Tag Archives: film

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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