Thursday, 19 November 2009

Mixed Bizness

It has been a while since I've written anything for this blog which has really been down to chaotic things in my personal life - a move of house, the first for 5 years, is one such looming aspect. I've yet to tackle my giant amount of vinyl albums, so let's ignore that for a while (like I have been!)

Since my last posts in September (and the post I wrote below, but never uploaded) there's been various developments, some good, some bad...

Firstly, The Crunch has been rejected from every festival I'd entered it to, which I think was around 16 in total. I was hoping to have entered some more but I just don't have the time right now and I guess the constant rejections are starting to hit home now. I was hoping the European festivals would have been a little more welcoming, but that doesn't seem to be the case. I was also hoping Cinecity in Brighton might have supported it, but in the end I didn't even get a rejection email from them - I guess I knew I'd been rejected when Terry informed me his short had been selected for screening yet I'd heard nothing. Considering pretty much every other festival has emailed a standard rejection email, it's seems a bit poor that Cinecity couldn't at least do the same courtesy. (My friend Nick is attending a screening night and told me he'd seen a couple of the films they're showing already - apparently they are of extremely high quality, so the competition must have been extremely tough.)

These rejections are simply re-enforcing my thoughts about The Crunch - it's simply not good enough. For a festival to commit 20 minutes of their programme time to a film, it better be a lean, impressive 20 minutes and The Crunch obviously doesn't fit that bill. I know there continues to be issues with the sound, which was one reason I was hoping a subtitled version would have worked better in Europe, and I do concede that the running time is too long - perhaps if it was 15 minutes long it would be better for the viewer. But as my first film in years, it felt like I should let the film be the length that I wanted it to be, rather than what would fit a festival criteria better. So I've only myself to blame for that.

Terry did make a suggestion regarding the poor sound - distort the dialogue to buggery and make the whole soundtrack completely nuts, then have the film subtitled anyway as a stylistic decision. It's not a bad idea, but we no longer have the individual sound elements, so it would involved distorting the music too. Part of me also doesn't want to carry on tweaking on this film any longer - it's over 2 and a half years since I shot it and my film life is likely to end up being a collection of never complete pieces of work if I don't draw a line somewhere.

So, I'll try and submit it to some more festivals, but I think realistically it's just not going to happen with the film and, of course, there will come a certain time where it's completion date will have it regarded as old hat and no festival will touch it anyway. I think the way forward will be to have it screened at the film nights in pubs etc up and down the country (assuming they'll take it too) much like the night I co-run. At least it might get a public airing that way.

From bad to good - Terry and I have completed the assemble edit of Stranded, which towards the end was a headache and a half as a result of the way the final shooting scene was shot 4 months apart. But out of all the films I've made, this is the first one where I haven't felt utterly disheartened by the assemble edit - there's a definite slickness to the film, which I put down to Anthony's cinematography and Terry's eye for editing, which has for the most part resulted in a smooth film. My wife praised the film even at this stage, saying it looks great and it does have a certain undeniable atmosphere to it, even without the music and sound mix.

This is all encouraging - time pending we're hoping to have a final edit locked down before the end of the year and we both have ideas where we can shave minutes from the film and perhaps even play with the running order to some extent, all of which is exciting to me as I've usually slavishly followed the running order of the script, usually to the detriment of the final film.

Assuming we can get this final edit to the necessary people for the next stage, I'm hoping I might have a finished film for March/ April time, which would be wonderful.

Positively, I've also heard back from Nick regarding the animation effects for Goodnight, Halloween - he's hoping to finally crack on with it and get all of his work done and dusted before Christmas, which will leave the final day's shoot still to do (hopefully again around March time.)

And on another positive note, John the sound designer finally got the first few parts of Gettin Some and we went through it together. He hadn't realised the film was a feature film - oops - but doesn't seem too put off by it. Fingers crossed that I can finally lay that film to rest next year.

Best to even this out before it gets all too happy clappy from this blog - my proposal to Screen South was turned down flat, as was Terry's. Oddly, what with the rejections to The Crunch, it didn't seem to bother me that much - water off a duck's back now I guess. My proposal is still a film which I could make on my own if I wanted - possibly not to the same level as it would be with some decent funding - but it's not completely beyond my means, so hopefully I may look into making it next year if possible.

There were aspects from the Screen South open day which bugged me at the time though - one in particular, which I keep boring people with, was the feeling that sometimes the last people they want to support with film funding is the people who already make films. At the opening to the day they asked for a show of hands for writers, directors, writer/ directors, producers...then asked for people from other media - painters, photographers, video games designers. A few hands went up and there seemed to be a satisfied reaction to this from Screen South, giving the impression that perhaps they were more interested in supporting people from other disciplines over those who already make films. This is fine in theory, but the question I keep asking if this is the case, is where's the funding opportunity for me as a film maker to go and make a video game? Oh, there isn't one. Dandy.

Now I'm not suggesting for a minute that a video game designer's submission would be approved over mine just because of my background - I'd like to have enough faith in the funding scheme that it does in the end come down to supporting the best idea, regardless of background, but I will be looking out for who and what films Screen South do end up supporting on this year's scheme.

Another aspect of the day which has stuck with me was Ben Blaine's contribution to the discussion panel. Ben is Shooting People's official blogger, who on the Shooting People website encouragingly states that if you've made a film, he wants to see it, which gives an impression of a desire to support film makers at all levels of ability.

I had some communication with Ben as a result of this request, when I contacted him with a view to sending a copy of The Crunch. His reply wasn't massively encouraging - he didn't like the teaser trailer for the film much, stating that the idea of watching 19 minutes of that film chilled his blood. Undeterred I popped the film in the post to him and just when I assumed that was that he sent a reply. He stated he would be honest, as most people wouldn't, and although the feedback initially seemed destructive over time I have accepted what really are his personal criticisms and some, such as his negative comment regarding the sound, I'm all in agreement with.

They asked Ben a question regarding short films, which I'm pretty sure was basically "What things don't you like in short films?" His blunt answer was simply "Short films." He explained that the majority of short films are utterly awful and a complete waste of his time - by example, he stated that standing on a train platform for ten minutes was a better use of his time than some films he's seen.

I just found this attitude really sad and destructive. Running Son Of Movie Bar I get sent films, some of which I don't personally like, some of which I do, but I knew this was always going to be the case. Back when I used to attend the Bang and Trampoline film events in Nottingham, there would always be films which you felt were a waste of time, but it still felt important to support the night. With Son Of Movie Bar, I do like to justify every screening in my head by finding at least one element that I can say I genuinely like - it may just be one shot, or one line of dialogue, or the music, or locations, but usually I can find something which I could hold up and say "That's what I like in it and why we're showing it." I've always said this attitude comes from Alex Cox and his much missed Moviedrome series on BBC2, where he openly admitted that not all of the films they showed were great, but there was always some element of them which made them worth seeing.

Every film maker has to start somewhere - the majority of material we show at Son Of Movie Bar is usually very high and I'd actually rather be showing films with lower production values, as the night is supposed to be aimed at non professionals and amateur film makers, some of which I worry are scared off by the quality of some of the films we show. But I really want to encourage anyone making films to keep at it - there was something depressing about Ben's attitude, I could imagine him saying that some people shouldn't be allowed to make films.

Maybe my attitude is too primary school teacher-ish - everyone should be encouraged to have a go, whether they're any good or not - and perhaps this leads to encouraging bad film makers to continue making bad films...Perhaps I just don't know if I'm a particularly good film maker myself so don't feel in a position where I feel I can judge anyone else's work. Perhaps Ben feels he is already in that position from his short film work, who knows?

Its not where you've been, it's where you're going

This is a post I originally wrote on the 13th of October, but never got around to uploading...there's some bits regarding the below I'll be posting about and updating on next...

I really shouldn’t be writing this. I should be working on a film proposal.

The deadline for the Screen South Digital Shorts scheme closes in a week and a half. I’d always planned to have something ready well in advance and have time to get feedback from some people, rework it, hone it…but that hasn’t happened.

Perhaps in a way, my momentum has been lost after going to a Screen South open day. There was a very good lecture from a script editor, who talked about scripts (obviously.) She reiterated some points I’ve come across before, mostly in Blake Snyder’s “Saves The Cat” – the idea of the obvious “conscious” desires of the characters, and the underlying “subconscious” desires, which is what the characters need to attain by the end of the film (or equally not, perhaps…)

It made me realise that the idea I’d had gestating in my head for several months was totally half baked – it had a beginning (I think), it had an ending (I think) but the middle really was a series of repetitious events which I realise now didn’t help to move the story along. This realisation was difficult, as it means I need to go back and figure out the story again.

This is one of the hardest parts of writing, that the story which may come out of the tweaks and frustration may not be the one you actually set out to write, or even wanted to write. I worry I may be in that territory with this film.

In the last few days I’ve tried to create a stronger backstory for the characters and the relationship between the father and daughter and somewhere along the way the film has changed, from a melancholic character piece of a lonely old man, to a morality play. How do I feel about this? I’m not sure…

In the last few months The Crunch has been dismissed from most of the film festivals I’ve entered it to. There’s still a couple I’m waiting to hear from, but as my mate Terry has already heard back from one of those festivals successfully with his film (which is brilliant news) I’m assuming The Crunch hasn’t made the bill. Which has made me worry that The Crunch could possibly get the same response from most festivals and that the old issues still remain, that it’s too long and it possibly doesn’t work. As a flashy piece of film making, with the lighting, make up and editing, it’s possibly got an initial wow factor, but after that it’s perhaps unsatisfying.
Perhaps it’s this at the back of my mind which is forcing me to make this Screen South proposal work, even if it’s at the detriment of the story I wanted to tell, as I can’t see how that story would fit into Screen South’s parameters. Maybe there is a way, but I just don’t have the time now to figure it out. Whenever I’ve given the film more and more thought, the daughter has become an increasingly important character, reducing the film from being a character piece focussed mostly on her father.

Still, I think this process can only be beneficial in the long run – I have to accept changes, I have to accept that nothing in film making is ever concrete. Maybe it’s more a plate of mashed potato, it’s solid enough, but can be constantly shifted in to many shapes.

This seems to fit my feelings towards Stranded, which Terry and I have finally started editing the final storyline. With the first scene (or the 3rd scene in the film) edited, I’m already looking at the film differently, that perhaps the current opening isn’t the strongest, either visually, performance wise or scripting. Once we’ve got the film assembled in the script running order, I think we will need to take a look at it and perhaps break some scenes down in to two. I’m reluctant to reduce this film to 30 second sound bite scenes, as that seems to make it a touch soap opera-esque, but at the end of the day that’s probably what audiences feel more comfortable with these days.

Similarly, should I get to shoot the Screen South proposal, in my head I plan to shoot it as a very modern film. What do I mean by this? The best example I can think of would be “Quantum Of Solace” – I found the film interesting, not a complete success, but I didn’t dislike it. There seems to be many many different camera angles, with very rapid cuts – I felt like it had been made for people with attention deficit disorder, which is probably reflective of modern film audiences. It’s not my style as such, but I think it would be good for me to attempt a film in this style.

Okay, I best get back on with that proposal. All I seem to have right now since abandoning my original 1 and a half page story outline (which needs to be 1 page) is a series of snippet lines about the characters. Not only have I got to get this done, but also a director’s statement and a showreel, where they want to see that I can direct a narrative. Unfortunately the only modern film I have to show for that is The Crunch. Yikes.