ON THE BLOG: Producer Beth Allan on attending IDFAcademy 2018

Beth Allan is a producer at Scotland-based outfit The Forest of Black, which has a reputation for making diverse and creative films for the music industry, including promos, concert films and documentaries. Here, she shares her experience of the IDFAcademy during the 2018 International Documentary Festival Amsterdam (IDFA).  

An intensive four-day programme supported through the MEDIA sub-programme's Training scheme, the IDFAcademy takes place every November and offers emerging international filmmakers the opportunity to meet a broad spectrum of highly esteemed documentary professionals willing to share their knowledge of the industry. 

Weighing up whether to apply for this year’s programme? Read on...

How did you hear about the programme?

I saw the opportunity in the SFTN newsletter but I also had an invite to apply directly from the producer of the programme, I think because I had been on Eurodoc that year too.

What encouraged you to apply?

I was intending to attend IDFA anyway and hoping to apply as part of the Scottish delegation so this seemed a great opportunity to be part of a formal programme that would introduce me to lots of new contacts. I knew I would be able to access funds from Creative Scotland for expenses which was also a big part of the decision to apply.

What did the application process involve?

As I recall it was really simple, filling out an online form with some details about yourself and the project you are working on. It's not a project specific programme per se, but they like if you have a project in development.

What did the itinerary involve?

It was quite a packed schedule - sessions from 9.30am to 5pm each day, then drinks afterwards and free screenings you could attend in the evenings that referred to the programme in some way. So there is loads to engage with. The sessions were usually plenary style with a few guests discussing a topic, sharing clips, sharing their experience and then Q&As. There was only one session that was really specific to your project but I liked that the programme as a whole was geared toward thinking more generally about how you are approaching a career as opposed to a specific project. Then you would break off into smaller more specific sessions - for example with experts on digital distribution, or sessions about sound design, or with a particular filmmaker which you select at the start of the programme. Additionally there were some roundtable events where you could sign up to meet specific experts and the academy arranged a 1-2-1 session with a specific expert for everyone.

What were you hoping to gain from it?

I wasn't too sure, I've been to a few similar programmes and this was definitely one of the best I'd been on. I was just off the back of the Eurodoc programme which was quite project specific so it was nice to step out of that and just think about career and the industry more generally. As always I expected to and did meet lots of other filmmakers and producers who are having similar and also very different experiences to mine and it's always good to make these contacts and learn about how other people are working.

What did you learn from the experience?

I was actually really surprised by how much honesty there was from some of the experts who led sessions, there is a lot of love for the academy within the industry and people are really generous with their knowledge, experience and advice. So I learned loads from people who are right at the top of their careers. Too much to write here!

How have you actioned these learnings (if so) in the context of your own career?

A lot of it is was quite top level strategic info and learning that I'll probably lean on a bit later in my career, but yes, I refer back to my notebook quite often to recall a certain distributor who mentioned something or a commissioner I spoke to. For understanding sales and distribution it was actually most helpful as we had some really frank discussions from sales agents and distributors about the limitations they have / pressure they are under. With a room full of over 100 new filmmakers all with their passion projects, everyone of course feels their project is important and must be seen. But sales and distribution have to be tactical, taking some safer projects onto their slate and can only risk passion projects if they really feel they have the energy and a chance to make deals with them. I think from the producing side it's easy to be blinkered about how great and important your project is and not appreciate the pressures at sales and distribution side also.

Would you recommend the experience to other producers/industry professionals, and if so why?

Absolutely. It can be quite daunting going to festivals at the beginning of your career and programmes like the IDFAcademy really help to break down the barriers between new filmmakers & producers and the rest of the 'industry' and make you feel like you are a key part of the festival. There were lots of filmmakers attending who already had films playing at IDFA but really valued the quality of the sessions on offer. I met lots of other filmmakers in an informal / unpressured way and also got to meet / put faces to names of lots of key sales / distribution / commissioner contacts. I also hadn't been aware that it's quite competitive to get onto the programme. A lot of my Eurodoc colleagues were really keen to get a place so I was privileged to be invited by the academy and Creative Scotland. A lot of the industry arrive once the academy is over for the IDFA Forum so you can easily stay on and arrange meetings during the rest of the festival and it's also a great time before the rush to get time with decision makers who are in Amsterdam early.

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The next IDFAcademy will take place from 21 to 24 November 2019. The accreditation form is now online, and the application deadline is 1 September.  

Find out more on the IDFA website