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Blog: Lights, Camera, Achtung! An Introduction to the Berlinale Talent Campus

7th Feb 2009

BERLIN: Hello and welcome to my blog thing. I've never done a blog thing before, so forgive me any breaches of 'netiquette' and whathaveyou. I'll be using a German keyboard throughout, so forgive any weird foreign things that might creep in, like Ö or ß.

By Conor Ferguson

Sunday 15th February

So, now it is all over. Still shattered, if you must know. Thursday featured an interesting talk with Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run, The International). For many of us, Run Lola Run was an introduction to German cinema. And it was a breakthrough for the director too. But for him, the real turning point was much earlier, when he made that anxious, thrilling leap from dreaming about being a director to actually becoming one. This was a thought that rippled and resonated all around the theatre.

Another key point he made was that being rejected from film schools allowed him to go and experience life, and for him this experience is what drives his stories. "Films need to be fueled by life," he said. And this is an important point for those, like me, who thought you couldn't make a decent film without some formal training.
 
That night was the closing party in 'Adagio', underneath the Berlinale Palast - the red-carpeted hub of the main festival. It was a lavish and rambunctious affair, probably there to motivate sponsors as much as the Talents. The evening was given a certain edge by the sense that we should be saying meaningful things to our favoured producers. So, there was a bit of that, and a bit of booze, and some jumping up and down to loud music. Then back to the hostel to ruminate on the whole business: the things learned, the contacts made, the will to go on.

In terms of the practicalities, it was a cheap week. Accommodation is free (if you're willing to share a dorm. I booked my own room for €41 a night.) I got €70 towards travel. Breakfast every day was free too. Bargain! You could pick 3 talks a day of the 8 or so that were on. The good news for you is that some, if not all, of the talks will be put up online in film or transcript form in the Media Library here: http://blog.berlinale-talentcampus.de/campus/ Or maybe you had to be there.
In conclusion, this has been a great experience. Aside from the lectures, it was a nice buzz to meet and chat with like-minded individuals, and to learn that in film, most people are just finding their way.


Wednesday 11th February

The idea of updating this blog daily clearly hasn't quite worked out. That's because there's just been so much talking going on. Talking done by experts like Max Richter (who was awarded Best Composer for his score for Waltz with Bashir at the European Film Awards) and leftfield thesp Tilda Swinton (who said the last time she had been in the same theatre, she was playing the role of Mozart, IN GERMAN). Talking done by fellow Berlinale Campusites. Talking done by me, to the point where I'm feeling a small pony... I mean, a little hoarse. Boom, eh, boom. (Hey, I'm tired.)
 
Much of said talking was done yesterday at the BTC pitch. First we all had to do a brief summary of our project to the whole room of about forty people. So that was fairly twitchy. Then I had seven half-hour pitches to different production companies, with a half-hour break for lunch in the middle. That's a lot of words. And the questions raised by one producer tended to emerge again in one's sub-conscious when talking to the next.
 
However, it wasn't about slickness, it was about finding out how well each director and producer understood the project. I got a lot of encouragement from some of the producers, and I am trying not to be too hopeful.
 
There's a party tomorrow night which is apparently when most of the producers quietly have a word with their favoured director. Whatever happens, we all have to nominate our top three production companies by Monday, and the producers have to the same. If there's a match, there's every likelihood that that film will get made.
 
So, afterwards we all went to a Greek place and drank beer and shots of ouzo, for some reason, and vented some of the anxiety and expectation that had been accumulating since the start. It was all jolly banter, but clearly some were feeling less upbeat about the day's proceedings than others. And that was hard, I think, for all of us.
 
The Talent Campus creates an online network of alumni, past and present, so that we can keep in contact with each other, and maybe get involved with each other's projects. 
 
I haven't seen any movies, but saw some shorts which were good. The runner up in this year's Berlin Today Award was called 'My Super Sera Wall' and was a documentary about Kevalina, a tiny island community of a few hundred somewhere near Alaska that is going to be swallowed up by the sea and year now, unless something is done to either protect it, or re-locate the people somewhere on the mainland. It was stirring stuff.
 
David Thompson of BBC Films curated an evening of shorts on Monday night that were prepared to take a few risks. This is what short film directors should be doing, he said. And it's true that shorts present the only real opportunity to do so - although, if the risk doesn't pay off, that might be as far as the filmmaker will go.
 
Anyway, it was a challenging bunch, including 'Aphrodite's Farm', which featured Maori virgins bathing in milk (albeit in a comedic setting); 'Oh My God' Norwegian film about 11 year-old girls having - or pretending to have - orgasms, that was almost a female re-make of John Kennedy's 'Hoor'; an American film about gay teenagers in LA; and a harrowing documentary that animated the testimony of two of the 5,000 children freed from a life of actual, real slavery in Sudan. The real tragedy is that there are an estimated 40,000 children still held captive, for no reason.
 
So, much to think about.
 
Tomorrow there is more talking. Tom Tykwer, whose Run, Lola, Run put modern German cinema back on the international map, is holding forth in the morning. Then later there's the big party.
 
In other good news, I returned to the hostel tonight to discover that my first short, 'The Wednesdays', has won the Best Narrative Short Award at the Oxford Film Festival in Mississippi, which was attended by Morgan Freeman and Debra Winger apparently. Woo!
 
Only, I hope I'm not using up all my good luck before we meet the producers again tomorrow night...

Sunday 8th February

Lots of talk today. Various seminars, including a really good discussion on screenweriting with the highly listenable David Hare and a couple of other distinguished guests. Hare railed against other people interfering with scripts, and said whenever you see a really bad scene in an otherwise good movie, it's because someone let an actor write their own lines. There was also 'Kill Your Darlings', an interesting mastercläss on editing with Suzanne Korda. And a really warming interview with Bertrand Tavernier, which was foreshortened by a visit to the Irish Film Board international networking reception.
 
But the main event was the aforersaid Dine and Shine dinner in 'e-werk', a former power station and the heart of European techno in the 90s. The dinner didn't quite reach such euphoric highs, but was certainly inspiring for us BTA candidates. The Indian doc, 'Wagah' did indeed win the prize, and the other doc 'My Super Sea Wall' got a special mention.
 
I haven't actually got to see any films yet, as it's all about the learning, but am itching to do so. Hopefully tomorrow.
 

Saturday 7th February

So, Day 1 proper and up bright and early it was, after a night filled with banging. Not me, and certainly not the naughty variety, just doors various. My room is right next to the main door on my floor, and yes, it bangs. I wondered if I was part of an experiment to see just how many times a door can be banged before someone goes and investigates. But I showed them. I just rolled over, thinking filmy thoughts.
 
Nonetheless, wandered downstairs and shufled among my fellow Talent Campusites. They all seemed to know each other, although it always looks like that from the outside. Then suddenly someone asks where are you from and next thing you're in. There's allsörts here. In the ßerlin Today (ßTA) group of 15 alone we have an El Salvadorean, a Georgian, a ßulgar and a pair of Indians. We all got the shuttle bus tö where ´the Talent Campus, then bonded over getting lost on our way to the introductory meeting.
 
At said meeting we all had to introduce ourselves and outline our projects, which really helped me feel totally unprepared for Tuesday's meeting. However, at the coaching session later in the day the course director said a lot of producers were interested in my script. Which seems like the perfect excuse för celebrating early and screwing it üp on the däy. But I won't be doing that. I may not be at this long, but I gather it's only the idiot pöültry farmer who coünts his flock prematürely.
 
The day generally involved chatting to people and qeüeing. (I can't spell thät.) I met lots of good people. Then we went to see the films that were selected läst yeär. And I discovered that the competition has actually been göing for 5 years. They were generally - but not frighteningly good. The best two were documentäries - which says something about something or other. I couldn't help thinking, hey that could be me this time next yeär - up there on the stage of a venerable old theatre having a cornucopia of foreign hands clapping.
 
Now I am back in the Wombats Hostel where there is a party for us on the bar on the roof. Tomorrow lots more will happen - including the Irish Film Board dö and the Campus 'Dine & Shine' dinner, where we will have the opportünity of meeting the pröducers for the BTA. Apparently they do a sort of musical chairs thing before each course, to make üs mingle or break up the bowsies or something. Wim Wenders is göing to be there, as he is a judge of the ßerlin Today Award this year. My money is on an Indian documentary about a weird ceremony of aggressive bonding that happens every year when high-kicking, face-twitching soldiers from India and Pakistan open up the gates of the only border between their countries for a short exchange of shared humanity and fury.
 
But now, vee paardy.
 
Friday 6th February

What the heck is the Berlinale Talent Campus then?
Good question. And I'd love to explain what it's all about, but you will find a clearer picture here: http://www.berlinale.de/en/das_festival/berlinale_talent_campus/index.html
For those who can't be arsed, it's a week of seminars and workshops and things like that, designed to give 'young' fiolmmakers a bit of a boost on their way to exasperation/glory. There are lectures on everything from casting to title design; masterclasses from big knobs like Tilda Swinton and Bertrand Tavernier; and modules on music scoring, script development and film journalism. Marvellous. If you haven't applied before, you possibly should. I did last year and didn't get on, but here I am now.
 
So, what's the Berlin Today Competition?
It's a short film competition open to past and present members of the Talent Campus. This is the second year of it, and generally the plan is, they set a brief. This year it's called 'Straight to Cinema', which is about celebrating the act of going to the cinema or something lie that - it was pretty open. They got 250 scripts in, which have been shortlisted to 15. I am happy - and surprised - to say that my scipt was one of them. Rebecca Daly (of the excellent 'Joyriders') was also selected. Two scripts by Irish directors in an international competition surely isn't bad. (Even if, now that you mention it, they're unlikely to select two Irish entries foir the final 5 that will get made.)
 
That's the other thing: five will get made, following a pitching session this Tuesday, where each of the shortlistees has to pitch the film to several German production companies. But first of all, tomorrow morning at 9.15, we will all meet and greet for the first time, smiling and secretly hoping each other's films are scheisse, to use the vernacular.
 
So, that's what itÄ's all about. I hope you will 'stay tuned', or whatever the blogospheric version of keeping up is called.
 
Auf! Auf!
Conor Ferguson

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