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Producer James Heath on everything Berlinale Talents has to offer a filmmaker

James Heath of Dresden Pictures, Producer of short film Biopunk (which screened at Exit 6 last year) and the feature film The Fitzroy, shares with us his experience of attending the Berlinale Talents programme at this year's Berlin Film Festival.


This year I was fortunate enough to be accepted onto the 16th Berlinale Talents, an annual summit and networking platform of the Berlin International Film Festival for 250 outstanding creatives from the fields of film and drama series. They accept filmmakers across disciplines, not just writers, directors or producers, they have actors, directors of photography, editors, production designers, sound designers, right through to distributors and sales agents... all from a phenomenal 80 countries in the world!

In addition to the extensive summit programme of masterclasses and panel discussions with top-notch experts, Berlinale Talents offers a range of Project Labs in which you can further develop and present your own project. Berlinale Talents also provides Studio programmes and workshops for specific groups of film professionals.

It’s been an interesting 2018 already on a personal career level. As just a couple of weeks prior to Berlin, I was on the Rotterdam Lab which runs alongside the Rotterdam Film Festival, funny enough! The Rotterdam lab is pretty special for the likes of I, as it's for producers only. This makes the whole lab very targeted. First of all the lectures, talks and networking event are specifically geared towards elements helpful to producing. Second of all, you know straight off the bat what everyone on the lab is doing there and a little bit about what they might have done – which is actually incredibly useful. As you would imagine for a producer’s lab, it’s incredibly organised and well run. The whole lab is very career focused around becoming a self-sustaining producer and I highly recommend it to any producer who’s at the relatively early stage in their career yet has had an element of success producing.

I’ve referenced Rotterdam, because I think it helps place Berlin and how these film labs are very different to one another, having different reasons to attend. For starters, Berlinale Talents is a crazy mess compared to Rotterdam! I’m not saying its disorganised, far from it. There are so many events it's completely overwhelming. I counted well over 70 events I could go to over the six days of the lab, and I know there were far more workshops across the disciplines that I wasn’t allowed to go to or aware of. The organisers pretty much say to you on the first morning of round tables when you’re still waking up in a room of 250 strangers, that they plan to intentionally confuse and bombard you with information – much like your film career will be, so you have to make certain decisions.

Every morning starts with a bleary-eyed networking breakfast, where like many of the events throughout the day you have the chance to chat and network with your fellow labbies. This is also the time to grab those important tickets to the relevant events you plan to attend. There are some ridiculously cool events, such as interviews and retrospectives from the likes of William Dafoe and Gus Van Sant, along with a concert and talk from the composers of The Revenant.

These events are very entertaining and are no doubt a big PR draw for Berlinale, in my opinion they really aren’t the primary reason to attend Berlinale Talents I’ll get into the reasons shortly, though I thought it briefly worth mentioning that its very advantageous if you’ve been to Berlinale before, particularly for producers. I attended the European Film Market (essentially a film market like Cannes where sales agents sell films alongside the festival), so I knew the lay of the land pretty well. I knew I had some dead time around Talents, where I could arrange meetings with potential partners and I also knew the layout, so I knew where to go. As the majority of the people that are going to help get your films made will be at Berlinale, so it’s worth trying to meet as many as possible – the free pass through Berlinale Talents is a huge plus as it gets you into everything.

At Berlinale Talents, if you’re not a producer (I would also add possibly a director or writer too, as their experiences are relatively similar to mine from what I saw and heard) a lot of your time is spent working with your fellow disciplines in workshops and attending talks. From what I gathered and saw these events were hugely rewarding chance to talk and learn from experts as well as share your own secrets with your fellow peers. I did feel slightly disappointed that there was nothing like this for us producers, however the highlights for an attending producer is very different.

Essentially, it’s all about the networking! Of which there are vast opportunities to meet incredibly talented filmmakers from across the world doing any job you could imagine. I can’t think of another time in my life where I have had quite so many skilled filmmakers at my fingertips all open to meeting one another. There were script pitch stations where filmmakers got to pitch their feature and short film projects, speed dating sessions with other filmmakers and happy drinks every night to get everyone suitably in the mood for networking.

For me, the highlight was the Dine and Shine event on the second day. Imagine a dining room with 400 guests, mixed with emerging filmmakers and experienced pros who have been in the industry for decades. The room was full of the great and the good. It was a three-course dinner and after every course you were forced to move to another table and sit next to different experts in a variety of fields. I was lucky enough to meet some pretty influential people in the industry that night and walk out with a wade of business cards and with mine depleted.

At the end of the lab we had a series of round tables where the organisers explain that this is just the start, they want to follow our careers and help us on the journey. As there are some incredible reasons to go back to Berlinale in the years to come, whether it be having your films screened there or by going back to raise finance for your next project through the various co-production markets. As a Berlinale Talents alumnus, we are now part of the club and they want to track our careers, helping to make it a success wherever they can.

Here are few quick tips if you are lucky enough to attend Berlinale Talents in the future:

- Take tonnes of business cards

- Be prepared for a lot of late nights – most of the networking happens of an evening. Most nights I didn’t get in till 4am and had breakfast networking starting again at 9am!

- Do your research in advance on the other filmmakers there on the talent hub - you won’t get to meet all 250, though it’s worthwhile knowing if there are any that are potentially perfect partners for you

- Plan some meetings in advance with people outside of Talents

- Don’t plan your schedule too much, work out a few of your essential events to go to and let the rest happen

- Go see some movies!

- Finally try to relax and enjoy yourself, it’s a pretty full on event though it’s also a lot of fun and as I keep banging on, a great way to meet people

If you’re thinking of applying, apply here.

Applications open in July and its worth taking the time to really think about your application. It’s unlike any other application you’ll do. Its full of unusual and peculiar questions, designed to get your creative juices flowing.


You can follow James on Twitter: @JamesJHeath

For more information about Dresden Picture visit their website.

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