Now that the film is done. . .
a web blog by producer Erica Ginsberg
December 10, 2003
I had such good intentions to write a daily diary from Amsterdam, but, frankly we were way too busy, so here’s the condensed summary…
We got into the city on the second day of the festival and went to the same hotel where we had stayed last year. The same person as last year was working the front desk. Dropped off our luggage and walked to De Balie to check in at the festival. The same colors, textures, smells, temperature of the air. The tram track that was under construction a year ago seemed to be at the same stage of construction. The stores were identical to last year. The scenes at every window looked the same. It was as if nothing had changed.
This was my biggest fear in myself as well. I had a blast in 2002, my first trip to IDFA. Seeing so many films, meeting lots of other filmmakers, , absorbing the whole feeling of Amsterdam. But I felt displaced the whole time and I knew this was more than just jetlag. I hate pitching. I think Leon does too. There was even one night last year when we went to the Guests Meet Guests happy hour and sat in a corner, affixed to our chairs, wondering why nobody joined our table (but, then again, doing nothing to reach out to anyone and start up a conversation). And so eventually we left the room and went on to our own world. Maybe it was just the comfort level you feel when you are with another person you already know. Maybe it was a needed break from all the socializing we had been doing the rest of the time. Maybe it was simply fear.
And so I approached this year with a mix of excitement and dread. If this was how outgoing we were with other filmmakers with whom we had no previous connection, we would stand no chance with anyone else. The only way we could force ourselves to contemplate pitching is to think that maybe every filmmaker dreads this feeling of having to parade your project around a prospective group of acquisitions, distribution, and festival representatives in this weird dance where everyone knows their role in the potential transaction. Even those who do it seemingly with ease have admitted that it is one of the things they like least about the process of filmmaking and this put me a little more at ease. To me, it is not something that comes naturally and, especially in America, I find it an especially offputting process — meeting people and you or them invariably thinking about what they can do for you b/c there is a very short window in which to sell yourself (i.e., your project or product) to each other. For this reason, it seems sometimes, the people with the power to produce/commission/acquire/distribute/screen your project seem to be in another world altogether, a world unattainable by the majority of filmmakers, a world in which you always feel like an outsider.
But just as Amsterdam makes the process of prostitution an easy and simple transaction with its red light district, so too does this festival and market make the informal pitching process as easy and matter-of-fact as it is ever going to get. Both Docs for Sale and the IDFA festival itself created easy opportunities to mix and mingle and, more importantly, have the time (!) to develop new connections that are not based simply on the immediate, what can you do for me now mentality. Though I am not sure I will ever feel comfortable selling my product, I didn’t feel nearly as uncomfortable as I did a year ago. Even with the frenzy of all the events surrounding the festival and being in a city where it was sometimes difficult to get your bearings, it was a very relaxed environment.
The whole feedback structure is also far different from in the U.S. Few in the U.S. would ever say no directly; even rejection letters from funders and festivals spend the majority of the letter diplomatically saying how many fantastic submissions they had and the choice was so difficult for them; as much as your film fits is fantastics and worthy, unfortunately it was not selected, but don’t give up and good luck next time. It’s like elementary school gym class or applying for college all over again. With Docs for Sale, you get a printed report on who viewed your film. There are only three options (“Very interested,” “Fairly interested,” and “Not interested”). Occasionally they write comments. You know who is interested and who is not. No discussion. No diplomatic, feel-good filler. Just the plain truth. There is no need to pursue dead ends. Ironically, in an environment where time seems, on the surface, less important than in America, both the filmmaker and his/her potential “client” actually waste far less time.
We also enjoyed meeting and talking to other filmmakers from around the world. I learned so much from the filmmakers — not only about them and their projects, but about their experiences, their feelings about their societies, and about myself as well. Every day, I was energized by the time to talk, to debate, to think, to feel. We even met another male-female team who had done a film on Kosovo, called A Normal Life. When we started telling them of our project, they said they knew about it from finding our website online several years ago when they were checking out other Balkan-themed docs. Small world!
On our last night, we went to Guests Meet Guests. Most of the VIPs were gone. We no longer felt any pressure to pitch, but simply to relax and hang out with each other. A group of us picked out a table in the corner. I noticed at one point we had an extra chair, but nobody else came and joined our group. Had we ourselves become the intimidating circle that Leon and I had experienced the year before? I took a break from the conversation and observed the rest of the room. Little clusters of people everywhere. A few people entering the room alone, some finding a group, some not. One woman seemed to be circling the room, sipping her wine, observing, but not venturing to join any of these groups. Many of the other groups consisted of two people — in group dynamics terms, one of the hardest groups to break into. I recalled last year and wondered whether this was one of the reasons nobody would approach me and Leon. I think he noticed the same thing. So we decided to stand up and, together, bring this woman into our circle, to take the empty chair.
We did make some good contacts at the festival and will follow up in the weeks ahead. Most importantly, we both dealt head-on with our fear of pitching.