I always do a double take whenever I see the title of the Hong Kong Film Market: “Filmart.” It's confusion of art and money seems strangely apt. Because the market is so important to making movies, those glamorous pictures it produces of red carpet moments and cocktail parties are what most people think the industry is all about. They forget the hard grind of trying to get your shots while the rain, wind and sun beat down on you and money is short and deadlines all too near.
There are few greater pleasures in life than drinking champagne and chatting with some of the most beautiful and talented people in the world. It is the better part of the job. One is supposed to provide candid moments for the press to keep the world of films and entertainment in the mind of the public and to see whether one has some sort of chemistry with various actors, directors, producers or writers. Maybe some future project will be seeded by these encounters.
For those of you who have not been to a film market, let me explain what they are. Essentially various production companies set up stalls with posters of their films and invite distributors to come and see them. There are showings in the screening rooms and there are DVD’s made available, and there is bumf of various kinds for people to pick up and see if the various projects strike a chord with them.
Now and then a deal is done and your film has to be made ready to be publicized and shipped off to the various screening circuits around the world. This can be a simple matter of sending a DVD to an online distributer or the creation of a complicated publicity campaign that will prepare the given territory for your product.
Further to this there are film projects in various stages of development pitched to the few players who have funds for investing. Most money that is on offer will come in if money is already in place. This might be the filmmakers’ own money, which is a very high-risk tactic because most do not have any money they can afford to lose. Other filmmakers might have government or other institutional funding, or have found a friendly billionaire who supports their endeavours. With some money in place, top up money is more available and one might get it from distributors keen on getting rights to what seems a hot property, or other investment funds might be brought in at favourable rates in the hope of the film going big.
There are very few films that investors will put money in. And most of the stalls at the market are more a triumph of hope over experience. However, in compensation, there are plenty of parties, networking receptions, and seminars and conferences allowing people to mingle with the good, the great, the sleazy, and the untried. Whether you end up with a toxic partnership or a really creative one is a matter of luck, judgement, and experience, but without the opportunity to meet people actively engaged in the tortuous process of making a movie, you are at a great disadvantage.
One of the things one will constantly hear is how one has to make a cracking good movie to bust through the system and grab the audience. The number of times you will hear this, you would think that there were people thinking that all you need is a crap script and a shoddy half baked film! However, it is true that one repeatedly sees terrible scripts get funding, find stars willing to turn up and hang around in front of the camera, and then get distribution and make money. One can point to a number of Hong Kong movies that have recently done just that. And for that matter one can find a bunch of American movies that right from the get go, fulfill all the requirements of a really bad idea.
All too often a film is made with less than honest motives. Twisted arms, manipulated track records, tax exemptions, dodgy financial maneuverings, all play their part. The general public will, with the right marketing, pay to see a bad movie and walk away saying how bad it is. And the movie still makes money despite everyone hating it, where a good movie will lose everything. But it does the industry little good and we all know it, hence the repeated mantra of the necessity to make something good!
If one circulates these markets one discovers a class of people attending market after market, posing as distributors, producers, directors, without having done the said jobs and with little intention of doing it. It is sometimes difficult to avoid such time wasters. But this is the way every business is. There are secrets, there is bullshit, there are posers and there are those who have managed to make it, and those who will one day make it, and a whole lot of also rans. And one learns a lot and one of the biggest lessons is that it is a game full of false pathways that one can get lost down.
Every aspiring film maker should go to a few of these things so that you know what you need to be doing when you do have something to sell. But a word of warning, do not turn into one of those guys who does nothing but schmooze. Always remember that after the party, you get back to work.