Sunday, 19 October 2014

Yr3 Week 2 (Wed 15 Oct - MDA3300 Film Research and Context - Financing)

(There will be a supplementary section after the main recap, as per the request of the tutor).

So in today's seminar, Elhum talked about the world of film financing and all the different types we as filmmakers and future producers can tap into to help our projects get off the ground and onto the screen. First, she went over the general categories that you're most likely to find:

  • Grants: Simply put, 'free money'. You don't have to pay it back, it's a 'gift' to the production, if you will.
  • Commissions: Exactly what it sounds like - you get hired to make a film, and the company/person/corporation gives you the money to make it.
  • Equity: The most common form, this is the 'scratch mine, scratch yours' type of investment. They, a company/person/other body, will give you the money in return for gaining it back when the film is released.
  • Tax credits: Another type of 'scratch mine, scratch yours' this one is from the government, usually gained by using local/national resources and crews, so in turn, you get back/save on certain costs.
  • Pre-Sales: Selling the film to potential clients, usually broadcasters and distributors, for what its future potential will be in return for the money now.
  • In Kind: Basically sponsoring, you get free resources if in return you promote/solely use the ones from that same particular company/brand i.e. ice cream movie with Ben and Jerry's.

Afterwards, we briefly touched on a few other key elements, like a Sales Agent (the middle man between you and the distributors, whose job it is to sell it out there and find the best market for it), deferred fees (cast/crew will put off payment till a later date, usually post release, to finish the film with what money there is), the net profit (the film's own profit after all the fees/payments are done) and the Finance plan (basically a big sheet that breakdowns what money comes from where, how much, the percentage relative to the total 100% and then the actual total. While you won't have everything right away, it is important to keep ahold of this for records and demonstrations to clients.

Once that was done, we then moved onto the question of 'How much does Money Cost?' This relates to the whole process: 'Cutting Rights' (who has final say), Profit Share, the time/paperwork put in and then the timeframes of the project, which like the Finance plan, is an integral component of planning out the whole project for fairly obvious reasons, Of course, all the worrying in the world isn't much good if you don't have a more direct body to push to, which is what Elhum covered next: the funding types. For most projects, there are a couple of options:
  • Foundation funding: a specific organization devoted to giving out money for projects. These are usually charitable/philanthropic bodies, and so the submitted projects must conform to their views/message i.e. submit a rainforest documentary to an Amazon Trust.
  • Film Fund: a regional/national organization devoted to supporting local arts, such as the now defunct UK Film Council, although smaller regional variants and offices do exist, so it's good to check up with councils on that matter.
  • Brand Funding: Similar to Foundation, but this time it's with corporate aid i.e. making a sports film with Nike or Addidas.
  • Crowdsourcing: an increasingly popular option with the rise of the internet and social media, now filmmakers can go directly to the audience to help bring the money in and get the film rolling. Sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo have risen in prominence because of this 'direct, fan-support' approach. One such big example in recent times was Internet comic/game reviewer James Rolfe using fan funds to create The Angry Video Game Nerd Movie.

And so that was all for today. While I had been aware of most of these (mainly crowdsourcing given again, the use of it by internet personalities), it's still surprising that are so many options and choices for people out there to turn to to help get their films made, especially given the somewhat less than stellar economy at the moment, and the demise of more iconic bodies like the Film Council in recent years.

And now, for the supplement:
So, Elhum also asked to research into a small production company, and just write a small bit about them. Mine was Screen South, so here we go:

Based in the South East of England, Screen South are an agency devoted to promoting and aiding budding filmmakers in the region. They offer Production, Developmental and Training services to those who wish to work in the media industry, and have even teamed with the BFI Academy, an offshoot of the BFI dedicated towards film education and training in children and teenagers ages 5-19. As for the accolades of Screen South themselves, some of the short films they've helped shepherd have gone onto to major success, including the likes of, according to their website : South by South West (USA), Edinburgh International Film Festival, the London Film Festival, Brigthon Cinecity Film Festival, Chichester International Film Festival, Palm Springs Short Film Festival (USA), Brief Encounters, the Chicago International Short Film Festival and the Toronto Worldwide Short Film Festival

Yr3 Week 1 (Fri 10 Oct - MDA 3400 Workshops & Black Magic Camera induction)

One of the key things to mention, before we start on this entry, about MDA3400 is that this is a more optional module: you can attend the workshops you wish based on what pathway you want for your final dissertation project (a short film, a script or a critical essay). I write this up so as to properly explain why this will be probably the least documented module on the blog, given my main interest is in writing, and of course, there are only a small handful during the first term, with tutorials during the second.

With all that out of the way, let's get to the focus of this introductory session;the Black Magic camera. While not an immediately conventional film camera (looks more like an obese Ipad with a lense), the Black Magic has in recent years grown in popularity among indie filmmakers, mainly due to its wide variety of options/shooting choices, the key one being its resolution options for footage. The Black Magic can shoot RAW (uncompressed), each frame encoded akin to a still or more traditional film stock, which is great for maximum quality. Of course, as the name implies, this does mean one has to invest in a lot of hard drives for storage. Ideally, us students will be using the Pro Res (a name familiar to those who've read this blog before) 422 and DNX HD (Ideal for AVid and PC-centric editing).

Other features of note on this little wonder are a touch screen monitor, 13 Stops (which allows for a really wide range of light information control), an ISO that can go up to 1600 (though for day, we'd use lower) and two 90 minute batteries (so early booking is required to gets extras!). Once done with the tech jargon, David allowed us, in groups, to finally play around with the Black Magic, letting us set it up and then going out and trying the different features, shooting bits and pieces of test footage around the University. Though it won't be my focus, I found the camera fairly easy to use; it's fairly light, the touchscreen is a very comfortable way to set up the different features with a messy cluster of buttons, and the image quality was excellent even though we weren't shooting RAW. The only major downside, aside from the limited battery life, is the memory cards; much like the 7D last year, the Black Magic takes much larger, both figurative and literal, SD cards, which are more expensive, and despite the space, don't store a particularly huge amount (on RAW, for example, you'll only get 8 minutes tops). For students, that's not exactly a very cost effective or economic piece of equipment, but again, the results are befitting the price.

And so with that, I had to depart on other business once finished goofin-err, I mean FILMING around the University, so I did not attend the afternoon workshop, which focused more on supplements to the camera, such as dollies and arms to enable more range of movement. All in all, it was interesting, but as I've said, the technical side is not my strong suit, and the Black Magic is not ideal for someone who may not be able to meet its financial requirements, so it's really only for serious indie/guerilla video and film makers out there, and not a one off gig for the course. Oh well.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Yr3 Week 1 (Thurs 9 Oct - MDA3200 Film Theory - Introduction)

Today was the start of the Film Theory module, headed up by Sharon Tay. After the usual 'check the handbook for more' spiel, we got to the meat of the matter; discussing the evolution and aesthetics of cinema over the time of its existence. As the first part of this journey, we returned to the origins of cinema to ask the question 'what can film do?' and 'what is film capable of'', what is the medium able to do by itself, and what can it made to do if pushed, akin to say a child or another art form.

Sharon should us a series of short films from these primitive days of the medium, beginning with the most famous 'early' film, Train Arriving at a Station (1895) by the Lumiere Brothers. It's self explanatory, but just the documentation of a seemingly mundane action already tells of the immediate power of cinema; to record in motion life itself, unlike the stills of a photograph or the embellishments/inaccuracies of a painting. Similarly supportive of this point was the next film Repus du Bebe (1895), which is about a mother and father feeding their baby out in the garden. These people are long since deceased, and yet here they are, immortalized forever on film. Quite a powerful notion, is it not?

Of course, documentation was not the only novelty of the formative years, as the next film Demolition d'un mur (1895) demonstrates; after a wall is smashed down by workmen, the film is then reversed so that it magically returns to standing intact. Not only does this tell us about the malleability/manipulative powers of the medium, but also sows the seeds for a more comical, humorous method to using the medium that would later be made a lot more famous by the silent comics like Keaton and Chaplin. Indeed, the potential for a more 'entertaining' type of film was birthed from likes of Georges Melies (whom Scorsese honored with his 2011 family film Hugo), veterans of theatre, magic and traveling shows who were used to putting on elaborate shows with seemingly basic means. To demonstrate this, we watched an excerpt from one of his films, The Impossible Journey (1904), which concerns a train and its passengers doing just that, taking a trip to outer space. With use of elaborate sets, optical tricks, make up and forced perspective, all tools based in the realm of stage magic, such as the old Phantasmagoria shows of the previous century, Melies is able to create a fantastical 'other world' for the audience to see and experience.

Briefly returning to the novelty aspect of documentation with the rather bluntly titled Rough Sea At Dover (1895), we then ventured onto the beginnings of film being made to actually tell a proper story, or at least one with a definite structure and point as opposed to the pure spectacle of Melies and his ilk. Rescued by Rover (1905) is a very straightforward short about a smart dog who rescues a baby from an evil gypsy after taking it from its, humorously, easily distracted mother. The use of identifiable characters, a sense of progression in terms of drama/tension over the baby, and a more active use of editing and location changes (temporal and spatial continuity) is being built as early as 1905. Similarly advanced, That Fatal Sneeze (1907) is a comic misadventure of a boy who gets back at his dad with sneezing powder, each disaster relating to a nasal evacuation getting progressively wackier and bigger as the film goes on.

Of course, not all early stories were merely light hearted fair as Historie d'un crime (1901) showed, with its dark little tale of a criminal who gets caught and sent to the guillotine, or even fictitious at all, with early 'documentaries' with a definite agenda like Visit to Peek Frean and Co. Biscuit Works (1906), which shows the workings of an early 21st biscuit factory and all the machinery involved. Of course, the cheek still crept back with the rather amusing The Gay Shoe Clerk (1903), which though very short, tells the gleeful tale of a young shoe clerk who gets a little too frisky with a female client, and gets a firm walloping for his troubles. In the end, what this all demonstrates is just how, even at its inception and formative years, filmmakers, most of whom were either technicians or stage veterans, saw potential in the medium for great versatility, and so diligently experimented, yielding some rather fascinating results for us to watch all these decades later. If future weeks yield such a wealth of fun insights, this promises to be quite a module...

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Yr3 Week 1 (Wed 8 Oct - MDA3300 Film Research and Context - Introduction)

After a small room guff where it turns out we had been shifted to the second floor instead of the first, we met our tutor for this course, indie producer Elhum Shakeripar, mainly involved in Middle Eastern film projects and promoting filmmakers from that region, as well as a film festival programmer. Because of the delay related to room shifting, today's lesson went by a little quicker, so there isn't as much to cover by comparison to last time, and Elhum promised o really go through eahc topic in the coming weeks, so here are the key points;
  • She quickly went over the general outline of the term, where would be learning more, not just of producing, but the whole marketing/distribution machine, covering the likes of funding, festivals, legalities, gaining collaborators and finding release.
  • She quickly showed us some trailers from her productions, such as the Western Saharan documentary The Runner (the title she confesses to lament due to genericness), about a long distance runner in that part of Africa who is trying to raise awareness of the situation over there, and Reluctant Revolutionary, detailing the change sin Yemen over the course of the Arab Spring.
  • She also quickly introduced us to Charles Gant of The Guardian, who does a weekly article on the UK Box Office, and in relation to this, the website Red Track, which is used to track said box office, and how this can tell us as content creators what the market is big on/trending right now.
Following this introduction, she then quickly went over some of the keys to being a Producer, mainly during the early stages of a project;
  • The importance of understanding the market and trends, which can facilitate getting funds if your work is in line. Not just in the UK, but also internationally, so as to help generate the possibility of foreign interests.
  • The development/pitch of a project, mainly breaking it down in a manner akin to a treatment: the title and logline, the length and format, the U.S.P/Unique Selling Point and maybe, a film taster/demo of what the project may look like, should it be conducive to that.
  • Raising the funds, which can come from a variety of sources in the indie circuit, including Kickstarter/crowdfunding, special regional film agencies, pitching to companies/gaining a loan/investment, as well as the possibilities generated by Broadcast deals and the trending market once more.
And well, brief as it was, this is what was on offer today, so expect future blogs on this module to be more plentiful. However, based on today's introduction, there is a ;lot of potential; even in screenwriting, the field of my interest, funding and networking are vital to getting anywhere, and having a module devoted to that as well as getting resources for an independent production is of immense benefit to everyone. What's more, with Elhum leading the way, her experience and knowledge will prove a most invaluable source for all of us.

Yr3 Week 1 (Mon 6 Oct - Final BA Film Year overview and introduction - MDA3400 Film Dissertation Project)

So, after a hiatus and needed holiday of about four or so months, I'm finally back at Middlesex University's Hendon campus for my final year on their Film programme. We met up with some of our tutors for the year, including David Heinemann, Sharon Tay and Eddie McCaffrey, and got down to business. What follows is they key points of this little talk;
  • Naturally, for all the needed information, requirements and assignments, to fully go over the module handbook on Unihub, but the main focus points for the coming weeks would include: preparing a pitch for week 5 for what we would be undertaking as our dissertation project, there is a sot, nearly all day, allocated for technical needs/issues on Tuesday, and that come term 2, we would be getting specialized one on one tutorials for our projects, d3epending on what [pathway we chose to follow.
  • The blog is of special importance this year, as it should be used, not only to recap whatever the day's lessons may have been, but an active reflection/analysis of one's own thoughts, concerns and plans for the entire year and whatever challenges it may bring. Plus, it may be called upon as a reference for presentations down the line.
  • The best films produced at year's end do get shop around/assistance from tutors to get publicized/released at various festivals and short film gigs in order to help get one's career off the ground.
  • Following this overview, we then had some guest speakers from last year's Third Years, who went over the trials and tribulations of getting their final pieces together, as well as collaborating on other productions. The films shown included a short called Reflections, set at a swimming pool, and what the issues/safety concerns tied to that are, a documentary titled Safe Harbour about the Somail sailing community in Cardiff and how it has changed, and then, a music video called Never too Old to Dance, and what the challenges were concerning having a middle-aged/elderly actor in the lead part, given the physicality that comes with the energetic nature of music videos.
And with that, we were whisked off into another year of work, with each of our module receiving more detailed discussion in the coming days, as you will soon see. But, bringing the subject back to me and my own plans, I feel that I am going to really hone and focus my skills as a screenwriter. Not merely because I personally am not up for another round of headaches and frustrations producing like last year, but also because it's what I'm focusing on outside of University. These past few months, I've prepping a selection of scripts, feature length and televisual, to begin shopping around this year. In fact, one has already been sent off to the American Scriptpipeline Contest for Screenwriting back
in June, and another has only recently been sent off to the Stage32 TV Writing Contest for a 30 minute pilot.

The experience working on these has been both fascinating and quite irritating, given how slow the judging process can seem, and how eager one can be to get things off the ground. My big concern is just ensuring that once University is finished, to have something waiting for me at the other end so I can keep the creative juices flowing. Frankly, directors and producers don't get hired the first time around, but there's always a demand for writers, both cinematic and televisual, and I feel my skillset is best fit to this task. Let's just hope this course agrees with me....