In Conversation With The Founder of Raindance: 5 Takeaways
I ring the buzzer. A muffled voice can be heard through the intercom:
“Um hi I’m here to see Elliot Grove.”
“What’s your name?”
“Right yeah I’ll buzz you in.”
Blood shot red painted walls surround the entirety of the inside of Raindance headquarters. Not quite what I was expecting if I’m being honest. It definitely makes an impression.
The founder of Raindance Festival (who is also the founder of The British Independent Film Awards) Elliot Grove welcomes me. He reminds me of a character that’s come straight out of Reservoir Dogs in his casual suit, dark tinted glasses and silver coloured hair.
Elliot grew up Amish/Mennonite in a small town just outside of Toronto, Canada. His mother told him that the devil lived in the cinema. She would warn him “You don’t want to be caught in the cinema when Jesus comes back!”
Of course, when he turned 16 years old, being a curious teenager got the best of him. He wanted to know what the devil looked like. So, he paid his 99 cents and walked into the theatre which reminded him of the inside of a church (fair comparison), took his seat and was surprised when they turned off the lights. The excitement rose as he thought, This would be it. The curtains opened and there, right in front of him was the ‘devil's face’: Lassie Come Home. “I cried like a baby” he says and from that moment onwards he was totally hooked to cinema.
When he moved to London, Elliot found himself in the circle with the then aspiring and unknown filmmakers Edgar Wright and Chris Nolan. They were just a group of friends, with no money or experience who wanted to create. After starting Raindance festival which was initially an experiment where he wanted to ask the question, ‘Can you make a film with no money, no training and no experience?’ he was immediately seen as the local disrupter. The industry hated the fact that he had no formal training. Luckily three notable legends were on his side. Terry Gillian, Mike Lee and Ken Loach all patted him on the back for his admirable endeavour.
There is much to be learned from those who have gone out and done it so below are 5 of the most powerful takeaways from our conversation. Get that notebook out!
1. THE MOVIE INDUSTRY IS NOT A FILM INDUSTRY, IT'S A MARKETING INDUSTRY.
We all remember The Blair Witch Project right? This is a great example of a fantastic marketing campaign. The film itself is good but by no means a classic. If it didn’t have the marketing behind it, it wouldn’t have done as well.
“I’m 7 years old” Elliot begins. His dad would pick up glass bottles for milk from the local market. The label on the bottle was normally blue until one day they were all orange. He couldn’t understand why they made this change. Then one morning he filled two glass bottles with milk - one with the blue label and one with the orange label and took them outside. He said “You know what… the milk in the orange labelled bottle looks creamier.”
The trick in marketing is to make your film look creamier than everyone else’s.
“Hollywood succeeds because it’s a marketing industry.” He continues and shares a story of when he was working with a notable producer:
“I’d meet him every morning. He’d come in with all the British papers and I’d watch him tear out the key words from the titles and mix and match them. He’d write down his favourite combos and I’d fax them to LA. A few hours later they’d send back a black and white sketch for a poster. He’d take the poster to the financiers and once the meeting was done, if enough people liked the poster, he’d hire a screenwriter to write the script the poster suggested.”
He now knew that he could sell it. Is the title emotive? Does the artwork draw you in? Would it work as a small image on your phone as well as a larger one of a billboard? These are all details that need to be thought about.
Filmmakers have to see themselves not as filmmakers per se but as communicators using the visual medium in multi formats, the arguably most important one being social media.
A woman at a conference asked Elliot if he’d be so kind to help her with her crowdfunding campaign. He asks her:
“How many Twitter followers do you have?”
“12” she answers.
To which he replies, “Here’s my card. Call me when you have 1000.”
“How can anyone get 1000 twitter followers?!” She desperately pleads.
Elliot looks up at her dead serious and says, “Look at Jesus. He too started with 12 followers.”
2. DON'T BE AT THE MERCY OF THIS INDUSTRY.
Elliot begins, “Actors are ruthlessly exploited.” Someone’s gotta say it right?
I personally believe that as a creative you are the CEO of your own business. Elliot agreed:
“I’m glad you said that. Don’t be at the mercy of this industry. You can’t just wait for the infrequent call from the agent. I mean why would you do that?”
We live in a world where you can initiate your own projects and bring others on board to help bring them to life. Own that. Use it to your advantage and initiate the collaborative process.
Remember the industry can’t exist without the creatives. They need you. Too often creatives believe they need the okay from a man in a suit with a fancy job title to make their art. It’s bullshit. Stop waiting around.
Elliot eagerly asks me “Can I tell you my actor joke”
He begins, “I travel around the world and ask people: What do you do? They say ‘I’m an actor.’ To which I reply ‘Which restaurant?’”
Let that hit you.
The question creatives need to ask themselves is, What type of creative do I want to be and how do I want to run my business effectively so that I can call the shots here?
3. THE KEY TO SUCCESSFUL INDEPENDENCE IS COLLABORATION.
Because of the fact that Hollywood is a marketing machine there are lots of politics involved. Lot’s of money is being spent so risk isn’t generally encouraged. With an independent production you get to call the shots. You get the opportunity to say the things the world actually needs to hear. You get to tell stories that matter and are void of censorship.
The big corporations are tied to money and politics. That is your advantage. Use it.
The major con is of course lack of funding which is always tricky but like in most businesses you can pitch for funding. To do this effectively you first need a proof of concept. In the film world this comes in the form of a short film.
From Whiplash to District 9 these are films that got picked up and developed into feature length films off the back of a short. Of course finding the right person to produce it can be tricky.
Elliot shared his insight on this, “You’re looking for a producer who understands your creative vision as well as the economic jigsaw puzzle of the industry. They need to be able to fight commercial battles as we as be sensitive to the creative vision. You basically need Attila the hun with a cellphone who also has a heart.”
Elliot’s thesis at art school was Picasso. “He came into the world with the same amount of talent as me. The only difference is that he worked his ass off.” People believe that he first gained popularity of Paris. This is untrue. Gertrude Stein, an American art collector from New York found him in Paris, took him back to the big city with her, worked her magic and that’s how he first found recognition. His popularity in France came after that. When someone asked Gertrude about the relationship between herself and Picasso she said: Every vine needs a wall to grow on.
Elliot ends the story with, “They both have equally important roles and some people are both. Find your wall if you’re not a vine. If you aren’t a vine be a wall.”
4. IT REALLY COMES DOWN TO THE STORY. TAKE US SOMEWHERE.
The 70 year old ex-fisherman-became-writer sold one of his scripts to Tarantino. Kill Bill became an instant classic. Elliot once asked the writer what he thought makes a good story to which he replied:
Elliot, your body is 75% water and a good movie forces your body fluids out of an appropriate pore.
If it doesn’t evoke emotion, why watch it?
The real thing that makes people within the arts succeed is their ability to tell a story. How can you look at and observe the world? According to Elliot there are two directions you can go down:
“I wanna go with you to a place I do not know and learn something I can use in my life to become a better person or, take me to somewhere I do know and show me something I haven’t noticed and by your observation I can become a better person."
Are you bold, innovate and fresh? Is your idea unique? A unique idea is golden. It will take you further than anything else can.
Oh and for those wondering how to grab Raindance’s attention with your short film:
“We choose the films we like.”
5. FINDING YOUR VOICE. IT'S EVERYTHING.
Weather a filmmaker, actor, musician or painter Elliot believes the best piece of advice he can give you is to go out into the world and find your voice.
“You need to find your own unique style. What’s your distinctive voice and style? How do you observe the world? Look at the world and decide what it is that you can readjust, reform, magnify, shape, reinterpret and hope that someone on your team (if it’s not you) has the marketing skills and clout to get it out.”
The industry is always looking for that new voice who’s going to say things in a new way. Just like in music. We had The Beatles but no one can do what they did. The more unique you are in your expression, the more of a cultural impact you can make. Knowing this, work hard to figure out what your voice is.
Of course there is no easy way to do this, “That voice is developed not through thinking but by doing.”
And remember this process takes time. Don’t get discouraged by not getting it right the first time round. If you love it, keep going and make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons.
We covered so much more from the importance of understanding music rights to how virtual reality is the next big change in cinema since the marriage of sound and picture. He shared how for the first ever Raindance he booked the films before booking the cinema space, how one year he had to think on his feet and use a bed sheet as the screen. He said "If you can’t take rejection, you’re in the wrong industry.” He recommended you keep a record of everything you create, and above anything else, you need to believe in yourself and in what you’re doing because everyone is going to tell you that you can’t be the one to do it.
Finally, I’ll leave you with what drives Elliot, "We live in troubled times. Most of the hatred comes from misunderstanding of how people live, work and play in other cultures, nations and religions. There’s no greater tool to transport you to these places and show you how they live than cinema. That’s why I do what I do."