Eilish Kent: Tips for Writing Short Films

Over her career, producer, script editor and story consultant Eilish Kent has commissioned (for RTÉ & BBC) over 100 live action and animated short films. She also ran clinics for Filmbase on short films and has sat on many selection panels for County Councils around the country. Eilish teaches screenwriting in the National Film School and assesses Film for the Arts Council. She can be hired as a story consultant and script editor through her website.

Eilish will hold a writing workshop to write/rewrite or polish your short film on Saturday, 15th June in Dublin.

Here Eilish gives her top tips for how to write a short film:

Small stories that turn on a single event work best.

Know what makes your central character interesting on screen, work out how to show this.

Change needs to happen but it can be very small.

Spend as little screen time as possible setting up the story.

Identify a key visual image that encapsulates the tone and feel of the world of the story.

Make sure you have a proper ending – this is the last impression you make on audience.

Consider sound and how it can carry story.

Know what makes your film stand apart from other short films.

Write the film without dialogue first.

Consider the location of each scene and how the choice of location tells the story. Try to vary the location from interior to exterior, etc. (if set in a single location look for distinctive areas within the location to create different atmospheres: intimate, anonymous, etc.)

Consider who, or what, should be in each scene to put the central character under pressure.

Don’t repeat a beat, every scene must move the story forward and/or reveal character.

When you have the story working without dialogue, write the dialogue to create conflict and reveal attitude/character.

Use themes as subject-matter of dialogue.

 

Join Eilish on a writing workshop to write/rewrite or polish your short film Saturday, 15th June, Dublin city centre.

https://www.eilishkent.com/events/write-a-short-film

 

 

https://www.linkedin.com/in/eilish-kent-producer/

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Tips: Getting Started as an Actor

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Ahead of her Intro to Acting for TV & Film course at Filmbase,  Sarah Hone gives us her 7 tips for getting started as an actor.

1 – Don’t be a jerk!!!!

Sounds obvious but if you respond to rejection or “constructive” feedback negatively you will be remembered as someone with a chip on their shoulder and therefore not considered when roles are being handed out. Pick your battles wisely – no-one wants to work with someone with a bad attitude.

2 – Be proactive.

No one is going to come knocking on your door offering you an Oscar. Nor is someone going to “discover” you when you’re waiting for your flight at the airport (unless you’re actually Kate Moss in 1988). If you can’t get a good agent who is going to find work for you (very difficult to get even if you’ve been acting professionally for years) then you need to find work yourself. Sign up to Fishpond and StarNow and get into the habit of browsing online audition notices every day.

3 – Do your homework.

When it comes to castings or securing a place in an acting school, find out who is going to be auditioning you and have a general idea of what they have worked on before. If you have taken the time to get to know their body of work it will show that you are eager to impress and are truly interested in the business.

4 – Don’t be afraid to take low paid (or unpaid ) work when you are first starting out.

Join an improv group or co-op theatre company and get experience and exposure in the industry. That way you’ll meet like-minded souls who will inspire and encourage you, as well as allowing potential future employers see your work. If you are performing in something you will be able to network and create connections which will hopefully lead to more better paid work.

5 – Be 100% professional in auditions.

If you are applying for a place in an acting school and part of the audition is a warm-up or improvisation exercise, don’t forget that this is still part of the audition where you will be watched like a hawk and judged on your behaviour! The facilitators will be looking for someone who listens to instructions, takes direction well and is able to focus.

6 – Follow your gut instinct.

If something seems sleazy or unprofessional then it probably is.

7 – Don’t get disillusioned!

We all have moments where we want to give up and take on a cosy 9-5 with a guaranteed pay cheque and a spinning office chair. If you truly know that acting is your calling and the only path to career happiness then you need to find some way to make it work. Breathe, reboot and rage against the dying of the light…

 

Sarah Hone is an industry professional with over fifteen years experience working in the theatre and film world. She has a BA in Theatre and Performance and an MA in Dramatherapy, and has worked as a professional actress in Ireland, USA, Australia and Japan.

 

Intro to Acting for TV & Film – Sarah Hone

sarah hone b&w headshot 22nd May – 17th July, 8 Mon Eves (no class 5th June)

€275 Members / €295 Non-Members

 

This rigorous film-acting course is aimed at aspiring and beginners level actors, as well as theatrically trained actors, wanting to make the transition from stage to screen.

 

Visit Filmbase for further info.

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Ross Whitaker: What I Learned Making ‘Between Land and Sea’

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Photo by Kevin Smith

 

Between Land and Sea, which chronicles a year in the life of the big wave surf community in Lahinch, Co. Clare, has been touring Ireland for the last two months. The surprise hit has been critically acclaimed as well as attracting sold out audiences around the country. As it prepares for its last few screenings (at the Mermaid, Bray on May 15th and IFI, Dublin on May 16th) in Ireland and for its international market bow at the Cannes Film Festival next week, Ross reflects on the experience of making a surf film from the perspective of a complete outsider. (Screening info via BetweenLandAndSea.com)

 

When I was approached to direct Between Land and Sea by the producers at Motive Films, I was excited but very scared. Excited because it was something completely new with a blank page to work from (after about six years working on my previous film!) and because I knew that I would be filming in a spectacular place. And scared because I knew nothing about surfing and because I knew I’d be working from a low budget in a genre where films are rarely less than spectacular. Indeed, hadn’t there already been a brilliant surf film made just a few years ago, Wave Riders? And the director of that film, Joel Conroy, was a surfer himself who knew the world inside out.  Still, I figured it was too great an opportunity to dismiss and decided I’d just have to learn how to make the film as I made the film.

 

Here are some of the things I learned making the film.

 

1. Know what you do and don’t know – one of the most daunting but ultimately helpful aspects of starting this documentary was realising that I had very much a blank page in front of me. I knew very little about surfing, so I tried to turn that into a positive in two ways. Firstly, by making sure I played to my strengths, chiefly to try to make my characters comfortable enough to be themselves on camera. And secondly, I kept an open mind to everything and everyone in Lahinch, who could educate me about surfing, and tried to use that information to portray the surfing world as they saw it.

 

2. Find someone who knows the world you’re in – as I started the film, the producers (Anne McLoughlin and Jamie D’Alton) said to me, “it would be great if you could find a local person who could work with you on the ground.” Thankfully, this happened and I was very lucky to meet Kevin Smith, a brilliant young filmmaker living in the area who was happy to collaborate on the film. I had to overcome my instinct to want to make the on-the-ground creative decisions myself and open myself up to the expertise, knowledge and connections of a locally based person. The rewards, in terms of what we were able to capture with a small but dedicated team, were massive.

 

3. Adapt your style to what’s in front of you – while Between Land and Sea maintains many elements of my previous films (I hope it has a sense of character intimacy and is interested in some of the same themes), I wanted it to also be specific to its environment. After a little time there, it struck me how different and special the light is in the west of Ireland and I wanted to get this across at all times, so I decided that everything should be naturally lit and that we would use no lights in the making of the film. I hope this gives the film a more natural light and reflects to some degree what it feels like to be there. Another thing that struck me in Clare was how it sounds very different to the east coast, so in the edit we tried to bring that to the film too. The pace of the film also tried to reflect the pace of life in the town. While a lot of surf films attempt to be high octane, the day-to-day life of coastal towns really isn’t like that, so that’s another thing we tried to reflect.

 

4. Explain what you plan to do and then do that – the people who I filmed in Lahinch were hugely generous with their time and energy and increasingly so as filming went on. I came to understand that people in surfing communities are well used to outsiders coming along and filming them but that they have also grown a little tired of this, particularly when people make promises that they don’t keep. So, from quite early on, I tried to be clear about my intentions and how I thought things would pan out. I think as people saw that I was serious about what I was trying to do, that a mutual respect developed and this was key to being able to capture people naturally.

 

5. Work with an editor who gets it – the editor of the film is Andrew Hearne and I really wanted him to cut the film, not just because he’s a wonderful editor but because he also grew up in a seaside surf town. Andrew grew up in Tramore, a great surf town in Waterford, so when he was cutting the film, he really understood the rhythms of life and the motivations of the characters. He contributed a huge amount to getting the feel of the film right because he had lived in a similar place.

 

6. Don’t underestimate the potential reach of the film – despite being a low-budget, obscure film and not in position to get distribution (with broadcasts coming soon and without Irish Film Board support, we were not an attractive proposition for distributors!), the film has surprised us in how it has managed to find an audience. I must remind myself in future that audiences do want to see honestly made films about other human beings and throw in some lovely landscapes and surfing and you might be amazed at what a film can achieve. Facebook has been key for us in getting the word out and a good trailer can spread the word fast about a film. Since my last film, Unbreakable, was distributed two years ago the media landscape has shifted and social media has become even more important. In addition, there are more media outlets than ever and if you cater to their needs, a film can get a lot of exposure even without a publicity budget. Finally, I’ve learned that a good local story can have international resonance and we’ve been delighted by the response of international sales agents who really seem to get the universal themes of the film.

 

The film will screen at the March du Film at Cannes Film Festival and we’ll soon find out just how far this little film might travel!

 

 
Mermaid Wicklow Arts Centre, Bray (with Q&A)

Monday, May 15th @ 20:00 (Buy Tickets)

Dublin: IFI Cinema (with Q&A)

May 16th @ 18:30 (Buy Tickets)

Ennis: glór

June 1st plus BBQ @ 18:30 (Buy Tickets)

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Tips: Ten Things I Wish I’d Known When I Started Out

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Ahead of his Screenwriting Essentials course at Filmbase, Stephen Walsh gives us 10 tips he wishes he had got starting out.

 

1.       It’s not about explaining. It’s about proving.

You’re writing a story, not a stock inventory or an application for planning permission!

2.       If all you’ve got is a plot, then you’re in trouble.

No combination of events is interesting unless it’s happening to somebody we give a damn about.

3.       Planning doesn’t kill spontaneity.

A story is a puzzle, with its own logic and its own rules. You can set any rules you like. But then you have to play by them.

4.       Just because it really happened doesn’t make it interesting.

Be prepared for blank looks when readers get to the part of your script that features a lightly fictionalised version of that hilarious thing your uncle Pat did with the frozen turkey at Mick’s funeral.

5.       When in doubt, get closer to the people.

Storytelling originated because we’re nosy and we want to know the things we shouldn’t know about people who’d prefer we didn’t know them!

6.       Every story is about desire.

Who wants what… and what’s stopping them getting it?

7.       It takes a while.

Your epic, two-part trilogy may need more than an afternoon’s work to get it into shape. (This can often be a deal-breaker for beginning writers!)

8.       Write for the eye.

About 75% of beginning writers accidentally write radio plays the first time they tackle a script.

9.   Clever is easy. Good is hard.

We’re aiming for a simple expression of complicated ideas. Never forget that script-writing is an exercise in communication. And for the person we’re trying to communicate with it’s always Monday morning, the coffee hasn’t kicked in yet and they don’t care that we got a thesaurus for Christmas.

10.       It won’t write itself.

The scariest thing of all. The world is full of “writers” who expend all their creativity avoiding a commitment to the process of writing. Somehow, the Labours of Hercules were a doddle compared to the super-human effort it takes to remove the cap from a pen and scribble a few words on a bit of paper. People have climbed mountains and/or done the washing-up to avoid it; dogs have been taken for epic walks in frankly unsuitable weather and subjected to rants about how the world will definitely get its bum kicked when we get home and really launch into the script/book/dirty limerick that we’ve been working on (“In me head, like”) for twenty-seven years… ever since uncle Pat did that hilarious thing with the frozen turkey at Mick’s funeral.

 

Stephen Walsh wrote the feature film How Harry Became A Tree, directed by Goran Paskaljevic, starring Colm Meaney, Kerry Condon and Cillian Murphy, and co-wrote Where the Sea Used to Be with the director Paul Farren. He scripted the documentary features Patrick Kavanagh – No Man’s Fool and John Ford: Dreaming The Quiet Man, both directed by Sé Merry Doyle. He has taught screenwriting and conducted script workshops at Trinity College, Griffith College and Filmbase.

Screenwriting Essentials takes place 20th June – 25th July 2017 at Filmbase. The course comprises six evening sessions devoted to exploring the ins and outs of scriptwriting, for screenwriters who are just starting out and want to develop their craft.

More info here

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Tips: Producing A Short Film: In Three Simple, Difficult Steps

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Barry’s Bespoke Bakery (produced by Ben Keenan)

 

Ahead of his weekend course at Filmbase (18th & 19th June 2016), producer Ben Keenan shares three things you need to get right when producing a short film. 

Making a short film is hard, but going through all of that work without getting these things right would be a real shame…

 

1. The Right Script

The right script is better than the best script – choose something that suits your abilities, resources and sensibilities. Find out what kind of film you want to make and choose something fully do-able. A small victory is even better than a genuinely noble failure since it can show you parts of the process only available to filmmakers who finish films. When making a documentary, there should still be a script or vision for the finished film.

 

 

2. The Right Director

A functional and productive director-producer relationship is an expensive investment, so you should choose someone you can work with again. Often the script and the director come as a package, so make the decision based on both, with one eye on the proposed project and another on what you think it would be like to work with them again.

 

 

3. The Right Budget

Perhaps a little controversially, sometimes this is zero. Dollar-signed bags of other people’s money come with perfectly reasonable strings attached. If you are trying something experimental or trying to learn the craft, you are likely better off making something with little to no money. More freedom, lower cost on your mistakes, less visibility. You can also get a protracted shooting schedule which teaches discipline in continuity and allows you to review and digest footage as you proceed. As long as it’s a valuable learning experience for everyone on the crew and they know what they’re signing up for, it’ll be a fair proposition.

 

Producing a Short Film – With Ben Keenan
18th & 19th June, 1 weekend

Filmbase, Temple Bar, Dublin 2

€175 Members / €200 Non-Members

Do you want to know what it takes to produce a short film? This course is designed for anyone setting out to make their first short film.

Intro:

Do you want to know what it takes to produce a short film? Producing a Short returns to Filmbase with experienced Producer, Ben Keenan (Barry’s Bespoke Bakery, The Chronoscope). Using successful short films as case studies, this course is theory based with some practical exercises. It is the ideal course for first-time filmmakers.

 

Course Content:

  • Relationship between Producer and Director
  • What a Director looks for in a Producer
  • Production Department – Who’s who?
  • Pre-production meetings
  • Short Films – Award Schemes
  • Legal Issues for Short Films
  • Script breakdown
  • Scheduling
  • Casting
  • Post-Production
  • Film Festivals

 

Ben Keenan

In 2009 Ben Keenan directed his first feature film, a comedy titled The rise of the Bricks, starring Emmett Scanlan, Eoin Macken, Ciaran McNamee, Cillian Scott and Cathal Sheahan. Since then he has gone on to work as a Development Executive for Fastnet Films and a Digital Content Producer in BK Media. He also produced and developed online comedy as Half a Giraffe.

Short films Ben has produced, including Barry’s Bespoke Bakery (Irish Film Board), The Chronoscope and This is Not A Conspiracy Theory (RTÉ), have screened at festivals around the world, including The Galway Film Fleadh, Eat My Shorts, The Underground Film Festival London, The Capital Irish Film Festival Washington, The International Film Festival Molodist in the Ukraine, The Charlie Chaplin Film Festival in Kerry and the Darklight festival.

 

Dates:

  • 18th & 19th June, 1 weekend

Class times:

  • Sat 10.30 – 5.00 & Sun 11.00 – 5.30

Pricing:

  • €175 Members / €200 Non-Members
  • €100 Deposit

Location:

  • Filmbase, Temple Bar, Curved street

 

To book your place, contact Filmbase Reception on 01 679 6716 and dial 0. For more information, email our training department at training@filmbase.ie. Please read our Terms & Conditions before booking a course.

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Tips: On Set Etiquette

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Actor Patrick Murphy gives us some advice on how to mind your p and qs on set ahead of his 4-day Acting for Camera Showreel Course at Filmbase (4th – 7th August 2016).

1. Always be Early

….and let an AD know your whereabouts at all times if you go wandering. Film sets don’t have time to send out search parties.

 

2. Pace yourself.

Keep a bag of dried fruit and nuts on you. The slow releasing energy will help keep you going.

 

3. Relax when you can

Try not to be too animated whilst waiting for your scenes and reserve your energy for when the camera is rolling.

4. Get to know the Crew

…and learn their names. Directors and cast may change a lot, but crews will mostly stay the same, and these are the guys you will be working along side for years to come.

5. Don’t be a Diva

A good attitude goes a long way, and word spreads fast about those with bad ones.

 

 

ACTING FOR CAMERA SHOWREEL

Filmbase

4th -7th August 2016, Thurs – Sun

€275 members / €295 Non-Members

This intensive 4-Day Acting for Showreel course is ideal for past acting students, or those with experience from similar course, to prepare, workshop, rehearse and shoot a scene.

Intro:

Filmbase have just announced an updated intensive 4-day ACTING FOR CAMERA SHOWREEL course. It is often difficult for aspiring and developing film actors to acquire worthy professional footage for inclusion in their showreel, Filmbase have decided to run a program specifically designed to facilitate this, covering relevant topics such as self-taping, acting techniques and self management.

 

Course Content:

Working with scene partners, you will be given scenes to workshop, rehearse, and learn. The course culminates in an intensive shoot day, where your scene will be shot, edited and sound designed for inclusion on your professional showreel.

This is a fantastic opportunity to produce a professional scene, working in a structured, professional context.

This is ideal for students of Level 1 and Level 2 Acting courses at Filmbase, or equivalent courses from other institutions. Places are extremely limited, so early booking is advised!

 

Lead Tutor: Patrick Murphy

Patrick is best known for recurring role of Karl in over 4 seasons of Love/Hate and has just landed a role in the acclaimed show, Vikings. He has been acting for the last 9 years and has appeared in numerous TV shows and films along the way. Patrick has studied Meisner, Stanaslavsky and done most other acting for camera courses Ireland has to offer. He has recently won the Underground Cinema’s Best Music Director award.

Over the years he honed in on what casting directors looked for in showreels, and he started his own production company, ‘Whispered Films’. As well as producing award-winning films, he has been creating showreels for actors across Ireland and England, both editing previous work and filming new scenes as needed. His back catalog includes creating popular music videos, adverts and documentaries.

Dates:

  • 4th – 7th August, Thurs – Sun

Class times:

  • 10.00 – 5pm each day

Pricing:

  • €275 members / €295 Non-Members
  • €100 Deposit

Location:

  • Filmbase, Temple Bar, Curved street

To book your place on this course, please contact Filmbase Reception on 01 679 6716 and dial 0. For more information on this course, email our Training Department at training@filmbase.ie. Please read our Terms & Conditions before booking a course.

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A Few Things to Consider Before You Start Writing Your TV Drama

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Ahead of her Writing for TV Drama course at Filmbase, which runs over 8 Wednesday evenings from 30th March – 18th May, tutor Eilish Kent suggests things to consider before you start writing your TV drama.

 

Ensure your central character is worthy of the screen time:

Renewable series or a franchise is the golden goose of TV Drama and something all TV channels want constantly; to create series that can engage an audience beyond season one you must create characters that audiences will want to watch, either for their great mastery (of some skill or talent) or for the incredible and difficult situation they are in, or both. These characters must also have rich backstories, the richer the backstory the more there is to mine for future stories and seasons. Without an interesting central character the series will not have legs, as it is the central character who will generate story by the manner in which they react to the situations they find themselves in.

 

The long emotional arc:

In series, as opposed to singles or features, characters’ arc of transformation is drawn out or never completed, they always have their Achilles heal to deal with and this is why the character retains interest for audience. Once the issue central to their character is resolved there is less at stake.

 

Working within the format:

TV works to prescribed schedules and programmes have precise durations; this means that as a writer you have to write within this structure. Unlike cinema, audiences can easily turn over to another offering, so it is imperative that you grab the audience’s attention and hook them in as quickly as possible.

 

Writing to the hooks:

To keep an audience engaged and wanting more you need to give them a reason to come back after commercial breaks and for the next episode or season; to achieve this, TV is written to the story hooks and breaks.

 

The rules of the world:

Once you have established the rules of the world you can’t break them. You can’t change a character’s true essence to accommodate plot; at the same time, however, you must continuously surprise audience within the context of what you have established.

 

Test the idea:

Before spending time writing your TV series test the idea, ask hard questions of the central characters and the central concept, what makes it interesting for your target audience and how will this endlessly renew itself.

 

Above all never be boring.

 

Eilish works freelance as a story consultant and script editor on film and all TV genre, she can be contacted on eilishkent@gmail.com

 

Course Details

Writing for TV Drama with Eilish Kent

  • 8 Wednesday evenings from 30th March to 18th May, 

€260 Members / €295 Non-Members

Writing Television Drama is a course aimed at writers who are interested in learning more about the fundamental skills of crafting good television drama in all its forms.

 

Intro:

Along with the explosion of high quality television drama over the last decade there has been an increasing diversification of audience viewing patterns. Broadcasters and production companies are increasingly looking for innovative and distinctive drama proposals capable of reaching and attracting large television audiences.

The course is highly recommended for writers who are interested in exploring TV drama as an avenue for their work, but may also appeal to directors and producers seeking a better understanding of television story structure and dynamics.

The course is designed and will be led by Eilish Kent, who worked for the BBC and RTÉ commissioning and developing TV dramas, for over 16 years. She has worked across formats from singles to renewable series, and across genre, from comedy to true life stories. She has brought many first time writers to TV audiences.

 

Course Content:

  • The principles of screenwriting and their application for television drama.
  • The current best practice for submitting drama proposals to broadcasters and television production companies.
  • The commissioning process and broadcaster requirements at the various stages of the development process.
  • The fundamental principles of writing for single and one-off dramas, serials and renewable series.
  • The world of the series and the series ‘Bible’.
  • The importance of research, generating storylines, arcs and plotting.
  • Creating compelling characters, pacing and tone and audience engagement.
  • Different formats and genre.

 

Tutor: Eilish Kent

Projects Eilish managed onto screen for RTÉ include Hardy Bucks, Raw, Fade St, Any Time Now, No Tears (International Emmy for best series or serial), Love Is The Drug (IFTA best series), Fergus Wedding, Paths to Freedom and Foreign Exchange. And for the BBC, Vicious Circle, Rap at the Door and Mezzone (RTS winner). She devised and managed StoryLand, a unique project when launched that saw 28 original online series produced. Prior to her work in TV, Eilish was an actor’s agent in London and worked in marketing for Oxford University Press. She is a graduate of EAVE and North by Northwest. She has a BA in English and History of Art and an MA in Modern Drama from UCD. Currently she works freelance as a story consultant.

 

To reserve your place on this course, please contact Filmbase Reception on 01 679 6716 and dial 0. For more information, email our Training Department at training@filmbase.ie. Please read our Terms & Conditions before booking a course.

 

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Tips: 5 Tips for Novice Screenwriters

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Writer James Phelan sets out his top tips for those new to screenwriting.

1 – FINISH YOUR SCRIPT

Sounds obvious but until you do, it’s all theory and hot air. Chances are when you pitch or visualise the project you envisage a couple of scenes or sequences that really rock. And those are the ones you talk about. And that’s only natural. There’s a reason that no one ever hushes an entire room at a pitching event or in a bar at a film festival and starts with ‘I have a couple of really terrible scenes that are rife with clumsy exposition, trite dialogue and really contrived beats.’

Be proud of your great scenes but even if they do turn out great, those won’t be the scenes that need work. It’ll be every other connective or establishing scene into which you need to layer or bury exposition and characterisation while simultaneously infusing the entire thing with entertainment value. Until the script exists, our illusions and dreams inspire us and protect us. Finishing a script is reality setting in. And usually it ain’t just setting in, it’s moving in.

And in terms of finishing, I’m referring exclusively to actual screenplays. The industry may be obsessed with treatments and short docs but that doesn’t mean writers should be. You may write the best treatments in the world but until you write the screenplay, it’s all just a promise to be awesome. Being awesome in script form is way more important. And impressive.

 

2 – NOW THAT YOU’VE FINISHED START AGAIN.

Nope. Not on a different project. The same one. Sure – get away from it for a while. Put it in a desk for a few weeks but unless you’re insanely talented or insanely lucky, you’re going to need to wrestle your script into its optimum shape.

Novice writers simply start to polish, tighten, augment and edit the first draft and assume that’s a second draft. It’s not. Re-drafts often need to be radical. All the prep documents aren’t the only place where fundamental questions should be asked about a project. Now that the skeleton of the story has been fleshed out, what are we looking at? Frankenstein or Einstein?

If the actuality isn’t lining up with the intention, then here come those fundamental questions again. Have we followed the right character? Have we started the story in the right place? How much do we need to shed or add to get the best out of this?

Some writers seek comfort in hitting a page count. However, just because you have 110 pages doesn’t mean you have a viable script. You just filled 110 pages. You have to police yourself on whether you’re padding out your story. It doesn’t mean the story is a dead loss. There are shorter forms for every kind of story. And any time spent writing is never wasted time. It is a process of discovery though.

 

3 – HAVE MORE THAN ONE PROJECT ON THE GO

Having a range of projects is crucial. Having writing samples that span many genres is better again. Generating your own back catalogue is easier said than done but if you’re a writer – you should be interested in exploring and developing your own range and ability.

Some aspiring beginners seem to adopt a stance of ‘I’ll write when someone pays me to’. Which, while honourable in it’s own way, seems a little daft to me. Yes, it’s great to draw a wage from writing but if you have no credits, how can you prove to someone else that you can write if you haven’t proved it to yourself. In a business where years and decades fly by, your principled stand-off with an oblivious industry may ultimately become life-long.

Write firstly for your own enjoyment and education. You can always monetise a project later. A couple of projects I’ve written were kick-started into paid development because convincing and viable scripts already existed.

 

4 – DON’T BE A SNOB

We all want to make movies. Let’s take that as a given. But in a small country with limited opportunities to get paid to write, cast your net wide and keep your options open.

I presume that no film purists starting their careers within this country can afford to be snooty anymore about tainting themselves with TV work if offered. You’d be nuts to ignore this outlet where you may be better paid and you will actually reach an audience. Bar our biggest films, the audience for some of our domestic film releases are pitiful. If you want to get your work out there, no one still does it better than TV.

Similarly, radio drama is undergoing a bit of a BAI-backed boom in this country. It’s a highly inventive, accessible and relatively inexpensive way of telling stories. While theatre retains a real allure for writers who get to maintain authorship throughout in a manner that no other form can match.

 

5 – MAKE SOMETHING

Again while I advocate building a back catalogue, there’s little point going to all that effort of generating all that material unless, once in a while, one of the damned things gets made. It’s bizarrely easy to forget.

As writers, we can retreat into our caves and start churning stuff out but when you become capable of constructing actual physical forts with printed scripts, it might be time to make one.

If you don’t want to be a director – that’s fine. Plenty of others do. Just throw a rock. Test your ideas and scripts by filtering them through someone else’s vision. No one’s work gets to screen unfettered. Start getting familiar with the heart-breaking compromises. Learn how to protect what’s important and integral. Learn how to lose some battles. Learn which hill you want to die on. Hang on tightly. Let go lightly. Someone said that in a movie once.

 

James Phelan is an IFTA and Zebbie nominated scriptwriter whose first TV series, Rásaí na Gaillimhe/Galway Races, remains TG4’s most viewed drama. As well as a sequel season of that hit show, James has written several short films produced under Filmbase, Galway Film Centre and Irish Film Board schemes.

His current projects include the four-part drama series Cheaters, in advanced development with Blinder Films and RTE, as well as scripting duties on upcoming international animation shows Oddbods and Cuby Zoo.

His next project into production is Wrecking the Rising for TG4 and Tile Films. The historical mini-series is currently shooting and is an imaginative alternate take on the events of 1916 as three modern-day re-enactors and self-proclaimed Rising experts time travel by accident to Easter week and alter history at every turn. Soon they are battling for not only their own futures but the entire country’s future too. The show’s title in Irish is Éirí Amach Amú.

 

WTR PUBLICITY STILL 1 (Peter Coonan, Owen McDonnell & Sea¦ün T. O'Meallaigh at the GPO in Wrecking the Rising)

Peter Coonan, Owen McDonnell & Seán T. Ó Meallaigh at the GPO in Wrecking the Rising

 

 

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5 Tips to Improve Your Comedy

1362393747MichelleRead (1)(1)

Comic performer and writer Michelle Read shares 5 tips to help improve your comedy stylings ahead of Filmbase’s upcoming Screen Studio Academy: Actors Intensive Lab (20th October – 26th November)

 

Stop Press: Actors are Funny

Comedy work is hilarious* and fun and a great way for actors to develop their performance skills. It helps to unlock or identify some of the experience actors already have, including comic characterisation, timing and ensemble playing.

(*disclaimer – may not be hilarious.)

 

Improv Funny

Comedy Improv is an exciting and dynamic performance format and centres around the idea of play. It’s a fun (and scary) way to explore comedy performance and the spontaneous creation of comic material. It also focuses on teamwork and game structure. It can sometimes feel like jumping in a volcano*.

(*In the metaphorical exciting sense, not in the literal burning to death sense.)

 

Sketch Funny

Many comedy makers then work with improv to create material for sketches. Spontaneous ideas and characters are explored on the floor and / or written down until a text exists that can be rehearsed. This is a process that may be familiar to actors from devising work and it allows a deeper exploration of the processes in performing comedy. Yes, you have become a comedy writer as well as a comedy performer.

 

Stand Up Funny

And if you’re writing comedy – what about Stand Up? Stand-Up has a daunting reputation but isn’t actually one rigid form. It can include storytelling, monologuing, chatting, slide shows, performing a version of yourself, being a character, riffing on a theme, making a point. Or all of the above. Stand up is a personally created performance piece, with the only caveat that it MUST be funny every ten to twenty seconds. The process of making a piece of stand-up is fantastically challenging and really good for stress levels (and cholesterol). It’s a great way for actors to never be scared of anything else ever again.

 

Don’t be funny, am funny.

Or something like that. It’s a Zen mantra about comedy. Yeah… Really helpful.

 

 

Michelle Read is one of the tutors on Filmbase’s Screen Studio Academy: Actors Intensive Lab

20th October – 26th November, Tuesdays & Thursdays
€380 Members / €420 Non-Members

The Screen Studio Academy Actors’ Intensive Lab is a highly practical course for performers. Participants will learn techniques to successfully engage with audiences as well as explore personal comic presence.

 

Intro:

Are you looking to develop your acting skills? Voice and comedy performance are vital to becoming a versatile and successful actor and knowing how to utilise performance to create dynamic characters is a staple in any actor’s toolbox.  This programme is designed to challenge students who are committed to polishing their abilities to a professional level.

“Acting is not about being someone different. It’s finding the similarity in what is apparently different then finding myself in there.”  – Meryl Streep

This six-week programme will focus on vocal work, sketches and dynamic exercises. Clear precise speech and articulation skills will be developed to improve material delivery.

During the course, students will be immersed in the world of professional performance. Not only does the training run for two evenings per week (Tuesdays and Thursdays), but actors will be expected to set aside time for assignments and developing project work. Participants will also work alongside the Screen Studio Directors and Writers Academy courses at Filmbase to collaborate on developing projects through performance and workshop participation.

Performers new to acting are welcome and encouraged to take part in the course. However, they should be willing and eager to push themselves and be committed throughout the duration.

“The voice is the window to the soul”   – Daniel Day-Lewis

 

Course Content:

The course will cover voice work and comedy acting for film and television.  The workshop topics include:
• Introduction and basic structure of the voice.
• A focus on defining unique speech.
• Mechanics of the voice physiology and breath (breathe in – suspension – exhalation – recovery).
• Increased awareness of the back of the body, scapula and skull base and the relevant relation to posture.
• Introduction to the practice of developing and strengthening the voice from the opening of the main resonances.
• Examining the physicality of phonation.
• An in-depth exploration of crafting jokes as the building blocks of comedy.
• Learning the elements of comedy work and applying those to the text.
• Building comedy on text.
• Dealing with nerves and utilising them during audition technique.
• Creating accents and implementing them naturally.
• Performance coaching where regarding ideas and development.

 

Tutor: Maria Tecce

Maria Tecce is an actor, singer, and voice coach from Boston now based in Dublin. Maria has 15 years experience with the media and offers a special module to executives and public personalities in media interview techniques, microphone techniques, and best practices when appearing on radio, television, and presenting on stage.

The last few years have been Maria’s busiest; she has been performing and writing with Irish music-comedy act The Nualas. She also premiered her new show Strapless at Edinburgh Fringe Festival and Ulster Bank Dublin Theatre Festival, performed with the RTÉ Concert Orchestra, and launched her third album Viva.

Maria recently donned the acting mantel as the saucy courtesan ‘Emelie’ at Dublin’s Gate Theatre in their critically acclaimed production of Les Liaisons Dangereuses, played Irish singing legend Jack L.’s leading lady in the cult short film I Hate Musicals, performed as the iconic ‘Alida Slade’ in Hugh Leonard’s Roman Fever, and as murdered wife ‘Isabella’ in the BBC television series Inspector George Gently with Martin Shaw. She has also worked in film and television with the likes of Jim Sheridan, Angela Landsbury, Patsy Kensit, Mia Farrow and Keith Carradine. “Singer Maria Tecce steals the show.” The Times.

www.mariatecce.com

 

Tutor Michelle Read

Michelle began her performance and writing career as a comic on the London circuit in the late eighties, performing regularly at many of the original clubs including The Comedy Store and the infamous Tunnel Club. On moving to Dublin she became a regular at the Comedy Cellar performing stand-up and sketch comedy and featuring in many Irish TV shows including Cursai Elaine, Couched, The Basement, Rant, Gerry Ryan Tonight, You Can’t Be Serious, Nighthawks and Saturday Live for UTV.

She is a founder member and regular player with the Dublin Comedy Improv since 1991 and has played with the team on two successful radio series for RTÉ, at the Edinburgh Festival, at the Catlaughs Festival, Kilkenny and all over Ireland. Michelle is also a playwright and theatre-maker and she regularly facilitates workshops in improvisation, devising and playwriting.

 

Guest Tutor: Sharon Mannion

Sharon Mannion is an Actor/Comedian and Writer based in Dublin. Her TV credits include Trojan Donkey (Channel 4), Moone Boy (Sky 1), Republic of Telly (RTÉ) and Don’t Tell the Bride – Narrator (RTÉ). She is a member of sketch group Ghost Train Willy and improv groups The Craic Pack, Dublin Comedy Improv and The Cardinals. She drinks a lot of tea and used to work in a chicken factory.

 

Dates:

  • 20th October – 26th November, Tuesdays & Thursdays

 

Class times:

  • 7.00pm – 10.00pm
  • Weekend/evening work may be required for collaborative projects (dates tbc)
  • Participants should set aside two to three hours per week outside of class time for assignments

 

Pricing:

  • €380 Members / €420 Non-Members
  • €150 Deposit

 

Location:

  • Filmbase, Temple Bar, Curved street

 

Follow on courses:

Participants will be offered priority booking for Screen Studio Actors’ Academy Advanced Courses from January 2016 in Comedy Acting, Soap and Television Acting and Acting for Transmedia projects.

 

To book your place, contact Filmbase Reception on 01 679 6716 and dial 0. For more information, email Lynn at lynn@filmbase.ie. Please read our Terms & Conditions before booking a course.

 

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Shooting a Horror – Five Fiendish Tips

Stitches

Ahead of Filmbase’s upcoming Screen Studio Academy: Directors Intensive Lab – Shoot Your Own Horror Short, writer, director and nightmare-maker Conor McMahon shares his 5 tips to scare the bejebus out of your audience.

 

1. Take your actors to one location and chop them up. Preferably a location that doesn’t mind you throwing fake blood around.

 
 
2. Make the first death the most impactful. The audience will be nervous about what’s to come.

 
 
3. If you’re making a comedy horror get funny actors. You can’t direct someone how to tell a joke.

 
 
4. Use the elements. Wind, fire, smoke and rain, will all add to the atmosphere.

 
 
5. In a scary horror less is more. In a comedy horror, more is more.

 

 

Filmbase Present

Screen Studio Academy: Directors Intensive Lab

20th October – 26th November, Tuesdays & Thursdays

€380 Members / €420 Non-Members

SHOOT YOUR OWN HORROR SHORT! Learn the techniques needed to successfully direct a horror film with the Screen Studio Academy: Directors Intensive lab. Participants will focus on idea generation to intensify terror as well as creating atmospheric screen stories.

 

Intro:

The Screen Studio Academy: Directors’ Intensive Lab is a highly practical course for filmmakers who want to take their skill to the next level. While examining different genres of horror, students will develop a group idea to shoot a short horror film.

The course runs two evenings per week (Tuesdays and Thursdays) and directors will also be expected to set aside time outside of class for assignments and for developing project work. As well as working on the short, participants will also work with the Screen Studio Actors and Writers Academy programmes at Filmbase to collaborate on developing projects through performance and workshop participation.

Participants new to directing are welcome and encouraged to take part in the course. However, they should be willing and eager to push themselves and committed throughout the duration.

Course Content:

The course will cover directing for horror film and television, specifically focusing on:

• Creating a story that speaks to an audience
• Looking at fear triggers and how it’s translated in film
• Story and script editing
• Developing a directorial voice
• Working with producers and creative departments
• Understanding cinematography and lighting techniques
• Horror genre conventions
• Planning for special effects and gore
• Working with actors
• Post production

 

Tutor: Conor McMahon

Conor studied filmmaking at the Irish National Film School in Dun Laoghaire. In 2004 he made his debut feature film Dead Meat, which was funded by the Irish Film Board. Following this, Conor went on to direct Zombie Bashers, an entry in the RTÉ’s Storyland competition. The show was voted by the public as the winner of the competition.

Short Films Conor directed have won numerous awards including: Best Short at the Sitges Film Festival (Spain), First Prize in the Kodak Commercial Awards (London) and Second prize at Edinburgh’s Dead by Dawn Horror film Festival.

Conor has worked on the popular RTÉ sketch show, The Republic of Telly, writing and directing sketches with acts such as The Rubber Bandits, Damo & Ivor and Georgia Salpa. His 2012 feature film Stitches, starring British comedian Ross Noble, won best film at the Midnight Xtreme section of the prestigious Sitges Film Festival. And most recently: Conor’s latest feature, From the Dark has been described by Fangoria as ‘a taut, coiled piece of dread-infused cinema that… delivers everything one could hope for from a fresh entry in that subgenre.’

 

Dates:

  • 20th October – 26th November, Tuesdays & Thursdays

 

Class times:

  • 7.00pm – 10.00pm
  • Weekend/evening work may be required for collaborative projects (dates tbc)
  • Participants should set aside two to three hours per week outside of class time for assignments

 

Pricing:

  • €380 Members / €420 Non-Members
  • €150 Deposit

 

Location:

  • Filmbase, Temple Bar, Curved street

 

Follow on courses

Participants will be offered priority booking for Screen Studio Directors’s Academy Advanced Courses from January 2016 in Comedy Directing, Soap and Television Directing and Directing for Transmedia projects.

 

To book your place, contact Filmbase Reception on 01 679 6716 and dial 0. For more information, email Lynn at lynn@filmbase.ie. Please read our Terms & Conditions before booking a course.

 

Visit www.creativeeuropeireland.eu

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5 Tips to Improve Your Voice Work

Maria Tecce, actress who is appearing with The Nualas. Photo: Tony Gavin 20/2/11

Photo: Tony Gavin

Ahead of Filmbase’s upcoming Screen Studio Academy: Actors Intensive Lab (20th October – 26th November), actor, singer and voice coach Maria Tecce shares 5 tips every actor should follow to improve their voice work.

 

Your whole body is your voice.

So many of us focus on the throat when we think about the voice. But your whole body is involved in producing sound and has potential for resonance and vibration. Like any athlete, the muscles we use to make sound need to be worked and strengthened. When we’re rehearsing, we’re using our voices regularly so it’s building up strength, but ideally, doing some kind of warm up before you do any kind of voice work is a good idea.

 

Never push your voice.

Not only are you likely to do damage but it’s exhausting. And it’s also exhausting for the audience to listen to. We work in many different types of spaces, some with better acoustics than others, so when you get into a new space, have a test run with some text to see how it feels and where you have to place your voice to fill the space. Instead of ‘projecting’ or pushing your voice, think of sending your thought out with more intention and clarity.  If your voice is released and in good nick and your breath is coming from a grounded, centred place, you won’t need to push.

 

Tension vs. Relaxation

The voice involves more muscles than just the vocal folds in the throat. All muscles have the potential to carry tension, especially around the throat, shoulders, and jaw areas, so be aware of where you’re carrying tension and give it some love. Tension is your voice’s worst enemy; relaxation is its best friend. When we are more relaxed, we can focus with more clarity, be more present in the moment and able to respond.

 

Breath is key.

Breath is the key for a strong, supported voice. It’s the imprint for vibration and sound. Getting that breath coming from a deep, grounded place gives you more power and choice when you’re performing. Whether you’re working on stage or in front of a camera, breathing helps centre you in body, voice, and thought.  It’s also a great tool to deal with nerves. God forbid you dry on stage or forget your lines, but if you do, breathe. Your body will remember when your mind doesn’t. Breath is the support for everything in your vocal arsenal.

 

Warm up.

Everybody has their own routine, ritual, or regime for warming up; there are as many warm ups as there are performers. Some people do very little; some people need an hour. But whatever you do, do something. Warming up isn’t just about preparing your body and voice to be ready to respond, it’s also waking up your thought. Clear thought = clear text.  The voice is one of the most flexible, powerful, elegant tools for communication we have. It can start a war. It can say ‘I love you’. It’s a powerhouse for emotion, passion, authenticity, texture, and colour.  And it’s all at your fingertips. Use it well

 

www.mariatecce.com

 

Screen Studio Academy: Actors Intensive Lab

20th October – 26th November, Tuesdays & Thursdays
€380 Members / €420 Non-Members

The Screen Studio Academy Actors’ Intensive Lab is a highly practical course for performers. Participants will learn techniques to successfully engage with audiences as well as explore personal comic presence.

 

Intro:

Are you looking to develop your acting skills? Voice and comedy performance are vital to becoming a versatile and successful actor and knowing how to utilise performance to create dynamic characters is a staple in any actor’s toolbox.  This programme is designed to challenge students who are committed to polishing their abilities to a professional level.

“Acting is not about being someone different. It’s finding the similarity in what is apparently different then finding myself in there.”  – Meryl Streep

This six-week programme will focus on vocal work, sketches and dynamic exercises. Clear precise speech and articulation skills will be developed to improve material delivery.

During the course, students will be immersed in the world of professional performance. Not only does the training run for two evenings per week (Tuesdays and Thursdays), but actors will be expected to set aside time for assignments and developing project work. Participants will also work alongside the Screen Studio Directors and Writers Academy courses at Filmbase to collaborate on developing projects through performance and workshop participation.

Performers new to acting are welcome and encouraged to take part in the course. However, they should be willing and eager to push themselves and be committed throughout the duration.

“The voice is the window to the soul”   – Daniel Day-Lewis

 

Course Content:

The course will cover voice work and comedy acting for film and television.  The workshop topics include:
• Introduction and basic structure of the voice.
• A focus on defining unique speech.
• Mechanics of the voice physiology and breath (breathe in – suspension – exhalation – recovery).
• Increased awareness of the back of the body, scapula and skull base and the relevant relation to posture.
• Introduction to the practice of developing and strengthening the voice from the opening of the main resonances.
• Examining the physicality of phonation.
• An in-depth exploration of crafting jokes as the building blocks of comedy.
• Learning the elements of comedy work and applying those to the text.
• Building comedy on text.
• Dealing with nerves and utilising them during audition technique.
• Creating accents and implementing them naturally.
• Performance coaching where regarding ideas and development.

 

Tutor: Maria Tecce

Maria Tecce is an actor, singer, and voice coach from Boston now based in Dublin. Maria has 15 years experience with the media and offers a special module to executives and public personalities in media interview techniques, microphone techniques, and best practices when appearing on radio, television, and presenting on stage.

The last few years have been Maria’s busiest; she has been performing and writing with Irish music-comedy act The Nualas. She also premiered her new show Strapless at Edinburgh Fringe Festival and Ulster Bank Dublin Theatre Festival, performed with the RTÉ Concert Orchestra, and launched her third album Viva.

Maria recently donned the acting mantel as the saucy courtesan ‘Emelie’ at Dublin’s Gate Theatre in their critically acclaimed production of Les Liaisons Dangereuses, played Irish singing legend Jack L.’s leading lady in the cult short film I Hate Musicals, performed as the iconic ‘Alida Slade’ in Hugh Leonard’s Roman Fever, and as murdered wife ‘Isabella’ in the BBC television series Inspector George Gently with Martin Shaw. She has also worked in film and television with the likes of Jim Sheridan, Angela Landsbury, Patsy Kensit, Mia Farrow and Keith Carradine. “Singer Maria Tecce steals the show.” The Times.

www.mariatecce.com

 

Tutor Michelle Read

Michelle began her performance and writing career as a comic on the London circuit in the late eighties, performing regularly at many of the original clubs including The Comedy Store and the infamous Tunnel Club. On moving to Dublin she became a regular at the Comedy Cellar performing stand-up and sketch comedy and featuring in many Irish TV shows including Cursai Elaine, Couched, The Basement, Rant, Gerry Ryan Tonight, You Can’t Be Serious, Nighthawks and Saturday Live for UTV.

She is a founder member and regular player with the Dublin Comedy Improv since 1991 and has played with the team on two successful radio series for RTÉ, at the Edinburgh Festival, at the Catlaughs Festival, Kilkenny and all over Ireland. Michelle is also a playwright and theatre-maker and she regularly facilitates workshops in improvisation, devising and playwriting.

 

Guest Tutor: Sharon Mannion

Sharon Mannion is an Actor/Comedian and Writer based in Dublin. Her TV credits include Trojan Donkey (Channel 4), Moone Boy (Sky 1), Republic of Telly (RTÉ) and Don’t Tell the Bride – Narrator (RTÉ). She is a member of sketch group Ghost Train Willy and improv groups The Craic Pack, Dublin Comedy Improv and The Cardinals. She drinks a lot of tea and used to work in a chicken factory.

 

Dates:

  • 20th October – 26th November, Tuesdays & Thursdays

 

Class times:

  • 7.00pm – 10.00pm
  • Weekend/evening work may be required for collaborative projects (dates tbc)
  • Participants should set aside two to three hours per week outside of class time for assignments

 

Pricing:

  • €380 Members / €420 Non-Members
  • €150 Deposit

 

Location:

  • Filmbase, Temple Bar, Curved street

 

Follow on courses:

Participants will be offered priority booking for Screen Studio Actors’ Academy Advanced Courses from January 2016 in Comedy Acting, Soap and Television Acting and Acting for Transmedia projects.

 

To book your place, contact Filmbase Reception on 01 679 6716 and dial 0. For more information, email Lynn at lynn@filmbase.ie. Please read our Terms & Conditions before booking a course.

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Full Costs and Income of a £1m Independent Feature Film

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Stephen Follows is bringing his sell-out Producer’s Masterclass to Filmbase, Dublin on the 7th and 8th November 2015. It’s the ultimate two-day crash course in how to make and sell your low-budget feature film.

In advance of the masterclass, Stephen takes us through the full costs and income of a £1m independent feature film.

 

Grab a cup of tea – this is a long one. It’s rare for filmmakers to get a candid look at the books of someone else’s film but, thanks to the generosity of Marcus Markou, that’s exactly what you’ll get to read below.

Papadopoulos & Sons is an independent feature film that tells the tale of an Anglo-Greek self-made millionaire who loses everything in the banking crisis and is forced to turn to his estranged brother to re-open the fish and chip shop they shared in their youth. It’s a fun family film starring Stephen Dillane, George Corraface and Georgia Groome.

papadopoulos-and-sons-movie-poster

The film was written and directed by first-time filmmaker Marcus Markou and was released in UK cinemas in April 2013.

Before we delve into the journey of the film, we need to take a moment to learn more about Marcus and his motives. Marcus is a successful entrepreneur, so much so that he was able to pay for the film’s £825,000 budget from his own bank account.

He wanted to learn how films are made, make something for his kids to see and have a fun time in the process. He’d taken a short course at the Met Film School but other than that, this was his first foray into the commercial film world.

The Budget

The independent feature film took 24 days to shoot in and around London.  The largest costs were art department (they had to build a chip shop in an empty shop!), cast and production staff.  The Above The Line costs came to £91,821 (11% of the budget), production was £584,800 (71%), post-production £109,436 (13%) with other costs coming to £39,165 (5%).

  • Production budget of Papadopoulos & Sons£775  Story, Rights & Continuity
  • £91,046 Cast
  • £19,014 Supporting Artists
  • £90,332 Production Staff
  • £93,245 Art Department
  • £32,070 Wardrobe
  • £16,782 Make-up / Hair
  • £53,371 Electrical
  • £58,580 Camera
  • £16,882 Sound
  • £77,918 Travel / Transportation
  • £28,670 Hotel / Living
  • £70,111 Location
  • £27,343 Overtime / 2nd Camera
  • £     482 Digital Stock & Transfers
  • £25,507 Music
  • £83,929 Post-Production
  • £  9,307 Insurance
  • £  2,556 Legal & Clearances
  • £  7,705 General Expenses
  • £  2,900 Publicity
  • £      750 PACT & Training Levy
  • £ 15,947 Fringes
  • £825,222 Total

I’m focusing mainly on the numbers today but if you want to know more about the story of the shoot then here are a few entertaining links…

Getting an Independent Feature Film Distributed

Marcus made the film without any industry support and without any distribution deals in place.  This meant that once it was complete he had to figure out how he was going to get it to the public and recoup his investment.

At one point, he was close to signing a deal with YouTube to premiere the film online via a ‘pay what you want’ recoupment model.  The idea seemed to be well-received at google but in the end the deal stalled when YouTube insisted that Google Wallet was used to collect the donations, despite the fact it was only active in 8 countries at the time.

Marcus turned to self-distribution in the UK and collaborating with a producer’s rep for the international rights. He signed up with producer reps 7&7 who would take 20% of any deal they negotiated but they wouldn’t ever control the distribution of the film, as a traditional sales agent would. Marcus was on the hook for the sales costs (such as attending Cannes and other film markets) but this would be recouped first from income.

Soon after taking the film to the Cannes Marche du Film (the film market where the rights to films are bought and sold), 7&7 secured distribution deals for Greece, Germany and an airline distribution deal.

 

The Film Festival Circuit

Many independent feature films rely on the festival circuit to get noticed, however Papadopoulos & Sons wasn’t shortlisted at a major film festival. Marcus puts this down to the film not being “an edgy, film festival kind of film”.

However, some festivals did take it, including…

Reflecting on his festival experience Marcus said “The film isn’t arthouse; it is too commercial. But it isn’t a big studio film with celebrities in it, so it is arthouse. It is stuck between those worlds, commercial arthouse. In the UK, those worlds don’t really mix.”.

One of the more surreal screenings was in the European Parliament. A member of the film’s cast knew the programmer of cultural events and told him it was a film about the Greek banking crisis (it’s not). The resulting screening took place at the same moment that the Greek Prime Minister was on the floor negotiating Greece’s bailout deal.

 

Securing a UK Cinema Release

Cineworld cinemasBy this point, the film had a German, Greek and airline deal but was still lacking a UK distributor. Marcus is not someone who gives up easily, and so he turned to self-distribution. Via Miracle Communications, Marcus struck a deal with Cineworld cinemas which placed the film in 13 screens for a week.

Marcus identified Greek communities throughout the UK by looking for Greek Orthodox churches. If there was a church, he’d target the local community, using a variety of off- and on-line media.

 

The Costs of the UK Theatrical Release

Marcus secured a small release in 13 Cineworld cinemas, opening on 5th April 2013.  By contrast, the biggest film of that week, The Croods, was playing on 553 screens across the UK.  It is fairly common for large studio-backed films to get a much larger release than smaller, independent feature films, in part because the UK is one of the most costly regions in the world to release a film theatrically.

As Marcus was acting as his own distributor he had to pay up front for a number of costs (known as P&A, after Prints and Advertising).  These included…

  • £ 5,200 Tenancy fees
  • £    325 Virtual Print Fees
  • £ 1,000 BBFC certificate
  • £ 2,000 Renting DCP drives
  • £ 2,000 Publicist
  • £ 4,000 Miracle Entertainment (who coordinated the deal)
  • £ 3,000 Radio ads on London Greek Radio, and print ads in Greek newspapers in London
  • £ 8,000 Facebook ads, to those with “Greek interests” living in areas close to Greek churches
  • £10,000 Posters, flyers and pre-release screenings of the ‘Making of’ documentary
  • £35,525 Total

Note: These figures are approximations from Marcus, whereas most of the other numbers in the article are correct to the pound as they come directly from his accounts.

 

How the Film Performed in UK Cinemas

Papadopoulos & SonsEarly on in the three month campaign for the UK release, Marcus had been told that he should aim to achieve “500 per cinema” in the opening weekend. He took this to mean 500 admissions per cinema and set his sights on reaching this goal. He later learned that in fact the target was just £500 per cinema, which is under a sixth of what he was working towards.

In the opening week, across the 13 sites, the film sold 8,000 tickets and grossed £60,659. This means the site average was £2,870, the second highest of the week, beating fellow opening film Dark Skies (site average: £2,680) and GI Joe: Retaliation (site avenge: £2,421) which was on its second week of release.

The high per screen average spurred Cineworld to widen the release meaning that in the second week the film was screening on 16 screens. The vast majority of Marcus’ marketing efforts had been focused on driving people to see it during the all-important opening weekend. This can be seen in the box office figures, where, despite being available on 23% more screens, the film grossed just 31% of its opening weekend (£18,504).

UK cinema gross of Papadopoulos & Sons

After seven weeks on general release, the film finished its official UK theatrical run. It had grossed £95,509, according to Rentrak, although Marcus points out “I don’t think this includes indie screenings I’ve done because a lot of them come direct to me”. The overall per screen average of its seven weeks was a very respectable £2,274.

 

Dividing up the UK Theatrical Box Office Income

So, what happens to the money gathered by UK cinemas; i.e. the UK box office gross? Using Rentrak’s figures…

  • £96,000 gross
  • Minus tax (VAT at 20%) leaves £76,800
  • Minus Cineworld’s cut (at 65%) leaves £26,880

According to Marcus’ accounts, he received a total of £45,601 from the UK release, which suggests that he was right to point out that the true box office figure was higher (£162,850 by my calculations).

Normally at this point a distributor and sales agent would take a fee and also take back their marketing costs (see here and here for more details) but as Marcus was self-distributing, he saved himself these costs. It’s reasonable to assume that had he taken the traditional releasing model then he would be left with far less, if anything. (Although it’s technically possible that a large distributor would have been able to secure more screens and therefore a higher box office gross).

After we remove the approximately £35,000 he spent on the digital prints and advertising (known as P&A) he is left with £10,600 profit for his six month’s work.

 

UK TV Deal

For the last few years, television has been the largest driver of income for British films and that’s certainly the case for Papadopoulos & Sons. The UK cinema release netted Marcus a profit of £10,000 for half a year’s work whereas by contrast his deal with the BBC netted him £50,000.

Ordinarily, the sales agent (7&7) would have taken a 20% cut but it had been agreed that Marcus would keep the full figure to recoup money he’d spent promoting the film in Cannes.

The BBC deal is for five screenings over the next five years, starting in autumn of this year. The deal stipulates that during the first two years, the BBC have the exclusive “UK Free TV’ rights, meaning that the film will be removed from the UK edition of Netflix until autumn 2017. Clauses such as this are fairly standard and explains why Netflix has different inventories between territories.

 

UK Film Tax Credit

HMRCThe biggest cheque Marcus received was from the UK taxman, in the form of his rebate for the UK film tax credit. If your film is certified as officially British then the tax credit will give you 20% cash back on the money you spent in the UK on certain costs. The eligible costs are confined to activities within pre-production, production and post-production; meaning that all the money Marcus spent on distribution, exhibition and marketing are not included in the calculation.

In the case of Papadopoulos & Sons, the UK film tax credit came to £156,000, or 19.1% of their overall production budget.

 

German Income

German Papadopoulos & SonsIn Germany the film opened on 70 screens, showing to 23,850 people and grossing €141,000 (£120,000) in its first week alone. After a month, the film had grossed €223,240 (£159,770) according to InterPlan, and Box Office Mojo has the final German box office gross at $289,670 (£197,000). The company with the German rights also released the film in Austria and so all told the gross was £215,929.

In return for the German and Austrian rights, Marcus had agreed an advance payment of €20,000 known as a Minimum Guarantee (an “MG”), which translated into a payment of £15,594. From the £216,000 box office gross, the distributor was permitted to recoup their costs, the money they spent on advertising and this MG. This meant that Marcus received no further payments for the theatrical or DVD releases in Germany and Austria.

However, the German distributor did negotiate a TV deal in France and Germany, which netted Marcus an additional £36,072.

Due to the lucrative TV deal, the MG has been repaid meaning that Marcus will receive 50% of the net income of DVD sales in Germany and Austria.

 

Greek Income

Papadopoulos & SonsConsidering the film’s plot, Marcus’ background and the press surrounding the EU screening, the territory of Greece was always going to be a big one for Papadopoulos & Sons. As with Germany, Marcus agreed an MG, in this case of €15,000. This translated to a net income of £12,753.

And there the Greek information trail stops. Neither Marcus nor I can find any Greek box office figures, DVD sales or how it performed in TV. It is fairly common in the film industry for distributors not to provide additional information and filmmakers are pretty much powerless in preventing it. The MG is often regarded as the only money the filmmakers will see from the deal and so distributors don’t see the need to provide them with updates on the film’s progress. When I asked Marcus what he felt the gross Greek figures were he said “Who knows… I am going to say £50k because I know its been on Greek TV and DVDs have been sold, etc”.

Update: I been tipped off that there are admission figures on Lumiere, although not financial figures.   Apparently the film was seen by 2,676 people in Greece in 2012 and a further 2,906 in 2013.

 

Video on Demand Income

Most filmmakers are hoping that Video on Demand (VOD) income will grow to replace the lost income from falling DVD sales. Papadopoulos and Sons is available on a number of VOD platforms including…

  • £19,602 Netflix (UK and USA)
  • £  2,902 FilmFlex (UK)
  • £  2,889 iTunes (multiple countries in Europe, UK, Africa and middle East)
  • £        26 Blinkbox (Europe)
  • £        95 Google (UK)
  • £   9,428 Misc VOD*
  • £34,942 Total

*These misc payments come via the same aggregator as most of the other payments (The Movie Partnership) but the bank statements don’t reveal which VOD platforms the amounts belong to.  Marcus believes that iTunes sales account for around 80% of the ‘transactional VOD’ revenue (i.e. not including Netflix, which offers ‘subscription VOD’).

The Netflix deal is for the UK and America and the gross is around £15,000 per year for a two year deal. The sales agent takes 15% and the aggregator takes a further 15%, leaving Marcus with 70% of the gross.

The film has performed well on the platform, with an average rating of 3.6 stars from nearly 120,000 ratings. Marcus says that Netflix have indicated they want the film when they roll out to new territories across the world.  This is pretty impressive for an independent feature film.

 

Other Income

The film picked up other money from a few places…

  • £9,374 DVD sales in the UK, Australia and New Zealand plus an Amazon-only deal in America. The Australian deal was for two years and they paid a £1,000 MG upfront.
  • £7,457 Spiritual Cinema DVD club
  • £2,187 TV deal across the Middle East
  • £1,131 American theatrical screening via ’theatrical on demand’ company Gathr
  • £   275 Speaking fees related to UK film industry events

Totalling the Income

It’s certainly possible that the film will recoup more money in the coming years so these figures are true up to 15th April 2015.

  • £158,000 UK tax credit
  • £  88,259 TV
  • £   45,601 UK theatrical
  • £   34,942 VOD
  • £   32,667 Airline
  • £   15,594 Germany theatrical
  • £   12,753 Greece
  • £     9,374 DVD
  • £     1,131 US screening
  • £        459 UK screening
  • £        275 Speaking fees
  • £399,055 Total

Income received from the independent feature film Papadopoulos & Sons

Totalling the Costs

Papadopoulos & SonsIf we add up all of the costs of making the film (£825,222) with the rough costs of the UK release (£35,000) then we can see that the film cost Marcus approximately £860,000.

With income to date of £399,055, this means that the film is currently at a loss of around £460,000.

Note: You can see the full budget and costs at the bottom of this article.

I know this loss sounds like a lot but consider Marcus’ reasons for making the film. He wanted to learn how independent feature films are made, make something for his kids to see and have a fun time in the process. Marcus spent his own hard-earned money and was well aware of the risks.

I asked Marcus how he feels about the current recoupment status.  He said…

Think of this as a long-term investment. The capital is sunk up front. After a couple of years I am 40% recouped. The hope is that after 10 years I will be fully recouped. But because of the strength of Netflix and BBC it’s clear this film will have a long shelf life. In year 11, that means every penny that comes in will be PROFIT! Think about it. If in year 11, I am making £25k per year that is £25k per annum with NO COST. This is why catalogues of old films are so valuable. Because if you have 20 films like this, making £25k per annum with no costs… well, you can do the Maths.

You must not underestimate the long-term value of a movie once its sunk capital has been recouped. In the West End a musical will have to run for two years before it’s profitable. Most never get to the two year mark. With a movie, if you have a universal story that has a long shelf life, you can be collecting payments for 20 or 30 years.

So I would always argue that this is a long haul investment. If I took the same £1m and put it in a bank, you may find that after 20 years Papadopoulos has out performed on a return many times over.

This is the recoupment stage but it is also still selling – e.g the US DVD and possible impact of Netflix rolling out across multiple territories. You say, existing deals MAY continue to pay out. They WILL continue to pay out because I get paid quarterly and for DVD, VOD, Netflix etc. Not in advance. So many deals are not completed yet (e.g Netflix) so it’s not a MAY it is a WILL.

Future Income

It’s likely that the film will recoup more money. There is a full American DVD release due in October (the previous US DVD deal was exclusively with amazon) and 7&7 are actively pursuing deals in new territories.

In addition, the existing deals may continue to pay out, certainly the Netflix deal seems to be going well and the film continues to sell via iTunes et al. The UK Netflix deal will be on a two year hiatus but if it continues to prove popular then it’s reasonable to assume that they will extend and widen the existing deal.

When the film begins its five year screening period with the BBC this autumn it could lead to TV deals in other territories. TV remains the most lucrative media format for the film and so a few more TV deals could produce £10,000’s more.

Lessons for Independent Feature Filmmakers

Whilst this may not look like a sustainable model for filmmakers to follow there are a number of valuable lessons we can learn from these numbers…

  1. Self distribution is not easy. Marcus spent a huge amount of time and effort to secure the UK release, and then again to get the film in front of his target audience. There’s no doubt that a large amount of the success the film had in UK cinemas was down to his dedication, hard work and unwillingness to give up.
  2. Who you know, helps. At a few different points along Marcus’ journey it proved vital for him to trade on relationships with the right people. Cineworld only agreed to having the film screened in their flagship Shaftesbury Avenue site because one of Marcus’ employee’s flatmates was the manager. That said, Marcus isn’t the son of a famous filmmaker and so all his connections had to be earned. Anyone who’s met him will attest to the fact that it doesn’t take long after first meeting Marcus to want to do him a favour.
  3. The cost of deliverables adds up. Deliverables are the assets you pass over to a distributor after you sign a deal. These will include a copy of the film but also audio and image elements. For Marcus’ deals in Germany, Greece and on airlines the distributors agreed to reimburse him for the costs of creating these items. However, Marcus still had to pay up front and the total for just those three deals came to £10,558. Filmmakers should remember than they may need to cashflow costs like these after they have signed deals. Here are a few of the deliverable costs…
    • £5,200 Full Feature 35mm Theatrical Prints
    • £1,000 35mm Feature Trailer Prints
    • £  675 HD Cam SR Clone: Main film
    • £  450 HD Cam SR Clone: The Making of ….
  4. Soft money is vital for survival. Marcus took advantage of the UK film tax credit and it became his single largest income cheque at £158,000. However, as he paid for the film from his own funds he was not able to use any of the more tax efficient structures such as SEIS and EIS schemes. The SEIS scheme is for films of up to £150,000 (or the first £150k of a larger film) and it gives investors 50% of their investment back almost straight away. Then, if they fail to see any profits after three years they can claim a further 28% of their loss back from the taxman. The EIS scheme can support projects up £15 million and give investors slightly less back. If Papadopoulos & Sons had been funded by external private investors then they would have lost far less money than Marcus has to date.
  5. The publicly available data can be wrong or incomplete. At the time of writing, the Box Office Mojo figure for the UK box office is $124,794 (£84,870 in 2013 pounds). Rentrak’s official figures suggest it was nearer £96,000 and yet using Marcus’ own bank accounts we can deduce that it was closer to £165,000. This is a common complaint I’ve heard from indie filmmakers as big commercial box office trackers are not designed to catch every penny given to every small film. They don’t cover all cinemas and it can be easy to miss the odd screening for non-studio films.
  6. Research your marketplace. Data this candid is very hard to find but that’s not to say you can’t find some things out before you embark on the epic journey of making a feature film.  Talk to other filmmakers (who over a few drink might be this candid!), attend film markets, look at what data is available online and approach sales professionals.  Success if the film industry is not straightforward but neither is it random.  And it only becomes clearer via experience and by accessing the experiences of others.  (This point was a suggestion from Reddit).

Notes

The vast majority of data came directly from Marcus. I have cross-referenced as much as I can and it all seems to check out. In addition, Marcus didn’t just chat to me – he got his accountant to export all the transactions in the film bank account from the moment it was opened to date.

Other data came from Rentrak, the BFI, Box Office Mojo and interviews with Marcus (completed by myself and others printed online already).

Epilogue

I considered cutting this article into multiple parts but I think it serves its function best as one enormously long article.

I’ve known Marcus for a few years now and he has always been candid with this experiences and keen to speak to students of mine. I’m grateful that he was receptive to my idea of publishing the full data, warts and all. Few other filmmakers would be so open and so brave. Thank you, Marcus.

If you’ve enjoyed reading this and/or feel you have learned from Marcus’ experiences then for God’s sake buy a copy of the film. As you can see above, he would welcome the sales (plus it’s a fun film from a lovely chap).

Appendix

For those wanting more information about the film, here are a few useful data points…

The Script

Click here to download the script in PDF format

Rating

BBFC details of its 15 certificate.

Full Production Budget

See below for the full budget of the independent feature film ‘Papadopoulos & Sons’.  The only things which have been altered is removing names and combining the cast into one line item, due to requirements from agents.

Click here to download the budget in CSV format.

Full Income to 15th April 2015

See below for the income to date of the independent feature film ‘Papadopoulos & Sons’.  The UK film tax credit (£158,000) is not included as it was paid into a different account.  The items labeled “Deliverables” are repaying Marcus for money he has spent delivering the film to distributors.  They were repaid without mark-up and so therefore are not strictly revenue (I did not include them in the income calculations earlier in the article).

Click here to download the income to date in CSV format.

Feedback on the Film

Synopsis

Self-made businessman Harry Papadopoulos has got it all; a mansion house; awards and a super rich lifestyle. However, on the eve of a property deal of a lifetime, a financial crisis hits and the banks call in their huge loans. Harry and his family lose everything in an instant. Everything, except the dormant and forgotten Three Brothers Fish & Chip Shop half owned by Harry’s larger than life brother Spiros who’s been estranged from the family for years.

With no alternative, Harry and his family, plant enthusiast James; fashion victim Katie; nerdy Theo and their loyal nanny Mrs. Parrington, are forced to pack their bags, leave their millionaire lifestyle and join ‘Uncle Spiros’ to live above the neglected Three Brothers chippie. Together they set about bringing the chip shop back to life under the suspicious gaze of the their old rival, Hassan, from the neighbouring Turkish kebab shop whose son has his own eyes on Katie.

Each family member must come to terms with their new life in their own way and make the most of their reduced circumstances. Harry struggles with the banks to regain his lost business empire, but as the chip shop comes to life and old memories are stirred Harry and his family gradually discover that only when you lose everything are you free to discover it all.

 

The Film Producer’s Masterclass with Stephen Follows takes place at Filmbase 7 – 8 November 2015.

To reserve your place on this course, please contact Filmbase Reception on 01 679 6716 and dial 0. For more information, email  training@filmbase.ie.

Visit the dedicated site online at www.filmproducersmasterclass.com

Info on the course:

In a busy two-day crash course, expert producer Stephen Follows will take you through every step of the filmmaking journey, from idea through to seeing your creation on the big screen.

The Film Producer’s Masterclass is an in-depth course which builds on the skills and knowledge of prospective producers; this weekend will provide attendees with the resources to assist them with developing any project to completion.

Content:

The weekend’s curriculum is based on up-to-date data and case studies, ensuring that you’re making your film the smart way. Topics covered will include:

  • Film Development Strategy
  • Financing and Co-Production
  • Film Budgeting
  • Pre-Production, Production and Post Production
  • Marketing, Distribution and Beyond
  • Producer Career Development

Tutor: Stephen Follows

Stephen teaches film producing at top film schools, coaches senior staff at companies like Google and is an industry leader in film data and statistics. His production work has taken him across Europe, America and even to the Arctic Circle. His most recent feature was Baseline, starring Jamie Foreman, Dexter Fletcher, Zoe Tapper & Gary Stretch. His online videos have 30+ million views and been archived by the British Film Institute. He has produced a number of live events including London Screenwriters Festival, the Super Shorts Film Festival and a Parkour Tour around through 10 countries.

Stephen teaches in the UK and around the world, including at film schools (NFTS, NYU, Met Film School), at bespoke courses (Micro-Budget Mentor, Practical Producer, Guerilla Filmmakers Masterclass) and to senior staff within large organisations (Google, National Trust, BBC). Stephen is on the Board of the Central Film School.

He also writes regularly about film data and statistics, with his research being featured in The New York Times, The Guardian, BBC, Daily Telegraph, The Times, Daily Mail, Newsweek, New Statesman, AV Club and Indiewire.

Dates:

  • 7th – 8th November, 1 weekend

Class times:

  • 9:30-5:30

Pricing:

  • €180

Location:

  • Filmbase, Temple Bar, Curved Street

A big thanks to Stephen for permission to use his article

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Tips: 10 Steps to Make a Feature Film

 

Screenwriter/consultant Danny Stack lays out ten tips to help you make a feature film.

Short films are a great way to learn and have some fun, and hey, maybe kickstart your career. However, the industry is awash with short films, and there’s no real money to be made from the format so it’s probably worth considering ditching the short and start thinking feature.

Previously, I noted ‘you can make a low-budget feature with just a little bit more expense and effort than it takes to make a quality short film’. But even with the affordability of tech/kit nowadays, how do you go about making a feature, especially if it’s an indie project with no industry backing? Well, here’s how Tim and me got Who Killed Nelson Nutmeg in the can.

 

1. Pick Your Genre
Choose an idea/story you know you can do well; something that fits your profile or your previous body of work, plus how you want the industry to view you as you proceed.

2. Start Developing Your Story
With a micro-budget practicality in mind, begin brainstorming your idea from its initial concept to a rough outline, a treatment, a detailed beat sheet, or anything that fleshes out the world of the story so you have a decent grasp on the characters, plot and location(s). This is a video link on how we developed the story for Nelson Nutmeg.

3. No ‘I’ in Team
Start reaching out to local crew, and assemble a core team of people who can get stuff done. Explain to them what you want to achieve, why, and how it’s likely to pan out. Arrange bi-monthly meetings to update progress, tasks and challenges ahead. Hey, you’re in pre-production, no time to dilly daddle! Doesn’t matter that the script isn’t written yet, or that you have no money. Keep momentum going. Crucial at this point: SET A FILMING DATE (or a general target anyway). It’s happening!

4. Budget
Work out how much you can afford to spend and what you can reasonably expect to raise online (via Kickstarter, Indiegogo etc). Friends and family are a great early resource, just to get you started. You may also want to consider small-scale investment possibilities, or perhaps business funding options like Seedrs.

5. Minimal Locations
Still haven’t written that pesky script? It doesn’t matter! You’re a micro-budget filmmaker, you’ve got to do everything yourself or with your core team. But you’ve got your filming date, and you know where the story is set (see stage 2, above), so you can do a recce on where the ideal location is for the film. Note: micro-budget films will generally only have one or two main locations. It mahooisively keeps costs down.

6. Write The Script
Why haven’t you written the script yet? Are you nuts?! Hehe. Better get it done, then. Write that sucker.

7. Casting/Crew
The earlier you start the casting process, the more it will solidify the fact that you’re making this film, not thinking or talking about it. It all adds to the momentum. Reach out to local acting groups or have an open call casting. There’s lots of great talent around, right on your doorstep. You’ll also need to fill all your crew positions, too, if you haven’t done so by now. Sites like Mandy, Talent Circle, Shooting People, Twitter/Facebook, and recommendations/referrals are all useful.

8. Rewrite The Script
That script needs some work, doesn’t it? Well, you’ve got a core team working on your behalf picking up some production tasks, so you can spend some time rewriting the script. Get feedback if you can, bounce it back and forth with someone you trust (this is where having a co-writer helps). You could spend forever mulling over the script but get it to a place you’re happy with, and go.

9. Do A Deal
You’ve chosen/purchased/already got your camera, and sorting/sorted out your locations. Other less exciting factors like insurance, transport and catering will come into play. You can do a deal on all of the above, you just have to ask. We were told we wouldn’t be able to afford locations, transport or catering with our budget, but we did a deal, boom, done.

10. Shoot
Script? Check. Locations? Check. Budget? Check. Cast and crew? Check. Filming date? Check. Shoot your film! We started stage 1 in January 2014, and got to stage 10 by August 2014.

Ha, that was easy! OK, it’s quite a bit of focused time and planning but nowhere near as difficult as you think it might be, especially if you have a co-writer/producer and a good team helping you. It can be done. GO. FOR. IT.

 

Danny Stack has been a screenwriter/consultant since 2001. His television writing credits include EastEnders, Doctors and high-profile children’s shows such as Octonauts, Fleabag Monkeyface, Roy, and the new Thunderbirds for CiTV. Danny also writes/directs (his supernatural thriller, Origin, won Best Horror at the London Independent Film Festival 2012), and he has co-written/directed the live-action children’s film Who Killed Nelson Nutmeg? with Tim Clague.

Danny blogs at http://dannystack.com/

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Video: Getting Into Screenwriting, Part 3 – Elevating Your Profile

Danny-directs1

Screenwriter Danny Stack continues his four-part video series, Getting Into Screenwriting with a focus on getting out there, getting to know how the industry works, finding your niche and elevating your profile.

 

 

 

 

Danny Stack has been a screenwriter/consultant since 2001. His television writing credits include EastEnders, Doctors and high-profile children’s shows such as Octonauts, Fleabag Monkeyface, Roy, and the new Thunderbirds for CiTV. Danny also writes/directs (his supernatural thriller, Origin, won Best Horror at the London Independent Film Festival 2012), and he has co-written/directed the live-action children’s film Who Killed Nelson Nutmeg? with Tim Clague.

Danny blogs at http://dannystack.com/

 

You can watch part 1 here

You can watch part 2 here

 

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Video: Getting Into Screenwriting, Part 2 – Promoting Yourself

Danny+writing

 

Screenwriter Danny Stack continues his four-part video series, Getting Into Screenwriting, by discussing the benefits of getting online, promoting yourself, time management, and using your hustle.

 

 

Danny Stack has been a screenwriter/consultant since 2001. His television writing credits include EastEnders, Doctors and high-profile children’s shows such as Octonauts, Fleabag Monkeyface, Roy, and the new Thunderbirds for CiTV. Danny also writes/directs (his supernatural thriller, Origin, won Best Horror at the London Independent Film Festival 2012), and he has co-written/directed the live-action children’s film Who Killed Nelson Nutmeg? with Tim Clague.

Danny blogs at http://dannystack.com/

 

You can watch part 1 here

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Interview: Paul Young, Producer of ‘Song of the Sea’

paulcartoon_wall_copy

 

Paul Young is co-founder and CEO of Cartoon Saloon and Producer of the Oscar-nominated animated feature Song of the Sea.  Lynn O’Reilly, an animation student at BCFE, caught up with him at the recent Irish VFX + Animation Summit to ask for advice on breaking into the animation industry and the role of the Producer of an animated feature film.

 

Do you have any advice for any animation students who are trying to decide what they want to do when they leave college?

 

It can be hard when you’re young. I was lucky because I went to study in Belfast first and went through lots of different art and design disciplines before I settled on illustration and then on to animation. The best advice I can give is whatever part of it you enjoy most, like you if you enjoy the drawing or the writing the most, just try to draw as much as you can, or write as much as you can. Then get out and about and meet the studios. Try and call in and talk to people who work in those studios. Talk to past students. Try to get to places like Annecy [the International Animation Film Festival] and you’ll meet so many more people from other places and other colleges. And then you suss out more from them. The most important part of the college experience is the people you’re with, the people in your class. Obviously you learn from your tutors and your classes, but you learn more from each other.

 

You’re Producer on Song of the Sea, and the role of Producer is not something people get much of an insight into compared to other roles in the filmmaking process. Would you be able to shed a bit of light on this? What’s involved in being the Producer of an animated feature film?

 

It varies. For big studio films a Producer is more like what we would consider a Line Producer or a Production Manager, and that’s the only thing they do, that’s their one focus. Whereas with smaller studios, as a Producer I’m doing lots of things. I’m not really as hands-on with the day-to-day production like a Line Producer or a Production Manager. I’m trying to get money for the next film, like a Business Director or a Company Director.

Studios do need a lot more Production Managers, because there is a lot of people interested in animation. We’ve hired fantastic people from colleges like Gobelins and colleges in Denmark, who, in their final year, just focused on Production Management and learned how to be producers. Maybe after spending some time studying animation they realized it’s not for them or they’re not getting the skills, and for them there’s a great career to be had in Production Management.

The best people you can find are from colleges who have been through the production process, who know what it’s like to make something themselves, then they’ll understand what it takes. I studied animation and illustration and I never really thought I’d be a Producer. I just kind of fell into it, because we had to find money to fund our projects. I never really got any training. So what I had to do was hire a Production Manager who’d worked on a TV series or hire a Line Producer who’d done a feature film –I’d try and bring them in and at least they might know more about the pitfalls. And now I’ve learned a lot after making a number of films. So really, it’s just about doing it.

 

 

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The New Digital Filmmaker’s Guide: Pitching

flaming_fastball_feature

Christopher Brennan continues The New Digital Filmmaker’s Guide series with a look at pitching your project.

I know it’s not nice to hear it. But these days, knowing how to make a film sometimes isn’t enough. With the competition heavier than ever before, more and more filmmakers are quickly learning that in order to get your film into production, you are going to have to master the art of The Pitch.

But I do have good news as well… It’s actually a lot easier than you might think. That’s why I’ve put together a couple of pointers to help you on your next opportunity to get your project off the ground.

The 9 Essentials Of Pitching

  1. Tell a story– When it comes to pitching, a lot of people get tied up on where to start. Not knowing what to lead with or where to go. First thing to remember is that you are a storyteller. So, simply tell a story. Think about when you tell anecdotes to your friends and colleagues. Well, why not take inspiration from that?
  2. But don’t tell the plot – One of the biggest problems filmmakers have when it comes to pitching is to start from the beginning and explain scene by scene what happens in the film. Don’t Do That! This really is the most common way to lose your audience. Your script will take care of those details. Now is the time to sell the concept, idea and heart of your story.
  3. Learn To Summarise – Learn how to synopsise your film.
    What’s the themes?
    What are the characters’ goals?
    What are the characters’ wants and needs?
    Once you know this, then learn how to sum up your film in 3 minutes. Then 2. Then 1.
    Do you have a Log Line?
    Can you summarise everything in a sentence?
    What is the one word that best describes your film?
    Get to know these things. They will help you construct your pitch into some worth listening to.
  4. Know your audience – And I don’t mean the audience of the film. I mean the person you are pitching it to. Whether it’s a formal interview or a networking event, knowing some background on the other person will definitely make the process go much smoother.
    What is their job? What are they interested in? Where have they previously worked?
    There is nothing wrong with doing a bit of a research on the person you’re expecting to impress… In many circumstances, they would’ve checked out your background anyway.
  5. Practice – Don’t think that you can just roll right up to someone and instinctively nail a pitch every time. Pitches that are well conceived and constructed have a better chance of suceeding. So, rehearse with a colleague. Rehearse in front of a mirror. Rehearse wherever you can to make sure that when your 2 minutes are here, you will be prepared.
  6. Eye Contact – Don’t pitch with your face in a notebook, looking down at your shoes or staring out the window. This person deserves to be treated with respect. Looking them straight in the eye is one of the best ways to show it.
  7. Are there any comparable films? – One way to get your point across is to understand the arena that your story is in. What kind of films would you compare yours to? Highlighting some successful films that relate to yours will not only put your project in good company, but will show that your idea is not only good, but bankable as well.
  8. Have A Backup Project – Sometimes the person in the room is simply not going to be interested in your idea. And that’s fair enough. Maybe you’re pitching a comedy, and they are on the look out for a thriller. If you can, try to have a backup project just in case. You wouldn’t believe the number of filmmakers that ended up getting a deal based on their second project. And if it is possible, try to have two separate genres.
  9. Enjoy yourself! – I know this one may be a bit harder to do than the rest. But it honestly is the key. Pitching is all about engaging the other person. How do you expect your potential investor to be entertained or engaged if you’re not enjoying it either? Most likely, if you’ve scouted it right, this person wants to find the right project. It’s your job to prove to them that your idea is the one that fills their remit.

So there it is. Hopefully some of these points may help you when your next moment arrives. But let’s not leave this list at only 9 points. If you have any other advice when it comes to pitching, let us know. Drop a comment down below, or Tweet me @chrisbrennan_1, and let’s get your next project off the ground.

Thanks for reading and good luck with your next pitch.

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Tips: Documentary making

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Filmmaker and editor Jill Beardsworth gives Film Ireland some personal insight into making documentaries.

Coming up with any number of tips on documentary making is a tricky task, as it is such a dynamic medium to work in, where boundaries are constantly shifting and the genre ever evolving. Almost every tip you give has a counter tip that is just as valid. However, here are some guidelines from my experience making documentaries, both shorts and features:

 

1.

It might seem obvious but the initial idea is key. Work on your idea and then work on it again and then do another bit of work on it. Think of why it is relevant and why it should be made now, or ever.  Why should it be you who tells this story? Why should somebody want to watch it? And what do you want them to leave the cinema with? These are all questions that you should be asking yourself at the idea development stage. You have to be a little bit ruthless with yourself at this part of the process and really, it is worth the cruelty.

 

2.

Proposal writing and pitching are like the dark arts of documentary making, and if you want to make films and get paid to do it or get anybody to invest in, or fund, your film, you are going to have to master them. Practice pitching your idea to your friends in the pub, your Mum, your neighbour – anybody who will listen.  You may be surprised at the challenging questions they come up with. One of the best questions I was asked when describing a documentary that was at the editing stage was “but do you have a point?”

 

It can be a good idea to bring a prop into a pitching environment. That could be the main character from your film, it could be a piece of fruit, a pair of shoes, a sod of turf, a packet of cornflakes, whatever. It will make you memorable and bring your idea to life for those listening to your pitch.

 

As for writing proposals, keep it simple, keep it about the film (not about the background story) and stick to whatever word count or guidelines you are given.

Write well and write visually. Be detailed when describing characters, say what they look like, describe a scene with them in it, give a line that they might say. All this brings your documentary to life on the page. Remember you are writing a documentary proposal so write what you will see on the screen, why you will see it and why you should be the one telling this story. Do not be afraid to show your passion (assuming you have it in spades).

 

3.

Work hard. Learn as much as you can about technical stuff, so you can become as self-reliant as your circumstances require you to be. But don’t get bogged down in it because what you are doing is trying to tell a story with some kind of truth and humanity and that is what is most important, not being an expert in resolutions or software applications.

 

4.Be open. Trust yourself. Make sure to live life as well as work, as it is here, in the abundant meadow of existence that you will find stories, characters and ideas.

It is important to become as good as you can at listening to, talking to and reading people. Be humble, empathetic and kind. Read the newspaper.

 

5.

Be ready to adapt. You are dealing with real life when you make a documentary and real life doesn’t stay the same for long, or turn out as you expected, or wait around forever. So it’s important to be able to work with spontaneity and not to be too prescriptive. Have a well worked out plan, but do not be afraid to deviate from it if it feels right for your film. And wear comfortable shoes.

 

6.

Trust your audience.  Spoon-feeding an audience with information, over prescribing how they should feel about an issue, ‘manipulating’ their emotional responses with the likes of music, voice over, etc., is to underestimate your viewers. Present them with something, a story, an idea, a character or situation, and give them the respect to do some work themselves. If they leave your film with questions, that might just be a good thing.

 

7.

Give lots of time for editing. I believe that all documentaries can really benefit from spending a long time in the edit room. If you can give yourself space to view cuts, leave some time to let things sink in, go back and make changes, watch again and wait, your film will be better crafted as a result.

 

8.

Get feedback before you finish. I always enjoy this phase of documentary making.  When the film is ready to let go to some chosen people to view, but not yet ready for the rest of the world. It’s a twilight period and I look at it as the last chance to listen to questions, suggestions and advice and really consider your film, before you unleash it to the wolves.

 

9.

Know when to let go. It’s always difficult to know when to finish but sometimes it just has to be done. Over a five-year period I’ve had a death, a birth and a marriage in my life while one feature documentary was being made and it just felt a bit long to have a project around.

 

10.

When you think it’s all over, it’s not. Keep lots of energy for the arduous task of trying to get your film seen. Endless festival submissions, choosing artwork, organizing a trailer, creating an online life for your film; there’s a lot to do and it can feel like an uphill struggle when you would be forgiven for thinking that the hard work has all been done. Or better still, get a distributor to do it all for you.

 

Embrace your regrets. They are inevitable but will teach you valuable lessons that you can use for your next film.

 

And, finally-enjoy it, embrace it and mean it.

 

Jill Beardsworth is an experienced filmmaker and editor who has made documentaries for RTÉ, TG4 and the Irish Film Board in Belarus, Kosovo, Ireland, India and Syria. Jill has had her films officially selected for several international film festivals and her most recent feature, Apples of Golan, which she co-directed with Keith Walsh, won the Jury Prize at the 2013 Baghdad International Film Festival and was chosen to tour universities of the UK & the US in 2013. Analogue People in the Digital Age, Jill and Keith’s recent short made under the IFB Reality Bites Scheme, is currently touring festivals.

 

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Tips: 5 Tips on Scriptwriting

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Screenwriter Sarah Daly shares 5 tips on scriptwriting with Film Ireland

 

1. Know where you’re going

 

The more planning you do before you start actually writing your screenplay, the more likely it is that you’ll finish it. Having a detailed treatment is the best defence against the dreaded second-act block. That first rush of inspiration and momentum will take you up to around page 40, but if you don’t know where you’re heading at that point, you can easily get stuck, lose steam and meander unproductively or stop altogether. Not to say that you’ll necessarily stick 100% to your treatment – every screenplay diverges at least a little from the plan – but having a solid blueprint to refer to is vital and prevents you from going too far off track.

 

2. Leave out the camera directions

 

Unless you’re writing a script that you plan to shoot yourself, leave out all camera direction and just tell your story. It’s the director’s job to come up with camera angles and shots. A reader will find pans, zooms and tilts distracting and off-putting too.

 

3. Get straight into the meat of it

 

Don’t spend too much time setting up at the beginning of your screenplay. Try to get across what information you absolutely must in the most concise and visual way possible. Long expositional scenes at this stage will really affect the pace on the page and on screen. The first ten pages especially have to hook the reader (as the first ten minutes must hook the viewer) so make them great. A cinematic and attention-grabbing opening will set your script apart and get you off to a strong start with your reader.

 

4. Be brutal at the rewriting stage

 

Put every scene, every line, every word on the chopping block and cut anything that doesn’t progress your story, tell us something new about your characters or their world. Examine every element and make sure it earns its place in your story. If two characters perform the same function, cut one. If two scenes say the same thing, cut one. You’ll end up with something stronger, leaner,  and more compelling.

 

5. Proofread and proofread again

 

This is an obvious one but typos and spelling mistakes make you look bad. Fair or not, a reader will judge you to be an inferior writer if your script is riddled with little errors. So, before you send your screenplay to a single soul, proofread it until your eyes hurt. It’s a good idea to call in a second set of eyes too if you can. The more checks the better. It’s a tedious process but it’s time well spent.

Sarah Daly is a screenwriter from Waterford best known for writing the Joseph Gordon-Levitt produced Morgan M. Morgansen short films and the critically acclaimed supernatural chiller Lord of Tears. Her next project is upcoming monster comedy Kids Vs Monsters, starring Malcolm McDowell.

You can check out Lord of Tears at http://www.lordoftears.com
And follow Sarah on Twitter at http://twitter.com/sarahdaly42
 

 

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Tips: 5 Tips for Directing Your First Short

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A Nightingale Falling 

 

Garret Daly shares some advice for directing your first short.

 

1. Make sure you are true to the short story form.
Don’t make pilots or condensed versions of bigger stories. We’ve all done it from time to time, but the best shorts are those that embrace the format and deliver an effective short story.

 

2. Prepare for battle.
All filmmaking brings with it the challenges of production.  As a director be clear and prepared in your own head. That way when those challenges arise, you can deal with them in a controlled manner.

 

3. Find a good team.
People you can trust. People that inspire you.

 

4. Rehearsals are a very important.
It’s cheaper than actual production and it’s a great way for cast and sometimes crew to break the ice before the meter starts to run fully on the production budget.

 

5. Enjoy what you are doing.
Be an inspiring leader and people will trust you and respond to you. Then that creative spark you are searching for will follow.
Garret Daly is a director/producer who runs the media production company Mixed Bag Media.

 

Originally from county Meath, Garret has been working in media for over 20 years. Having graduated from the University of Sunderland with a BA in Media Studies, and an MA in Film Production from Sheffield Hallam University, Garret embarked on a radio career that included the likes of Radio Kerry, LMFM and RTE Lyric FM.

 

From there he moved to freelance producing and has since produced the likes of The Tubridy Show, The Gerry Ryan Show, Dave Fanning and John Creedon. He is also a PPI award-winning producer and his radio documentaries have received wide acclaim.
 

 

His extensive documentary and television career includes the award-winning film Who is Dervla Murphy?, which focused on the unique Irish travel writer and has screened internationally. He has directed a series for TV3, produced a number of broadcast documentaries and short films, directed the RTÉ Storyland series Rental Boys, and has received a number of awards for his film and television work.

 

 
His latest work is the historical drama A Nightingale Falling, the first fiction feature from Mixed Bag Media, which he has co-directed and co-produced with his company partner Martina McGlynn. The film is due for release later in 2014.

 

For more information visit www.mixedbagmedia.com
 
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Tips: Learn From My Mistakes – And Then Make Your Own

CJ Scuffins offers his tips for Emerging Directors

 

Learn From My Mistakes – And Then Make Your Own

I’m no expert director, but I try to learn from my mistakes. I’d like to expound on them all for you here, but Film Ireland wouldn’t have the bandwidth. Instead, I’ve chosen a few lessons that I learned on my first festival short, Prodigal Son (pictured), a sci-fi/horror about a gangster’s son being returned from the dead. I hope you’ll learn from my mistakes — and then go off and make your own.

 

1. Don’t Give Up If You’re Not Awarded Funding

There must have been an administrative error: the script I’d entered for a funding award was not shortlisted. Didn’t they realize that I’d worked on it for nearly one whole week?! Faced with such adversity, I did what any other indie director would do: cry into my bedroom pillow for 3 months. After which, I was able to read the script with clearer eyes and spot its issues like it was written by somebody else. The reworked script became Prodigal Son. Then, I contacted a writer-producer whose work I admired (Eilis Mernagh). We decided to make the film independently. I mean, what could be easier?

 

2. Do Save Money

My producing partner Jill Sartini at Story Factory has this advice:

 

‘When making a short film for little money, nothing can be left to chance. Make sure you’ve storyboarded every major set-up. That way, you’re not wasting any time on location. If possible, choose locations within walking distance of one another to save on transport. Also, ask yourself, can I shoot as much as possible outdoors during the day to save on lighting costs?

 

Have a schedule, with realistic timing that takes into account travel. You need to know exactly what you’ll be doing from hour-to-hour. Otherwise, before a director realizes it, the light is gone and they have shot 15 seconds of footage for the day…

 

Feed and water the crew properly. Plan to have something warm and wholesome cooked for the group. Make sure their expenses are paid and that they are getting a lift to and from the location. They are gaining experience and credits by working on your film, but don’t act like you’re doing them a favour. It’s nice to show that you appreciate their work and talents.’

 

3. Don’t Worry About What Camera to Use

There’s no Oscar for ‘Best Camera.’ Yet one of two questions I’m always asked at festival Q&As is, ‘What type of camera did you shoot with?’ As a director, I’m mostly concerned with making the story entertaining and original. Therefore, much more important to me is developing a good concept, a tight script, and an interesting shot-list, as well as finding the right actors to embody the characters. Working with an excellent DoP is equally important. On Prodigal we were lucky enough to have Piers McGrail, who used the Red One.

 

Beyond that, it’s a good idea to test the camera for picture quality and movement. The latter is important if you have ambitious shots in your shot-list (which I trust you will have). The other question I’m always asked at Q&As, by the way, is ‘Where did you get your funding?’ Ans: ‘Um, by fundraising?’

 

4. Do Work With Children & Animals

I thought it would make for a powerful image for Prodigal Son: a mysterious hooded assassin riding through the streets of the city on a magnificent steed. I didn’t think the horse would get pregnant in the middle of the shoot. Nor did I imagine, after the owner hauled her off the picture, that I’d have 30 minutes to find a replacement before a crucial scene at sundown. Yet, that’s exactly what happened.

 

I quickly ventured into nearby Finglas, where I rented a horse from a lovely bunch of chaps who I would cheerfully describe as looking like the cast of Love/Hate after a week-long coke and stripper binge. We got the horse to the set just before we lost light. Only one person I’ve spoken to has ever noticed that our one equine character was played by two different horses. And he was a horror-producer/rancher from Texas.

 

I’m not saying that you should never work with children or animals (unless you’re under some kind of restraining order). No, the lesson here is that you should be ambitious and make the film you want to make, even if it means working with unpredictable divas. Besides, audiences regularly get caught up in the story and will miss even the most obvious horse-sized continuity errors.

 

 

CJ Directs a Horse

5. Don’t Ignore Your Sound Mixer

On Prodigal, the sound mixer (Dave Harris) was experienced and helped me to realize the value of the role beyond recording the sound, which of course is an incredibly important function in itself.

 

At one point, an actor delivered his lines more forcefully in the close-up than in an earlier two-shot. The soundman heard this clearer than anyone and pointed out that this could make things difficult in the edit. It was a problem of my own making. I had opened up the actor to explore the part, but in this case failed to tie them down to one register of performance. Thankfully, I was able to adjust in the next take and get the perfomance level needed.

 

6. Do Embrace Non-Fatal Accidents

I hired a superb conceptual artist (David Kennedy) to create dramatic scenes from the script to help sell it to potential funders. His laptop kept misfiring and losing the script, so along with 12 amazing images, he presented me with a 13th image that he was forced to create from memory. Problem was, the scene was not in the script: a whiskey-nosed doctor had became a strange surgeon performing surgery with a pint in hand. Yet the resulting image was so powerful that I quickly created a scene with strange surgeons for the film.

 

We shot the scene in Rua Red in Tallaght, which was exhibiting an amazing futuristic sculpture. I think the scene helps to sell the sci-fi element of the film better than anything I’d written. Give that knackered computer a story credit!

 

The Concept Artist Added A Strange Surgeon

 

 

 

CJ Sets Up A Scene With Strange Surgeons

 

7. Don’t Inhibit The Actors

Not only a great producer but also a fantastic actress, Jill Sartini has just signed with the agent Annette Walsh at castannettenow.com. Here’s what Jill has to say about working with directors:

 

“I like a director to be decisive about the tone of their film, so I can make a choice on the pitch of my performance. Communicate what you need with examples, metaphor, anything but a line reading. On a low-budget film, a director can save time by meeting the actor beforehand for a chat to provide reference points such as real-life characters or other films.

 

A good way to get performances is to make the set a creative, safe environment. Otherwise, actors will find it hard to reach into themselves and pull out special moments. You don’t want to have inhibited actors on a rushed, aggressive production. That takes communication with your crew.”

 

You can check out Jill’s unreal reel here: http://vimeo.com/80058254

 

8. Do Provide A Thorough Brief For Your Soundtrack Artist

I worked with brilliant soundtrack artist Richard Jolly on two films. He and Louise Heaney made a wonderfully, chilly electronic soundtrack for Prodigal Son. Here’s his advice for directors:

 

“Although It’s difficult to convey music in purely language terms, I think it is a good idea for the director to develop a brief for the soundtrack artist. With Louise and myself on Prodigal, this came together by a combination of the director providing written notes on a scene; intimating mood, intention and tone but also backing that up with temporary guide / inspiration tracks. The tracks included precedents from other soundtracks or sound from albums or individual tracks.

 

From this, you can develop an iterative process of working, where ‘sketch’  tracks can be produced quickly, then submitted for notes and improved upon. Therefore, building to a satisfactory result.”

 

9. Don’t Audition Actors In A Skoda Fabia

I cast most of the amazing actors on Prodigal in one day at Filmbase – but I still didn’t have my lead actor. Soon after, I met with young TV and theatre actor, Ryan Andrews, outside his acting school. Unfortunately, we could not find a free room, so I auditioned him in our car. Admittedly, it wasn’t the ideal place to stage a gut-wrenching death scene. Yet Ryan, trooper that he is, performed the moment brilliantly. I thought if Ryan can pull off the scene while lying prone in the back seat of a Skoda Fabia, he can do it anywhere. When Ryan’s amazing performance in the film won him an acting award in New York, I was absolutely delighted. In fact, now that I think of it, scratch this as a ‘Don’t’. I heartily recommend that you do audition actors in a Skoda Fabia. It’s a proven way to win awards.

 

10. Do Think Critically

It’s vital to develop critical faculties beyond the ken of normal film-loving folk. One way to start doing that is to engage with serious film theory, like that of David Bordwell (http://www.davidbordwell.net/). I say this for purely practical reasons. As a director, instinct is not enough. You need principles to rely on during the white heat of writing, shooting and editing. Critical thinking is the best way to generate those principles, which during productions you will come to rely on as part of your working methods. For example, a principle of mine is that story is number one. So, when filming, I can quickly assess cast and crew suggestions (which I encourage) based on how they might enrich the story. Plus, I can use those thoughts for rambling, how-to articles.

 

Get Involved with CJ’s next project…

CJ Scuffins and Jill Sartini at Story Factory Ireland regularly collaborate with independent DoPs, editors, sound mixers, actors, producers and other like-minded production crew on their award-winning black-humoured genre films. They are currently prepping their next project for later in the year. If you are interested in getting involved, you can view their work and get in touch at www.storyfactoryireland.com

 

CJ Scuffins is a multiple award-winning writer and director. He is a former Daily Mirror journalist and Irish Film Archive festival co-ordinator. His short animation film Referee won a UK script award in 2013. CJ’s latest live-action short films Prodigal Son and The Blow-Ins have achieved award recognition in Ireland, UK and USA, with Prodigal Son acquired for worldwide distribution by Indieflix, USA.

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Tips: Directing a Documentary

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Tommy Flavin shares his thoughts and ideas about documentary filmmaking.

In a previous article, I wrote about how you don’t need to know anything to shoot a documentary. I’m going to continue in that vein here by discussing a few things to keep in mind if you should ever be so unlucky as to find yourself directing a documentary. As before, I’m not going to talk about gear, compression, bitrates, or the like – there’s enough of that talk out there already, and it breaks my heart that I know the difference between CBR and VBR or between Flat S-Logs and CameraRAW (though I’m proud to say I still don’t quite know what a T-stop is).

A word of warning: because I have notions of myself, I’m not going to give any straight advice or explicit dos and don’ts. As we go on, you’ll see that I’m big on questions, not answers. So, in honour of that theme, I’m going to be offering you my thoughts and ideas about documentary filmmaking in the hope that you’ll start a debate with yourself about directing documentaries and develop your own ideas and opinions on the matter.

With that in mind, I’m going to start with my most important tip.

Develop a philosophy of directing: Spend a lot of time thinking about life, the nature of truth, of documentary and of filmmaking and whatever else takes your fancy. Think about how you feel about these things, but don’t feel under pressure to be able to sum anything up or to have a definite stance on any of these issues. Develop opinions, ideas and questions.

Directing is all about decision making. Essentially, you’re curating reality. So when you’re faced with the question of whether or not you should film a dying man, a crying mother or a heinous crime, all the knowledge of T-stops and bitrates in the world won’t help you. But a philosophy of directing will.

Facts are for nerds: Forget research. Forget facts. Look for the Truth. Truth is chaotic, inscrutable and anarchic; you never know where you’ll find it or in what form. It could be in the way somebody says something, the shoes they’re wearing or something that happens in the background. You never know. But when it happens, it’ll light up your subject so perfectly that you’ll feel like you’ve had a religious experience. A moment of sublimely perfect life says a lot more than an hour of thoroughly-researched documentary ever could.

Look beyond the facts and the obvious story and keep your eyes, ears, mind and (yes, I’m really saying this) heart open.

Read about history, politics, art, culture, cooking, anything. All of these will help you develop your philosophy of directing, give you a better handle on life and will look classier on your bookshelf than all those Dan Brown books you have.

But most importantly, read philosophy and some basic media studies. Realise that the truth is elusive (and possibly even irrelevant) and that there are no answers, only questions. Learn to see and think beyond the obvious, to discern people’s agendas and what they’re really saying when they say what they say. Understand the power of the media, words and images.

You’re not a journalist: If you want to make a movie exposing the truth about the diet industry, or capitalism or whatever, then go away. If you’re making a movie that weighs up facts and arguments before presenting a conclusion, then go away – I don’t want you reading my article. Don’t look for answers in your filmmaking, because there are none. And if you do find an answer, then it’s wrong. Instead, look for questions. An audience should come away from your film thinking about what they’ve seen. Make art, not essays.

Where’s the beef? Find out what your film is really about and where the real story lies. Then edit your film so that everything relates back to that. And that shouldn’t be the “what happened”, but rather the “why”. Nobody cares who did what, said what and where or when. What matters is why they did those things. My favourite documentary is The Cave of Forgotten Dreams by Werner Herzog. He doesn’t bother asking what the caves are and what the cavemen painted in them or how they did it. What he asks is why they painted. By the end of the film, you’re wondering yourself what went on in a caveman’s head, why humans even make art in the first place and what it actually means to be human. If you can get a viewer to ask questions and to see the world with fresh eyes, then you’re making art for the ages.

Questions, questions, questions. Question everything you do. Think twice about every decision – where you put the camera, what questions you ask (Sebald says the only way to get to the truth is to skirt around it continuously and never to confront it directly. In other words, “hard-hitting” interviewing doesn’t work). Similarly, question what your interviewee tells you. Question the facts, the appearance of things, question the colour of the sky. Toddlers ask an average of 400 questions a day. Toddlers are good documentary makers.

Actually, that makes more sense than I realised…

Be a toddler: Ask questions. Know nothing. Be innocent.

Be naïve to the grown-ups around you who “know” better. Ignore the established rules of understanding the world and societies. Don’t just break the rules, forget there ever were any. Look at everything with fresh, curious eyes. The world is your sandbox and the camera is your spade.

 

Tommy Flavin is the director of Where There’s A Well, a documentary following the journey of a water pump from factory to village in Malawi, Africa, exploring the impact clean water has on communities and individuals as they work to improve their lives.

The film will be screening as part of the Stories That Need To Be Told programme at the Dingle Film Festival on 14th of March and then again on 10th of April at the Limerick Film Festival.

www.tedsbeardproductions.com

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Tips: The Viral Conundrum

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Lorna Buttimer reports from the Fat Rat Films‘ retrospective, which took place at last year’s Cork Film Festival and found out how they managed to get 25 million views for their short, Act of Terror.

Last October at the Cork Film Festival I attended a talk with Fred and Gemma of Fat Rat Films. They make charity and documentary films, and in one day they managed to get 25 million views for their short, Act of Terror. Which God did they pray to, you ask? Well, no God. They planned the success of their short. Planned? Yes, they planned the whole damn thing. And you can too.

The idea, according to Gemma and Fred is to plan a whole experience. Give your audiences access to everything they could wish to know about your film. Give them an incentive and make it impossible for them to say no to your creation. To that end, here are some of their top tips, with a few embellishments from yours truly.

1. The Right Film at the Right Time
According to Fred and Gemma, having a topical subject always helps. So look at what is going on around you. Whether you are releasing a comedy, drama or a non-fiction, audiences, for the most part want to see stories that they can relate to life stories, experiences and emotions. So look at what is happening around you, look at your own life experiences; and question how you can use it to make a short film.

2. Contributors and Crew
The Fat Rat crew brought this to the forefront of their talk, and I am definitely highlighting it. While it may be mainly directed at those of you who have contributors, I believe the same can be said of the crew and cast. Don’t screw them over. Do so, and you might have already signed the mortician’s certificate on your film. Be very careful in how you represent and treat those you document, and those involved in your film. Make sure they know the terms of work and the intent of the film. You want all of these people to help distribute the film after. You never know who they might know, or be friends with on facebook!

3. Set a Release time and Time
Doing so will create excitement about your film, giving a sense of exclusivity. It will also give you the chance to create an audience through the press, social networking, etc.

4.Visual Art
Get a striking poster and/or logo to go with your release date. Whether it be a still from the film or something ad hoc; it will brand your film and help promote it to the press release and through social media accounts.

5.Website
Fred and Gemma suggest creating a dedicated website for the release of your film. Have on it all the details you want the public to know; release date, production stills, the making of etc. You don’t have to employ someone. You can build your own with virb or wordpress.

6.Social Media
To follow that website link up facebook, Instagram and twitter accounts, (maybe even a snapchat if you’re inclined). Make sure you create an official hash-tag too. The Fat Rat Crew believe they may have lost out by not creating one. As their film grew larger on the day of release they feel they may have actually have had enough tweets/views to officially list as ‘trending’ on twitter, but they couldn’t as they didn’t have an official hashtag. So make sure you have one to promote your film!

7.Email Database
Remember all those festivals, screening and networking events you went too? Well now is the time to pull out those business cards. Create a press package with all the details of the film: website, social media, release date etc. Gemma and Fred suggested personalizing these depending on your relationship with the recipient. You don’t want to spam a future employer or annoy a friend. Also investigate and target relevant groups that your film might connect to. Maybe include clients or former collages too. Email them on the day of launch as well.

8.Research
Have a look around at blogs, websites and journalists who write about short films/the arts etc. Such writers will already have a following and will be able to help attract viewers to your film. Also research any related organisations or writers that your film may be relevant too. Send each of these a personalised email with your press package.

9.Start a Blog
Now this is a clever idea by the Fat Rat duo. By starting up a blog, you can personally keep track of the film’s success for later reflection. But, more importantly, it gives your audience and the media new content to spread after the release of the film. It will help keep the momentum of your film up after the release date.

10.Not to depress you…
…but after all that it may not work. So pick a God and pray anyway.

*The Peril of Advertising
Now, on a side note I want to mention something Gemma and Fred brought up in their talk. Be aware of others trying to make a buck from your film. It may happen, as in the case of Fred and Gemma, that a major organization will want to post your film on their website. This organization may feel, or sense, that your film is viral material, and attach an advert before it. Make sure, in your discussion with the website/organization that you investigate their intentions, and fight your corner for some of the cash if possible!

So, at the end of all that you might have noticed that going viral ain’t easy, it’s a lot of work. To achieve the success that Act of Terror rightly received, Fred and Gemma had to take a week out of work before their release date. But for them it was worth it, as they got their message and film out there.

So, plan, plan and plan again! I wish you good luck. By the way don’t forget to pick that God…

Check out Act of Terror here

 

Lorna Buttimer blogs for Dublin International Short Film And Music Festival

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Tips: Advice for Filmmakers

LeGalaxie - Lucy Is Here-Music Video

 LeGalaxie – Lucy Is Here (Music Video)

 

Greg Corcoran shares some valuable advice for filmmakers.

Always have a pen and notebook to hand for ideas. Or your notes on smartphone, whatever works just jot them down. Ideas strike at the strangest of times and in the strangest of places. Write them down no matter how inane or ridiculous. Ideas are currency. Ideas open doors.

Insurance is your friend. It can seem prohibitively expensive, it’s not, particularly if you shop around for an annual policy, but it will save your bacon. In fact it’s essential. Unforeseen circumstances can and will occur to even the most prepared of filmmakers.

 

Learn how contracts, releases and copyright laws work. They may seem stuffy and admin-like but again they are all essential.

 

Never stop wanting to learn. Don’t settle for mediocre. Don’t stand still. Go to the cinema, the theatre, exhibitions and gigs. Be inspired.

 

Experiment. Want to succeed but don’t be afraid to fail. Just fail better next time. You will never ever be happy with your end product and you will never ever have enough budget. Grab a camera and go make it happen.

 

Keep en eye on Irish talent on TV and in film. Check out IFTN, Film Ireland and Film Makers Network for news and updates on awards schemes, training opportunities, etc. Be aware of what’s going on, what’s being shot, whose doing what. People are great, go talk to them face to face, they will help you.

 

Support fellow filmmakers on kickstarter and fundit. You never know when you may need support in return and it’s nice to be nice!

 

Embrace social media. You are a brand. Sell yourself. In an authentic and organic way, but sell yourself nonetheless. No one else will if you don’t.

 

Greg Corcoran writes, produces and directs short films such as Dead Load and Mac an Athar and music videos for bands like Le Galaxie, Autumn Owls and Alias Empire. He also works in lighting at RTÉ and lectures in TV production at DIT. He is on the Board of Directors at Filmbase 
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Tips: The Art of Getting Cast, by Nick McGinley

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Nick McGinley has been casting director on Irish features Kisses, The Other Side of Sleep, Dollhouse, Life’s a Breeze and Brendan Muldowney’s latest feature, Love Eternal, and has done Irish casting for UK and US co-productions (71, Brand New U, Calvary, The Guard, War Horse, Wrath of the Titans).

Nick’s 2009 comedy book 100 Reasons to Vote Yes to Lisbon II reached number 8 in the Hodges Figgis chart and in 2008 he performed in the award-winning comedy double act Hoarse Throat Soothers. Nick has been a radio essayist for Spectrum and Frequencies on RTE Radio 1 and has written radio plays, TV scripts and screenplays. He is currently finishing a collection of short stories and will embark on a live storytelling tour in early 2014.
 

As he comes to the end of 7 years of casting in order to write full-time, Nick gives Film Ireland his casting advice for actors, as he says “before I forget this stuff.” According to Nick, “A lot of my points will seem blindingly obvious to most professional actors – but it’s remembering and enacting the obvious that will get you the part.”

 

Am I an actor?

Since the only way to get parts is to have talent and then be professional in deploying that talent,  it’s up to each aspirant actor to really interrogate themselves as to whether they’re any damn good.

Have that difficult argument with yourself – it could save you years of heartache.

Self-promotion

E-mail your CV and photo and have your name in the title of the document. Basically, make it very easy for people to save your details and find you the next time. Posting glossy pictures is probably a waste of money these days. At least it wasn’t really relevant to me – I put them in a box and only pulled them out on rare occasions of desperation.

Just because you’re in it, don’t automatically put it on your showreel. It needs to be good. The person watching will only watch it once and will switch off at the first poor scene. Don’t put a musical montage on at the start. Ever. If the person hates the song you’ve put on, they may not watch further and also we’ve just sat through the scenes with no dialogue and now we have to sit through them again? Don’t do it.

You need to be on Fishpond and you need to be on Spotlight, but there’s no point in being on either really without a showreel.

If you have the number of the casting person, don’t call them – e-mail is fine – pestering people with phone calls will only irritate. By all means invite people to your screenings, shows or showcase – but don’t demand – asking once with a reminder is sane, 5 times is totally mental – you are asking for someone’s time and when I was casting, I had none.

Never ring up and ask for feedback after an audition – casting people or directors are not running acting classes. Don’t even ring up the ones who do run acting classes. It’s inappropriate and will thus lose you work.

Mood Regulation

As the one thing you can exert control over is your own mood and energy and because it’s extremely important in the doing of the job as well as in auditions, most of what I have to say is about mood regulation.

Sleep, no drink

To prepare for an audition, do the things that put you in the best possible mood to act. Get a good night’s sleep, even if it means not sharing a bed with that special someone. Don’t drink at all the night before. I’ve had actors, especially Irish ones, boast about how fucked up they got the night before. Oh and on that note, try not to curse – you’re at work. I have never seen anyone do a good audition hungover and I have never cast anyone who was. The only question you’re raising is not what a fun hellraiser you are, but will you turn up to set on time and what state will you be in?

Exercise (or not)

On the morning of the audition, take exercise or don’t – it gives some people energy, it takes too much energy away from other people. For most people though, it’ll wake you up and give you energy.

Brekkie

Eat a decent breakfast – slow release energy foods like porridge and bananas rather than chocolate cereal are better – anything that helps you concentrate. Don’t drink too much coffee, as it tends to muck up the clarity of your voice.

Voice / Persona warm-up

Don’t let the person in the audition room be the first person you’ve spoken to all day. I always feel we re-boot our personas each morning – that it’s not just your voices that need to warm up, but your social skills.  And do warm up your voice with whichever vocal exercises don’t scare too many old ladies in the street. With bluetooth ear-pieces, actors learning their lines on the street don’t quite seem as much like crazy people as they used to.

Fun plans

Have something planned that’ll be enjoyable for directly afterwards – meeting a friend for lunch or going for a pint. Try to think about that and all the other highlights of your week before you go in the  door, so that the audition is just another part of your day – no more important, no less important. It’ll help tamp down the nerves.

Waiting

Don’t talk too much with the actors waiting with you – be friendly, but save your energy for inside the room, not outside –  a lot of people in audition queues boast about how much experience they have or that they have some insider knowledge or contact – don’t listen to them – if they’re sitting there, they don’t and it’ll do them no good anyway – you’ve got just as much chance as they do – just smile and keep your focus.

Clothes

If you’re a young attractive performer (or not!), don’t wear extremely tight, low-cut, or provocative clothing, it will only make people uncomfortable or make you seem vain. Neither is good. Comments like ‘look who’s been shopping in the children’s section again’ should not follow you out the door.

Wear comfortable clothes that you can easily move in – wear exactly what you would on a normal Saturday morning – don’t get all dressed up for an audition – it’ll make you feel self-conscious and awkward.

Although if you’ve time to source the clothes and get it right, it’s no harm to come dressed as the character would – even just a hint of it – making an effort is never a bad thing. If you’re not sure though, leave it and come dressed as you really look (not how you’d like to look).

Learn your lines

Learn your lines. Unless it’s been ridiculously short notice, in which case you’re doing the casting director a favour by coming in cold, have the lines down. It will leave you free to take direction and give you utter confidence.

Choices

Make your choices on how it should be played, but don’t lock yourself into these choices, because even if you’re right, they’ll want to see if you’ll take direction and enact it before their eyes. The ability to take direction is the whole thing. Instead of telling them you understand the material, show them.

Subtle

It’s perhaps best to show how subtle you can play things first, rather than going big – most of the work is done by the lines, your voice and what you look like anyway – you have to do very little. It’s also more likely then you’ll be asked to do a second take. And then they’ll have both versions.

Take your time

If you’re given direction, think about it, before you rush headlong into it. Don’t let anyone rush you – everyone hates being rushed, so they’ll understand. But we are talking  30 seconds here, not minutes – if you’re muttering to yourself in the corner of the room with your hand over your face, it doesn’t prepare them for greatness.

Conviction

Play everything with conviction. To the nth degree. Don’t let embarrassment creep in. Never comment ironically on your own performance in your performance. Never break scene until someone stops you. Give people the benefit of the doubt – don’t let yourself get annoyed if they seem not to be paying attention – they may be, or may not, but if they’re unprofessional, you need to be more so.

Attitude

How do you walk in a room?  Confident, but not arrogant. Alert, but relaxed. You’re never going to be totally relaxed, so just listen and try and respond as best you can. The suave performers with the apparent ease that you covet are probably afraid of not being taken seriously for the more difficult parts you’d be seen for. Everyone has it tough in some area, no matter who they are.

The best actors I know aren’t working, while many of the people who are, are talentless, but it’s all so subjective – performers I liked, maybe another casting person doesn’t. So if you’re bitter about how your career has gone, hide it. Or change the way you feel about it, because if you come in with a passive-aggressive vibe of entitlement and rage, you won’t get the job, because people won’t want to be around you. They prefer to cast people they like.

Don’t come in with aggression – to overcome or combat the people in the room, to show how well you can portray an alpha – they want you (even the arseholes) to do well, so that they can go home. You being cold or impatient won’t make them think you’re doing them a favour by being there and therefore are the right person for the part.

If you’re playing a dangerous gangster, don’t stare the men down throughout the audition, you’ll only get into a fight. It’s pretend. Make believe. They don’t care where you’re from, they don’t care how tough you are. If you’re a prick in the room, you’ll be a prick on the set and nobody wants that. The ‘Name your Personal Favourite Hollywood Asshole Here’ career option is a lot shorter and terminal in a country this size.

If you’re doing some bullshit audition for idiots for a bullshit job, don’t be there. If you do decide to attend, do so with grace: it’ll pay off.

And no one director, producer or casting person owes you a job. A few of my best friends who were actors before I started this and will be when imminently, I’m no longer doing it, have never been auditioned by me. And I rate them. There just hasn’t been a suitable part for them. I only brought people in if I thought they were right for it and after that, it was down to their skill and if there’s any rapport between them and the director or sometimes the producer. So far, so totally subjective.

Like in performance, let them come to you, don’t impose your personality on the room, don’t try to ramp up the Charm Monster to warp speed 9 – it’s irritating. If it’s a sexy romantic lead, don’t feel the need to flirt with everyone in the room. (And don’t assume because the casting director is male, he’s gay – he may not be.) A number of young male actors tend to stand too close to everyone, as if to say ‘I am a polysexual being, equally adept at playing straight, gay or bi’, where I’d just say ‘stay over there, will you?’ Don’t invade the space, just inhabit it.  Filmmakers are like kids, they like you better if you remain self-contained and don’t really care whether they like you or not. It’s a hard balance to strike. But as I’ve already said: don’t come in with attitude – rude is rude. If an actor directed the answers only to the director whenever I asked a question, then I wasn’t going to fight for them when they’d left – people will only respond to you if you treat them with respect. Now that only happened to me once, but it’s illustrative. It goes both ways. People are only human after all.

Minimise Intellectualising

Don’t intellectualise or theorise before you do the scenes as the skill they’re looking for from you isn’t that one. They want to see if you can inhabit it, not rationalise it. There is nothing as disappointing as having someone demonstrate how intelligent they are and then straight away, demonstrate that they can’t act to save their lives.

Convincingly being a character is a totally different and frequently clashing skill than to be able to write a cogent psychological treatise on the subject matter. Also if you’re a talented writer, don’t give away all your points about how to improve the script – even if you’re right, you may offend the director who could be the writer or co-writer and he or she will just take your ideas anyway and not cast you. If you get the job, dependent on the level of collaboration, you might get your changes. Don’t give gold to people for free, when they may already be learning from your interpretation of the part. Your only job is to make that interpretation so good, they can’t afford not to have you around.

Don’t talk yourself out of a job

Don’t talk yourself out of a role after you’ve done the scenes – it’s like social networking – people needlessly give themselves away. Stick to the point – do the scenes – if you’re getting good feedback and absolutely think you have an original point to make about the subject, make it and leave, don’t water down the impact of your own audition, by waffle, after the fact.

No apologies

If you think you messed up an audition, don’t apologise. You have no idea what they noticed or didn’t notice – chances are you did a lot better than you thought. And remember 90% of an audition is just a chance to meet you and see what you’re like. Just thank your torturers and leave, but don’t race out as if you can’t wait to leave the room.

No hoop-jumping for creeps

If you’re not comfortable in an audition – either because you don’t like the people there or the questions they’re asking you, or what you’re being asked to do, leave. Thank them for their time and walk out the door. Trust your instincts – life’s too short to jump through hoops for creeps.

Self-knowledge

You never know how you come across to people, so stop worrying about it. You’ll never know what a director or casting person is looking for, so don’t waste time trying to figure that out. You know how you are looked on by your family and friends and no one else matters. If the casting people are good enough at their jobs to be able to match your talent with a role then, great. If not, no bother. All your best qualities will only be noticed about a tenth of the time and then only by your closest friends. ‘I didn’t know you could do that!’ If you’re good, you’ll be hearing that all your life…

Reading In

If a casting person asks you to read in at an audition for free and you haven’t met them yet, do it! But only once for free, after that, you’re providing a service, so charge them a small fee.

Move on

As soon as an audition is done, put it out of your mind and forget about it. A lot of things you mightn’t hear about, but nine times out of ten, you know if you nailed it or not, and if you didn’t nail it, move directly on. No post-mortems. Any glaring errors you made, chances are, you won’t make them again.

And finally

Even if you’re totally Machiavellian about it, you don’t know who your allies are in the room, you can’t possibly predict the myriad competing requirements each stakeholder has as to whom they want for the part and why, so you can let yourself off the hook, as you’ll never be able to anticipate all the angles – just be polite, be prepared and blow them out of their seats.

Always walk into the room expecting to be loved.

Acting is all about hiding emotion, about concealment. Think about a character’s innermost fears and try and hide them. It’s more about this, than what you’re willing to reveal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Tips: 5 Tips for Aspiring Screenwriters

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Story analyst and script editor Patrick O’Driscoll lays out his 5 tips for aspiring screenwriters.

The industry is a severely competitive environment in which to survive, let alone succeed. Over half of the material I receive in my work as a script reader and story consultant for funding bodies, production companies and independents is written by amateur screenwriters. These are not necessarily tips you ought to follow to the letter but rather advice you should be made aware of as you begin your journey.

GET YOUR HEAD IN THE GAME

New writers will typically take a crash course in screenwriting, tear through a book by Chris Vogler or Syd Field and bang out their first feature as fast as humanly possible. There is absolutely nothing improper about that – it’s a great way to start – so long as the writer is prepared for another five years of it.

Like any other profession, screenwriting requires time and experience to become skilful or, at the very least, competent. It’s disconcerting but, truthfully, it takes years: years of reading books, studying screenplays, attending seminars, writing, writing and more writing. The beginning of a screenwriter’s journey consists of learning the craft and discovering one’s voice. This will not take place over the writing of one feature script, but several. Some experts affirm that five years of writing or about five feature scripts are necessary to achieve a level of competency that will simply put you in the running with the thousands of others. Now, it may take less time than that, but once you are in the running – you are in the running.

A significant asset to the mind-set of an aspiring writer is the ability to understand that attaining competency will take time and perseverance. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. If you possess the determination and the passion to pursue a career in screenwriting my advice is to put your head down and Do Not Stop.

START SMALL

A screenplay is a blueprint for a film. A practice worth developing early on is writing a blueprint for the blueprint. A writer’s first few scripts will almost certainly be written with such raw enthusiasm and excitement that he/she can’t help but bypass the use of any kind of outline. The more a writer writes, however, the more the use of outlining a script beforehand will become apparent, usually in two ways: 1) It is of huge creative benefit to the script, and 2) It is commonly required by producers during development.

There is an extensive variety of sizes, lengths and functions for all kinds of preparatory works but I think it’s best to concentrate on these three: The Logline (a one sentence description of your story), The 1-Pager (a one page synopsis of your story) and The Short Treatment (a ten/twelve page prose outline of your story). Each of these works is like an art form in its own right. However, regardless of what’s required by producers or development execs, beating out or planning your narrative in a treatment allows you to address key story issues before going to script. It’s far easier to refine your story in a ten-page treatment than it is in a 120-page script. As such, working your story out prior to beginning your screenplay saves an unfathomable amount of time overall.

HAVE A POINT

Believe it or not, the most common major fault I come across in scripts by both professional and non-professional writers is a lack of meaning. A script can have a beautifully-crafted premise, interesting themes and engaging characters on fascinating journeys but the stories that resonate most are the ones which convey a meaning or controlling idea. There are varying names for this thematic expression but what it amounts to is the stance a story takes on its own themes – what it has to say.

This lesson, message or moral truth, which is expressed or revealed by the sum of the story’s parts at the climax, is the answer to the main thematic question which the story is exploring. While not crucial, understanding your story’s controlling idea at the outset will help keep your script focussed on its themes and, more importantly, will not let you lose sight of your story’s meaning.

GET FEEDBACK

It doesn’t matter whether you aspire to be the most unconventional art-house scribe or Hollywood’s golden goose, receiving feedback is not only part of the development process it is creatively beneficial. Simply put, the world does not see your story as you do. Feedback will help you to discern your script’s shortcomings in order to address them.

To subject one’s work to the analysis of others is daunting, especially for first-time writers, but don’t let that stop you. It gets easier. The sooner you become accustomed to receiving feedback the sooner you’ll be able to appreciate the difference between what’s useful and what’s not and, ultimately, the better you’ll be at forming your own literary opinions.

It doesn’t matter who you get to read your material. They needn’t be industry people. You can accept feedback from friends and family – so long as you can rely on them to give you no-nonsense opinions on what works and what doesn’t. If your family and friends are so inept that you’d rather eat your script than give it to them I would advise joining a writers’ group if you can. Writers’ groups are fantastic environments for aspiring writers, not least because they’re the most suitable place to hone your craft through the processes of giving and receiving feedback but because being part of such a group acquaints you with fellow writers.

GIVE ONLY YOUR BEST

Routinely, I read scripts and treatments that could’ve done with a lot more time in the oven. Screenwriters have a tendency to come down hard on themselves, writing like crazy to meet self-set deadlines, subsequently submitting unpolished scripts rife with errors and sloppy dramatic choices. To be this hasty is like shooting yourself in the foot with a cannon – twice.

When it comes to presentation, correct spelling and grammar are vital. Contrary to popular belief, a reader will not bin a script due to its poor spelling and grammar. They will read it and write a report on it. However, they’ll most likely have a ‘non recommend’ in mind throughout. Don’t rely on spell-check. Proof-read your work with a fine-tooth comb and make sure your spelling and grammar are correct.

The more important point here is not to submit your script until your story is as good as you can possibly get it. Take your time. Feedback and breaks from the project can work wonders for helping to improve it. Before you hand it over be satisfied that it’s showing off the very best of your current abilities. Once it’s submitted give yourself a firm pat on the back, treat yourself to a well-deserved reward – then turn around and get back in your chair. Don’t waste time hoping and praying that what you just submitted will lead to your big break. Even if it does, it will likely be an extensively drawn-out process. It’s best to get your creative cap back on and begin conceiving your next project.

 

Since graduating the Irish National Film School in 2003 Patrick has worked as a professional screenwriter and script consultant in the Irish and UK film industries. He currently provides analysis for Irish production companies, funding bodies including Northern Ireland Screen, and independent producers and screenwriters from around the world.

Patrick is available for consultation at www.patrickodriscoll.net

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Tips: 10 Tips For Young Directors

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1. Every Project is Practice

Don’t be afraid to just pick up a camera and start shooting. It’s all practice, and the more you get, the better. My first projects were a few short sketches with some friends, which eventually turned into a shoestring-budget feature film. None of us had any technical expertise whatsoever in filmmaking, let alone been to film school — But between us, we’d seen a lot of movies, and that awareness, just through osmosis, helped us to craft a basic sense of structure and pacing. Technically, the film leaves a lot to be desired, but that’s to be expected. By the next project, I had a much better idea of shooting, editing and fixing any technical issues I was likely to encounter.

 

 

2. Be Brutal with the Script

Get rid of anything that’s extraneous or just for show. A line might be a great kiss-off or a scene may be super-smart, but unless it makes sense in the context of the story, it won’t sit right. I work with a brilliant writer, Tadhg Hickey, and we have established a work process whereby we are both ruthless with every draft of the script. The goal is always to work it out as economically and cinematically as possible. And remember: the shorter your script is, the smaller the budget and schedule will be, too.

This was myself and Tadhg’s first short film from 2010, called Tearing Strips:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mhkhSl6rtR8

 

 

3. Plan the shoot and over-schedule

Plan out all aspects of the shoot to the best of your ability. The more organized you are, the more you’ll be able to deal with the inevitable problems and necessary improvisations that will arise on the day. Also, where possible, allow plenty of scheduling leeway. The time needed to set up, address minor issues etc., will inevitably accumulate throughout the day, and you need to allow for that. It’s much better to tell your actors and crew that you need them until 8 and send them home at 6, than it is to tell them they’re needed until 6 and have to keep them on set for an extra two hours.

 

4. Learn how to work with a crew

One of the benefits of working with DSLRs and home editing software is that it allows for a huge amount of individual control. In theory, you can create an entire film project on your own. But if you want to pursue filmmaking seriously, you’ll need to work with a crew at some point (and remember that no film funding body will give you cash unless they know you can manage people and money properly).

The first time I worked with a crew was on a music video for the band Echogram. It was initially quite daunting, but once you remember that everyone just wants make something that best represents them creatively and technically, it’s just a matter of asking for what you want and letting people do their job.

https://vimeo.com/24836158

Note: Regardless of the scale of the crew, make sure you have a good DoP and sound recordist. The less you have to worry about how a scene is going to look and sound, the more you’ll be able to direct what’s happening within it.

 

 

5. You can learn from anywhere

You don’t have to have gone to film school to make movies. In fact, there’s almost nothing that you could want to achieve visually that someone else hasn’t done in some way or another — and made a YouTube tutorial on how to do it. There are endless free tutorials online that will help you to get the best out of both your camera and software.

The Vimeo Video School has some great general filmmaking advice for all aspects of production:

https://vimeo.com/videoschool

For After Effects users, the tutorial section of the Video Co-Pilot website is a fantastic resource:

http://www.videocopilot.net/tutorials/

I consulted these extensively when making the music video for ‘Summertime’ by Toy Soldier, and was able to set up a basic greenscreen post-production pipeline on my PC.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tNyndJPjTM

 

 

6. Festival Submissions

I recently attended a seminar where a group of film festival programmers spoke at length about their experiences. One said, ‘If you finish your film and just send it off to the top ten festivals in the world, forget about it.’ You need to research your audience and pick your festivals carefully. For example, when we were sending out our film Uisce Beatha, we looked up festivals that would have large Irish contingencies; i.e., the Boston Film Festival, the Chicago Irish Film Festival, etc. Play to the strengths of the film and find your audience. It might be an extra day’s work, but it will benefit your film immeasurably and save you a small fortune in submission fees.

UB_Cliffs_300DPI Tadhg Hickey as ‘Tom’, in a scene from Uisce Beatha, which recently won the ‘Filmmakers’ Choice’ award at DC Shorts, the biggest short film festival on the East Coast of the US.

 

 

7. Attend Film Festivals

Go to as many film festivals as you can (whether your film is in it or not). Check out what the standard is like, see what type of films are getting funded and do plenty of networking with other filmmakers. Get business cards made and hand them out. And make sure to follow up with people via email / Facebook / Twitter etc, as you never know what creative projects might emerge from the contacts you make.

 

8. Make your film a genre that you’re passionate about

If you love horrors, make a horror. If you’re into gritty social dramas, make a gritty social drama. Spielberg once said something along the lines of, ‘I make films that I would want to go and see’. If you’re making something that you’re really looking forward to seeing on the big screen someday, you’ll have all the creative drive you need to deal with the pressures of making a short film.

 

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 James Browne as The Man In Black in a scene from Shaun’s new short horror-comedy, Rest My Bones.

 

9. Watch new films, read new stories, get new ideas

Get inspiration: Watch lots of good movies, and seek out stuff that you may not normally encounter. For example, check out the foreign film selection on Netflix, which is very extensive.

Also, read lots of books. Ray Bradbury (Fahrenheit 451, Something Wicked This Way Comes) once said that in order to stay creative, you should read one short story, one poem and one essay every night before sleep. That might be a bit much for most, but even one short story per evening will keep the creative juices simmering.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Wr7ABrMYU

And read ‘The War Of Art’ by Steven Pressfield. It’s a small, succinct book about the creative process, and contains the best advice on the topic that you will ever read.

 

10. Remember that it’s a collaborative effort

In his book Catching The Big Fish, David Lynch outlines one of the main reasons he got into filmmaking: ‘Because it seemed like a lot of fun’. And that’s exactly what it should be. There’s a lot of pressure, granted, but at the end of the day, it’s a creative process, and to participate in that in any capacity is a rare, amazing thing.

Don’t be fooled by the stereotype of the shouty, angry director. If you’re not happy with something or somebody, you can usually sort it out with a quiet word. Listen to your cast and crew. Their ideas are just as viable as yours, and their collective technical expertise is probably way better than yours. If the atmosphere on set is tense and dictatorial, you won’t encourage a sense of collaboration and fun. And if it’s not fun and collaborative, what’s the point?

 

Shaun O Connor’s short film work has won awards at various festivals, including the Corona Cork Film Festival, Chicago Irish Film Festival, the Fastnet Short Film Festival, the Kerry Film Festival, and the Charlie Chaplin Comedy Film Festival. Shaun has also directed numerous music videos, and his video for ‘Conspiracy’ by Echogram won an award at the 2011 Irish Music Television Awards. Shaun has also directed work for corporate clients such as Concern and Lidl.

 

Most recently, Shaun’s short film Uisce Beatha won the ‘Filmmakers’ Choice’ award at DC Shorts in Washington DC, the biggest short film festival on the East Coast of the US. It was also selected to screen at the Raindance festival in London, Europe’s biggest independent film festival.

 

Shaun’s collected work can be seen at www.shaunoconnor.com

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Tips: 5 Steps in Creating a Film Marketing Campaign

film marketing

 

Keith Kehoe, a research associate of digital film production for Green Screen Productions Ltd., lays out 5 steps in creating a film marketing campaign.

After years of hard work, going from development through post-production, your film is finally complete. Congratulations, now comes the hard part! Film marketing is a difficult business, particularly in the independent arena where budgets are tighter and there is competition for audience attention across many fronts. In this type of market, producers and distributors must be savvy in order to rise above the noise.

A film can only be launched once and carefully preparing a film marketing campaign offers the best opportunity to translate audience awareness into revenue streams. Below is a series of steps that should be considered when developing the marketing campaign.

1. Target audience

The first item on the agenda is to identify the target audience for the film. Knowing your target audience allows you to build a profile around them, which includes things like demographics, motivations and relationship with the film’s themes. Once a profile is established, it is easier to understand consumer behaviour and work a marketing campaign towards them.

2. Positioning

Positioning of the film involves developing a selected selling argument of the film. A film’s sales perspective must have a universal appeal so that an audience will choose your film over others.

You must decide what you want to tell people about the film and how they are meant to interpret that message. With this in mind, the message of the director is not the same as the sales message from the distributor or producer.

A technique to establish the film’s positioning is to benchmark the film against comparable titles. Investigate the success (or failure) of their marketing campaign and engagement with the audience, and apply these lessons to your own film. Comparable films should only be from the past 3-5 years as the market moves so quickly that approaches can become dated.

3. Marketable Elements

The marketing elements refer to the valuable associations to your film that can be leveraged in order to strengthen the films sales position. These can include: cast, director, genre, awards/festivals, genre, box office results in other markets, reviews, and merchandising such as soundtrack and book (if it is an adaptation).

For Hollywood films, cast and genre are the most important aspects but independent film audiences tend to be more adventurous and look at the whole package offered.

4. Release Pattern

A marketing campaign will be influenced by the release pattern of the film as they are inextricably linked through the prints and advertising (P&A) budget.

Will it follow a classic distribution model or use new models of exploitation? By classic distribution, I mean sequential windowing typical of Hollywood films. And new models refer to windowing experimentation with day-and-date or ultra-VOD.

The date of release, number of prints and location of prints all need to be taken into consideration when developing a marketing campaign.

5. Marketing Strategy

There are typically three types of marketing strategies:

  • Paid driven
  • Promotional driven
  • Publicity driven

Blockbuster films will be primarily paid driven. They have the money to throw at media buying and developing a vast array of marketing assets to build awareness. Independent distributors and producers must be much more savvy through a promotional and publicity driven campaign.

You also need to consider at this stage the different marketing techniques that will be employed. These can be approached from an offline and online perspective. Though they must be integrated in order to ensure consistency in the campaign.

  • Offline: Posters, media ads, trailer, print media, TV, outdoor advertising, publicity events, press junkets, merchandising, preview screenings, premiere
  • Online: blogging, social media, trailer, online posters, infographics, applications, online advertising, competitions

indiefilmplace.wordpress.com

 

Keith Kehoe lives in the North East of England. He works for an indie production company providing research on new technologies that streamline production processes and offer new distribution and marketing techniques. Keith set up his blog  Indie Film Place as a space to share some of that information with the hope that it will be useful to other filmmakers out there.

You can follow Keith on twitter at @keithkehoe

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From the Archive: Five Ways To Kill Your Script

TR_Production_Screen-Writing-150x150

 

Film Ireland gets some not-to-be-ignored advice from James Bartlett, story analyst to the Sundance Institute amongst other illustrious organisation.

 

 

Living in Hollywood and working as a script reader and story editor, I know that studios, agencies and production companies receive hundreds of scripts per day. The market in Europe may be less intense (and less well-funded), but either way, someone like me is going to be the first person to read your script.

 

Over 10 years of script reading I have noticed the same 13 mistakes appearing time and time again in scripts. These ‘red flags’ are all a reason to say ‘No’, and I devised the lecture ‘Hollywood Screenwriting: Jumping The First Hurdle’ to help writers by talking about these 13 mistakes, looking at screenwriting competitions and the industry as a whole so that they’ll have a more sellable, professional product. Whether you’re a new writer or an experienced professional, everyone makes these mistakes – believe me!

 

1. Spelling and Punctuation

It may seem obvious, but 75–80% of scripts have this problem. You call yourself a writer and want to be paid to write, yet you can’t spell? Or you don’t know the correct usage of ‘you’re’ and ‘your’ or ‘it’s’ and ‘its’? Remarkably, ‘loose’ and ‘lose’ are always incorrect, and Spell Check is simply not enough.

 

Frank is slumped on the coach, polishing off a bear. A dozen bears are strewn on the coffee table, a one man party that didn’t go so well.

The writer means a ‘beer’ of course, yet Spell Check reads ‘bear’ as a word. I’ve even read scripts where the very first word was spelled wrong! Try reading your script from the end to the beginning and keep checking, because there’s never any excuse…

 

2. Introducing Characters

When any character first appears, their name should be in CAPS (i.e. JOHN or WAITER). It should not be in caps in the scene description from then on, because IT gets REALLY hardTO READ when ALMOST every other WORD is IN CAPITAL letters, and secondly, it’s a nightmare for casting (unless you have hundreds of characters all named JOHN in your script).

 

3. Songs, Poems & Quotes

Firstly, music licensing is often complicated and expensive. Producers always cut the music budget first too, so it’s best not to keep drawing attention to it. Also, while it may seem like a good idea, what happens if the reader doesn’t know the song, doesn’t like it, or thinks it doesn’t work with the scene? Then it takes him/her out of the story, and it comes off as an attempt to manufacture emotion.

 

An opera aria plays on the car stereo: ‘Morgen!’ from Strauss’ Wesendonk Lieder WWV91.

 

The important information here is that opera is playing on the car stereo; listing the song itself is the mark of an amateur (unless of course the script is an original musical).

 

4. Prompts, Asides & Jokes To The Reader

This often manifests itself by showing knowledge of films, books, the film business, or the screenwriting process itself. Don’t ever address the reader outside the world of the story, just impress them with your characters, dialogue and narrative – that’s all they care about.

 

He is Indiana Jones in the Temple of Doom, focused on his prize, moving forward despite the ghosts and ghouls lurking in the darkness, waiting for him, ready to strike.

 

The Delivery Guy leans against a hand truck and talks as if he were pontificating on Nietzsche’s theme of eternal recurrence.

 

As this happens, several people in the theatre feel great about laying down ten bucks to see this on the big screen – recession be damned!

 

His wife Kathleen pokes her head around the door and smiles. See, I told you we would see her again – and soon.

 

Her smile, the twinkle in her eyes – it’s pretty hard not to love her.

 

5. Formatting

Incorrect presentation and formatting makes your script stand out a mile – in a bad way – and though there are many differing opinions, in the US there are very, very strict industry standards.

 

Use Courier 12 font to write (no bolding , underlining, italics or colours), punch with two holes at top and bottom, and bind with brass fasteners (known as ‘brads’ for some unknown reason).

 

Some competitions even have categories for formatting, and the Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting (the biggest screenwriting competition and worth entering) even has a guide (http://www.oscars.org/awards/nicholl/resources.html) so you can be sure of 10 points at least.

 

To learn about the rest of the mistakes, get some insider information and find out the positive steps that make your script a better read, come to ‘Hollywood Screenwriting: Jumping The First Hurdle’.

This article originally appeared in Film Ireland Magazine, Issue 133, 2010

Currently based in Los Angeles, James Bartlett is a story analyst for the Sundance Institute, the Nicholl Fellowships, the UCLA Professional Screenwriting Program, the PAGE International Screenwriting Awards and National Geographic Films. He also reads for several UK regions, is the US consultant for Euroscript, and lectures across the UK and Ireland. He’s available for private consultation at jbartlett2000@gmail.com

James will be in Filmbase on Thursday, 7th November to deliver his Screenwriting Pitching Workshop plus a three-hour seminar: Hollywood Screenwriting: Jumping the First Hurdle

 

 

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From the Archive: What do you do with actors?

TV Drama

Illustration: Adeline Pericart

 

Actor/director Vinny Murphy talks about directing actors.

In this article, rather than give a ‘Tips for Directing Actors’ list I would like to try to take the subject seriously, just for a laugh.

As an actor, before I ever directed, I was often asked by directors for advice on directing actors. I was shocked by the questions they would ask. ‘What do you do with actors?’ they’d say. ‘I’ve heard they have their own language you have to learn,’ they’d say. A lot of these people had been to film school and some had made a few shorts already. They seemed to be dealing with some strange alien life form. I’d ask what had they done with these strange ‘others’ before: they either couldn’t remember or they said they’d done nothing – basically they didn’t know what had happened. It still holds true today that colleges spend very little, if any, time on this obviously extremely important aspect of filmmaking. It seems to be the last thing anybody making their first film ever thinks about. ‘The director got sucked into the camera’ is an old way of saying the director didn’t deal with the actors and, from what I hear and see, there are still directors getting sucked into all sorts of old and new cameras all over the country.

Why does this happen? I think the main reason is fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of this ‘other.’ It’s much easier to talk to the DOP because you’re talking about tangibles.
The job of a director is so huge and so full of pressure that it’s very tempting to look for excuses when something isn’t working. It’s great, you can say ‘the actors just aren’t getting it, what’s wrong with them?’ and hey presto! If those useless actors aren’t getting it, what can you possibly do? The point is that it’s the director’s responsibility to create a situation where the actors can do their most interesting work. It’s not just when you talk to them, it’s the entire situation the actors find themselves in. If that responsibility sounds both huge and vague, then welcome to the world of film directing!

Question: How do you direct actors? Answer: ‘I don’t know.’ – Jim Sheridan

What Jim Sheridan meant was that he doesn’t have a technique that fits any situation. Every film is different, every actor has to be worked with differently. It’s much too personal an activity to be able to apply broad strokes. The worst thing an inexperienced director can have anywhere in their head is the notion: ‘They’re actors, they should be able to do anything.’

My favourite bad move by an inexperienced director is where they go over to the actor, talk at them for five minutes (or more, which is worse!) and walk away with a satisfied look as if they’ve just completed their part of the bargain and now it’s up to the actor. For a start, an actor can’t really take in that much information in one go. The actor is not looking at the script the way a director or a script editor looks at it. If I look at a script that I am about to script edit, I can read it and understand it very clearly. If I am given the same script because I’m going to be acting in the filmed version of it, that’s a horse of a different colour altogether.

When I’m script editing I’m looking for the high view – how the thing is structured, exactly what is it the writer is trying to say and how to make that clearer. The script editor has to be a bit hard-nosed about it, cold. So it may look like I’ve suddenly become stupid when I’m an actor and I’ve just been given a script. It’s not just that somewhere I’m thinking, ‘Oh shit, I have to perform this’, it’s that my entire relation to that script is different. I’m looking for clues to help with a very different process. My thinking isn’t so clear because, whether I’m aware of it or not, what I’m trying to do is to sink down into the script. I’m looking to go down south, to find the warmth of it, the moisture of it. Maybe, in a way, I have to become stupid in order to grow down into the script before I can grow up through it again.

Whatever way you look at it, when an actor is given a script, it’s a very different process to that of a director. And a director needs to be drawn in to the vortex that is the actor. How far to get drawn in depends on the job, but there has to be some drawing in going on – what else is there? So the director gets drawn in to the actor’s vortex and knows the actor is going to get drawn in to the director’s vortex. Knowing how much of this vorticity business you are up for is something you can only find out by doing it.

When it comes to directing actors, maybe it should be called indirection. If you tell an actor what to do, they will try to do what you tell them, unless they’re really good, in which case they will try to turn what you say into something they can work with. No actor can ‘do’ a direction. There is no tube through which a direction travels from the director’s head into the actor’s soul. What the director says will have to find a filter through which the actor processes the information and turns it into something which can be used. If the director gives the actor an image (in the widest sense of the word) the actor can take that and get something from it. What it is that they get and how they translate that into action is the mysterious part.

‘…psyche knows more what it wants with itself than I may be able to imagine or interpret.’ – James Hillman

The psyche of the actor knows more about what should be done with the scene than the director. So the job of the director is to access that and not engage the actor in a discussion about the craft. You’re trying to get the actor away from the craft. Instead of giving a ‘result’ direction like ‘be more angry,’ you might, for instance, ask if they’ve ever been so pissed off (try to avoid the word ‘angry’ – it has too many bad performances attached to it already) with someone that they wanted to physically hurt them. Now, hopefully a bunch of images floods into the actor’s head – not just one specific memory that they’ll re-enact, but a vortex (again) of images that will bring up physical, emotional and psychological activity relevant to the situation. Or maybe you’ll do something totally different. What matters is that you see a move in the actor’s eyes or something that indicates they’ve got something from you.

A particular actor who had a fair amount of experience was new to my classes. We did a scene where part of the exercise is that I don’t say a single word about the script and we shoot the first take. The scene was complex. It was about the character’s resentment towards his sister for not helping out in caring for their sick father, his own feelings of guilt for not doing more himself, his attempt to understand her and then his disgust when she refuses to commit to helping again. None of this was immediately apparent from reading the script and he thought it was about him flirting with her. He ‘thought’. There’s your problem right there, buddy. He read the script and then decided what he was going to do in advance. For the next take I told him to stop thinking and planning ahead. He gave the same performance again. I talked a bit more about not deciding anything and just listening to what she’s saying and to what he’s saying and to do it as if he’s no idea what’s going on and to just be open. We shot it the third time and he gave this incredibly complex, rich, moving and slightly scary performance – everyone in the room was in thrall to it. I asked what had he gone through during the take. Not what did the scene now mean or what did he ‘think’ of it but just historically, what had actually happened? In explaining, he gave a perfect account of all the complexity that was supposed to be in the scene.

What had happened? He had connected to the images that came to him and had stuck with them. Instead of drawing from the shallow well of what we can ‘think’ up he had drawn on the bottomless pit of all that’s unconscious, and that had guided him to a truly marvellous performance.

I’m not suggesting directors shouldn’t say anything to actors and then expect amazing performances, but that the actor needed to find it for himself. Otherwise he would have ended up trying to squeeze what I had told him out of the script. Squeezing a script is never a good idea. A script is supposed to set up images that get things out of the actor, it’s not for the actor to try to grab things out of the script.

In this country, like most others, actors find themselves turning up on set, maybe having done a play (which is a different discipline altogether) two months ago and a film the month before that. They turn up on set with no continuity of practice, no juices flowing, no warmth, no moisture. They’re dry, cold and fearful. And on a bad set what happens first thing? They’re told what to do. ‘You stand over there and say your first line, then go over there and sit down at that table for the rest of your lines.’ They rehearse; the director tells them that it’s not what they want. ‘Be more angry when you say that.’ They do a take. Nobody says anything – now they feel even colder than when they walked in! And then next take is bad – but of course it’s bad, how could it be good?

‘I’m gonna spend loads of time with the actors on set’ is a phrase I’ve heard an awful lot. It never happens because you can’t spend loads of time with anyone when you have a hundred things to decide, fix, oil, shape, manoeuvre and get out of the location in twenty minutes. But you have to keep the actors warm and moist! Even the biggest Hollywood stars all turn to the same place when they hear ‘cut’ – the director. That’s the only place they can find out whether they did good or bad.

A director needs to establish their own brand of relationship with actors beforehand and keep that warm by talking to them, not necessarily even about the scene. If you are talking about the scene, talk to one actor at a time – this way, you don’t end up with the actor trying to prove to the others that they can do your direction and the relationship stays intimate. Most importantly, the actors aren’t supposed to know exactly what the others are going to do anyway.

So directing actors becomes not so much about using your imagination, but keeping the imagination of your actors alive. It’s the director’s responsibility to create a situation where the actors can offer their most interesting work.  This isn’t their ‘best’ work, because it’s not about being good or bad. It’s about being either engaging and arresting or just adding to the numbness that is available on and off the screen everywhere.

 

This article originally appeared in Film Ireland Magazine, Issue 132, Spring 2010

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