Christine Hartland, Film Producer, the Challenges and Triumphs of Working in London in the Industry
Writers, actors and directors have the glamour jobs in the film industry‚ but the production–what happens behind the scenes– is where you really get your hands dirty. French Film producer Christine Hartland knows how to get her hands dirty. As a producer, she's the one wheeling and dealing her way through the day‚ and often until morning‚ to pull deals with all-important financiers, sale agents, and distributors, but that's just the tip of the production iceberg. Considering the huge amount of films that never get made, or see light of day, producing is no mean feat. And for writers and director ‚ finding a good producer with a solid reputation is like finding gold!
Christine Hartland established her company 'Patchwork Productions' in 2008. With fifteen years experience in film and event production, Christine encountered what she describes as a "very steep learning curve" as she moved into producing feature films.
As a producer who has engrained herself into the London film-scene, Christine shared with Creative Mapping the challenges and triumphs of working in the industry in London, networking, and her appreciation for mentor Damian Jones of The Iron Lady fame.
"A film is highly collaborative, even though some filmmakers manage to make films doing mostly everything themselves on it which can be quite amazing. However I believe that working with other experts and talented people add value to the production." Christine Hartland
ABOUT CHRISTINE HARTLAND
CM: Where are you from and what did you study?
I was born in France near Bordeaux, but brought up in Strasbourg. My mother is French and my father is English. Both my sister and I were brought up speaking French only. It's only when I came over for University (I first studied European Business) that I started speaking English more fluently. After my degree, I completed a two-year media course and specialized in photography, which I love.
CM: How did you get into the film industry?
After graduating, I fell into the corporate world, producing live events (mainly for internal communication) which meant being involved in the software production (graphics sequences, slides etc) ie: what goes on the screen(s) as well as sound, set and lighting design.
A couple of years later, I was asked to produce videos for those events. So when, in 2001, my neighbours asked me to help a friend of theirs on her short film, I thought it would be fairly easy and straightforward‚ little did I know. That first short film I produced was a 16mm production and my video experience was barely helping as I had, for example, never heard of a focus puller or a 1st AD let alone a 2nd or 3rd AD or the difference between 24 and 25 frames per second. It was a very, very steep learning curve on the technical side of things. I understood scheduling and budgeting for a 3-man crew (or sometimes a bit more depending on our budget) but certainly not for a full on film production.
Luckily enough, I was fortunate to work alongside another (lovely and very patient) producer who had a lot more knowledge than me despite it being her first short film, too. Also everyone I talked to about the film was extremely helpful ‚ I remember asking many people, many times (and not just two or three times!) about whether we should be filming the short on 24 or 25 frames per second, and trying to get my head round the impact of each options‚ It was not helpful that everyone had different views about it, therefore it didn't make the decision process easy!
Overall, my background in working on corporate did (and still does) help as the processes are similar. The main difference nowadays is not technological but working with no or very low budgets. The film world is a very different and unique world especially in terms of business when you start producing features. But I was very lucky to be surrounded by such supportive people, and I can also call upon my mentor, Damian Jones (The Iron Lady) thanks to the mentoring scheme Guiding Lights. The key challenge with short or feature films is generally the lack of money that could often help solve a problem faster or easier. I still work as a corporate freelance event and video producer (it's my bread and butter) whilst juggling feature and short film producing.
CM: Describe a day when in the full swing of film production.
Days are usually too short! I'm not sure there's such a thing as a regular day. Every day is always so different from the previous one, with various challenges and successes. The most important thing for me is to be working with a great team so you get support and move forward together. The key is working with people who have complimentary skills, and are lovely to work with too!
Also typical days are not as glam as one would think. Even during a shoot I'll still be be working behind a computer, replying to emails and interspersed with the odd meeting to make sure all is happening as it should be. Or making teas & coffees! Once filming starts it's very much in the hands of the director, 1st AD and line producer.
CM: What are the key aspects to get right when producing a film?
The script (story) and people are key aspects. A good story and team behind a film will make a huge difference, especially when working at low budget levels. I'm sure the same principles apply on bigger budgets too though. Producing films takes years even if it's a fast production (ie; my first feature WMD was done fairly quickly from the first time I met David, raised the finance, to being at market in Cannes it took ten months - although David had worked on it beforehand).
But after that you'll still be working a few more years on it during its post-release life. I'm still working every so often on WMD a few years later. Similarly I'm still working on a short film that was completed in 2007 as it's still being screened. I like to, and tend to, work very closely with writers, directors and other producers if I'm not the main producer. I think the projects generally benefit from close collaboration.
CM: So, producing is highly collaborative? What do you deem most important for a successful collaboration?
Producing a film is highly collaborative ‚ even though some filmmakers manage to make films doing mostly everything themselves on it which can be quite amazing. However I believe that working with other experts and talented people add value to the production. It's also highly rewarding, working with people who are experts in their field ‚ as a producer I've learned a enormous amount by just sitting at production meetings with editors, costume, production and sound designers. They bring their view and it usually enriches the production.
Attitude and talent are key, and hopefully I'll end up working with some people over and over again. Producing films is a very slow process, therefore it can take years though before working with someone again. In that effect, it's good to build a great network of talented people and keep in touch with them for potential future productions.
CM: Do you think features should have a transmedia strategy?
One of my feature projects, Nitrate, by Gavin Boyter & Guy Ducker, is a transmedia project, ie; we're looking to working across various platforms including iphone apps and an ARI (alternate reality investigation) amongst others.
I don't believe all feature films are suited for transmedia or 360 degree opportunities in the real sense of the term. All projects should have some PR/advertising that can take the form of a website, facebook page, maybe twitter and/or a blog, you tube or vimeo channel etc... But a transmedia strategy is something that needs to suit the project and make sense.
The storytelling across platforms such as iphone apps, games, alternate reality games (ARG), books, comics, alternate reality investigations (ARI) etc... may not be necessary and relevant for certain features films as not all need to have the story told in different platforms. Therefore it's key to work out if a feature will gain or not by having a transmedia strategy, rather than be a stand-alone feature with a supportive advertising campaign with possibly a strong social media element instead.
It's key to work out what will add more value to the project, and what the project is: is it a feature with a novel, comic, game, or is it only a feature film or only a novel or only a game? If not, how does adding cross platform activities add value and help to generate revenue and publicity to all the activities.
CM: Has the recession affected your work significantly?
The corporate event and video industry is certainly one of the areas affected when budgets are cut, so my bread and butter was definitely affected over a few months.
Since 2008 budgets seem to have stayed fairly low and lead time very short.
Regarding the film industry, it's harder to say. According to media cinema entries British films are doing well. Regarding funding feature films, it's never been easy anyway, but money coming from private investors probably has reduced compared to pre-recession years. The industry also had their budget cut so there is overall a little less money around, although it may increase post Olympics
CM: What's the most productive way to network in the film industry?
Ultimately the best way to network in the film industry is to attend film festivals and markets such as Berlin, Cannes, AFM, Rotterdam, Sundance, SXSW etc... There are lots of festivals, and even smaller ones and ones for short films (Clermont-Ferrand) are fantastic opportunities to network and meet filmmakers as well as sales agents, distributors, financiers etc...
I think it's worth going to a festival even without a project, then everyone is less stressed and you meet people in a more relaxed way. It's a great way to do a recce for when you go there with a project, especially festivals like Cannes, Berlin, AFM.
On a more personal note, I set up a networking group called Mosaic just over 10 years ago and although it did start for people working in various industries, over the years it's grown, and now there are three Mosaic groups, including one that focuses on the film industry and hosts events during the London Short Film Festival, East End Film Festival and Soho Rushes Film Festival.
CM: Which industry events don't you miss?
I try not to miss Cannes Film Festival as it's a great place to network. Also short-term courses and industry schemes are great way to network and learn about the industry.
Skillset does support schemes and courses so it's worth checking their website.
CM: Where do you live? What do you love and what do you hate?
I live in Clapham, South in London. I love it. I do believe one of the main reasons I love London is that I don't have to commute during rush hour as I am fortunate enough to be able to work from home. I love the buzz and atmosphere of Soho too.
I hate travelling in rush hour!
CM: Favourites‚ bars, cafe's and restaurants?
Both Adam Street and Century Private Members' Clubs, as well as the Royal Society of Arts are great place to meet and to network. In Soho there are lots of little cafes and places to eat and drink, such as the Breakfast Club, Koya Japanese Noodles,
Busabi, Vita Organic if you need to increase your vegetable intake. For cocktails, Experimental Cocktails and Zenna Bar are great places. For the view, Paramount, on the 32nd floor of Centre Point, and Skylon on the Southbank. And obviously the BFI on the Southbank which is a great place to meet and catch up, especially at the rear where there are comfy armchairs. Walking distance from my flat, there is Avalon, a lovely pub.
CM: Your preferred blogs/sites/mags/trade press?
For film, I read Screen International and Screen Daily. There are also great blogs from people like Ted Hope, Tracey Parks (Film Specific). Also websites like Shooting People, Talent Circle and Mandy are great resources. For wider news I get emails from the Huffington Post and now there's a French version; The Huff. I was given a subscription to The Economist which is great to keep abreast of what's happening in the wider world.
CM: What advice would you give to others wanting to produce films?
Get up and do it! Whatever your craft is, practice it; write, film, edit, make, design etc... It's the best way to learn and meet people.
I also believe that thinking outside the box and using any means possible such as script (or any other) competitions, seminars, networking events, new technologies, partnerships, charity support, festivals, film markets, endorsements etc... can only help get your project noticed by both its audience (very important to know who the film audience is), and the film industry (key for future projects). But overall, ensure that you have the best script possible (have test readings with actors) and a team you trust and get on with. Once the film is shot, make sure you do a test screening with the potential audience ‚ it's amazing what you discover from that.
CM: How do you balance your projects and life?
If there is a secret can someone email me?! I've become quite good at juggling, although when a corporate is full on, it's tricky to juggle film work, let alone having a social life, but it is key to take time off.
The new feature "LIFE JUST IS" will be released at the BFI, London in December 2012. "Life Just Is" is an independent feature film nominated for the Michael Powell Award at the Edinburgh International Film Festival 2012, and selected for the 'Best of the Fest' screenings.