Nancy Schafer

Following our chat with screenwriter Geoffrey Fletcher last week on his involvement with the film competition Bombay Sapphire are running this year (for more info click here) we spoke to one of the other creative forces behind the project, the director of the Tribeca Film Festival, Nancy Schafer.

What struck me about the involvement of both Fletcher and Schafer is the different qualities and experiences they bring. The premise is that writers and directors are asked to interpret a script written by Fletcher and to pitch their ideas to the panel. Coming from the background Schafer does, as well as being a champion of independent film, I wanted to find out what she was looking in the submissions, and if audiences are finding that there is life beyond the multiplex.

HeyUGuys – Can you tell us about your involvement in the Imagination series and can you tell us how you got involved in it?

Nancy Schafer – Bombay Sapphire is a partner of ours and they approached us about this idea and it rang very true for us because at Tribeca, we have a couple of parts of our missions statement but one of them is discovering new talent so this is right up our alley and fulfils exactly what we do here at the festival.

What are you looking for when you first read a script or watch a film for the first time to say ‘this is something special’?

Obviously a film is a sum of all of its parts. As we run a film festival, we mostly look at finished films so what we’re looking for is that originality and that creativity so that storytelling, that comes in the script too, you need to have a strong story. And then that story needs to be well told and decisions need to be made to tell that story that support the vision; not only for the story but of the director, so you’re looking for all those things.

Has there been anything that you’ve seen recently where you think ‘They’ve got it!’?

It happens to me every year. That’s the lovely thing about my job is that we discover new film-makers here. We find people who have strong voices and we show their films. This year I’d call out several people, one of them who would be Benjamin Dickinson who has a film in the festival called First Winter. Then last year the guy who did the film Bully (Lee Hirsch), he’s an amazing storyteller. He was really able to craft that story and make it very, very strong. All the time we’re seeing new directors and new talents that we believe should be shared with the world and we hope go onto make bigger and better projects than the ones that we start them with here and that they come back to the festival.

Are you hoping that with the Bombay Sapphire Imagination series you can find these new voices that may not have otherwise been able to tell their story?

Of course. There’s a lot of people who are very imaginative and have a creative vision but don’t have an opportunity to express that creativity. I do hope they take a chance and submit a project for this programme and see if they have the stuff that it takes.

Through your work in the festival programming area, is there a recent trend that you think is going to become more mainstream in the future?

I think storytelling at the end of the day is storytelling and we have to remember that what we’re doing in film-making at the end of the day is not significantly different from the novelist or the artists, we’re telling stories. Art is as old as the centuries so in general no but I would say there are new trends in film making. Right now I’d say an interesting trend in particularly American film making (and I’m not sure why it’s affected film makers more) is that the recession has really forced American film makers to look at their films more creatively and make more creative choices given limited budget. So it’s forcing an excess of creativity or more creativity in how they’re telling their stories because they lack the funding that they might have got five years ago.

That’s interesting as we’re now at a point where they have a much bigger potential audience with people debuting their work on the internet as well as in cinemas. Do you think that people are expecting more and are more receptive to movies that debut on the internet?

Everyone is watching films on the internet and we support that. We have a distribution business that shows films on the internet and on VOD (video on demand) and everywhere. The trick is how those sources and different viewing formats are monetisable. Just putting your film on YouTube is not going to make you any money and you have to make your money back as a film maker or you don’t get to make your new project so it’s all about trying to figure out monetisable viewing sources is where we are in the business now.

Do you think that in terms of the more mainstream films, that’s the reason we’re seeing a lack of originality?

I don’t agree that films are lacking originality so that’s a little hard for me. I think it does depend on what films you’re seeing. A lot of the movie going public only sees big blockbuster movies in 3D and IMAX and things like that but I’m seeing a tonne of films that are interesting, creative and well made. I would say Bridesmaids that did well last year was a wonderful movie, well written a funny story and I have no feelings that it has any drawbacks on its creativity.

Different films appeal to different people and sadly a lot of the big blockbusters appeal to younger people. The twenty-something or thirty-somethings go to those bigger blockbusters and they transcend a lot of age groups. We’re always trying to young the audience for Indie film because people to loved independent and foreign film even in this country (US) where they’re hard to show theatrically but people do love them. We’re trying to show them to people in many different ways as you say on the internet and on VOD so there are many options to see these movies.

What advice would you give to people who are submitting films for the Bombay Sapphire Imagination Series?

It’s going to come down to the creativity and the originality of vision. I would think that they’d want to be passionate and think thoroughly through their idea. Just dashing something off, they’re not going to win but if they’re serious about it and think about it and they think about what they would do different and how they would make that script come to life, I think that passion will shine through.

We’re seeing movies being sponsored by brands for example Terry Gilliam’s Film The Holy Family where the brand doesn’t appear in the film, is that something you’d like to see more in the future?

I think what brands are realising is that they don’t need the brand placement in the art, what they need is the rub of creativity and to show they they’re working in the right place and that they’re supporting the arts. That’s a win-win both for the film maker and for the brand. We talk a lot about this that here at Tribeca as we have a lot of brands here at our film festival that are interested in working with film makers and this has changed. Ten years ago, I’d say that a brand would never do a short film unless it was about the product or about showing off the brand. Now they simply want the but because they want to be aligned with interesting new content.