Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Pitch Training

We've just spend the last week in pitch training at the Central School of Speech & Drama. There are a few tricks we learnt - mainly we did a lot of breathing exercises. The teachers made a good point when they said that most of our communication is non-verbal: tone and voice and body and eyes speak more loudly than we'd sometimes like.

Turns out communication (like so many things) is all about breathing.

Anyway, on the topic of pitching movies, here's one hilarious way (not) to do it:

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Transmedia Storytelling

In the process of thinking about how best to market House Rules (the movie), we have obviously been thinking about ways to create audience engagement online.

The Blair Witch Project is a traditional example of a film that started telling its story online long before the movie hit cinema screens. A massive audience was created and the film was a box office success despite its low production budget.

It's silly to try and reproduce such success, but there's definitely something to be said about taking your story beyond the four walls of a feature film. What about live performance, print, digital and social media? There is a growing movement that believes stories should be told across media to transcend one medium and become transmedia stories.

Here in London, an organisation called Power to the Pixel has been exploring all things cross-media for a couple of years and today they are hosting a forum to discuss ways of financing and distributing stories. I'm certainly listening.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Movie fundraising is GoGo!

After our survey of crowd funding websites, House Rules Productions Ltd decided IndieGogo was the place to base our quest for investment. We are now well on the way to our first 90-minute movie - unless something goes horribly wrong. And speaking of things going horribly wrong - here's a link to the promo video we've produced to get us started:

Spread the word! Any feedback appreciated - kind or harsh. Though I retain the right to disagree if it's harsh and the right to love you forever if you help make this happen!

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Birth Certificate

Our firstborn has a name! After a variety of cute and crazy suggestions, we have decided to call the film:

House Rules

This seems to actually very neatly summarise the plot, whilst also echoing the way in which young people live together in a house share. Of course, these rules are a whole lot scarier than "mop the floor on Tuesdays". And they are enforced by a machine - that can kill you.

So while we wait for the next draft of the screenplay, we are now ready to register our existence in the world.

In order to make the life of accountants and lawyers and stakeholders easier, every movie gets its own company. So while Devilishly Handsome Productions Ltd remains our umbrella company (and a key stakeholder in the actual project), the movie will be officially produced by another company. 

After all the title and tagline brainstorming we're now creatively drained, so we've simply called the company: House Rules Productions Ltd. A fat wad of paper has been sent to Companies House and we have invested our first pennies into the project - 20 quid registration fee.

Money has been paid. Now there's no going back!

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

What's the real story?

While the writer writes and the director draws, we producers are "packaging". Eventually, that will mean preparing a glossy little brochure to send out to to investors, but there's a lot of groundwork to be done before that.

We're meeting regularly to prepare our pitches and to start thinking about what needs to go into our budget. We're researching into other movies in the low-budget horror genre and noting how they performed in that imaginary "marketplace" out there. We've started thinking about our marketing and distribution plan, which is going to be an ongoing task until...well, maybe forever.

I'm taking the words of the theatrical sales manager I met to heart (more of her advice here). She said sales agents and distributors want "nerdy stats". I've also been told many times that you should deliver a movie that has an obvious and easy marketing strategy attached. For example, the UK zombie movie Colin has made it as far as a mention in this blog because of its genius marketing angle: "this feature was made with 45 pounds and a crowbar". Everyone knows about it, simply because it makes a short and interesting story to tell.

Paranormal activity was "the movie that got famous on the internet". Avatar was "the movie that the director of Titanic has been working on for years". Have you seen that Angelina Jolie movie? Are you going to the see facebook movie?

Few people enter cinemas because they like the film's narrative arc - they don't even know what that is until they've paid. People actively ask others not to tell them "what happens". They go into the cinema because of the other story.

So - what's our real story? We don't know yet, but we do know it's not the one in the screenplay.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

9 Crowdfunding Websites

Opening our movie to the general public for investment has been something we've wanted to try ever since meeting producer AD Lane who seems to be making successful use of this strategy (more about that here).

Now that we have a solid script, we've had a look into what websites are out there. Special thanks to my colleague Andrew Faure for the research below.

  1. KickstarterRespected name, but currently requires a USA bank account and address to use the site, so that cuts us out. Secondly it is all or nothing – meaning we set a goal of the money we want to raise, and if we raise that we get to keep it, if we don't hit our goal, all money that was pledged goes back to the people who gave it to us and we get nothing. Some other sites will give us whatever we do manage to raise.

  2. ChipinPeople can only pay using Paypal. Looks a bit amateur.

  3. Cinema ReloadedThis is a specially set up website for 3 specific films. It is not a site we can use. However it seems to be a group of film-makers (like us) who are crowd-funding a slate of 3 films have set it up with a unique angle to fund their 3 films.

  4. UluleThey don't charge any fees. People an only pay using Paypal, and the money is paid directly into our Paypal account. You have to set a target, and if you do not reach that target then you do not get anything. We are not allowed to have our project listed on any other fundraising sites.

  5. BiracyThis website is also to fund a specific project and it seems a bit Multi-Level Marketing. Definitely not what we're looking for.

  6. InvestedInNot bad, and they have two options: set a goal and if this goal is not reached then you get nothing. Set no goal, and just collect as much as you can in a specific time period. You can only use Credit Card to pay – not everyone will have a credit card. They do not charge a fee.

  7. Rocket HubSet goal, and if not reached, you do not get anything. They take 8% fee (transaction costs included). Seems like a good site, with s slightly different approach. Nice design as well. If you decide to donate money, you need to first sign up, which could be a bit of a pain and slight deterrent of someone just wants to donate a few dollars.

  8. MassifyMore a networking site than funding site.

  9. Indiegogo: Set goal, but if you don't reach your goal you still get whatever you raise. People can pay via Paypal or Credit card. They take 9% fee (but return 4% if you reach your goal).

    Sunday, 1 August 2010

    Hawk, would you like to play a pigeon?

    I feel like I want to end every single entry with an exclamation mark nowadays! We've just received the first draft of the screenplay, emailed over from South Africa. It's currently under the working title "CPU", but that's going to have to change soon.

    I can't reveal too much, but the writer has certainly managed to get the central idea out there - housemates trapped in their new home and being forced by a computer to play the family roles of mum, dad, daughter, etc. It's such a relief to have someone on board who really knows how to write pithy dialogue!

    Of course, there are things we already know will have to be changed. 

    The end sequence involves aerial shots following a pigeon, and then some dramatic action around said pigeon. Matt is a CG wizard, but would a computer pigeon still look real ten years from now? Nope. Proper animatronics (like this ultimate favourite of mine) are insanely expensive, so that's out too. That leaves us with a pigeon wrangler - and all wisdom preaches: "never work with children or animals on a low budget movie". Andrew offered to contact a friend of his who has a trained hawk - a hawk dressed as pigeon? 

    We might need to change the script.

    Thursday, 3 June 2010

    Matching Ears & Eyes

    We have a writer! Matt has been carrying around a cool idea for a low-budget horror movie for some time, but none of us had the time to learn how to write a screenplay and put it down on paper. 

    The idea is simple, but perfectly suited to a microbudget production - around six characters, "one location" (one house, which may be several different spaces patched together in the end), and just enough CG to look cool without killing the animators.

    So we've been looking for a writer, but of course those scribes we know who are fantastic are also very busy. Except one. He's retired. And he's Matt's dad. Strictly speaking he wrote radio plays, but with his ear for dialogue and Matt's eye for action, we may just have the perfect team.

    It's been right under our noses, but none of us ever though to approach him! And now we have come to our senses and Matt has delivered a comprehensive story brief. At least communication is easy - they understand each other's crazy ideas in ways no one else could.

    Working title is "CPU" and this show is now well and truly on the road!

    Monday, 3 May 2010

    Lanes, Stone Walls & Graveyards

    The progress on the heist/horror has been unsatisfying. Months ago we were all certain we could do better than the scripts we received – and we will have to do better, no point in investing too much energy into a bad script – but it sure ain’t easy to learn this here screenwriting craft. Respect to all the writers out there!

    Anyway, Ben went on holiday to the Cotswolds recently and came back bubbling with inspiration – he wants to put ghosts amongst the country lanes, resurrect The Hound of the Baskervilles or The Woman in Black. Apparently going out into the country is creepy for someone who grew up in London.

    So looks like we’re going to slow down the heist movie and start to focus on a ghost story instead. Can’t wait to see what emerges!

    Thursday, 22 April 2010

    Crowdfunding Zombies

    Some time ago, I met with a producer who was raising money for his zombie movie online. He was allowing people to buy "producer packages" in exchange for a financial contribution to the film, and these packages could also be given as presents.

    You can check out his project Invasion of the Not Quite Dead here. He also offers contributors the chance to be a zombie extra in the movie.

    Meeting AD Lane got us producers thinking. Does crowdfunding really work? If anything, it seems suited to a small budget.

    So once our scripts are developed, we're going to do some research and give it a shot.

    Saturday, 13 March 2010

    "Know your Voice" (5 of 5)

    The last person I met at the NPA Pitch & Connect event was a producer/screenwriter who had written Endgame (2009) and owns a London production company.

    This guy was really cool, obviously had a very collaborative approach to filmmaking and genuinely tried to be helpful. He preached more than listened, but it was inspiring nevertheless.
    • "3 to 5 million is a nightmare at the moment"
    • "know your own voice as a creative person"
    • "a lot of British stories are too culture specific and pessimistic"
    • your film's uniqueness is both its strength and its weakness, something unique may be too much of a risk for investors/distributors, but something the same won't work either, so you need to strike a careful balance
    • torn between safety and risk of the new
    • film audiences are different from any other kind of audiences. they are going out on a cold night and they expect to be engaged, so you can challenge them more. there is a higher level of interactive participation.
    • people in the UK do not spend near enough time or money on development
    • full time survival in the industry is the first goalpost to achieve
    • a lot of the people in the industry have business degrees and are business people first, so that's the language you have to learn to speak
    • always up-sell your product! He reckoned we should call our film a "1 million" budget
    • it's a game, so play the game
    • expectation building worked for Twilight, so he thinks it could work for us
    • make sure you know what the next project in line is
    • once we release our movie online, there will still be a lot of people who won't know it's online, so he thinks there will still be appeal for sales agents and building the film's profile by essentially giving easy access to it all over the world may be exactly what we need, especially since our primary goal is a career goal and not a financial one

    Friday, 12 March 2010

    Online Distribution (4 of 5)

    The fourth producer of features I met at the NPA Pitch & Connect event did not introduce himself.

    This guy was finding ways to shoot everyone around him down, so it was fun to bash heads for a while. I ran him through everything in detail and he ended up saying "well, you're doing everything right", which was encouraging.
    • your paperwork has to be airtight to sell to distributors/agents etc
    • keep it one location for a microbudget
    • private investment is the way to go, sell units
    • think of how you want to structure the recoupment schedule, eg. perhaps some talent first?
    • he reckons deferred payments on the Mars movie will be around 350k, so 450k budget in the end (without marketing)
    • he wasn't sure about online distribution, said no one has done it with success, but it's innovative and might work
    • online revenue is only 2% of a blockbuster's return
    • might cause problems with sales agents as there is no distributor set up that can handle global distribution (aside from maybe Sony Classics, Fox Searchlight, Paramount) , so we would have to exclude download & internet from our deal if we'd already done that ourselves and that might make our product less attractive to sales agents
    • the "first online movie event" could be our sales angle?
    • if we're doing this project just to get our careers off the ground then maybe we should be okay if it just gets seen everywhere and is hailed as an innovative distribution method and we don't make that much money
    • we should consider having an experienced co-producer onboard

    Thursday, 11 March 2010

    Microwave (3 of 5)

    The third producer I met at the NPA Pitch & Connect event was the producer of Freestyle, a Film London Microwave project in 2007 which was released by Revolver Entertainment.

    I didn't get much time to chat to this woman and she seemed fairly uninterested in everyone at the table - I think she was very tired. Bad sign for my future?

    • "once you win things people want you"
    • cast & crew were happy with their low pay because everyone was on the same boat
    • 100k is the production spend for Film London Microwave projects, but actually you need to find your own funding on the side and the actual film costs more
    • it's probably as much work to make a microbudget as it is to make a mid-range

    Wednesday, 10 March 2010

    "High concept as scary" (2 of 5)

    The Second producer I met at the NPA Pitch & Connect Event. He had just produced a Scottish-funded feature. 

    This guy and one of his directors were only mildly helpful. He really seemed to like the actual Mars idea and pressed me for details of the story, then said that he is a genre fan and I should not be ashamed to be making a genre movie. I didn't act ashamed, but he said in his experience a lot of UK higher-ups think of "high concept as scary".

    • name actor was recommended as a strategy for getting funding
    • actors agents in the UK are much more closed to reading indie scripts than agents in the USA
    • funding bodies have "their people" and even if it looks like they support random groups of people, upon closer inspection those people will often have worked with them before etc. Apparently tough to break in there.
    • get anyone famous you know, eg. another director, to endorse your work even if they're not involved in it and that will help a lot

    Tuesday, 9 March 2010

    NPA Pitch & Connect (1 of 5)

    The New Producer's Alliance (NPA) hosted an event as part of the Bird's Eye View Festival which was called "Pitch & Connect". I headed in there with our Mars Movie to get some advice, and had a chance to meet and chat personally with five experienced producers.

    The notes are nothing radically new, good to hear from the professionals nevertheles

    The first person I met was Theatrical Sales Manager at Universal and used to work for Revolver Entertainment.

    I pitched the Mars story and she just listened, but smiled - she seemed to like the idea or at least my enthusiasm. Pity this was my first port of call as I think I warmed up a few more radical questions a bit later, but nevertheless she gave some good advice and was very encouraging.

    • "online" is a bit of a buzzword at the moment
    • distributors can get P&A support money from soft sources for innovative projects, so they like to have those projects
    • marketing is absolutely key, she was very glad that we were already thinking about that
    • the film itself has to work for an audience, they have to talk about it
    • cover the conventions of the genre but also have a USP
    • our movie is popcorn cinema and we should sell it as such
    • Revolver Pictures and Vertigo are good targets for our movie
    • we have to make sure that before we go in there we are absolutely ready
    • they will want to see nerdy stats and they will talk business, actual content is secondary
    • for every positive example we have, they will have a casualty example and we should be ready for that
    • we should research the patterns of what movies they have picked up when and when they've released them how etc

    Monday, 1 February 2010

    Camera Nirvana!

    We have finally discovered the camera we’re going to use! We have enthusiastically joined the DSLR revolution and started shooting on Canon EOS 5D / 7D / 550D cameras.

    There is so much info out there, a guy called Philip Bloom is pretty much a pioneer on this technology around our neck of the woods – check out his website if you're interested in hearing more about this movement.

    We can even afford to buy these toys and just shoot whatever, whenever! Great to have a camera we know really well when we start shooting for days on end.

    Wow, just shot our first music video on one of these and we are happy bunnies!