It’s that time of year again. The festival is over, the BIFA’s are coming up and we’re refocusing on the revolutionary film training programme we have grown and developed since 1992. We’ve meet(ed) and greeted approximately 200 filmmakers who had their films screening in the festival. For each filmmaker whose film we are screening, we have had to deal with a dozen or two whose films we are not. It’s an emotionally wrought time.
Film is a fiercely competitive and unforgivingly tough industry. From our vantage point there are some basics mistakes filmmakers make that will completely ruin their chances of a career. Many of the films we have to turn down are flawed for these very reasons…
1. The actor’s influence
At our office we will hear a dozen times a week about some terrific film that is going to be made as soon as Ewan MacGregor commits. I could list two dozen such projects right now, where I know the filmmakers personally, and have heard about their projects for at teast two years each.
The problem is, the Ewan MacGregor’s of the world might not even know of their project. Or if they do, might be too polite to say ‘no’.
Meanwhile, yet another film project languishes because everyone the filmmaker meets, from other cast, to crew to financiers are all waiting for this one human being to say ‘yes’.
A far better tactic would be to choose several actors for the leading part, pay and approach a casting director who will tell you whether or not your expectations are realistic. Use this information when you go out to additional cast, crew and to your investors. If one actor bails out, at least you haven’t blown the deal.
I made exactly this mistake on the last feature I produced: The LIving And The Dead, written and directed by Simon Rumley. We had the entire film funded and ready to go based on the wonderful British actor Alan Bates. Six weeks before production he got ill and died, leaving the project in ruins for nearly 3 years before we were able to resurrect it.
‘I have someone who is going to give me a million’ is another common statement I have heard countless times. But the million is always awaiting a transfer from a tax-free haven, a rise in the stock market, resolution of a legal battle, the agreement of a foreign distributor and so on. The fimmaker gets so seduced by having a million, that they stop making movies and start waiting for money that never comes.
I committed this sin a few years after I started Raindance. I met the amazing director, Simon Hunter who at that time was sharing offices with me in our very humble basement abode in Soho. He had written a feature and had promises of funding from several of the key British film funds. Trouble is, this process took several years, a period where Simon and his producing partners Mark Leake and Tim Dennison literally waited for the money. Simon had written an ultra low budget feature which we all knew he could shoot for a few thousand – money we also knew we could find. But since Simon and his team were ‘waiting for the money’ we all decided not to go for it.
It is a decision we have regretted to this day.
Had we made the ultra low feature, Simon would have done a superb job, the money for the big feature, when it came through, would have been Simon’s second feature, not his first. And the ultra low feature most certainly would have made some money.
3. Shooting Your Own Script
I know all about this one, because I wrote what I thought was a brilliant script and shot it with such determination that even my closest friends and advisors were petrified at the thought of telling me that the script sucked.
When you shoot your own script you detour around the industry’s development process and you avoid all the constructive criticism that goes with it. Sure, you also avoid the frustration and disappointment with all the delays. But make really sure you are able to get good solid feedback on your screenplay, or else you will lead all your investors, cast and crew over the cliff together with you, like the Pied Piper of Hamelin.
4. Casting Your Friends
An easy route when filmmaking is to coerce your mates into acting roles. It’s easier to offer your friends roles than to track down professional actors.
Unfortunately your friends cannot act. And when they are acting terribly, you will find it almost impossible to criticise them and offer meaningful direction without destroying your personal relationship. Bite the bullet. Save the offer of a starring role to your wannabe actor friends until later in both of your careers.
Of course, nobody knows anything. You are probably going to close down your computer right now and make a brilliant film against every bit of my advice.
See you at Raindance.