On the Labor day weekend in America (Labour Day if you are Canadian like me), we finalise the schedule for the Raindance Film Festival which means that a lot of filmmakers get let down because we just can’t show everything that we want to.
Year end is sentimental because I am reminded over and over again of all the trials and failures of the past year, and also of all the things I have tried to achieve since I launched Raindance on the unsuspecting British public in 1992. I also get serious year end as I prepare to clench my teeth and make another series of New Years resolutions.
It’s especially poignant this year, because so many British film organisations have disappeared: In London the New Producers Alliance crashed against a financial wall, and in 2011 the UK Film Council was legislated out of existence by the new British coalition goverrnment. Which makes Raindance the longest surviving independent film organisation in the UK.
Which is really strange music to my ears, because i remember exactly how it all started:
When I made the decision to start the film festival, I had exactly £150.00 ($225.00) to my name. Britain was in the throes of a recession far worse than the current one, and there was no internet. I typed a one page press release and faxed it to every sales agent and producer I could think of until the money ran out. And it all happened that first year. With a budget of nearly nothing.
So sitting here today, another milesone for me personally, and for the festival. I am reminded of three extremely painful lessons I have had to learn the hard way, and indeed which I often forget and have to learn over and over again. I am sharing these hoping that you can avoid the painful mistakes I have made.
1. The importance of content
The business we work in relies on stellar content. I have learned the hard way that if a script I am flogging, a newsletter I am writing, an event that I am promoting, or a line-up of films I am announcing at the festival is not the very best the city and country has seen, then I am simply wasting my time.
This sounds harsh, and it is harsh. But it is a reality of our business.
Scripts, programming and events need to be the best ever. And everytime I have had to go out for something new, I have had to re-invent myself or Raindance – and often without the content demanded by the market. Painfully empty screens and classrooms. Painfully empty bank accounts. Painfully lonely.
Anyone who knows me personally, or has worked with me in the office, will know that I am about as obsessive as they come. For years I have prided myself with my stamina and energy. I have worn my ability to work 100 hour weeks year in and year out like a badge of honour. I can dazzle anyone with my ability to stuff envelopes, to multi-task and to go days without sleep.
Then this year, it hit me. It’s not how hard you work. It’s how smart you work.
I used to marvel at how less-energetic rivals of mine would succeed when I, with all the hundreds and thousands of hours I have worked, have not.
And this weekend – it’s just hit me again – envelope stuffing is part of the territory, but if you can’t take your eyes off the ground and look to the horizon, you are definately going to miss a trick or two.
Ouch. This one really hurts. And makes one feel very lonely.
3. Lady Luck
Some of my rivals here and abroad have definately had lucky breaks. And I used to think Lady Luck just waved her magic wand and caught you unawares.
This just isn’t so. I believe one’s ‘luck’ is not pre-ordained, or a matter of chance or destiny. I believe it is earned through a combination of hard work, insight and good business sense. Which means, in my case if not yours, one has to keep focused and keep tweaking and re-evaluating the gameplan. Some day, it will get easier (or so they tell me).
In the 5th year of Raindance I went to Sony because I heard they sponsored film festivals. “Come back when you are ten years old” they said.
So I waited and waited 5 long years and went back again, in 2003.
“We no longer sponsor film festivals!” they said.
Does that mean I was a victim of misfortune? Or just stupidly tenacious?
In May of 2013, Raindance received a 4 line letter rejecting our thirtieth (30!) application for festival funding from the civic fathers that dole out public funds. God damn – it took the team three weeks to prepare!
How should I react to this latest painful lesson of independent film?
Should I curse and swear like a sailor
Should I threaten a PR campaign?
Or should I realise that this is nothing more than professional jealousy: Raindance is far too contemporary for the hallowed halls of Those In Command?
I will let you decide!
I will ask you a favour though.
We need you at Raindance. We have a zero marketing budget this year, and if you could tell just one friend, or Tweet or Facebook one message about what we do at the festival, I and the entire Raindance Film Festival Team will be most grateful.
Yours in filmmaking,