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SOFA continues to train up “cultural agents”


- Cineuropa visited the sixth SOFA workshop during the training session held in Warsaw at the end of August

SOFA continues to train up “cultural agents”

A state-of-the-art national VoD platform, a map of post-production outfits, a trailer production company, a specialised film festival, an online platform that connects producers and screenwriters, and an initiative to empower female professionals – these are the projects that were developed during the sixth edition of SOFA (School of Film Agents), a training programme for “cultural agents”, such as programmers, curators, promoters, film-archive directors and so on. “We have about a 50% success rate, which means that half of the projects developed in the past few years have already been implemented,” explains Nikolaj Nikitin, SOFA founder and director, stressing that the programme aims to support not only single projects, but also entire local industries and markets. Nikitin adds that the rest of the ideas presented at SOFA are still being developed, and only a handful were dropped, but the participants are still very active and successful in the film industry. Most of the ventures brought to SOFA since the first edition, held in 2013, have a common goal: to facilitate access to national and European cinema by promoting national films or arthouse venues, connecting industry professionals, implementing regional film funds, building up film archives or educating young audiences.

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“I know screenwriters and their needs,” says Agnieszka Kruk, from Poland, a screenwriter herself, who is developing the Find Your Story platform, which aims to make writers more visible to producers, directors and even actors. She adds: “I noticed that even during the festival I used to run, called Script Fiesta, there were still producers who, even when surrounded by screenwriters, stated that there are no good writers and no good scripts.”

Another idea brought to the sixth edition of SOFA came from a market analysis carried out by someone who previously worked outside the industry. Robert Vamos, who has a background in economics, noticed that in his native Hungary and some of the Central and Eastern European countries, domestic films have very small market shares compared to American ones. “I thought that maybe they didn’t have effective marketing tools,” he explains. Hence he founded Satellite Trailers, a company that would specialise in producing trailers, teasers and promos. Since the Hungarian market is too small for the company to generate enough turnover, Vamos decided that Satellite Trailers would operate on the regional level. He adds, however, that poor marketing is just part of the reason for the low market share of local films – but that is also the part that he can try to fix.

Kruk and Vamos, along with Eva Brazdžionytė from Lithuania, Marat Parkhomovsky from Israel, Victoria Leshchenko from Ukraine and Natia Nikoleishvili from Georgia, presented and consulted on their projects with Nikitin and three SOFA tutors. Producer Ewa Puszczyńska consulted on budget and finance matters, Oliver Baumgarten helped in creating a description of the project, while Christine von Fragstein contributed to preparing the presentation of the participants’ initiatives. Each participant had his or her own mentor – a highly experienced professional within the same field in the industry, who gave special input on the project. The group included Funa Maduka from Netflix, head of the Swedish Film Institute Anna SernerJowita Michalska from Digital University, Robert Gross from Videoproduktion, Cristian Nicolescu from Digital Cube and Vitalijus Zukas from OKTA Studio. 

“I got some very good tips that were eye-opening in many cases,” says Kruk, adding that Maduka offered to connect her with a well-known figure in Hollywood, who has been running a platform similar to Find Your Story for 13 years. Vamos says that he was given advice on how to scout for talents. “I realised that I could think about having an international team working with me – not only an international clientele.”

The SOFA training programme included lectures given by every mentor, which imparted additional knowledge and provided further inspiration. For example, Michalska talked about artificial intelligence and its impact on daily life. The future of the industry was a major topic at this year’s SOFA. “We talked a lot about what the industry will look like in five, ten or 15 years’ time,” says Nikitin, adding that while a director or a screenwriter’s work will remain pretty much the same, the cultural manager’s role will be more heavily influenced by new media, technology and economic changes. Hence SOFA is adding a third, separate session in Vilnius that will bring together five programme alumni with potential partners from both the public and the private sector in September. From now on, as the organisers say in the press release, there will be “one workshop for participants focusing on project development (Warsaw), and one focusing on project marketing (Tbilisi). In addition, the newly established Vilnius workshop will be open to all SOFA alumni and will focus on private-public financing/partnerships.”

The Warsaw session was held between 26 and 31 August. The sixth edition of SOFA will come to a close in Tbilisi in April 2019.

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