I just passed another milestone – I rewrote the Raindance Producer’s Lab book, only 38 months after my original deadline! It was a real monster – at over 250,000 words. Just managing the manuscript was a challenge. So I am feeling reflective, and the book is coming out in the Autumn.
In this, the 25th year of the Raindance Film Festival, I am often asked what made me start Raindance.
I used to work for other people, both as an employee at the BBC, and CBC and CFTO in Toronto, and as a freelancer on 68 feature films and over 700 commercials. I was even a card carrying member of IATSE (local 873) and NABET back in the days when getting a Union card was tough as nails. As a visual artist I worked as a technician for Ludzer Vandermolen, the Canadian sculptor, Henry Moore and Antony Caro here in London. As a worker, I disliked working for other people.
With Raindance I work for myself. If I have an idea, I can try it out and within days can decide whether it was well received, or good, bad or indifferent. This is hugely rewarding and a continual learning curve.
Working independently is not without it’s perils! One can feel really alone and isolated. The financial aspects are challenging. You basically eat what you kill. If the hunting season is dismal, or your arrows weak, then you go hungry.
When I started Raindance i was probably the dumbest guy on the block. I didn’t go to film school. I didn’t go to university. I went to art school and graduated with a certificate in Cire Perdu – lost wax bronze casting – the ancient art of the Greeks.
Sure I had a lot of geeky film experience, but I didn’t have a clue at how the industry worked, and how one developed the kinds of relationships that would have made my journey simpler.
That first year I was sharing an office with the graphic designer Clive Durrant. I had virtually no money, but I had made £150.00 extra from a training event, decided to start a film festival. I put the cash through the fax machine; faxing a one page film festival press release to all the sales agents and production companies I could find using that year’s Variety Cannes Product Guide. Naieve, Huh? In my simpleton mentality I thought ‘if I build it they will come.’
The phone rings and it’s Robert Redford asking me why I stole the name from him. I tried to explain to him that I chose the name Raindance because of the dance you need to do to get a film made, and because it rains in London when the phone went dead.
I shrugged this off at the time, but I have always wondered if this was a sign that my naivete is a huge hindrance. The civic funders in this country, most recently the BFI, have turned Raindance down for funding 30 times, the most recent on May 22nd this year. Here’s my fear: On one hand my naivete was a good thing. No one would ever consider starting a film festival if they knew hard hard it really was. And on the other hand, my naivete is a hindrance. I didn’t understand the power structures and how to work them to advantage. Obviously I still don’t.
I don’t want you to think I am the tiniest bit bitter about the lack of formal funding. I am not at all. You see, with government funding comes an element of creative control. And what I love about Raindance is that we can turn on the proverbial dime. Regardless. Independent.
Nothing is more powerful than the movies. With a movie you can change people’s lives. You can play with their emotions. You can open people’s eyes to injustice and crime. Nothing makes me more excited than watching a festival screener and discovering a film that does any one of these things.
Getting the word out in today’s world means you need to communicate. I am so lucky. I have spent the last 25 years getting the word out every single day, with no one to stop me. I have a loyal and supportive community of filmmakers who understand what I am trying to do, as well as the occasional benefactor that keeps the boat afloat.
The challenge to me every single day is to decide which message i want to get out, and how I am going to do it, and then doing it.
You could not pay me enough money for my job. My reward is meeting some of the world’s most interesting and talented people that most people would dream of meeting. It’s not just the celebrity filmmakers who attend the film festival or the British Independent Film Awards, it’s the extremely talented filmmakers who have yet to enjoy the financial and critical rewards their famous colleagues partake of.
Don’t you just want to go up and smash the locks off the film industry?