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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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the seed is sown…

8 May

18 months ago, I quit a steady TV production coordinator job to work (for deferred pay) on an indie feature film.  it was slightly shambolic: no forethought had gone into lighting night scenes in the middle of a 40,000 acre wood; several crew members suffered from hyperthermia while on set; and the ‘making of’ cameraman recorded over 8 solid hours of arguing between the producer, director and lead cast.  all of this was fuelled nicely by the cast and crew developing a united penchance for the local French cider.  myself and the first AD (who I knew previously from a film production degree) looked around, and thought “we can do this”.

after the shoot ended, I slept for two days solid, then woke up and wondered where to begin.  the script we wanted to make was a quirky British horror which my friend had first written when he was 15.  we reviewed the most recent draft, last tweaked for a screenwriting module at university: hmm, minimal character development.  lack of emotional depth.  a lot of dog and syphilis jokes.

screenwriting isn't just about ticking buzz words off a "how to write a screenplay" list. it is far harder than this, and requires both skill and natural talent. recognise when you don't have it, and collaborate with someone who does. hint: if you're planning on producing as well, then you probably don't have it. very few great producers are also great film writers

I drew the conclusion that we needed a screenwriter to rework it, so wrote up a treatment pack outlining the basic story structure and the main characters.  then I sent this out to some writers I found on young writer workshop websites.  although the young writers were all pretty unenthusiastic about it, an established writer who mentors them emailed me back saying he’d be interested in coming on board.  I reeled with elation and shock: this guy had written a film starring Elijah Wood, for chrissake.  this was the fatal moment I became addicted with making the film.  who says flattery isn’t dangerous?

at this point, I was living at my parent’s house.  when their friends dropped by and heard I was beginning to produce a film, they weren’t sure whether to congratulate me or ask me had I lost my senses, do I want to lose my money as well, and why don’t I go back to work for that big company RDF TV in Kensington?

I tried to ignore them, and concentrated instead on giving myself a business studies crash course via Google.  aproximately every 10 minutes I ground my teeth at having taken useless subjects like art and history for GCSE, and even more useless ones like philosophy for A-level.  but eventually I had a company set up to make the film through, and my thoughts turned to creating a plan of attack for developing the project into something tangible, and which was worth money.

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dahling, hi

7 May

first off, I just want to make it clear that I’m not some young raa raa, running round Soho with daddy’s credit card, lounging in Home House by day, and shagging D-list celebs in Chinawhite by night.

I’m also not a pretentious arthouse filmmaker who essentially is making films because they’re too lazy to get a full time job.

I think what’s made me take the plunge into attempting to make my first film is:

firstly, the want to make something that is mine, and that I can control – one of the things I find frustrating when working on other people’s projects is having to hold my tongue when I see them going in a direction I don’t agree with,  but which is not my place to call;

and secondly, well, pure, unadulterated impatience.

surely this must be true for a lot of young first-time filmmakers.  when you’re youngish, you have far less to lose if it all goes tits up.  most people don’t have a mortgage, or kids, or perhaps even an other half to think about.  hell, I can barely schedule taking care of my cat (his name is tiberius.  yeah, I know, it’s awesome…).  so it makes sense that we can act a bit crazy and have a shot at something we shouldn’t really be shooting at for at least another 10 years or so.  my parents actually like the fact I’m doing this, they think it’s brave.  it isn’t.  if I was 40 and had a reputation to ruin, money to squander, or a family to alienate, it would be, but I don’t.  essentially, this is a gamble, and I have enough “no-strings” and “years-left” chips spare to throw at it.

this blog will follow my learning curve as I try to blag being a producer, despite only having worked up to production coordinator level before.  I intend to include enough practical information so that other first-timers can be helped by reading it.  time costs money and vice versa, and if I’d known half of what I’ve learnt in the last year and a half, I probably would be around 5 months further down the production line, and about £5,000 less broke. the film I’m producing is a low-budget British independent horror, so pretty standard for a first film.  so yeah, subscribe, and throughout next week I’ll bring you up to speed with the production.

big love xx

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