Raindance’s 25th Birthday:
I realised this cold wet Easter weekend that I have been Raindancing since 1992. Funny how it seems like an eternity on one hand, and hardly any time at all on the other. However you cut it, it’s still a quarter century of independent film.
Over the years I have been asked hundreds of questions. These ten questions I get asked repeatedly:
1. What made you decide to start Raindance?
I was at loose ends in 1991. I had gone bust in the last great British recession. I wanted to try something new and film related. I had nine years experiences as a scenic artist and set designer in Toronto but had been out of the business for nearly ten years and had lost all my film contacts. And I was broke.
Essentially I started Raindance as a thought experiment: Could one make a movie with no previous experience, no film training and no money. My first intern was Edgar Wright whose first movie A Fistfull of Fingers I helped out on.
2. When did you start Raindance?
The first official Raindance event was the weekend of April 4/5 1992. I brought over Dov S-S Simens who did a class at the Cobden Working Men’s Club in Portobello. There were 67 people in attendance. He returned in February 1993. We hired a large room at The Royal College of Art in Kensington. Over three hundred people attended including many now well-known as filmmakers. At that event I realised that there were only two options for British filmmakers at the time: The London and Edinburgh Film Festivals – both still going strong. The trouble was there were so few British films being made that those festival programmers didn’t know where to put a British film. They’d programme them in the world cinema strand alongside French, Japanese and American films. I announced the first Raindance Film Festival at that February training event in front of 300 people.
3. What was the reaction to your announcement of the Raindance Film Festival?
The day after my announcement, my good friend and lawyer Phil Alberstat was on a plane to the Berlin Film Festival. He was sitting next to the feisty, now deceased, director of the London Film Festival, Sheila Whittaker, who read about my announcement in that morning’s Screen Internatioanl and went ballistic.
I got a very frosty reception from the industry. I suppose it’s the reaction by any establishment to any new and disruptive idea which rears it’s head. I knew that I was going to have a tough (and long) survival period. In order to succeed I knew I had to gain film industry respect. And survive of course, which miraculously we have despite some pretty scarey moments money wise.
I also needed to get films for the film festival. Remember I knew nothing at all. I had never worked at a film festival, I didn’t know any film festival organisers. I bought a Variety Product Guide from that year’s Cannes Film Market because it listed available films and contact details. Go figure! I had a spare £100.00. I typed and printed a one page press release and faxed the page to relevant sales agents and producers until the money ran out. This in the days before email. Presto – we had films for the film festival.
4. How did you get respect?
There were several different angles to my madness. Firstly I knew I had the stamina to last for a while. So I figured I could wear everyone out.
Even during year three when we were so broke we screened some of the films off a bedsheet in the basement of a Soho pub. I reckoned that if I could keep it going for a few more years, British film pros might just about recognise that I wasn’t a total flake and would grudgingly grant me respect.
Of course there were a handful of veteran British filmmakers who instantly got what I was doing and were highly supportive: Ken Loach, Martin Myers and Norma Heyman to single out three.
My second strategy was to develop some really cool filmmaking courses that would help get people addicted to the Raindance juice.
I suppose the third strategy was real breakthrough in 1998. To everyone’s amazement Fred Hogge and I organised and pulled off the very first British Independent Film Awards gala. And that is still going super strong.
5. But surely you must now be getting public funding?
Raindance is truly independent.
6. What’s changed in 25 years?
The two big changes are: The digital revolution and the death of celluloid, and with it of course, the on-slaught of the web and digital distribution. The second huge change is the acceptance of virtual reality since 2016 – a old technology that has just crossed from the geekdom to the mainstream. I guess you could rightly say that the festival and our education efforts are now focused on old-school ‘flatties’ and virtual reality and with VR all the other implications of interactivity and so on.
The good news, as I see it from Planet Raindance, is that anyone can make and distribute a film. The bad news is: Anyone can make and distribute a film. Meaning? There is so much content.
Which is why we launched Raindance Raw Talent – a production arm that actually makes films using the generous UK tax relief schemes. Deadly Virtues: Love.Honour.Obey has had nearly 500,000 views on Youtube.We are about to start production on another movie, tyhis time an action-thriller called Amber.
7. You’re well known for your screenwriting and filmmaking classes. How did you start?
I didn’t go to university. I come from a conservative protestant farming family in southern Ontario called Amish Mennonite – the horse and buggy people. I was taught never ever to go to the movie theatre because the devil lived there. How I loved the Bible stories at Sunday school. I think that’s what sparked my interest in all things story-telling.
I went to art school in my home town of Toronto. My three year post secondary school graduation certificate proclaims me an expert in something called Cire Perdu. I first came to the UK in the mid 70’s where I worked as a stage hand at the BBC Centre in Shepherd’s Bush. I helped out on some of the greatest British TV shows – from Monty Python to Doctor Who. Now the story bug really grabbed me
When I started reading scripts for friends I didn’t even know how they were supposed to be formatted. I then read hundreds of screenplays of commecially known movies. I noted the patterns that those great writers followed. I then read a terrific book called Reading For A Living by T. L. Katahn. I started calling myself an ‘expert’ and read, for a small fee, over 2600 screenplays, ten of which got produced. Two you might have heard of: Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, and 51st State by Stel Pavlov. In fact I had the first option on that script.
As I travelled and met filmmakers and screenwriters, as I read scripts and talked to groups of screenwriters I developed the Write and Sell the HOT Script Workshop. Then Phil Alberstat suggested I write it as a book and he introduced my to my publisher Focal Press and voila!
* As an anniversary special Raindance offers this class at the 1992 price – go here to find out more
8. What’s the role of Raindance?
Our tagline has always been: Discover. Be Discovered.
We promote and encourage debut filmmakers. One would have to be very bleak to think that a newcomer has no chance to make it. Many film organisations use the word ‘can’t’. And many film schools teach filmmaking. We don’t. We make filmmakers.
In short, Raindance is about informing, innovating, inspiring.
9. What are your regrets, if any?
I’ve made every mistake in the book. It’s painful to look back and see how naive I was. I also treated a lot of people very badly in the early years – I suppose my basic survival instincts kinked in and I made many poor decisions. If you are one of those people I treated badly – please let me know. I’m trying to make good.
10. What are your proudest moments?
I love my job at Raindance. I meet the most incredibly talented and interesting people every day of the week. I learn from them. Sometimes I can help too.
Waiting off stage at Opening Night and seeing the crowds pile in is when I allow myself a momentary feeling of satisfaction. Then too, in the strangest places I will meet someone who had a film at Raindance or took a training course and they thank me. That’s very rewarding.
Of all the achievements in a quarter century I think launching the Postgraduate Film Degree (with Staffordshire University) gives me the most satisfaction. Through this truly innovative programme I believe lives can be changed.
Don’t forget that Raindance is bigger than me now. I’ve always managed to truly have the most talented and energetic people working with me. It is these tireless, selfless and creative people who make me look good that you should thank.
Fade Out: How are you celebrating Raindance’s 25th Birthday?
The Raindance teams in London, Toronto, Brussels, Paris, LA and New York have a few ideas. I’m not really one for celebrating anniversaries, so I guess we’ll have to wait and see!
Unless you count the Independent Filmmakers Ball on April 27th at Cafe de Paris in London