Though technology has made making films much easier for your everyday person, there are still very few opportunities to make a name for yourself within the film industry. As production companies seem to have stopped taking risks, opting to re-hash old ideas (ie. female Ghostbusters, why not just give the same actors a brand new franchise to build?) instead of taking risks on independent films. We probably wouldn't have brilliant films like Slacker or Clerks if it weren't for people like Lift-Off encouraging young film-makers. Hot of the heels of their Liverpool edition, I spoke to founder James Bradley to find out a bit more about what they do;
How did Lift-Off first get started? What was the initial idea behind the festival?
We were originally actors who trained at The Oxford School of Drama. When we both left we found that moving behind the camera had more creative benefits which suited our ambition and attitudes. After a while we both started making films, music videos, corporate films etc…with the narrative work we decided to enter our films into festivals. We did extensive homework on the festivals we entered and attended all the large London based ones. We honestly felt that there was a huge gap in the market for a festival which wasn't profit, sponsor and red carpet orientated which actually gave something back that was realistic rather than some half washed dream of distribution or producer contacts. We decided to create Lift-Off to help launch the professional lives of directors as frustrated as us with the lack of real opportunity.
How have things changed since then? Has it followed the path you expected or has it taking a few surprising turns?
We always knew we'd expand and build our message. We worked hard to keep everything sensible but as we gained popularity within the filmmaking community it became clear we were needed elsewhere. It has been an organic growth and a lean build – tackling obstacles and learning from mistakes. We think we have some very valuable now to many filmmakers looking to start solid and sustainable careers.
How did you go about selecting the cities for the festival? Why did you pick Liverpool?
It's built on a ratio of submissions versus screenings. If we receive 14 films from Timbuktu and we screen over 70% of those 14, then we will seriously consider a Timbuktu Lift-Off. Liverpool had a ratio well in the 90's. And it still does. The city is packed with talent requiring the sort of confidence an international multi-city distribution film festival network delivers.
Your motto is “Look beyond the gloss. Put talent before technology." – does this mean that you'll be focusing purely on the talents of these film-makers, rather than their equipment?
100%. Cameras that were used four, five, seven years ago have all dramatically dropped in value due to new technologies coming out. If a filmmaker does everything he or she can do for free, and do it well, then their film can be as good as anything else out there. Unfortunately other festivals think otherwise which has created this bizarre technical snobbery. We don't care how much it cost to make or how pretty it looks. Providing it's lit well, the story is solid, the acting is great and the action is directed on point then we'll screen it!
How did you decide which films made the cut from the 700+ entries you had? Was there time to watch them all?
Yes. We have a three tier system where all the films are passed through a simple initial round, a tough second round and then a programming third. We programmed nearly 30 films for this years Liverpool Lift-Off, out of around 150 who made it to the final tier. We make sure that everyone has a fair shout of screening with us.
What's the biggest benefit of not working with any commercial pressures?
Creative freedom 101 🙂
I read that "winners are selected via audience choice" – does this mean that the audience has 100% of the say as to what wins the award? Could this not mean that if someone were to invite a large number of their mates they'd have a greater chance of winning, whether or not the film was any good?
No, we designed this as best as possible to remove bias. We need to get out scorecard method patented because it's genius.
We ask each attendee for their two top films and the film which wasn't for them. The first place film wins 1 point, the second gets a point too, but the least preferred film gets a minus 3. Score cards not filled out in full are not counted.
How important is it to help young film-makers make sure they're meeting the right people? How else would you suggest young people go about getting their films seen?
We aren't a 'young people' film festival, we are a professional filmmakers first port of call. If a young person wants their film seen they should crowd fund effectively and submit to festivals which they feel will support them and their work the most.
It's important to help anyone in film regardless of their age. If a 65 year old woman wants to make a hard hitting documentary about elderly members of society on tag, then they should be given the same opportunities as anyone else. Filmmaking is a calling, irrespective of age.
What was your favourite film of 2014 and why?
Birdman because I forgot I was sat in the cinema. I was genuinely teleported — brilliant film.
What would be your message to young people keen to venture into the world of film-making?
Work hard, work smart. You are a business and you are certainly not your first film, so stop thinking it, drop the ego and remember that rejection is a way of life, the smarter you work, the more you give back – the more you get. Love the art in yourself, not yourself in the art. Always look to diversify and grow. Create to give never to take.
Anything you'd like to add?
All good here! xx
Find out more about Lift-Off here.