What It's Really Like
To Run Britain's Largest
Independent Film Festival

By Elliot Grove

Raindance Film FestivalI started thinking about this post when I was in Toronto earlier this year. One of the questions a journalist asked was" What's it like to be the founder of Raindance?"

To be honest, I have never given this question much thought, until now. Focused I suppose becasue so many people are saying very generous things about Raindance in our 20th year.

First off, running Raindance means you pretty much don't sleep anymore, and when you do sleep you dream of work. Evenings and weekends disappear. One is either traveling, teaching or in meetings looking for sponsorship.

When a filmmaker gets their first big break at Raindance, sleep doesn't come any easier. All the orther filmmakers are wondering why you didn't get their film in front of the big deals too.

Holidays and days off turn into days wondering if the results from the latest deal changing  marketing campaign, or filmmaker request has pinged in your inbox. Can a holiday really be worth while when the future of Raindance rests in your ability to respond 24/7? Going on holiday makes me feel guilty, like I am having an illicit affair.

Aftr 20 years of running Raindance I like to think I have discovered the balance between graft and creativity. For part of running Raindance means that I am the one that has to come up with the ideas. Not all of the ideas - I am really lucky to be surrounded by the best team anyone could want. But the really big ideas, the ideas that are over the horizon seem to come from me. And creative thinking just can't happen when you are stressed about the results of an A/B test or whether or not the Albanians will have any decent films finished in time for this years festival.

I guess the biggest tool I use is the tool of Alpha State - and when I am successful at idle daydreaming, I find the the fruits of this outwardly seeming pointless endeavor are immediate.

Indiest film festival A huge part of my job is the finance side of it. Lord knows how much stress this has caused over the years. It becomes like a chess game: do this and you win (financially) oops - we just lost bigtime because of that stupid move, and everyone gets paid late (if at all). As they say in America, you have to learn to respect the Ducks: they paddle like hell when under water, but float gracefully when everyone can see them. Being a farm boy, I suppose I have been watching ducks, or trying to act like one, my entire life. Lose your cool means you lose. Not easy with all those hungry mouths waiting each payday.

What drives me? I ask myself every single day whether or not Raindance is doing any good in the world - is there anything I and the team could be doing better. It gets addictive. If I have an idea, I can put it straight into practise without going to a board or committee. My team question me - but do so positively. from ideas to reality, sometimes in the matter of minutes is what drives me. And the creativity this draws from me keeps me turned on. I never ever in 20 years have not wanted to get to the office each morning.

This feeling, this urge is what makes me leap out of bed each morning.

This challenge and reward cycle also distances me from friends and relatives who seldom are pursuing the same sort of goals as I am. Conversation turns to the weather and politics and before long I am taking a sneaky glance at my phone to see if anything new has happened, or worse yet parading around pictures from last years festival. Few get the entrepreneurial nature of my business, or entrepreneurial endeavors in general or that truly artistic endeavor requires entrepreneurial skills.

So my job? It's to create a vision and a timeline and a workflow to get everybody to the right place at the right time. My job is to constantly be thinking about what we do and how it makes others think about us, our so-called brand values. And I have to pull this off with practically no money, making the creative opportunities even more challenging. A look around at my team in London and the other cities we operate in around the word, and I can see that they share my vision. I can see that they trust my judgement. This is a feeling that I just cannot explain. I think you have to experience it first hand to understand why it is so difficult to explain and so fantastically wonderful. The explosion of energy and productivity from this shared vision is what has put Raidance on the map. For another brand or government organisation to attempt to do what we have accomplished - is, well - as they say in marketing terms:  the cost of entry is too high.

Getting the right team is the single most important thing I have had to do, and I have made few mistakes along the way. I count my blessings every day for meeting some of the most talented, smart and clever people one could ever meet who share my vision passionately and who work like stink on our common goal.

Another thing I learned was not to settle for anything but the very best. The best from myself and from my team. A strange thing happened when I realised this: I could now be very blunt and honest with everyone, without looking cruel or unkind. It has given us an enormous edge I think.

Which brings me to another point. Having achieved a certain level of mastery at what I do, It pains me that the officials who hold the keys to the public honeypot fail to even ask me simple questions before they embark on yet another ill judged, committee porridge failure.

After the first few year's I really did begin to see the truth in the old adage: If you build it, they will come. I started to feel like a leader, and headed off to the promised indie film land. If you work in the creative industries, you have to be a leader. There is no other way. I have turned down prospective business partners because I feel I have to run the show. I feel my team is the best in the entire film world, and that there is nothing we cannot achieve with good hard work. I cannot and will not quit. Winners never quit and quitters never win, my Canadian lawyer friend Phil Alberstat used to always say to me.

To do what I have done, you have to be able to do what I have: I have slept in my car for five months and laughed about it, You have to laugh about it, because sleeping rough isn't as bad as something happening to your dream. And you are still in control. Can you imagine having a great idea and working for someone else for a year or more only to be told that your idea sucked? I know in a day or two whether or not my ideas, or the ideas of the team suck. And we laugh as we throw them out and start on another one. As we have learned to laugh at our fear of failure we have discovered that the opoosite thing happens: when we overcome our fears we soar like eagles. Last year (2011) without a single penny of sponsorship, we managed to up the admissions to the festival by 62% - because (a) we laughed at failure (b) we had fun and (c) thankfully, we had a brilliant lineup thansk to the programming skills of Suzanne Ballantyne.

I have learned too that the lesson of humility is a painful one to learn, and one that must be learned before anything significant can happen in your life, or for your dream. I have also learned to the astonishment of a much younger self, that financial rewards are no longer important. what is far more important are the challenges and the work I do. I get paid in the currency of freedom, autonomy, responsibility and recognition.

I feel like a shepherd to the dozens of filmmakers I meet, keeping them away from the wolfish predators that prey on innocents. I doubt if they realise how important each and every one is to me and how much I rely on them to let me know that this Raindance thing isn't just another crazy thing - and this keeps me going in the low moments - the moments generally when the bank manager is calling.

Running Raindance has taught me more about myself than I ever imagined possible. Like what you do when someone headbuts you many many times. Like what you do when you know no one is looking, like the many things you are merely mediocre at, like how many people are so much better at areas than you are. I've learned that the only thing I am actually any good at is being myself, and for this I do not compromise. I speak my mind, I have my dreams and my vision.

There have been times when Raindance has not been going well, when it has been going really badly. This is when people come running out to help. I thank in particular the premium members of Raindance, not just for their subscriptions but for their moral support. I will forever be indebted to you, not that any of them expect a thank you in return. They are a big part of the vision too.

My job is exciting. No two days are the same, and no day stays the same longer than an hour or two. Decisions are made by the dozen - by me and by each member of the team. There is always the sense of urgency in the air. Lucky people, they say, are only lucky once, and everyone on my team feels like they are part of something great. That makes me really excited, for I know that my decisions affect everyone else, and the future of Raindance. I'd rather take all the responsibility of making all the decisions than work at a job where I had no decisions at all.

And that's why I run Raindance. I couldn't do anything else.

PS: Read more about Elliot Grove and the FAQ's about the British Independent Film Awards
You can read Elliot's CV here, or about Elliot's Typical Day

Your Comments Please
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Absolutely inspiring Elliot. I immediately shared the passion and thoughts behind Raindance when I first heard about it many years ago. Congratulations to your team and yeah, you have a very talented Programmer! -
Gabriela Dworecki me@gabriela-dworecki.com
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About The Author

Elliot Grove Elliot Grove founded Raindance Film Festival in 1993, the British Independent Film Awards in 1998, and Raindance.TV in 2007.

He has produced over 150 short films, and 5 feature films. He has written eight scripts, one of which is currently in pre-production. His first feature film, TABLE 5 was shot on 35mm and completed for a total of £278.38. He teaches writers and producers in the UK, Europe, Japan and America.

He has written three books which have become industry standards: RAINDANCE WRITERS LAB 2nd Edition (Focal Press 2008),  RAINDANCE PRODUCERS LAB (Focal Press 2004) and 130 PROJECTS TO GET YOU INTO FILMMAKING (Barrons 2009).  He was awarded a PhD in 2009 for services to film education. His first novel THE BANDIT QUEEN is scheduled for publication next year.

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What It's Really Like To Run Britain's Largest Independent Film Festival