BEER GOGGLES, and in 2008 she was chosen for the BFI/Skillset Think Shoot Distribute Scheme for emerging talent in the British Film Industry, which further proves the theory that there is no such thing as an overnight success. She has also worked extensively as a script editor with ‘Seinfield’ writer Tom Leopold, and also lectures on comedy and screenwriting for the Arvon Foundation and Royal Holloway University.
Director of Film at the British Council
Briony Hanson is Director of Film at the British Council, responsible for promoting UK films and filmmakers internationally. Previously she has been Director of The Script Factory, Director of Tyneside Cinema, headed the BFI Programme Unit and co-programmed the London Lesbian & Gay Film Festival. She has conducted numerous onstage interviews from Julianne Moore and Gus Van Sant to Dustin Hoffman and Andrej Wajda. She makes regular broadcast appearances, co-edited the 2008 Filmmakers’ Yearbook, and was DIVA Magazine’s Film Editor from 2007-12. Briony is unlikely ever to top her greatest achievement: as co-creator of Sing-along-a-Sound Of Music which premiered at the BFI in ’99, has toured the world – and is “sacred” to Kurt from Glee.
Based between the UK and America, Katie has been a Shorts Programmer for Sundance Film Festival since 2010. She first cut her short film teeth in 2004 producing screenings for Future Shorts, which then lead to acquiring and selling films for Future Shorts’ distribution label working with animation, live action, documentary and music videos. She went on to work on the launch of live cinematic events company Secret Cinema, producing immersive experiences bringing feature films to life in unusual locations. Whilst based in New York, she worked with immersive theatre company Punchdrunk on their launch in the US and helped Vimeo produce and program their 2012 Festival + Awards. Through her love of both short and long form documentary, she recently joined the board of the Scottish Documentary Institute.
How many short film submissions does a Festival like Sundance get?
For the 2015 festival, Sundance received 8061 short film submissions (of which 61 were selected) this figure has stayed the same for the past 3 or 4 years. The numbers of submissions to US festivals vary – I know that Tribeca Film Festival usually receives around 3000 submissions (of which 58 were selected) and SXSW receive around 4200 (of which 110 were selected).
What are the top five things that go wrong with most short films?
- RUNTIME IS TOO LONG – We pass on so many films we love because the runtime is even as little as just 5 minutes too long – you need to be really tough with the edit and cut out anything that isn’t essential to the story. It’s more important than ever to draw in your audience (bearing in mind the internet will be the films’ ultimate destination) quickly so you need to make sure the viewer is engaged and interested within the first 5 minutes.
– LACK OF EMOTIONAL TRUTH – In narrative filmmaking dealing with fictional characters, there should be some kind of visceral, heartfelt connection that arises between audience and character(s) which is created through detail, setting, actions, dialogue or inner monologue. Without emotional truth, a key purpose of great filmmaking – empathy – is hard to conceive. We often come across films that are really well made but just don’t quite leave us satisfied, and this is often because we don’t feel any empathy with the character(s) are even just don’t quite believe them or find them conceivable.
- SOFT ENDING – Another common reason a film will make it through the final rounds, but not be selected is that the film itself is really strong only to be let down by a weak ending. This doesn’t mean that the film has to have a KILLER ending (such as Spider), and it doesn’t necessarily matter if nothing much happens (such as Funnel) but it needs to wrap up successfully.
- DOCUMENTARY TONE – We’ll often come across short docs that address really important issues, present a wealth of information and have incredible access to their subjects, however the footage is edited and presented in an overly journalistic way, with some feeling more like a PSA. It may be that the film was originally intended for a different use, in that case it needs to be adapted for a cinema audience.
- STORY JUST ISN’T VERY INTERESTING – Everyday we see shorts about the following topics: a depressing story about a dysfunctional family, the difficulties of dating, the daily life struggles for millennials, a coming of age story about leaving a small hometown, etc. It’s not that these ideas are necessarily bad, but they’ve been done over and over again.
Are shorts a good route to feature filmmaking?
Yes definitely! I can give numerous recent examples of shorts that premiered at Sundance that went on to be made into feature-length versions. Damien Chazelle was having trouble convincing financiers to see his vision for his feature Whiplash – so by taking the most intense scene and making it as a standalone short, Damien was able to present his vision of the film as thriller or action movie rather than just a film about jazz musicians. In his words “With the influx of material, I don’t think people really read anymore, so a little piece of footage can go further than a 120-page script” (full story here). Cutter Hodierne’s short Fishing Without Nets about Somalian pirates showed at Sundance in 2012 where it was seen by Vice who were at the festival looking for a project for their newly formed feature film arm. They consequently came on board as producers to make the 2014 feature version. Likewise, Sean Durkin’s 2010 short Mary Last Seen played at Sundance which lead to an invitation to participate in the Sundance Screenwriter’s lab where he was able to develop his feature script (for 2011 feature Martha Marcy May Marlene) under the mentorship of high profile creative advisors. The feature deals with the aftermath of a girl leaving a cult, the short shows the moments leading up to her joining, so they were set up to exist together as companion pieces.
Shorts are a good route to feature filmmaking for several reasons, mainly as they provide an opportunity to experiment with ideas, techniques and even working with your crew before making the leap to features. And secondly, in the case of the above examples, a short can help capture industry attention and finance to give the feature stronger legs. It’s also a good way to start building a fanbase to help fund a feature (or just future) project.
It’s also important to consider if your film even needs to be a feature – especially in terms of docs, making a short often means that your film produced and financed faster, will be seen by a larger audience and the issues in the film addressed in a more timely way than spending two-three years making the feature version.
What are the key differences in the skills involved?
The major key difference is in the writing – with a short you’re drawing the viewer in on the first page, with a feature it’s in the first 10 pages so the pacing is different and you need to dive in a bit faster with a short. Beyond writing I think the skills are essentially the same, but there is usually more at stake in terms of time and money with a feature, so coming into it with experience with shorts is a big asset.
Lots of people say it’s better to make a micro budget feature than a short. What do you see as the relative value of shorts over a low-budget feature or more long-form content?
I think there has been a big shift here – and as Janet Pierson, Head of the SXSW’s Film Festival said “the impulse to make a film has far outrun the impulse to go out and watch in a theater.” So the result is that we are watching a lot more online where there are less rules and constraints about length. I know I’m hammering this point home, but it means that films can be made to suit the story, rather than to meet expectations of runtime. So I think you need to look at the story and ask some questions – what runtime best suits the story? Is it something I can make as a short then develop into a feature, or should it begin life as a fully fledged feature film? Another format to take into consideration are online series, which are becoming increasingly popular. In 2010 Sundance introduced a new category called NEXT to showcase innovative films that are able to transcend the confines of an independent budget, so we try to place a spotlight on micro-budget work. Personally I’d recommend making a short as overall you’re likely to get a lot more eyeballs on the short, especially if you release it online post-festival, than you would with a feature.
Do you think it’s beneficial for the filmmaker to attend the festival with their film?
I think it’s vital – if you have gone to the trouble of making your film and sent it around for festival consideration, there should be no question that you should attend your festival premiere. I realize travel and accommodation is expensive, so you should have considered this financial aspect as you formulated your festival strategy. Festivals exist to showcase great work and make connections and you really need to be there to take full advantage of that. We organise various mixers and meetings with professionals for all short filmmakers in the festival and we try to make sure you get to meet as many of the key players as possible. I’ve also witnessed many instances of filmmakers from different films teaming up and collaborating on new productions in the future so there are infinate possibilities. If your film gets selected to multiple festivals I’d choose wisely which you attend – there is a danger of spending a year or two touring with the film and never actually getting any work done! Often filmmakers coming over from the UK for Sundance will do a pit-stop in LA after the festival to follow up on connections made at the festival or have meetings fresh from the buzz of the festival.
How do you think you can make the very most of a festival and what do you need to do to maximise your time at one, from seeing films to networking with contacts?
Make sure you ask your festival representative any questions you have. Most festivals will follow up their acceptance notification with information about who to contact for various things – print trafficking, press/promotion, and hospitality. Make use of these services. Even if they’re extremely limited in what they can do for you, ask them questions. Ask for recommendations on where to stay (if they’re not already offering travel assistance), ask about what press is coming, ask about what industry is coming and ask about any special events you should be prepared for (such as galas or filmmaker receptions).
Some fests are packed with events from day one, others not so much. As a filmmaker you ideally should have access to just about everything and it’s in your best interest to take part in as much as possible – this makes you a visible, and, hopefully approachable, presence at the event; allows you to meet other filmmakers, who might end up being collaborators on a future project, or might be able to introduce you to a future collaborator; and puts you in a position to get to know the festival staff, who might introduce you to significant contacts or do you favours.
Regarding events, absolutely make sure you take part not only in the giant galas, but also and especially the smaller filmmaker-only events – the retreats, the cocktails, the dinners – whatever special/exclusive events the festival has put together to recognize and honour you. It’s often at these lower-key events that significant friendships or partnerships can be forged, outside of the relative chaos of the larger parties with all of their distractions.
What do you see, in 2015, as the role of festivals in exposing talent to industry professionals? Given the availability of online distribution platforms and competitions, has this changed in the past few years?
I think festivals will always be crucial to exposing talent to industry professionals, even more so now that there is so much more work being produced – festivals are key curatorial voices to cut through the noise. The internet is democratic enough that if you make a great short film and release it online with a good strategy, you in theory should be able to reach the right industry professionals directly and independently. However I think the industry will continue to look to film festivals to discover talent.