100 Cool Things BFilm Micro Already Taught Me About Film.

Nicky-screen-grabI’ve been part of the BFilm Micro Immersion programme since 24th February.  That’s nearly 100 days.  We are about to move into production of the ‘proof of concept’ film for Augumental, and so as we leave the baptism by fire learning stage, I have picked out the following 100 notes from a very fat book of scribbles.

  1. If you want to make money keep asking yourself, “who will watch this film?”  That will determine the size of your audience.
  2. There is a part of Birmingham City Council called Film Birmingham who help filmmakers to close roads, find locations and crew.
  3. It’s pretty simple to register yourself with them and as a result you could be involved in even Hollywood movies like the Kingsman sequel which is currently shooting in Brum.
  4. Filming on or around the Canals is managed by the Canal & River Trust.
  5. The Girl With All The Gifts was shot in Birmingham.  Peaky Blinders was not.
  6. Birmingham is often used to pass as London.
  7. If a tripod is used you’ll probably need a permit to film in public. Handheld is generally OK.
  8. Getting permits is pretty simple.  The Council want movies to be made here.
  9. A film-making career is not generally expected to follow a clean trajectory. It really won’t.
  10. A few people have made a living from the Arts Council or other govt-backed funders but they are rare and any money will come with conditions.  You’re cool with your outback film being set in Wales, right?
  11. Any funder may determine the genre, location or talent.  Get your crowbar out, you’re going to need it.
  12. Funders can get cold feet and disappear right up to the point where you have started filming and have bills to pay on your Welsh Bush Survival Zombie Thriller.
  13. Your Welsh Bush Survival Zombie Thriller probably started off as a Romantic Comedy.
  14. You can upload your screenplay to Amazon Studios and they might buy it.
  15. If Amazon pick it up the option fee isn’t likely to be as high as the average (apparently more like $10,000 as opposed to $25,000 for 18 months).
  16. Amazon don’t seem to pick much up.  But hey.  Who does?
  17. The more independent you are the more control you have over your project.
  18. The more independent you are the less likely to are to be able to gain a wide audience for your project through the traditional routes.
  19. The more independent you are the less money you will make through the traditional routes.
  20. The more independent you are the less money you are likely to make full stop.
  21. The traditional routes suck like a Dyson.
  22. There are ways to make money and get a film seen by playing things the new way.
  23. The new way involves micro-budget innovations and making use of technological advances.
  24. Optimism is permitted when making film.  So is enthusiasm.  It helps.
  25. It still isn’t easy.
  26. Putting your movie where people can consume it, e.g. smartphones and download might just be smarter than putting your movie in a cinema and wondering why no one is coming to see it. Cinemas are struggling.
  27. If your movie has a distribution deal which includes cinema it could still clash with the must-see summer blockbuster and no one will come and see your movie.
  28. If your movie has a distribution deal which includes cinema it could be one showing at half past 2 on Wednesday not automatically three weeks in the evenings and no one will come and see your movie.
  29. Bad marketing can hinder cinematic release more than no marketing.  Genre must be clearly communicated else no one will come and see your movie.
  30. You can make a potentially profitable movie about anything as long as it has a hook to hang the advertising on.
  31. To quote Bianca Del Rio “IT BEARS REPEATING” If you want to make money keep asking yourself “who will watch this film?”  That will determine the size of your audience.
  32. This reminds me of some wisdom I received from Helen Cross, on novel writing.  Consider your plot and ask yourself “what’s the point?”
  33. Some backers will require you to have raised some capital yourself – as much as 15-20%.
  34. Crowdfunding has changed the game with gaining funding for film with fewer strings attached.
  35. Nollywood (Nigerian cinema) is bigger than Hollywood, or even Bollywood come to that.
  36. You can still offset investment in film against tax.  Not as much as in the olden days.  Figuring it out will make your brain hurt but it will be worth the pain.
  37. The olden days sounded fucking bloatedly awesome to be honest. Scripts bought en mass on spec. Investors flinging money around.
  38. It’s a buyer’s market these days.  But the market is always hungry for great ideas for content.
  39. Location can be a character in itself.
  40. Even documentaries can benefit from “the hero’s journey”.
  41. One page pitches are like book blurbs.
  42. Plot is the enemy of elevator pitching.
  43. When pitching don’t be coy about the gruesome aspects or precious about revealing the ending.  They’ll need to know if it sucks or not.
  44. The pitch should reflect the genre.  If it’s a comedy the pitch fucking better be funny.
  45. Be prepared for the question ,”what other scripts do you have?”
  46. Be prepared for the question, “what other ideas have you got?”
  47. Professional Readers look for Premise Characterization Dialogue and Storyline.
  48. Professional Readers mark scripts as Pass, Low Consider, Consider and Recommend.
  49. Those Recommended will move fast.  These scripts are rare.
  50. Feature length scripts should be closer to 90 mins than 120 for the LA market.
  51. Factors to check off: Idea, Plot, Characterisation, Dialogue, Pace, Setting, Structure.
  52. Help your script not suck by ensuring it doesn’t contain shooting directions, crappy presentation, typos, lack of white space, on the nose dialogue.
  53. Producers are looking at theatre for proven storytelling writers and new actors.
  54. The aim is “Something never seen before but understood implicitly” – Matt Wilkinson.
  55. The British Film Council and IMDB Pro have lists of what is currently in production.
  56. Film makers need to consider distribution from the outset of the project.
  57. The most important festivals ate Toronto, Berlin, Venice, and of course Cannes.
  58. But don’t turn up to Cannes unless you have a finished movie.
  59. Chinese investors in particular, are ready to put money into films which reference their cultures.
  60. Moviehouse is a really vibrant movie sales & distribution/co-production/marketing company.
  61. Horror is generally a bigger genre market than anything else.
  62. Adaptation tip: Focus on the Magic (Mike Riddell).
  63. Adaptation tip: Focus on the Beginning Middle and End.
  64. If a theatre company is touring at the time of your shoot with a known name in the cast it might be worth seeing if there is the chance of a cameo or voice-over which will give marketing a massive boost.
  65. Found footage is a fucking ball-ache to write.  As a screenwriter you don’t normally include a point of view.
  66. There is a movement for Frugal Film/ making movies with minimal tech and frequently no lighting effects.
  67. Dogme 95 are famous for this.  I think they’re Danish.  Light bulbs are SO 2012.
  68. You can be a cool cinematographer, deft  but still fail at narrative *cough Field in England JUST MY OPINION.
  69. Then again 2001: A Space Odyssey had no narrative.  That’s my sole exception because it’s so freaking beautiful.
  70. Good producers factor in 12 hours between shoots and ensure decent food.
  71. Good preparation means smooth shoots.
  72. Spend the most of your budget on actors.  An exquisite script will be ruined by shit delivery.
  73. It is common to have your film optioned, unsold, then bundled and resold as a part of a library to distributors and you will never see a penny of those proceeds.
  74. Hollywood film-makers might appear insincere but there is an energy, optimism,and enthusiasm for film-making there which we lack in the UK.
  75. “American Movies are the movies of the world” – Andrew Prendergast, the Commercial Manager of Parkside Mediahouse.
  76. Birmingham has movie-capable studios at Parkside Mediahouse including a vast green screen studio.
  77. BCU  film students get to use these facilities.  Lucky bastards. I always thought BCU kicked ass.
  78. If you change one frame of the film you can reissue it.  This can help if it flopped before but there’s a new opportunity.
  79. In your movie, referencing or including a known band, artist, community, popular sporting or social activity or anything with an existing following can create a ready made market.
  80. A distributor will take 40% of film profits plus expenses. Possibly more.
  81. Red Rock Entertainment & Goldfinch Entertainment are two respected investors of movies.
  82. Redbox are a company who distribute DVDs in vending machines in the US.  They might buy your low budget movie.
  83. Every successful writer or producer normally has a bunch of total flops in their portfolio.
  84. Professional writers tend to bang scripts out quickly.  If one flops there is another on the way.
  85. If you are struggling to find an ending for your script the chances are the plot started out too complex.
  86. Persistence frequently outweighs talent.
  87. WWE have a bunch of movies which solely exist to showcase their wrestlers.  Writing to these specific briefs can result in commissions.
  88. Targeting your script to managers and agents who deal with similar things makes a lot of (obvious) sense.
  89. If you get a subscription to IMDB Pro you can mine into an actor or TV Series or Movie and discover their representation including addresses and emails etc.
  90. Even a straight to DVD movie can net the writer “high five figure” returns.
  91. Budgetary constraints are on a producers mind from the first line.
  92. Location scouting is fun.
  93. Remember to make detailed notes about the photos you take when location  scouting including the addresses.
  94. Poring through google maps to find That Really Cool Metal Staircase again, is not fun.
  95. Location scouting can result in shop owners viewing you and your camera with extreme suspicion.
  96. Finding locations close to each other makes filming on a budget much easier.
  97. It’s often simpler and cheaper to use a real restaurant/bedroom/pub than mocking one up in a studio.
  98. On location shoots a base is needed in addition to the scene locations.  Somewhere for people to wait, store equipment, eat, change, shelter from weather etc.
  99. Ask yourself. Who will watch your film?  What is the audience?

…and 100: I also found out by working with a cohort which includes current undergraduates and recent graduates, that people young enough to be my children can be smarter than I am.  I’m not saying I like this revelation but I like my new Bfilm Buddies and looking forward to the next phase of BFilm Micro.

Thanks to Andy Conway, Pip Piper and Paul Green for all of the above – what’s next?

Here’s what’s next – another public FREE MASTERCLASS on the 8th June with Faye Gilbert, acclaimed UK film*-maker.  Contact BFilm Micro for tickets.  Last time the event was a sell-out so get in quick.


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