Floating forever on social media is a meme, a quote from the late Robert Altman: ‘Filmmaking is a chance to live many lifetimes.’ With each new film comes an opportunity to recreate the world and to imagine other lives. In the gap between trying to make “Voyageuse” visible and choosing my next project, I’m excited by the prospect of this future life.
As I write I’m waiting to learn if “Voyageuse” will be selected for festivals: one or two in the UK and several in the US, chosen mainly due to the logistics of subtitling the film for non-English speaking territories. In truth I don’t fancy the odds because the landscape for festival selection has so altered in recent years it’s now requisite for films to be pimped by a PMD – Producer of Marketing & Distribution – and/or a sales agent. Having neither puts V at a disadvantage, unable to gain traction because it’s impossible to attract publicity for a marginal film with no public outlet, unless you’re a) well-connected b) able to hire a PR company or c) willing to shout very loudly on social media.
Erring on a positive outcome, recently my husband encouraged me to write a press kit, a document designed to lure film critics, reviewers and programmers to one’s film. Usually it’s a task delegated to the lead production company or a PR outfit but, as with everything else on “Voyageuse”, it falls to me. Helpfully my husband pointed me to a link for the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival whose site offers a depressingly large volume of examples arranged in alphabetical order.
At random I click on a title, ‘The Escape.” It ticks the right boxes: logline, short synopsis, long synopsis, cast bios, crew bios, production notes, director’s statement, credit list. In its carefully crafted paragraphs no words are wasted and is, judging by the claims, the best film in the history of film. Ever. Why not? It boasts a high pedigree – written and directed by Ben Franklin, an Oscar-winning Visual Effects and CGI Designer. On the list of 182 credits even my own lawyer gets a namecheck. But here’s the thing – it’s a short. I type these words again – it’s a short. ‘The Escape’ is a short film with 182 credits and yet the body text of the press kit manages to misspell the film’s title.
Slightly more useful is the advice offered by Raindance whose mantra – sell the sizzle – at least cuts to the chase. The one letdown (for me) is their blithe exhortation to ‘hire a documentary filmmaker’ to shoot ‘high quality video footage of the shoot and key interviews’ as if the magic money tree really does exist. While shooting ‘Voyageuse’ it never occurred to me to acquire shots of empty rooms and landscapes or to interview myself – not for the first time. I was too preoccupied with the task in hand. Not that it isn’t possible to create an EPK after the fact, it’s just hard convincing myself that a by-the-numbers press kit, electronic or otherwise, will attract many eyeballs. All of which is moot in my case because a press kit only kicks in when a film has snared a festival selection, limited release or distribution deal.
In my shed, I grapple with the problem. I write ‘Synopsis – short’ at the top of the screen. By the time I reach a 2500 word count I realise I’m not writing, I’m typing. My husband agrees and after his counselling I return to the shed where days later I emerge with 3300 words and two chapter headings: ‘Writing the film’ and ‘Making the film’ written in the first, not the third, person.
On receipt, my husband reads it with a grave expression that I recognise is his way of not betraying emotion, not through disappointment, but in relief that, in his opinion, I succeeded. Now I worry I’ve missed a trick, that perhaps ‘Voyageuse’ ought to have been made as a documentary titled ’12 Years a Filmmaker’ where a hungry and scriptless woman sets out to… blah, blah…
I’m reminded of the now-famous TV preview of ‘The Wizard of Oz.’
‘Transported to a surreal landscape, a young girl kills the first person she meets and then teams up with three strangers to kill again.’
As synopses go this borders on brilliance, offering all kinds of possibilities. What, for instance, is to stop me spinning “Voyageuse” as say, an upbeat adventure where a kooky old dame time-travels through the twentieth century meeting her former selves. Or where Erica is an alien trapped in a decaying female form sent to warn her evil human captors of the folly of self-annihilation as they destroy their own planet. I’m certain mega-budget franchises are launched on less.
Following the recent private screenings of the film, I tried to grasp audience reaction, aware of the bias of those inclined to the positive. The people who came were largely self-selecting, some curious, some who know me and my determination to make the film and some who know nothing about me or my work. Here the contract between the maker and the viewer was inherently skewed, leaving me to conclude that as in all creative endeavour, some people will get it and others won’t.
Another piece of advice from Raindance: ‘Film hype is not earned. It is manufactured by you. It is you who has the power to turn yourself into a cult filmmaker, and your film into a cult movie.’ Which assumes one is capable of hype and that the status of ‘cult filmmaker’ can be conferred on oneself. Rather than feel a sudden rush of empowerment, however, I feel inadequate. Of course it’s healthy to take pride in one’s achievements but in the clamour for visibility in the arts/creative world it now falls to the makers to hustle, a role many are ill-qualified for and which accounts for the irrational irritation I feel whenever I read posts and tweets giving me the hard sell for the nth time.
Even those artists/makers with representation do their share of heavy lifting, posting daily on Instagram, Twitter etc. if for no other reason than brand maintenance while the rest of us shout among ourselves. Currently I have three Twitter accounts: my own, The Devil’s Plantation and Voyageuse. Recently I added a fourth, an identity for what I hope will be my next project, until I was struck by the unnecessary obligation and burden I was placing on myself and instantly deleted it.
Press kit or no press kit, often I wake in the wee small hours contemplating the prospects for “Voyageuse.” I console myself with the famous quote spoken not by Chairman Mao but attributed to his prime minister, Zhou Enlai, speaking of the French Revolution that ‘it’s too early to judge’ which in itself is claimed to be a false statement since Zhou was referring to the 1968 Paris Riots, not events in 1789. This only confirms how clichés sneak their way into the official history dressed in the flimsy fabric of ‘truth.’ Knowing this, and conscious of the ephemeral nature of any ‘film’, offers me a certain comfort.
After years of anonymous endeavour, another Scottish female filmmaker, Margaret Tait made her debut feature, “Blue Black Permanent” (1992) aged 71. An obituary, published in The Independent on May 11 1999 stated:
“Without any funds from any source she succeeded by turning her economies to advantage without compromise and so retained her artistic probity and vision.”
Reading this with a measure of objectivity, if there was ever a similar claim to be staked in the annals of Scottish film surely it’s mine, just as I know Margaret Tait hustled for recognition too. For instance why did John Grierson, apparently so enamoured of her work in the mid 1950s, not help to make it more visible? That she kept making films is why I like to think we share the same indefatigable spirit, though I doubt she ever had to write her own press kit. Perhaps she felt she didn’t need to.
While I’m still here I’d rather create another life, lived through the experience of making another film. Meanwhile I still keep all things crossed for “Voyageuse.”
The above image is a frame grab from my shoot at Orford Ness in 2015 where by sheer chance I was granted access to the off-limits pagodas where nuclear weapons tests occurred when Erica worked there in 1958-59. As a parting gift my host gave me a spent bullet casing.