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 (
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 ( 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 ( and also free on-line screenplay services such as Scripped (, ScriptBuddy ( and Zhura (

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
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: 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)