how to turn a script into a product

25 May

during the early stages of script development, I started to realise we weren’t going to be able to shoot this film on the kind of budget myself and the director could raise ourselves (eg, under the £30,000 mark). the original script was the director’s baby: he’d first written it when he was 15, and didn’t want to compromise it any way.

so we decided to set out to film it for around the £600,000 mark.  this meant we would have to have experienced crew and investors on board, and therefore that we had to create a product around the script which they would want to back.

we pooled all the money we could get our hands on, and created:

1.  a very funky website, which was designed in a way that made it double up as concept art too.  people could visit the site and understand what the tone of the film would be.  we went to great lengths to ensure it looked as good as, if not better than, major budget film websites.  every potential crew member, every investor, every sales agent has been sent to the website as a way of being introduced to the film, so it was worth the money and the effort in having it look bang-on.

we were fortunate that one of our close friends from uni is a graphic designer…the site would have cost upwards from £5,000 to make had we gone to a web design agency.  as it was, it cost us £800 up front, and £2,000 in deferred pay providing we sell the film.  if you don’t have a friend who you believe is up to the job, then go to exhibitions held by third year graphics students at a uni near you, find a student whose work you like, and offer them a similar deal.  they might even do it for free, as portfolio work, and you’ll know that their ideas and style are fresh and innovative.

2. next, we filmed a concept art teaser trailer.  60-seconds long, it encapsulated the tone of the film (gory, with tongue-in-cheek humour) and the visual style we wanted to achieve (browns and greens, dark bloods, dirty).  it proved to potential crew and investors that myself and the director could film something that looked completely professional, and that had heart.  in a way, it also showed that I would be able to bring the feature film itself in on a tiny budget (given the nature of some of the scenes in the script): the trailer cost just £1,200, despite having a 15 second CGI sequence, 30 cast members, and 6 prosthetic “set pieces”.

the trailer has been used as a marketing tool, to drum up interest and exposure on youtube, facebook, film forums, and other internet sites.  sales agents have been excited at how we have started this online marketing from the very beginning of script development, as it gives them a levering tool to persuade distributors that the premise of the film is already going down well with audiences.

3.  next, we organised some photography shoots, again as concept art.  our film is being made for the 16 – 30 year old market, and so some of the character types and language was a little alien for older investors.  the concept art featured the main characters in the script, how we envisaged them looking, and illustrated the differences between the two gangs of youths.

this concept art has been great as content for the website, and for production packs.

4.  we wanted our production packs to stand out from the many others that actors, investors, sales agents, etc receive on a day-to-day basis…so, we designed and had printed full-colour, glossy folders to put everything in.  this gave our packs colour and design which could be used no matter if the treatment, script, budget etc changed.  the folder was printed out in landscape, widescreen, partly to make it stand out from the standard portrait packs, and partly because we liked how it looked. all the content to go inside the folder was designed so it would look good printed out on our printers (in black and white) and formatted in landscape to match the folders.

5.  the last major step we took was to attach an established executive producer, in a mentor role.  this was undoubtably the best decision we made, and also the cheapest: they agreed to mentor us for no upfront fee.  it meant we could include their name in information about the production, so adding weight and security to it, and also that we could run ideas or questions by them.  we have also been introduced to many hugely talented and well known crew members through our exec producer, and have been able to attach a few of them as our heads of department – something very important in sales agents and investors eyes, as they increase the likelihood of the production being completed to a high standard.

of course, the main selling point about our production is the script.  but the above five points help it to get noticed amongst all the other brilliant scripts out there.  hope this helps someone – does anyone have any other suggestions to add?

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top ten most successful first time producer films

19 May

a list of the most successful films made by first time producer and director teams (based on return of investment):

1. paranormal activity (made for $15,000, grossed $193,770,45).  pretty good going considering it was Oren Peli’s first time directing, writing and producing.

2. tarnation (made for $218, grossed $1,162,014). Jonathan Caouette’s debut film about growing up with a schizophrenic mother.

3. mad max (made for $200,000, grossed $99,750,000).  it was Byron Kennedy’s first time producing, and George Miller’s first time directing.

4. super size me (made for $65,000, grossed $29,529,368).  previous to this, director / producer / writer Morgan Spurlock had only production assisted on films.

5. the blair witch project (made for $600,000, grossed $248,300,000).  arguably the most famous “zero to hero” film of them all, it’s surprising that this comes 5th on the list.  first times all round for producing team Robin Cowie and Gregg Hale, and for director / writer team Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez

6. night of the living dead (made for $114,000, grossed $30,000,000).  a first film for legend George A. Romero, and for producers Russell Streiner and Karl Hardman.

7. the stewardesses (made for $200,000, grossed $25,000,000). director / writer / producer Al Silliman had no film credits at all before making the stewardesses.

8. napoleon dynamite (made for $400,000, grossed $46,140,956). first director credit for Jerad Hess, who had previously only worked as a camera assistant. similarly, first feature producer credits for Jeremy Coon (he’d produced one short before Napoleon Dynamite), Sean Covel and Chris Wyatt.

9. open water (made for $500,000, grossed $52,100,882). only just made it on the list, because director Chris Kentis and producer Laura Lau had produced and directed grind 6 years before. but it’s practically a first film…

10. the evil dead (made for $375,000, grossed $29,400,000). producer Robert G. Tapert had made a couple of shorts before this, but it was his first feature film credit…same for director Sam Raimi.

it’s interesting to note the average budget of all these films is $246,922. although inflation means that this figure would be higher if these films were made today, perhaps this suggests to first time filmmakers that the closer they can get their budgets to the $400,000 mark, the better, in terms of likelihood of profit vs likelihood of actually getting the film made?

my personal favourite…napolean dynamite. amazing that the producer / director team made such an original, groundbreaking film (whose style of comedy has heavily influenced US comedies since) with no previous film credits.

other people’s favorites? what other films do people consider “successful” first timers, creatively rather than just by return of investment?

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“we don’t need no education”…or do we?

14 May

since graduating three years ago, I’ve often wondered whether I did the right thing in studying film at university.  although I’ve generally come to the conclusion I did, I don’t think going to film school is the be-all-and-end-all that people tend to make out, particularly if you already know you are more interested in the production side of filmmaking.

if your school or college didn’t offer media or film studies courses at GCSE and A-Level, or if they did but you never took them, then film school gives you a basic understanding of the industry.  this understanding isn’t necessary to get your first (unpaid runner) job,  but it IS necessary for you to work out what part of the industry you want to specialise in.   there are so many different departments involved with making a film, some at completely opposite ends of the spectrum to others, that it can be daunting trying to figure out which is for you without being able to try them out.  apart from this, when I was 18, I barely knew the difference between a producer and a director’s job description anyway.  going to film school allows you to try on all the different department hats, and see which suits you best. sometimes, the results can be surprising.

I’m not saying you can’t figure out the above through working on a set…but once you’ve started down one career road, it’s difficult to turn round and begin on another.

then there’s the issue of being creative vs being a dogs body.  as a complete newbie on a film set or in a production office, you’ll be doing all the soul destroying jobs that nobody else wants to do: making tea, photocopying, driving, making coffee, sorting stationary cupboard, more photocopying, a bit more driving, and, um…a last round of tea.  although a savvy runner / production assistant will learn heaps by keeping their eyes and ears open and observing what’s going on around them (and why), you still won’t actually be making your own stuff, and moving forward creatively.  

whereas at film school, being creative is basically all you do, and after three years of doing it you’ll look back at your first year projects and cringe.  this is a good thing.  film school intensely teaches you how to be a skilled filmmaker, through trial and error, and by explaining why some things work and some things don’t.  it opens your eyes to the history of film rather than just the current listings at Odeon, so lessons can be learnt from the great (and not so great) filmmakers of the past.  this helps the next generation of filmmakers to move the art form forward, rather than making the same mistakes as their predecessors.

you also have access to a lot of free equipment, and are surrounded by others who want, and have nothing better to do than, make films.

if you’re still reading then: 1. congratulations, and apologies that this is turning into a bit of a long one, and 2. you’ll realise that last paragraph was about the artistic side of film.  so, the pro-film school train of thought applies to those wanting to be involved creatively in filmmaking – directing and DOPing, for example.  

in my opinion, if you know you want to produce, then it doesn’t apply as much. sure, producers have a creative hold on a project, and need to make sure that the tone of the film stays on track from development through to post-production.  they need to have a nose for a good script, and be able to make decisions that will move it towards being a commercial and creative success.  but this isn’t a practical skill that has to be developed, you could argue it is more of an instinct, or that you can learn it through other backgrounds (for example, if you have grown up being exposed to a lot of different films).

instead, a producer needs to learn hands on how a film is made.  logistically.  generally, the best way to do this is to be in a production office, or on a film set.  there’s less theory to producing than there is to directing.

I’ve recently been attaching a sales agent to my film, and have had various companies mention that, although they like to support inexperienced directors, they don’t deal with inexperienced producers (unless they have an experienced exec producer on board, which luckily I have).

this is because in order to learn, for example, which sales model best suits a certain film, or what funding is available for it, or how and why you should be co-producing with a company in Germany, a producer needs to have had experience working on a full-blown commercial film before, not just a student film project.  they normally need to have gone from production assisting to production secretarying, to production coordinating, to assistant producing, to producing.

hence the reason you hear about young, just-out-of-film-school first-time directors more than young first-time producers; a lot of money is at stake if a producer cannot budget effectively, hasn’t developed good negotiating skills, or isn’t self assured enough to put their foot down when the production starts going off-track.

so, to summerise, I would cautiously say that film school IS for you, if you:

are young and need to mature a little / have never done a film or media course, so know absolutely nothing about the different jobs available in the industry / feel intimidated by the thought of a film set / know you want to direct or be a cinematographer.

and might NOT be necessarily be for you, if you:

are older or more mature than the average uni student / are confident and capeable enough to pick up an industry from scratch, on the job / have prior experience in a different media field / know you want to produce, and already have some knowledge about media or film / are the type of person who will actively seek to learn while they work, and are not afraid to ask questions.

a film production degree will eat up three years of your life, and leave you in debt.  sometimes, an apprenticeship for a production company is more suitable.

what are other people’s points of view?

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lingo #3: she’s all that

12 May

I know I really should write a lingo post which actually helps people…but to hell with it, I’m going to write about something which amuses me about the stereotypical producer.

the way they talk.

particularly with female producers.  you can hear them coming a mile off: their laughs, darlings! and air-kisses reverberate around studio cafes as they sweep in and out avec entourage.

they either have generic London accents, or are cultivating them (I mean the London-Surrey kind, not the London-Essex kind, god forbid). they exaggerate. they mostly have long black hair which gets thrown around a lot in a kind of confident, business-like way.

you can tell whether or not they approve of the guy they’re talking about, by noticing if they refer to him as a boy or a man, regardless of his age: it’s either oh, she broke the POOR boy’s heart. such a SHAME, such a GORgeous boy, or, oh my god, I saw that VILE man in the cafe queue earlier. the one we didn’t cast, I KNOW! you’re going to HAVE to pick up my lunch from now on, I just CAN’T BEAR it.

similarly, ladies they get on with are lovely girls, and those they don’t are ghastly women.

the stereotypical producer makes sure she demonstrates just how creative and intelligent she is by use of flamboyant vocabulary, constantly. things can’t just be disappointing, they’re horRENdous. the pitch last week wasn’t slightly rushed, it was a NIGHTmare.

when I first started working in the industry, I was 18 and reserved in a kind of dismissive way.  like you have to be when you’re 18.  I listened to these people, who were able to simultaneously bark and drawl, (a seemingly impossible feat) and wondered why they felt the need to be so damn affected.

but after a month, phrases like woefully inept, completely abysmal, the most atrocious behaviour, and, I could have died were slipping out of my mouth, too.  I found that gushing, oh, thank you so much, you’re an absolute star! at some guy we needed a favour off gave a 60% higher success yield than simply saying thanks, I really appreciate it.

of course, I had to be careful not to speak like this around my school friends.  at a time when we all wore variations of the same outfit from Morgan, and where boyfriends were won or lost according to how well you pulled off a house party,  I would have sounded far too self assured.

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writer, exec producer & casting dir. agreements

12 May

yesterday I added some paperwork templates to my Box in the right hand side toolbar.  they’re agreements for attaching a writer, executive producer and casting director to a production.  also, a generalized copyright clearance form for when you’re perhaps doing a small, non-paid shoot.

so, feel free to download and use ’em.

I have to point out that it’s always better to get a lawyer on board if you’re starting a largeish production, because if your paperwork isn’t solid, there could be huge issues when you get to selling.  however, it’s not always possible on low budget productions, especially in development when you may not have secured finance yet.

before you completely give up hope, email round some law firms explaining your situation, and attaching some information about your company / company directors / production.  some law firms will represent newly formed companies who they feel are up and coming, for a deferred fee (meaning, you’ll need to write their costs into your budget, but they won’t need to be paid them right away).  that’s how I got these agreements written, and why I’d recommend you using them rather than trying to write your own if you can’t find a lawyer you can afford.

enjoy!

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what really goes on at the BBC…

11 May

my brother works in post-production at the BBC. he often gets asked to find stills or archived footage, and forwarded me this email that he’d received the other day:

Hi All

Urgently looking for a still of Richard E Grant, naked, clutching a fish.

If anyone can help please could they email me asap.

Thanks

L*****

although I don't have a clue what picture the poor girl was searching for, I did find this shocker of actress Greta Scacchi molesting a fish. I hope she finished with it before it suffocated

what I love about this is its outstanding lack of irony in the face of absolute and complete obscurity.

the girl is clearly panicking, she’s probably had an intimidating producer airily fire at her, “oh, and darling, get me that still of Richard E…you know, the one where he’s holding a fish…”, and, not wanting to appear moronic, has nodded like this was the most natural request in the world, sat back at her desk, hyperventilated, then wept, then banged out a terse email to similar lowlifes who will understand the predicament she’s in and preserve her job for another day by finding the wretched thing.

the choice of the word “clutching” is the icing on the cake.

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politics: always more compelling when you’re drunk

11 May

I’m writing today’s post while watching Gordon Brown leave 10 Downing Street.

my dad has even cracked open some champagne. he and my mum live in Conservative / Lib Dem country, out in Surrey.

they’re a bit drunk.

Alistair Darling comes on TV: “and you can stop grinning like a Cheshire cat, you white haired monster”, mutters my dad.

“oh, shh, Derm” hiccups my mum.

now Brown’s appeared at his front door. his two kids look so sweet and eager – it gives him a humanity, stood there as a father rather than a prime minister, and I feel terrible that one day they’ll know practically the whole country hated their dad.

my mother shatters this moment of empathy: “I expect Brown and his cronies had a good old party in number 10 last night. what’s the betting they’ve left it just like they’ve left the country: trashed, and with no champagne in the cellar?”

my dad pisses himself laughing at his. until Ed Balls comes onto the screen. his face contorts. “Oho, Ed Balls, you can piss off as well.”

“Derm.”

“Well, he’s a bastard. A right pain in the arse”.

I wonder how my parents have seemingly become political maestros overnight: their programming is usually limited to The One Show and New Tricks. it’s probably the brandy they’ve just opened.

my mother is now incensed there’s no police escort for Cameron driving to Downing Street. “you could shoot him dead. a machine gun, tchtchtchtch… it does make you wonder…I mean who’s that guy?” (her voice rises in tipsy panic) “what’s Cameron doing, why’s the car stopped? (the guy next to the car is actually not an assassin, but a photographer. probably to the disappointment of the BBC, whose ratings would have been off the hook had there been a live execution). “it’s worrying” laments my mother, “really worrying”.

“get this scottish sod off my screen” growls my dad, reaching for more cognac.

if only there were a free bar in the house of commons…oh hang on, that’s Endemol’s new reality series, “Toff Quaff Stand-Off”. bringing politics to the masses.

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how to be cheap: the script

9 May

most of the time, being tight is viewed as a bad thing.  no-one will want to go down the pub with you.  it will lose you friends.  it might even alienate people.

not so in the world of the producer. a first time director’s selling point is the fact they are raw talent with a fresh voice.  a first time producer’s selling point is that they have a commercial script which can be shot for next to nothing (in film terms).

you’re probably thinking, yeah, first time films have to be low budget, everyone knows that.  tell us something new. everyone might know that, but not many first time producers will go through a script solely with the intent of significantly reducing the budget.  I don’t just mean cutting out a couple of unnecessary scenes.  I mean thinking outside of the box and completely reworking it.  you want to make a film set in communist Germany? contain it to just a couple of rooms, like they did in Goodbye Lenin!.  you want to make a film about a bank heist?  Tarantino limited the majority of Reservoir Dogs to one warehouse location in order to film it on just $1.2 million.

of course, every film is different and only you can look at a script you want to make and rework it to save money.  but below are some generalised pointers:

1.  review all the locations in your script carefully.  there are too many variables to list here, so read this location lowdown post.

2.  ask yourself, can you get across your story using no more than five cast members?  can you do away with scenes involving lots of extras?  every cast member you have will cost you upwards of £70 a day in expenses (food, travel, accommodation).  over a whole shoot, and added to their pay, this will make you weep.

3.  think carefully before using animals and children.  these little buggers need extra crew to look after them, and to train them, you’ll generally have to do more retakes, wasting more time (and stock, if you’re planning to shoot on film). they won’t be able to work long days, no matter how many Kinder Surprises you bribe them with. or how hard you whip them.

4.  avoid car chases.  unless you spend a lot on them, they’re going to look BBC.

5.  if you’ve got characters watching a film, or listening to a music track, it’s going to cost you a lot of money in copyright clearances.  pay homage to other filmmakers or musicians in cheaper ways.

6.  although horror films are a popular starting point for filmmakers, their art department costs can be huge.  every time you write “Linda runs terrified though a dark wood – suddenly, a zombie hoarde appears round the corner, ripping her apart limb from limb”, you have to then budget lighting a wood at night, hiring a track or steadicam, making up 6+ zombie prosthetic masks, making a Linda dummy that can be pulled apart, etc etc.

remember, in horror films it is often what you don’t see that is most frightening (think the shower scene in Psycho: basically some dude with a knife behind a shower curtain, and a bang-on score).  try to scare the audience using a build up of tension rather than gore.  set it at night, so you only get the hint of that cheap prosthetic.

one pitfall that low-budget horrors often fall into is trying to make every scene a gorefest (Shrooms is a perfect example of what can happen if you do this with an inexperienced director on board).  not only is it hard to keep the horror momentum going without the audience becoming desensitised to it, it also costs a fortune, and probably means your characters end up underdeveloped.

instead, take a leaf out of Eli Roth’s book – Hostel 1 and 2 are two of the most extreme horrors of all time.  yet the gore is really only focused on the last half hour of each film.  until then, Roth uses the screentime to build an uneasy tension, and a relationship between the audience and characters.  this means when their lives are in danger we genuinely care about them, and also that his budget is kept under control.

7.  alternatively, use a comedy or dromedy (drama comedy) as your first script.  very little art department costs.  done.

8.  focus your scripts on the characters, and get some great dialogue going on.  issues that you want to get across to your viewers can come through the characters, rather than the visuals, so you don’t have to recreate huge scenes.

if you can get your script to adhere to each of the above points, then fair play, I take my hat off to you. but as long as you tick off 4 or so, you’ll be fine.

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location, location, location

9 May

no, this post isn’t about Phil and Kirsty, although I do love those two…they should totally get together, escape to the country, and spawn a hoarde of kids named Oscar, Isabella, and similar.

but anyway…I’ve been budgeting recently, and my locations line keeps screaming out at me, why did you not think about me while you were scripting? why do you curse at me so?  it’s not my fault I’m so large, you terrible producer, you.

it’s true, I did a couple of cursory glances through the script while we were writing, but I never challenged the locations side of it properly.  yeah, I cut out a couple…but I should have done more.  I have about 15 locations, I should have got it down to about 7.  one of them is a dry docked boat.  one of them is in Antigua, for christssake.  do a better job than me.  keep reading.

the fewer locations, the better.  when your crew is setting up, moving, and then packing away again, they’re obviously not getting scenes in the can, although you’re still footing the production bill.

be careful about interior locations in your script.  a cheap interior set (ie, one that belongs to you, or a friend, or that can be hired for free, or that doesn’t need any set construction) can be the greatest way to save money.  you’ll be able to leave equipment set up, can film for long hours, and you won’t be at the mercy of the sun.  however, interiors can also add up to a lot of money if they are not perfect and so have to be decorated, or if they don’t belong to you and have to be hired.  the base price for interior location hire is around £400 a day upwards – grand or unusual interior locations will cost from £1500 a day.

daytime exterior locations are *generally* cheaper to hire than interior locations, or completely free if they’re council owned.  lighting costs will be minimal.  if you are filming during the winter, however, you won’t get long shooting days.  lighting continuity can also be tricky.

nightime exterior locations can be a nightmare unless they are a) close to an electricity source and b) have vehicle access.  lighting wide shots will cost a lot of money.

locations can be a key source of funding.  by filming somewhere that is a bit out of the way (ie. not in London or the home counties) you will have less competition to the regional film funds there.  areas that are a bit unpopular will be more desperate to generate money, which your film could do.

if you’re on a micro micro budget, chances are you won’t be able to stand accommodation or large travel costs.  choose locations which are close to where your cast and crew live.

it’s worth getting a location manager on board from pre-production through filming, but to be honest you as a producer should do your own location scouting throughout development.  you’ll save money, and it will make you think about the filming logistics.

contact councils if you find / have in mind locations that are exterior and not on private land.  you should be able to film on them for free, but might need a permit or to notify the police.  councils also own buildings, so they might be able to help you out with free interior locations, too.  if you know of a location which is on private land, have the confidence to contact the land owner directly rather than dismissing the location and going with a similar one on a locations directory.  you’ll be able to negotiate a much cheaper price than through an agency.

use google maps to location scout from your office before checking them out in person.  it’s an amazing tool, especially now you can drag and drop that little yellow guy under the compass to use 360 degree Streetview.

if you find you have locations written into your script which you can’t find yourself, then approach your regional film agency.  but bear in mind that doing as much as you can yourself, privately, will keep costs in check.  it’s the standard middle man rule.

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commercial doesn’t have to mean cr*p

8 May

ok, so you have all these incredible ideas: you want to make, like, “Lost”, but set in space; you have the most perfect script ever for Jack Nicholson / Brad Pitt / that pouty dude out of “Twilight” in a drawer under your bed; you once had this amazing hour just sitting watching your cat slowly kill a spider and it was the most horrifically profound thing you ever saw, you feel you need to make a film about it right here, right now, and it’s going to blow people’s minds…

stop.  this is your first film.  once you’ve proved you can out-direct Tarantino, then you can do whatever the hell you like.  but for now, you have to make compromises, and that means choosing a script that is both:

1.  cheap, and

2.  commercial

so why can’t you just do what you want, like any other artist would?  after all, filmmaking is an art, right?

well, yes, or course it is.  it’s highly creative – from the scripting, to the set design, to the lighting, to the actor’s performances.  however, it differs in one way: unlike creating a sculpture or composing a symphony, making a film with any kind of artistic value costs a lot of money.  99% of the time you can’t just go out and fund it yourself, you have to raise money, and be organised enough to coordinate financiers, a cast, and a crew.  let’s say you do make your own film: now what do you do with it?  it’s not like a painting, you can’t just sell it and make your money back straight away.  you need distribution…it’s not enough for filmmakers to simply be artists, they have to be business people too.

what I’m getting at here is that a filmmaker has to have a track record in order to persuade other people to come on board with them and create a film.  therefore, a first time filmmaker has such a major setback simply by being a first time filmmaker, that everything they do needs to counter balance this in some way.  in the first instance this is through choosing the right film project to be your first film.

so, back to the two criteria.

by cheap, I mean ideally under the £850,000 mark.  absolutely no more than £1.5 million.  with a first time director, producer and writer team, it is unheard of for sales agents, distributors or film bodies to take a project with a budget bigger than this seriously.  no matter how much raw talent is bleeding out of you onto exec’s floors, no matter how many times you refer to yourselves as “fresh” and “the voice of the youth” (feel free to use those.  they’ll open doors).

now, because your budget will only just cover putting crew up in hostels and feeding them on food from Lidl’s discount aisles, how are you going to make it commerical?  you’re probably not going to be able to afford the £million salaries commanded by household name stars, or huge CGI battle sequences.  don’t panic.  all this means is that you’d be ill-advised to make a romcom, or a straight drama film, or a science fiction film.  romcoms and straight dramas traditionally pull in audiences using their celebrity leads, therefore an investor / sales agent / distributor will probably not touch them with a barge pole if the cast list isn’t up to scratch. with a science fiction film, the CGI is the a-list celeb, and people aren’t going to be impressed if it mostly consists of empty cereal boxes covered in tin foil.  unfortunately, kids have evolved since the 60’s Doctor Who audience.

so, you’re left with horror, thriller, comedy, or dromedy films, as the people going to watch them want to be scared, laugh, or geek out, no matter if Keira Knightly or Leo DiCaprio is or isn’t in them.  for example, the film I’m making at the moment is a horror comedy.  not only this, but it also has “hooks” – by this, I mean it has themes and elements that grab people’s attention and can be used as selling points.  in our case, these are that the story centers around stoners and zombies, and is aimed at a youth market.  all this relaxes everyone slightly: yes, we are first-timers.  but the film is as commercial as possible on a low budget.

the problem about some filmmakers is that they turn a blind eye to this.  if you seriously want to be a successful producer, and you don’t have a track record, you’ll be making it extremely hard for yourself by starting out with a niche arthouse film.  raising finance will be a nightmare, because they just don’t pull in the general public, and this isn’t because the general public have poor taste, it’s because art installation videos and arthouse films are generally dull and pretentious.  feel free to slander me for saying that, it’s true.

however, there is absolutely no reason why a commercial film with the potential to secure theatrical release should be artistically inferior to a niche, arthouse film.  of course, Hollywood studios churn out a lot of crap because they can afford to hide mediocre scripts behind an expensive director and cast.  but low budget films that obtain cinema release almost always balance subtext with engaging plotline, empathic characters, and visually arresting cinematography.  if you want to comment on high-culture issues, do it through a commercial film – at least your voice will be heard by someone.  and if you can’t handle difficult subjects in a way that engages the general public, then chances are it’s because you’re not a good enough writer.  look at This Is England, which brought issues of racism and the BNP party to a huge audience, or Juno, which dealt with teen pregnancy vs abortion in a way that wasn’t completely depressing.  if you can commercialise the BNP and abortion, you can commercialise anything.  anything.

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