Stop/Eject Festival Results

se-festivalsLast year I blogged about how one of my films, The One That Got Away, fared at film festivals. I promised to do the same with Stop/Eject…. well… better late than never!

To recap The One That Got Away’s results, at a total cost of £71 I entered this three minute puppet film – which cost almost nothing to make – into 36 festivals, choosing mostly those with no entry fee, just middleman costs. It was accepted into just two.

Stop/Eject was a bigger production, though still a DSLR short with an entirely unpaid cast and crew. It was financed by two crowd-funding campaigns, one in preproduction and one in post, which raised around £4,200. Although the second campaign’s budget included money towards festival entries, we later opted to run a third campaign from which we raised another £600 for additional submissions.

I had decided early on that I wanted to go all-out for festivals with Stop/Eject, entering all the top tier ones and then a number of smaller events too. The British Council has a list of ‘key’ festivals (you can apply to the Council for travel funding if your film gets into one of them), and it’s also worth checking out the lists of Bafta- and Oscar-qualifying festivals.

Over a two-year period, producer Sophie Black and I submitted Stop/Eject to 47 festivals, at a total cost of £772. Some submissions were direct, but most were via platforms like Withoutabox, Shortfilmdepot and Reelport. Wherever possible we sent online screeners, but some festivals only accepted physical DVDs or Blu-rays, so the £772 includes postage costs, but not duplication; see my breakdown of the film’s post budget for that info. With the exception of Aspen, we always entered before the Early Bird deadlines so as to pay the lowest fee and have the greatest chances of being programmed, because festivals do not wait until the final deadline to start filling up their screening slots. The most expensive entry was Berlin at £45 (€50), but at the other end of the scale a few festivals, like Torino, were free.

Our first official selection, Raindance, came almost a year after we had started submitting. Full disclosure: our exec producer has worked for Raindance and put in a good word for us. Nonetheless, we were delighted and we hoped that screening at a top tier, Bafta-qualifying festival would bring us to the attention of festival programmers around the world and lead to at least a few invitations and further selections.

But it was not to be. Another year of rejections followed, by which time we had run out of top tier festivals to enter and moved down to smaller ones which had piqued our interest for various reasons, or been recommended to us.

We were eventually selected for six more festivals: Fargo Fantastic Film Festival, Southampton International Film Festival, the Underground Film Festival in Corke, the Short Cinema Festival in Leicester, Worcestershire Film Festival, and Beeston Film Festival. We were nominated for awards at three of these events, and ultimately won Best Drama Short at the Underground Film Festival.

If you’re keen to know all the details, I’ve put together a spreadsheet of all the submissions we made, the costs of entry, middleman fees, and results. Download it here.

Were those seven official selections worth the £772? Effectively we paid for seven screenings at £110 a pop. Or to look at it another way, we paid for seven laurels for our poster at £110 a pop.

With producer Sophie Black and co-writer Tommy Draper at the Short Cinema Festival
With producer Sophie Black and co-writer Tommy Draper at the Short Cinema Festival

Many have posited that the whole film festival circuit is a con, that festivals have become gatekeepers in the way that studios and agents once were – check out this very interesting article. At the very least, I do think the odds of submitting cold to a top tier festival and getting in are astronomically low.

One interesting little side effect was that, thanks to our Raindance selection, we were able to submit Stop/Eject for Bafta’s Short Film Award. We made the long-list for the award, meaning that we were one of fifteen films from which the five nominations were chosen. To be honest I’m a little relieved we didn’t get nominated, because then I might have felt obliged to use the exposure to push my directing career, rather than focusing on the cinematography career which I’m so much happier in now.

Finally, if you haven’t seen Stop/Eject and want to judge its festival-worthiness for yourself, here it is…

Click here to view more Stop/Eject-related posts.

Stop/Eject Festival Results

Stop/Eject Now on YouTube

After 18 months in the making and 2 years on the festival circuit, the short fantasy-drama Stop/Eject is now available to watch for free on YouTube. Here it is…

Stop/Eject stars Georgina Sherrington – best known as Mildred Hubble from ITV’s The Worst Witch – as a grieving widow who discovers a mysterious old tape recorder that can stop and rewind time… but can she save her husband?

The journey of getting Stop/Eject to the screen has had its ups and downs, with the whole project almost collapsing in autumn 2011, before being reborn and shot in April 2012, then a very quiet period of rejection upon rejection from festivals until its official selection for Raindance 2014 and its subsequent long-listing for a Bafta this year. A feature-length version was even in development for a while, until I realised that the concept just doesn’t work beyond a short. For me the high-point was a screening last week ahead of Back to the Future at the Arts Picturehouse in Cambridge, with a buzzing audience of almost 100 people.

Those of you who have been waiting a while to see Stop/Eject, I very much hope you enjoy it. If you want a copy to own, we’re selling a very small number of DVDs and Blu-rays that are left over – go to stopejectmovie.com/buy.html

Stop/Eject Now on YouTube

Stop/Eject Will Share a Screen with Back to the Future

versus Great Scott! My time travel short Stop/Eject (watch the trailer here) is set to share a cinema screen with the movie that made me want to make movies, Back to the Future. No, there’s nothing wrong with the earth’s gravitational pull – this really is heavy!

On Monday October 26th, a few days after the fabled future date of 21/10/15 that Doc and Marty travel to in Part II, the Arts PictureHouse in Cambridge is set to host a screening of Part I. This will be a special event featuring live music and a short film ahead of the main feature. And what more appropriate short film than one about time travel, featuring several Back to the Future references?

There’s just one catch: this is an OurScreen event, meaning a certain number of tickets have to be reserved before the cinema officially greenlights the screening. At the time of writing just 12 more seats need to be booked before Doc, Marty, Kate, Dan and Alice can coincide on the time-space continuum. So if you’re in the Cambridge area, crank up your flux capacitor and fire-trail over to OurScreen to book now! Tickets are just £10, and in the unlikely event that the screening doesn’t get enough bookings to go ahead, you won’t be charged a penny.

This is just one of four Stop/Eject screenings coming up. Here are the details of them all…

 

Leicester, England – Friday August 28th

Event: The Shortish Cinema

Address: Phoenix Cinema, Leicester, LE1 1TG

Time: Red carpet walk from 6pm, films start at 7pm

Stop/Eject is one of three “shortish” Midlands films that will be screened, followed by a Q&A with me and the other filmmakers. Producer Sophie Black and make-up artist Deborah Bennett will also be attending.

Book tickets here.

 

Cork, Ireland – Friday August 28th

Event: The Underground Film Festival

Address: Camden Palace Hotel, Camden Quay, Cork City, Ireland

Time: 8pm

As an official selection of the 2015 Underground Film Festival, Stop/Eject will screen in the Drama Shorts programme.

Book tickets here.

 

Birmingham, England – Thursday September 24th

Event: Birmingham Young Professionals Short Film Night

Address: Mockingbird Theatre and Bar, Gibb Street, Birmingham B9 4AA, UK

Time: Doors open 7pm, films from 8pm

Organised by the West Midlands’ foremost champion of independent filmmaking, Brendan O’Neilll, this evening of short film screenings aims to build links between the filmmaking and business communities in Birmingham. As well as Stop/Eject, my 2013 puppet movie The One That Got Away will be shown.

Ticket info TBC.

 

Cambridge, England – Monday October 26th (We Hope!)

Event: Back to the Future screening

Address: The Arts PictureHouse, 38-39 St Andrew’s Street, Cambridge CB2 3AR, UK

Time: 9pm

Stop/Eject will be screened before the 80s classic to get punters in the time travel movie mood, and there will also be live music and “sensory treats”.

Book tickets here.

BTTF2-2015

Stop/Eject Will Share a Screen with Back to the Future

Festival Screenings and DCPs

Stop-Eject poster 857x1200Last summer I completed two short films as director, the 17-minute fantasy-drama Stop/Eject and the two-minute  puppet fantasy The One That Got Away. After a year of entering them into festivals around the world without getting anywhere, I was beginning to give up hope of them ever getting selected. But I’m delighted to say that both have been recently accepted for festivals taking place this month.

Stop/Eject will get its world premiere at Raindance Film Festival in London. Raindance is amongst the UK’s most prestigious festivals, counting amongst its previous premieres Memento and The Blair Witch Project.

The One That Got Away will get its first overseas screening at Belo Horizonte International Short Film Festival in Brazil.

The welcome news of these festival selections had me scrambling into the archives of this blog for the post I wrote last year on making a DCP (digital cinema package). Since the decline of film as an exhibition format, DCPs are the new standard for delivering movies to a cinema.

I needed to transcode The One That Got Away’s 1080P ProRes 422 (HQ) master into a DCP. Belo Horizonte accept 25fps DCPs, so I skipped the frame rate conversion. I dropped the ProRes file into a new timeline in Final Cut Pro and set the sequence frame size to 1998×1080, the standard resolution for a non-Cinemascope 2K DCP. I then used the Motion tab to blow up the image slightly to fill the width of the frame, losing a little at the top and bottom of the image in the process.

The_One_That_Got_Away_ posterI used Final Cut Pro’s ‘Export using Quicktime conversion’ to export the ProRes file as two mono WAVs and an 8-bit TIFF sequence. (16-bit is preferable for DCPs, but the film had been edited in Final Cut 7, which only deals with 8-bit colour space.) I then followed OpenDCP‘s straightforward three-step interface to transcode to JPEG-2000, then MXF, then wrap it all up with the XML files. I didn’t need to worry about disc formatting, because the festival accepted an FTP upload of the files.

Before uploading The One That Got Away’s DCP to the festival, I decided to test it at home as best as I could, so I downloaded a free trial of EasyDCP which let me check the first 15 seconds. The colours were screwed up, but that’s normal. Home computers can’t handle the XYZ colour space of DCPs.

Stop/Eject’s DCP was created last year, as documented in the post mentioned above, Making a DCP. I purchased a 500GB Lacie Rugged USB hard drive to put it on, not knowing at the time how big the files would be. I now know that 2K DCPs at a reasonable quality are about 1GB per minute, so Stop/Eject’s is 17GB. A memory stick big enough to put that on would have been expensive last June, perhaps more expensive than the Lacie Rugged. But over a year later, a Corsair 32GB USB 3.0 stick is only £15.45 and there are even cheaper brands on the market too. Plus, of course, a stick is much easier to post to a festival than a hard drive, and far less likely to get damaged on the way.

So I bought the Corsair stick and booted up my Mac in Ubuntu, as detailed in last year’s post. I formatted the stick as EXT-2 rather than 3, as Raindance’s documentation seemed to favour the former. I copied the files across from the Lacie Rugged. Then it was just a case of packaging it up and sending it off with back-up copies on DVD and Blu-ray, and a press kit for good measure.

Incidentally, Stop/Eject’s DCP runs at 24fps for maximum compatibility, extending the running time of the film by about 45 seconds over the original 25fps version. I had wondered for some time if, when the film finally got into a festival, this longer running time would be an issue. After all, at nearly 17 minutes at 25fps, Stop/Eject is quite a long short already. I’m told that Raindance almost decided against selecting it because of its length. And the judging panel had been watching a 25fps screener. How would they feel about screening an even longer version? I contacted the festival, explaining the situation and offering to make a 25fps DCP if need be, but they were fine with it running at 24fps. Apparently they allow for runtime discrepancy when scheduling.

Well, that all got very dry and technical, didn’t it?

Hurray! My films got into festivals!

Festival Screenings and DCPs

Thank You

Georgina Sherrington ("Kate") and Oliver Park ("Dan") during the weir scene
Georgina Sherrington (“Kate”) and Oliver Park (“Dan”) during the weir scene

Thank you to everyone who made Stop/Eject‘s third crowd-funding campaign such a huge success. We set a target of £400, but we smashed through that early on and ended up at £600 when the campaign ended on Sunday. That makes £4,800 raised in total for this little fantasy-drama since 2012. The new funds will pay for entry into another 20 or so film festivals around the world.

It was also an opportunity for the small but loyal fanbase we’ve built up over the last couple of years to get their own copies of the film. I’m now in the process of getting the extra discs duplicated and I’ll be posting them out as soon as they’re ready.

Thanks again for your support, everyone.

Thank You

Stop/Eject Postproduction Budget Breakdown

Back in November 2012 I posted and analysed the preproduction and production budget for my short film Stop/Eject, a 17 minute fantasy-drama which was shot on a DSLR. Now I’m going to do the same for the postproduction budget, including distribution and marketing. We’re currently selling Blu-rays and digital rentals of Stop/Eject, to raise money for further film festival entries, so please support us by buying a copy if you find this blog useful.

Download the budget here as a PDF (35kb).

As you can see, we had almost £2,000 available to us in post, some of which was left over from production, but most of which came from a crowd-funding campaign. You can read my evaluation of that campaign in an earlier post.

Mixing Stop/Eject at Alchemea College in Islington
Sound mix

None of the cast or crew were paid at any stage of making Stop/Eject, and indeed I tried not to spend anything at all on postproduction. The VFX artists worked on their home computers, editor Miguel Ferros used his own Mac-based Avid system, colourist Michael Stirling used his company‘s DaVinci Resolve projection grading suite, sound editor and designer Henning Knoepfel used his own Mac for the audio work and pulled in a favour to get a free studio day for the ADR, and re-recording mixer Jose Pereira used the studio at the college where he lectures. Scott Benzie composed the music in his home studio and we recorded it for free with four live players at Worcester Tech College.

Georgina does some ADR
ADR

So except for a suite of clock sound effects, which Henning convinced me were necessary to help the audio tell the story, the main costs in postproduction were those incurred by people travelling so that we could be in the same room for some of the work, and eating lunch on those occasions. It’s important to at least make sure people are fed when you can’t pay them a fee. The most expensive of these days was the ADR session, which involved me and two lead actors travelling from Hereford, Birmingham and Bath respectively to the studio in east London.

Even in today’s digital world, some files are just too damn big to send online, and such was the case with the Avid media output by Miguel ready for the grade. I therefore purchased a USB hard drive, which ended up being couriered across London a couple of times to get to where it needed to be. After the film was completed, I used the same drive to archive all of the Stop/Eject assets and project files.

In order to run the crowd-funding campaign, which lasted for most of postproduction, we needed to build our own website and cut a trailer using library music. We also attended several events to promote the campaign and the film in general, one of which charged an entry fee.

Glossy script book
Glossy script book

The £79.47 spent on producing the crowd-funding rewards (a.k.a. perks or gifts) was racked up mostly by the hardback glossy script books, costing about £25 each (ex. VAT). The sponsorship level required to qualify for one of these books was £100, and since you also got a DVD, Blu-ray and premiere invite for that amount, there can scarcely have been £60 left of the donation for us to spend on actually making the film! It just goes to show that you should carefully cost up your rewards before you offer them.

DVDs & Blu-rays
DVDs & Blu-rays

That £79.47 isn’t the whole story though, since the next three items listed – the screening venue hire, Blu-ray stock and dupes – were all partly for sponsors as well. (A £10 donation got you an invite to the premiere, £30 got you a DVD and an invite, and £50 got you a Blu-ray, a DVD and an invite.)

£25.61 bought me fourteen blank Blu-ray discs, most of which I got through in trial and error as I authored and tested my first ever BD. The £265.30 spent on dupes got us 60 DVDs and 50 BDs, all with full colour on-disc artwork, inlays and cases. 20 of those discs went to sponsors and approximately 50 to cast and crew, with the rest being reserved for press and festivals.

I deliberately completed the discs in time for the premiere so that I could hand many of them out in person and reduce postage costs. For those that I did post, I used only pre-loved jiffy bags which I had been collecting for some time.

All in all, I’d say almost 11% of the £1,584 raised through crowd-funding was spent on creating and delivering rewards, a little more than I would have liked. Ideally you want to spend no more than 10% of your budget on rewards.

Stop/Eject press kit
Stop/Eject press kit

As detailed in another post, I created Stop/Eject’s Digital Cinema Package at home using free software, but did have to buy a hard drive for it and a flight case, since I intended to ship it to international festivals for screenings.

To promote the film at festivals and beyond, we had 50 full colour folders printed, each containing five single-sided monochrome pages of text. We also paid £10 to submit Stop/Eject to The London Film Review, the hope being that good reviews would increase our chances of festival selection.

And that only really leaves the festival entry fees themselves. We’ve entered 25 to date, and the money we’re raising now should allow us to enter another 20 or so. In a future post I’ll provide a list of the festivals entered, their deadlines and fees, and the selection results.

Stop/Eject Postproduction Budget Breakdown

Stop/Eject Available Now

Georgina Sherrington as Kate in Stop/Eject. Photo: Paul Bednall
Georgina Sherrington as Kate in Stop/Eject. Photo: Paul Bednall

Stop/Eject, “a charming, fairytale-like film” (Unsung Films) in which Georgina Sherrington “steals the show with an emotional performance of the highest merit” (The London Film Review), is now available to buy from stopejectmovie.com. But hurry, because DVD and Blu-ray copies are VERY limited in number, and will only be available for two weeks.

You can also “rent” Stop/Eject (i.e. get a month’s access to an online streaming version) or Memoirs of the Worst Witch, an exclusive interview with Georgina Sherrington about her time playing Mildred Hubble in the cult ITV series.

Or, if none of that’s enough for you, you can buy the bumper pack which contains a Stop/Eject Blu-ray, press kit and genuine cassette prop used in the film, plus DVD copies of my previous films Soul Searcher and The Dark Side of the Earth: Making the Pilot.

This is being run as an all-or-nothing crowd-funding campaign, so we need to hit our £400 funding target in order for anyone to get their copies. All money raised will be used to enter the film into more festivals around the world.

Head on over to stopejectmovie.com to order your copy now.

Stop/Eject Available Now

Stop/Eject Available to Buy from Sunday

DVDs & Blu-rays
Stop/Eject DVDs & Blu-rays are available from Sunday March 30th

Since completing the magical and moving fantasy-drama Stop/Eject last year, a number of people have contacted me asking where they can see the film or how they can buy a copy. Great news – from this Sunday, for two weeks only, a limited number of DVD and Blu-ray copies of Stop/Eject will be available to buy. Both discs are loaded with extra features including a 30 minute behind-the-scenes documentary, cast and crew commentaries, and deleted scenes. You’ll also be able to “rent” the film for online streaming.

Praise for Stop/Eject….

‘Sherrington steals the show with an emotional performance of the highest merit. Well-written, well-executed, and a genuine pleasure to watch.’ – The London Film Review

‘It’s rare to see such love towards a heroine, consideration for her pain, honesty and respect towards a short film’s audience. A charming, fairytale-like film with a gentle, sad, but noteworthy message.’ – Unsung Films

‘A very strong, powerful film… A great emotional performance by Georgina Sherrington.’ – The Final Cut

To get your copy, just vist the official website at stopejectmovie.com from Sunday onwards.

Stop/Eject Available to Buy from Sunday

How to Create a Blu-ray Motion Menu in Adobe Encore

Today I thought I’d share the process I figured out for creating looping menus in Encore for DVD and Blu-ray. If, like me, you want to do it all from scratch rather than using any of the built-in templates, the process isn’t particularly intuitive, and was sufficiently different from DVD Studio Pro (the software I’m used to) to leave me scratching my head from time to time, but here’s how I did it in the end. I’ll use Stop/Eject‘s main menu as the example. I’m going to assume you already know the basics of Encore and can find your way around Photoshop.

First of all you have to understand how DVDs and Blu-rays (henceforth collectively referred to simply as “discs”) work. They’re not like websites or Flash movies where you can do anything you want; the specifications are quite narrow. A motion menu consists of two elements:

  1. The background, which is a video (typically with audio) that you can create in Final Cut Pro, Premiere, or whatever.
  2. The button highlights, which show the user which button is currently selected. The user will only ever see one of these at a time.

Hang on – background, button hightlights…. but what about the buttons themselves? These have to be part of the background. Yes, you can import your background movie as a Quicktime into Encore and then add buttons to it within Encore, but when you come to build your disc the software will render those buttons into the background movie. All the disc player can deal with is a background movie and the highlights.

I prefer to build my buttons into the background movie in my editing software (Final Cut) rather than add them in Encore, and that’s the approach I’ll outline here.

Another crucial point to understand is that each button highlight can only be one colour. So look at the Stop/Eject main menu below. The button highlights are the white rings. They could not be red-and-white striped rings, like life preservers; they can only be one solid colour.

Stop/Eject's main menu with all the button highlights visible
Stop/Eject’s main menu with all the button highlights visible

So, now you appreciate all of the above you can get started on your menu. The first step for me was shooting and editing the background movie, although for most people this will be a computer-generated graphic rather than something shot with a camera. It’s important to think about where your loop point is going to be so that the menu will loop smoothly.

The following video shows my edited background movie. The buttons were created in Photoshop and added to the movie in Final Cut, before exporting as a ProRes Quicktime (with these buttons now baked in) ready to be imported into Encore.

In Encore I can now create a new menu and use the pick-whip in the properties panel to select my Quicktime file as the source for both the video and the audio. I can also set the loop point in the same panel.

I need to make sure that the loop point is at a place in the video where the audio track is silent or at least is playing a constant background noise – e.g. an air conditioning hum – that will not jump unpleasantly when the menu loops. You’ll notice that my menu’s audio track has a beat or two of silence around the loop point. If you’re using music, don’t start it immediately at the loop point as many players take a fraction of a second to kick in the audio after they loop.

I also need to ensure that all of the buttons have appeared before the loop point. This is because the loop point is the place at which the player will start displaying the button highlight. If your menu loops back to a point before the buttons have appeared, the user will momentarily see the highlight without the corresponding button.

To create the button highlights, right-click (or ctrl-click if you’re using a single button mouse) on the menu and choose “edit menu in Photoshop” from the contextual menu. Photoshop will open with a still of your menu as it appears at the loop point. Annoyingly, this still will be in standard definition even if you’re creating a Blu-ray disc, so the first thing you’ll need to do in Photoshop is to change the pixel aspect ratio to square and re-size the image to 1920×1080.

For each button, create a new group in the layers palette and give it a name that starts with (+). When you go back to Encore it will recognise this folder as pertaining to a button. Within the group, make a new layer and call it (=1)highlight. Draw your button highlight on this layer, remembering that it can only be one colour.

Now we need to pause a moment and consider hit areas. When your disc is played in a computer, the user can select buttons with the mouse. The hit area determines what part of the screen the user must hover the mouse pointer over for the button to be considered selected. This area MUST be rectangular. For each button, Encore will look at all the layers within the relevant group and draw the smallest possible rectangle that will completely enclose all those layers; that will be your button’s hit area.

In my case, right now the only layers in my groups are the white rings which are the button highlights themselves. But what if someone hovers the mouse over the words “special features”? I want the button to be selected then too, so in the (+)special features group I’ll create a second layer (critically, it must be below the highlight layer) and draw a rectangle where I want my hit area to be. I can then click the eye icon next to this in the layer palette so it becomes invisible and doesn’t ruin the look of my menu.

The main menu with the hit areas visible
The main menu with the hit areas visible

Another restriction of the DVD/Blu-ray specs is that button hit areas can’t overlap. Given the restriction I mentioned earlier, that they must be rectangular, you can see from the layout of my menu that it isn’t possible for the hit areas of Play Movie and Scene Selection to include the text for those buttons without overlapping each other. I choose not to compromise the design of the menu and trust that users will soon find the hit area with a quick sweep of the mouse over the whole image.

I save the image in Photoshop and return to Encore. I can now see the button hit areas outlined on the menu. If I click the icon for “show selected subpicture highlights” (see below image) I can see the highlights too. It’s now simply a case of setting the target for each button using the pick-whip in the properties panel.

The Encore interface with the button to view the highlights hovered over
The Encore interface with the button to view the highlights hovered over

When users return to the main menu, after they’ve visited the special features menu, for example, I don’t want them to have to sit through the intro part of the menu again; I want them to go straight to the loop point. So I’ll go to the main menu button in the special features menu and set the target – not using the pick-whip, but through the pull-down menu. I’ll select “specifiy link” and in the dialogue box which appears I make sure to tick the “set to loop point” checkbox.

One final point. The version of Encore I used (CS5.1) has a bug whereby any motion menu longer than 70 seconds will not loop smoothly; a second or so of black will appear each time the player gets to the end of the loop. This issue does not occur in Encore’s preview, only when you’ve burnt the disc. There’s no workaround that I can find other than shortening the menu.

I hope this has been some help to those of you out there who are still burning your films onto physical discs. Let me know if you’d like to hear more about any part of the disc authoring process.

How to Create a Blu-ray Motion Menu in Adobe Encore