Louis Lagayette is a writer / director whose 2015 script ‘Trendy’, was one of three winners in the BUFF Live Script Reading competition, performed at Channel 4. He also received a Live Script Award for Trendy which then became a feature film, released in September 2017. Here is his blog (unpublished until now).
Making your film is really only half the battle. Once a project is complete, it’s all about finding an audience and film festivals are, of course, an integral part of this.
Over the last few years, fuelled by the ease of online screeners and new submissions services such as Film Freeway, there has never been more of a choice when it comes to film festivals. However, this is not necessarily a good thing. Having done the festival run on many of my short films, you inevitably end up being accepted into a few duds. The kind of festivals that put no effort into marketing themselves or finding audiences for their screenings, that still screen from DVD’s or put no thought into projection or presentation of the submitted material. Luckily though, for the majority of festivals this is not the case.
When you have put a huge amount of blood, sweat and tears (and then more blood!) into your film, festival screenings must match the amount of passion you, and your team, share for your own project (and not just look at making a quick buck from submission fees).
During the festival run for my short film Driftwood, we were lucky enough to screen at over 50 festivals worldwide including large overseas festivals and smaller regional festivals, you name it, we probably screened there. But our experience with BUFF will certainly remain one of my fondest memories. The screening was well attended and Driftwood was shown alongside some strong films which, although all different, complimented each other perfectly. It was great to meet many of the filmmakers and some audience members afterwards and discuss the films screened.
Skip forward a few years, when I found out the film had been nominated for Best British Short in the 10 year history of the festival I was truly honoured to be considered. When Driftwood then went on to win the prize I was borderline speechless (anyone who knows me well will know this is an incredibly rare event). Especially as the other films nominated were fantastic shorts such as Jane Gull’s film ‘Sunny Boy’. It was a great evening and a true celebration of British filmmaking.
Often a good test of whether a festival is doing the right job is to examine the time before and after your film is shown on the big screen. There was significant press leading up to the day of the event, including a radio interview (which was more than a little nerve wracking!). On the backend, our screening at BUFF ultimately led to Channel 4 (who supported the festival that year) getting in touch to enquire about screening it as part of their short film programme the Shooting Gallery (once again alongside the amazing ‘Sunny Boy’) which was a fantastic opportunity. Very rarely do the main TV stations in the UK show shorts, so to be included was a honour and certainly a big moment in my growing career as a filmmaker, as it opened the film up to an even bigger audience.
The team at BUFF and the festival as a whole has been hugely supportive of me and the other filmmakers that have been screened there over the years. They have a real passion to help storytellers get their material seen by the public.
I think making any film, be it short or feature, is a journey and my experience at BUFF was easily one of the highlights. Roll on the next festival!
(c) James Webber
Follow James on twitter at: @directorjwebber
Jesse Quinones is a writer / director whose 2013 movie ‘Calloused Hands’, a coming-of-age drama featuring Andre Royo (The Wire) and Daisy Haggard, won the British Urban Film Festival Best Feature and best director Award (across the 10 year history of the festival) in 2015. Here is his blog (unpublished until now).
Isis Davis is a writer / director /actress whose 2016 performance in short film ‘Cover Me’ won her the best female emerging talent award in 2017. She was also one of 3 winners in the BUFF Live Script Reading competition for which her script “Draw” was performed live at the BT Tower on Colourful Radio, also in 2017. She also received a Live Script Award for ‘Draw’.
Writing a blog; way different to writing a script. Everyone has their own blogging style, now that’s a similarity as all script writers have their own style but what is different is that this is me, from me, about me, and with no questions, just general guidance. So I am told people want to know about my journey to BUFF, my involvement, my association, its role in my journey, the Awards I have won and the aftermath.. so here you have it. My BUFF story so far….
My agent called me and told me that she had an audition for me; that the role could have been written for me. That usually means it’s either ghetto, gangster or vulnerable and tragic. That sounds so depressing doesn’t it, but for me, having a life story that included each of those elements, I consider it a blessing to be able to use the tough life experiences I have lived and survived to bring to life different characters with genuine depth and emotion and a true understanding or way of relating to the character, not just acting out the lines. Like many roles I’ve played, this role enabled me to draw on some of my more tragic experiences, but please don’t think that what happened to this character ACTUALLY happened to me, if you watch Cover Me, remember this; my Dad in real life is my hero….! So, I auditioned for the central role in Cover Me, written and Directed by Jo Southwell; I got the part and we shot it. It is a monologue lead short film and the subject matter is pretty hard hitting. Filming was intense as I spent it mostly alone to enable me to stay in character and keep the depth of emotion it warranted.
Over a year later, Jo contacted my agent to let me us know that the film had been chosen to be shown as part of the 2016 BUFF Short Film screening at The Odeon, Camden. We were thrilled, it had passed the Granola Test. For those of you that don’t know what the Granola Test is, you will simply have to submit to BUFF to find out!! Armed with a friendly and supportive entourage of family and my professional team mate, Agent Nina Lee, we attended the screening of around 10 short films along with questions and presentations. It was a great evening and the talent amongst the Festival was incredible. That night Emmanuel asked me to attend a few radio interviews with him and some other artists involved in the festival and I built a great rapport with Emmanuel from then on. It was a great networking opportunity in itself and I made some great contacts and some new friends too which is always a bonus along any professional journey.
Emmanuel and I kept in touch, and Nina kept him up to date with all my professional movements.
As a writer, I decided to submit one of my scripts, to be in the mix for the Script Writing Award. The 20 pages you are permitted to submit were taken from my debut four part Drama Series which has seen interest from Channel 4 and Tiger Aspect. But how do you choose 20 pages? Eventually I did and submitted them, and waited.
Then came announcement day… I HAD been nominated for the Best Female Emerging Talent Award AND I had WON one of the three script writing awards. Incredible! I looked forward to the awards ceremony and being able to collect my award knowing that I’d be sharing the stage with some incredible talent, including Ashley Walters who collected his Honorary Award that evening and Femi Oyeniran who I was hoping would be collecting an award for The Intent (which he did!). In the days prior to the Award Ceremony, we had a Live Script Read Through which saw me cast my script and enjoy it coming off the page for the very first time; it was also a great opportunity for my Literary Agent and one of the Developmental scouts at Tiger Aspect to see it off the page too – such a great platform for me on so many levels. Two of the cast members were people I had seen at the Festival in various platforms the previous year (networking again, see what BUFF provides!!) and the rest from people I already knew, or had been recommended. I also attended various other events that the Festival offered and really immersed myself in Urban Film for the two weeks the festival ran.
The night of the Award ceremony was absolutely brilliant. I was so proud to collect my Script Writing Award and be interviewed afterwards and enjoy that moment of knowing that my hard work was being recognised. When I got back to my seat, the next award to be announced was the Best Female Emerging Talent Award. It was so good to see all four of us nominees displaying such brilliant work that we had been cast in; and then they called my name! AGAIN! I won! I really couldn’t believe it. The category was packed with such a high standard. I was really blown away and totally unprepared in terms of my acceptance moment. I felt emotional, and proud, and it turns out, I was the only person to win two awards… such a big achievement. It’s amazing to have your work recognised amongst industry peers including those you have been following and watching and respect so highly. We celebrated on the 34th floor of the BT Tower at the BUFF Awards After Party. It really was a night to remember.
Since that night, I have enjoyed the support of BUFF via social media including them promoting the series I was recently in on Channel 4.
Last week I received a personal invitation from The Prime Minister to attend Downing Street to celebrate Black History Month. When we enquired as to how the selection process takes place, they said that people of recognised contribution are recommended from various departments throughout Whitehall. I couldn’t think how they would know who I am, let alone know of my work or achievements but I suddenly wondered whether my recent awards from The British Urban Film Festival had had an impact; my Agent enquired with Clare Anyiam-Osigwe, BUFF board member and wife of founder Emmanuel, and she said that there was a good chance that it had indeed had an impact, as they are in close talks with certain government members in terms of the achievements they are supporting and celebrating, and that my name had been mentioned as the only person to win two awards as part of the Festival.
So there it is; the connections and opportunities and platforms that BUFF provide go far wider and deeper than people may imagine or notice on the surface, but their drive and passion for developing and promoting and supporting the Urban Film network is second to none, and I am proud to be fully invested in what BUFF offers, year after year. This year will be my third year associated with the Festival so let’s see to what capacity that lends itself. So far I haven’t submitted anything, and I am not acting in any of the films submitted as of yet, but there is still time. One thing is for certain, I will definitely be at the events held throughout the festival. It’s a fortnight to indulge, enjoy and immerse oneself in, and I shall be doing just that!
I would just like to take this opportunity once again to thank Emmanuel and everyone involved with BUFF for your continued support and the platform to showcase my work as an actress and writer.
On the 3rd of March 2013, it was reported in the Sunday Telegraph that Revolver, at one point the UK’s most prominent urban theatrical and home entertainment film distributor, had entered into administration. Commentators had cited that the West London outfit (established in 1997), which brought iLL Manors, Anuvahood and Exit Through the Giftshop (to name but 3) to the masses had failed to keep up with the cultural shift in how their content was being consumed and appreciated. A lot has happened since then as the wheels continue to turn and the face of distribution takes on a different look.
Fortunately for those who associate themselves within the British Urban Film fraternity, as one door remains firmly shut (literally), another door digitally opens. And although the traditional windows of distribution still remain a lucrative avenue for filmmakers (albeit via the middlemen) self-distribution then becomes a tempting proposition. Cometh the hour, cometh Ross Bispham. If there’s one individual (who previously worked at Revolver) who can put their finger on where we go from here regarding distribution and more importantly how everybody gets well paid in the process – then it’s most probably going to be Ross. With a team including Tom Westgate (who previously worked for the London Film Festival), Ignite Film Fans has been set up to fill the void which many believe to have existed in the 14 months since the house of cards that was Revolver, folded. So why should we care about Ross and his gang? Probably for the same reasons you continue to read this blog in your thousands. Writing exclusively for the British Urban Film Festival, here is this month’s edition of the BUFF blog from Ross Bispham…
The British film industry is currently in a very exciting place that is evolving at an incredible rate, presenting the perfect opportunity to introduce new production, distribution and audience involvement initiatives. For years, there have been many obstacles, which have kept film a virtually closed-off industry, available only for people with cash, the right connections or an indomitable obsession for success, but effectively closed to a huge number of highly talented people desperately attempting to nose their way in any which way they can.
However, I believe that trend is now changing and is no longer the norm. With the increasing popularity of open castings, crowd funding and fan development websites throughout the movie world, there are more independent films in production today than ever before. And all of them want a shot at the big time.
Working at Revolver Entertainment was an exciting and eye opening experience. With an abundance of arthouse and indie productions on its slate, Revolver won many awards for diverse and innovative release campaigns and strategies on films such as Mum and Dad, Iron Sky and Ill Manors. Through courage or fearlessness, some releases were highly successful, others not so. Yet my time there offered me an invaluable lesson when it comes to film distribution – timing is key, placement is important, but understanding and meeting the needs of your audience is paramount.
The rise of two aspects in the independent film world are particularly fascinating at this moment in time. The first is the phenomenal success of and response to crowd funding, not only as a concept, but also in its execution. The way in which it has been accepted and embraced by film makers and, of course, the general public has been pivotal to the ongoing development of film making as we know it. Secondly, it is incredibly refreshing to witness a new era of varying and daring release strategies across the board. From multi-platform releases to self-distribution, it never ceases to amaze each and every time someone is brave and determined enough to attempt a completely unique approach.
Crowd funding has come up with some unbelievable success stories in recent years. In 2012, the release of Iron Sky, which began life as a trailer in jest, raised in the region of £10million from a combination of crowd funding, contributions from private investors and the pre-sale of its distribution rights. It went on to become a global sensation, having sold in thirty three different territories to date and became the biggest straight to DVD release of the year in the UK, supported by a small multi-platform release. The resounding success of this film was predominantly thanks to the simply staggering amount of awareness and support it gathered while it was merely a concept and then throughout pre-production. This just goes to show how a great idea can pick up an absurd amount of steam.
Iron Sky was merely the beginning and this method of film financing has spread rapidly – now even utilised by the already rich and famous. Less than a year ago Zach Braff successfully raised over £2.7 million from over forty one thousand contributors for his new film Wish I Was Here.
This could be a sign that the public and movie lovers understand some of the plights faced by independent film makers and are keen to help. Crowd funding is possibly the first time in history that the man (or woman) in the street has been given the opportunity to get involved with productions at such an early stage in its development; an opportunity that many have shown to be willing to seize with both hands.
We already know that the landscape of film is drastically changing and it doesn’t stop with production. The way in which we all view our films is constantly evolving thanks to a host of new and innovative distribution strategies. From services such as the Netflix binge viewing culture to immersive cinema experiences the public are accepting of and relating to the opportunity to view content in new and innovative ways.
This is good news for the plethora of UK film makers who are desperate for their films to reach the audiences they deserve. The birth of self-distribution presents film makers with a fantastic abundance of different opportunities to get their work seen. Importantly, most of these new methods are very cheap.
With the rise of digital distribution, directors and producers no longer need to secure a distribution deal to allow them to showcase their film to the public. Red State was a prime example of this. The film was touted to be auctioned off to distributors at Sundance until director Kevin Smith instead announced he would hold on to the rights for it and take it on a national tour securing cinema runs and university screenings across America. The film was later released through the Lionsgate video on demand service, proving a film doesn’t need to follow the accepted norm to achieve profit and gain international sales.
Does this suggest an end to traditional cinema? No, not at all. We can all rest assured that the demand for seeing films on the big screen will not diminish – at least not for the time being. Studios will continue to produce and distribute blockbusters and independent distributors will continue to pick up and release arthouse films. Will the box office continue to bring in substantial profits? That remains to be seen. It would be fair to argue that film makers face a bigger battle with illegal downloading acting as a drain on their monetary success. And let us not forget that the cost of digital distribution is considerably less than that of traditional methods. All we can be certain of is that the times are changing, and if film makers do not keep up with and adhere to current technologies and trends then they will be sure to lose out.
The undeniable potential of digital distribution does not come without its risks however. As previously mentioned the number of independent films in production is currently higher than it has ever been. If all of these seek a digital release could that spell disaster? Film fans and movie goers are anything but in short supply, but how do you find your audience in a saturated market? And as a film buff yourself, how do you find a film you will really enjoy in an endless and confusing sea of potential alternatives? These are just two of the many questions to which Ignite Film Fans hopes to provide the answer to.
Ignite Film Fans’ mission is to help independent producers and film-makers across the United Kingdom to connect with their audience and build a dedicated fan base for their projects during development and production stages. In doing so, they will be able to translate this accumulated support into a tangible value and driving force to help them achieve their long term goals, be that film festival selection, obtaining further funding, or securing distribution. But there is a vital flip side to this. It is also essential that the fans get something back in return.
By signing up to Ignite Film Fans free service and offering their support to individual films and concepts, members of the public will be rewarded with exclusive content, fantastic offers and exciting competitions direct from the film-makers themselves. These include signed scripts, behind the scenes footage and exclusive artwork, as well as winning set visits, the chance to appear as an extra and tickets to screenings and premieres. Through creating this mutual relationship, film fans can get involved with the UK’s very best, exciting and innovative productions in a way never before possible and enjoy the drive and enthusiasm of a new generation of talented film-makers.
Ignite Film Fans are dedicated to supporting and showcasing the very best emerging talent and independent productions across the UK. By facilitating and mediating beneficial relationships between film makers, audiences, financiers and key industry figures it is possible to help them achieve their long term goals.
(c) Ross Bispham/BUFF Enterprises. All Rights Reserved.
The Easter holidays. For many it will be one of the first dates in the diary to look out for at the start of the year when it comes to taking time out and getting away from the hustle. For most filmmakers (who are always on the hustle), it will also mean that the Cannes Film Festival is just weeks away. At last year’s event, there was only 1 British film in competition for the prestigious Palme d’Or and Un Certain Regard. Even then, it’s arguable whether a film directed by an American and produced by an Englishman with an English lead actor can count as British (‘Only Lovers Left Alive’). British movies have also had scant recognition at recent Berlin and Venice festivals.
So how does one get noticed at these festivals if you’re not Ken Loach or Mike Leigh. BUFF board member Nadia Denton has been working in the film industry for the past 10 years in marketing, exhibition and distribution. She released her first book ‘The Black British Filmmaker’s Guide to Success: Finance Market and Distribute Your Film’ in 2011. The guide, the first of its kind internationally is available as a FREE download at http://www.nadiadenton.com. She is currently writing her second title ‘The Nigerian Filmmaker’s Guide to Success: Beyond Nollywood’ which will be released later this year. Nadia was at Cannes last year and is well placed to provide insight as to what to expect from these festivals (and many others) as a filmmaker. You can add ‘Nadia Denton’ as a friend on Facebook who at present is sampling the sights and sounds from the Tribeca Film Festival in New York. Here’s her blog…
Whilst Cannes is undoubtedly the monster of all international film festivals, indie filmmaker should not lose sight of the smaller, more boutique festivals that will help them to achieve their aims at a more realistic level.
Those of you that have attended Cannes will know that the chances of meeting an exec that will green light your project at first sight, or even mingling with the top Directors and stars is remote. Chances are you will spend more time walking up and down the croisette than inside the various film companies and sales agents offices that line the strip. Big business is done in Cannes but only for the very lucky 10% and this is often predetermined before they get to the festival.
Where the business of striking deals at festivals are concerned, it would be well worth you considering other platforms such as the Dubai Film Festival, the American Film market, Berlinale, Sheffield Doc Fest, Tribeca, Durban Film Mart or even Rotterdam Film festival. These events offer an opportunity to present your projects to execs in an environment that more accessible and less frenetic.
Over the next 12 months, where distribution is concerned it’s all about VOD. Filmmakers will help themselves greatly by better understanding who the main players are, how the platforms work and can be used to their best advantage. Filmmakers will need to put themselves in front of content aggregators and inform themselves of the deals before jumping in foot first. In addition to spending time in VOD platforms themselves, filmmakers should compile a list and research who the main players are, which films are doing well and why. They need to consider their budgets in relations to VOD and the likely recoupment. It will additionally be necessary to plan in the time, costs and resources needed to market a VOD release.
Filmmakers need to be wise about their distribution plans at the early stages of their project, ideally at the script development stage. The days of making a film, having a great VIP red carpet and then waiting for the offers to flood in has long gone. Instead, some realism needs to be applied, which in this case means developing a distribution strategy (and marketing plan) alongside the writing of the script. The ideal scenario would be to solicit the interest of a distributor and/or sales agent who can review the script and give some guidance about its place in the market so that it can be positioned appropriately.
Overall, independent filmmakers will increasingly be relying on hybrid methods of distribution where they sell some of their rights (i.e. DVD, TV, VOD) and retain others which they will be responsible for themselves.
There are other strategies that filmmakers may find particularly useful over the next 12 months;
1. Collaborate, collaborate, collaborate. Collaborate across sectors i.e. technology, science, fashion, music whatever floats your boat really. Extend beyond the film industry itself. Think about mixed media projects and exciting ways that you can tell your story through the prism of another discipline. Collaborate across nations. Think about parts of the world where you can shoot with the benefit of tax rebates, or countries which are more likely to be receptive to the films that you want to make. Pool resources and skills even more than you currently are doing. Consider working with a collective of filmmakers where you rotate and share skills on each other’s projects.
2. Learn as much as you can about EIS and SEIS and use it to your best advantage. Talk to your accountant and people in the city. Consider attending an angel investment event. Reconfigure your business so that it is not just about filmmaking, but the creation of products and selling of skills/expertise. Create a business structure that will be more attractive to EIS and SEIS type investment.
3. Shoot outside of London. Explore locations beyond the M25 area. Think about regionalism. There are still swathes of the English heartland that are crying out to be shot in a compelling way and which will bring new perspectives to the story that you are telling. Forget about London. Head outwards.
4. Return to e-mail marketing as a significant way to create public awareness for your campaigns. Social media is great, but don’t forget about your mailing lists. Develop and grow them. Occasionally step aside from the ‘noise’ of social media to a marketing method that is more personalised and in some instances more effective.
5. Reduce the budget of your current project by a quarter, Get tighter with your budgeting. Less is more.
© Nadia Denton/BUFF Enterprises. All rights reserved.
BUFF Tidings! And what a great time of the year it is to be at the pictures. Christmas round the corner, Oscar-bait movies ten-a-penny, what’s not to like? Digital distribution perhaps? We’ll save that for next month’s blog. At the time of writing, yours truly will be in attendance at a pre-Christmas preview screening of ’12 Years A Slave’ – it’s one of the perks of running a film festival though one could say the same thing about this month’s guest writer of the BUFF blog. Those of you who follow the festival will either recognise the name Larushka Ivan-Zadeh or indeed her profile picture in the Metro – and that’s because not only is she the film editor for that newspaper, she’s also one of our esteemed board members meaning that she gets to see a vast cornucopia of films – mostly on your behalf. So why should she have this privilege you may ask? Why should you care what she thinks about a big-budget movie or otherwise? Well there’s only one way to find out? Read her BUFF blog right here…
Why does anyone care what film critics think? The answer increasingly seems to be: they don’t. For 2013 marks the year the professional (i.e. paid) critic became an endangered species. The cull that started in the US finally arrived in the UK. Increasing numbers of my colleagues in the mainstream press have been axed, retired or told they can only continue if they take massive pay-cuts. Obviously I think this is a bad thing. But is it? What are we losing here? And what is the role of a film critic anyway?
In the old, pre-Internet days seeing the point of a film critic was simpler. We were news-bringers and gate-keepers. A hatchet job critique can be an entertaining read, but, as a force for good, we helped – and still do help – to introduce audiences to new, often challenging work. But then, so do film festivals. BUFF is a shining example. It provides a valued platform to filmmakers whose work can struggle to be heard in the mainstream media. Festivals are a chance for audiences to see films unprejudiced by reviews, marketing slants or hype. BUFF-goers don’t use reviews to choose what to see – indeed they can’t, as some of the films in the programme have never been screened anywhere before. So what’s the role of a critic at festivals? To acquaint themselves on the cutting edge of film making, to spread the word of what they’ve seen outwards and to take the critical temperature of how the film is likely to be received outside the supportive and nurturing festival nest.
It is at festivals we see that critics, industry and audiences share a level playing field. Often a festival will have an ‘Audience’ award as well as an award voted for by a jury. Filmmakers will value both, but also the praise or constructive criticism of the professional reviewer. Why? Because what differentiates the professional reviewer, as well as, hopefully, a skill for insightful analysis, is that they give an informed context for their opinion. One based in an extensive knowledge of cinema and wider film history. Added to that is the fact we see a heck of a lot more movies than you do. I see about 6 new films a week, for example.
That said, criticism is subjective. And no critic is an ultimate authority. Film festivals, more than anywhere, are where critical objectivity can fly out the window. At Cannes, for example, passions run particularly high: films are routinely booed or given standing ovations and this is reflected in the reviews. Here, even broadsheet critics can over-excitedly shower films with stars that, if viewed outside the festival hothouse, they might have appraised more coolly.
So, why should you trust a critic to tell you if a film is any good, or not? Studios are starting not to. Posters may still have critics’ star ratings on them as a badge of pride – but tweets from ‘normal’ punters have begun to be used on publicity, even for ‘serious’ dramas like the Oscar-nominated ‘The Impossible’ which opened earlier this year. You can see why marketing companies would use quotes from the public when advertising big, so-called ‘critic-proof’ multiplex crowd-pleasers – the films that we critics insist are rubbish and give no stars to, but audiences still flock to in their millions. But, even so, who are these random Tweeters on the posters? What weight does their opinion hold? You could probably find a Twitter-user who loved the Diana movie if you looked hard enough.
Thanks to social media the phrase ‘everyone’s a critic’ has never been truer. Anyone can set up a reviews site online and shout their opinions – as long as they don’t expect to be paid for it. Which is great for non-elitism. And, on the upside, social media has proved a revolutionary facilitator in allowing independent filmmakers to create a word-of-mouth buzz for their films without the need for a prohibitively expensive marketing campaign. But, to me, the professional critic still has a role. To me, a critic is a guide. A guide you may not always agree with, but who entertains you, occasionally enlightens you and one whose opinion you respect. A guide who is comprehensive, who has the time to see everything from tiny festival movie to massive blockbuster and, ideally, give them equal consideration. To do that properly is a full time job – and should be valued with a living wage. And in our non-stop, ever-expanding media Babel, a guide is more essential than ever. But then I would say that, wouldn’t I?
© Larushka Ivan-Zadeh/BUFF Enterprises. All Rights Reserved.
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And so it all begins again. We welcome you to the home of urban film coverage in the UK and another 12 months of insight from those in the know – telling it how it really is. So in time-honoured BUFF tradition, we introduce this month’s guest blogger and whilst he’s not yet a familiar face in the grand scheme of things, he will have been a familiar face to the 1400-odd people who came through the doors over the 4 festival days. Not many people can say that they attended every event and saw every film which was screened at this year’s British Urban Film Festival – but this man did (and why not?) So here to give his considered take on the festival that was #BUFF2013 is the writer and director of the award-winning boxumentary @BloodyLip and honorary member of the famed BUFF alumni, it’s Mr Adriel Leff…
I first met BUFF founder Emmanuel Anyiam-Osigwe in November of 2012 when he attended an industry screening of my debut film. I’m ashamed to admit that at that time I had precisely zero experience of attending (let alone participating in) film festivals – which sadly is the case with a large proportion of the British public.
To my delight, Emmanuel asked to include my film in the 2013 British Urban Film Festival. After talking at length with him I found the concept, and the man behind it, to be both fascinating and seemingly a perfect fit for my film, so naturally I enthusiastically agreed to be a part of the festival – and what a festival it turned out to be…
Before the film screenings began there was a day of free events at the Channel 4 building. This included well-received live readings of the winners of BUFF’s inaugural scriptwriting competition (of which I was fortunate enough to be on the judging panel), an informative discussion on film distribution in today’s ever-changing digital world, and most notably an extremely lively and relevant debate about the portrayal of the black community in film and television.
This was a topic that clearly the majority of those present cared very deeply about and the palpable energy in the room as the subject was explored in an open, eloquent and intelligent manner was testament to the fact that this was an extremely necessary and worthy debate and one that felt like it very much needed to happen. Needless to say I’m sure all the participants are very thankful to BUFF that it did, because I can’t think of another arena where such an event would have been possible. When time ran out and the debate came to an end there was an audible groan of disappointment from the attendees who I’m sure could have quite willingly carried on with the fascinating discussion all day.
The screenings themselves couldn’t have kicked off in better style than with “Calloused Hands”, which turned out to be my own personal favourite film of the festival. Screened in the plush surrounds of the Odeon Leicester Square, I found it to be the most enjoyable cinematic experience I can remember having in a long while. The film itself was funny, exciting, and moving – but most importantly the audience was clearly engaged and responsive.
Usually someone sitting in a neighbouring seat talking throughout a film is a real annoyance, but when it’s an audience member struggling not to vocalise their response to the emotional journey they’re being taken on it is hard not to view it as anything other than a compliment to the film and the environment in which it is being shown – and when you’re aware that your own work will soon be included in the very same festival this has to be taken as an extremely encouraging sign.
The Q&A session following “Calloused Hands” was equally entertaining, with the director and stars all proving very generous with their time and anecdotes, and an afterparty at a nearby club proved to be a fitting end to a very successful and promising opening night.
The highlight for me of the following day’s screenings was “Latvia”, a cautionary tale about the British criminal underworld – a theme that of course we’ve all seen time and again, but the wholly original twist here was that, instead of the usual high-octane, glamorising approach to the genre, the film highlighted the mundaneness and zero-purpose of living a life comprising of nothing more than ending other people’s existences while waiting for someone to end your own. I found it very refreshing to see the restrained performances and obvious moral standpoint that we are simply not used to witnessing in the majority of our homegrown films.
Next up was the shorts block. My expectations were high as I was fortunate enough to have had my film featured in festivals in New York and LA this year and I’d seen some very impressive short films at both, but one characteristic I couldn’t fail to notice at the American festivals was a lack of consistency – there was a feeling of “if you don’t like this short film don’t worry, there’ll be another one along in a few minutes”.
However I can honestly say that out of nearly a dozen shorts featured at BUFF, there wasn’t one that I didn’t thoroughly enjoy, which I see as a huge endorsement of not only the talented filmmakers who submitted their outstanding entries but also of the board’s insightful judgement when it comes to film selection.
Of course I had my favourites, but it was the overall quality on show that really surprised and delighted me. It is also worth noting that, whereas the American shorts blocks had featured films from all over the world, each of the BUFF shorts was British-made – testament to the often maligned fact that we really do have a huge amount of domestic talent in our country that desperately needs to be nurtured.
Again, I have to mention the audience who were without doubt the best crowd I have ever seen at any cinematic event – laughing so loud at the comedic moments that at times I’m sure secondary jokes were missed, while maintaining an attentive silence when a dramatic piece required it, and of course freely showing their appreciation with generous applause after every gratifying short.
I could single out several shorts for special praise (as Emmanuel insisted I did on the night!) but to do so would be a disservice to each I neglected to mention, as I would recommend any and all of them to everyone. I understand that a small sample will be broadcast by Channel 4 at some point, but I sincerely hope that those not lucky enough to be selected will be available for public viewing in some other manner.
As Day Four of the festival arrived I had a bittersweet mix of excitement (as my film was due to close the festival) but also a touch of sadness that the event was coming to an end. It really had been a memorable and enjoyable experience and I had met so many lovely and interesting new people – both participants and attendees, within the industry and beyond.
The final day began with “The Fade”, an informative and fun documentary focusing on four hairdressers – from Britain, America, Ghana, and Jamaica. It was a simple concept executed perfectly, highlighting the differences and similarities of both the men’s work and their fascinating personal lives.
The Q&A with the film’s director and cinematographer that followed featured an unusually large amount of audience interaction, reflecting the degree to which that the film had both gripped and intrigued its viewers who clamoured to find out more about the subjects and their documenters.
The film also looked fantastic and, after the screening, I felt the need to ask the cinematographer a question myself – whether he had done much work in post-production to bring out the vivid colours, especially evident in the film’s African and Caribbean locations. In fact, he told me, if anything he’d had to tone the colours down, such was the natural vibrancy of the florid environment.
Following “The Fade” was “Traveller”, a world premiere featuring both David Essex and his son, drawing a very large audience comprised in the main of an unusual mix of Essex fans and members of the traveller community, with both disparate factions receiving the film very well.
Finally it was time for the UK premiere of my own film, “Bloody Lip”, a comedy mockumentary revolving around a struggling boxer in the build-up to the biggest fight of his life. It was a fantastic experience to see my work presented in such a professional and yet inclusive environment, with the relaxed audience being so receptive and responsive, laughing heartily throughout and reacting with genuine warmth to the film’s unexpectedly uplifting conclusion.
Ending the proceedings was a Q&A session with myself and some of the actors which proved to be a great opportunity to give a few insights into the production and creative process behind the film, as well as to hear feedback from the audience who were very quick to put forward their universally positive comments and insightful questions.
Such was the feeling of good humour and playfulness in the room that the Q&A even featured an impromptu boxing lesson from one of the stars of the film (a real-life boxing trainer), much to everyone’s enjoyment. Without wishing to sound like a gushing voiceover on a TV advert for Disneyland, it truly was a magical evening.
One serious point that I felt obliged to make during the Q&A was that without BUFF none of the audience would have been able to sit there and enjoy my film, just as I wouldn’t have had the pleasure of being able to show it in such fantastic surroundings. The festival is all about celebrating films and filmmakers and it is only natural for an audience to focus on what they are seeing on screen – but it is equally, if not more important to remember that none of us would be experiencing these wonderful films if it wasn’t for the festival and its generous organisers’ hard work behind the scenes.
To me, this is an equally poignant thought not only due to how much we owe to people such as Emmanuel and those behind BUFF for selflessly dedicating so much time and effort to such a worthy endeavour, but also because of the sad fact that if they didn’t do what they do, nobody else would. Outside of festivals like BUFF there simply isn’t a platform or arena supporting public screenings of the sort of films that really should be available to everyone but simply are not – and that’s a fairly sobering thought.
The latest Hollywood blockbuster plays in every cinema, on every internet streaming site, you can buy it at your supermarket and, soon enough, watch it on broadcast television. But most of the films that BUFF shows – well, miss them and you may never get another chance to catch them again. And if perhaps you are indeed lucky enough to, it certainly won’t be in as friendly and stimulating company, or such exceptional and historic circumstances; by definition, a premiere can of course only occur just one time.
I began this blog by saying that before I made a film myself I had no experience of film festivals. If I had only known what I was missing then I would’ve done something about that poor state of affairs – so I now feel that it is my duty to let other people know what they are missing, and I hope you will do the same.
A huge section of the public, and especially young people, who could be getting a great amount of enjoyment and inspiration from seeing these personal stories, these pieces of art, these exciting adventures, are not doing so, simply because they aren’t aware that film festivals exist, or have a sadly misconstrued opinion of what they involve. And no one is going to make an effort to inform them otherwise, besides film festival organisers and those, such as yourselves, who have already discovered this unfortunately often neglected world.
So if you attended BUFF this year then tell someone about it – not just on Facebook or Twitter, but face to face. Tell them how much you enjoyed it. Tell as many people as you can. And tell them they should come along themselves next year, because if they don’t they’ll be missing out on being included in something unique and momentous and very special. We, the audience, should be the ones promoting these festivals and their films – not the festival organisers or filmmakers.
And if you saw one film this year then next year go see two. Or three. Or do what I did and just watch them all – after all, you never know when you might have another opportunity to see them again in the future. Chances are, quite possibly never.
(c) Adriel Leff/BUFF Enterprises. All Rights Reserved.
However, the first step in seeking to get Caribbean content regularly on British airwaves began in May 2013 with the broadcast of the first series to reach the UK from the Caribbean in many years and the first ever from Barbados.
Distributed by Sankofa Televisual, “Keeping Up With The Joneses” (KUWTJ) is a mockumentary-sitcom about a fictional family in Barbados. KUWTJ features the Jones family who reluctantly become the subjects of a reality show entitled “Life & Times in the Caribbean”. It requires that a camera crew follow the family around and films their every move. Irving (the father) signs the contract to do the show against Angela’s (his wife) wishes. Now, Irving, Angela, Tracy (their 17-year-old daughter) and Nathan (their 10-year-old son) have to coexist while looking good for the cameras, resulting in embarrassing encounters and hilariously awkward TV moments!
The drive to get Caribbean programmes (dramas, films and other general entertainment) is supported by the results of the 2012 British Caribbean Television Survey where 98% of respondents said that they wanted to watch programmes from the Caribbean on TV in Britain.
80% of the respondents also regarded having Caribbean programmes in Britain as important for young people’s development in the British Caribbean community. This is due to concerns that the younger generations growing up in Britain seemed to know less and less about the Caribbean and about their heritage and relations “back home” and whether there is an association with the extent of serious youth violence in Britain which very significantly affects the Black community in general (especially in London) but notably those of Caribbean heritage. The ages of 11 to 15 are crucially important to young people as this is the key period when they are looking to form their own identity and when they need to be able to draw on appropriate cultural reference points. When these reference points do not exist or are not sufficiently visible or mirrored in the media around them, then there is a mismatch which can have negative consequences.
In time, if there is sufficient support from viewers, the British Caribbean community may see its Caribbean heritage reflected in the mirror of British television screens (satellite/cable) more regularly but maybe not on Freeview (for the foreseeable future).
Ron Belgrave is the Director of Sankofa Televisual
© Ron Belgrave/BUFF Enterprises. All rights reserved.
From left to right: Stanley Chinoso (Actor), Anthony Abuah (Director), Marlene Abuah(Producer), Emmanuel Anyiam-Osigwe (BUFF Enterprises) and Lateef Lovejoy (Actor/Comedian) at the BUFF 2012 closing night screening of Woolwich Boys
photo © Nathan Bartholomew
Those of you joining us for the first time we thank you. We’d also like to welcome in a new audience to the 34th edition of the BUFF Blog. This month’s contribution is guest-written by Anthony Abuah, a previous winner of a Commonwealth Film award and the latest in a succession of British based playwrights who’ve made the transition from stage to screen with his debut feature ‘Woolwich Boys’ – the closing film of last year’s British Urban Film Festival. Regarded by many as a post-Nollywood movie, it is one of the few films (made in the UK) to have attracted critical acclaim away from its core base of West African audiences in what’s still regarded as the world’s 3rd biggest film industry. The post-Nollywood era is indicative of the growing sea change in the way that films commonly branded as Nollywood have been perceived by global audiences and appreciated in equal measure over the last 18 months.
Follow @buffenterprises @MrAnthonyAbuah @WoolwichBoys @TFTMProductions on twitter…
Unless you’re female, making a film is one of the hardest things you could ever do.
Over 10 days, in October 2011, we shot my debut feature film ‘Woolwich Boys’, with unknown actors and a willing crew. We aimed to make a Naija version of (Martin) Scorsese’s ‘Goodfellas’simply because we felt Nigerians are just as interesting as Italian-Americans. We wanted to shoot in a neo-realist, documentary style in pidgin and Yoruba with English subtitles. Essentially, I wanted to make a film that I’d pay money to see.
Until then, I had written and directed a couple of shorts and plays that did pretty well but was yet to see any kind of mainstream success. I knew the industry was more likely to take me seriously if I made a feature – so we did.
I knew I’d be unable to take any time off my full time teaching job to film, so I looked to the school calendar and figured the best window would be to shoot during the October mid term break. This was June 2011. I began to revise a script I’d written from 2009 called ‘Flash 419’ and renamed it Woolwich Boys. If you haven’t seen it yet, here’s a quick synopsis:
Woolwich Boys focuses on the life of a young man who’s recently moved into the Woolwich area of South East London. He works hard but is unable to maintain himself as a student and is enticed, by his criminal friends, into a life of ‘419’ fraud crime.
It’s important to note that the story is based on real people and set in London nearly a decade ago. 419 is the Nigerian penal code for fraud and the phrase ‘419’ has been made synonymous with Nigerian criminals who defraud everyday people via the internet either through stealing their bank details or requesting large funds being sent to them in return for a much bigger reward. I’m sure most of us have come across these scams. I wrote about this subject because I had seen friends live this life and knew how it worked.
I enlisted my fiancé (now wife) as a co-producer and we began assembling the cast and crew. On cinematography duty was Louis Corallo. He and I made our first film together a few years before and had worked with each other consistently. We went about designing the style of each of the three acts and sourcing a good crew. I then wrote a fourteen page budget proposal to send to potential investors (i.e. friends with cash) but the truth is, I knew nobody. Fortunately for me, my father-in-law saw it and pledged to give us an amount and that was the bulk of our shooting budget. I like the challenge of independent filmmaking and believe a filmmaker’s talent should be judged by what he/she is able to do with little rather than with a lot. It’s incredibly liberating to know your limitations.
The closer we got to the shoot however, the more we realised that we wouldn’t have enough money for post-production. We proceeded anyway and managed to shoot 85% of the script and we were going through 8-10 pages a day. Immediately after we shot, I was back at work with my film, still yet to do edit, but I also needed to line up potential investors. I blitzed social networking, contacted societies, universities and distributors about possibly screening our film for them. You see, we were aware we didn’t have the funds to market it, so we focused on word of mouth from early on.
We had to get people seeing it and talking about it. We heard a lot of NOs but as they say, every cloud has a silver lining. We were invited to our first film festival in Stoke in February 2012, a mere 3 months after filming. Please, don’t ever do that to yourself. The film was far from ready and was technically hideous. Despite this, we had a packed house and a good Q&A. Even my old history teacher from school came up. The story was pretty much there, but the technical aspects of the film such as the opening credits and the subtitles weren’t. Despite this, the reviewer still gave us a 6/10 which taught me a massive lesson; Your film is like a newborn baby. Don’t be in a rush to show it to everyone, as it might not be ready to be seen. It’s okay to show it to small numbers but not at a film festival.
I’m a big fan of Melvin van Peebles and Oscar Micheaux who are guys who loved creative control and believed so much in the films they made. They inspired me to at least try and self-distribute our film in the UK through Tales From The Motherland Productions.
We started hearing back from some of the universities we applied to and began screening the film around the country, much like how an up and coming music artist would. In some cases, we just hired out screening rooms and charged people to come and see the film.
Mr BUFF (Emmanuel Anyiam-Osigwe) got in touch and selected it as the closing film of BUFF 2012. The week we screened at BUFF, we were nominated for 2 Screen Nation Awards. Our screening was packed and nothing short of a success. We’ve since screened at the BUFF Spring season this past April and our film was listed in the London Metro’s top 5 films to see in London that same week.
At the time of writing, my wife and I came back from Nigeria a few days ago where Woolwich Boys was nominated for an African Movie Academy Award (AMAA). We didn’t win, but we got a free all expenses paid trip and made some amazing contacts. I already knew there was an emerging market out there in Africa – but seeing it was incredible.
I met filmmakers from Kenya, South Africa, Malawi, Ghana, Nigerians who weren’t making Nollywood, distributors, festival programmers and other entertainers. I can firmly assure any of you wishing to break into the film industry that Africa is where it’s at. There is a wealth of stories back home which need to be told.
So 18 months on, I’m still not rich, but I’ve made a feature film – something that a lot of people talk about doing but make excuses. I’m glad I got to do it on my terms and I’m proud of the film we made, despite the financial limitations.
Filmmakers about to shoot an independent feature, try and allocate some funds towards screenings and festival submissions. You need to get your film in front of the right people and especially the right audience. That may be easy to identify in some cases, but in others you may have to endure lots of dismal screenings and rejections. This is harder to take if you’ve spent all your money.
Having no stars doesn’t make your film unable to sell (in fact I prefer the authenticity), you just need to do a lot more work to try and sell it. Ultimately if your film is any good, someone will say so and recommend it. You just need to have faith. I credit my faith in God as the only reason we’ve even gotten this far as there’ve been some dark times these last 18 months.
I’m glad I stayed the course and appreciate the opportunity to share a little bit of my story with you. Naturally, I also have to credit my cast and crew, my family and my beautiful missus for believing in me through all this.
Follow me on twitter @MrAnthonyAbuah @WoolwichBoys @TFTMProductions
© Anthony Abuah/BUFF Enterprises. All rights reserved.