My husband (writer/director) and I (producer) recently read a post on Stage 32, that a US team shot their film in eight days (with an additional three days for rehearsals), with two main cast, few locations and the dramatic concept of topical storylines, that unfolded through video chat. This is a solid idea when shooting a feature on a micro budget, because it requires minimal angles and set-ups, which allows you to shoot more scenes of dialogue per day.
Set ups take time, the more set ups and location changes you have, the more time you are going to need to shoot your film. It was interesting to us, because we just did something similar, but our feature length film was an action thriller with a cast of 30. We had 15 locations and shot the film in eight DAYS, with no rehearsals. We do like a challenge!
We are based in the UK, but our film industry is a strange environment. There are the big American productions filmed in the UK, which is due to the generous UK film tax relief scheme. This makes good business sense for major studios to produce some huge blockbusters. Disney alone has spent an estimated $2.3 billion on UK production since 2007, a pattern that continues with the return of the Star Wars franchise and Marvel Studios, also making films in the UK.
I would like to see some adjustments to the UK tax scheme, which would help more British independent films and also, investment in new upcoming talent from a wider variety of backgrounds, rather than just the ones that went to the ‘right’ film school, including (to coin a phrase) the 'hobbyists and lunatics', in other words, those of us who are self-taught with a passion and drive to make films.
I teach special needs kids as my day job and my spare time is spent juggling family life. My husband and I have two kids and we also find time to go over scripts, budgets, researching and networking.
Filmmakers have a constant juggling act between artistic vision and making commercial films that distributors want. One thing that has always stuck with me, is that I was told it’s called Show ‘Business’ for a reason. If you want a sustainable career in filmmaking, then you need to make money. It seems a plain and simple concept, but I speak to a lot of filmmakers who are talented, but they don’t understand the business side of filmmaking. Some don’t even want to know, but if you want to make films, then you really need to at least try and understand the business side of it. The reality is, that a lot of films that get made, never get a distribution deal, let alone a theatrical release. Think about it, you pay the same £8.00 to see a £250 million film as you do see a £100 thousand film. But both films will definitely not have the same P&A budget! In one of the risker businesses out there, how can you increase the chances of earning enough money to ensure you’ll be making the next film? For a start, pick your genre, research it, try to figure out who your audience is, then my advice is to make the film fast and make it cheap, by the way, making a film cheap, doesn’t mean it looks cheap, it just means you get the best value for every single penny you spend. Then use social media to entice the audience to spend their hard earned cash to watch it.
HOW FAST IS FAST?
Paul chatted recently with a micro budget UK filmmaker, who shot his film in five days, with four or five cast members, in one location with a runtime of 74 minutes. Recently he made a 90 minute film, which took him seven days, with four cast members and two locations. His average budget was £5,000. Each film has been a commercial genre of either Horror or Crime. He’s been offered a non-theatrical distribution deal, which allows him to make his next film without having to crowdfund, or use his own money (he’s currently in production on his seventh title). The point is, making feature films in eight days is not a new thing and is totally doable, but how do you stand out against your fellow filmmakers who are doing such marvellous things? You go bigger, or you go home.
CHAMPAGNE CONCEPT, SODA POP MONEY
We recently wrapped on our latest feature film ’24 Little Hours’ that was shot completely in eight days. The film is an action crime thriller, with a planned 84 minute runtime (still in post-production), with a cast of 30 and shot in 15 different locations. Our cast are recognisable faces from British TV shows or film. Kris Johnson, known for ‘Welcome to the Punch’, ‘Airborne’ and ‘Black Site’. Fiona Skinner starring alongside Tom hardy in ‘Taboo’, Danny Midwinter known for ‘Human Traffic’ and ‘From Hell’ and Marc Bannerman who is currently in ‘Snatch’ with Rupert Grint, a Crackle produced TV series. We shot on the black magic ursa mini 4.6k, using natural light, plus a two light set up (one Red head and one LED panel). The team pulled in every available resource available to them and called in every favour for this film, to ensure we had the best production value up on the screen.
WHATS THE FAMILY SECRET RECIPE?
The first piece of advice a new author is given is... ‘write what you know’. For a micro budget filmmaker, it is 'write to your resources'. Whatever you know 100 percent is at your disposal (for free or as close as free as you can get it), include that in your film. If you are using more than one location, choose places that are near each other. Keep parking, travel, catering and amenities in mind when bringing your cast and crew on board, because these can quickly add up. Think about wardrobe, is it set in modern day? (In which case, your cast may be able to wear their own clothes, which we’ll agree to replace or clean if they stain them), or do you have access to costumes for a period piece, or a sci-fi? Whatever it is, write your screenplay to your resources, but keep your storyline audience friendly. There is a reason why 90 percent of features on offer all feel the same, it’s because they are the same. That’s not to say you copy someone else's film, but there is a beat, or a formula to each genre and if you study, you can reverse engineer your script to fit that beat. Distributors have a tick sheet, pay attention to what they are looking for and try to tick at least a couple of those boxes when putting your project together.
Based on previous experience, when it came to editing our film, we found ourselves wishing we had done things differently, such as certain shots that should have been taken at different angles etc, so now, we always plan the edit as well as the trailer and artwork design before we shoot a single frame. We also make a list of what we need to capture for the film, plus any additional footage we may need for the trailer. When Paul writes a script, he makes sure he has the standard three acts, establishing the concept by around page, the first major conflict by page 12, second conflict by page 30, give the homestretch all that you can by page 60 and see it all the way through to your 80 minute mark. Then add your opening and end credits and you should be hitting around 84 mins in total… meaning that your feature is not only suitable for DVD and VOD, but also a perfect run time for a TV slot of 90 minutes, this doubles your chances of getting some profitable return on your film.
Once the schedule was set, the next step
is was to block what we needed to capture. We were working 12 hour days with ‘24 Little Hours’. Four days were put aside for action sequences, where safety was a key factor. We took our time to capture as much as possible, because once these scenes were edited, they would be reduced to mere minutes on the screen, so I wanted as many angles as possible for the edit. Then, there were three dialogue heavy days and one day of externals. On the dialogue days, we filmed 20 pages of sides each day, that’s a lot! so having actors that are experienced being off book and able to handle that many scenes was imperative. As I said at the beginning, the UK film industry is not the same 'conveyor belt' that it is in some other countries. We have some hugely talented actors in the UK with free time on their hands, or they are tired of being offered the same characters to play over and over again. We advertised on the actors' casting site Spotlight and we received 1500 audition tapes for the various roles we had advertised. We also contacted certain talent agencies in order for them to contact specific actors, you would be surprised at just who you may get interest from and for what day rate you can get them for if the actor is interested in your film and likes the script. Never be afraid to chance your luck in this area, the worst they will say is "no".
When working on such a tight deadline, we needed to be mindful of the scenes that were dialogue heavy, so we made sure the script was broken up among all the actors, to take some of the strain off the main characters and because we had the edit already planned, we pretty much shot only what we needed for the edit. Doing 10 takes on the wide is a waste of time, energy and motivation… establish, then shoot your close ups, get the mid and a few cutaways if the scene is longer than three pages and move on. We did some angles on a scene in one take. For Others we drew the line if it was taking more than six. A shooting ratio of 6:1 is really all we could afford on this shoot, so if we weren’t getting what we needed by the sixth time, we changed the angle and tried something different. It can be demoralising for everyone if you continue to drag it out. You will see that come the edit and also, your director should appreciate the stress these intense shooting days put on the team, so do everything in your power to reduce it.
THE BEAUTY OF THE MODEL
Most filmmakers at the micro budget end have
a full time jobs to facilitate the filmmaking bug. That’s life and not many bosses allow us to take off a month to six weeks so we can fulfil our fantasy of making the next blockbuster. This is why a lot of micro budget films here are made over time, usually filmed on the weekends, however this can lead to continuity issues, but a full feature film shot in a week is a different ball game. You are entitled to vacation time from work, so if you booked two weeks off, you can shoot your film and still get a couple of rest days in, which you will need because you will be shattered!
Each department cost becomes a fraction of what your normal 21 day shoot would come in at and you can pay people a decent day rate, because you’re not stretching it out. The pace is fast enough to stay focused and the reduced days means that lull won’t kick-in like it can on a longer shoot.
Every filmmaker has a process, this is what works for us and the important thing is, you find what works for you. The only way you know what works for you is by doing. So make that list of locations/equipment/props that are available to you, make a list of cast and crew, if you don’t know anyone yet, get networking, get collaborative and offer an exchange of skills with other filmmakers, help them with their projects and they may just help you with yours…. now go and make your movie!
Our stage 32 profiles are:
Diane Knight – Producer stage32.com/profile/646731
Paul Knight - Writer/Director https://www.stage32.com/profile/106490
Diane – Twitter @candystreats
Paul – twitter @Lndnknts
24 Little Hours Twitter @24littlehrs
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