(From left to right: Zorana Piggott, Gavin Humphries, Daisy Allsop & Matt Wilkinson)
On Saturday 12th November 2016 the Norwich Film Festival invited four industry professionals to take part in a panel discussion where film makers and enthusiasts had the chance to ask questions about getting films made in the UK, the panel advised on ways to get your film project noticed by producers and funders whilst still remaining integral to your original concepts.
This incredibly helpful and informative session recapped below will help answer some of the questions you may have. Our wonderful panel members included the following fabulous people: Zorana Piggot, executive producer for iFeatures, a UK initiative for emerging feature film talent, Gavin Humphries, who has founded and runs Quark films, Matt Wilkinson, who works with Stigma films, previously Working Title and Daisy Allsop, who co-founded Zeitgeist Films London.
Q: How much time does it take to produce a film and what aspects of filmmaking can affect the length of the process?
A: Zorana explained it can take a while to get a film off the ground. Long productions times can sometimes be due to the effort to match the director’s creative vision. As a producer, Daisy said it was her job to bring this vision to life. In her work, it is the director’s film she wants to get made and it’s important not to alter the original idea for the sake of shorter production times. This means she is often having to work out of her comfort zone but ensures her work is never tedious. Gavin reiterated that strong central relationships between crew is key as it is easier to deal with problems as they are thrown at you if the director and producer share similar passions. It is better to be open to new ideas also as this improves your outlook for problem solving; problems which are bound to eat up your budget and slow down the filmmaking process.
Q: What do you do when a writer comes to you with a project? Do you routinely return to the same themes or do you try to go for a variety of films to make?
A: Matt said his first concern is to find the right director for the project. If he can find a directors with a ‘voice’ which matches a writer then that is when things start to get exciting . Zorana explained how she can work in cycles. Working with the same director again can aid the development of a stronger relationship and the producer and the director begin to align their aspirations, making better films each time. The panel discussed what they looked for in writers and directors to make certain films. Authentic and distinctive voices which are co-operative in style, no matter the project; the right storyteller needs to be found for the right story.
Q: How can short films fully explore a theme?
A: Daisy’s latest feature, Orthodox, was originally a 25 minute short film which was developed into a longer piece. The short was made in Newcastle and some of the original footage was reused in the feature length version. Daisy described how the short film meant that she could give momentum to the larger project. It was easier to ask for funding for the feature when they already had a short film as an example. Though Zeitgeist, her company, had not originally intended to expand the short it was clear whilst they were making the film that the world they had created could be explored further. Once this was realized the short film became more of a middle act to the greater story, though it was still standalone. Daisy said that script development was a long process as they wanted to remain true to the original characters. They were unsure if they had a big enough budget before they started making the film, yet they went ahead as they had such faith in it. The panel discussed the importance of taking creative risks.
Q: (To Gavin) What were the origins of your latest project?
A: Gavin said he was sent a treatment for a film which included lots of ‘crazy emoticons’ and from then on he was sold. The project, Pin Cushion, has already experienced 8 years of development and is about a friendship between 2 adolescent girls. Matt said that even 4 years wasn’t a long time when it comes to developing a film. Often scripts remain cycled through companies. Daisy mentioned a project that is only just starting to be made now, which she originally read 12 years ago. Films like these often have strict budget limitations but Zorana tried to see the positive side of this; the limitations mean you have to really think about what is important about your film.
Q: In what stage of a project do you begin to think about financing?
A: Matt advised the group to approach financiers early on in the process. From then on these relationships can be fostered whilst script is still in development. However, the more developed your script, the better chance you have of getting funding. You should know instinctively the size of the project from reading a script and the audience for it. This should help you decide who to approach. Getting cast members to officially agree to a film or a director can often help persuade financiers further. Daisy referred to this stage of development as a time when the script is ‘kept warm’ as if it is a nesting egg. Then when you are ready you can call those financiers who expressed interest and they can help you hatch it out.
Q: What’s the best way to invoke interest about your project, do you think people need more than a script, something concrete like a short as proof of concept?
A: Gavin said: absolutely. This is particularly true with first time directors and if they have not previously worked in a particular genre. For instance, Gavin is working on a Sci-Fi project currently and the director has only dealt with dramas in the past. Matt said creating a prior short sounds counter intuitive but it helps to make sure you are not pigeonholed as a filmmaker; people know what to expect from your own unique vision. It is key to make something to the best of your ability. For example, 30 seconds of film with 20 grand. Alternatively, sometimes financiers like the security of knowing that something similar has been made in the past. This is why what has come to be known as a ‘RipReel’ is also an option. This is when other films are cut together to create a mock trailer of your film which hasn’t been made yet. It is more likely for funders to part with their money if they know your idea can be articulated in the marketplace and therefore potentially successful.
Q: To finance a first or second feature in the UK; what kind of budget is feasible and who would you ask?
A: Public funders like BFI, Creative England/Scotland, FilmFour, Film London does Microwave (but can be very competitive). These are the obvious places to go but as they are so popular it is often necessary to find private funding also. Daisy mentioned UK Film tax credits where you can claim 20% of your budget back as payable cash rebate for a qualifying film at any budget level. Gavin gave good advice to look into the kind of films financiers tend to fund so you know the right person to approach. Audience is key to getting a film made so do your research before you inquire, even with public funders. A route to market is what these financiers will be looking for said Matt.
Q: As producers, is it important to keep a specific audience in mind?
A: Art house films are always going to have less of an audience than commercial films so they will struggle to get made. When it comes to making profit cinema screenings don’t tend to do much so it’s beneficial to be smart about your marketing and not spend more. Daisy said the worst thing you can do is to say that ‘this film is for everyone’. It is better to think of your film as a ‘package’ for the market though this may be artistically difficult. Matt said it’s your responsibility to think about audience, because you're spending someone else's money. Why would you make a film if no one but close family and friends are going to see it? But, this depends on what you want to achieve. On a positive note, Matt remarked that we live in a world of niches now and that there may be an audience for everything.
Q: Once I have a short made and a script for a feature, what should I do next?
A: Matt said get it read by any producers you have contact with. Even if they’re not right for making your film you might get useful feedback. In the meantime, it’s important to continue working, making more short films and entering competitions to raise your profile.
In some final words the panel summarized what is vital to first time filmmaking. A good script is only pertinent because of your voice and is it you that you are really selling to people. It’s important to remember this and stay true to your original ideas even though this can be challenging. When you are a producer you generally don’t just find projects by reading scripts but by knowing people and building relationships. First time filmmakers can only emerge if they have very promising potential as faith is needed to support their work. Many companies don’t work with first time film makers for this reason. If you do get the funding it can sometimes feel like 50 people want their questions answered at the same time. When it comes to getting your script read it can be overwhelmingly depressing when you send 200 emails and only get one reply but it’s important to stay hopeful. Producers will tend to respond more to a short pitch within an email as they won’t have to do much reading. It is valuable to write a two-line logline or include just one page of your script which is absolutely killer and can give them a taste of your talent. In reality there is an army of people looking for talent so you must put yourself out there whenever you can. Creative England hold an open event each December which is a screening followed by a networking event. It is during these events where you might best make connections that could later lead onto collaborations. In its totality, the UK film industry is not that big so it really is about knowing people. Like an aristocracy you don’t have to be born into the industry but you do need to be tenacious enough to remain in it.
Review by Mara Frampton