17th Berlinale Talents | 2019
Síle Culley is a film distributor based in the UK who has worked on some of the biggest independent releases in recent years including Whitney, The Florida Project, Loving Vincent, Loveless, & Beast.
Hi Síle thanks for talking to TNC, you all set for the Berlinale?
Thank you for having me! Nearly set for Berlinale - I’ve got a few meetings to confirm still, and some warmer clothes to pack!
Are there any nerves ahead of the festival?
Not really - I’m not going with any projects so I don’t have that pressure that I think Directors or Producers might have. There is excitement and anticipation with a hint of nerves - 500 people is a lot! I hear they make you have breakfast with new people every morning - that should be fun!
What does it mean for you to be part of the 17th edition of Berlinale Talents?
Honestly, it’s such a compliment. I look through the Alumni and some really fantastic people have come through Berlinale Talents that I admire a lot. It’s a stamp of approval from the wider industry that we are ones to watch, with interesting ideas and the right attitude.
I’m also seeing it as great professional development as it’s taking me outside of my comfort zone - I think that’s important too. I’m hugely grateful to Berlinale Talents already - and it hasn’t even happened yet!
What do you hope to get from this experience?
I’m hoping to engage and converse with interesting filmmakers and come away with a different perspective. Or new ideas. Knowledge is key in everything that we do in Distribution (what worked, what didn’t work, why didn’t it, how so, show me, etc) and this will be my first visit to EFM so looking forward to getting a feel for it.
Can you tell me a little bit about your work, what was it about distribution that interested you so much?
I was really drawn to the fact that, as a crew member working on set, we never think about the business of film. I certainly didn’t. And I love being the bridge that links creative and business. That we’re creatively sharp, so to speak, but also able to make sense of the commercial potential of a project.
How did you get into distribution?
By complete accident! I was working as a Production Manager, working in film, and when I moved to London, I just didn’t think it would be possible to freelance and pay high rent! So I applied for a job at a company I really loved and found my love for Distribution there. I honestly haven’t looked back.
What was the first film you distributed?
It was Matt Johnson’s THE DIRTIES - a dark comedy, found-footage style mockumentary about two guys wanting to be popular in high school that takes a really dark turn when one decides to stage a school shooting. We re-positioned the whole campaign differently from the US which was a huge learning curve and we all loved working with Matt and his team.
"...I was glued to the television and would watch the same VHS 2-3 times..."
You have distributed some amazing films, is it hard not to get too overly attached to projects?
100%. It’s so hard - especially when you’re on the road with a Director for regional Q&A screenings! As an independent distributor, we’re quite a small but powerful team so we overlap and work very collaboratively. You get to know the producers and directors so it’s always heartbreaking when an audience doesn’t engage. On the flip side, it’s so exciting when a film or Director gets recognised during the Awards season - I always feel so proud!
Looking back do you think knowing you would do anything differently?
I think it’s important to debrief after a film campaign, identify the weaknesses and the strengths but I’m not sure there’s any point mulling over it for very long. Something as trivial as the weather will unwind months of work so best to keep going confidently on to the next release.
What are some of the biggest challenges a distributor might face?
There’s a lot to be said about how much content is out there - it’s increasingly difficult to get fantastic, critically acclaimed arthouse or independent films into the Exhibition space when there’s just not enough screens for everyone to play their content. The collapse of the theatrical window (so making films available to rent digitally the same day as in cinemas) can be great for some films but won’t guarantee some major Exhibitors support. They’re missing a trick, in my opinion.
Have you always had a passion for film?
For as long as I can remember. Since I was young, I was glued to the television and would watch the same VHS 2-3 times on a Sunday morning before my family woke up. I didn’t realise until I was leaving school that this could be a profession. My grandad, who I never met, was an actor/producer so they all think the passion was inherited!
How important is the collaborative process in filmmaking for you?
I think it’s very important - we need input from a range of people, with different background and stories to make each project as unique and original as it can be. If it’s always the same people making those decisions and contributing to the project - everything will come out looking and feeling the same. I think collaboration and film are hand-in-hand, they can’t exist without each other.
"...also network as much as you can and become confident in talking to a group of strangers."
How much has your approach to your work changed since you started out?
I’ve learnt to not take things personally. I think that naturally comes with age and experience, but I realised quite early you need a thick skin in this business and let things slide off and remember that people can be tricky and sensitive because they’ve spent 10 years developing, financing and making this film that is suddenly in your hands.
What are you currently working on?
Oh, lots! I’ve got A PRIVATE WAR starring Rosamund Pike and Jamie Dornan in a couple of weeks with a live satellite Q&A to 200 cinemas. I’m also gearing up for Jonah Hill’s fantastic MID90s and Brian Welsh’s BEATS. Both have a very strong nostalgia for the 1990s which I’m loving!
And finally, do you have any advice or tips for any thinking about getting into distribution?
It’s a tricky one because I do think I’ve been lucky with being in the right place at the right time - but there are lots you can do to raise your awareness of the business by reading trade publications (Screen, Variety, Broadcast, etc) - also network as much as you can and become confident in talking to a group of strangers. Be the person a Distribution team wants to grab a burger with at the end of a stressful, long week.