2017 Tropfest NZ winners of the MPA first prize trip to Los Angeles for a film immersion course.
Last year, when it was unexpectedly announced that Tropfest NZ was back on for 2017, my partner Sash and I were thrilled and immediately started talking about what story we would like to tell to create a film to submit. This was to be our first short film we’d created together – having previously acted in several films together, we wanted to tell a story that would bring both of our strengths to the fore and hopefully move our audience in some small way. After several months of brainstorming, refining, writing, re-writing, planning, getting a team on board and finally shooting and editing, the result was The Anniversary.
We never expected to actually win Best Film so when our names were read out it was so surreal and I remember Sash and I just looking at each other in disbelief before realizing that we actually had to go up to accept the award and say something!
The thing we realized from talking to the judges, the organisers and of course the audience, was that having a heartfelt story, told simply but well, that people can relate to, is really key to a winning short film. I won’t give the story away for those who haven’t watched The Anniversary yet (see the link at the bottom to view it!) but it is a story of a couple, who find ways to reconnect through difficult times, and the film is told without any dialogue at all. Ultimately, it is a very hopeful story and one that meant a great deal to us (and it seems this translated well to touch a lot of other people too!)
One of the most exciting things about winning Tropfest was getting the opportunity, thanks to the MPA, to go to Los Angeles in November to attend a five-day course; the Global Film & Television Program, run by the Latin American Training Centre (LATC). The course was a whirlwind of information covering the business of filmmaking. We learnt how to craft a pitch, and got to actually pitch our feature idea to a panel of three Hollywood producers, as well as getting a one-on-one meeting with another producer. We learnt about the state of the industry in the U.S., and the ins and outs of independent filmmaking, including a case study on 500 Days of Summer. There were a number of sessions on the very businessy side of filmmaking such as entertainment law, copyright law, sales and distribution, deal memos, financing, and film market and festival circuit secrets.
All the business stuff was so interesting but so complex. I think one of the biggest learnings I took away from it all was how important it is to get the right team on board for our project!! A good producer of course is so important, but one producer can’t usually do everything. Getting people who are experts in their field to cover different aspects of what goes into making a film will make a big difference to the final outcome, that’s for sure.
On a very practical level for me, one of the stand out sessions was a lesson from a professional “script doctor” about story/script structure and tips on writing screenplays that will sell. This was an awesome session, perfect for the stage Sash and I are at with our next project (we are working on the development of a feature film script). We got a lot of useful advice from this session, but also learnt that it’s important to know the rules so you know how, why and when to break them. There are things that really work when it comes to good screenplays, but that doesn’t mean every script has to follow the same formula.
The other most valuable part of the course for me was the session on pitching and the two specific opportunities we got to practice pitching (as well as the informal opportunities to pitch to others on the course and people we met at the networking events in the evenings). We got some extremely helpful feedback and guidance on what people really want to hear about in a pitch, and of course how important it is to be absolutely passionate and enthusiastic about your own project. No one will ever love your film as much as you do – so exude the love you have for your story right from the start.
As part of the program, we got to attend one day of the American Film Market (AFM), in Santa Monica. This is an overwhelmingly huge event that runs for 8 days and literally thousands of filmmakers and industry professionals from around the world meet, pitch, sell, make deals, and do business. It was awesome to get to see where it all happens and have an idea of what it’s like to attend AFM, so that in future when we have an actual script to pitch or a film to sell and distribute, we will feel much better prepared rather than going in blind.
All in all, the LATC program was an extremely rewarding experience for me and Sash. The organisers were such fantastic generous people, and the program itself was a feast of information, networking, experiencing LA and the film industry, and getting to know an awesome group of filmmakers from many different countries. We are very grateful to the MPA for providing us with this opportunity and even though Tropfest NZ is no longer continuing (much to our great sadness!) I really hope there will continue to be opportunities for New Zealand filmmakers to attend this course in future years.
Flash As Productions | Director, Producer, Writer and Actor
Mary has been an actor for many years and is a graduate of The Actors’ Program. She has now been writing, directing and producing short films for over two years. She co-founded Flash As Productions with her partner, Sash Nixon, and together they wrote, directed and produced the award-winning short film, The Anniversary, which won Best Film at Tropfest New Zealand 2017, where Mary also won the award for Best Actress. Mary was also recently awarded Best Female Director (Hamilton) in the 2017 48 Hour film competition and is currently working with Sash on their first feature film.
Tropfest NZ 2017 winning short film, The Anniversary – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X4AvEFY2kcg
Film stills from The Anniversary:
Photos from the film immersion course: