“You Have To Line Up The Dominoes”: How To Market Your Film Strategically

Breakthrough alum Shasha Nakhai is having a banner year. The short film Frame 394, which she produced, was launched to great acclaim at the 2016 edition of Hot Docs, going on to score 2 CSA nominations. It eventually landed on the Academy Award® shortlist.

Shasha, who also received the Don Haig Award/Telefilm Canada’s Emerging Filmmaker Award at Hot Docs, is currently in Nigeria where she grew up, shooting a feature documentary. We spoke to her about her journey from 2015 Breakthrough participant to feature filmmaker.

You’re currently in Nigeria, in production on a documentary. What can you tell us about the project?

We’ve been shooting for three months now and start editing next week. The film’s called Take Light. It’s my first feature — a look at the tangled wires of Nigeria’s energy crisis. The project is supported by CBC’s documentary Channel, the Canada Media Fund, and produced by Storyline Entertainment.

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What’s been a major takeaway from this project?

Because it’s impossible to make a call sheet (or any kind of schedule!) when you work in Nigeria, I’ve really worked on the ability to go with the flow, constantly thinking and re-thinking as I go along, rather than having a fixed idea of what will happen.

How did the Breakthrough Program help you get this feature made?

The Breakthrough Program was the first time I pitched the project. It was the first time I pitched to the documentary Channel, who eventually came on-board as a funder. It made an impression on them. We got a few soft “No”s after that and then we eventually got a Yes — when the timing was right.

Ed Barreveld [of Storyline Entertainment] had always been an executive producer mentoring me on my projects. After the Breakthrough Program, he officially signed on as producer. He saw the potential in the project, and saw that it had market interest.

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What advice would you give to filmmakers who are trying to get their work funded?

Above all, it’s important to have persistence and a willingness to be open. We got several “No”s because the timing wasn’t right. But Ed kept pushing. His persistence was what paid off.

Have a willingness to listen to potential funders and get feedback on what they think is interesting about your story. But do it without compromising your vision.

The short FRAME 394, which you produced, has had a great run for a short film, and tremendous success. What have you’ve learned from its journey?

Shorts are fantastic for tackling hot button issues. They have a shorter timeline and can be released quicker — that makes them more marketable and more programmable by film fests.

With festivals and awards, it’s important to know that these things won’t just happen. You don’t just get invited to festivals. You have to put in the work, line up the dominoes and hope they fall in the right directions.

The Oscar shortlist wasn’t just by chance, either. I specifically chose film festivals that were Academy Award qualifiers in the Best Documentary Short category, hoping that the film was good enough that it could make it.

On a more personal level, I’ve learned a lot about the importance of self-care after having run myself into the ground working on that film. You can’t really enjoy festivals and a film’s launch if you haven’t taken the time to rest and get into the right mindset. (And if you haven’t budgeted to attend any of the said festivals!)

To apply for the 2018 Breakthrough program, click here. Application deadline is Dec 5, 2017. 

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