Sarah Lambert received development investment from the AFC to develop the screenplay of Red Dress and in 2004 was awarded an AFC Fellowship. She was selected as one of eight directors from around the world to attend the Director's Program at the Binger Institute to workshop her film.
Based in Amsterdam, the program ran from 1 September 2004 to 28 January 2005. Attendees then had the opportunity to attend the Rotterdam Film Festival, as part of a sidebar to Cinemart, from 30 January to 4 February. Here is Sarah's report on her experience.
The Maurits Binger Film Institute was established in 1996 as an international training body where industry professionals from around the world can develop projects in a safe, empowering and supportive environment. Its aim is to develop itself as a European counterpart to organisations like the Sundance Institute, providing a lab environment, workshops, expert mentoring and clinics for screenwriters, script editors, producers and directors.
The Binger offers a Writer's Program and Script Editors' Program in the Spring semester, a Writer's Program and Director's Coaching Program in the Fall. Each program is project-driven and what makes it unique is the length - five months - and a commitment to tailoring programs to the needs of individual films, eg this time many of the directors had child protagonists in their films, so the Binger included a workshop with child actors and directors who had worked successfully with children of all ages. The Binger also encourages producers to attend the program and runs a separate Creative Producing Program. Writer/director teams are also encouraged.
HOW TO APPLY
It's is a two-stage application process. For the director's coaching program, which I will focus on, the application involves submitting a written application, including a script, budget, financing (if any is attached), and examples of work (films, TV, commercials, etc). Then there is an interview for those selected, which can be done by phone or in person. The Binger evaluation panel tries to encourage people to attend in person. The interview is quite intense and critical. It requires people to be able to defend their work and show a clear understanding of their strengths and weaknesses as a director. The panel is mindful of creating a mix of participants with very different projects and tries to select individuals who will be supportive of other filmmakers. The Binger essentially wants to help to create bridges between filmmakers from all over the world and foster a diverse and innovative international filmmaking community.
My time in Amsterdam at the Binger was one of the best experiences of my life. It was wonderful to have the opportunity to step out of your normal existence and focus entirely on your project and creative vision for a whole five months. Being in another country really allows you the time to focus and immerse yourself in the process without distractions. And, as everybody from around the world is there to do the same thing, it creates a very dynamic and supportive environment to work in.
The Binger has a great library of films from around the world, and the participants are given films, photographs, books, art work, music, etc, that different mentors and participants feel relate to your specific film. There is a cinema in which to screen films and a group of people around willing to discuss and share ideas on film, writing, structure, new cameras, etc. My fellow participants were from countries such as Uruguay, Brazil, Poland, France, New Zealand, South Africa, Belgium and The Netherlands. The mix of creative people creates a hothouse of ideas and energy. It is also a great opportunity to be exposed to different cultural perspectives on filmmaking and different stories. It offers insights into the different financing models and production issues of other countries. Finally, the Binger helps participants make great connections with industry professionals, sales agents and distributors from all corners of the globe.
On an artistic level, I think you come away with a deeper knowledge of how you work. It gives you an appreciation of your individual voice as filmmaker and a firm knowledge of the strengths and weaknesses of your project. The Binger provides directors with time to experiment with actors and production people on all the different aspects of your film, be it performance, the script, editing and visual ideas. To sum up, the time at the Binger Director's Program has given me an incredible network of people who have worked on my film and have an intimate knowledge of what I am trying to do and say with the film. Their knowledge and support means that, at any time, there are people whom you can trust around the world, who can be a sounding board, as you go through the process of making the film a reality. And not just on this film, but over the course of your career.
THE PROCESS: CLINICS AND WORKSHOPS
Introduction clinic - Gyula Gazdag
(Film Director, Hungary)
The first two weeks at the Binger are devoted to personal presentations. The first presentation was about your life and work. Participants were asked to present for 40 minutes in the theatre an overview of their lives and experiences that have brought them to this point. We were asked to question what drives us as an artist, and expose our passions and views. Participants told stories, showed films that influenced them, or showed their own work. Each person was asked to tell the group where they thought their strengths and weaknesses were as a writer or a director. The second presentations were about the projects. We were asked to tell the story of the film and present images, films, music, etc, that would help the others come to understand what we were trying to achieve as a screenwriter or filmmaker. It was an incredibly nerve-wracking experience but helped us all get to know each other very quickly and understand where each other's work was coming from.
Scripts Outloud - Hettie Macdonald
(Director, Land of Plenty and Beautiful Thing)
Hettie oversaw the first read through of all the scripts with a full cast of actors. Directors were given time to brief actors and the other directors on the screenplay for 20 minutes. After hearing the work, the directors were given feedback from Hettie, representatives from the Binger, and fellow directors and actors on the state of the work.
First Rehearsal Workshop - Hettie Macdonald
Directors were asked to pick a scene and were allowed to set up a rehearsal for half a day. Each director had to set their own objective and could use their own methodology. Each session was watched by Hettie, the other directors and Binger staff. At the end of the session, the actors were asked to give critical feedback. Hettie and the other directors gave their assessment of the work and methods used by the director.
Development of Personal Voice - Arne Bro
(National Film School of Denmark)
Arne Bro's workshop was the highlight of the Binger program. He works in a highly unusual way, and his approach is challenging and rigorous. He is interested in developing the director's true voice as a filmmaker. He lectures on the idea of fault and structure. Your faults or personality and uniqueness being the quality that will make your work strong and powerful. The directors were all given DV cameras and asked to shoot exercises and video diaries constantly. There was no time to prepare and the directors worked from early morning into the late evening, sometimes until 2 or 3am in the morning. The idea being that the work that is done in this state is more authentic and coming from the subconscious mind. Arne is interested in examining what is the true aesthetic of the filmmaker. Each frame of the director's work was analysed in front of the group. It was very precise analysis and slowly the directors began to see what they are really interested in exploring in the frame and their deep subconscious truths. The camera became an extension of the pen.
In the end, each director was asked to shoot their credo, summing up their ideas, principles and beliefs that they see as essential to them as a filmmaker.
Netherlands Film Festival pitching and market roundtables
(plus film screenings and cocktail parties)
The directors were asked to pitch their films at the Utrecht Film Festival. The director had to attend meetings with sales agents and distributors from Europe. All participants were required to attend lectures, screening and cocktail parties during the festival.
Camera Clinic - Patrick Lindemeyer
Directors attended a camera clinic with Patrick Lindemeyer from Swiss Effects. We looked at different cameras and new cameras that are about to come out on the market. We also looked at the new HD cameras. Then we looked at two days of camera, stock and effects tests.
Working with Actors - Joan Scheckel
The directors worked with Joan Scheckel for 10 days, working on our projects with actors. We took key scenes and explored different ways of working the scenes. As I had worked with Joan before, I was working on shooting scenes and using the camera and exploring rhythm to enhance the storytelling.
Editor Master Clinic - Molly Stensgaard
(for Lars Von Trier: Dogville, Mandalay, The Idiots)
The directors had the wonderful opportunity to work with Molly. We had a couple of days watching her work and hearing how she likes to collaborate with various directors. Molly then spent a day with each director, in front of their peers, talking through the screenplay, production, storytelling and editing ideas.
The Director's Journey - Mark Travis
Another 10-day workshop focusing on all areas of directing but mainly on performance and storytelling. Mark is from a traditional American filmmaking background. His overview of all stages of production was informative and very entertaining. After three days, the directors were given actors to rehearse with and were again introduced to new techniques to try. Each director was critiqued by their fellow directors, actors and participants from the Producer's Program,
Music and Sound Clinic - Fons Merkies
Fons is the leading Dutch composer for film. We spent two days looking at music and sound decisions made in each of his films. We then worked with him on our films exploring music and sound ideas. He offered his opinion on each script and his ideas for collaborating with a composer.
The Visualisation of Storytelling - Bruce Block
Bruce lectures at USC and UCLA. Author of The Visual Story: Seeing the Structure of Film, TV and New Media. He is a fascinating man who is a visual consultant to directors in Hollywood and a producer. He worked on films such as As Good as it Gets, Spanglish, Alfie, Stuart Little and Toy Story.
He basically talks in terms of the seven elements of visual storytelling essential to filmmakers and makes each director map out how to use them on their film to most strongly and uniquely tell their story. The elements are broken down into space (deep or flat), line, shape, tone, colour, movement and rhythm. He is incredibly knowledgeable and a great lecturer. He constantly shows films and uses slides to illustrate his points and was for me one of the more interesting experts.
Storyboarding - David Russell
The directors did a four-day workshop with David on how to work with storyboard artists to get the most out of them. He taught us how to use storyboards effectively and gave us the basics in drawing effective storyboards.
The Dynamic Image - Udayan Prasad
Udayan is a British director of films such as My Son the Fanatic. His workshop tested the directors on their skills in creating a dynamic image, one that conveys the emotional, physical and narrative sense of the story at any given moment. He was more interested in the emotional and psychological world of character than anything else. The directors were asked to write a scene based on a given poem. The scene had to be a two hander and shot in three set ups. Each director was allocated a location and the others had to crew for them. Each exercise was then analysed by Udayan and other Binger staff. They were not allowed to know the story or script of the film and had to assume the story from what was in that one scene.
Production Design - Vincent De Pater
(Floris, Ja Zuster, nee Zuster)
An expert clinic with Dutch production designer. Each director had to present to Vincent and was able to work on three problems in the script with the designer.
Management on the Set
(Joop Van Wingaarden and The AIM consultancy firm)
Directors, writers and producers attended a four-day workshop. My producer, Charlotte Seymour, was able to attend with me. We were required to sit the Belbin test beforehand to evaluate our management and leadership style. Over the days, the directors were divided into groups and asked to devise timelines and flowcharts about raising money, pre-production, production, post and release of a mid-range-budget film. We were watched and evaluated on our work as a group. The directors were on one team and producers on another. The directors worked extremely well together and very comprehensively. Day 2 we were given the results and asked to rate our fellow team members. Perceptions were then compared to the Belbin test results. The participants were then put into their producer/director teams to look at the ideal team to maximise and even-out their skill sets and leadership style. Day 3 involved role play of difficult situations from each director's life on a set or in production from a real event from the past. Finally, all participants had to prepare their timeline, flowchart, one-day shooting plan and full schedule for their film. Then each had to create a five-year life plan and overall career plan that could be presented to the entire group.
Casting Clinic - with local casting agent Hans Kemma
(and children's director and casting agent Rita Horst)
We watched casting tapes screened from different auditions and performances looked at from different films. Rita Horst conducted a day of children's workshops. The directors were able to watch her work with very young children to get incredible performances in a very short time and see her strategies for getting children comfortable with cameras and crew.
The directors then worked with Hans Kemma setting up casting sessions for their films and working with actors auditioning for roles.
Pitching - Marten Rabarts
Marten Rabarts runs one of the best pitching workshops I have ever done, and worked with the directors over five months in preparation for each market. His strategy is for each person to utilise their unique personality and own style in pitching their project. He also is a great help in working with directors and producers to see the strengths of each project.
Legal Workshop, Theodoor Richard
Theodoor worked with each director and producer team on their legal and contracting questions.
Breaking the Barriers - Ian Sellar
Ian Sellar is a British director. He was a great end to the time at the Binger. After all the work we had done on preparation on our films, he wanted us to go back to the basics. We can prepare all we want but we have to be prepared on the day to shoot what is actually going on. The spontaneity of the actor. The problems of a location. The loss of light. How do we stay instinctive and open to seeing the magic of what is happening on the day? Again, we had our actors and a scene from our film. We had one session when we could only have one shot and fellow directors as actors. Then one session, when we could shoot as many set-ups as we liked with our professional actors. The only rule being that we had to go with what was happening on the day. We then had a day to edit the scene together for a screening of all our peers, writers and directors.
Roundtable pitching to prepare for Cinemart at the Rotterdam Film festival
All participants had to pitch at the roundtables at the Binger before going to Cinemart. We were introduced to six sales agents and had to pitch each of them in 10 minutes.
Red Dress was then selected as one of three projects to be part of a special side bar to Cinemart. Cinemart and the Binger helped set up meetings with selected sales agents. We were also given a full pass to all Cinemart and Rotterdam Film Festival events.
Graduation and sad farewells
The Binger holds a graduation ceremony and dinner for all participants, their friends and families. Local industry is also invited and each participant is awarded a certificate. It was a beautiful end to a magical time.
Sarah Lambert is an award-winning writer and director. She began her career as an actress working in theatre, film and television in series such as Heartbreak High, and theatre productions for the Sydney Theatre company such as Tom Stoppard's Arcadia. She went on to direct numerous plays including Joanna Murray-Smith's Love Child for New Dramatists in New York. In 1991, she graduated from UTS with a Communications Degree majoring in Film and Writing. Her graduate short film, Come Fly for Me, won the Golden Eye Award for Best Script. In 1995, Sarah became a partner in Babelfish Productions, a New York-based film and TV production company.
She has written and directed numerous documentaries including Clone Story for M6, God in Government, New Type of Jazz, Directors on Directing and The Play's the Thing for PBS. Her other documentary credits include, as a producer, Last Chance for Peace and 14 Million Dreams for the Sundance Channel. Her work has been recognised with an Emmy nomination, a Gold Medal at the Houston International Film festival and selection as a finalist at the New York International Film Festival. Sarah was co-creator, writer and director of a 65-part children's series Aliens Among Us for Channel 5 (UK) which has since screened on the ABC.
She is currently a writer on two new Australian drama series, The Alice and Love My Way, which was recently awarded the industry prize for Most Outstanding Drama at the 2005 Logies.