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Podcast – Toronto International Film Festival 2022 Wrap-up

Takeaways, learnings and advice from those who were at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival.

Mitchell Stanley, Grainne Brunsdon, Jayden Rathsam Hua

Find this episode of the Screen Australia Podcast on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Pocket Casts

Screen Australia CEO Graeme Mason says one of the things that sets Toronto International Film Festival apart, is that it’s very clearly a festival designed for the public – something that can have great impact for buyers and distributors.

“You're actually sitting in a room with Torontonians who've come and bought tickets, which is unusual for one of the five big global festivals,” he says on the latest episode of the Screen Australia Podcast. “When I used to buy and sell for a living, you loved using Toronto because you actually saw it with a proper paying North American audience.”

Madman Entertainment CEO Paul Wiegard agrees, saying that a film that’s well received by an audience helps you “double down on what that investment was.”

“Often that's a lot about what theatrical releasing is, is risk management… For that alone, it helps with the decision making around whether there's a film that's worth pushing into the marketplace and also helps with us to understand a little bit more about the timing of a release in the local marketplace,” he says.

“A lot of what distribution is about is trying to find the right date in a calendar and when you're in that international marketplace, you're hearing about the timing from distributors all across the world, frankly, and that that has a direct and material impact on what the decisions are around the Australian and New Zealand release.”

These are just some of the many learnings and takeaways on the latest episode of the Screen Australia Podcast, which also features guests including Screen Australia’s Head of Content Grainne Brunsdon and Head of First Nations Angela Bates, a proud Malyangapa, Wanyawalku and Barkandji woman from Far West NSW. In addition, they are joined by several Australian creatives who were at the festival, including director Jayden Rathsam Hua, who was selected for the prestigious TIFF Filmmaker Lab, and producer Mitchell Stanley from No Coincidence Media – a Wiradjuri man who is one of the producers on We Are Still Here, the joint anthology feature with New Zealand Film Commission.

Five Australian titles were selected for TIFF 2022 (see here), and of those, three were funded through Screen Australia's First Nations Department: We Are Still Here, TV series Mystery Road: Origins and Sweet As – Jub Clerc’s debut feature film, which also took home TIFF’s NETPAC Award.

As Bates explains, 2022 saw the highest number of Indigenous film and TV screened at TIFF ever.

“And when I say Indigenous, I mean collectively Australian First Nations, New Zealand First Nations, as well as Canadian First Nations,” Bates says.

“[It] was amazing to see and I think obviously there's global interest and appeal in our stories.”

Subscribe to Screen Australia Podcast on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Pocket Casts

Audio Transcript

[00:00:05] Caris Bizzaca Welcome to the Screen Australia podcast. I'm Caris Bizzaca, a journalist with Screen Australia's online publication Screen News. I'd like to firstly acknowledge the various countries you are all listening in from, the unceded lands of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. This podcast has been created on the lands of the Gadigal people of the larger Eora Nation, and I've had the great privilege to be a visitor and be able to work on these lands during my years at Screen Australia. Always was. Always will be. For this episode of the Screen Australia podcast, we are joined by a number of guests who each talk about their takeaways and insights from Toronto International Film Festival, or TIFF, which ran in September. From Screen Australia, joining us is CEO Graeme Mason, Head of Content Grainne Brunsdon and Head of First Nations Angela Bates, a proud Malyangapa, Wanyawalku and Barkandji woman from far west New South Wales. In addition, we'll hear from Madman Entertainment CEO Paul Wiegard, speaking from the Australian distributor/buyer perspective, director Jayden Rathsum Hua, who was selected for the prestigious TIFF filmmaker lab and producer Mitchell Stanley from No Coincidence Media, a Wiradjuri man, who is one of the producers on We Are Still Here, the joint anthology feature with New Zealand Film Commission. It was one of three projects funded through Screen Australia's First Nations Department that was at the festival alongside TV series Mystery Road: Origin and Sweet As - Jub Clerc's debut feature film, which also took home TIFF's NETPAC Award. It's a big episode, so we'll jump right into it, but as always, remember to subscribe to the podcast through places like Spotify and iTunes. Feedback can be sent to [email protected] and subscribe to Screen Australia's industry eNews for all the latest from the local industry. First here's Screen Australia Head of content Grainne Brunsdon, explaining the purpose of being at TIFF as well as at the Australian International Screen Forum just prior to the festival.

[00:02:05] Grainne Brunsdon Screen Australia has often gone to Toronto Film Festival. It's one of the premier film festivals in the world and certainly in North America. So it's a really important one to have a presence at. We had a number of Australian projects there this year, which was great. Three of them were First Nations projects. So Mystery Road: Origins was screening the first couple of episodes. We Are Still Here, the anthology feature film that was a Co-Pro with New Zealand and Sweet As, Jub Clerc's feature film, her debut feature as a director. They all screened to very warm audiences and a very warm response. In addition to those was also Blueback from ArenaMedia, Rob Connolly's feature film, and Carmen, a French Australian co-production from Goalpost Pictures here in Australia. And again, they were all received very warmly. Prior to TIFF, Screen Australia had taken a delegation to New York for the Australian International Screen Forum that takes place at the Lincoln Centre in New York for a few days. We had a call out for applicants and people who wanted to attend that and we took a delegation of about ten writer director producers with us to that, and there was a three day intensive programme put together for them by the Australian International Screen for Michael Kelleher, who's an Australian who works over there. The whole thing is sponsored by Chris and Francesca Beale, who also have naming rights for the cinema at the Lincoln Centre. So that takes place. There's a morning session that's closed session for those participants with people coming in and doing some professional development with them, really about what it means to kind of try and break into the American market for an Australian creative. The afternoons were more masterclass sessions that were also then open to film students from NYU or Tisch or Cornell or those kinds of institutions. And then in the evening was a screening programme and Q&As. So we had screenings from Seriously Red was there, so Rose Byrne came and did a Q&A with Krew Boylan. True Colours, the first couple of episodes screened. So again there was a Q&A with Penny Smallacombe, who's the producer, Rarriwuy Hick, who's the lead actor in it and Steve McGregor, the writer. And then on the last night was Phil Noyce's Rabbit Proof Fence, which is having its 20th anniversary. And he did a two hour directing masterclass, which was fantastic. And again, they were open to the public so people could buy tickets and attend the screening programme.

[00:04:35] Caris Bizzaca Here's Screen Australia's Head of First Nations Angela Bates, with more on that Australian International Screen Forum delegation.

[00:04:42] Angela Bates Two of those participants were our two First Nations creatives, Beck Cole, who's an amazing TV director, who's director for Wentworth, she directed a chapter on We Are Still Here, the Grog Shop chapter, as well as being the montage director that interweaved all the chapters together on We Are Still Here, so she's an incredible director. And then Samuel Paynter, who wrote The Grog Shop, he's been a writer on Little J and Big Cuz, and he's done quite a few things, sort of mid-career now. And so it was an amazing opportunity for those two to be part of that talent hub in the mornings sessions. And then the afternoon sessions were open to public, so public talks. And we also hosted a panel, I moderated a panel on celebrating First Nation storytelling. There's lots of global appeal, obviously, with three of our projects being selected at TIFF, and that panel went really well. And I think, you know, US audiences were really interested to hear our journey and where we're at today.

[00:05:42] Caris Bizzaca And who was on the panel?

[00:05:44] Angela Bates So Penny Smallacombe who, as you know, is my predecessor here in the First Nations Department. She's (now) the Grow Manager for ANZ Australia New Zealand Netflix. The other person on the panel was Beck Cole and Mitchell Stanley.

[00:06:01] Caris Bizzaca Producer Mitchell Stanley will be on the podcast a bit later. But before we get to that, he is head of Content Grainne Brunsdon again.

[00:06:08] Grainne Brunsdon So that was New York. A number of those creatives came up to Toronto then to take meetings to network. It was very useful in terms of timing because they back directly onto each other and the opening weekend of TIFF is really where all the sales agents and distribution companies and production companies are in attendance. TIFF is a big festival for audiences, so the main drag where the cinemas were is closed off. So it was a pedestrian access. There are lots of activations, and then there was an industry market that was there in one of the hotels on that same main drag, all of the venues for TIFF were in walking distance of each other. They really condensed it this year. They used to have it up near the university as well, but this year it was just all within walking distance of each other, which was great. There were big premieres there. Steven Spielberg's film premiered there, I think the first time he's premiered a film festival ever. Hillary and Chelsea Clinton were there. Taylor Swift was there. So there's lots of those kind of high profile - I think Viola Davis was there premiering her film as well, so there's a lot of high profile stuff happening there. In addition to the largest contingent of First Nations filmmakers as part of TIFF ever and International, so, you know, as I said, there was a number of Australian First Nations films, there was another New Zealand film and there were a number of Canadian films as well. So that was really kind of great to see. And we had a quite a large First Nations contingent because of all of those films and because one of them obviously was an anthology. There's lots of different creatives involved in that, so it was great to have a whole series of events for them to attend and be part of as well.

[00:07:48] Caris Bizzaca Here's Angela with more.

[00:07:50] Angela Bates I had some interesting meetings too with our Indigenous counterparts internationally from Jesse Wente and Kerry Swanson from Indigenous Screen Office in Canada. They're like a version of us and they've received a lot of government funding to support Indigenous film, First Nations film in Canada. And then so we also met with the head of the New Zealand Film Commission's Te Rautaki Maori Department. So we were all really keen to see how we can partner up and you know, either do a sort of international co-production initiative similar to We Are Still Here or whether we, you know, develop talent hubs collectively. So, you know, we can give our local filmmakers and creatives an opportunity to participate in in any special talent hub somehow.

[00:08:44] Caris Bizzaca Now he's Screen Australia CEO Graeme Mason, talking to what makes Toronto International Film Festival unique.

[00:08:51] Graeme Mason What's fascinating to me is that there's so many different layers, so you've got the actual festival proper itself where works are screened, highlighted, showcased and everything that can mean for people. You've got business opportunities. So there's labs and developmental opportunities too, and again for businesses and careers and it dovetails together. There's an entity called Ontario Creates and they really fund the festival. And so they are a business-minded cultural arts entity which also works in publishing and books and music. So the festival is the best of both of those things. It's cultural and creative, but it's looking at it as a business. And whether you are a business of one or a big organisation, you're still a business. You're trying to work out your career and opportunities and that's what I've always found TIFF and Toronto and all the offshoots to be.

[00:09:47] Caris Bizzaca On the business side of things, Grainne explains there was a lot of networking and meetings happening throughout.

[00:09:54] Grainne Brunsdon The industry market was very buoyant as well. Lots of sales agents around wanting to meet people. We had a networking event for the Australians and lots of contacts there from sales companies and people wanting to meet up with the creatives that we were there with. There's also the International Film Financing Forum that was there. They do an open call for applications for approximately 20 applications. Four of those were Australian this year and they had all travelled over there again to take their own meetings with whether it's Amazon or financiers or sales agents and that kind of thing. Again, it's quite an intensive programme that they were involved in. So the feedback certainly that we've had from them is that was a really useful thing to do.

[00:10:38] Caris Bizzaca Someone else that was at TIFF this year was Paul Wiegard, the CEO of independent distribution company Madman Entertainment. In addition to that, Paul is also co-chair of AIDC, the Australian International Documentary Conference, is the president of the Australian Independent Distributors Association and has a board position at ACMI, the Australian Centre of Moving Image. Here's Paul talking about the reason for travelling to TIFF with Madman Entertainment this year.

[00:11:06] Paul Wiegard Principally Madman's sort of role at TIFF is seeking out films to invest in to represent all rights for the Australian and New Zealand territory. And we were involved with the few films that were playing there, Emily directed by Frances O'Connor. It was in the platform section and produced in part by Rob Connolly, and that's how the film was originally introduced to us. So it's fascinating to see that film play to a Canadian audience and in that environment. So there's nothing that surpasses actually seeing it with an audience. Another film the while, the Darren Aronofsky film, which played in special presentation and look that film, The Whale, first played in Venice and was just sort of building on its momentum out of Venice and playing in Toronto. And all these sorts of things help with sort of positioning the film back in the Australian and New Zealand marketplace. There's always things to learn out of that environment. And there's a few other films that we're involved with that first premiered in Cannes, that went on to play too in TIFF like Broker, by Kore-eda and Decision to Leave, the Park Chan-Wook. So the other main reason of course is there to acquire finished film. So always on the lookout for finished films. And we secured one film there in Toronto and as a number of discussions in place. But you know, as always, there's something about sort of forming relationships and networking and trying to frankly just exchange information and it's all those sort of conversations you have in a market when you're there in person that you seek out of a film festival.

[00:12:42] Caris Bizzaca Now, when it came to the feeling at TIFF this year, there was a bit of a theme that emerged. Here's Graeme, Angela and producer Mitchell Stanley with more.

[00:12:50] Graeme Mason It was very buzzy.

[00:12:51] Angela Bates There was real sort of buzzy feeling.

[00:12:54] Mitchell Stanley Just the buzz alone is incredible.

[00:12:56] Graeme Mason I mean, I think it's the first time since 2019 that we've all been there. 2020 was cancelled and was all remote, 2021 that had a little bit of a hybrid event.

[00:13:06] Angela Bates I can't measure from previous festivals. But what I do know is that TIFF 2022 saw the highest number of Indigenous projects, or film and TV screened at TIFF ever. And when I say Indigenous, I mean collectively Australian First Nations, New Zealand First Nations, as well as Canadian First Nations, which was amazing to see. And I think obviously there's global interest and appeal in our stories. But also I think what really helped with that is that there is a director for Indigenous programme at TIFF this year, Jason Ryle, who used to run imagineNATIVE for many, many years in Canada, so the First Nations Native American Film Festival. So now he's over at TIFF. And I think that just shows how important having First Nations leadership and advocacy at these international film festivals can help get our content shown at an international level.

[00:14:04] Caris Bizzaca Now back to something Graeme was talking about before - that idea of TIFF being about the creative, the premieres and celebration of film, but also about that business side. Here's Paul Wiegard explaining how that works from a buyer/distributor perspective and some of the deals that happened.

[00:14:20] Paul Wiegard And often, you know, TIFF is another one of these places that's a bit of a launch pad into the awards season. The awards season really kicks off from, I guess, December, right through to the Oscars. And maybe this time around, Venice got the jump on Toronto with a number of those big films, first premiering in Venice and then sort of then being screened again in Toronto. But if anything, that just sort of helped fan some of those films and gave them even more oxygen, sort of put them on the bigger stage. So all that sort of stuff is really helpful from a buyers or distributors point of view. As a market, TIFF this year felt really subdued. A lot of the major films already spoken for before the festival began. I think there's only one major film that was sold worldwide, and it was Alexander Payne's The Holdovers. It's interesting. It's like it was the case of all the major independent distributors from around the world being invited to a private session or screenings and those are then being cancelled for exclusive negotiations with worldwide buyers. So you get that sort of dynamic in play and that was a significant sale. Otherwise, it was very quiet on that front. And it's certainly been a really tough year for the independent market in 2022 and not only in Australia but across the world. So with very few films working in the independent marketplace, I think buyers at large were very sort of risk adverse this time around. So as a market, it was very, very subdued. The were very few, what I find with Toronto was very few new packages like new projects are introduced whereby there's casting, new scripts, you know, there's a start date to production. A lot of those sorts of discussions are all being held off for the American Film Market. My sense is that the sales agents could feel that there was people leaving their hands in their pockets and with that sort of mood they were holding, you know, again, further, I guess, motivated to hold off introducing as packages till the end of the year. But, you know, ultimately the festival plays a lot of English language films that clearly work in this territory. So given that Madman works in Australia and New Zealand, there's lots of films to screen and to review and to form an opinion on that play there for the first time.

[00:16:40] Caris Bizzaca He's Graeme highlighting something else that is significant about TIFF from a buyer perspective.

[00:16:46] Graeme Mason And the other great thing about Toronto I should mention, is it's very clearly a public festival. So people buy tickets. So some of them are much more like Sundance, which I adore. But again, it's become very industry heavy. Toronto you're actually sitting in a room with Torontonians who've come and bought tickets, which is unusual for one of the five big, big, big global festivals.

[00:17:08] Caris Bizzaca It's a bit more accessible to the public in that way.

[00:17:10] Graeme Mason It's actually driven for the public first. So the industry stuff is separate. They even do great thing called press and industry screenings. So journos, buyers, distributors, agents, you can all go and just see it with each other at separate screenings. So it's very efficient from that point of view. But why you know, when I used to buy and sell for a living, you loved using Toronto because you actually saw it with a proper paying North American audience.

[00:17:39] Caris Bizzaca There's always the discussion around what makes a film theatrical, and Paul says that public facing aspect of TIFF and the press and reviews are helpful for buyers and distributors.

[00:17:49] Paul Wiegard It's all about context, and when you see so many films playing in one programme, there are films that sort of rise to the surface that are getting the most attention that you may otherwise have overlooked just on the page. So in that sort of active environment, it certainly does help and it's all about momentum, particularly, say amongst the feature documentaries, for example, like which of the films demand to be seen on the big screen? Are finding an audience on the big screen, you know? And you get a little bit more clarity around that and a bit more focus when it's in a film festival environment. And look, it's a huge market as well, so there's a lot of press and industry screenings. But you do get as a buyer the opportunity to attend a lot of the public screenings as well. And, you know, arguably as an English language territory, there is a lot in common with the Canadian audience. Yeah, I mean, it helps in most cases. It sort of helps you double down on what that investment was. Your enthusiasm about the potential for a project? I think that's what it does do. And often that's a lot about what theatrical releasing is, is risk management and saying, 'okay, look, here's another filter whereby the film's being well received, we're not seeing any potential concerns. So like, you know, let's let's further lean into this opportunity that's presenting itself.' For that alone, it sort of helps with the decision making around whether there's a film that's worth pushing into the marketplace and also helps with us to understand a little bit more about the timing of a release in the local marketplace. And I say that for the reason that a lot of about distribution is about trying to find the right date in a calendar. And when you're in that international marketplace, you're hearing about the timing from distributors all across the world, frankly, and that that has a direct and material impact on what the decisions are around the Australian and New Zealand release.

[00:19:46] Caris Bizzaca In terms of reception, here's Angela's speaking to the screenings of Jub Clerc's coming of age film Sweet As as well as Mystery Road: Origin and We Are Still Here.

[00:19:55] Angela Bates It received such a beautiful reception in Toronto as did all of our films really. We Are Still Here got a lot of good reviews, a lot of publicity, as well as hearing the audience reaction and every screening had a Q&A afterwards. And the general feeling from the audience for Mystery Road: Origin, for Sweet As, for We Are Still Here was that people just generally loved the content that they were seeing.

[00:20:22] Caris Bizzaca Speaking of, we also spoke with We Are Still Here producer Mitchell Stanley. Mitchell is a Wiradjuri man who's from Wellington in central western New South Wales and was brought up in the inner west of Sydney. He's the principal of No Coincidence Media and produces documentary and drama working across television and film. His credits include NITV's Colour Theory with Richard Bell, documentary Servant or Slave, and of course, the Official Co-production We Are Still Here, which opened the 2022 Sydney Film Festival, then travelled to festivals in Melbourne, New Zealand and made its international launch at Toronto.

[00:20:58] Mitchell Stanley I was there for the first screening and that was a full house and the second audience screening from my understanding, where the other filmmakers were there, the directors, they said it was an absolutely full house and it was much bigger. And the response on both accounts was fantastic, knowing that an international audience also have an understanding in their own regions of the displacement and the continued survival of Indigenous people is something that is shared not just from Australia, New Zealand, but they've got their own stories, particularly in Canada and North America. They're aware of the common thread of what colonisation does to Indigenous people and how Indigenous people are affected. So to see those stories come from our region, we had a great response with the international audience there.

[00:21:53] Caris Bizzaca Also big news out of TIFF was sweet as taking home the NETPAC Award. Jub Clerc, a Nyul Nyul and Yarwuru woman directed and co-wrote Sweet As with Steve Rogers while Arenamedia's Liz Kearney produced and Robert Connolly was executive producer. Here's Angela and then Mitchell with more on that win.

[00:22:11] Angela Bates Yeah, so that's very exciting. I'm very excited for Jub because she is one of the most humble people I know. Her film is just so beautiful, you know, it's a coming of age story. She is the first female writer/director of a feature film to come out of Western Australia. So she's flying the flag for Western Australian filmmakers and just Western Australia in general. But interesting, she texted me yesterday morning, early, like hours after she won the prize and said, 'You know what, a win for me is a win for all of us.' So, you know, I just sort of got a bit choked up about that actually, because she's so humble and she knows, I guess, the relevance of winning awards for First Nations people here in Australia, but also internationally as well.

[00:22:57] Graeme Mason It was the first time I got to see Jub's film because when we went down, when our film was screening in Melbourne, Jub's was right at the opposite end of the schedule. So I quite love sitting there with Jub and Liz Kearney and the whole Arenamedia team to watch Sweet As and it was actually wonderful and congratulations on their award as well. It's well deserved, but seeing, you know, an Indigenous film from Australia could win, you know, a big award over at TIFF, which pretty much says that there is an appetite with international audiences for our stories. And, you know, seeing Mystery Road up there, I got to see Dylan River (director) there quickly. And I absolutely loved Mystery Road and and Dylan's work. So it was a proud moment to have us there alongside, also, I must mention, you know, there was the team from Muru from New Zealand and there was quite the catalogue of native Canadian or First Nations Canadian stories and North American stories playing there at the same time. And all the Indigenous filmmakers come to have a very warm welcome from the local mob there. So that was quite wonderful to celebrate with not just the Australian but the New Zealand and the North American and I think there was some Sami filmmakers there too. So having us all together, it was just such a wonderful experience.

[00:24:24] Caris Bizzaca There was also a lot of industry takeaways from TIFF this year too. Here's Graeme and then Paul with some of their thoughts on the market and how it's changed in recent years.

[00:24:33] Graeme Mason There was a lot of deals and stuff going on all the time in Toronto. As I said, it's the sort of festival that American buyers particularly and studios are really looking at. But we're in an interesting point in the cycle. There's swings and roundabouts. Sometimes people are really looking to acquire finished films and in other points the market shifted like now, whereas most things are already pre-sold from script. So it's something that I think anyone listening to this needs to keep abreast of. At what point is the cycle up to when you should be pitching something out?

[00:25:07] Paul Wiegard It's just such unusual time isn't it. Like we are coming out of this pandemic. And so there was a still a fair degree of excitement and energy in the festival. And there's always films that are spoken for before you enter a market. And in years past it was the all night sort of bidding wars that would happen in the US market specifically and they'd end up grabbing the rest of the world in those discussions. So that had changed this year from where it was four or five years ago. I would say that's probably the same, that could be said of pretty much all of the festivals where  there's a lot less gut being used and a lot more of an analytical sort of, you know, measured approach to the acquisitions discussion. But, you know, everyone arrives incredibly organised and informed and have done their homework. So I think that's continued to evolve and improve just with the ability to exchange information and for coverage to be achieved.

[00:26:13] Caris Bizzaca Do you find that there's a lot more of these kind of global like worldwide rights kind of being snapped up in a way at these festivals?

[00:26:23] Paul Wiegard I would say that was certainly more the case 3 to 4 years ago. They would be acquiring finished films for all territories. Now, in most of these cases, these films are commissions. They're being produced by the studios or the big platforms, so they're arriving already spoken for. So the dealings aren't being done necessarily in the marketplace. They're being done between the markets.

[00:26:50] Caris Bizzaca It's coming on board in that like development stage, basically.

[00:26:53] Paul Wiegard That's right. And but yeah, that said, I think that there's a much greater appetite to see, I think for the more entrepreneurial producers out there, what are the wraparound rights? What are the other ways, you know, yes, it could be a a a streaming deal in a couple territories, and it works for those territories. And then it's all rights distributors and representatives in other territories. So there's not just one way to do it. I think that like a lot of things in life, you don't want to put all your eggs in one basket. So there's different approaches for different projects. So yes, a lot of films are spoken for and with it, a lot of films are being made because of the big platforms and what have you. But there's still a lot of other independent films that do need a plan B, a plan C, a Plan D. So it's interesting, Madman's been involved with a European Film Fund initiative with Curzon Cineart. And we had a film called Merkel about the Angela Merkel documentary played in Telluride. So this is, again, a little bit like Venice, a bit of a run up festival into Toronto. And here's a film that's on the cusp of either going, okay, we've got two pathways here. It could go into an all rights distributors in a number of territories. Or is the better approach with the film to go to a straight streaming scenario for a bunch of territories? So again, I guess the message that I'm probably passing on is that it's not just going in one direction in that all the films are being acquired for all rights for the world. It's not the case, I think it's either a case of them being commissioned for the world by the studios or the streamers or it's a bit of a mix, a bit of a hybrid model between all rights distributors in some territories and streamers in other territories.

[00:28:47] Caris Bizzaca If you are pitching in early in the development phase to a North American or global buyer, Graeme says there are some things to consider.

[00:28:55] Graeme Mason Now, but if you're pitching in early, they want to be part of that process. So something I think we're often not very good at is we think our things are shoot ready. The North Americans and the global buyers think that's a really good second draft. If they think it's a second draft, it's a second draft. You got to keep going. And they want to be part of that process. Or they seem to be buying, waiting till they can see it. It sounds like a bit of a broken record, but it's the same topic that we've been having since Cannes too. The tougher your drama is, the less appealing it is for buyers. And that's particularly if you don't have something which can really hook them in, principally cast. Without that kind of element, people are going to need to wait and see. So your financing is going to be hard and your sales are going to be hard. You also need to be thinking about where that audience is because the streamers are pulling back their expenditure. It's hard to say pulling back, when Netflix is still spending 15 or 16 billion on content. But everybody was talking about how they're pulling back. Audiences, particularly the older demo, which was the underpinning of independent cinema, has not returned to the cinemas the way it was pre-pandemic. So where a lot of the Australian theatrical attention has been for the last 5-10 years is the trickiest place to play.

[00:30:21] Caris Bizzaca Now here's Grainne with more on that overlap from Cannes alongside further takeaways.

[00:30:29] Grainne Brunsdon Certainly one of the things that we were hearing from people was not unlike what we talked about after Cannes was really people are still looking for content that is not just straight drama because that's really difficult to place. Most of the state agencies, the screen agencies that we met with and we went with a number of them when we were in TIFF, most countries are having exactly the same issue in terms of return to cinema as Australia is. So no surprises there. A lot of the sales agents are looking to talk to creatives when they're at script stage with a director attached. They want to know that a film knows who the audience is for that film, has got a clear voice. On the flip side of that, they're also looking where something might be a bit more risky, they want to be able to see something first before committing. But they are certainly looking to track creatives and what they're doing. I think if people are pitching to a sales company, it's about not just the film that you've currently got in your head that you're in development for and seeking finance for. But also what else have you got on your slate? Because if the one that you're developing doesn't hit home for that producer, but they think you're interesting and that you've actually got something to say and you might be a quite creative voice. They're going to want to know what else you've got in development. So that was certainly something that we're hearing. But there's certainly an appetite for Australian content. There's certainly an appetite for developing relationships with Australian creatives. We heard that time and time again, which is obviously really encouraging.

[00:31:59] Caris Bizzaca For any Australians planning on travelling to a festival and market like TIFF, here's Angela's advice after being on the ground there.

[00:32:06] Angela Bates If you're a producer and going to meet with sales agents and distributors to make sure that you lock in meetings well in advance and, you know, have a really targeted approach because different sales agents and distributors are after different things. Like we met with one who just picks what they like, which is quite broad, but then there's others that are more interested in sort of genre or, you know, they're very specific in what they want and they only take so much a year. And you know, if you're a filmmaker, writer/director travelling over there, then just, you know, get the programme well in advance, make sure you plan out what you want to say. And yeah, it's just all about planning really, because it is so big when you get over there and it can be overwhelming, being in a new country or in another country with so much happening. So I would just say plan, really.

[00:33:01] Caris Bizzaca He's Paul from Madman again with his thoughts on what Australian creatives should keep in mind.

[00:33:07] Paul Wiegard If you're asked the question of what is working and what sort of films that creatives should be making. That's the impossible question to ask of any buyer. I mean, interesting with Toronto, such a broad selection of films, you know, they've got official selection, Discovery Galas, Midnight Madness platforms, special presentations, docs, it goes on. And so there's got to be a category where your film has a home and appropriately so. Just going to be the best version of itself. In terms of those who are attending, probably it's a very functional operational sort of response, but you've just got to be as organised as you possibly can before landing is my key tip. You know, you just got to put in your calendar or your diary as much as you can prepare in advance. Get that in the calendar because people are very time poor once they're there and the festival passes very quickly. So just to be as organised as you possibly can. You don't just front up and and hopefully find your way into a screening or two. You got to do more than that to really get the best out of those sorts of festivals. I would say for most the creatives just find a window or partner up with someone who's sort of like a buyer or sort of actively in the marketplace and just walk around the actual trading areas where the sales agents are, their offices, and just sort of observe how they're selling films, how they're positioning films and what's out there in the marketplace. I mean, I think there's a lot to be gleaned and discovered just in doing that, just being active in the market area and just seeing what's being made. I mean, it's funny how we can be a little bit blinkered here in Australia to what we're being introduced to, specifically with the films that have been acquired and released. There's so many, so many other films that never reach our shores. Probably pretty good reasons in some cases, but there's always going to be learnings from what is being done and done well. But just getting into the marketplace, I think for the creatives, I would certainly encourage that. And it's a wonderful thing about being in a marketplace, a festival, just really taking that time out first thing the morning and reading all of the trades, you know. Deadline, The Hollywood Reporter, Screen Daily, Variety. I mean, they're all there. They're all publishing stuff on a on a daily basis. And if there's ever a moment in time where you fully immerse yourself in the industry side of things, it's in a festival and you do that. You know, you put that hour aside in the morning, first thing in the morning, providing you haven't been out too late in the evening. And you do the homework because it's interesting. It's funny how through all of that, you start to get a sense of some trends and what people are looking out for and to answer your first question, which of the films are going to be theatrical sort of propositions for the year to come.

[00:36:06] Caris Bizzaca Both Angela and Paul did say to prepare, which is exactly what Mitchell Stanley did. Here's his advice.

[00:36:13] Mitchell Stanley Just roll with it. It is it is so busy. I mean, I've done Cannes, I've done Berlin. And this was the first time going to TIFF both on the festival and the market side. It is it is crazy. It is bedlam. It is so busy. You have so many filmmakers, actors, sales agents, distributors, as well as the general public all there in support of the festival. It's I think the first time I've seen a festival take over the streets and put barricades up because there is just so much participation from the general audience and there is just so many people there, hungry to to watch film. And so go there with the intention to watch what you can, meet who you can, but expect that the schedule will just change because there is so much going on and you just roll with it and it's a great experience.

[00:37:09] Caris Bizzaca Did you have, you know, quite a plan of while you were going to be there, you know, who you were going to talk to and those kind of things?

[00:37:17] Mitchell Stanley Absolutely. Absolutely. And none of it went to plan. [Laughs] So that's what I'm saying. Just roll with it. It eventually happened. But you get there and you know, you're then working with a publicist who's just hijacked your schedule and you're supporting the filmmakers who have got their own schedule and commitments, and you're there to promote the film as well as, I guess, be there on the market side and also enjoy films as well. But the primary focus is to get the current film out there and make sure all your filmmakers have a great experience releasing it because it's nerve wracking. It's absolutely nerve racking thinking, 'how's the international audience going to respond to something that we find to be a local story?' But, you know, it's always the intention of, well, for me particularly, it's the intention to make local stories that touch a global audience.

[00:38:16] Caris Bizzaca Now, here's Graeme again with his big piece of advice for any creatives going to any international festival.

[00:38:23] Graeme Mason You need to make the most of it. You need to leverage it. So brilliant, you've gone on the red carpet with your movie. Fantastic. Enjoy the moment, but make something of the moment. So whether you're helping your film get into more festivals to get more profile because that will lead also to better opportunities for everybody, not just you, whether you're the producer or the director or the writer, but the everyone involved should benefit from that. But you really need to be promoting what's next. So what's next either for that project? Or what's next for you and everyone else involved?

[00:38:59] Caris Bizzaca And this is something that was front of mind for Mitchell Stanley. We Are Still Here is an anthology feature made up of eight short films from Australian and New Zealand First Nations creatives, many of who got to travel to TIFF for the international launch.

[00:39:13] Mitchell Stanley There were quite a few emerging creatives on our side from the filmmaker's perspective who would use this film to launch their careers and take them to mid-level or even more experienced practitioners. So you know that was happening at the same time as getting the story out there, but focusing on making sure that our filmmakers get the best experience and can move forward as well because they're there and they've got the opportunity to meet other filmmakers and distributors and sales agents to talk about their future projects, too.

[00:39:51] Caris Bizzaca Someone else who is at TIFF making the most of their moment was Jayden Rathsam Hua. Jaden is a graduate from AFTRS, did a masters in producing, and over the course of that masters wrote, directed and produced the short horror film Sushi Noh, that's been doing the festival circuit for the past two years. Jayden's now focused on his feature debut and in navigating a pathway forward, he applied and was selected for the prestigious TIFF Filmmaker Lab. Here's Jayden talking about how he got into the lab and what it involved.

[00:40:23] Jayden Rathsam Hua I think when it comes to freelance filmmaking and everything that comes with it, there's always that question of what's next. And not only that, but what will help you achieve the next thing that you have on your slate or in your plan. And so after graduating and touring a little bit with the film and working a little bit in the industry, I thought, 'I'm going to give my first feature a crack.' And so I was developing that with my co-writer and producer Ivy Mak. The title is Matriarch, and we were attaching talent, we've got Joan Sauers, who script edited for The Babadook on board. And as we're going down the funding route, there are different arguments to be made as far as whether I'm experienced enough as a director or whether I have enough under my belt. And so we were just thinking about different ways that I can get out there and engage with the industry in different ways. And on one hand, that's absolutely making new work and developing that. But also it's about getting industry knowledge and putting myself out there and developing my own discipline as far as filmmaking goes. So I applied for the TIFF Filmmaker Lab with the project and I was lucky enough to get in and it's been fantastic. It's a really great launchpad for networking and also getting an insight into the work processes of other more experienced directors as well.

[00:42:01] Caris Bizzaca And so the TIFF Filmmaker Lab, can you explain a little bit about what it is like, what is involved with it?

[00:42:09] Jayden Rathsam Hua You apply online first and foremost, and there are 20 participants in the filmmaking lab, ten of which are from Canada, the other ten international. I was actually one of two Australians. Another Australian, Aaron Lucas, who lives in Berlin now, was also selected. So with the TIFF Filmmaker Lab, what it essentially is, is this five day workshop where you bring your idea with you and you incubate that with the guidance of three governers. So I was unfamiliar with that term, but the governers have a place in kind of the jury aspect of the film festival and they act as mentors to guide us through those five days as well. So we spend those five days watching films, having private conversations and sessions with the directors of those films. Often those films will be premiering at TIFF that year, and we also split up into groups for a few hours at a time with different mentors, and we walk through different aspects of the features that we have in development, and they offer their insight as to how we should go about developing it. It's really helpful and it gives a lot of perspective to everything.

[00:43:22] Caris Bizzaca And so what were then, you know, a few of the big kind of takeaways or learnings that you got either from that filmmaking lab or, you know, those general meetings at TIFF?

[00:43:32] Jayden Rathsam Hua Well, one one practical thing that I thought was very helpful and so simplistic is we were chatting to the director of Brother. His name's Clement Virgo, and we were just asking about his process and something he said really resonated with me is that a part of his process is that after he writes all of the beats of his film out, he sets an artificial parameter for himself that when he begins writing his first draft or scene breakdown or whatever, he will work his way through those beats and he won't let himself go back and change anything until he's finished. And then he'll let himself finagle with all of the plot points after that first draft. But I get super tempted by doing a little bit, backtracking and then editing, and it's a very slow process for me. And to have that articulated to me was very helpful because it gives me something concrete to latch on to as far as what I can apply to my own process and keep the ball rolling, because it can be so easy to get caught up in the details when working alone. So I thought that was very helpful. And I think being over at TIFF it's quite intimidating rubbing shoulders with people who are so well-established and recognisable, and especially being a young filmmaker, just laying the first bricks of his first feature and being in the room with a lot of talented filmmakers on their own unique path really reinforced that although it can be helpful to chat to people who have that much experience and they can pass on their pearls of wisdom, the really important thing is to ground yourself and really be present with the people that you're working with and the people at your level as well. I think oftentimes when starting out, it can feel like people with more money in their pocket or more experience under their belt can reach down and pull you up. But the reality of it is that it really boils down to supporting each other when you're at the same level. And the more, the more you do that, the better everyone else is. I found that kind of perspective really grounded how I'm going to approach the work that I do in the future. And I hope that other people have a similar perspective because the more we help each other, the better all of us do.

[00:46:06] Caris Bizzaca That was Jayden Rathsam Hua and a big thanks to Jayden, Mitchell Stanley and Paul Wiegard for joining me on the podcast as well as to my Screen Australia colleagues, Graeme Mason, Grainne Brunsdon and Angela Bates. Remember to subscribe to the fortnightly Screen Australia newsletter to keep up to date with new initiatives, opportunities, videos, articles and more. Thanks for listening.