By Peter Galvin
We talk to three prize-winning graduates from 2016 about finding an audience for their films and their career pathways.
Professional filmmakers often debate the question: what’s harder? Getting a film made? Or getting it out into the world, so an audience can see it?
The question is just as important for emerging filmmakers. In the best imaginable outcome a successful festival appearance can lead to career development – a contract with a production company, prize money, recognition, or a distribution deal.
Still, there are practical hurdles to consider. There are literally 1000s of festivals available to the filmmaker, both traditional and online and just working through the options costs time and making submissions can end up costing money, too.
“I think it’s really important to be selective [and strategic] when considering where to send your film,” suggests Jonathan Wilhelmsson, who graduated in the SFS Advanced Diploma in December, after specialising in editing. His major project, Waltzing Tilda, a spectacular post-apocalyptic comedy-fantasy, laden with intricate visual effects, which he wrote and directed, earned him the Best Director prize at the SFS Festival last month.
Wilhelmsson explains that he will, alongside Tilda’s producer SFS AD graduate Raquel Linde (who shared the best producer prize) will be seeking out ‘niche’ and ‘destination’ film festivals for their film – that is those events that specialise in showcasing a certain kind of cinema. “In our case we will look at sci-fi, fantasy and comedy,” he said.
Adds Linde: “I think its really important to research and research before sending off your film.”
It’s about finding the right audience for your film, she says. SFS has a mechanism in place in order to deal with festivals and advice available from industry experts like Nick Szmidt, a distribution specialist, but Linde believes that filmmakers need to take a ‘hands-on’ approach in the goal of getting their film into the world.
Linde who left school in 2010 came to Australia at the start of 2016 from her native Spain to study at SFS after earning a BA in film and working as a fashion photographer. Her AD major work, Atomic Garden, an ambitious and poetic film, won the Best Thesis prize at the SFS festival in December.
She said that distribution is like any other aspect of filmmaking: it’s about being sensitive to the complex subtleties of each element and working as a team.
Originally from a small town in Sweden called Mockfjard, Wilhelmsson first came to Australia in 2010 for the SFS Diploma straight after graduating high school. Since then he has returned to Scandinavia where he setup a small business specialising in editing and visual effects. He came back to Australia in January 2016 to complete the AD. Now he plans to stay here and develop Waltzing Tilda into a feature with Linde.
Wilhelmsson says that initially there was some scepticism about the achievability of Waltzing Tilda, a view shared by staff and students. This only made him more determined: “I think it’s important to aim high…it forces you to be better.” He says it’s a credit to his cohort, Linde and the School, that in the end, he was given full support. A demonstration, he says, of the community culture of SFS.
Petra Lovrencic, AD producing graduate who shared the Best Producer prize with Linde and fellow graduate Afreenish Shahid agrees that SFS is a ‘safe space’ to explore, challenge and define one’s filmmaking practice: “We could be as ambitious as we could be,” she says of Ill Rittorno, a melodrama about betrayal and revenge set in a remote province in the Fascist Italy of the 1930s, which she produced.
Written and directed by AD graduate Alex Giblin, the film, says Lovrencic, had enormous logistical and practical issues to resolve not the least of which was the choice of making the film using Italian dialogue: a language not shared by any of the key crew members!
“I think the mistake I made during the production was taking on too much,” she says now. “I learned to delegate and the importance of lining up the production with the vision so everyone is making the same film. It was the hardest film I was involved with…and the most rewarding.”
Lovrencic who left school in 2004 has been in the work force (specialising in human resources) since 2005 and came to SFS two years ago wanting to write and direct. What she found was a vocation: “It was the first time in my life where I had to really work hard at something.” Her own film as writer/director Tesla, Revisited! won an audience prize at the festival in December.
Last Spring Lovrencic joined the SFS community as a staff member. She accepted the role of Executive Producer of the SFS Studio. “The role is about sourcing clients, pitching ideas to clients, writing treatments, organising shoots,” she explains.
Her advice now to grads and film students is to see distribution and festival going as part of career development: “Part of the reason you enter your film in a festival is to actually get to the festival!”
Festivals are an important opportunity to network, she says. It’s a chance to meet other filmmakers and share experience and insights.
Big festivals are attractive because of their visibility, and they are hotly competitive as a result. But sometimes a large international festival can demand exclusivity based on territory and region (that is, a film can be disqualified if its already been screened by a similar festival in the same city, and or/country.) This is where the film student needs to read the small print, when selecting a festival, says Lovrencic.
“I think when you are new to the industry you really need to take every chance – in makes sense to enter your film into as many festivals as you can,” she says. “Its far more achievable than just focusing on getting into ‘the Big One’.”