Recently I received a message from one of my followers on Twitter, Si Horrocks, to spread the word about his Kickstarter venture to raise funds to secure a cinema release for his film, THIRD CONTACT. First of all, being very old, I’m awfully glad to have any followers at all. No-one wants to walk behind an old man. In my country, they cry, ‘Oi wrinklie, why can’t you die and give someone your Council flat?’ (So much for the UK’s soft power!) Anyway, I’m jolly glad to offer a helping hand to someone young with ambition and that. By the way, I don’t have a Council flat, so I cannot help the cheeky beggar who screamed that out.
But I wondered whether my young correspondent was going about his business the right way. His ultimate aim is to pay his crew. Laudable, I’m sure you’ll agree. But with no distributor interest, this is a big ask.
So I wondered whether there was an alternative to raising £15,000 and getting match funding.
If I were a young aspiring filmmaker, what would I do? Look after my teeth better. But besides that?
If, like Mr Horrocks, I had shot a film on a digital camera for £4,000, I would just be happy for an audience response. If I wanted a proper cinema release, and I could not offer my audience production values (exotic locations, special effects, real actors) then I would hope my film was either of the following:
Or better yet, authentic and clever.
What do I mean by this? Well, if you think about the no-budget films that have been critical or commercial hits – KILLER OF SHEEP, RETURN OF THE SECAUCUS SEVEN, SHE’S GOTTA HAVE IT, MAN BITES DOG, CLERKS, THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, OPEN WATER, PARANORMAL ACTIVITY – they have a certain specific realism that allows them to take formal risks (the found footage format is but one example). Translate that into British movies, I am referring to films about communities, minorities, where the point of view isn’t represented on our television screens. Trust me, you will get BFI support for those (for example, MY BROTHER, THE DEVIL).
But Mr Oliver, I want to make genre films.
No problem. You make a film that fits into my second category: a clever film. DARK STAR – very clever and knowing! It is not even trying to compete with big budget movies. The acting is droll. The alien looks like a freaking beach ball. The first time I saw it, I didn’t get it. As the youngsters say, my bad! FOLLOWING is clever. CUBE is clever. PI is clever (the Darren Aronofsky film, not that LIFE OF PI Richard Parker nonsense).
If you want authentic and clever – that’s the Holy Grail, but think RESERVOIR DOGS, pop culture dialogue torn from the life of its video clerk auteur plus genre thrills and you don’t even see the central crime.
Another thing you might need, as a young filmmaker, is a mentor. Showing your film to an audience might not be the be-all and end-all; showing it to an established filmmaker can help. The young would be filmmakers that make up the FUTURE FILM crew do exactly that, but with the advent of free film festivals, for example in Peckham and Nunhead, there are whole new ways to arrange a one-off screening and mentoring from your peers, filmmakers with battle scars.
What advice would I give young master Horrocks?
Well, if you have made a genre film, find a genre festival to support you. If you have missed the submissions date for SCI-FI LONDON, why not ask them to sponsor your screening? They might not give you money but they give you a brand that you can use in your advertising.
You could contact your local independent cinema and arrange an out of hours hire (late-night, perhaps). You could pre-sell the tickets, then book the cinema, then hold the screening. But don’t stop there. Take photos. Have a Q and A. Get feedback. Then put the best comments on your site, rinse and repeat. (That is, hold more screenings.)
Creating buzz doesn’t require an enormous budget. It’s about getting people to see your film. But your material should be genuine. If you run fake reviews or provide non-specific references in your blog, you will lose credibility. People in the film industry are wary of pathologic purveyors of cow manure, especially as their line of work attracts them. So, be authentic.
If your film is a means to an end – funding for your next project – be honest. If your film does not meet your exacting high standards, be honest. But keep going. The wonderful thing about cheap camera and basic editing software is that anyone can make some sort of movie. So go out and make another one. Remember, Quentin Tarantino buried his first movie. M Night Shyamalan buried his first two. Keep going.
Being old, I might not have the greatest ideas. So I hope any filmmakers reading this – whether in the UK or the States or elsewhere – might chip in to give young Horrocks some advice. My ‘glory days’ involved Super 8 films and a screenplay that I co-wrote that was optioned by the OXFORD FILM COMPANY (of RESTORATION fame) but never made. So I don’t pretend to be an expert. Alternatively, you may choose to support Mr Horrocks. His film, once again is THIRD CONTACT. If you’re reading this, I trust you can negotiate a search engine, even if they don’t pay an equitable rate of tax...