Dentists, lawyers and electricians can all go to college to be trained in their job. In the film world you can even go to directing school or a writing academy. But no one teaches you how to be a film producer. It’s just something you learn to do when you balls it up as a director, isn’t it?
Okay, that’s a joke, but the point remains that you can do film school if you want to direct, or take any one of the Writing MAs that have sprung up around the country if you want to be a scriptwriter; but what do you do if you want to be a producer?
Well, the answer is, you go to EAVE, and, to my surprise, that’s been the tried and tested route for over a decade now. EAVE (pronounced ‘Ee-ah-vay’), in fact, seems to be the European film industry’s best kept secret, having not only developed a great many European films over the years, but also trained most of Europe’s film producers. Suddenly, having attended one of their workshops for a week, I find that most of the producers I meet are EAVE graduates. It’s like discovering some secret brotherhood like the Masons or the Rosicrucians. They’re everywhere.
Committing to EAVE means taking three week-long workshops over the space of a year, each one in a different European city. The first workshop will be concerned with Development and most producers go with a scriptwriter to kick a project into shape. The second workshop will train participants in Packaging and Finance. Finally, the third workshop is a monster pitching session where you get to try and sell your project to scores of top producers.
It’s not just three weeks’ work, though. In between workshops you’ll be developing your project whilst liaising with your group leader and specialist experts. EAVE also means accepting that you will spend a whole year on the film festival circuit. So you’re pretty much committed to spending twelve months of your life schmoozing with the cigar-chomping top brass of Eurofilm Incorporated.
It’s a hefty commitment to make, but the effect is clear for anyone to see. This year EAVE came to Birmingham for the first time, with the third workshop of the 2003 course, so I got an insight into just how valuable an experience it can be.
First off, I’m a screenwriter, so it’s interesting for me to see the producer’s angle on things. Secondly, my God – look how many of them there are! For a whole week I’m surrounded by up to sixty movie producers. It’s more producers than I’ve seen in my life so far. Do I have enough business cards with me?
It’s not just that I’m hob-nobbing with the next generation of continental movie producers; it’s also that a few of the current generation of quite famous movie producers are here as well. I do a bit of a double take when I find myself standing on the terrace of Ipanema and realise that the lanky, slightly frayed at the edges guy I’m chatting to is actually Nik Powell. You know, the guy who set up Virgin with Branson, then went on to exec produce films like Company of Wolves, Letter to Brezhnev, Mona Lisa, Scandal, Waterland, The Crying Game, Backbeat, Fever Pitch and Little Voice. Yeah, that Nik Powell.
But that kind of schmooze coup is par for the course. A year on EAVE and you’ll have met nearly everyone who’s anyone on the European film scene.
Mark Pressdee is finding that out. He’s spent the past few years working on nearly every low/no-budget short film production in the West Midlands and, consequently, has one of the most sought after filofaxes in the local film industry. He already spends a large part of his day fielding calls from frantic local line-producers who desperately need runners, DOPs or lighting crews for the short they’re shooting, especially when it’s First Cut or Digital Shorts time. But now he’s decided to become a bona fide producer and has gone through the EAVE mill, emerging with an exhausted look and a graduation certificate for his production office wall.
“It’s totally changed me,” says Mark. “This year I’ve been to every film festival in Europe except, ironically, Edinburgh, I’ve pitched my project idea in Cannes, I’ve just spent a week here in Birmingham pitching to some of the biggest producers in Europe and some of them are interested in the feature I’ve got. It’s the kind of experience that changes you totally as a person. I actually feel like a film producer now. For a giggle I even made the odd appearance in a suit and with a cigar! Seriously, though, it filled me with self-believe. I now know I can push my projects. I now believe in my talent as a producer to develop and nurture the talent of the region, because that’s what it’s all about.”
It’s funny, but, because I know Mark, it’s easier to see the real effect EAVE can have on a person. He walks taller, he has more stature, because yes, he’s a producer now.
“I think I’ve probably just taken a leap forward by six years. If I hadn’t done EAVE, I know it would have taken me another six years to learn what I’ve just learned. When I went to the first workshop back in January, I talked to a local producer who’d done it the year before (Natasha Carlish, who recently produced the short film, Bouncer) and she said I’d come back to Birmingham and immediately set up an office. I was like, you must be joking, I can’t afford that, but she just smiled and said I would. So I do the first workshop in Ludwigsburg and come straight back and take a unit in the Custard Factory. I had to. You can’t be a producer without a production office.”
Doing the course has set him back a bit: something like two grand from his pocket and maybe another three grand of work that he had to turn down in order to do the festivals, but he got help to fund some of it and he knows it’s an investment in his career. A year ago his contacts book was full of regional talent and he was working on no-budget shorts; now his contacts book is full of European producers and he’s talking to the big money people about his feature idea. The next stage is to use those European contacts to get movies off the ground in the West Midlands: a marriage of continental and regional talent.
Mark is now doing business as Macoy Media.
Workshop 3, which took place largely at Birmingham Rep, was hosted by Screen West Midlands and featured a number of plenaries that were open to local producers. Of particular interest was the talk given by Alison Small, Head of Film Council International, who pointed out that inward-investment features in the UK are about to break all records. There’s never been a better time to be a British producer looking for European co-production partners to shoot a movie: “Global filmmaking is here to stay and it’s not a threat to the UK that there are all these other fantastic filmmaking centres across Europe: we should be working with each other in partnership.”
EAVE, then, seems like the perfect place to start making those partnerships.
A version of this first appeared on Channel 4’s Ideasfactory site.