FilmWorks Finale

FilmWorks, the networked professional development scheme I’ve been on for the last few months, came to an end this Wednesday with a big event at the Watershed in Bristol. The fifteen of us “native” to the Bristol hub were joined by the 30 participants from the other two hubs – Sheffield and Nottingham, plus a number of invited industry figures who would all be mercilessly pitched to throughout the day.

Getting some advice from Colin Pons
Getting some advice from Colin Pons. Photo totally nicked from the FilmWorks website. Sorry.

Stop/Eject is the project I have been focusing on throughout FilmWorks, but somehow in the last few weeks The Dark Side of the Earth – a project that’s been on the back burner for a while – returned to the fore. I was lucky enough to be able to screen the 35mm pilot for this epic fantasy-adventure in the Watershed’s biggest cinema to all the participants and mentors. When it came to the speed-pitching session at the heart of the day’s event, having arrived without any fixed ideas, I ended up covering both Dark Side and Stop/Eject, but with the emphasis on the former.

The event ended FilmWorks on a real high, after some mixed feelings for me earlier on. I have to confess that there were weeks when I didn’t want to go to Bristol and hear yet again how hard the industry is to crack into, how it’s full of catch 22s, how the statistical likelihood of getting into festivals is so tiny… It was seriously depressing me. But what always picked me up were the other participants. It was inspirational to be surrounded by so many talented and enthusiastic people, and triply so when the other hubs joined us this week.

And that networking is the biggest thing I’m taking away from FilmWorks. Right now I can’t tell exactly how these contacts will help me in the future, but I have no doubt whatsoever that they will.

FilmWorks Finale

FilmWorks: Packaging

The Dark Side of the Earth
The Dark Side of the Earth

This Wednesday saw the second session of FilmWorks, the “networked professional development” scheme which I’m on. In the masterclass section, Chris Hainsworth (managing director of AV Pictures) and Christopher Simon (producer of The Sweeney) talked about all the things you can do when developing a film project to attract pre-sales and financing. I must confess I found this a bit depressing, because they were all things I’d done with one of my feature projects, The Dark Side of the Earth, and I still haven’t been able to get it off the ground. I had the production designer create pages of fantastic concept art and a beautiful leaflet containing images, a director’s statement and a synopsis. I attached Benedict Cumberbatch, and shot a very expensive 35mm anamorphic pilot with him. I developed the script for years and hired a well-respected script editor to fine-tune it with me. The producer and I went to Cannes two years in a row and pitched to some big companies. And still the project remains unfinanced. (Although the pilot isn’t online, there are images and loads of behind-the-scenes videos at www.darksideoftheearth.com.)

It was heartening at least to find that I hadn’t been doing it all wrong. As a new director, no matter how many hoops you jump through, you will always be a tough sell. And luck will always play a large part – having just the right project with just the right elements that the person you’re pitching to is looking for at that moment.

The second half of the evening was much more positive for me. Even though I felt my mood reel was rushed, several people had nice things to say about it and wanted to hear more about my current project, Stop/Eject. And it’s a joy to hear more about everyone else’s projects as the course progresses. Already the seeds of future collaborations are being sown, and I have no doubt that this will be the greatest legacy of the course. It’s just a shame that the sessions seem to end just as they really feel like they’re getting going. At least they end for me, as like Cinderella I have to run off at nine on the dot in order to catch my train back to deepest, darkest Hairy Ford. I think I may have to start sucking it up and getting the later train, even though it means I won’t get home until after 2am.

FilmWorks: Packaging

The Role of a Script Editor

Here’s a video blog I recorded last year at the Cannes Film Festival. It’s an interview with Quay Chu, who served as script editor on my in-development fantasy feature The Dark Side of the Earth for several months. He talks about his role and gives some examples of how he helped me to shape the script.

Remember that you can get feedback on your own short screenplay, and help me to finish my current short film Stop/Eject, by visiting stopejectmovie.com/donate and selecting the £20 “Script Editor” reward.

The Role of a Script Editor

Soul Searcher Previz

Back in 2003 when I was developing Soul Searcher, I tried my hand at making a videomatic for the first time. A videomatic is a kind of previsualisation, like a moving storyboard that shows not only the camera angles but the pacing as well, and often gives an idea of how the music and sound effects will work with the scene and what the VFX requirements will be.

Jurassic Park animatic
Jurassic Park animatic

Nowadays previz is usually CGI, but back in the day it was not uncommon to build crude miniatures of the props and people in a scene and film the previz in the form of a videomatic using a camcorder or lipstick camera. Pat McClung and co, when prepping James Cameron’s Aliens, made Drop Ships and APCs out of cardboard boxes and pulled them on strings through landscapes formed from rumpled paper and blankets. A decade later, when planning his deep dives to the Titanic wreck, Cameron had his team build a model of the ship and like-scaled models of the submersibles, so he could previz the shots they needed to get on the ocean floor. Phil Tippett went to the trouble of animating Jurassic Park’s previz in beautiful stop motion, demonstrating not only the angles and movement Spielberg wanted for the real scenes, but the lighting as well. Even Peter Jackson’s cutting edge Lord of the Rings trilogy employed cardboard mock-ups and a video camera to previz the flooding of Isengard.

In that fine tradition I attempted this videomatic for Soul Searcher:

Shooting a videomatic for The Dark Side of the Earth. Photo: Ian Tomlinson
Shooting a videomatic for The Dark Side of the Earth. Photo: Ian Tomlinson

Looking back on it now, it was quite a lazy attempt and suffered greatly from the poorly drawn storyboards, which are very hard to interpret, especially when bits of them are cut out and pasted onto the live action footage. Although I found making this videomatic very useful for my own process as director, and many of the Lego train shots were cut into the film during post-production until the final miniature shots were ready, it wasn’t much use for showing other crew members what work needed to be done. In fact, when I brought the model-makers on board in 2004, I decided to draw a new set of nice, neat storyboards rather than show them the videomatic.

My videomatic skills improved, however, and by 2006 I was shooting a series of them for my new feature project, The Dark Side of the Earth. You can view some of them here.

Soul Searcher Previz

Bag a Sandbag – or a DVD

There’s been quite a bit of interest in the lighting sandbags Katie made in the last Stop/Eject podcast. Some people who have not mastered the art of sewing have nonetheless expressed an interest in getting their hands on such a sandbag.

Simultaneously, I find myself with a number of unclaimed DVD copies of The Dark Side of the Earth: Making the Pilot sitting on my shelf. (That’s another thing I’ve learnt about crowd-funding which I forgot to put in my evaluation blogs: lots of sponsors don’t claim their rewards.)

So I thought, why not offer these two lovely items to the general public? Note: the following offer is no longer available.

Donate £10 and choose one of these free gifts
Donate £10 and choose one of these free gifts

For a limited time only, donate £10 to Stop/Eject using the Paypal button below or in the righthand sidebar and you’ll receive either a sandbag or a Making the Pilot DVD – your choice. (Note: these items will ONLY be sent to a mainland UK address.) You’ll also get the usual rewards: a thank you in the credits, an invite to the premiere, and a download of my unprecedented indie budget exposé, How to Make a Fantasy Action Movie for £28,000. All for just ten squid!

The sandbags are saddle style, consisting of two zipped pouches, each capable of holding around half a stone (3.18kg) of sand (not included), and a sturdy handle. They’re handmade, upcycled and eco-friendly. Zip and handle colours may vary.

Making the Pilot
Making the Pilot

Making the Pilot is a 23 minute documentary going behind the scenes of the demo sequence I shot for The Dark Side of the Earth in 2008 with Benedict Cumberbatch and Kate Burdette. All aspects of the production are covered, from building the puppet, costumes and set, through casting, swordfight choreography and 35mm cinematography to miniature effects and digital rotoscoping. Bonus features include a guided tour of the art department workshop, nine video blogs from the Cannes Film Festival, several videomatics providing low-tech glimpses of some of The Dark Side of the Earth’s biggest sequences, and extensive galleries of storyboards and concept art. This will probably be your last opportunity to get your hands on this rare DVD. Only a few copies remain and when they’re gone they’re gone.

Note: the offers outlined this post are no longer available.

 

Bag a Sandbag – or a DVD

Suit You, Sir!

Benedict Cumberbatch as Max
Benedict Cumberbatch as Max (photos by Richard Unger)

As regular readers will know, Sophie Black and I have raised over £2,000 for Stop/Eject through crowd-funding, and we’re doing some filmmaking lectures soon which will serve as fundraising events to increase that budget. (Don’t forget the Hereford one is next week, Tuesday, 7pm at The Rural Media Company.) The third and final piece of the fundraising puzzle is the sale of the “germ suit” worn by Benedict Cumberbatch in the pilot for my in-development fantasy film, The Dark Side of the Earth.

Benedict was playing Maximillian Clarke, a paranoid hypochondriac who’s so afraid of germs that he lives inside a sealed suit that filters all the bacteria out of his air and food. Isabelle Vincey, the heroine, finds him surviving in an igloo on the Dark Side of the Earth and he joins her on her quest to start the world turning again.

The suit was built by FBFX, whose credits include armour and special costumes for such films as Troy, Gladiator, The Phantom Menace and Event Horizon. Here’s the podcast about them building and testing it:

Getting into the suit
Getting into the suit

Benedict was a real trooper on the shoot. He was trailing cables and pipes, carrying all the weight of the suit, blinded by the fogging visor and deafened by the compressor that kept the suit inflated. Every time Katie took his helmet off he was sweating buckets. But he never complained. (By contrast, after he’d left – to go to the BBC for the first read-through of Sherlock – we put crew member AJ Nicol in the suit for five minutes for a wide shot and he came out swearing and cursing and moaning.) Here’s the podcast about shooting with the suit, featuring an interview with Benedict:

Suited and booted
Suited and booted

Since that shoot, in December 2008, the suit has been in a box in my loft. I always hoped one day I would live somewhere with enough space to display it on a mannequin, but there wasn’t much chance of that in the foreseeable future, so this year I figured it was time to trade it in for some filmmaking cash. If The Dark Side of the Earth ever gets off the ground, we can always build another one – an even better one.

Originally I planned to sell the suit on eBay, promoting the auction to Benedict fan sites and the like, but then Sophie put me in touch with David Bidwell, owner of The Monster Company. This Nottingham-based company sells movie props and memorabilia.

David was excited when I told him about the suit and Dark Side in general, and this morning he paid me a visit to check out the suit and watch the pilot. He loved the pilot so much he asked to watch it a second time. He went away with the suit tucked under his arm (alright, draped over his arm and with me following carrying a couple of boxes with the rest of it in) and the Stop/Eject budget looking a little healthier.

Additional: Here’s an interesting article on The Benedict Cumberbatch Situation, which suggests he’s getting quite a following on the other side of the pond.

Suit You, Sir!

Rewards, Distribution and Scheduling

Fresh from the duplicators
Fresh from the duplicators

Signing Video8
Signing Video8

You can say what you like about digital distribution, but nothing beats the feeling of opening a box of DVDs fresh from the duplicators, all packaged with lovely covers and on-disc artwork. The download generation will really miss out on an experience there.

Yes, today the DVD dupes of Video8 and The Dark Side of the Earth: Making the Pilot arrived, so I spent the morning signing them, parcelling them up along with thank you notes and posting them to the Stop/Eject sponsors. If you contributed £50 or more and you haven’t given Sophie your address yet, then please do so because you’re missing out on your well-earned rewards otherwise.

Soul Searcher, signed
Soul Searcher, signed

The other thing that happened today is that Soul Searcher‘s five year distribution deal expired. If you’re interested to know how that worked out for me financially, just click on the donate button to the right and you’ll get access to an in-depth video on the subject.

As for the film’s future, I can now reveal that Soul Searcher will be online to view in full for free from next Monday Februrary 6th. Watch this space for the link.

In the mean time, here’s another DVD extra that never made it to the disc…

Rewards, Distribution and Scheduling

Letter of the Week

This is a genuine email I just received at the email address linked linked to my other website, The Dark Side of the Earth (a site about a family fantasy-adventure film).

Hi
I’d like to offer you a review copy of bestselling author and sex educator Dr. Sadie Allison’s newly released fifth book, “Tickle My Tush,” for you to review on The Dark Side of the Earth. Dr. Sadie has written a smart new paperback that helps women and men learn the true pleasures of the under-explored seat of love. I’ve compiled everything about the book into a microsite for you to check out here:
http://ticklemytushbook.com

The Swordsman prepares to thrust from behind
The Swordsman prepares to thrust from behind

Please let me know if you’d like a review copy or would like to interview Dr. Sadie. If you post or tweet, please pop me the link as I would love to share it with her. If you have any questions, I am here to help.
Thanks you,
Barbara

Barbara Dunn
Tickle Kitty

Well Barbara, I’m very flattered that you thought of The Dark Side of the Earth when planning your marketing campaign for this obvious literary delight. I kept it quiet on the site, but The Dark Side of the Earth will be a film liberally sprinkled with anal love-making. In fact the main reason I’ve never made the pilot available online is because some more conservative surfers may be shocked by the graphic images of backdoor coitus it contains. Honestly, you don’t want to know where the Wooden Swordsman’s sword has been.

Whilst I’d love to review your book, its content so clearly overlaps with my film that I feel it would be a conflict of interest. I therefore decline your kind offer, but wish you every pleasure in your ongoing exploration of the seat of love.

Letter of the Week

Dark Side update

Benedict Cumberbatch as Max
Benedict Cumberbatch as Max (photo: Richard Unger)

Carl and I have decided we need to change tack a little with The Dark Side of the Earth. We had some interest from a major Hollywood studio, but the suggestion was that the dialogue is too period, too archaic. I just don’t have the mental capacity to tackle another draft, so we’re looking for a writer who can do a polish and make it a little more mainstream, ideally someone with experience of writing for Hollywood. I’ll let you know how that goes, but it definitely seems like if this film is going to be made it will not be by a UK company.

In other news, I’m now casting for Stop/Eject, the short fantasy drama I’m shooting next month. And if anyone reading is in London this Friday afternoon and fancies helping me out running the auditions, please get in touch.

Dark Side update

Darkness Falls

One sheet artwork for The Dark Side of the Earth
The Dark Side of the Earth

For the last six years I’ve been developing and trying to raise finance for The Dark Side of the Earth, my would-be third feature. It’s a wildly ambitious fantasy-adventure set in an alternate 1908 where the world has stopped spinning, and a girl stows away aboard an airship travelling from the Light Side to the Dark Side with the aim of finding Old Father Time and starting the earth turning again.

In 2008 I shot a 35mm pilot for the film starring Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock) and Kate Burdette (The Duchess) and featuring the voice of Mark Heap (Green Wing, Spaced), on a wonderful big steampunk set with a beautiful puppet of a Victorian swordfighting robot. Many, many talented and hardworking people contributed their skills to the pilot and to the development of the feature script. Sadly all I have to show for all this effort are lingering debt and a gorgeous 35mm print of the pilot. No fucker will finance it.

But perhaps you can learn something from what I achieved, and more to the point, didn’t achieve by reading the blog – which you can now do right here on neiloseman.com. There are also hours of behind-the-scenes podcasts and “how to” guides from the pilot and our pitching trips to Cannes on my YouTube channel.

Darkness Falls