Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Aarhus (part 8) - The Porn Panel

I wake up late, groggy, and probably hung over. When you do events like this, you’re always living on minimum sleep. You usually have to get up early and teach a class... after a big party the night before. Add in the jet lag and there’s always one day where it all catches up and you crash and burn. This was that day... I had just slept through the free breakfast (the only meal I don't have to pay for), so when I stumbled into the lobby in desperate need of coffee (with the restaurant closed until lunch) I ended up at the hotel bar... drinking expensive coffee. Why is it that coffee in a bar is five times more expensive than in a restuarant?

I had one of my surprise consultations today, plus I would be on “the big panel” with the head of the Danish Film Ministry and a major distrib from Denmark as well as a couple of other VIPs. I would be the sole creative person on the panel... and I hope I would be awake enough to make a contribution. I was drinking gallons of coffee and it didn’t seem to be doing much.

I finally reached a point where my blood was about 85% coffee and could *almost* think and speak... which was good because I had a consult.

The consultation was with a guy from Greece who had taken the class, and he started out by telling me that my class had really answered all of his main questions, but he wanted to talk with me about his story idea - especially the ending. His story was from a personal event in his life - his father becoming too old to drive, yet still driving. A good basis for a story because it’s emotional, yet has lots of room for comic adventures. We talked over the end - and I gave him the feel-good Hollywood ending idea... that he probably won’t use. That’s okay, it’s his story and he knows what works in Greek Cinema much better than I do. I also came up with a non-Hollywood ending suggestion... partly because he wanted to jump from comedy to tragedy at the end, and I didn’t think that was a good idea. I liked this story - and want to see how it turns out (he’s making it himself).

The consultation ended with enough time for me to walk briskly to a cinema and see a program of shorts. Hey! I get to see movies! Cool! I've seen so few movies at this festival due to the surprise consults, etc... and the ones I have seen have been iffy at best.

I actually bump into a group of filmmakers on my way to the cinema, one has a film in the program... the most vocal member of my class. This should be interesting....

The shorts program was called POWER OF THE SURREAL and was the typical hit and miss mix... but the “hits” were the best things I saw at the film festival. The standout was THE DEATH OF SALVADORE DALI - where Dali seeks help from Sigmund Freud... in a story that plays like a Dali painting - strange and yet familiar. Even in my groggy state, I laughed outloud several times watching the film.

The short by my vocal student was a 10 minute opera that didn’t seem to have a story - just a bunch of great production design and costumes. So much for that "story by instinct" theory. Afterwards, they wanted to know how much I loved it. “Well, it had great costumes.” They didn’t like that answer and continued to ask how much I loved it. Did I love this part and that part and....

I decided to change the subject with a question about the Filmmaker’s Party. Seems it was crowded. I mentioned that I went to the party of stairs.... and they said that apartment is where some of the filmmakers were staying. You know why they had so many filmmakers at the festival? They paid for travel and lodging! I have not been reimbursed for my airplane ticket, train ticket, taxi, let alone all of my daily expenses... let alone my fee for teaching the class. This event is costing me *thousands* and I didn’t even have enough people in my class to make up for it by selling *one* class on CD. I sure hope they have check waiting for me when I leave...

But I’m not holding my breath.

After the shorts, I had a brisk walk back to the hotel to drink some more coffee and prepare for the panel... where Marina introduces me to some of my fellow panelists. I had coffee with the Film Ministry guy and the distributor guy. Both were suits. The Film Minister dude was a politician rather than a film maker - I wondered how he was going to go over with this *very* artsie anti-commercial, anti-rules, anti-anything-that-is-not-pure-self-expression film crowd.

This is the last panel discussion of the festival, and *nothing* is scheduled opposite it. No films are showing, no classes, no consultations. It’s just the panel. And it’s an all-star panel (except for me). So I expect this to be standing room only when I enter the room along with the other panelists. But there were maybe a dozen people in the audience. That’s all? The other panelists - much more important than myself - seemed disappointed. I wondered if the poor turn out meant that the Film Makers Party the night before was one I shouldn’t have missed - maybe all of those folks are still sleeping?

So we start with introductions, then the Film Ministry guy talks about Denmark’s film funding program. Like most non-USA countries, the government actually funds films as part of an arts program. An American film maker asked if she could get the money... and the answer was no. The money is only for Danish film makers. Oddly, she got mad at this and begins arguing with the Film Minister guy.... Hey, if someone’s giving away money, they get to decide who to give it to. After that, the Film Ministry dude dropped the bomb-shell.

Danish film aren’t doing very well outside of Denmark, so they were looking to fund more *commercial* films that will actually earn money, rather than films that are only art pieces or have no audience outside of Denmark. I think all of the dozen people in the audience felt as if they were slapped in the face. One of them decided to argue with “So, you’re saying we should just make porn?”

And got an unusual answer from the up-tight Film Ministry guy.

He took the question seriously... and answered that Danish porn had been very popular in the past, and had brought a great deal of money and even prestige to the Danish film industry. There was a time when Danish porn was seen worldwide - and the Ministry would not be opposed to funding porn. If the film makers had some porn film projects they should definitely submit them for consideration. His door is always open to porn.

The distrib guy chimed in that sex is still an element that sells, and they would consider any erotic films submitted to them. Yikes! Next thing you know, the panel is talking about how great porn is, and the dozen overly serious filmmakers in the audience are shocked and puzzled... as I am. I thought we were going to talk about film financing and distribution... but we’re talking about porn.

Myself and a couple of the others on the panel try to steer us back on course with discussion of film festivals or *other* genres that might be of interest to the Danish Film Ministry...

But every time we get back on course someone in the audience comes up with some smart-alec question like “Gay porn or straight porn?” And they get an actual detailed answer about financial returns on various different erotic subgenres just as if we were discussing non-porn films. The whole panel has skidded off the rails into a *business* discussion of various physical acts you might find in a porn film. And which of these physical acts provides the best financial return. It’s more surreal than any of the short films I saw earlier.

I chime in with my usual advice that your personal story can be told in a commercial form that satisfies both the artist and the audience... even the porn audience. I get a laugh... but we seem to stay on the subject of porn until the panel is over. This could have been a discussion of what’s required to get funding from the Danish government, but the overly-artsie audience completely rejects the idea of commercialism - it’s all porn to them. And, well, porn seems to sell. This is the strangest discussion of film I have ever had in my life... But I don’t think the audience heard what they wanted to hear at all. Heck, they were angry at the *commercial* aspect, let alone the *porn* part!

And here is the strangest thing about film festivals - it’s the place where art and commerce collide. Because you have a bunch of artsie-fartsie filmmakers whose completely anti-commercial films are being screened... for a paying audience. The film festival wants to be cutting edge, but they also want to sell tickets. I think this is where Elliot at Raindance is a scheduling genius - he screens a good mix of films at his festival. And he also selects *films* that are good mix - when I was there a couple of years ago I saw a US indie film called SURVIVAL TRAINING FOR GIRLS which was both a thriller and a coming of age film - and the two mixed really well. The folks at the porn panel would have seen it as a serious art house coming of age film, but folks off the street could see it as a tense thriller. That’s the kind of film that I think the Danish Film Ministry might want to fund... but we spent a couple of hours talking about Danish sex positions (and there is Danish Position, by the way - the things you learn at film festivals!).

After the porn panel, I find Marina and ask about my check: Airplane ticket, train and other travel expenses, and my class... I'm not going to be paid for all of those surprise consultations. She tells me with all of the festival stuff, she won’t be able to get to the bank before I leave... so could I leave her my banking info so that they can wire me the money? Sure. I’ve heard that one before. I’m never going to see a cent.

That night there’s one last party. It’s in this bar near the Slaughterhouse Cinema, and the bar looks like it might have been an apartment at one point in time - it’s this shotgun set up - a handful of rooms with connecting doorways. The bar itself is in the center room (the largest) and the other rooms are like little private rooms. Tables and chairs in the first room, then the bar, then a room filled with sofas. There are a couple of plates of food in the bar room, and I heard a rumor that some drink was free, but it wasn’t what I ordered (local beer). All of the film makers are there, as well as the jury. I finally get to talk to many of the filmmakers I hadn’t met, yet. Bought a round, someone else bought a round, next thing you know we’re all drunk and talking film.

And I’m in heaven.

After days of not seeing enough films and doing too many side things, I’m arguing with some Italian filmmaker about Kubrick’s best film. I think it’s PATHS OF GLORY, he thinks it’s BARRY LYNDON... and we’ve both seen all the films and can passionately make the point for each of our cases. That’s the great thing about film - it’s a popular medium. Someone on the other side of the world has seen the same films that I’ve seen. And even if I think BARRY LYNDON is a great movie about boredom... that is boring in the process... I can understand this Italian fellow’s passion. I have the same passion about some other movie. Films touch us. Make us feel and think and sometimes have a life altering effect on us.

I’m on beer # I don’t know, discussing the movies that made us want to make movies with a group of filmmakers from every continent, and I check the time... realizing that it’s late and I have to get up at dawn in order to catch the 4 hour train ride back to Copenhagen so I can hang around at the airport for 3 hours before that really long flight home. Just when I’m really enjoying myself, I have to call it a night. I say goodbye to my new friends, tell many of them that I hope to catch their films at the next festival, and leave the bar....

I do that long walk back to the hotel, stopping at a 7-11 for a slice of pizza (I had a couple of crackers and some veggies at the bar... but that wasn’t quite a meal), entered my room, set the alarm, and fell asleep. The alarm went off a couple hours later, I packed, checked out... and headed home.

In Los Angeles, after another close to 24 hours of being awake and traveling, I get back to my apartment, take a shower, go to bed at 2am... and wake up at 8.

8? That’s only 6 freaking hours of sleep!

Until I realize that it’s 8 at night - I have slept through an entire day! It takes me about a week to get re-acclimated to the Pacific Time Zone... which means I’ve spent about 2.5 weeks prepping for the Festival, at the Festival, and recovering from the Festival. They eventually paid me for my airplane ticket, but never paid for my train ticket or taxi or for teaching my class... or any of my expenses. Marina e-mails me that the festival wasn’t as successful as they had hoped, and the reimbursement for my airplane ticket is coming out of her pocket. But the good news is that the Danish Film guys are happy with the way it went, so would I be interested in coming back next year?

Well, would I, punk?

- Bill

3 comments:

Mariano said...

Closure! Thank you! :)

vanpet said...

next time ask marina to pay in nature before you leave.

Leif Smart said...

I wonder if the Minitry will pay you in porn for coming next year?

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