17th Berlinale Talents | 2019
Hélène Sifre is a French producer based in London. Interested in female-led, socially-relevant projects.
Hi Hélène thanks for talking to TNC, you all set for the Berlinale?
Yes, flights and accommodation are booked. I haven’t looked at the schedule yet but will do so as soon as I get a minute!
Are there any nerves ahead of the festival?
Not really. A bit about the intensity of the Talent Lab, from what I’ve heard. But mostly excited and looking forward to being there.
What does it mean for you to be part of the 17th edition of Berlinale Talents?
It’s great to be included in a crowd of emerging talent selected from all over the world and to be recognised as the “next generation” of filmmakers.
What do you hope to get from this experience?
Mostly to meet other people of my level of experience, but also more experienced professionals in the masterclasses, etc. It’s a great networking opportunity. But I’m also looking forward to learning more about other departments and certain areas of producing too. And hopefully, watch some films time permitted!
Can you tell me a little bit about your work, what was it about producing that interested you so much?
What I love about producing is that you get to be involved in the entire process, sometimes when there’s just an idea and you have to attach a writer, then a director, all the way to distribution. It’s very creative but you also need rigorous business and legal skills, which use two very different parts of the brain. I like this variety. And of course, working very closely to achieve a director’s vision. I much prefer helping someone achieve their vision than promoting my own therefore I feel more comfortable as a producer, in the shadows. But I still promote a personal world view in the work that I choose to work on. I pick my projects carefully and all of them have some kind of social relevance and leading female characters because I think these are important stories to tell. And I strongly believe in the power of culture and cinema to move things forward.
What attracts you to a project?
It really depends. Sometimes it’s a character, sometimes a world, sometimes the director or writer attached to it, and sometimes what a story is trying to “say” if there’s a real point to it. But usually, it’s all four of these elements. For instance, on the project I’m developing with iFeatures, "Blue Jean", I love working with the writer-director Georgia Oakley, but I also love the complexity of the main character, the world of 80s Newcastle and the political intention behind the project.
What was the first film you produced?
It was a short film at the NFTS entitled “Role Play”, written by Jess Jackson and directed by Philip McGoldrick. The story and its visual treatment aren’t necessarily the type of films that I would naturally lean towards nowadays but I’m still very happy with it. It was a challenge but a great experience.
"I love moving image I think it’s the ultimate art-form."
Looking back would you do anything differently?
I’m not sure because the mistakes I made were a useful learning experience and it’s probably best to go on this learning curve at film school rather than outside in the real world!
What are some of the biggest challenges a producer might face on a production?
The amount of information you have to hold in your brain and the pressure of being the person legally responsible for everything can be quite intense. You have to absorb all of the problems and not lose your cool when others might. There are also elements you can’t control like the weather, which can prove to be a huge challenge that you can anticipate but not really predict. Being reactive to these problems is difficult at times but so necessary.
Have you always had a passion for filmmaking?
I’ve always had a passion for films and I used to make short videos with my brother when I was a kid. But I only started seriously considering filmmaking as a career when I was about 17. It took a while for me to take the leap into producing though! The NFTS was very useful in this respect, to give me the confidence to embrace this passion.
"I love working with actors and seeing what they come up with..."
How important is the collaborative process in filmmaking for you?
Hugely important! It’s what I love the most. Having all of these conversations with creative partners is what makes the work itself so fascinating. And it’s also how you improve something, by confronting yourself to other people’s minds. It’s also the whole point of cinema: to have a collaborative experience when watching it.
How much has your approach to your work changed since you started out?
I am much more focused on characters and emotions. I come from an academic background so used to have quite a rational and rigid approach to storytelling. I’ve learned to let lose a bit and open up about more subjective aspects of development.
What are you currently working on?
The project that’s the most active at the moment is the iFeatures, “Blue Jean” written & directed by Georgia Oakley. We’re developing the script until the end of March and then Creative England, the BFI and BBC Films will decide whether to move the project forward to production. I’m also developing a George Orwell origin story and an animated feature. Alongside my own slate, I’m working for another start-up production company, Braintrust, managed by Sam Bank. We’ve got a very busy slate of film and TV projects that’s keeping me busy!
And finally, do you have any advice or tips for any up and coming producer?
Learn the basics of IP law as you’ll need to draft contracts to secure projects and you might not have the funds at first to pay a lawyer to do it for you. And network. Try to meet as many people as you can. Not just financiers and other producers but also new talent. Find a few directors and writers you really click with and build a relationship with them.