Networking is crucial to making it in the film industry, but what's the best way to go about it? Instead of sleeping your way up, make a "film like a love letter," DW found out at the Berlinale.
In German, having good connections is called "Vitamin B." "B" stands for "Beziehung," or "relationship." While some cynics might claim those film industry relationships have to include some bedroom scenes to boost your career, there are fortunately a lot better ways to get ahead in a field that may seem impossible to break into.
DW's Elizabeth Grenier visited the Berlinale Talents at the Berlin International Film Festival to find out what words of wisdom are being passed down to the next generation of film industry movers and shakers.
1. Make a strong product.
That may be easier said than done, but it's still a must. "You need a good track record," said producer Raymond Phathanavirangoon. The 300 participants of the Berlinale Talents program certainly fulfill this requirement. These talented young people from 79 countries were selected among over 2,500 applicants on the basis of their work as actors, cinematographers, composers, directors, distributors, editors, film critics, producers, production designers, sales agents, screenwriters, and sound designers.
Some of these emerging film creatives already have extremely impressive works to show. For example, the cinematographer Friede Clausz who shot the German film "24 Weeks," selected for the official competition of this year's Berlinale, is also among the participants.
2. Find people you trust.
Picking up on the main theme of the event, Raymond Phathanavirangoon, who is specialized in Asian networks, started his talk by stating: "This whole industry is based on relations." Even a renowned misanthropist like the visionary Hungarian filmmaker Béla Tarr couldn't have made his films without outside help, he added.
"Find people you trust," Phathanavirangoon therefore recommended, though he admitted that the hardest part is actually finding these people. He personally found his first mentors by doing an internship preparing the film catalogue for a festival, and his hard work was noticed - it eventually led him to become director of marketing at Fortissimo Films and programmer for the Toronto and Hong Kong International Film Festivals.
Similarly, the producer and festival director Paulo de Carvalho said one must go beyond superficial first impressions and build true human relations. "Now that I'm getting white hair, I may be wiser - I choose the people I want to work with more carefully," he said. Through discussions that go beyond promoting your latest film project on art, aesthetic visions and world perspectives, for example, you might have more chances of finding a better match to develop a creative project with other people.
Every day at the "Early Birds Breakfast," all the Berlinale Talents who've survived the film festival's countless late-night parties can meet in the morning and kick off their day with a fresh breakfast. By their second espresso, they've already had the opportunity to build deeper relations than many sales agents desperately trying to hand out their business cards after a five-minute spiel throughout the film festival.
3. Join a community of Talents.
Berlinale Talents has also instituted Talents International, a series of similar initiatives throughout the world. There are now Talents programs in Tokyo, Sarajevo, Guadalajara, Durban, Buenos Aires, and Beirut. These opportunities focus on the emerging talents in selected regions of the world.
Estrella Araiza was among the participants at the Berlinale Talents in 2012 and is now a film distributor and head of industry at the Guadalajara film market in Mexico. Also involved in Guadalajara Talents, she recommends going to film markets for networking, which are specialized industry events that often take place during film festivals.
The European Film Market is held during the Berlin International Film Festival. Considered the "business epicenter of the Berlinale," 8,400 producers, buyers, sales agents, distributors, and financiers meet there to make deals.
The Berlinale Talents also get special access to this insider's circle, as they are invited to meet industry representatives to discuss their projects through the Berlinale Talents Market Hub specially organized for them.
4. Go outside your bubble.
As a producer, Raymond Phathavirangoon is specialized in unusual co-production combinations. He's now working on a Thai-German-Norwegian co-production, and his other current film project combines funds from France, Hong Kong, Qatar, Singapore, and Germany. He definitely has the street cred when he advises newcomers to "go outside your bubble."
He also recommends finding out the tastes of festivals - for example, the Berlinale isn't into horror films, whereas it is renowned for selecting socially-committed movies. Once a movie finds its niche, it will be easier for people who are interested in such films to discover it.
Although Phathavirangoon says he doesn't have time to watch unsolicited films he receives from people he doesn't know, he nevertheless likes to explore short films sections in festivals. Based on these first works, the producer can determine if further collaborations should be established.
5. Be brave; take matters into your own hands.
Elias Ribeiro's advice is to take unusual initiatives to create networks, "to be brave and to shake audiences." The credentials of this enterprising young producer of Brazilian origin demonstrate that's exactly what he's been doing.
Ribeiro moved to Johannesburg in 2010 to do an MA in film production and launched his production company, Urucu Media, in 2011. One of the films he produced afterwards, "Necktie Youth," about a group of affluent, young, drug-fueled friends from the suburbs of Johannesburg, was selected by several film festivals in 2015 and won many prizes. Since then, he's created a new seven-week residency program for African screenwriters called Realness, where he hopes to nurture and promote the cinematic vision of the continent's most promising writing talents.
Incidentally, Ribeiro was also one of the Berlinale Talents in 2015.
6. Be free to do the films you feel like doing.
Giving a keynote before the participants divided into small groups around the different guests, Jean-Pierre Bekolo, a renowned director from Cameroon, offered the most radical advice: Just forget all typical recommendations you'll get from experts in the business and be free.
He believes the film industry in its current form no longer reflects the world we live in. Instead of following formal workshops on scriptwriting - "which still talk about using Courier 12 as a font" - or on audiences and markets, one should focus on making films about the world from a personal perspective.
The world has changed so much since the current tax-financed, million-dollar film structures were established; it is therefore time to develop new platforms to allow people to be the filmmakers they want to be, Bekolo says. In this era of social media, forget about audience, he adds. "Maybe you should make a film for one person, like when you write a love letter."
Berlinale Talents is a six-day program of talks, project labs, mentoring sessions and networking events with renowned experts in the industry. Now in its 14th edition, this year's motto is "The Nature of Relations." Some talks are open to the public, such as the one given by actress Meryl Streep, but many other events are exclusive to the Talents.
DW attended one of their Talents Circles, a daily event where participants move from one expert to the other for short talks. The guests focused on the main theme of the program for this circle called "Nature of Relations Day - The Future Networks of Film."