July is hot. She turns a sultry curve midway through her journey, slinks winks a longlashed eye over her shoulder and moves relentlessly in mesmerizing slow steps.
July never breaks sweat. But you do. You burn. You feel the temperature grinding at you while you show that inane rictus show of teeth for the neighbours and head off to work da treadmill for da man. July knows. She knows it’s easier to bitch about workin’ for da man than relax, relax completely, surrender to the moment, give in to the Now and maybe anticipate the innocent charms of August.
So off you go to your interview, black jeans and grey jacket getting ahead of casual but just a bit behind smart. Comfortable enough to feel like you’re not doing this one for da man. Personally I felt the interview went really well. These always start strangely at the BBC and this one was no exception. They kept me waiting 45 minutes and were a bit stoney faced to start with but they thawed after a few minutes and were actually laughing at some of my humour by the end. I took this as a good sign.
Questions questions. Why do you want this position? What can you offer? When have you dealt with discipline? What’s one of your highest achievements? Tell us about your most recent film. I’d been to the Big Website Of Standard Interview Questions so I was ready. I talked a good talk and they said they’d be phoning people the next week. That was two weeks ago. It seems they were talking the other kind of talk.
Well then, it looks as if someone else got that position then. Rats. However, I dropped the interviewers an email this morning saying thanks for the meet and volunteering to help out some other way because it’s such a good project teaching kids aged 13-19 the skills of film makingething I’ve done many times before while making a series of programmes for terrestrial TV. As it happens, I’ve actually been a volunteer with this particular project for the past year as an Expert Advisor. Which looks very good on my CV.
July, of course, has done all this before. Year after year after year. Frying brains and making people sweat. She knows you’ll never surrender but she’s still got to challenge you because a peaceful existence isn’t part of the Faustian pact you made before you were born. It’s in your nature to fight the treadmill until it makes you drop and finally realise the workhouse ethic got overlaid on meshed in with your struggling soul’s perception of the world, conditioning you. Once you realise that, you’ll be ready to move on, into fall with a spring in you step. But not yet. First there’s a grant application to do.
You repeatedly phone Eastern Screen to try to talk to the production person about drawing up a distribution strategy. Brrrrrringgg! Everything else is done. Brrrrrringgg! The script is now reasonable, you have a treatment drawn up and you’ve costed out the whole thing in Excel. Brrrringgg! In the valley of the previously done budget, the cut and paste spreadsheet is king. You’ve got a budget for production on 16mm, postproduction on DigiBeta and a 35mm film print. There’s even a budget for distribution and marketing. Ah yes, distribution and marketing…
The distribution strategy. You cobble together a rough plan and then more or less forget about it. Or you would if you didn’t already have two 35mm prints sitting around waiting for an audience, recognition and cult followings. One flies round the world under the power of dozens of festival applications while the other sits on your staircase. It sits there as blissfully ignorant and just as pushed back as the distribution thoughts at the back of your mind, the nagging reminders almost buried by the research for your job interview.
But then, suddenly somehow it’s the job interview research that makes it happen when your surfing takes you to the British Film Institute website.
July still has things to show you. Many things. She has the wisdom of years of experience while August, dear sweet young thing, she’s ignorant. Tomorrow’s promise to be born into more naivete than yesterday could have ever imagined. But that is a world yet to be. Right now behind you a choir of heavenly voices breaks into song as the BFI hands you a free guide to distribution and marketing which you download and print out, 84 pages of invaluable insights and contacts at zero cost on da man’s laser printer.
Thus it comes to pass, dear reader, that I have a distribution strategy. It takes some checking some of the information is out of date but much of it is good. Highlights include what materials to prepare in advance for distribution, most of which I knew about, clearances, stills, synopsis and biographies, plus what to include in a press kit, which has been a mystery.
Then there’s the whole strategy. Stagger release dates and use embargoes to maximise revenue from each platform before moving the film to the next showcasetivals first, then theatres, pay television, video and finally free television. Yes, I kind of knew this too, but it focusses the mind.
When it comes to finding theatric venues for a short, the bfi book had info about sales agents (who haven’t got back to me), independent distributors (hooray!), independent threatres in the UK, the National and Regional Film Theatres (hooray!), and film societies00 groups in Britain all working along the lines of the Lost Film Festival. The bfi’s list of important festivals for shorts turned out to have a few red herrings (eg. Toronto doesn’t show shorts made outside Canada), but easily verified.
So, I have a strategy written up and ready to roll. I plan to use some of this information to get Last Train and Fate & Fortune shown, so I already started making calls. As usual it turns out that imdb is an invaluable resource and there’s also the Film Distributors Association who have a miserable snotty man who deigns to answer their phone and condescends to give me their unguessable web address . But now I have it. There it is. And I’ve also got a contact for the body representing all those 300 film societies. Glory be.
I swivel on the chair and reflect. Time passes and… Brrrrrinnnggg! I eventually get through to Eastern Screen who further verify my facts. The Lux has gone into receivership which means I have to change the line which says where I’ll be hiring a cheap camera but another phone call reveals they’re still going to be doing some distribution.
I take time out to meet my production designer and the characters become more real in my mind as we discuss the look of this project. I come up with a funny idea for a micro-short to use the three minutes worth of stock in my fridge and throw the rest of my thoughts into the grant form ready to go tomorrow. Another day, another five thousand. Can it really be this much work and yet this simple? Of course it is.
July blinks in wonder at my ability to make the world turn through sheer willpower and all the time August sits there, beckoning me on. Ahh, August. Boy, is she in for a surprise. But not half the surprise September is going to get.