LONDON — Since its launch in 1992, the Raindance Film Festival has always considered itself at the forefront of new media filmmaking. With Web Fest, however, the organizers took things a step further, creating what they describe as “the U.K.’s only festival devoted to independent digital and streaming series.” Begun as an event primarily intended to showcase samples of online work, Web Fest now offers panels and presentations, with a view to integrating digital filmmaking within the wider world of independent cinema. Here, founder Elisar Cabrera recalls the project’s origins and explains what it has to offer…
How long has Web Fest been running now?
This year is actually the third.
How did it start?
I’m also a producer of film and more recently web series as well, and I’ve been quite instrumental in building up a community of web-series creators in this country. Obviously there are quite a lot of filmmakers and filmmaking groups, but I realized that there wasn’t necessarily one that was concentrating on digital filmmaking outside of the YouTube community. In 2011 I suggested that Raindance try a program of web series — much like their shorts program, just a screening block. But 2013 was when we decided to do it as a festival within a festival, centered on digital video and web series.
To those who don’t already know, what is Web Fest?
It’s basically four days of screenings and industry panels. Why the panels? Well, I think one of the things I discovered over the course of doing this is that people making web series are very similar to independent filmmakers, in that it’s a very entrepreneurial business — you go out, somehow you get some money together, then you shoot it and you release it.
What kind of reaction have you had from the industry?
I think there’s an excitement about it. Everyone knows that the business is evolving and changing all the time, and digital online is obviously quite an important part of that evolution. So the fact that we were programming a concentrated set of industry panels about online video was very exciting. The people that we’ve managed to attract — we’ve got Kathleen Grace from Ron Howard’s New Form digital company coming over — shows that there’s a real appetite to discover new talent working in the online space.
How have things changed since Web Fest started?
I think the way things have changed most is that — as a producer or a filmmaker or a creator — you will stand out more if you understand the experience of releasing something online and audience development, by which I mean having a relationship with your audience through your social media, or your YouTube channel, or whichever way you end up releasing your series.
Is content changing too?
I think we will start seeing more stories like [web series] “High Maintenance” moving to HBO in the next two or three years. There’s definitely an excitement, I think, about discovering new talent like that online. It’s somehow all become about serialized content and scripted series, and that’s one of the legacies we get to feed off, as far as the Netflix effect on content creation. It’s not about one-off movies now — are you delivering something that is consistent over a period of time? The creators we discover at Web Fest I hope will become the future creators of shows for the likes of Netflix, BBC, Channel 4, Amazon and so on. That’s hopefully our raison d’etre.
How does Web Fest compare to a normal festival?
It’s an unusual festival, because a lot of the stuff we’ll be showing is already available online, and most festivals are about premieres of films no one has seen yet. We do have traditional premieres — like “Muzzled: The Musical,” for instance, which is from the director of “The Guild,” one of the most well-known web series in the world — but because there’s so much content online, it’s part of our job to curate a great program that sifts through that and gives people a taster.
What can attendees hope to get from the panels and events?
The panels that we have are for those creators not only to learn about the business but also to learn how to network and hook into it. They may have done it once or twice before, but now they’ll be armed, they’ll have picked up a few business cards from people they can then pitch at and say, ‘OK, let’s do this with a budget.’ Or maybe they can go to a brand and get them to sponsor their content. It enables them to take the next step in their career.
How do you grow a festival like this? Is it a question of listening to filmmakers or do you follow your own instincts?
It’s a mixture of both. It’s about keeping up to date with how things are developing. Technology changes all the time now. The players in this space change all the time — new platforms come up all the time. There are new mainstream companies setting up digital divisions. So it’s about keeping up with that but also finding those gaps in knowledge that producers have.
Have you introduced anything new for 2015?
One of our events this year is StreaMART, which we’re doing with support from Creative Skillset. We’re running these as morning sessions, through to Sunday this weekend, and that’s going to be more of a private, more intimate event, where those creators get to meet executives from studios, so they can ask them directly, ‘How do I pitch to you? What does your platform do? How can I work with you?’ We see it as an educational opportunity but also a networking chance. It’s putting both those things together.