From EXIT Musicl Festival, directed by Ivan Durovic

On A Global Scale: Directing EXIT Music Festival with Ivan Durovic

BY Felix van Kann, December 7, 2020

On A Global Scale is a bi-weekly series about international co-productions by Columbia filmmakers.


Welcome to another edition of On A Global Scale. This bi-weekly series celebrates the international spirit of the Columbia University film program and the incredible global collaborations coming out of it.


What often gets overlooked is that the world of filmmaking is not restricted to short or feature films. Advertising, web series and music videos are also part of this world. And sometimes something completely new comes up, as student Ivan Durovic recently discovered.


The 3rd year Screenwriting Concentrate from Belgrade, Serbia was recently hired to direct Life Stream, the world-renowned EXIT Music Festival in his home country, a completely new concept born out of the pandemic. “Not live stream, Life Stream,” Durovic reassured me. It’s the title of the extraordinary project EXIT Music Festival launched in collaboration with the World Food Programme in an effort to combine music and storytelling into a unique experience of both a concert and a story simultaneously.

“I don’t think anyone has ever done something like this,” Durovic claimed as he explained the idea. “You have a performance at Exit Festival and during the performance, we incorporate videos every four or five minutes that tell a cohesive story about climate change and environmental issues. The videos underline the performance and vice versa.”


This unexplored concept was born out of the festival being forced to go virtual this year. “People had already bought tickets, sponsors had already paid money, so they had a responsibility. So, they realized why don’t we do something different? It was the right opportunity to do so. Our obligation was to make it entertaining, but also to send a message.”


This message was about environmental issues, which the festival worked out with the World Food Programme. However, there was little more than this broad concept in existence when Durovic was hired for the project a month and a half before the festival was set to take place. The novelty aspect of this risky attempt was also the reason why authorities chose Durovic for the job. “No one has experience with doing something like this and I think I was more passionate than others about it. The other directors there were older, more experienced than me, but they chose me because they felt I was really into the idea. I was very excited, and they recognized it.”


Suddenly, Durovic found himself tasked with helming the filming of one of Europe’s largest music festivals—a bigger job than anything he had ever done. “It was my first real job. No playing around, not making a short movie where if it’s not so good no one loses money, no one gets in trouble. I was paid well for the first time. EXIT is a Serbian brand. Novak Djokovic and EXIT Music Festival are the most known exports from Serbia. They weren’t kidding around.”


The first task was to explore the themes of climate change and environmental issues and find a story within it. “The festival lasted for four days, so our approach was to designate each day to an element. Earth, fire, air and water in that order. We made it simple and clear. When we decided to do that and got green lights, we had to build a story for each element. So, we wrote the text in preparation, decided on the approach and then found the footage to support the message in post-production.”


Easier said than done. The difficulty then was to find a way to incorporate the story into the music festival. “People who attend festivals don’t come because they want to learn about climate change, they come to have fun, not to listen about the world’s end. So it has to come in in an entertaining way without denting people’s experience and take the fun out.” It took a lot of testing to get the project on solid feet, but Durovic discovered that the secret was to create something that could awaken emotions while supporting the music. Simply put: “The concept was to touch people.”


Finally, 30 musicians from all over the world came to Novi Sad to perform on EXIT festival’s giant stage—in front of about a hundred people from the festival and some journalists. “We had 8 different cameras and a drone live at all times to cover all angles. I sat in a studio in a trailer with a mixer, an AC, AD and ten people for audio around me. The monitors connected to the cameras were in front of me and then I cut between them during the performances. When I started doing that, I had no idea how to do it. I had to make the decisions to cut in the moment, it would have been so hard to edit after. Imagine editing 30 performances with 9 cameras at 1:30 hours each. So, it was edited on the spot and I told the camera operators: ‘Go wider, closer, give me detail. Etc.’”


After the performances were done and pre-edited, Durovic and his team had two weeks to do another pass at the videos, incorporating the story elements and the pre-written text into the performances. “We had to find the footage that worked best for the text on websites like Shutterstock and some from the World Food Programme.” For time reasons, the team created one story for each day that they included into every performance. “We realized people were seeing only the performances of their favorite musicians, not all of them, so the repetitive nature of that didn’t matter as much.”


It was a huge learning experience for Durovic who said, “Since I never did anything live it was hard on the first day. On the last day, I understood the rhythm, the set-up and it wasn’t that hard, you just needed to get a feeling for it. With the footage, we had so many tries. You have a lot of people who know a lot about festivals. Every time we did something, they gave us notes and checked it out. So, it was hard to find consensus. We wrote a text, found footage and then they said: “Why don’t you change this, change that.” After a while though, we understood the process and in the end we were able to make 20 minutes of footage in a day. At the start that took us a week.”


Durovic gained confidence in his professional abilities due to it. “We, students, have the fear people will notice that we’re full of it. The important lesson for me is we’re not far behind other professionals. In the end, the director told me and the team that we helped them make the festival look better than ever. It gave me the feeling I could do anything. It’s a liberating thought. When you have a great crew and you realize everyone shares the same goal, you can create big things even when you feel small.” As a matter of fact, Durovic believes it was specifically his prior short film experience that prepared him most for the role. “People think filmmaking is fun,” he joked. “And it is, but it’s difficult. Especially when you’re making student films and you’re doing everything. A compliment I got from the director of the festival was that I wasn’t panicking or losing concentration because of how intense it was. When you make movies, you wake up at 4am, film 12 hours, come back home, check the footage, go to bed at 11pm and get back up at 4am again. Knowing this difficulty made the intensity of the project easier for me than for a lot of others. The festival exists for music, but the authorities weren’t aware of how much effort the video aspect would take. I was.”


So far, the festival’s project has been a great success and has gathered over 5 million views on YouTube since it premiered in mid-September. You can find the performances from each day (and each element) here.  


Regardless of the great experience, Durovic isn’t so sure the combination of festival and storytelling in this way is a model for the future. “As soon as the pandemic is over, they’ll have a real festival again. And the live stream won’t be as important anymore. Also, you’d have a much harder time collecting the footage. You can’t control angles and cameras well if you have thousands of people around you.”


Another valuable lesson he learned though came through his collaboration with the World Food Programme, which won the Nobel Peace Prize only days after the festival premiered. Through the Programme, Durovic was confronted with the serious issues our world battles while searching for the right story to tell. “After the festival, I am a different guy with different knowledge and awareness. I have the desire to participate in their mission. Before this, I was only thinking about narrative movies, but now I’m also interested in documentaries. It was inspiring and it makes sense to give your share.”