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:

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:

- 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.


- 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:
http://www.mint.com/ (currently US only but might be coming to UK soon)

Free accounting/bookkeeping software:

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: