Saturday 23 February 2013

RAINDANCE Courses - Are They Worth It?

Full Disclosure: A few months back Raindance offered me the chance to sit in on some courses, for free, in the hope that I'd write about them. And now, that's exactly what I'm going to do. I tell you this to be honest, because I'm not into writing puff pieces. Although, if Olivia Munn got in touch and said she wanted me to write a favourable review of one of her movies I probably would. But Elliot Grove, the founder of Raindance, is grey-haired and a lot older than Olivia Munn, so I'm not going to go out of my way to say nice things. 

But honestly, I do have a lot of nice things to say about Elliot Grove and the organisation he founded. Where else can you pay thirty quid to spend an evening learning the basics of lighting, or the ins and outs of contracts with an entertainment lawyer. Where else can you go for a weekend and come out the other side determined to make a feature film. And not just determined, but CONVINCED you can do it. 

Most Raindance course start in exactly the same way. You awkwardly shuffle into a room full of twenty or so other people. There's the film-geek-guy with his Coppola t-shirt, there's the pretty girl who used to act but now wants to produce, there's the guy in a suit and baseball cap, and there's the quiet but intelligent looking guy in the middle row. And then there's you, finding a harmless place in the corner where you can sip on your still-too-hot Starbucks cup. 

And then Elliot, or a Raindance intern, stands up and says something so painstakingly obvious that you feel immediately stupid. "The film industry is about who you know. Turn to the person next to you and say hello."

You fill up with fear. But five minutes later you're chatting to someone with the same dreams as you. The same passions. You're not sitting next to someone who will say "when will you get a real job?" or "but what are you really going to do with your life?" You're sitting next to someone who takes sick days just so they can catch up on DVD watching. You're sitting next to someone who reads the same autobiographies as you. You're sitting next to a potential collaborator, employer, and even best friend. 

So to begin with, Raindance scores points simply for being a place where creative people can exist. To feel understood. To meet like-minded people. And I know that's hard for those of you that are writers -- we're all too good at hiding away with our laptops, but you need to get out there and meet the people who are going to turn your projects into a reality. 

I don't love every Raindance course. And you probably won't either. It's important to do a bit of research and see who will be delivering the course you're doing. Many years ago, I did a foundation course on directing for film, it was a five week thing. After two weeks, I wasn't happy, I didn't think the teacher was delivering what was promised. But to be fair to Raindance, they said no problem, and let me choose another course. 

Which was the first time I took Elliot Grove's Lo-To-No Budget Filmmaking course. It is similar now to how it was then, and it's still my favourite of all the things on offer at Raindance. Grove is a masterful storyteller; weaving in tales of his personal history with anecdotes from his adventures in the screen trade. Sometimes you think they're not true, sometimes you think he's boasting -- but the end result is; you come out inspired. He demystifies the industry. He explains what a producer does. He breaks down what a budget is. He tells you why films get sold and why films don't get sold. He tells you why sometimes a big actor works for millions and why sometimes they'll work for £150 a day if it means they can pick their kids up from school. 

There are some courses that I'd recommend at Raindance and some that I wouldn't. But that's more a reflection on me than anyone else. I get grumpy when someone says to me, "this is how you write," or "if you want to make a film, you need to do this". I'm more interested in people who can tell a story, who can share who they are, and inspire you to believe it's possible. That's why I'd definitely recommend the 99 minute film school. It costs less than a decent meal, and it only takes up a couple of hours of your life. You'll hear the founder of Raindance share his story, explain the ins and outs of producing a film, and you'll get to meet a heap of people who are just like you. You can find details about the Raindance 99 Minute Film School HERE.

The main thing about Raindance is that it's affordable. Sure, £200 for a weekend course might feel like money you don't have. But if you want to be a professional filmmaker, or even; a more knowledgeable amateur one, it's a small price to pay for all the information you'll be loaded with.

What has always impressed me about Raindance is their accessibility. The Raindance Film Festival is notorious for promoting and supporting independent film. Don't get me wrong, some of the films at their festival last year were shocking. Atrocious. But others I absolutely loved, like 'The Lottery of Birth' and 'Heavy Girls'. The toughest thing about building a career in the film industry is that it's easy to feel like you're on the outside. That there's a huge party and you can't get a ticket. Raindance breaks that theory down - it demystifies the process and it gives you access to industry insiders who have been there and done it. And if you're still unsure about their courses; go to one of the free networking nights. 

The point, if you haven't noticed already, is that I'm a big fan of Raindance. They've done so much to support so many independent films over the past 20 years, it's the least I can do to write a kind blog about them. In fact; many of my most popular posts in recent years have been because Raindance have shared them on Twitter. 

You can read up about Raindance and their courses by visiting their website, right here.

Care to share?


  1. I did the director foundation course and I was pleased with it. Sure, I'd been told ahead by a friend who'd already taken it that I wouldn't come out a director. I didn't expect to. As it says, it's a foundation. When I'd never felt the need to take a formal course for writing, I felt I needed to be in a social environment to get the directing bases. Having a DP and actors come along and participate turned out to be interesting and helpful and going for drinks after the classes added a few email addresses and business cards to my contacts list. It gave me more focus and confidence and a direction to follow. It also improved my writing by clarifying what happens to my "final draft" after it is handed over.
    And of course, I have great respect for Raindance as a whole.
    Do I recommend it? Yes. No doubt.

  2. Lies lies lies...

  3. Would you recommend an Indian student crossing the oceans all the way to London to attend Raindance's MA? Is the whole hassle worth it?

  4. Could you elaborate? I'll be doing a Master's at Raindance next year, so your comment worries me.