Friday, 11 December 2009

Tip #22: Finding the right cast

By Itsuka Yamasaki (Producer/writer)

Sinéad and I worked more like casting directors, suggesting/bringing actors for director Dan's consideration. I don't think there are written rules but I would like to share how to make your life easy when arranging a casting session for a low budget film.

1. For key roles, invite only committed professional actors.
You don't want actor-director-producer-writer-musician-painter-all-at-the-sametime sort of people. You want committed actors, who have entries to some trade bodies/professional databases such as Spotlight, Equity, IMDb.

2. For key roles, invite actors with online showreels.
Headshots can be very deceiving. So you need motion pictures of the actor, which professional actors most undoubtedly have online.

3. Save your time by approaching actors rather than having them approach you.
With Ambleton Delight we decided to send personal invitations to actors that fit the profile via Casting Call Pro rather than posting casting calls (the last time we posted a casting call, we received 100+ applications including from those that did not fit the requirement at all). It made our lives a lot, lot easier.

4. Find that X-Factor.
After Ambleton we started to think it's "motion-camera genic" (interestingly, "photogenic" people don't always look good on in a moving image) and "someone who people care about" (this is not about whether people like the person or not; we don't 'like' villains but we do care what they are going to do in the movie).

5. Audition starts before you meet the actor.
Those who are good at communication tend to be easy to deal with later. When we first contacted Jos Lawton it was via e-mail and we had the impression that he was pleasant and professional (his e-mail signature contained his details as an actor such as spotlight pin, his build etc as well as usual mobile number/e-mail address). This "first impression" hasn't changed even after we shot an entire feature film with him!

6. Actors are humans with feelings.
It's true that actors are used to "rejection" and not being cast for your film might be just another one. But it's still not a nice experience. So be reasonable and decent when informing those who aren't selected for the role. You never know, you might need them in your future project!

And finally...

7. You never know.
Yes, we say this quite often. Holding auditions is a good and practical way of casting your film but really, you don't know when you meet your perfect cast for your film. For your interest I've listed how we found some cast members in Ambleton Delight other than the audition route (we did audition them but they were pretty much the only one auditioned for the role).
  • Met at another event and got on well
  • Worked together in a previous film
  • Recommended by another actor
  • Found at a local acting school database
  • Met at an audition for a previous film
  • Auditioned for another role in the film
  • Found at a local stage play

Friday, 20 November 2009

Tip # 21: Important considerations during the location scout

By Sinéad Ferguson (Producer/Production designer)

This is part seven in a seven part series on finding the right locations.

When looking for a location put the word out, email friends, family, post on film forums. Use the internet, it’s an invaluable research tool. Keep your eyes open at all times. I find I do it instinctively and now have a mental catalogue of lots of interesting potential filming locations all over Brighton that are filed away should we ever need them.

Once you find it, here are some important things to keep in mind:

1. Where possible have all the necessary people with you, producer, director, DOP, production designer. Everyone will be looking for different attributes in a location. Incorporate a proper recce at the same time. Ultimately it saves time and making unnecessary trips back and forth and you can all immediately discount or agree on the potential of a location. Also bring the right equipment with you, either a camera or camcorder, a note book for those important notes, a tape measure and a light meter.

Inside The Rainbow Inn, restaurant shoot.

2. You also need to find the balance between the aesthetic and the practical. The place may look great but will there be enough room for all your equipment? Parking for your cast and crew? What facilities are available? Will it be too difficult to light? What are the sound conditions? What are the power sources and are you able to tap into it? Are there separate circuits capable of handling your lighting? You want to avoid having to use a generator, it’s costly and a nightmare for sound.

3. On exterior shoots make sure there are facilities available for your cast and crew. We shot in Alfriston on two freezing cold days in November so had to organise somewhere to do wardrobe changes, use a toilet if necessary and stay warm when not shooting. Fortunately The Smugglers Inn was kind enough to allow us to use their premises.

The kitchen shoot in the Master Mariner,
Brighton Marina.


4. You must also take into account the distance between locations. Obviously when scheduling your shoot you will always aim to shoot in one location a day but there may be some days where it is unavoidable and you have to move from one to another. This time spent packing up and moving long distances from A to B to set up again, is valuable time lost when you could be shooting your film.

5. Finally when filming it goes without saying that Public Liability Insurance is essential and when securing locations this is a must. It is also an added reassurance to the proprietor that should anything go wrong he or she won’t be left out of pocket or liable for damages. When negotiating a location another good bargaining tool in your arsenal is offering a credit in your film and publicity for their business when and where possible.

The council shoot, Litlington Village Hall.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Tip # 20: How to get permission to use a location

By Sinéad Ferguson (Producer/Production designer)

This is part six in a seven part series on finding the right locations.

Here comes the difficult part, finally finding your locations is one thing, getting permission to use them is another thing entirely and isn’t always particularly easy. In securing a location no matter how small and incidental, never underestimate how important it is to be sincere, enthusiastic and passionate about your film. It’s contagious and can often be the tipping point. It can be the difference between getting that important location or losing it. The genuine and friendly approach has yet to fail me. Be upfront, clear and honest when you approach the owner and tell them exactly just what filming on their premises will entail.

(Photo above left: Lead actor Jos Lawton on location
during the kitchen shoot at the Master Mariner,
with the production team consulting behind him.)

Admittedly it’s tempting to gloss over things to get permission, but don’t compromise your integrity and be anything less than truthful and respectful. Give the person the common courtsey of your honesty and allow them to make a well informed decision. Your honesty shows you are trustworthy and in the long run this is important. I formed good relationships especially with our two primary locations in particular Ed at The Rainbow Inn and Asher in The Master Mariner. Truthfully it wasn’t all that difficult as they happen to be very nice guys and I genuinely like them.

Top: The Rainbow Inn manager Luke,
with actress Verity Marshall.
Above: Rainbow Inn manager Ed
observes the crew in action during the night shoot.

Our two main interior locations were working restaurants and pubs. Now convincing someone that it’s a good idea to allow you to bring actors, and a film crew with lots of equipment traipsing in and out of their premises can be a little difficult. Also as they are working restaurants and pubs they are obviously in use all day. Our small budget meant we couldn’t pay to shut them down, meaning that they would also have to be willing to allow us on their premises overnight. Thankfully they did and so all filming that took place in these locations were night shoots. Not ideal to say the least, I know the cast and crew weren’t overjoyed by the prospect and neither were we. However they were all good sports and on a low budget some compromises have to be made to get what you want and this was one of them. Plus Dan, Itsuka and I were confident that the end results on screen would be worth those long and mentally exhausting night shoots.

Master Mariner (Brighton) manager Asher Burman on set
during the kitchen shoot, speaking with director Dan (left).

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Tip # 19: The unorthodox approach … Finding the flashback locations

By Sinéad Ferguson (Producer/Production designer)
This is part five in a seven part series on finding the right locations.

During the course of making Ambleton Delight we filmed in lots of different places like restaurants, gardens, in alleyways, in the beautiful countryside, car parks, a kitchen, a farm, in the streets, in an apple orchard and so on.

However perhaps one of the more strange or unusual locations we shot in was for one of the flashback scenes. We needed a room that John in a fit of rage could completely trash to pieces and so put the word out. Surprise , surprise..... we didn’t get many willing volunteers.

Then one day we happened to meet some real characters who as it turned out were squatters. We got talking, they were the first squatters we had ever met and I have to say I was fascinated by their stories and this lifestyle they had chosen. So of course, I bombarded them with questions. It soon transpired that they were living in a place other squatters had passed on to them. Apparently that’s what they do and they offered us an empty room to use in the place they were staying.

Above: The room to be trashed.

A little dubious at first eventually curiosity got the better of us so Dan, Itsuka and I checked it out. On first impressions the exterior was very run down and just creepy with boarded up and broken windows, it was like something straight from a horror film. Itsuka and I agreed it would make a perfect" haunted house". This was confirmed when we went inside, it had broken windows, creaky floorboards the lot, weird bits of dolls and children’s toys lying around just added to the eerie vibe and this was during the day. I swear you couldn’t have paid me to stay in that place over night.

Above: The room with props
strategically placed for destruction.


Then the guys showed us the bedroom and it honestly surprised me, someone had gone to the trouble of painting it, there was a bed and some furniture -it was perfect. We left and came back a couple of days later armed with our props and the guys just left us to it. We did our trashing, well Dan and Ben did most of it, and I had a feeling that they had a great time doing it. When all props were destroyed the place was a mess, but of course even in a squat we felt compelled to tidy up after ourselves and in the end, sure we left the place cleaner than we found it. Now admittedly it was perhaps an unorthodox approach to solving our problem, but you do what you have to do and we happily left with the shots we needed.

Above: The aftermath...filming is complete.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Tip # 18: Seamless locations… Finding the kitchen

By Sinéad Ferguson (Producer/Production designer)

This is part four in a seven part series on finding the right locations.

Right so we had found our restaurant now we needed the kitchen. Considering we used three separate locations in Lewes, Brighton and Alfriston to create “The Amble Inn” (an exterior scene was shot at the Moonrakers in Alfriston) it was vital that all the locations were seamless. Finding a kitchen that would fit and be believable as the kitchen of The Rainbow Inn proved to be immensely difficult. The kitchen at the Rainbow Inn although quite big had incredibly low ceilings and narrow spaces, and the set up meant that unfortunately we couldn’t use it. So we had to find an alternative. We visited kitchen after kitchen and they all were either too large or industrial, too small with the wrong equipment or logistically just impossible to film in.

The kitchens at The Rainbow Inn.

This was the location that had us pulling our hair out, time was running out, and it seemed every kitchen we visited was just one disappointment after another. That is until just as we began to think we had exhausted all our options Dan and I saw the kitchen in The Master Mariner in Brighton. It was perfect -the right size, feel, look and layout and it was almost ideal for filming. When it came to getting permission, we had met Asher the owner before so he knew us. We told him all about our film and what we had set out to achieve, and luckily for us Asher also has a real love for film so was happy to give us permission to use it.

The kitchens at The Master Mariner, as seen in the film.

We had finally caught a break and found our kitchen. I remember at the time we had a hundred and one other things on our plate with pre production and securing our kitchen that day was a much needed bit of success and good news for us.

Vist The Master Mariner, in Brighton Marina:
http://www.the-master-mariner.co.uk/

Asher Burman, manager of the Master Mariner,
films the crew in his kitchen.


Cast and crew filming in the kitchens of The Master Mariner.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Tip # 17: Trust your instincts… Finding your key location

By Sinéad Ferguson (Producer/Production designer)

This is part three in a seven part series on finding the right locations.

So now that we had our village, our base so to speak we could start working on everything else. Choosing Alfriston as our Ambleton would colour and influence all our other choices in locations. Such as our restaurant, our general store, Chris’s home and so on. We also wanted where and when possible to have locations that were “two for ones” as in both the interior and exterior of the location were appropriate and fortunately we did just that. This logistically made filming that bit easier saving us time and extra shoots . For us it was imperative that all our locations were seamless and that even though for example Chris’s house was actually in Brighton and The Rainbow Inn, is in Lewes their interiors and exteriors aesthetically had to fit and feel like they were part of and belonged to the village in Alfriston.

Finding our “Amble Inn” was no easy task after a lot of research we had a list of 30 or 40 that on paper at least were maybes. We spent two full days driving around almost all of East Sussex.

Sinéad Ferguson (Production designer) and
Itsuka Yamasaki (writer) during the
location scout at The Rainbow Inn.


On visiting them however they just didn't fit the bill. They were either too small, the decor wasn’t suitable, they would be impossible to film in and the list just went on and on. We finally narrowed it down to two possibilities - one a restaurant in Alfriston itself and the other The Rainbow Inn just outside Lewes. I made up my mind instantly and fell for The Rainbow Inn. From a production designer point of view, in my mind’s eye aesthetically it was exactly what I was looking for. It had character, warmth and charm with its unmatching chairs and great little quirky details. It was traditional but had subtle modern touches here and there. I knew it would look great on screen and I could completely envision and believe John and Kate living and working here.

Sinéad (far left) and Itsuka (far right) taking notes in what
was to become the famous
bar in the film.


I was absolutely convinced that it was perfect and trusted my instincts on this but had to a little bit of persuading. Dan (director) had reservations at first and rightly so, it wasn’t completely open plan as we had initially wanted. Also filming wouldn’t be easy and he had to rethink and work out potential alternatives. Fortunately for us though, he is a little genius and he worked out ways it could be done. Success!

Well no, there was still the small matter of actually getting permission and securing the location...

Visit The Rainbow Inn here... http://www.rainbowsussex.com/

The wonderful Rainbow Inn as seen in the film.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Tip #16: Local knowledge…. Finding the village of Ambleton

By Sinéad Ferguson (Producer/Production designer)

This is part two in a seven part series on finding the right locations.

With Ambleton Delight, Itsuka wrote a wonderfully rich screenplay creating a little world of her own in a quintessential and idyllic English village. I will be the first to admit that I was apprehensive and more than a little daunted when it came to recreating this village and bringing it both to life and to screen. We spent hours driving all over Sussex but to no avail that is until we visited Alfriston. Dan and Itsuka had visited very briefly once when they were writing the script, so it was always at the back of their minds and when we finally made the trip together I could see why. It was perfect and exactly what we were looking for. To be honest after all the trips we made and time spent there I grew quite fond of Alfriston. It is a beautiful and picturesque little village and by the end of filming I knew most shop owners and so on by name, was chatting away with the locals and found myself giving directions to tourists on more than one occasion.

Cast and crew on the narrow streets of Alfriston village.

I would say that one of the advantages of us being from other countries and not “locals” so to speak is that we still haven’t become blind to our everyday surroundings and it is often this fresh eyed approach that works when scouting locations. A disadvantage though is lack of local knowledge of places. That may seem inconsequential to anyone else but it's gold to a filmmaker. Being aware of this I set about making contact with Jilly a local councillor in Alfriston . Dan and I met her one afternoon in the charming Badgers Tea House in Alfriston, and over coffee we proceeded to grill her on all aspects of the village, the people the places and so on. As luck would have it she happens to be a lovely person who has a background in film herself and we immediately hit it off. In the end she was more helpful then I could have hoped she gave me contacts with the local drama group The Alfriston Players who ended up playing our village councillors. When we said we were still looking for a hall, she suggested the village hall in Littlington as a possibility. This was a God send at the time as it was a location that was proving almost impossible to find So we immediately checked it out and it turned out to be just exactly what we were looking for.

Alfriston village main street became our
Ambleton main street
.

The Alfriston Village Stores became
the Ambleton Village Store.

So in short, when filming in somewhere unfamiliar don’t underestimate the wealth of knowledge locals have, it can prove to be invaluable.

Visit the real Ambleton: http://www.alfriston-village.co.uk/

Dan Parkes (director) and Roger Marshall (camera operator)
filming the village sign (which was digitally changed to the Ambleton sign).


Monday, 5 October 2009

Tip # 15: Locations as characters

By Sinéad Ferguson (Producer/Production designer)

This is part one in a seven part series on finding the right locations.


We always set out to achieve a low budget film with a big budget feel. One way we did this is by immediately dispensing with the usual low budget approach of using minimum locations. Is it cheaper to have minimum locations? Yes. Easier logistically? Most definitely. But it’s visually boring... it’s bland, uninspiring and unimaginative. So if you’re not afraid of a little or in our case as it turned out quite a lot of hard work...the effort is definitely worth it and means that your final results on screen are something everyone can be proud of.

From the get go I always thought of the locations as characters in our film and they were as important and integral in the storytelling as our leads, especially considering their ever present time on screen. I absolutely consider it time and money well spent even if your budget is almost nonexistent like ours. I maintain that whatever your budget no matter how small, put the money on the screen, ie your actors and your locations.

Finding just the right locations can be a daunting task. From my perspective as both producer and production designer I had a very clear vision of what we were looking for. Understanding their importance I wasn’t satisfied with us finding locations that were anything less than perfect for our purposes. Get it right and the locations would subtlety enhance and compliment the storytelling, get it wrong and they would easily distract from and hinder it.

Ultimately finding and securing all our locations, involved countless hours doing research online, followed by innumerable hours spent in the car driving all over Sussex, add to that an almost epic amount of emails, endless phone calls, meetings, negotiating, compromising, and persuading, followed by even more convincing and eventually after all that rigmarole our locations were secured.

Easy peasy !

The next few blogs with give you some practical advice based on our experience with finding and securing locations...

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Tip #14 : A budget breakdown

By Itsuka Yamasaki (Writer/Producer)

OK in this blog, we're making one of our early budget sheets public. If you are interested, please follow this link to a spreadsheet PDF showing the budget structure. We have also included a pie chart (below) to show how it looks visually.

Since the spreadsheet is already self-explanatory I will not say much in this blog, except to state that for obvious reasons we cannot provide every detail. Also, this is the projected budget prior to filming (circa October 2008), so is what we estimated would cost just over £5,000 in total. In reality, by the end of the production (ie April 2009) we were closer to £6,000, with several departments clearly exceeding the budgeted amount for various reasons that we will likely cover in later blogs.

But, as you can see from the pie chart, the budget was spent primarily on the cast and crew. Three areas people normally spend a lot of money hardly cost anything for us. These are:

1. Catering
2. Equipment
3. Costume & props

As for 1.Catering, don't get us wrong - we did provide food for cast and crew! We just decided to make it ourselves rather than ordering a whole lot of sandwiches. (this will be explained in a later blog). And we could keep the cost down for 2. Equipment as we used what the production company already had. The same goes for 3. Costume & props – we asked the cast to wear their own clothes and used what we had for props.

So our main advise for those considering making a feature is not to aim too high unless you are loaded with money. Don't aim for a 35mm period drama project as your first feature! Aim for a project that is viable using what you already have.

Feel free to use the spreadsheet we have provided as a guide for your own production. And any questions regarding the budget please feel free to make a comment or contact us.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Tip # 13 The art of abandoning a script

By Itsuka Yamasaki (Producer/writer)

I have read somewhere that "you never complete a script - you abandon it." And it's so true. Even after completing the film you still feel like making changes. We were aware of weaknesses in the script and that there were things to change. We worked hard on it and until the point we finally "abandoned" the script, it went through several stages of script editing:

1. Production team script editing
Dan and I came up with a version of the script we were happy with, then along with producer Sinéad Ferguson, we laid 50+ index cards each containing scenes/sequences (something very simple like "Paul Fraser visits the bar") down on the floor, roughly dividing them into three acts (pictured to the left above). Then we discussed each scene, if it is really working in the script. We moved some scenes from the first act to the second, got rid of some completely, added some... I would've never imagined that these index cards could come in so handy.

2. It's not only what you know, it's who you know.
Sometimes they say you should only write what you know. However, you can cheat by getting advisors on board. Two key elements we were not familiar with involved the restaurant kitchen environment and the 90's drug culture in London. Neither Dan nor I have worked as a chef and we have never smoked. So we first got a friend of ours, Ben Rohde, involved, who is a writer and was familiar with that culture from his past. He re-wrote the scenes brilliantly, adding very witty Cockney dialogue. Then we had a chef read the script, who gave us some advice regarding the gas stove in the kitchen as mentioned in the script.

Script advisor/writer
Ben Rohde


3. Cut, cut, cut...
The last script editing session was with Tomislav Stefanac , who has worked as a script editor for TV episodes in Croatia. So one evening, Tomislav, Sinéad, Dan and I got together, we read the script aloud, and discussed everything, especially on a mission of cutting it down.

Script supervisor
Tomislav Stefanac


The session was intended to be only for a couple of hours but I remember it went to like a eight hour session. We cut down and improved quite a lot of dialogue.

And so we completed – or abandoned the script.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Tip # 12 Give your characters the right names

By Itsuka Yamasaki (Writer/Producer)

One of the first things we did as a production team was script editing. The session itself will be explained in a later post but in this particular article I would like to focus on just one thing people seem to overlook: character names.

Even with blockbuster films, sometimes you wonder where on earth the filmmakers came up with some names. I recently watched Babel and there were American children aged about 8-10 called Mike and Debbie. I didn't want to be finicky, but to me they didn't sound like modern kids at all and the names kept bugging me throughout the film.

As a production team we thought carefully about each character's names. Because we are all foreigners (Sinead is Irish, Dan's Kiwi, I'm Japanese) we were extra sensitive. We didn't want them to sound unnatural to an English audience.

Character names should reflect their age, country, social status, while also creative and memorable, but should never distract or confuse the audience unless it's done on purpose (as in a comedy, like the character played by Ben Stiller in Meet the Parents!).

Of course, in reality people do have interesting names. It's very possible that there today exists a young girl called Myrtle or Doreen, or a builder called Rufus or Charles, or brothers Shane and Shaun, or friends surnamed Cod and Chip (this is for real according to a friend of mine) and people called James Bond or Tom Cruise (these people apparently exist too). But in films they will distract the audience from the story and we should avoid by all means.

John Miller
(played by Jos Lawton)


For our central character, the name John Miller is quite nondescript and it fits his social background and age group. And since the name would't help him to stand out in a crowd, he somehow had to prove himself that he was unique. Incidentally it's the same name as the character played by Tom Hanks in Saving Private Ryan (http://www.imdb.com/character/ch0002091/).

If you are interested in this subject. there is a very good article that explores it in more detail: http://www.wordplayer.com/columns/wp09.Name-dropping.html

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Tip # 11: A short or a feature?

By Dan Parkes (Director)

It seems in the world of filmmaking that films must sit within two basic catagories: the short film (no longer than 15 minutes) and the feature film (no shorter than 70 minutes). Anything in-between is a no-man’s land of potential viewer disappointment and no funding.

So what’s the difference? Well the rule is that a short film is normally a ‘moment in time,’ based around a single event or chain of interconnected events over a short period of time. However, a feature film will likely have a much longer narrative timeline and adhere to the classic three act structure with a much wider story arc: the first act being the set up (introduction), the second act the obstacle (development) and the third act the resolution (conclusion).

The original draft of Ambleton Delight (then titled Millfield Pie) was 30 pages in length and was in three acts. There was no way the story could be reduced down to a 15 minute piece –so we had the exciting task of developing it into a feature. Using the rule of a minute-to-a-page the rewrite thus required another 30-40 pages at least.

This was where I came in. As the director, it is always a great opportunity to flesh out an idea –to explore character’s motivations and play with visual possibilities. The original script was solidly based in the restaurant with emphasis primarily on the character of manager/chef John Miller. I wanted to explore more of his background and motivation. So I created what eventually became eight flashback scenes, completely from John’s POV, detailing his friendship with young lads Wayne and Andy who draw him into a world of drugs and violence. I then connected these flashbacks with John’s life in the village. I also developed in much greater detail the mayor and the council scenes, expanding on the small town politics (giving Brian Capron some long complicated speeches that he later cursed me for!). The end result: the next draft was 65 pages long, and once we got a third writer on board (Ben Rohde) it finally became 80 pages –a good length for a feature.

So if you are developing an idea or a script you need to decide whether it is a short or a feature –which will work best for your idea? Is it a moment in time, or a three act journey?

For an interesting example of a short that became a feature check out ‘Alive in Joburg’ a six minute short that director Neill Blomkamp later developed into the blockbuster District 9:
(http://www.spyfilms.com/#neill_blomkamp/alive_in_joburg)

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Tip # 10: Funding? OK, lets try something.…illegal?

By Dan Parkes (Director)

In a desperate search for funding, you will likely consider all options, bar robbing your very own grandmother. Because, of course, you would never consider anything illegal, right? Right?!

Actually, we found ourselves on a pathway to a life of imprisonment when we began approaching local companies with a view to investment via product placement (or what our friends across the Atlantic euphemistically call ‘brand intergration’). I mean, in 2002, the James Bond film Die Another Day set a record by making £44m from having 20 products featured in the film –from Omega watches to Aston Martin cars. Hey, so why not us? We would be happy with just £44.

But there were two kinda big issues: 1. Most companies we approached were not prepared to try something different for a relatively unknown film (even if it had Coronation Street’s most infamous villain in it) 2. And did we mention it is apparently now illegal in the UK?

What?!’ you say. ‘How can that be?’ Well, it is legal for brands to supply props, products and services to UK productions free of charge when editorially correct. But paid for product placement has been banned by the Independent Television Commission (ITC) and Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). This seems to mainly apply to TV, but since many low budget films would not want to jeopardise their broadcast chances, we should all take note.

The good news is that most recently (actually the day this blog was posted -Sunday September 13,2009) it has been announced that, except for the BBC, product placement is becoming legal again (http://bit.ly/3zx12Y). Even if this doesn't happen, it doesn’t rule out free stuff. We eventually got a local newspaper –the Sussex Express- to provide free props for our film and usage of their logos etc. So if you need some fancy props for free this is still a good option for helping reduce costs as well as providing publicity options.

There are even UK companies set up purely to help with product placement. 1st Place (http://www.productplacement.co.uk/) is a ‘Preferred Supplier’ to the BBC and apparently had £3,750,000 worth of factored airtime exposure last year.

And just for fun, here are some of the worst examples of product placement to check out: http://bit.ly/TKyuU

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Tip #9: Compare the pros and cons of self-financing

By Itsuka Yamasaki (Producer)

OK so you have exhausted almost all your options and still can’t find enough money. So what now? Well, basically you have two options: 1. Give up (and tell everyone else “we are putting the film on hold") or 2. Pay for it yourself.

Probably most indie filmmakers end up investing in part (if not all) of the budget. With Ambleton Delight, we had one executive producer on board, but we covered most of the budget ourselves - yes, at this time of economic crisis! So we stripped our budget down to the bare minimum of around £6,000 – a budget that is just enough to keep a project together but is still affordable for ordinary people like us. We then organised a business loan through the production company, Parkes Productions Ltd.

Now I’m not going to recommend organising a loan to pay for your film. But I would recommend writing down the pros and cons of self funding, such as:

Cons:
- Should the whole project crash and burn, you pay for the tragedy.
- You still need to earn a living and pay tax.

- Possibly no spending money for other fun (such as holidays!).

- You realise you are becoming and looking very stingy.


Pros:

- The film actually gets made.
- You have absolute control over your own film as you put up the money.

- You don’t have other obligations/pressures except for the bank.

- Should the film make money your initial investment will be returned and you may even receive profit.


Here are some links to free applications that can help you organise your finance:

Managing personal finance online:
https://www.kublax.com
http://www.mint.com/ (currently US only but might be coming to UK soon)
http://www.pocketsmith.com/

Free accounting/bookkeeping software:
http://www.msofficeaccounting.co.uk/
http://quickbooks.intuit.com/product/accounting-software/free-accounting-software.jsp

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Tip #8: Here’s £60 worth of free advice about government funding!

By Dan Parkes (Director)

We spent considerable time during our pre-production applying to a local UK film funding agency. Our plan was to shoot our very low-budget film for about £10,000, hoping that the funding body would provide 50-60 percent of that, as they mention in their paperwork, while we privately put in say up to £4,000. Extensive research and filling in of forms finally led to us being called into a meeting in London to discuss the project. We were excited –we had been shortlisted and they really liked our project!

But we learned two hard lessons that day:

1. Even on an empty Southern train, don’t accidentally sit in First Class. We less than savvy rail travellers found ourselves slapped with an instant £20 fine each, despite our protestations of how unfair it was (the train had been moving for less than a minute as we had just jumped on, not to mention the seats look no different!). So on our funding trip we were already £60 down and the day was still young!

2. And then the clincher. Yes, a government funding body can provide 50-60 percent of the funding, but only…. and wait for it… this was the really important part that was missing from all the funding paperwork we had spent months reading… only if everyone involved in the project is on union rates. Union rates!…..Equity rates?! A quick calculation instantly puts the budget over £100,000….and we would then have to provide the other 40% - ie £40,000! Needless to say, that wasn't going to happen. This harsh reality was brutally discovered in front of a meeting room full of executives. They didn’t have to open the door… we just kinda slid out under it.

So I suppose it’s just like the old adage about bank loans –you firstly have to prove you don’t need one to apply. And that’s why there is such a huge gulf between skint filmmakers making it on love, and those making it on money. So now you don’t have to learn it the hard way: To get government funding… well, you first have to be rich enough to travel first class.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Tip #7: Film Financing …Show me the money!

By Sinéad Ferguson (Producer)

So you have decided to take the plunge and make your film. Great! The next question that immediately comes to mind is where do we get the money? Unsurprising, obtaining financing is often the most difficult part of making a film.

A great deal of realism is required. You have to be pragmatic about how much money you actually need and how much money you are likely to get. While there are grants and schemes available, you may find that your film does not meet the required criteria, and if it does that applying is a lengthy and arduous process and unfortunately usually has disappointing results except for the very lucky few. Competition is fierce. Ultimately you will find that most independent films will be financed and co –produced from a variety of different sources: public, private to the more recent trend of ‘crowdsourced’ funding.

My advice in pursuing funding is to leave no stone unturned, try every avenue you can think of and then some more. Be certain that you are fully prepared to convince whatever investors you approach of the merits of your project. You need to do your homework and have ammunition in the shape of your film prospectus. This is a written presentation and should include a film synopsis, your background information and achievements, crew and cast bios, letters of interest, the budget, profit projections and so on. Make it as comprehensive as possible. We also included names of bands and music we hoped to have in the film, photos of our locations, and actors we had cast, we had concept art of what we thought the film poster would look like and so on. Remember often at this stage the film is just an idea in your head; the trick is to make it as tangible and real as possible to others. Make certain it is not only informative but also visually interesting.

In the end we raised our finance privately (more in a coming blog). There are of course pros and cons as there are with any funding sources. But this means we made our Indie film in true Indie style. Dan, Itsuka and I made all decisions, no one else interfered, called the shots or had control over our vision, our story or our creative methods . We had complete autonomy.

Here are some useful links:

Recommended Reading:

Sunday, 30 August 2009

Tip#6: Form a productive production team

By Sinéad Ferguson (Producer)

The Ambleton Delight production team consists of just three of us, Itsuka (writer/producer) Dan (director/producer) and myself (production designer/producer). Having previously worked together on several projects we had already established and developed a great working relationship, with a certain shorthand and knowledge of our mutual strengths, with a good mix of practical, technical, artistic and creative sensibilities.

Our weekly production meetings were integral to the success of the film. This is where we drank copious amounts of coffee and talked late into the night planning our strategies and hammering out ideas, making every single important decision regarding all aspects of the film.

Overwhelming as the work of planning a feature seemed in those early days we found the secret was to break everything down into weekly and monthly goals, with strict deadlines, by drawing up a “must–do list”. We then divided the work load between us, with each task to be completed before our next meeting. To the best of my recollection I don’t think we ever missed even one of those self imposed deadlines.

We would meet a minimum of once a week but once we got the ball rolling we found these meetings definitely increased as did our workload. After each day’s shoot we would have a post mortem where we would discuss any problems that occurred or conversely strategies that were successful. By immediately identifying issues we instantly implemented changes to the following shoot, ensuring the same problems didn’t reoccur.

So here are some important points to consider when forming your production team:
• If possible work with people you have worked well with before.
• If you are forming a team for the first time, do your research thoroughly. Trust your instincts. If you foresee personality clashes, forget it . Especially as you will be spending a tremendous amount of time with each other and often under stressful conditions. Success or failure can simply be down to having the right or wrong people on board.
Commitment is essential. The last thing you need is someone who will bail once their initial enthusiasm has worn off and the hard work had begun.
• Play to each other’s strengths and abilities and assign tasks accordingly.
Avoid having passengers, they’re a liability.
• It’s imperative that overall you share a unified collective vision, but that doesn’t rule out healthy debate and alternative points of view as long as a final decision is made.
• Hold your meetings somewhere you won’t be constantly interrupted, encourage open and frank discussion and have plenty of coffee on hand.
• Make every production meeting you have count. Have an agenda for each one, as it’s very easy to go off topic.
• Have everyone write a must-do list during the meeting, with weekly and monthly targets.
• Lastly remember to enjoy the experience! Take time to enjoy every little success you have along the way.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Tip #5: What’s in a name?

By Dan Parkes (Director)

Snakes on a Plane
. Merely the title of this film generated interest and an automatic fan base. And when the director wanted to change it to Pacific Air 121 star Samuel L Jackson apparantly threatened to quit. That shows how important getting the title right is!

Our script went through several names before settling on Ambleton Delight (with its double meaning). It was firstly named Apple Pie. Then we wanted to add the name of the village, so it became Millfield Pie. But that was too much of a mouthful, so we choose a fictional town in Sussex from a Sherlock Holmes story –Lamberely. We liked this, until Sinead (the producer) pointed out that Lamberely Pie sounded like lamb pie! So we dropped the L to make it Amberely Pie –without at first realising there was an actual village in West Sussex with this name! So we later conjured up a similar sounding name –Ambleton.

Here are some good pointers for naming a film:
1. Make it memorable. If people can easily remember the title that can only be a good thing.
2. Not too long. The longer it is the harder to remember or to include in artwork etc. You no doubt can remember ‘Borat’ but can you remember the full title (http://bit.ly/yqqUn)?
3. Not too difficult to remember. If it includes a foreign word, an invented word or a list of numbers, this is likely to be difficult to memorise and people will lose interest in doing so.
4. Reflects the genre. Deceiving an audience into believing it is another genre can be fun but also detrimental, as you may also miss your target audience.
5. Translation. Will it translate well into another language –especially if you are targeting a foreign audience? In Japan, almost all Western films are completely renamed, except for simple and effective titles.
6. Copyright. If you include a product in the title, can you get this cleared? It might be cool to copy the name of another film and/or play with the wording to make it sound similar, but there may not only be legal issues, but will it ultimately confuse or disappoint your audience?

Once you’ve got a good title, the next thing is to make sure the film lives up to it!

Saturday, 22 August 2009

Tip #4 : There is such a thing as free production software!

By Dan Parkes (Director)

Most novice script writers will use their default word processing software. And this is not necessarily foolish considering favourites Final Draft and Movie Magic Screenwriter cost hundreds of pounds. But what’s the fuss? Isn’t it just a bit of formatting –nothing that the tab button can’t fix?

Well, fortunately for us, early in pre-production we discovered the free software Celtx (http://celtx.com/) which not only provides script writing and formatting functions and can be exported into a universal PDF, but pre-production software as well. This means that you have all the automated functionality you expect, such as scene and character elements that can then be transferred to a script breakdown, scheduling and budgeting. It has a calendar from which you can develop your production schedule. And there is even a storyboard function, remote backup and an iPhone service. And did we mention it’s free?


But what we liked most of all is the ability to collaborate with team members by sharing the project on-line –and since it’s a free download it can be anyone you specify on the team. Any updates to the script or schedules automatically sends out an e-mail alerting them of developments as they happen.

OK, it’s free, so there are issues and it’s not perfect –we had to find workarounds for some limitations. But your choice of free software is not limited to Celtx. There is Page 2 Stage (page2stage.com/index.htm) and also free on-line screenplay services such as Scripped (scripped.com), ScriptBuddy (scriptbuddy.com) and Zhura (www.zhura.com).

But then you just might want to spend £150 on Final Draft, so you can have the computer generated voices who will read your character’s dialogue aloud. Or use Movie Magic Screenwriter like Paul Haggis, Frank Darabont, Guy Ritchie and hundreds of other famous people on its testimonial page.

Then again, M. Night Shyamalan allegedly wrote the script to ‘Unbreakable’ using Times New Roman on Microsoft Word. And it sold for $5 million. Which reinforces a universal truth: it’s not what you’ve got, but what you do with it that counts!

If Celtx is not your thing, here are your other options:

Final Draft
Movie Magic Screenwriter 6
Movie Outline
Scriptware
Dreamascript
Screenforge (Microsoft Word template)
Script Wizard (Microsoft Word add-on)
Scrivener (Mac users)
Montage (Mac users)

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Tip#3: Unblocking writer's block

By Daniel Parkes (Director)

We are presenting a lot of these blogs, tips and inside information in chronological order of production, so I thought it would be interesting at this point to put some general writing tips from writer-director Darren Aronofsky (The Wrestler, The Fountain, Requiem for a Dream, IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0004716/) that we found quite inspirational.

If you find it daunting writing a 90-120 page script, or stuck halfway through your second act, his six ‘rules’ might just help:

Darren Aronofsky’s Rules For Getting a Script Written Quickly and Efficiently:

1. Always move forward. If you have a problem, type through it.
2. Only take a break after something good happens on the page or you accomplish a goal. No breaks for confusion: type through it.
3. Ten pages a day minimum.
4. Only go back to add something. Do not remove contradictions, just make a note.
5. Do it. Suffer, live, cry, struggle.
6. Have fun.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Tip #2 : The First Draft - Juggling Creativity and Reality

By Itsuka Yamasaki (Writer/Producer)

When it comes to writing the first draft of Ambleton Delight there is so much to tell but I will try to keep this article from the POV of writing for a low budget film. I’m going to make it into a list, as I tend to ramble a bit.

1. Don't start writing until you have worked out a solid structure
This is crucial for writing films of any length. Without a blueprint for a screenplay you will either get stuck or waste time. With Ambleton Delight we used 50+ index cards each containing scenes/sequences (this process will be explained more in a later post).

2. Carefully select the locations
Choose appropriate but realistic locations. Certain locations (say, Tahiti beach) might be ideal but are not realistic for the budget. Do they all need to be different? If five scenes take place in the same location then we can film all those scenes at once, which will no doubt keep the producer happy.

3. Avoid unnecessary characters.
Each character should have a purpose and need to be there to drive the story. Another character means more expenses (i.e fee, catering, costume, make-up, transportation…). If your main character has three friends, does it really have to be three? Can it be two? Or even one?

4. Don’t mix up hard work and cost.
This is my problem. I tend to compromise my creativity because I’m often freaked out by thinking how expensive it could be to film a certain scene (I know, I’m such a tightwad!). For example, I was against setting one scene in the rain. I thought it would be ideal but very expensive to film. But the director suggested a way to film it without a rain machine (this will be explained in a later post). It was hard work filming it but hardly cost anything. So don’t compromise your creativity easily because certain elements might be achievable with hard work.

For more information on writing screenplays (not necessarily low-budget) check out these references:

Some books to read…
Screenplay by Syd Field – a “must read”
The Writer's Journey by Chris Vogler –an interesting read even if you are not a writer.

Some websites to visit
Wordplay by Terry Rossio and Ted Elliott. The best screenwriting website I know, written by the writers behind many Hollywood blockbusters including the Mask of Zorro and Pirates of the Caribbean.
BBC Writersroom – It contains good instructions how to format screenplays for the BBC.
Making of screenwriters tips

Please feel free to share your thoughts and resources!

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Tip #1: Use what you’ve got, not what you’ve not.

By Dan Parkes (Director)

Alfred Hitchcock once said: To make a great film you need three things - the script, the script and the script. There is no denying that a good story is a vital ingredient –something that will justify the lost friends, new enemies, general poverty and multiple near death experiences!

But what may not be so obvious is that in the world of next-to-nothing film making, it’s at this stage that you can make or break your film. And we’re not talking about finding a lucrative market or commercial viability (although this is important, at this stage we will look at filmmaking as what it rightfully is: artistic expression). As the script develops, you need to weigh every scene, every character, every prop and almost every word as costing you money you don’t have.

This starts with the genre. Generally speaking the most expensive films are fantasy, science fiction, disaster and costume dramas. With all the sets, costumes and special effects, it’s not hard to guess why. Low-budget films tend to be human dramas, comedies and the most prolific of all –horror. It’s not only the costs involved, but the feasibility. Horror is cheap and very easy to film, especially with the modern handycam technique popularised by Blair Witch. And an actor who has played a zombie has yet to clinch an Academy Award.

Within the genre you also need to consider the type of locations and the number of characters. Props and costumes should ideally be contemporary. The cheapest film would entirely revolve two or three characters in a present day living room (such as Hitchcock’s Rear Window, or Twelve Angry Men) –which is where a good story comes in. It’s going to have to be good if that’s all you have! And by all means stay away from anything involving water, if budget blow-outs Waterworld and Titanic are anything to go by.

The key is to use what you’ve got, not what you’ve not. Rather than dream up some epic sequence involving hundreds of fantasy warriors battling on some distant planet, stories that revolve around what you have easy access to but maybe take for granted will be a lot cheaper and will ring true on film. Not only will you find it easier to write, as you will know what you are writing about, but your uncle’s prized Cadillac or your friend’s shop will introduce tremendous production values –and you haven’t even spent a penny!

In our case, the concept behind Ambleton Delight is full of money saving devices –from locations to camera techniques. Stay tuned to find out more …

Sunday, 9 August 2009

Do you want to do this the easy way… or the hard way?

By the Production Team

12 days principle photography, a budget of £6,000 and nine months from first draft to premiere. The result - a 110 minute feature film entitled Ambleton Delight, starring a respected British actor. However, as is so often the case, sometimes the making can be an equally interesting story!

This blog will reveal how it was done, with tips, contacts, photographs, production notes, links to free software, interviews, guest blogs and video clips. Everything we would like to have known before we started, but had to learn the hard way, so you don’t. And that leads us to the first and most vital piece of information that easily rolls off the tongue but the reality is undeniable: It is hard. By this we mean REALLY HARD!

When we began the production some people thought it was a joke; they doubted if we could really complete it without the necessary connections and money (the so called ‘easy way’). We couldn’t help but feel slightly patronised as those ‘in the industry’ (whatever that means!) shared knowing glances and shook their heads sympathetically at our naiveté. Our intended budget of £5,000 didn’t even register on their scales –it is labeled ‘no budget’ (by comparison £100,000 is considered ‘micro-budget’). Filmmaking is an extremely expensive business - £5,000 is what many productions would spend on a day’s catering. (Note: in this blog we will use the more accurate description of ‘next-to-nothing budget’). So this was not going to be easy.

But with a lot of hard work and passion we did pull it off without the requisite industry connections and financing. So no matter who you are –from a high budget producer looking at ways of saving money, to a struggling filmmaker without any- we are sure there are going to be some gems in here that will prove valuable to your production. Some of you might have family members or friends involved in making films, prioritising their dreams over a stable full time job. Hopefully we can give you a glimpse of what they are going though and what it takes to get a feature off the ground.

But don’t think we are claiming to know it all -actually far from it. Film making is a strange and capricious business. And no two experiences are ever going to be the same. A paint by numbers approach is never going to work. So while there are plenty of guidelines and rules we found that intentionally or otherwise we blatantly disregarded most of them. So maybe this blog may not just enlighten and inspire you, but also be a guide for how not to do it!

Finally, we also see this as a collaborative blog –maybe you have some tips and information you can add. The blog will be presented in the chronological order of production and based around key phases. Feel free to add comments, reflections, suggestions.

‘Nothing difficult is easy,’ as they say. So we’ll show you how we did it... the hard way!

Ambleton Delight Production Team

Production team on location (left to right): Dan Parkes (Director/Producer), Sinéad Ferguson (Producer/Production Designer), Itsuka Yamasaki (Writer/Producer)