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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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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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