A New York state of mind


I had heard the good news that our film, The Adventures of Supermama, had been selected for IFP about two months before the flight. When Clarence Hamilton, head of Development at the National Film and Video Foundation (NFVF), informed me of this I immediately told my partners Damon Berry and Ben Tjibe.

It was a great feeling to realise that our determination had paid off. Supermama began as a short film in 2007 and following its success Damon and I were chosen for the NFVF Spark writer’s workshop in 2009. A year later we were selected for the NFVF’s Sediba Masters writer’s programme, where Ben came on board as our third writer and partner in Googelplex Productions.

By the end of 2010 we had our seventh draft and were thrilled. Many people read the screenplay and commented that it was highly entertaining, comedic, original and commercially viable.

I believe IFP chose our script because of all of the above. IFP is a very selective market where about 130 projects are chosen from all around the world. The other two South African projects to make the cut were Junaid Ahmed’s Stockholm, Zululand and Judy Naidoo’s, Whiplash.

Like clockwork

Americans mean business and IFP is run like a well oiled machine. All the meetings with distributors, sales agents, producers and film festivals are scheduled a week before you arrive so that you can research and know who you are talking to.

However, the process really begins when you are selected, then you are required to go onto the IFP website and register all your material online – script, budget, look-book and shooting schedule. The distributors and sales agents have an opportunity to view the film proposals online to see which ones they are interested in and so request meetings with the relevant parties.

For Supermama we had 10 meetings lined up with sales agents, distributors and producers, excluding Meet the Film Festivals, where you meet festival organisers from Sundance, Tribeca, Rotterdam, Rooftop, Brooklyn and so on.

As a filmmaker you can also request a conference call with two of the IFP organisers, Susan Wrubel and John Sylva, to get feedback on your script and project. Their Supermama feedback was great, but they warned that many would not believe that we could make such a big adventure comedy film on such a low budget.

Meeting up

At IFP all the filmmakers met for the introductory session at the Lincoln Centre the day before the start of the market. It was good to see the familiar faces of the NFVF’s Clarence Hamilton, Thandeka Zwana and Karen Son, as well as Junaid and Judy. We were given a good idea of what to expect and were asked to pitch our projects to the rest of the filmmakers. Supermama was one of the few, if not the only, family film pitched.

The next day Thandeka joined me for my first three meetings with a variety of companies. Meetings took place perched at the Science and Design Building off Columbus Circle, overlooking Central Park.

It’s critically important to be properly prepared for IFP. Damon, Ben and I had made sure of that and we had DVDs of our Supermama proposal, a film slate, fliers and a Supermama badge to hand out.

My meetings all went extremely well but as a first time writer / director it is extremely hard to get investment in your film, even if most people love the idea of a big, black African woman superhero who becomes the Queen of Kung Fu.

The other critical aspect is how open international companies are to projects from all over the world. They are keen to hear what is being created and are enthusiastic. However, they talk business and will only get involved in a project if it makes commercial sense. This is especially true now that we are living in such tough economic times.

What insight did I walk away with? I think the most important thing for me about IFP and markets like it is to start networking with international companies and realise that we work in a global industry.

It was a fantastic experience and I am more convinced now than ever that Supermama will take flight.

Useful partnership

The National Film and Video Foundation (NFVF) sponsored and supported South African filmmakers at the recent IFP No Borders co-production market in New York.

Says NFVF Production and Development executive Thandeka Zwana: “Our partnership with IFP has been beneficial in terms of having filmmakers represented at this platform every year and to ensure a South African presence. IPF is an intimate market that gives our filmmakers a very good platform to interact with the global industry and pitch their projects.’

Zwana notes that there is great interest in South African films. “Many international industry players have commented on how our standards have been upped, not only in terms of content, but production value and picture quality. There will always be resistance to unknown directors and cast, but the quality of story has always won over skeptics and we will continue to produce top class South African stories which have the potential of being breakout successes.’

SCREENAFRICA Print Magazine – November 2011 (view here)
By Karen van Schalkwyk


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