Anyone who finds themselves on the right side of forty five in Civvy Street having ‘retired’ from their hardcore banking job is unlikely to want to spend the rest of their lives pulling pints at some God-awful gastro pub in the Cotswolds. Young(ish) ex-bankers have too much energy and drive to throw in the metaphorical towel at such a tender age.
They need to be challenged and they need to achieve something significant. While some may seek satisfaction by setting up yet another bloody fintech company or becoming a ‘financial consultant’ what better way to make your mark on the world than producing a film that helps us better understand the human condition? Well, that at least was my thinking when I embarked on this perilous path…
I was also of the view that ex-City types like me should make excellent film-makers.
We’re organized, hard-working, resilient, and some of us are even quite creative. What I didn’t realise is what a massive and complicated undertaking it would be.
That is why, having spent the last three years making my first feature film, I thought I would impart the lessons that I learnt so that any Citypeople out there who choose to go down this road can think again
… sorry, I mean, avoid some of the grave errors that rookie movie-makers tend to make:
Make sure you really, really want to do this
The average time between starting to make an indy film and its premiere is four years. As a first-time producer you’re going to work your arse off, probably for no upfront fees, and have to face innumerable seemingly insurmountable problems.
You’re going to have to deal with actors’ agents (an appalling breed who make tape worms seem pleasant company) as well as some jumped-up director who probably thinks he’s the bastard son of Alfred Hitchcock and Francois Truffaut.
I made the schoolboy error of not delegating enough and found myself arguing over VAT with runners whilst scouting locations in Dagenham on a freezing night in November.
Once you embark on this adventure you’ve got to see it through or you’re just going to upset all your investors and wake up in two years’ time with no film in the can having wasted your precious time - and that’s no way to start your first faltering steps after having freed yourself from the shackles of EC1!
Find an AMAZING script
There is absolutely no point committing yourself to this gargantuan undertaking unless you have a script in your hands that is an absolute corker – something with an original, engaging plot, memorable characters and fantastic dialogue.
I didn’t know where to find such a thing so I cut out the middle man and wrote it myself. Arguably, a bold move, but one that was made easier by the fact I’d written a few novels.
The screenplay is the blueprint for the film and if it’s not impressive you won’t be able to attach any well-known actors or a decent director and without them you’re going to struggle to raise the cash for your film.
‘Four weddings and a funeral’ had seventeen rewrites and my own film ‘Trick or Treat’ had roughly the same amount.
The script should also not be overly ambitious when it comes to budget - as screenwriting legend William Goldman said: there has to be a valid reason ‘to want fifty camels in Central Park’.
Finally, I think the film should explore a topic that is of great personal interest to you… hence my film is about a formerly hard-living ex-gangster who’s having a mid-life crisis!
Legendary producer Samuel Goldwyn famously said ‘Pictures are for entertainment, messages should be delivered by Western Union’ but I beg to differ – if you can capture the zeitgeist as ‘The Beach’ or ‘Bridget Jones’ Diary’ did you’re laughing all the way to the bank.
Attract the best talent money can’t buy
The City isn’t the only place that needs stars and without them and the publicity they bring most low budget films will fade into obscurity.
The problem is that all the big names who can ‘carry a movie’ will have about fifteen scripts weighing down their bedside table at any one time.
There are examples of the likes of Daniel Radcliffe or Tom Hardy starring in low budget films because they loved the director or script but generally unless you’ve got a few million burning a hole in your back pocket you can forget about that caliber of actor.
My film has got a bunch of well-known faces in it such as Jason Flemyng (Lock Stock), Hugo Speer (Full Monty), Frances Barber (Mr Holmes), Kris Marshall (Love Actually), Shaun Parkes (The Mummy Returns) and the lead Craig Kelly (Queers as Folk), frankly, none of them are A list.
But these damn-fine actors wouldn’t have joined the party had they not loved the script.
However, our budget was sufficiently tight that we still wouldn’t have been able to afford their fees had they not included a large deferred element that is contingent on the movie making a profit… which to certain misguided cynics in the film business means ‘never’.
Raise the dosh
The late great Orson Welles said that he spent 95% of his time raising the money for his movies and 5% actually making them.
Well, we ex-bankers are generally lucky enough to have loaded mates who we can rinse, I mean garner investment from, so that’s one thing in our favour.
We also understand the tax efficient schemes, such as EIS and SEIS, that make investing in Indy films a much lower risk proposition for high-rate tax payers and we are generally quite handy at pitching our brilliant ideas to the unsuspecting public whether they be AAA-rated CDOs or a zombie-based ‘reimagining’ of Snow White.
We City types are generally blessed with both the bullshit and the brains!
Still, your impassioned attempts to raise money from high net-worth individuals will receive more rejections than Quasimodo at a speed-dating event. Unfortunately, the old City gag that the best way to make a small fortune in the stock market is to invest a large one is deemed to apply equally to the Indy film industry.
You can, of course, avoid the high new worth individuals and apply to various public bodies like Creative England for a grant but it was made quite clear to me early on in my efforts that as a white, heterosexual, middle-aged male my chances of receiving public/lottery money were similar to a snow ball’s chance in Hell.
PS I am aware that this assertion may make me sound like I’m some sort of bitter, swivel-eyed Daily Mail reader but I actually completely support these efforts to rebalance things in favour of women and minority groups who’ve been ignored by the film industry for so many decades… honest!
Assemble the gang
At the height of your film’s production schedule the SPV company you’ve set up to make the movie will employ perhaps sixty people and, as with the gang in any decent heist film, you can’t afford a single weak link.
If the costumes or lighting or make-up look crap then so will your film. However, there are certain crew members who are absolutely vital if your film is not to go over budget and/or end up as a terrible turkey.
Your 1st AD (Assistant Director) not only controls the set but will also design the shooting schedule and any screw-ups on either will cost you dear.
Anyone who’s read my memoir ‘Cityboy’ will suspect that the crew member I was most looking forward to meeting was ‘the line producer’ but it turns out this character is actually responsible for ensuring the shoot is done within budget… so he was vital, just not for the reasons my old self may have appreciated!
The other vital staff are obviously the director, whose vision we are all ultimately trying to help create, and the cinematographer whose expertise with cameras and lighting are absolutely vital if the film is to look impressive.
But, in truth, skimping on any of the basic departments will end in tears - as we found when after initially eschewing the need for a location manager, we tried to shoot a quiet, intimate scene in a restaurant… that happened to be next to a railway line.
Shoot the bastard!
Each day of shooting my film cost us at least seven grand and though this wouldn’t even pay for the pillow plumpers on a Hollywood movie it’s a serious outlay in a low budget production.
That’s why as a producer you have to be on set every single hour of every single day ensuring that absolutely everyone is bringing their A game and that all problems can be dealt with immediately.
You have to behave like a friendly yet intimidating headmaster who gets results with just a raised eyebrow.
‘Trick or Treat’ was supposed to have a 22 day shoot but, mainly because of a force 9 gale that made our exterior night-time scenes in Blackpool even more fun to film, it ended up at 23 days.
During that time I had to deal with visits from concerned policemen (who’d heard about people running around with guns), the breakdown of the main character’s car (which necessitated a runner speeding off to Manchester to collect a replica we bought on EBay) and the countless ‘slings and arrows’ that plague every shoot that’s ever happened since the Lumiere brothers invented moving pictures.
Your main job as producer during all these stressful crises is to keep a calm head or, more importantly, be seen to being doing so when in fact you’re seriously considering jumping head-first down the nearest well.
After the ‘wrap party’ (which in Hollywood is where the ‘line producer’ traditionally comes into his own) your editor will take a month or three to assemble a rough cut of the film and when you watch it back, I guarantee that you’ll immediately reach for a razor blade and/or bottle of liquor, whichever is nearest.
This is because it will look and sound like utter shit. Don’t panic! Rough cuts always do, but once it has had a full edit, sound mix, graded colours and a proper score, it’s going to be fabulous… or at least you should keep telling yourself that.
The next vital step is to hook up with a reputable sales agent whose job it is it to sell your film to distributors across the world (for a mere 20% commission) and help you publicize the film.
You might think that you can now finally sit back and relax… but, of course, you can’t.
Submit it to the right film festivals
Why did you make your film, really? Obviously, so that you can attend numerous luxuriant red-carpet events in exotic cities surrounded by glamorous people away from the wife and kids!
These festivals are also where you can network with industry types and possibly even win an award in your chosen field. While the sales agent will have some input into your festival strategy it is still your call and it requires a lot of research so that you don’t waste your time and money submitting your masterpiece to inappropriate festivals.
Obviously, one of the first festivals we’ll be attending will be in Marbella this October just as the dreary autumn weather begins to kick in.
Publicize the arse out of it
A cynic might suggest that is what I’m doing with this article but that of course would be a grievous error. However, such shameless self-promotion would be completely valid as your film will sink without trace without the fire of publicity and there is no-one more interested in making your film a success than you.
Pull every favour you have with every journalist, ‘internet influencer’ or Radio DJ that you’ve ever had the misfortune to meet and if that doesn’t work threaten their pets – I find that usually works.
In a crowded market place you need as many people as possible in your chosen demographic to see your incredible trailer so that they click that buy button next to it and then tell their Facebook and Twitter pals about the incredible film they’ve just seen.
Release the beast!
You’ve now done everything you can. Hopefully, with the right script, team and PR strategy you’ve created a successful masterpiece and you’re now seen as the next Harvey Weinstein… or, on second thoughts, maybe not.
I’m incredibly proud of the film I both wrote and produced and am hopeful it will make my investors a return. But even if your film doesn’t shoot the lights out you’ve hopefully had a hell of lot of fun making it and, unless your movie is ‘Debbie Does Doncaster 2’ you’ll have something to show the grand kids!
Since Geraint wrote this article, Trick or Treat has won the award for the Best Feature Film at the prestigious Marbella International Film Festival. The film also won the award for Best Actress (Frances Barber) and best Supporting Actress (Kris Marshall).
Evolutionary Films is releasing Trick or Treat in cinemas on 25th October. Book online at evolutionaryfilms.com