Category: Media News

Sundance Film Festival London 2021 – Preview

London – 27 July 2021

This morning saw the opening preview presentation for this years Sundance Film Festival London 2021. Although the festival normally runs from Thursday to Sunday night, today was a chance to get to know the selection of films, shorts programs and masterclasses that will engage and delight lovers of independent cinma and maybe make us feel a little more cofatable about going to the cinema.

This year is an in person event (hence the move from it usual May slot) and three of the feature films and the opening night film will be ‘touring’ the UK at select cinemas across the country throught the festival.

After an opening speach from Adrian Wootton OBE, Chief Executive of Film London and Head of the British Film Commission reminding us not to lose faith and that the UK film sector is as strong as ever espcially in the areas of production, we were given a run down of the festival and the films from festival producer Mia Bays who also currently runs the amazing “Birds Eye View” and Clare Binns, Joint Managing Director of Picturehouse Cinemas.

With an exciting selection of films this year it is hard to make recomendations but I know that the opening night film ‘The Sparks Brothers’ by Edgar Wright, closing night film ‘@Zola’ and documentry ‘Writing With Fire’ are high up there on the list. Other stand outs included ‘Censor’, ‘The Nest’ and the HBO purchased doc ‘In The Same Breath’ which will not be shown in cinemas after the festival so this weekend is a great chance to catch this groundbreaking exspose on the large screen.

I will blog over the next few days with news and views so do stay posted for more from the festival.

Viewtorch Pictures co-produced short film ‘A Midwinter Nights Dream’ breaks cover for a private screening at BAFTA

The short fantasy epic ‘A Midwinter Nights Dream’, directed by Martin Gooch was given a private screening at BAFTA Saturday 25th May 2019 as part of the ‘Hole In The Road screening initiative to a packed house.

Executively produced in part by Viewtorch Pictures and co-produced with Gothic Manor and Eddy Out Productions, the film was made as part of the Directors UK and Arri UK Trinity challenge where select directors were charged to direct a short ‘one shot’, one take movie using the Arri  Trinity stabilization system.

Ambitious looking and breathtaking the film captures the true essence of how Viewtorch Pictures will engage audiences as well as highlighting the deeply creative mind of Martin Gooch, directing his fearlessly imaginative short film to open this small window into the magical world beyond the shadows.

Considering the fact that the whole film takes place in one shot or one take it goes to show that it is possible to bring a hugely different world to the screen outside of the normal confines of ‘one take’ filmmaking.

A Midwinter Nights Dream has been submitted for a number of festivals of the coming year and we will bring news of where it can be seen as soon as possible.

Broadcast Indie Survey 2019 reveal and lessons for the solo media entrepreneur

The 19thof March 2019 marked the preview release of this year’s Broadcast magazines Indie Survey at the Southbank Centre and it opened up an can of worms for the upcoming “Streaming Wars” as I have named it but also shed light on the fact that the broadcast industry in content production and sales is still moving upwards.

So, the money generated by the indie television sector has grown by 12% to £2.8bn overall but with this rise shows a trend towards the bigger indie production companies getting bigger mainly due to the global deals that they make.

Talking of big companies, All 3 Media and for the first time ahead of Endemol/Shine, but only by a pinch and with the renewed focus of UK regional and national companies due to Channel 4 move away from London, the top 30 regional indie production companies account for £317 million in revenues. Another interesting fact is that a lot of the production companies who took part in the survey feel that competition in getting commission has risen and not just from the traditional playing in the market but also from far smaller and less established companies as well.

Diversity also played a part in the survey revealing that although the on-screen representation of people from under-represented groups was up on last year, off-screen talent actually fell from the numbers reported in the previous 12 months. This worrying trend is most notable not only in the areas of people of colour but also in the areas of age and class pointing to a possible “close network of friends” and “it is who you know” that determines career starts or progression in the television industry.

Other takeaways include the fact that 66% of the industry feel Brexit will have no impact on their core business and the aforementioned streaming companies and “F.A.N.G’s” (Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, Google) and their new upcoming rivals has changed the way that business is done as well as change the flow of income.

All of this was confirmed via the two sets of talks during the morning preview with Sara Geater from All3Media, Richard Johnston of Endemol Shine UK, Camilla Lewis from Curve Media and Suzy Dark of Naked Television talking about the ‘State of the Nation’. Stephen McQuillan from Icon Films, Rick Murray of Workerbee and Mair Davies from Avanti Media also picked up this subject but expanded the view to talk about the new focus of ‘Regions and Nations’ commissioning.

The state of the nation opened up the debate with Sara Geater reminding us that business is good and it is talent and good stories that make the world go round. Richard pointed out that non-scripted has grown both locally and internationally over the last two year but the market for content buyers has also grown from 3 or 4 companies to around 10-15. This could be due to more companies needing content for their platform via the internet but that is just the best guess. Camilla and Susie pointed to the up and down nature of the business when trying to win commissions from the expanded range of competition but Susie was confident that new format will continue to be a business builder. The first panel all agreed that although there are more buyers the growth in competition from other indies is a challenge.

Other points came out of this first panel relating to the streaming companies that I will touch in other articles.

The ‘Nations and Regions’ panel touch on some of the same growth areas but also showed that the move by Channel 4 to spread their offices to other regional locations may not lead to the increase in regional commissioning.

There is way too much information for just one article but I wanted to highlight how this all may seem like an opportunity for the solo-entrepreneur.

With the need for content not slowing down it has to be noted that because you are not established, it does not mean that your idea or program format has no place. There are places for your show or idea but it may not be with the big broadcasters and it may not start in the UK either.

If you are a lone media player protect your IP at all costs. In this day and age of increased competition comes the real risk of losing out due to an unprotected idea being “adapted” by a more established player. Despite what may be said otherwise it is still a risk not worth taking.

Make your sizzle reels, get those meeting, and partner with other companies but until your company has a real foothold, be bold but also be wise.

IGTV is a thing now but some creators still have a lot to learn

I have spent the last few days scanning videos from IGTV and I must say that on the whole I’m quite impressed by this attempt to bring portrait video as a form of mass entertainment to the public.

One thing that struck me earlier on was the compression that Instagram uses on the uploaded videos to allow for seamless playback. It is quite aggressive but I do believe that most viewers, strangely in this day and age of 4K video, will not complain as they have been using the stories function on Instagram for a while now and have come to expect this level of picture quality and bit rate. 

However, one thing that I feel won’t be tolerated is lazy editing. 

Yes, we want to get our videos out there as quickly as possible and yes, we do want a constant stream of content but not at the cost of a little pre-planning and forethought. 

It all comes down to three simple words from the legacy 4:3 ratio television days. Pan and scan.

The process was simple enough. In order to fit a cinemascope image from say a large Hollywood blockbuster movie for example to a square 4:3 television screen when the film was copied to video the machines they used to ‘video’ the film would move around the frame of the image to get the fit so you would see the actor who was talking at any given time or follow the action without it moving away from your field of view. 

Mainly, this worked and we were able to enjoy the movie without wondering why I am hearing someone speak but I cannot see them. 

I watched a segment from 5 News in the UK and whoever edited that video should know this. Throughout the piece, the two people being interviewed could not be seen but could be heard. This was an example of the very poor use of the IGTV platform. 

Most video editing programs have settings and functions for not only the screen ratio but also allows you to zoom across the imagesbyou are editing and in a fluid way that will follow the action on screen. 

Yes, it takes a little longer to edit but the results are worth it. 

If you want to win in the world of content creation just a small change such as panning and scanning your widescreen footage (if you have not filmed in portrait) will create far more engaging viewing experiences. 

The BUFF Awards 2018

Yesterday saw the start of the British Urban Film Festival 2018 which has been my go-to event in London for nearly a decade. It is always a pleasure to catch up with the great and the good of independent, diverse cinema.

This year saw the BUFF Awards 2018 being held at the Genesis Cinema in East London. A mecca for anyone who wants to bathe in its long and deep cinema history as well as catch movies way beyond most distributors reach.

It was a great way to start the festival as I assume once the glamour of the awards is out of the way then you can concentrate on showing great films for the rest of the week. And great films were mentions with my highlight from last year ‘Free In Deed’ starting David Harewood picking up a few awards including Best Actor. Best Actress for Edwina Finley in the same film as well as the Best Feature and ‘We Are Moses’ picking up the Best Short Film award as well as many others.

This year sees BUFF become film producers as well as its ‘BUFF Originals’ title ‘No Shade’. This puts BUFF in a similar vein to the work of Sundance to help encourage and nurture new talent on and off the screen and provide a creative well beyond the festivals screening program.

Amma Asante was also in attendance to receive the BUFF Honorary Recipient award.

So all in all talent new and established were awarded reminding us all that there is no time like the present to go out there and make your voice heard in the world of movies.

What was and ‘What Next?’ from the Sundance Film Festival London 2018

You know me (or maybe you don’t) but I do love a film festival. The chance to see films that would have no release or a limited run in cinemas as well as taking in short films from new talent is the main draw. Add to that the talks and networking opportunities plus the possibilities of a party or two and you have a great event to look forward to.

We start our journey from last Thursday to Sunday (31 May – 3 June) in the now familiar surroundings of the Picturehouse Central cinema in London’s West End where the stage was set for the 2018 Sundance Film Festival London and a second chance for those lucky enough to go to the main festival in Utah to either catch up on what they missed, see some films again for a second time or just to soak in the atmosphere of festival life for a few days in a warmer climate.

Day one style confusion and fuss in setting up a festival is underway as I go to collect my industry pass on Thursday but this is to be expected as the Picturehouse is a working cinema and quite non-stop when it comes to it normal screening schedule. The day for me started with a talk on short film strategies when submitting to Sundance and Mike Plante who programs for the festivals shorts screenings gave a lively if an honest account of not only the process he goes through but also the scale and the type of submissions he and his team receive.

In total there is a core team of 6 people that dig through the, on average, 9500 submissions with an extra 4 to 5 people Mike can call on once the submissions have been split into categories. With the quality of shorts ranging from home videos of kids doing talent stunts filmed by their parents for the sole purpose of hoping it will make their kids famous to fully realised cinematic mini-epics, it can take 7 plus months to whittle this number down to 350 ready to shortlist for the shorts strands in the festival.

The takeaways from this talk taught me that short impactful stories (try not to make a 20 min film) really grab the attention of the programmers. Not just punchy stories but films which will affect the audience emotionally either through thought or laughter. Better still if you have a 1-4 minute film that may put it in front of a feature which is great exposure for any new talent.

The other talks on short films were given by the Film London team where in the case of one of the filmmakers talking the point of his short was to try and promote a feature story, almost like a proof of concept.

The theme for the Sundance London this year is ‘What Next?’ relating to gender inequality and this played a big part in the festival not only in the talks but in the fact that 58% of the films presented at this festival were directed by women. No small feat even in this day and age. Inclusivity, as highlighted during the Film Hub London brunch and talks hosted by Film London reminded us that all areas of the media industry still have quite a way to go to bring real opportunities and real change to their gates. All of the causes of inequality must receive equal footing.

One thing that needs highlighting is that BAME audiences still rely on word of mouth recommendation when it comes to going to the movies. How that works in a digital marketing world is going to be key to building new and younger audiences for cinemas.

In my opinion, I feel the cinema space itself needs to change to reflect the ever-changing attention spans of not only the young but incorporate more of a community feel for more established cinema-goers. This in part came up during the Film Hub brunch as John Cooper the director of the festival explained the need for festivals to be more competitive in the current marketplace.

The actual ‘What Next’ talk gave insights into the production and acquisition process of movies from a female perspective with representatives from BBC Film, Film Four and Film London explaining as best possible that the film projects they choose are brave choices and have nothing to do with any quota system real or imagined. The talk became a bit awkward when two ladies in the audience asked about the thinking behind funding Idris Elba’s directorial debut ‘Yardie’ where the audience members accused BBC Film of continuing to highlight stereotypical images of black people. This was soon batted away by Eva Yates of BBC Films reminding us all as filmmakers that it is about the story first and nothing more.

Adobe, Gourmet Burger Kitchen, Mayfair Hotel (who hosted the first party of the festival) and many others took up the mantle of festival sponsors and this made Sundance London for the filmmakers and visitors very comfortable indeed.

I only got a chance to see a few films with Yardie, The Tale, American Animals (Surprise Film) and Leave No Trace being the highlights for me. The UK Shorts and Sundance Shorts Tours were very eye-opening and entertaining.

At the end of it all and with one lively and sweaty party on Sunday night (I think the AC at the Picturehouse Central may have broken) I can say with confidence that Sundance London is one of the best ways to catch up on a great selection of films if you are unable to make the pilgrimage to Utah.

The Festival Diary – it’s emotional

So onward the festival weekend went and with no screening at the Southbank it was once again off to Piccadilly to harvest the best that Raindance can offer. Luckily, due to a little festival burn out I had decided to take the easy route and commune with other wary soul journeying through the desert of creative thought.
So after a quick visit to the Raindance cafe it was back to the cinema to see ‘Hinterland’, a slow burning road movie it which not a lot happens but says more than most movies about our relationships and how they sometimes “devolve” over time. It has a real charm about it which makes the end note of the movie far more touching than a lot of movies which try to force an emotional response on you.
After another long gap the movie ‘Cesar Chavez’ dealt out a history lesson on the civil rights leader who changed the way in which migrant workers were paid and treated. It has some stand out moments but in the main the story is told in quite a straight forward fashion considering the stella cast assembled which goes to prove that, although this was not a bad movie, A big name cast does not guarantee a big emotional experience.
And talking of emotion the last film I saw on Saturday was meant to be shown as part of the Raindance MA short film program. ‘Beyond The Cage’ tells the story of two MMA fighters Alex Reid and Tony Giles as they prepare to fight each other in a match. The impression I had of the sport and of the individuals involved were shattered into pieces as they explained their prep method but also their highly emotional reason for their drive towards fighting. Tony spoke in a mini Q&A after and I really get now how personal struggle can work for and at time against you but his drive and determination plus his endless support he feel from his son to do better has left a deep emotional crater that will be hard to fill for a long time.
Sunday mornings shorts program offered some light and shade with the stand out film ‘Mr Invisible’ a bench mark of things to come from the film making team.
The feature ‘Fourever’ showed the darker side of long term friendships (a theme that has ran through the festival on and off screen as of late) with the main protagonist tricking his friends into a home party situation with disastrous consequences. A very slow starting moving at first and a technically difficult film to watch it eventually fumbled its way to some very “ah-ha!” moments later on down the line. Then after more networking and my second hot meal of the festival I took in the music documentary ‘Take Me To The River’ which open our eyes to the joy and pain of the Memphis music scene and it’s bi-directional effects on the wider community. A gala screening packaged with a Gig at the 100 Club made the night worth the headache the next day.

Bouncing back to the BFI on the Southbank Monday morning and the morning screening of ‘Kelly & Cal’ show the more surreal way in which love and infatuation knows no bounds. Even if the one of the would be lovers are physical bound through disability the story still wrapped us in a realistic but cute version of suburban hell.
Meanwhile after a quick Raindance cafe pitstop I sat through the UK Funds talk which still had some supprises even for me. The comedy ‘Down Dog’ with Nick Moran told the story of a man wrongly told he has a year to live who decides to try and turn his life around and reconnect with his son. Funny. Not laugh out loud funny in my view but the kind of comedy that I am sure Sky TV will lap up.
After a very short breather I was invited to the screening of the new Richwater film ‘We Still Kill The Old Way’, a comically at time dark tale of revenge and urban gangland style warfare with the older generation taking on a careless youth gang. For me it was a welcome break from the claustrophobia a festival environment can be. Also. They ran out of space at the ‘Boozin N Smoozin’ event so at least I was left completely out in the cold. Not that anyone would purposeful do such a thing……would they?

To round off this diary entry quickly both screening at BFI, ‘Queen and Country’ as well as ‘NAS -Time Is iLLmatic’ we’re both fresh and worthy of the bouncing around between the Sourhback and Piccadilly.
At Raindance and my film choices were not going well. Both ‘The Ninth Cloud’ with Michael Madsen and the later screening from Sadie Frost ‘Buttercup Bill’ were too out there for words. Luckily the Gala screening of the Manchester United mockumentary ‘United We Fall’ round the day off with at least one hit on planet Raindance.

It has been a weird few days during this festival time as the highs and lows of people energy can draw blood if we are not careful. Film can be a very emotional medium both on screen and especially off screen…..if you let it.

The Festival Diary – it’s all a blur.

For me it’s that time of year where I step away from the overcooked laptop and see what daylight looks like. With the BFI industry screenings (which I can’t talk about, even though I have just mentioned it) and The 22nd Raindance Film Festival plus The London Film Festival bring up the rear it is going to a busy 4 weeks for sure.

So after a couple of days enjoying the calm that is The BFI NFT scenes on the southbank I readied myself for the un-plannable but for me, over planned Raindance Festival.
Dubbed by me as the only festival my wife lets me go to Raindance is not just about cramming In as many films in a day as humanly possible despite my best efforts but it is about meeting with like minded people who you can connect with on one level or another.

The opening gala which featured the film ‘I Origins’, a film I was planning to see when released in the UK, gave us the promise of the festival. That promise being an open window into films you would normally not get a chance to see either for a long time or not at all.

The after party was a chance to let off some steam, catch up with your festival crew and network with what will be the new festival buddies. As well as that the Roland Gift set blew my sock off. He sang and performed like the true gift he is.

With only four hours sleep to my name the first full day of the festival gave me my first film ‘The Word’ from Poland (showing again on Sunday 28th Sept – 6:00pm). A story of teen angst and murder it demonstrates once again that Poland do not skimp on quality. The second film of my day was ‘The Beat Beneath My Feet’ with Luke Perry staring. A mix of musical and drama was executed in an original fashion (showing again Sunday 4th Oct) made me sit up and listen not only to the songs but the message as a few difficult subject was wrapped in an inventive but popular format.
Last of that day was the ‘Children Of the Sun’ gala screening. A loving, dreamy tone poem wraps this drama about a family trying to escape the local mafia. The after show drinks helped to wake me from the shockingly airy way the conclusion was played out.

Friday morning and after taking in The film ’71’ at BFI I proceeded to head back to the festival to see ‘Gregor’ which contains an “N word” joke which spent way too much time to dig itself out of a hole. Luckily I had a get out clause with the Raindance MA student screenings which showed three short but could not show the forth due to a technical error. With luck it gave us a chance to speak to all of the filmmakers and a few star in the form of MMA fighters including Alex Reed. I can truly say my perception of the sport and the sportsmen involved has change for the positive and especially catching up with one of the fighters (Chi) I now have a new sport to follow.
After a brief munchy I had the pleasure of meeting up with my fest buddies and catching the screening of ‘Show Pieces’ short film trilogy. This Alan Moore/Mitch Jenkins collaborative work deals with the regret and guilt (yeah I said it) of passing into the afterlife. As well as this superb eye opening thriller hitting me with shock and humour in equal measure the Q&A afterwards with Alan and crew was just as irreverent.

I feel uplifted and tired. And it is only a week into the festival and screenings. I look forward to more energy giving cinema over the coming weeks. Also, if you are reading this in time for the Raindance Film Festival my motto is simple. Book, get passes……Go!!

Raindance has begun…

So tonight sees the opening gala of the 22nd Raindance Film Festival. I will be there (in body at least with only 4 hours sleep in my bones) enjoying 10 days of eye opening and awe inspiring movies short and tall.
I will try and maintain a daily short report but for now, I hope to see you there.