Berlinale Talent Campus – the good, the bad & the absent…

Back in February 2006 I was lucky enough to attend the Berlinale Talent Campus, I’ll explain what it is & my experiences, which were mostly good, often brilliant & inspiring, but also importantly in the year I attended, totally lacking in a few key areas…

Ok, so what is the Talent Campus? Its basically a conference involving 500 film makers from all over the world, who spend a week in Berlin doing workshops, going to screenings & discussing what it is they do & why…. To attend you must apply by submitting a short video clip of your work & the campus is open to anyone, if ‘you work or study in the areas of screenwriting, production, documentary filmmaking, direction, cinematography, acting, editing, sound design, composing, production design, art direction, visual art, film criticism or animation.’ Being a sound designer, I submitted a 3 minute section of my show reel, using (with permission) a few scenes from Gaylene Prestons film Perfect Strangers….
There is no age limit, although at 40 I would have been at the older end of the spectrum and while there were plenty of people my age, the group also ranged right down to people who were early in their careers ie still in film school and/or who had little prior real world film exprience. So that is the first comment I must make – as with all things in life your own attitudes & experience play a major part in how you perceive reality & the views that follow are by someone who had been to film school 16 years prior, and has since already worked on literally dozens of feature films… So my attendance had different goals & expectations than someone (or my own self) if I was fresh out of film school. And heres two examples that really illustrate that point. The Talent Campus is coordinated to occur at the same time as the Berlin Film Festival and as luck would have it, a film I had done sound design for (No.2 by Toa Fraser) had been invited to screen at the festival, so it was great to be able to catch up with Toa between screenings… but I noticed this other weird thing in the Talent Campus schedule; on a certain evening Campus attendees were invited to meet outside the main Film Festival venue & ‘experience what its like to actually walk up the red carpet!’ Say what? I’m old enough to have had to do that a few times & its hardly the highlight of my career, so I figured thats one thing I can skip in the schedule… And when I talked to a few people afterwards it turns out it was even lamer than I imagined – a bunch of the students turned up, hung around & then were invited to walk up the red carpet, go inside & hear a brief welcome speech from the Festival Manager… and then turn around & walk back outside! Oh well, whatever cranks your dial…

But mostly the Talent Campus was very good: I attended maybe half a dozen very good workshops. One was on picture editing & involved a panel of three very experienced film editors; an english editor who had cut a lot of action films (eg James Bond films), Angie Lam a chinese editor who had edited films like Hero & Kung Fu Hustle, and a german editor who worked primarily on documentarys. It was interesting to hear their different working methods & experiences, both in terms of film making/story telling, collaborating with directors & technically.
As I mentioned earlier, the Talent Campus coincides with the Berlin Film Festival and some of the other highlights for me were getting to see a few films that were having their debut screenings at the festival. So my year, I got to see Michel Gondrys ‘The Science Of Sleep’
Chan-wook Parks ‘Old Boy’ and Mathew Barneys ‘Drawing Restraint’. But even better; as with most major film festivals, the directors were in attendance & so after each screening at the talent campus, the director would then do a half hour Q&A session! It was just so great & invaluable to hear for example Gondry talk about his working methods, both in writing & then making his films. A riot almost broke out during the Q&A with Chan-wook Park, who answered questions via a translator. Problem was the translator was interpreting & obviously had no film knowledge, so Chan-wook Park would make a lengthy answer in Korean which the translator would then summarise it in a few words! It was so frustrating there was a prolonged uproar from the audience, but then thankfully a young Korean film maker attending the Campus managed to get control of one of the roving mics and proceeded to do an accurate translation – phew! Chan-wook Park is such an intriguing/inspiring director it would have been a real shame/lost opportunity to not hear his answers verbatim.

In hindsight the best workshop I did at the Talent Campus was by Peter Broderick and basically covered his considerable experience of using the internet to promote & sell independent film. This workshop influenced my thinking hugely, as Peter is an eloquent speaker but more importantly he has real world experience – he isnt a shareholder in some web startup or hyping their services.. He knows from experience what has worked & why, in what contexts & his insight was invaluable. And I can honestly say, if I hadnt attended that workshop I sincerely doubt this blog would exist, nor any of those other dozen little web presences I maintain. I certainly wasn’t ignorant before doing the workshop (eg was already up & running) but as with any knowledge, if you are starting from zero you have everything to learn & it can be overwhelming & potentially so daunting as to be paralysing. But, if you have a bit of knowledge & have already started down the road, spending time with someone who is five or ten years further down that same road is incredibly enlightening. This workshop alone made the 36 hours spent getting my atoms to Berlin from NZ worthwhile!
Apple had a presence at the Talent Campus & I did a great introductory workshop on their Motion software – I learned lots & the following week in London bought Motion (& later on upgraded to Final Cut Studio) so that was definite bonus of being able to do a hands on workshop/tutorial….

Now the bad. Ok this is going to sound a little bitter & so it damn well should! Despite the talent campus being about film making there wasn’t a single workshop or even mention of film sound. I was frankly appalled when I discovered this, partly for my own sake but even more so for the hundreds of directors & writers attending, who NEED to have an appreciation & understanding of the use of sound in film making & story telling. Are the organisers of the Talent Campus deaf? It would seem so, as I received no reply to my comments/enquiries about this issue & what made it even worse, literally rubbing salt on a wound, was that the person they had chairing the picture editing workshop was none other than Larry Sider, he who runs the excellent School of Sound workshop in London each year. So they had a perfect candidate to run a workshop/lecture on film sound & they didnt!!! UN-FCKNG-BELIEVABLE!!!!! I am experienced in film sound enough for this personally not to bother me too much; my reason for attending the Talent Campus was to learn more about other aspects of film making & to extend my ability to collaborate with other departments, in that respect the picture editing workshop was invaluable. But if I was a young sound designer, who was seeking guidance & insight from someone experienced in my specific field I would have come up empty. Every other department basically had mentors & specific workshops to help them develop, but for sound – NOTHING!!!!!
Admittedly the Talent Campus does run a film score/music competition & workshop, but as any film maker knows, music is only one third of a film soundtrack at best. Where was the workshop helping directors & writers learn about writing for sound, writing (& not over-writing) dialogue, collaborating with sound designers & dialogue editors, understanding what ADR is & how important directing ADR is, what makes up a film soundtrack & what the process is from preproduction, production & post to insure your film has a good/great soundtrack. All equally important for developing film producers to learn about too. And for picture editors.
So was my year just a silent anomaly? Lets check the Talent Campus schedule archive: hmmm 2008 had a Digidesign/Avid workshop (but thats technical, not via a practitioner) 2007 nothing, 2006 nothing! I challenge anyone from the organisers of the Talent Campus reading this to justify (& hopefully address) this total lack of support for an important aspect of film making.

Lastly, the absent.
I am a firm believer most people get the experience they deserve & I also have the distinct impression some people just dont know how to travel. By travel I dont mean getting from A to B, I mean what you do when you get to B. It seemed despite the fact it was for many people their first time in Berlin, the only time they actually explored the city was for dinner! Before leaving NZ I had spent considerable time researching (music, art, architecture, history) and after receiving the schedule for the Talent Campus, I worked out what times during the week there was nothing on that interested me & accordingly planned excursions, ie getting lost in Berlin. I have to confess I love getting lost! In my youth I went on a trip around bits of Europe & remember a mad 3 days spent in Barcelona, without being able to speak any of language (shame on me) but every day exploring the city, getting happily lost with the knowledge of my get-out-of-jail card. No, not literally! But I knew no matter how lost I got ‘home’ was never far away as I would simply flag down a taxi, give them a card from my hotel & relax…
So for me, one of the definite highlights of the Talent Campus was exploring parts of Berlin. Being a tourist I visited lots of Berlins iconic architecture, contemporary & ancient.. and visited a bunch of locations from one of my favourite films of all time Wim Wenders ‘Wings of Desire’ and imagined the angels sitting around, listening to peoples thoughts… and listening to me, thinking about them…

I tracked down more than a few of Berlins infamous record stores (& of course on my way back to NZ had to pretend my carry on bag was just a little light backpack, when in reality it contained about 15kg of vinyl/excess baggage!) but the two highlights that still stick in my mind were these: I went to many art gallerys & exhibitions and as a side attraction to the Berlin Film Festival a number of gallerys had related video art exhibitions, which were fantastic & inspiring to experience. I also visited the sadly now defunct Tesla Centre & experienced some fantastic sound art & installations…

But lastly, on an evening near the end of my time in Berlin I got invited to a party in a warehouse on the top floor of the building below & what a wicked party it was! Really wild inspiring music & a couple of lo-fi VJs with multiple projectors…

So I left Berlin, totally buzzing… & I cant wait to return!

Last of all, some advice. Do I recommend applying to attend the Berlinale Talent Campus? HELL YES!!! It was an amazing experience & culturally very very interesting, every person I met was from a different part of the world (although thankfully for me, speaking English is a pre-requisite for attendance) and living in little old New Zealand in the far reaches of the Pacific it was so encouraging to share common experiences with other filmmakers. Attending the Talent Campus has helped me mature as a film maker & collaborator, and has helped me define the direction/path I wish to pursue in the future…

If anyone is thinking of applying & wants to ask any questions, comment away! Or if you attended & want to share you experience, feel free – as I emphasised, this is just my opinions & experience…. For more information here is the site for the Berlinale Talent Campus

Oh and if you go, bear in mind Berlin is a little chilly in February…
Take a jacket… and some duty free vodka!

6 thoughts on “Berlinale Talent Campus – the good, the bad & the absent…

  1. Danijel Milosevic

    Hey Tim,
    thanks for posting this at the right time(!) – application deadline this year is October the 8th, so there’s still time to apply.
    For the past two years I wanted to apply, but my timing was bad….

  2. carsten

    yeah, I live in Berlin city, and the Talent Campus is a must go event for sure. drop me a line if some of you go, I am more then happy to meet up.

  3. Pingback: Designing Sound » More than 50 Articles/Tutorials about Sound Design, Film and Recording, Plus Wooshes Sound Desing

  4. Sam Moore

    Hi Tim
    Thanks for pointing me towards this post – really interesting and informative! I know they say that age doesn’t matter when attending but at 39 I was rather dreading ‘speed networking’ with a load of people the same age as my students at Uni! I’ll make sure to build in lots of exploring time as you suggest, and I’ll blog the outcomes.
    Thanks again, happy Christmas,

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