Monday, June 25, 2012

What a short film really costs to make, plus an update on L.A.

Firstly, an update on Tiger, which is finished and will be screened at The Lighthouse cinema this Saturday afternoon before heading out on the festival circuit. My little film is leaving home! (That's how it feels, anyway).

I wrote before about how it was funded and thought I'd follow this up with a final tally to give anyone else out there thinking of doing the same an idea of costs.

To date, the film has cost nearly 3,200 euro. A third of that was put in by the co-producer and myself, while another third was raised by two fundraising events ( a quiz and a networking party) and a plant sale at an allotment (amazingly lucrative). The final third was raised from friends and family, mostly by putting a trailer up on Fundit and collecting donations.

Production cost 2,100 euro, with post-production and other costs such as screen hire, DVD burning and artwork splitting the other 1,100 more or less evenly.

As always, the question is: now that we've finished, would I do it again the same way? Yes and no. I'd much rather not have to produce another low-budget short, not because I don't enjoy it - there are aspects of producing that I enjoy very much - but because fundraising takes up an awful lot of time. And it's time I'd rather spend writing.

So my final piece of advice (for now) for wannabe low-budget producers is to exhaust all funding routes before going down the road of raising the money yourself. Apply for Signatures, the Filmbase shorts programme and any other funding scheme you can find. Unless you love running events or begging people for funds, in which case knock yourself out!

In other news, my house is in the process of being sold, removing a long-term obstacle to my move Stateside. It's amazing that sometimes when you make a decision and take action, the Universe gets behind you and things start to happen. Literally the day I bought my plane ticket to L.A., our estate agent called with an offer we could accept. We've been trying to sell this house on and off since 2009 and all of a sudden, we had a buyer.

So here's my advice to everyone else - whatever dream you're putting off, take some action. Book that holiday. Take that class. Ask your crush out for a drink. Yes, they can always say no, but at least you'll know you tried!

The important thing is to get started. Once you're in motion, nothing can stop you!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Two greats, one festival: John Ford and Peter Bogdanovich

I had an education in Westerns growing up thanks to my granddad, who was a big fan of them. Thanks to him, I saw the original Stagecoach, My Darling Clementine, The Searchers and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, to name but a few. His favourite Western was Howard Hawks’ Rio Bravo, but John Ford’s movies ran a close second.

I’m embarrassed to say that apart from joining most Irish people in laughing at The Quiet Man, I didn’t think anymore of Ford until a symposium last week in Dublin, hosted by John Ford Ireland. Because the events – particularly a wonderful screening of The Iron Horse - reminded me why his movies were so memorable and why the characters stayed with me long after I’d forgotten the plot details.

It kicked off with the silent classic The Iron Horse on Thursday night at the National Concert Hall, with the concert orchestra playing the score. 20th Century Fox commissioned a score from U.S. composer Christopher Caliendo in 2007 and the man himself was there to conduct (I assume the original score, if there was one, has been lost).

This film is nothing like any other silent movie I’ve seen. Most of the ones I’ve watched in the past have been horrors (The Cabinet Case of Dr. Caligari) or comedies (Chaplin, Lloyd). But this one is an epic Western which too 3 years and 5,000 extras to complete. It’s mind-blowing thinking of the work that went into it, the fact that Ford constructed and tore down two towns during the shoot and managed to wrangle an enormous cast despite there being no official script (they actually started shooting with only a synopsis and Ford wrote the script along the way).

What’s even more of an eye-opener is that this is the movie which used a lot of Western movie tropes – things that would soon become clich├ęs - for the first time. Or at very least, made them famous. From saloon girls to the hanging judge, marauding Indians, scalpings, Pony Express riders, the hero’s jump from horse to train, cattle runs, using Buffalo Bill as a character, the villain who’s really an Apache and last but not least, the tense bar-room scene where everyone waits for a man to arrive so the shooting can start. They’re all here. It’s a brilliant Western adventure that only John Ford can have made and I’m so glad I got to see it on the big screen, where it belongs.

Friday began with a screening of Directed by John Ford, the documentary made by Peter Bogdanovich, and it was introduced by the man himself. I’m a huge fan of Bogdanovich because of the movie What’s Up, Doc but also because he’s a link to a Hollywood that’s gone, a world inhabited by Orson Welles, Henry Fonda, James Stewart and John Wayne (all of whom he interviewed for the documentary). He’s a great interview himself, full of stories of trying to get Ford to cooperate and talk about his work on camera (he wouldn’t) and how the first word Ford spoke to him was the Serbian word for shit (Bogdanovich is Serbian-American).

Then it was off to a Directors’ Panel on Ford, with directors Jim Sheridan, John Boorman, Thaddeus O’Sullivan and Brian Kirk. They talked about Ford’s genius, then each picked a favourite Ford film and screened scenes from them. It was interesting, but I would have liked them to have had a chance to screen some of their own work or at least to have a chance to show Ford’s influence on their own movies. The panel was moderated by Kim Newman from Empire Magazine, who I can confirm looks exactly like his (fairly eccentric) photo in real life! I wish I’d had a chance to plague him about B-movie horrors, but it was far too high-class an event for that…

With over three hours to kill before the public interview with Peter Bogdanovich, I went down to The Factory with fellow writer Caroline Farrell and director and actress Denise Pattinson. The Factory is a new creative space located in an old factory on Barrow Street, set up by (among others) directors John Carney, Lance Daly, Kirsten Sheridan and Shimmy Marcus. The event on Friday was an information session on their new Screen Acting Programme, which costs €50 to even apply for and fees of nearly €5,000 if you’re accepted. I’m glad I’m not an actor – whatever the talent involved, that is a serious financial commitment!

They are also accepting commissions from writers (although from what I can make out, this is mainly to see your work rehearsed by actors) and offering a six-day writing workshop. This initiative offers an amazing creative space and there is so much potential there. I hope it can become something that gives people a chance to experiment, develop their talents and create some great new movies.

Afterwards, there was time for chat and therefore time for me to put my foot in it. I have a bad track record with Lance Daly – the last time I met him I made the mistake of congratulating him on his movie The Halo Effect, which did not go down well. This time I told him I liked The Good Doctor, which also went down like a lead balloon. Lance, if you don’t like your movies no one else will! Either way, I’m saying nothing from here on…

Lastly, there was the main event – a public interview with Bogdanovich. My only complaint was that this was way too short at barely an hour and fifteen minutes, as with the stories he has it could have gone on for three hours. He talked about making The Last Picture Show, trying to get former Ford actor Ben Johnson to do it and having to get John Ford involved to persuade him. Johnson went on to win an Oscar for his role, so Ford did him a favour! They showed the scene from the film which arguably won Johnson that award, the bit down by the river where Sam the Lion tells Sonny about the lost love of his youth.

Other things covered were his relationship with Cybill Shepherd and the subsequent flop film they made together, Daisy Miller, working on Mask (in my opinion, one of his best films), his role in The Sopranos (they showed a great clip from this) and his new movie Squirrel to the Nuts, which he describes as “a screwball comedy”.

I would have liked to have heard more about working in Hollywood in the 70’s, a time when directors were kings and anything seemed possible. Bogdanovich is a man who’s often been criticised for having a monster ego, but he was an inspiring and informative interview subject. One of the greats and I look forward to seeing another of his films in the cinema some day soon.

This Ford symposium is apparently going to be an annual event, which is great news. Ford made over 120 films and there’s so much more to be said about his work, especially here in Ireland where people have yet to show him as much recognition as he deserves. I’m looking forward to the 2013 lineup already…

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

How humble index cards can save your next draft...

I can't believe it's been nearly 10 days since I posted, mainly because I don't know where those 10 days have gone. They were mainly spent doing a feverish rewrite for a competition, which ended in an all-nighter. 8 hours, one chair. One very stiff, sore body.

Every time I end up writing a first draft, I make a better job of cleaning up mistakes before they're written. I do an outline, think about the characters and try to see a through-line for the main character to follow.

But I still have a long way to go. Sure, your first draft will never be perfect. But you need to give yourself the best possible chance to avoid pitfalls from the start and in my case, the main answer to this is cards.

You take a certain number of index cards, write scenes on them and lay 'em out in four rows. One row for Act 1, two rows for the two halves of Act 2 and a final one for Act 3. There's some discussion about how many scenes should be in each Act (Syd Field says 14, Blake Snyder says 10), but I try to err on the low side. I know my faults lie in Act 2 - and specifically in having too many scenes in the two halves of that Act.

Once you've finished laying out your rows, it's a case of head scratching and moving things around, sometimes for days. Is everything in the right place or do you need to move things up? Or take some scenes out altogether? Then you do the outline, and write the script. Make no mistake, there will still be changes to be made, and lots of them. But the basic structure will hopefully be taken care of.

I hate doing cards because usually by that time it comes to do them, I'm raring to go and write the script. And the cards have a horrible habit of exposing gaps in your grand plan, gaps that haunt you and make you zone out of conversations. If you've ever thought writers were vague and crazy, we're not. We're just tormented by story holes :)

From here on in, it's cards first, script second. And when I finish my next first draft, hopefully I'll be glad I've gotten the haunting out of the way...