The Worldwide Short Film Festival Toronto 2008 or How I Tried to Sell My Film in Toronto
In June 2008 the Worldwide Shortfilm Festival occurred for the 14th time in Toronto. A total of 268 films from 31 countries were represented in 12 competitions and various special programmes. The special programmes were dedicated to Japanese animation, VIP shorts as well as European short films among others.
My film WIE ICH EIN FREIER REISEBEGLEITER WURDE (HOW I BECAME A TOUR GUIDE) was screened as part of the “The New Europe” programme at a multiplex in downtown Toronto. The audience obviously included a lot of locals who asked a surprising amount of questions. Since I was the only filmmaker from this programme present, the questions were primarily about my film and the conditions faced by short film in Germany.
Aside from the local audiences, the festival also appeals heavily to buyers such as global distribution companies, other distributors, short film broadcasters and so forth. As a participant in the festival, you not only noticed this through the film market belonging to the festival – which is supposed be the largest in North America for short films – but also due to the receptions and parties which happen on a daily basis. The Movieola Happy Hour for instance takes place directly next door to the film festival centre, drawing festival organisers, buyers, filmmakers and other festival guests for relaxed conversations. The organiser of that happy hour is the Toronto-based television broadcaster Movieola whose content consists exclusively of short films.
The concept behind Movieola of running a television channel that only screens short films in times of overfull appointment calendars and shrinking attention spans naturally caught my attention, which is why I even visited the headquarters of the broadcaster in Toronto. Doing so I learned from the programming director Shane Smith that Movieola, as the first station in the entire world to only shows short films, went on air in Canada in 2002 – with the idea of being for short films what MTV was for music. Shane told me in a personal meeting that when selecting the content for Movieola, what he looks for most of all is whether the films have a good idea, whether they tell a good story. The films do not have to look spotless, as though they had a million dollar budget and were shot on 35 mm or HD. At Movieola they are easily able to overlook image quality that is not quite up to the highest standard. But what he as programme director could not accept however was bad sound and bad directing of the actors. Most of the films broadcast by the station are 5 to 20 minutes long. And that is also the preferred length: 20 minutes or less. Films of the most varied genres are broadcast, from the most varied countries in the whole world. Most films however came from the USA and Canada, followed by Great Britain, Germany and France.
After Shane had shared all this information about the short film channel with me, I thought that my film might also fit into their programme as well. But before I offered Shane the film directly, I still wanted to find out who watches the Movieola’s content and where you can even receive the station. Not without pride Shane then explained to me that Movieola is broadcast across all of Canada, and can also be watched on mobile phones as well as on the internet. And furthermore it can be watched high in the sky, for it is part of Air Canada’s on-board programme. In total, about one million households in Canada could watch Movieola. Most of them discovered the broadcaster as part of a programme block bundled together with feature film stations. And once they had stumbled on the station, it was usually love at first sight. Shane knows that because the newly smitten tell him so in emails, saying how they never knew how much quality was to be found in the short films from all over the world. When they think of short films, most people think of the badly made rubbish they know from You Tube.
However Shane seldom buys the broadcasting rights of the films himself. He prefers to leave the complicated contracts to be regulated by a professional film distribution company.
When I offered him my film for purchasing, he sent me to Ouatmedia. Ouatmedia is a film distributor that is a sister company of Movieola. Both of them have their headquarters in the same building. Thus it was no problem for Shane to introduce me to the Ouatmedia employee Stephanie Despierres who explained to me that Ouatmedia was divided into different departments. In the acquisitions department they viewed films all day long. And once they found a film for which they saw a market, they would then negotiate a roughly ten-page-long contract with the filmmaker, something that often involved a lot of clarification work to overcome the fears and judgemental errors of the filmmaker. Once everyone was in agreement and the filmmaker had signed the contract, then the sales department would begin to work with the film for a period of four years – in other words to try and sell the film as often as possible.
When I wanted to know from Stephanie whether or not she was willing to work with my film for four years and include it in the Ouatmedia distribution films, she naturally had to screen it once first. She invited me to a grill party for film buyers that evening. There I would then find out whether she would be giving me a ten-page contract for my film.
At this point I should perhaps point out that with my film we are dealing with a 15-minute-long film that can most likely be described as an experimental documentary.
At the showdown at sundown at the grill party, I then found out that my film could not be put under contract although it did appeal to her. She could not do so because a part of my film was filmed without shooting permission at Frankfurt Airport. As a result it could cause legal problems in North America especially. Another problem with my film was that in my commentary I sang a line of text from a Mia song, and for that I would have to present a freedom of utilisation release form.
Since I actually only asked whether I could perhaps sell my film to Movieola just for the sake of it, and since this business was – fortunately – not the actual reason for my trip, I swallowed the rejection and amused myself immensely at both the grill party as well as at the other events of the festival. One of these was a festival organised short trip to Niagara Falls, during which I learned that at night the falls are shut off. Apparently at night the water is used to generate hydro-electric power and it only dribbles down the rocks in droplets then”¦