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

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

The Dark Side of the Earth: July 17th, 2011

Yesterday I met up with most of the guys from the Dark Side reunion again, to watch all the other films we made in our teens. Nearly five hours of surreal, puerile comedy that wouldn’t make sense to anyone else and barely makes sense to us. I also showed them the finished Video-8 documentary (you can see the trailer on the video page) . I’ve shown it to a few other people as well and it’s gone down quite well. I may well enter it into some festivals.
A few months back on this blog I mentioned that I was looking to buy a new camera and disucssed some of the issues I was weighing up. Well, last week I finally threw my hat in the ring that is the DSLR revolution, about two years late, but, like I keep saying, I’m old now and I can’t be expected to keep up with you young ‘uns any more. I purchased a Canon 600D (or Rebel T3i as it’s known Stateside) and various accessories including a Proaim shoulder rig with follow focus and all the gubbins. I’ve played around with it a bit, but I’ll wait until I’ve shot something proper with it before I give you my thoughts on it.

The Dark Side of the Earth: July 17th, 2011

The Dark Side of the Earth: May 21st, 2011

Okay, for any of you contemplating a future visit to the Cannes Film Festival, here is the cost breakdown of my trip this year. Did I manage it within my UKP600 budget? Let’s see….

Flight: 76
UK transfers (train & EasyBus): 58
Subsistence en route: 9
Laptop insurance: 3
Phone credit: 10
French trains (paid for by card): 15
Festival accreditation: 0
French hotel (4 nights): 288
Luton hotel (1 night): 28
Euros for petty cash: 73
Total: UKP560

So I came in under budget, and I’m sure you could do it for even less than this if you lived closer to the airport and were prepared to live off canapes and crisps all week.
The UKP73 for petty cash got me 80 Euros, of which 8 were spent on bus fares between my hotel and Cannes, 4 went on hotel tax (sometimes charged separately in France) and the rest went on food and drink.

The Dark Side of the Earth: May 21st, 2011

Cannes 2011 Video Blogs

These video blogs include discussions about the development of The Dark Side of the Earth with producer Carl Schoenfeld and script editor Quay Chu, plus an interview with some other filmmakers attending the festival.

Cannes 2011 Video Blogs

The Dark Side of the Earth: May 19th, 2011

Palais des Festivals, Cannes, Wednesday, 5:10pm
A quiet day. A lot of people have already gone home.
The issue of TV vs. film was raised again at a meeting this afternoon, the point being that I might get far more control over the project if I’m making it for a TV channel than if I have a bunch of production companies and distributors to satisfy.
A living statue on the Croisette was balancing cats on his head. Real cats. I guess the French aren’t big on animal protection.

UK pavilion, Cannes, Wednesday, 5:45pm
When I’ve got home and the dust has settled, I’ll break down what my final costs were for attending Cannes this year, but right now it looks like I’m on budget. I allowed myself a 20 Euro per diem, which was fine until I went out to eat with friends twice on Monday and racked up a 30 Euro total for the day. That means yesterday and today I had only 15 Euros each day. Hence the MSG last night. Plenty of people just live off canapes at the plentiful Cannes parties, but that’s not for me. What you can definitely do is avoid buying drinks, since these are all overpriced. Take a water bottle and keep filling it up from the coolers downstairs at the Palais.

Le Chateau des Artistes, Ranguin, nr. Cannes, 9pm
I bumped into Michael Booth, a filmmaker I’ve seen every time I’ve been to Cannes. His debut feature Diary of a Bad Lad was completed around the same time as Soul Searcher and we briefly shared a distribution company. The difference is: he’s made two more features since and I’m still stuck in No Man’s Land.
Carl and I went to a reception at the Luxembourg Pavilion. I made the massive faux pas of mistaking a Belgian producer for a Frenchman, to match with the one I made on Monday where I asked the Canadian Elliot Grove which part of the States he’s from. We talked to a woman who develops iPhone games and I realised again how technologically out of touch I am. There’s no getting away from it; I’ve reached the point in my life that we all reach some day or another when we regard everything invented after that point with a mixture of disinterest, contempt and/or suspicion. This is probably why I don’t want to make 3D films, why I can’t get my head around which hybrid DSLR or HD video camera to buy, why I don’t own a phone capable of taking pictures or accessing the internet, and why I prefer the soft, flickering images you get on a CRT television to the harsh, pixellated ones a flatscreen delivers. It also explains why I worship eighties cinema and loath CGI with a passion. I’m a grumpy old fart at 31.
So Cannes is over for me for another year. We’re unlikely to be back next year. Either we’ll be too busy making The Dark Side of the Earth, or we’ll have put it on the back burner. We have made progress over the last few days, but as always with Cannes the proof is in the pudding, the pudding being whether people follow up positively in the coming weeks or not.

The Dark Side of the Earth: May 19th, 2011

The Dark Side of the Earth: May 18th, 2011

UK Pavilion, Cannes, Tuesday, 11am
Found time for a quick dip in the hotel pool this morning before heading into Cannes. Missed the train in so had to get the bus instead – demonstrating the value of picking accommodation close to multiple travel options.
Our first meeting was a no-show.

Le Chateau des Artistes, Ranguin, nr. Cannes, midnight
The end of another day. As a filmmaker, eventually all this sitting around talking about making films but not actually making any films becomes annoying.
Went to a talk about co-productions. What is a co-production? Well, if you have a script about British people going on holiday to Spain and you shoot it in Spain then it’s not a co-production, it’s just a British movie shooting on location. But if the script deals with Spanish issues or characters, or some key cast and crew members are Spanish, then you could legitimately set up a British-Spanish co-production. The benefit is that, providing you jump through certain hoops, you can theoretically access the public funding and/or tax incentives of both countries.
Co-production has been a major theme of our meetings this year. What’s quite unique about Dark Side in this regard is that it would be shot mostly on stage, so we can choose any country we like to shoot it in, based solely on the incentives and resources that country has to offer, without having to worry about whether it has suitable locations.
Carl and I had dinner at a cheap Chinese place he introduced me to last year, Delices Yang. Probably loaded with MSG, but very tasty. No-one knew of any good parties going on, so we decided to go see one of the films. (I don’t have a good track record of actually seeing films at festivals.) We picked what turned out to be a documentary about a bunch of young people digging up some old punk rocker and having long conversations with him about the changing music scene, intercut with archive footage. We left halfway through and found the Cinema sur la Plage screening of an old Titanic film (possibly A Night to Remember) much more entertaining. Imagine Cameron’s Titanic in black and white with locked-off cameras, without all the screaming and panicking, and people with very clipped accents saying “Let’s have a nice cup of tea” while the ship sinks and you’re pretty much there.

The Dark Side of the Earth: May 18th, 2011

The Dark Side of the Earth: May 17th, 2011

Riviera Building, Cannes, Monday, 10:30am
Free breakfast this morning courtesy of the Mandarin Hotel Group. Benefits to me: pain au chocolat, bread, cheese, fruit, yoghurt, OJ, coffee. Benefits to Mandarin Hotel Group: Er… well, they got mentioned on this blog.
The UK Pavillion hosted a talk on 3D. As you all know by now, I hate 3D. Increasingly this opinion is making me feel like a freak and a luddite. When I say I want to shoot a fantasy film on 35mm and in 2D, they look at me like I want to throw out my flush toilet and started crapping in an outhouse.
Anyway, here are some interesting things I learnt from the talk:
1. Because kids’ eyes are closer together than adults, the depth in 3D films appears greater to them, unpleasantly so in some cases.
2. It can take 45 minutes to changes lenses on a 3D shoot.
3. 3D adds 30-35% to your budget.
4. 3D technology that does not require glasses will likely be a reality in cinemas in about 12 months.
5. An associated sea-change in the industry that is just starting to appear is shooting higher frame rates. The Hobbit will be the first film distributed at 48fps, with Avatar 2 following.
One of the speakers argued that if you don’t like 3D, you should wear an eye patch, since real life is in 3D. My response is that interlaced video has more life-like motion than 24P, but very few people would argue that the former looks nicer.
One thing that’s worrying about 3D is how it encourages other traditions to be undermined. Shooting celluloid in stereo is prohibitively expensive, so 3D means shooting digitally. But that’s not the end of it. Take set building. Imagine a scene in a room that has a window. If shot on a set, unless what’s outside the window has to move or is important to the scene, on a 2D film you would typically put a painted backdrop out there. But in 3D you can’t do that, because it would have no depth. The only real choice is to bung up a greenscreen outside the window and put the backdrop in digitally. So now all those fantastically talented scenic artists are out of jobs. This is not cool.
Okay, enough about 3D for today. Gerard told me yesterday that he saw the Soul Searcher poster in the Riviera building, so I went in to have a look and, sure enough, it’s up on York Entertainment’s stand (the US sales agent). Sadly it’s the same crappy artwork as the US DVD release, with a random hooded guy and a disgustingly misleading splatter of blood.

Palais du Festivals, Cannes, 6:15pm
Had lunch with Gerard and co. Mostly we talked about how much 3D sucks.
Had a meeting that involved talking about sets, and the large shopping list thereof. Got shown a photo of a soundstage in Hungary bigger than Pinewood’s 007 stage. That will do nicely.
Wandered around the town for ages looking for shops selling postcards, then at last three came along at once. As I was sitting by a fountain eating a delicious brownie ice-cream I got a text from Carl containing excellent news of a significant person who has just jumped aboard the good ship Dark Side.
Bumped into Richard Cambridge, who was cast as the lead character Joe in Soul Searcher when it was due to be shot in 2002. He’s now running a company hosting indie films online.

Bus station, Cannes, 8:40pm
Went briefly to a low-rent party, then to a much swankier one. Carl unplugged the fridge so I could plug in my laptop and show someone the pilot. Then we went for pizza with Elliot Grove of Raindance, amongst others. Someone (possibly Elliot himself) made a remark about Elliot, then someone else joked I should put it in my blog. But I can’t remember what it was now. This is his seventeenth Cannes. That’s a lot of bullshit and canapes.
It was brought to my attention that there is no Kodak pavillion any more. A sad symbol of the decline of celluloid.

The Dark Side of the Earth: May 17th, 2011