Exclusive interview with EAVE graduate Alessandro Gropplero
About the digital transition of WEMW Out of the Box 2021 and the Business Angels initiative
Alessandro Gropplero is EAVE graduate and national coordinator for Italy, Head of the When East Meets West (WEMW) Co-production Forum, he is also Head of international relations at the FVG film fund. We have met him just before the start of WEMW which has now successfully closed. He talks about the first digital edition of the event, his new initiative Business Angels in co-operation with EAVE, and what fun has to do with it.
Your first digital edition of WEMW Co-production Forum has just ended. What were you looking for the most?
I was looking forward to offering to more than 600 industry professionals from all over the word the possibility to immerse in a new digital world that we have created for them. We are working in two different directions. On the one hand we have a programme that is in between an industry event and a variety show. On the other hand the participants have the possibility to be on our platform for ten days and we will try to connect them as much as possible through high-tech features that our platform can offer. We have been working hard to shape the programme and the content according to the format that we had and vice versa all the formats according to the content.
What did you expect for this edition of WEMW?
I really hope that people after this long Christmas and Winter break will have again the will and the need to go back and meet people, even if it’s just online. Because I had a feeling that at the end of year the people felt that it was too heavy... I felt that October and November were extremely difficult in terms of finding their way through the jungle of events that were happening online. I’m happy that we were coming now after this break, so that the people are hungry again to meet. And this is why we wanted to offer something more, this is the main thing in our concept, offering something more, and not giving the idea that it will be a downgraded edition.
So how different it is to organise a digital edition compared to the previous editions?
It’s completely different… it’s different in terms of how to best connect the people. It’s different in terms of scheduling, and it’s also different in terms of organisation planning and how to manage the whole team. We had to reconstruct the whole idea, because normally two thirds of our budget are mainly allocated to hospitality, travels and physical costs. So it demands to change the mindset completely and to reconsider and understand how to manage the available budget and what we can do with it. And it’s different in terms of how to reconvert the jobs of the people. For example, I didn’t want to fire my hospitality team because we won’t have any guests physically. So we had to reconvert every single job and we also had to reconsider our priorities. Of course communication was one of the priorities in our physical event, but starting from when we opened the platform, we communicated everything day by day. We have done a communication plan that we have never done so far. For each event in our schedule, we have defined clearly who writes the text, who prepares the link, who sends out the link, and when we should do this. We have prepared a database with all this info, so that we know very clearly when to send it out, so that we avoid too much of email bombing on certain days. We have developed it together with our social media campaign, in order to know clearly what we shall communicate on different sides.
Photo: Daniele Braida
And how is the response so far?
At online events, there’s more participation of certain profiles that normally are the last to commit in physical events, because they are too busy with other festivals and travels. When we started inviting people, we immediately saw a very positive response from festivals and sales representatives, especially for our works-in-progress section. And I have to say that this is probably one of the added values of having everything online, because we know that our work in progress section can now reach all major sales agents and festivals. We always had very important presence of sales and festivals, but now it’s incredibly high.
In terms of producers, we have a bit less commitment from the international producers, but we normally have a very huge number of producers. I have a feeling that probably everybody is very busy with their own projects in development, or post-production, or for those who can, shooting. Well, I can also picture myself attending a physical event, maybe I’d be keener to take meetings; maybe I know a person or maybe I want to have a chat to discover a new project or a person, and maybe online somebody might be more reluctant to book such meetings. I think online it’s more like this: I book the meeting when I really want to meet the person and the project.
You have a new initiative, which is called the business angels. How does that work?
Well, for me it was very important that no one would feel that this might be a downgraded edition compared to the past editions. Somehow, I had a feeling that for the other activities that we have done, especially for training where human exchange and contact is such a priority, I could feel that somebody might be happy to be a part of it, but also feeling that they are missing something.
Of course, our projects this year won’t be able to share 3-4 days in a venue where they could meet people from all over the world, so what can we do for them? It occurred to me that we could offer some kind of help before our event starts. In total, we have 21 WEMW projects, which are at very different levels of development – early development, advanced development, or financing – and we decided to check with them what kind of needs they have for their projects, and to offer them some additional help in different areas. We have discussed this with our partners from EAVE and EURODOC, because our selection of projects includes both, fiction projects and documentaries. We have decided to create a network of business angels and organised a series of curated one-to-one meetings offering tailor-made advice according to each project’s specific needs.
After the selection we checked with each project what their specific needs were, such as co-production countries, financing, sales, marketing and distribution, and we told them that we plan to have 3 to 4 business angels for each project. They sent us back a full list of needs regarding specific areas and they mentioned the co-production countries that they want to work with and why. Afterwards, we analysed the list of needs with EAVE and EURODOC and we started discussing who might be the people that could cater to the needs of each selected project. We have handpicked each business angel to match the specific needs of our projects. In the end, we came up with 35 business angels; some have one single project consultation, and some have more projects to consult. Our business angels were all happy to support our idea of sharing their knowledge with our projects, and also giving something back to the network of EAVE and EURODOC. All our business angels are part of the EAVE and EURODC network, and we choose people who are willing to share and who are keen to help each other. We have scheduled all meetings with the business angels for the week before WEMW starts.
And all that happened before WEMW even starts?
We have also asked our business angels to suggest up to 3 names of potential partners such as co-producers, sales agents, funding or market representatives for our projects, and we will try to organise these meetings during the WEMW co-production market. This way we will try to maximize the effect of potential meetings, because we have selected business angels whom we think can offer access to a certain country; in terms of sharing their knowledge about specific country and their network of contacts. We didn’t select business angels thinking that they might be potential co-producers, but rather to be able to advise our projects. In case they might become future partners, even better, but this was not our initial intention. So in addition to the regular meetings within WEMW co-production market, we arranged the meetings suggested by our business angels, and this way we enhanced and maximized co-production opportunities at WEMW.
The selected projects are the 21 selected projects that take part in the WEMW co-production market?
Yes, exactly. All selected projects had a pitch and afterwards the individual meetings, so they were very busy. I think that our business angels also helped them to be more aware of what can they get out of the market experience. They warmed them up and prepared how to face the event. I believe that it was very beneficial.
So the participants can find advice for what their project specifically needs at present?
Yes, exactly. For us, the main goal is to offer to the 21 selected projects the chance to find co-production partners. That’s what we usually did in the physical events… . But we have never done such a detailed mapping of the projects’ needs. In the end the idea of business angels can be translated as consultancy, but it’s something that comes from the idea of involving the people that we know, who can be generous and bring something more to the table. And it’s not by chance that in the end there are so many group leaders from the EAVE network among our business angels, because they are already used to sharing and giving individual feedback in a way that is very generous. I did EAVE myself and I know what a group leader brings to the table. I really believe that this is something that I not only want to keep for the future, but it’s also something that I’d love to enhance in the future.
And who is taking part from EAVE?
As business angels from EAVE, we have people who have been the EAVE group leaders such as Didar Domehri, Diana Elbaum, Jean des Forêts, Titus Kreyenberg, Lise Lense-Møller, Riina Sildos, Jani Thiltges, Jonas Weydemann, as well as other EAVE experts (such as Linda Beath, Christina Pelekani) and EAVE graduates (Saar Yogev, Marica Stocchi, Vladimir Yatsenko, Alessandro Amato, etc.). It’s all people that we know very well, and we wanted to make sure that we like our business angels.
What do you think, will there be something you’ll miss after the festival?
Well, in November I did the presentation of WEMW when I sent out the series of pictures and most of them were the pictures of hugs with the people… So that’s what I’ll definitely miss.
And we are setting up our studio at the same venue that we have normally used for the past ten editions, so it will be strange to have this venue completely empty…
But luckily we also created alongside our industry programme a series that is kind of a variety show, and we will really try to have fun.
In the past nine months I felt that many online markets were based on business, which is of course what we do for our professionals who participate at our events, but markets in real life – when they take place as physical events, they is also a lot about networking and having fun. So we created a lot of activities where fun was the basic ingredient and where we tried to recreate the connection between the decision makers and the participants in a completely out-of-the-box way. That’s why we have decided to call this edition When East Meets West out-of-the-box. When we were thinking of renaming our edition to WEMW digital edition or WEMW online edition, then I felt that this is not what we are doing; it’s too little compared to what we are imagining. This is also one of the reasons why I have a music trio by my side playing all the time when I’ll introduce all events. This is to add some kind of flavour that it’s not only business but that it’s also entertainment.
Photo: Daniele Braida
How do these entertainment aspects look like?
Our format is a platform; when you are connected to the platform you can see who else is attending at that moment. All who are on the platform could specify their interests in their personal profiles and there is an algorithm that enables you to easily find the other people who share similar interests. For example, if my interest is international co-production, feature documentary, festival films, I might have more opportunities to find people with similar interests. On the platform there is also a place that’s called WEMW Café, where you can see all pictures of the people attending, and you can quickly read their short profile and you can chat or video chat with them directly on the platform. You don’t need to share links or arrange zoom calls, you can approach them and talk directly with them on the platform. Basically, our idea is that the more the people are connected to the platform, the more they can connect. We created a lot of events for the people to be online as much as they can, and we wanted to have them online with the industry events but also with the entertaining events, such as music classes, cooking shows, live performances, etc. We wanted to create curiosity among our guests, so they can come and check out what is going on.
This really sounds like fun.
We hope so! And to mention also that it was difficult for our team, because we didn’t have the chance to come together since we are not all living in the same place, but during the five WEMW days we were all together at the same venue. And I told them that during these five days we will be working hard but also having fun. So it had to be fun also for us!
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Page published 29 January 2021. Updated 27 April 2022.
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Exclusive interview with EAVE graduate Alessandro Gropplero
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