Smarter thinking, savvier marketing and greater professionalism across the European film industry were recurrent themes at the Screen International European Film Finance Summit.
Starting with the keynote guest Stewart Till, speaker after speaker highlighted a need for greater understanding of the film industry on the part of film-makers in Europe and for better training.
'Additional resources will be allocated to better and more focused film education and training. Individuals will be encouraged to travel across the Continent to receive their training and to get a pan-European perspective,' predicted Till, the recently installed president and CEO of multi-national distributor UIP.
Robert Jones, head of the UK's Premiere Fund, said: 'although it is not up to me, I would greatly increase the amount of money we [the Film Council] put into training and film education.' Miramax's head of European production Colin Vaines suggested that European filmmaking 'should be about passion and a sense of the market. Programmes like ACE [the Ateliers du Cinema Europeen] are honing professional skills.'
Without that training, it seems that European producers put themselves at a tactical disadvantage.
Mo Yusef, chairman of the UK's Invicta Capital, said producers make the mistake of locking themselves into commercial and creative relationships before they have begun to look for finance. 'Producers often come to us last, this is a weakness.'
Hengameh Panahi, head of film sales house Celluloid Dreams, concurred: 'Film-makers often come to us when there is a multi-national co-production and soft money already in place. They want us to put up a minimum guarantee, but they have sold off the best territories - and not necessarily to the best distributors for their film.'
German-born Chris Sievernich, who has since gone on to become one of the top independent producers in the US, painted an even starker picture. 'There is a far greater level of film literacy in the US than in Europe. At test screenings and focus groups it is amazing how much people see and understand.' He said ordinary members of the public pick up on mistakes and make detailed technical suggestions for improvements.
Not that European producers should simply decamp to Los Angeles in order to soak up all this film expertise. Producer Steve Woolley, who once lived in Los Angeles, observed wryly that his ability to secure crucial meetings with Hollywood studio chiefs actually improved once he returned to Europe. LA outsiders, Woolley noted, have a desirable quality that Europeans should exploit.
Appropriately, the speakers' calls for greater understanding of the context in which films are made, sold and financed came on the eve of a Berlinale that sees the launch of the Talent Campus. This huge and hugely ambitious initiative of festival director Dieter Kosslick, sees the participation of some 500 young directors, producers and actors in a series of seminars, workshops and shared experiences.
In the morning's sessions producers and public sector financiers repeatedly sought greater connection between the production community and the distribution end of the food-chain. Audiences always need to be taken into consideration was a constant refrain
Several speakers also said that thanks to the panoply of available soft money and public sector financing, Europe's film- makers are in an incredibly privileged position. If there are problems they should take more matters into their own hands and seek fewer hands up.
Danish producer Peter Aalbeck Jensen, who jokingly said he had sent himself back to school and described himself as a sales assistant, said 'We have brought our problems on ourselves. We have poor levels of professionalism.' He joined the chorus of those urging European filmmakers to lobby bureaucrats and politicians for what they want, especially ahead of the European Union's 2005 deadline for revising state aid.
But while everyone agreed that public support programmes are necessary in Europe, where the film industry clearly suffers from structural problems and lingering co-production impediments, the culture of dependency was seen by some as a drawback.
'We should not be waiting for mom and pop or government subsidies,' countered Sievernich. Europeans would do well to emulate their American counterparts and seize their own financing initiatives, he suggested, rather than passively wait upon the largesse of others. 'There should be no 'In 2005 someone is going to take my cookies away'.'