Banff Reflections

Last week, through fortuitous and kind circumstances, I had the opportunity to attend the Banff World Media Festival. I drove down on Monday, groggy from having shot very late the previous night. I didn’t know what to expect, and I didn’t have a plan or a pitch. I just went to take it all in, and maybe learn a thing or two. And I did.

Industry people. What can I say about them. In the Edmonton film community, we’re about as far removed as it’s possible to be from the three-martini-lunch conversations in Beverly Hills that move proverbial mountains in the entertainment industry. It was weird to see those kinds of LA types strutting through the Banff Springs Hotel in their business casual –  it felt like a bit of an invasion. Even though we were in my home provence, I was the outsider. I’m guessing not too many people there had been up until 3 AM hauling C-stands around the night before.

I attended seminars hosted by the producers of Mad Men and the creator of Arrested Development. I sat at a roundtable discussion with the heads of Mongrel Media and Cineplex. I talked to the guy who runs iTunes for all of Canada. And I listened to what people who work in film all over the world have to say about the future.

The biggest lesson I learned in Banff: don’t make films.

That sounds fatalistic, but it’s not. It’s very hard to make a film. And once it’s made, it’s very hard to get people to see it. This is something I knew before. I knew that film festivals have become overrun with submissions since everyone and their grandma got an HD camera, but I just assumed that everyone was in the same boat: the one where you submit and submit and submit and just hope. Hope that your movie gets in. Hope that someone “important” sees it. Hope that they like it and reward you with the ability to direct movies for the rest of your life.

But why hope when you can act? We have the ability to service and interact with audiences directly now. This is intimidating because the Internet is such a vast ocean of content competing for five minutes of anyone’s attention. But “content” is the game we’re in, and who’s to say that if you do what you do well that there can’t be an audience for that? What it takes is a level of dedication that goes beyond putting your short film on Vimeo. For me, that means creating specific spaces online for the stories that you want to tell, and then promoting that space through creative and engaging use of social media. It’s like creating your own television channel, exclusively for your stories. Putting the power of distribution in your own hands.

Look this is probably pretty obvious to a lot of people. But what I learned in Banff is that I hadn’t fully embraced the digital revolution. I was still so focused on what are becoming very limiting and antiquated ways of sharing stories, the traditional avenues of distribution, and it’s affected my output. From now on, I’m going to be more focused on digital storytelling and web content. After recently watching Kieslowski’s Decalogue, I can’t stop thinking about creative ways of blurring that line between cinema and episodic television-style shows; I have some interesting ideas about what that’s going to look like in relation to this web-based idea, but more on that later.

I’ll still submit to film festivals. There’s something to be said for tradition. But after last week, my thoughts are basically this: fuck the old industry for now. We’ll make our own way online.

Until next time.

Dylan – Somewhere In Southern Alberta

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