Choosing a career path is just as hard as it’s ever been. Some people instinctively know what they “want to be when you (sic) grow up.” For many though, it’s a question of whether to follow an adult’s recommendation(s), or go with the heart. Next year marks forty years that Harald Ringel has attended Festival de Cannes – an impressive record by all standards. Even though, initially Harald studied economics having followed an aunt’s advice. Sitting across a table during Filmfest Hamburg 2018, I confess I did a double take when Harald told me.
Wait a second, let’s rewind somewhat: Allow me to introduce Harald Ringel, a Berliner who is a film buyer working exclusively for an independent Filmverleih (film distributor) in Berlin. Did he choose this profession? Yes. How did he start out? Naturally, there’s a story here. Always interested in movies and watching them, while studying Harald began accompanying friends to press screenings; that was forty-two years ago. Which in due course led to writing film reviews, as well as attending film festivals; Harald’s contact list grew. His first paying job transpired thirty-six years ago when he landed a travel magazine account, writing for its cultural column that contained tips about films and other events around the area. Once Harald had enough paying journalistic accounts, he gave up the economics (that he didn’t like anyway) and concentrated on sharpening his German and English writing skills.
Next question, what’s a film buyer, right? While participating at film festivals (there are four core international festivals he attends per year, plus 40-odd other festivals around Germany/Europe, although that number can fluctuate), Harald’s interest in the film market segment increased. When the Filmverleih approached him, it was a natural transition; he’s still known to write a review, though. As a film buyer, Harald scouts films for the company’s market niche: predominantly documentaries, art-house, and narrative films of any nationality, e.g., Komunia, Poland and Results, USA. His sources include professional film streaming websites, press screenings, and film festivals; Harald’s always curious to try out new festivals, especially considering the cornucopia of offerings in Berlin.
Any changes over the years? The biggest difference Harald’s experienced as a buyer is (lack of) access to the filmmakers—producers, directors, et al. Previously, relationships were developed, and negotiating film sales was interwoven in discussions, as well as receiving background information about films. Nowadays, buyers have to deal with Weltvertriebs (world distribution rights), which are more controlled and focused. Oftentimes negotiating a film buy is like a poker game, whereby the highest bidder wins. A small distributor only has a chance when, after a few months, no other company in your region wants to buy the film and it becomes affordable. For the press/journalists, there have been many more changes because of the Internet, etcetera.
Time for practicalities: What would you tell someone wanting to follow this career path today? After a long pause, Harald began by explaining how the market is so big, so competitive in today’s global marketplace that to assure job security and a good salary someone needs to work for a big company. But… if someone’s passionate about working in this profession, there are alternatives. Do it in conjunction with another film-related job, whereby the two incomes can provide a livelihood. Or, at the very least, someone should have a reliable income and then work as a film buyer on a smaller scale.
Many thanks for sharing with us, Harald. When you’re in Cannes, France in May 2019, we’ll lift our glasses in a toast to your 40th anniversary at the 72nd Festival de Cannes.