The Long Version, Part 1

BEHIND THE SCENES AT MMP 2012 – the “Film Industry” Side of a Festival

(From the Festival Catalogue – IFF Mannheim Heidelberg 2012)

Part 1: The Event

We often get told by people outside the film industry that co-production markets 
remind them of speed-dating – a misnomer used by journalists who can’t think of a better way to describe what they see at professional events such as Mannheim Meeting Place - the business side of International Film Festival Mannheim Heidelberg.

In fact nothing can be further from the truth. When MMP creates an appointment at Mannheim, bringing two or more persons together, months of preparation and communication go into that effort. These appointments facilitate dialogue between MMP participants (especially but not only film producers) from many countries – dialogue that might result in two or more of them joining forces to finance and work together on film projects at budget levels that would have been impossible to achieve from one source or country alone. Such appointments include other industry experts – buyers, sales agents and distributors alike. Careful preparation of such meetings can also help avoid what used to be called “Europudding” – projects written and co-produced (most often for TV) with no singular creative shaping influence in mind, but sharing “mutual creative respect” equally between partners. In fact the starting point for a professional Festival event always comes back to the same question:

What will define a Film Festival in the year 2013 and beyond? Is it the quality of the films that can be watched? Of course. Is it the quality of the personal meetings that take place between all kinds of film-makers themselves and film-makers and audience that can so often move talents forward in their creative capacity and thinking? Absolutely.

A good Film Festival will always be a crossing ground of the hoped-for best of completed works, and a seeding-ground for new and hopefully even better works.
A seeding-ground indeed. Next to the ever-present serendipity factor at many cultural and professional gatherings (put enough bodies together and something is bound to result), there is the ever-present question: where should Festival investment in funds and manpower, end and returns start? Are there ways of minimizing “risk” for a Festival – apart from spending less money?

It is indeed easiest to invite a bunch of experienced professionals (many of whom will know each other very well), and bask in the reflected glory of either large-numbers-of-persons or well-known personalities. Volume creates volume, we know. Press release follows press release, film journalists quote painstaking references to projects that might never get made, everyone comes, the money is spent, and everybody goes. New contacts can persevere on the “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours – often only as long as it is on an “if I see yours first” basis. Now, IFF Mannheim Heidelberg has one of the longest traditions in world cinema of dealing with newcomer film directors. The ones who are “higher-risk,” unknown, and who so often need festival TLC - “Tender Loving Care” to help them progress. Undeniably at Mannheim that is what they get, from Festival organisers and Festival audience alike. Mannheim does not lack passion. In 2010 a newly-reorganised professional sector at IFF Mannheim Heidelberg, re-titled from Mannheim Meetings into Mannheim Meeting Place, took up an echo of that Mannheim thesis: it would from now expand from start-up directors to dealing with start-up producers with artistic ambition. This premise would use the world position of the International Film Festival Mannheim Heidelberg to help people develop their co-production faculties in a benign, though thoroughly professional context.

Film Co-production is the art of sharing labour and budget between two or more partners to bring about a desired cinematic result. Very very few of the films brought to European cinema screens today could work without this phenomenon. Co-production will often be domestic (e.g. between one or more film production companies and a television network) and also international, the preferred method being between countries that have official co-production treaties which facilitate the flow of money and labour in both directions. This can all get so complicated (especially when there are 4 or 5 partners in the mix) that there is an awful truth facing Mannheim’s aim of working with start-up producers: if you are an experienced producer, you will often want to run a mile from inexperienced co-production partners, due to the potentially enormous mistake and chaos factors. Producing films IS indeed a complicated and minute process. This however doesn’t mean that MMP has opened up a kindergarten. MMP will invest time and effort in people starting to co-produce to help them gain experience at the very least in promoting themselves positively among their older peers, balancing that with a pure agency role, better known commercially as helping “package” film projects together – in this case through helping establish contacts for the right people with the right people. This investment and “hands-on” approach allows us to make more or less educated guesses on those who cross our path – because we believe it is not only the films (or the projects to be made into films) that make a festival in 2012 – on the professional side it also has to be the people, and even those who haven’t had a full chance to prove themselves yet. So far so good. But how to turn each euro over from the sponsors and public coffers that support MMP to make it worth two? Much public aid for film production in countries such as Germany aims at ensuring steady work for film workers living in each of the Förderländer, but with a “profit” – very often for 100 Euros granted another 25 or 50 must arrive from outside to be spent locally.

Further, many of the German funding agencies (“Medienbords”) will require a TV tie-in to support a project – that brings its own set of headaches. “Foreign” projects, for example might need a German “re-write” to convince the TV partner that the film will, inter alia, be identifiable for a German TV audience (whilst retaining the integrity of the original!). Finally, there might be the requirement of solid interest for the project from an established national theatrical distributor. All this IS difficult, and there are many pitfalls. So an MMP has to prepare extra carefully to optimise contacts and value, and cut down waste. There is little point – and a great waste of money - to arranging a half-hour meeting when after two minutes it is clear that there is absolutely no sensible dialogue. The serendipity factor, that such two persons could also meet very fruitfully in the future based on that ill-fated meeting, is however always possible! But, let’s agree, all that is a very far cry from “speed dating.”