Janette Griffiths

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Friday, February 24, 2012

Badgeless at the Berlinale Part 1 

A London agent, who shall remain nameless, recommended the Berlin Film Festival as being friendly to writers. That was back last autumn. I decided I'd give it a try. I had months in which to grab that cheap Easy Jet fare and find a place to stay. So, of course, I found myself booking a wildly expensive flight on Thursday and frantically emailing a room to rent while I was riding the Piccadilly line to the airport. Then on the descent into Berlin, a streaming cold decided to show up and accompany me into town. And it came along to the festival just so that I wouldn't be lonely. I sneezed and wheezed and my eyes burned and my head hurt. And I'd flown hundreds of miles and spent hundreds of pounds to give my scripts a chance.  

 Berlin was bone-crushingly cold. And the festival is held around Potsdamer Square, a soul-less, wind-whipped concrete canyon. For those first twenty four hours, I was convinced I'd made a big mistake. I kept thinking of that opening scene in Charlie Kaufmann's "Adaptation" when the writer was thrown off the set of the film  he had written and stumbles, blinking, out into the lonely Californian sunshine. I didn't even have a film made,I had no script optioned, there was no sun, just freezing cold....what had I been thinking?

 To be continued.

Fri, February 24, 2012 | link

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

 Badgeless at the Berlinale Part 2

Everyone I spoke to, directors, producers of small and large companies and agents, seems to agree that Berlin operates on three levels

a) the official festival and market. The festival has the usual films submitted, a jury led by someone famous (this year Mike Leigh)  and people like Anjelina Jolie posing  lusciously in skimpy clothes in front of  freezing hotel entrances. That bit  probably has no relevance whatsoever to me or anyone trying to get a new film going.
b) the market which takes place in several official venues and requires a badge which you either buy for 60 euros a day or qualify for because you are a distributor, production company or sponsored by your government etc. I couldn't get into that and, again, would not know what to say to  Brazilian Film or  Telefilm Canada just as me the writer.

And then there is the level of serendipity. Everyone I spoke to believes that this is where the magic will happen if magic there is.  But, of course they do! This is the movie business and it's the belief in the chance meeting in the elevator or coffee shop, the break that comes out of nowhere, the triumph over tragedy that gets these people up in the morning.

I know a thing or two about the 'getting up in the morning.' I once worked as a chamber maid in a bed and breakfast and as I vacuumed, emptied waste bins and made beds I saw the secret world of the people eating granola on the flowery deck downstairs. It's a world full of Ibuprofen, Tums, Rennies and Preparation H. In the case of the bigger, older men, there's often a strange  tubular apparatus next to the bed that protects sonorous lungs from sleep apnea. I'm fairly sure that similar panaceas fill the elegant rooms upstairs in the Ritz. It takes a lot to get us out of our gritchy, smelly, grumpy morning selves and into the sleek, confident, charming creatures that fill the luxury hotel lobbies.

There are  three main venues: the Hyatt, the Ritz and the Marriott. During the Berlinale, the  management of all 3 hotels just throw their hands in the air and give up on trying to keep the lobbies and lounges in any sort of order. Hundreds of people throng in, sit by the fire, set up temporary offices in the coffee shops, don't order anything for hours, check their emails on the free wifi and even have the waitresses carry armchairs from across the room when extra seats are needed.

There are so many people braying into cell phones, or trying to make deals that the poor waitresses can hardly hear themselves speak. "Do you want another coffee?" asks a flaxen-haired server of a guy in Ray-Bans who is in the middle of saying: "Well it's Romeo and Juliet but with NO dialogue because Juliet is a Neanderthal and Romeo is a Homo Sapiens so, of course, they are WAY more star-crossed than Shakespeare's lovers."  He glances at the flaxen-haired lovely with a look of bemused annoyance and goes back to his pitch....

At the Hyatt, I sit, purely by chance, next to a German producer who has made a couple of films set in the world of classical music. And I am trying to sell a love story set in the world of opera.... We talk for an hour. He says that he has sworn never to make another feature film but he asks for my script.

Then, again by chance, I sit down next to an elegant  Austrian gentleman in the Ritz. I ask if he is a producer and he sighs and says 'no fraulein, I am head of a studio." He  buys  me tea and bewails the loss of Concorde. I commisserate, "how can we go on?".... We chat at length about Mahler, Vienna etc
He declares himself very  impressed with my 'vast knowledge of Mitteleuropean' culture and gives me his 'private email number'.

Then later, I get so cold, I sit by the fire in the  Ritz and meet a young German agent, who says that that my 'random' approach to life could go so far but that I might need an agent, and gives me his card.
Next day in the Marriott, the only available seat in the lobby is next to a couple of good-looking young men who are deep in intense conversation. When I sit down, they pause long enough for me to learn that one is an agent representing film composers and the other is a composer.  Well, given that my script currently exists only in my MacBook and on a couple of USB sticks, this final meeting may not prove quite so serendipitous as yesterday's encounters. However....
When the novel was optioned a few years back a Canadian friend told me that any film version should have Rachel Portman as the composer of the original soundtrack. I knew little of film music but looked her up and saw that she is, indeed fairly illustrious. Even I knew her work on "Remains of the Day."
So I wasn't really surprised when I asked the agent to name some of his clients and the first name out of his mouth was "Rachel Portman".

All this has to be followed up and with everybody at the Berlinale running on whole rivers of adrenaline, things can get forgotten and big disappointments  ensue so I have to persist.

Alas, because I was so busy touting my wares, I did not have the time to do anything else in Berlin which is a shame because it is a fascinating city. I did see the Berlin Philharmonic's conductor,  Sir Simon Rattle  eating sushi in the food court of the big shopping mall. That was sort of exciting. But I missed both Don Carlo and Lohengrin at the opera. Berlin has 3 opera houses, of course, so one could go quite crazy.

And I was so preoccupied that it was only on my third day that I realized that the big chunks of concrete in the middle of Potsdamer Platz were part of the Berlin Wall! Last time I came to Berlin it was still standing.

Apart from that, I stumbled into lots of parties - have no idea quite why or how  but wound up in the official Chinese party, ate lots of excellent  spicy shrimp  and met their top beautiful movie star - no idea of her name. Then on to the Scandinavians where I ate moose and reindeer. I wandered out into the snowy street and  saw a crowd in front of the Martin Gropius Mirror restaurant. I got talking to a young Cuban producer, the crowd built up behind me and soon I was swept inside to a French party and  lots of champagne. Somewhere in my 4 days there was a Lithuanian bash and an Aussie event where  they served  lots of  creme brulee. There was a lot of salami everywhere. And then I stumbled out and onto a plane to Heathrow and was sorry to leave the snow and the freezing U-bahn platforms and the warm hotel lobbies and all the people whom my crazy, deluded self believes could change my life and who I never quite met.


Tue, February 21, 2012 | link

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