Film | Wide Angle

How to sell your film abroad

by Mark Schilling

Contributing Writer

As a reviewer, reporter and programmer, I go to six or seven film festivals a year. This is nothing compared to some colleagues, who trudge the festival circuit in a never-ending loop, but it’s enough to give me a heap of festival badges.

My trip to the Fantasia International Film Festival, whose 23rd edition ran from July 11 to Aug. 1 at venues in Montreal, was a first in more ways than one, however.

North America’s premier genre festival, Fantasia has attracted such Hollywood A-listers such as Robert Pattinson, Guillermo del Toro and Nicolas Winding Refn, while inviting films from top Asian directors like Takashi Miike, Sion Sono and Johnnie To.

But I wasn’t there to see the films on offer, including an impressive lineup from Japan, but to pitch my own idea at the festival-hosted Frontieres International Co-Production Market, held from July 18 to 21.

My producer and I had done a similar song-and-dance at a project market in Italy two months earlier, but Frontieres was bigger and, for genre projects from North America, more important. Given the fierce competition for the 20 available slots, it was something of a miracle that our made-in-Japan project got in.

Our budget, which we announced in an eight-minute presentation to a packed auditorium on the first day of the market, was mid-range for a Japanese film, but absurdly low for Hollywood — or even Canada. People later complemented us on its “realism,” by which they meant, “Your investors have a fighting chance of making their money back.”

I sat through the other presentations (ours was the second of 20) to learn and, in some cases, reflect — Why didn’t we have our absent director make a chatty video message, like several of our counterparts?

But the audience, which ranged from a programmer for a festival near the Arctic Circle (he canceled our meeting) to a rep for Netflix (he came, thankfully), liked our little slide show and talk just fine. We scheduled more than 30 meetings and in none was the hard sell necessary. Many folks came to pitch us something, be it a deal on post-production work in Montreal or sales representation in North America.

What came of all those confabs? At this point it’s hard to say. A veteran programmer for the Toronto Film Festival told me ours was the strongest project of the 20. One reason: Our director’s previous films have traveled widely on the international festival circuit, winning three invitations to Fantasia. Our rivals couldn’t claim the same.

That’s good to hear, but after three years of pushing this project along, I’ll only believe the compliments when our director shouts “action!” on set for the first time. That said, my four days at Frontieres were educational. I learned a bit more about how the sausage is made.

And I did see some good films, notably a section of four shorts by Nao Yoshigai. A dancer, choreographer and artist, Yoshigai uses colorful flower petals, idyllic natural landscapes, young female dancers and other elements straight from an imagination fed by shōjo manga (girls comics), but combines them in ways dream-like, disturbing and distinctive. And I’m sure she had to pitch her films to no one. When your budget is zero, your freedom is infinite.

GET THE BEST OF THE JAPAN TIMES
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5