Open City Doc Fest

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I spent the weekend in London to attend Open City Doc Fest. Like Sheffield Doc Fest, Open City Doc Festival is about more than simply exhibiting films. Its programme  also features live events and performances as well as really interesting masterclasses and panels.

I attended three really insightful panels hosted by organisations such as Doc Heads, Festival Formula and Together Films.

The first panel I went to ‘The road from shorts to features’ was hosted by Doc Head’s founder Tristan Anderson.

Doc Heads Trailer from Doc Heads on Vimeo.

Tristan began the session by giving everyone some advice ‘Your first film will be your worst, get it out of the way..’ He followed this up by showing us a great short film called ‘The Gap’ which perfectly explains why it getting your first film out of the way is so important in the process of making work that actually matches your taste level.

THE GAP by Ira Glass from Daniel Sax on Vimeo.

Then by using filmmaking duo Matt Hopkins and Ben Lankester, who’s film A Divorce before Marriage premiered at the festival, as a case study we looked at the steps required to make the transition from short docs to features.

A Divorce Before Marriage – Official Trailer 1 from A Divorce Before Marriage on Vimeo.

Matt and Ben, as many filmmakers before them, explained that they were required to produce commercial content in order to make their company, Progress Films,  financially viable and for them to go on to produce their creative work. Matt explained that whilst ‘A Divorce Before Marriage’ had not financially enriched them. It was the work that they were most proud of. They explained that when you’re working on projects for free you have to look at the bigger picture and remember than something will come from it eventually. The duo produced a series of short character portraits for a collection called ‘England your England’. Although they ended up having to fund it from their own pockets, their films were selected as Vimeo Staff Pick and they established a community of filmmakers around them who appreciated their work. From the series, they received commercial work.

Richard from England Your England on Vimeo.

I think its really important to remind yourself of the hard work people have had to put in to get to where they are today, so I found the session both really inspiring and informative.

 

 

In future posts I will share what I learnt in the sessions with Festival Formula and Together Films.

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Build your own film night:

Last week Flatpack: Assemble hosted an evening masterclass in Birmingham’s Impact Hub to inspire a new generation of cinephiles to create their own film nights.

After Cocks & Docs I am more interested than ever to continue organising film nights in the West Midlands. I want to do this because I love the idea of bringing people together in a cinematic space to share exciting content and to build a community of creative, like minded people in my home town. Film nights also give people an excuse to actually leave the comfort of their own house and socialise with new people.

byofnm3 They explained that at their core, film nights consist of three elements. Films, Places and People. You can control the films, you can control the place but you cannot control the people. You need to make the event special in some way to encourage audience members to attend. This can be done by showing content that can’t be seen anywhere else, holding the screening in an unusual venue or having an interesting mix of people/entertainment (such as dancers/musicians etc.)

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Here are some of Flatpack co-founder Ian Francis’s top tips on hosting your own film night:

  • Keep distractions to a minimum eg. natural light/noises from the venue
  • Don’t over programme, make sure you schedule intervals.
  • Make sure the audience are relatively comfortable
  • Think about the trajectory of the evening and the mood and tone of the films you screen.
  • Clear all the rights and licenses for both the venue and the films
  • Seamless presentation is important. In a later post I will break down some of the advice the Flatpack team had to offer about screening conditions.

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I’m so pleased to see Flatpack Festival organising more events across the year and reach out to people in the West Midlands, encouraging them to engage with film. If you don’t follow them already, you should…@flatpack

Flatpack Film Festival 2014 Trailer from 7inch cinema on Vimeo.

Sheffield Doc Festival 2016

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Sheffield Documentary Festival this year was amazing! I had the chance to watch some inspiring new documentaries, go to masterclasses with some of my idols and network with some really interesting people.

My highlights include:

  • ‘In Conversations’ with David Attenborough, Joanna Lumley, Michael Moore and D.A Pennebaker
  • Watching films including ‘Where to Invade Next’, ‘Presenting Princess Shaw’, ‘KiKi’ and ‘Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures’
  • Experiencing VR for the first time
  • Networking with people from the industry
  • And listening to a keynote speech from an android (Bina48) Screen Shot 2016-06-24 at 18.59.07.png

Here’s a rundown of my time at the festival….

 

 

An of course how could I forget about the networking parties…

I would recommend the festival to anybody who wants to produce documentaries as well as to those who just love to watch non-fiction films. Sheffield, I’ll be back.

Cocks & Docs: Our curated short film event

I absolutely love short documentaries. The format lends itself to experimentation and also forces filmmakers to make tough choices when it comes to the edit. For me, a good short doc is concise, moving and narratively whole. There are a lot of great short documentaries online but they rarely are seen in a cinema/communal screening environment despite the fact cinema was built upon the screening of short films.

f8d183_69594bcd293d493cae80cadb4de3d5fbmv1During my first year at uni, I was saying to friends at the student union pub that they should come around to mine for ‘cocks and docs, long cocktails and short documentaries’ and the idea stuck with me since then. It took two years to actually do it in a public space for a larger audience but yesterday myself and my friend and collaborator, hosted the first ever ‘Cocks&Docs’ event  at the Falcon Tap basement in York. The basement seemed like an unlikely screening room as it is typically used for sweaty club nights. But working with a shoe string budget we managed to transform the room using old tea lights and a shower curtain we fashioned into a screen using some string.  Once all the seats were in, the pop corn machine was on and the lights were down, the room felt like it was built for the job.

We screened a total of 6 curated short documentaries covering topics including: pop culture, women’s issues, art, animal welfare and crime.

I am thrilled with how the event went, the audience seemed to enjoy the selection of films and we were sure to provide time for discussion during the breaks. ‘Cocks and Docs’ taught me two important lessons:

  1. You never see a short film and wish it was longer.
  2. You need to be mindful of the order you put films in, think about the mood the film provokes. We nearly made the mistake of finishing with a film that really brought down the guest’s mood. Instead we chose to play an upbeat, music driven documentary which stirred an applause from the crowd the end the evening.

DIY film screenings are a bit tricky to organise, when it comes to licensing the shorts and the venue and actually getting bums in seats but it was also a very rewarding experience.

Short Sighted: Are short form ‘Webisodes’ the new TV Pilot ?

Web Series have been causing waves online for some time. The web format allows for more flexibility and relies on a good understanding of short form story telling.

With shows like Drunk History and Broad City making the leap from Youtube to our TV screens. Broad City began as a web series, following the lives of two women living in New York, in 2009 and escalated into a critically acclaimed comedy TV Show.

To make the jump from internet to TV, it seems a web series needs two main factors: a pretty die-hard audience and the support from a celebrity. In the case of Broad City Amy Poehler came on board as an exec. producer.

Australian web series ‘Starting From…Now?’ (SFN)  has been picked up as a TV show and starts airing in March.  The series was seen by over 20 million people and has had 4 online seasons since it began in 2014. When it started it had low production values but a focus on story and the relationships between its central cast. The Show’s producer and star, Rosie Lourde, said that web series are important because “Lots of actors are unemployed and figuring out how to make their own content so platforms like YouTube and Vimeo are an easy way of honing skills and everyone gets a boost,” One of the wonderful things about the web is that producers aren’t geographically limited when it comes to finding audiences and SFN is a great example of this with loyal followers from the US, UK, France and Germany, as well as Australia itself.

Short Sighted: Recognition – new Emmy awards.

“Our industry is aggressively, quickly, and creatively evolving the various ways episodic stories are told, Our Board of Governors felt that this expansion of short-form categories begins the process of ensuring that Emmy-worthy creativity will be rewarded, irrespective of format or platform.”  Bruce Rosenblum, Television Academy Chairman and CEO

Short form content on the web has never been recognised by the Television Academy but this year, things are set to change. The Primetime Emmy Awards have expanded their short form categories to further acknowledge the dramatic growth of the work by people in the creation of short form content.  They categorise short-form programmes to have episodes that are 15 minutes or less and the new categories cover a variety of genres including comedy/drama, animation, variety and nonfiction/reality. There is also a new award for Outstanding Actor/Actress in a short form series. 

“These category changes reflect the broader opportunities that emerging networks and distribution platforms … are seizing in choosing innovative formats that enable our television community to share stories in novel and entertaining ways,” Rosenblum said.

Although the award will not be presented during the telecast in September (it will be given a week earlier at the Creative Arts Emmy Awards) it is still a major coup for the short form.  They will be peer-voted awards which allow Youtubers and Internet shows to be seen as professional, legitimate forms of entertainment for all. There are already awards recognising the work in this area such as the Webbys and the Streamys (both open to public voting) but the Emmys inclusion of this category is a real signifier of the changing landscape of media. Youtube stars such as Tyler Oakley are already expanding into television and Netflix original series. Youtubers are becoming as important, arguably more important, than traditional stars and this recognition has a big impact because it means the Academy is actively interested in representing changes in the media landscape. Creator driven short form content is a major force because of its accessibility for young audiences.  

“While we like to say awards don’t matter or that we think our fans are the real award, this kind of external, institutionalized recognition always makes you proud and a little more ambitious. I think this will help people start to understand what makes a good short form series and what excellent talent looks like.”Kathleen Grace, Chief Creative Officer at New Form Digital



References: 

http://www.emmys.com/news/press-releases/television-academy-expands-short-form-categories-and-increases-directing-and

http://www.wetheunicorns.com/news/youtube-emmys-awards-pewdiepie/

http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/new-emmy-rules-open-categories-872055

Short Sighted: Do we need a Shorts Category? Oscars 2016

According to the Academy’s guidelines, a short film is anything with a running time of 40 minutes or less (including credits).
The short film awards stem from the time short films were shown before feature length films at cinemas before the explosion of television and they were seen by a wider audience. Originally there were two different shorts categories, the first ‘Short subject – one reel’ and the second ‘short subject – two reel’. The categories were dependent solely on the number of reels of film used, generic factors were not taken into consideration.
But times have changed and the academy now has three categories for shorts: the short film branch administrates the animated and live-action shorts category awards whilst the documentary branch administers the documentary short subject award. Some academy members want to eliminate the shorts category in an effort reduce the overall run time of the televised Oscar ceremony. They argue that it is an outdated tradition, because we no longer see shorts before features in the cinema. It would however be a real shame for them to scrap the shorts awards. It is a category that student filmmakers can apply to, thanks to a clause in the academy’s regulations for the shorts categories. Although this year, no students took home the prize, Shorts are a crucial category for up-and-coming filmmakers as it gives them a chance to break into the industry.
The shorts that took home the awards this year:
Best Animated Short Film- Bear Story (11 mins)
Bear Story is the first Chilean film to win an Oscar and was produced by small Chilean independent production company Punkrobot Studios. It is a unique telling of the violent days in Chile under Pinochet’s control. Before Bear Story Gabriel Osorio had directed animated kids TV series Flipos but apart from that he has no major credits listed under his name. So for him to win the Oscar can really help establish himself further in the industry, proving how important the short awards can be in recognising future talent.
Best Documentary Short- A Girl in the River: the Price of Forgiveness (39 mins) 
A Girl in the River follows a girl in Pakistan who survived an ‘honour killing’. It was produced by HBO and was director’s Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy second Oscar (the first she received in 2012 winning for ‘Saving Face’.)

 

 

 

Best Live Action Short Film- Stutterer (12 mins)
Stutterer is the first film written, directed and edited by Irish Filmmaker Benjamin Cleary. Clearly was the only Irish nominee to take home the award. It explores the world of a man with a severe speech impediment as he tries to take his online relationships into the real world.