As the applications roll in for our brilliant Flatpack Festival brief, we asked one of the festival founders, Ian Francis, to tell us what he’s looking for in a great short film, why he’s never left the West Midlands and why it pays to hang out in the pub…
The festival sort of grew out of doing regular nights in a pub called The Rainbow in Digbeth.
It was a mixture of short films, live stuff and AV performance. It was as much a gathering as a performance. I was interested in doing non-cinema stuff: we don’t necessarily have a Watershed or a Cornerhouse in Birmingham, so we had to play to our strengths. We had some portable cinema kits, so we got interested in doing things in bars and places like that.
We’ve done Green Man every summer for years, Supersonic who are our neighbours and friends and Shambala, where we used to run a film tent made out of an old US Army decontamination tent.
I studied film at Warwick – I’ve barely left the West Midlands in my whole life. It was very theory-heavy and when I left I wasn’t fully expecting to do anything film-related. I did some volunteering for a film and television festival, made myself indispensable, stuck around for long enough to get paid and things built from there.
It’s hard to pinpoint when it started to feel like “a proper job” but probably when we started to turn down things that weren’t going to make any money. It took a couple of years to get to that point. Of course, we still do stuff that won’t make any money because it’s nice to do them.
Kit is much more affordable these days: you can get hold of a projector and a screen for about £300 or £400, which is fine for a small-ish room. Short film is an ideal medium for people who have plenty of time but not much money. Also, it’s the sort of work that works really well in a social environment.
We don’t just support emerging talent because we feel we ought to; we do it but because that’s the stuff that often really excites us. We programme a lot of animation, documentary, abstract work and a certain amount of narrative. The things that jump out when you’re going through submissions are when someone’s had an idea and just followed it through, without looking over their shoulder or worrying about the audience or trying to ape someone else.
Birmingham is a pretty big place, with 1.2 million people, and it deserves exciting stuff going on. Birmingham is a hard place to get yourself heard because it’s big and sprawling but we’ve got all these amazing buildings we can take over and you can create a real buzz. There’s also a nice lack of cliqueness in Birmingham.
We’ve got quite a good track record of discovering people. The animator David O’Reilly and video-maker David Wilson came when they were just starting out. We’re always looking out for people like that, with a really distinctive voice but perhaps not loads of work yet.
We don’t do so many regular pub get-togethers any more, but I would recommend Kino 10 in Birmingham. It’s a monthly film night that happens in Moseley. Creative England have also started announcing bits of money specifically for outside London, so check that out.
In Focus: Ian’s top tips for getting ahead in film
• Being a nice person certainly does help, although there are a lot of geniuses that are arseholes.
• Communicating in a clear and engaging way is essential – you can’t just think of it as the Marketing person’s job. That’s everyone’s job.
• Don’t be too scared of putting your stuff online, but you do need to guard your intellectual property. You need to think about what value your time and talents have.
Flatpack Festival will take place on 13-18 March, 2012. In January they will also be putting a call out for Festival volunteers. To find out more, visit their website.
To get your short film screened at this year’s festival apply now for our Flatpack Festival brief.
Photo by Chris Keenan.