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Tuesday, February 28, 2006

More about more about cards

So far the card idea relies on assumption that you have a story that needs to be structured. But that isn't the full extent of its power. It can also be used to collect ideas into an exciting narrative - as HG Wells did.

An analogy: In space, matter and gas collect together over time, very slowly, using gravity. Eventually you have a ball of heavy matter. This then collects more space dust. It gets bigger and bigger until it gets so heavy that it crushes itself and a reaction starts in the centre. A lot of residual dust and gas is thrown off and you are left with a burning star.

This can happen with your story. You want your story to burst into a bright singular point of great ideas. But you need a lot of 'dust and gas' first.

The good news is we see story dust everyday. In events we see in real life. In looks on peoples face. In other TV, film, comics, paintings, opera, theatre, sport etc. But that story dust can't be allowed to drift past. So what do you do with it? You guessed it. Get it on a card.

Eventually these cards may form a pattern, they may create the critical mass to ignite. But no cards - no sun.

The legend is that HG Wells had jam jars for his scraps of paper. If he had a good idea it would go into a jar. So he would have an idea of a two tier society - with an underclass living under the ground. Hmmm. Pop it in the time machine jar. When the jar was full he would write the story. Jar not full - no story.

Cards - use them.

The latest news from Stewart. His are still in the shrink wrapped packet. Oh dear!

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More about cards

Through the new Bournemouth Screen Academy I've been asked to mentor a couple of guys new to scriptwriting / film making. This is good news for me as when I'm talking about some techniques and new ideas it reminds that I've missed them out on the blog.

One idea I did mention was way back in my very first blog entry. It was the idea of using cards. I was advocating its use with regard to exploring the structure of your film - and it is effective in this. In fact the structure of Circumference relies on it. But there are other uses.

The guy I met last night, Stewart, is working on a comedy drama series the details of which I won't go into here (due to confidentiality and the fact that it doesn't matter to make the point). He has the first episode done. He also has some themes for future episodes. What we are going to work on next is some promotional material around the idea, a one page outline etc.

If we are focusing on doing that we don't want to be distracted by a rewrite and writing future episodes. But in our exploration of the outline and talking about ideas we may come up with some great new characters / plots / lines.

The card method helps us here.

We just bang the idea, in whatever form it takes, onto a card for future use. That way we don't get sidetracked or distracted by it - but we also don't ignore or forget it. When we do get back to the rewrite we've got some great ideas already on cards to kick around.

I recommended to Stewart that he goes further and tries to write more cards generally. Why? More tomorrow.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Less clought...

Poor ols Hollywood Studios. Remember when they ran scared of video rentals (it'll stop people going to the cinema you know) and then just bought up the rental chains.
Well now, Netflix is going to make films. Why not? The Hollywood lot are losing more clought - and they ain't got nought!

Saturday, February 25, 2006

iTunes and TV

Go here to read about 'Conviction', the new show from the creator of "Law and Order". The pilot episode is available free on iTunes to lure people in.

My question is: when will there be a hit show that doesn't rely on TV at all - it only needs iTunes (or similar). Ricky Gervais has done it for radio with his podcast...

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Now we know exactly how long...

Ben Baker from Planet 01 got in touch. He wanted to include some productions from Projector Films in his new video blog / iTunes vodcast.

Sure, I'm always interested in new ideas of getting films out there. Plus we did the same idea of a vodcast/blog when we launched the experiment that was Quartz Shorts. But something that Ben does on Planet 01 is to put where the films were shot in as a bookmark for Google Earth so you can 'visit the set' as it were. Makes sense. The whole Web 2.0 idea is around creating platforms that are 'hackable'. So for instance it's easy for me to slot in a movie in this blog entry and its easy to slot in film locations on Google Earth. The whole idea is open. Fantastic. Easy. Great.

I was holding that idea in my head when I sent Ben the Google Earth co-ordinates for Wimborne Road: Is it too long? This is a film I made a few years ago and you can watch it above. The film is a documentary road movie, it doesn't have a single location, so I sent Ben the start and end positions.

My new idea is this: Could I somehow sync my Wimborne Road quicktime up with a Google Earth 'hack' that would allow us to follow the presenter's journey 'live'. That's a big TV 2.0 hack! And a world's first as far as I know. We're going to try for it. But if anyone knows how to do this then some pointers would be a great start! The journey begins again!

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

New ideas for endings

James Moran talked about endings for TV shows. One suggestion:

Knight Rider, last episode, we finally see it from someone else's perspective, seeing things as they really are: Michael Knight, hopelessly insane, talking to himself, answering in "KITT's" voice, lips moving, sitting in his beat-up Volvo estate car, which has no wheels, engine, or seats, pretending to chat up the ladies, solving imaginary cases, but merely a homeless drunk, still suffering the debilitating physical deformities and mental damage from the near-fatal shooting in the pilot episode.

Why are we so afraid of shock endings or surprise twists in TV? On film, we love it. But for a TV show - its a no go! I guess this boils down to: when did TV get too safe? When will it kick off again?

Some old thinking that probably needs a rethink...

Durations: Half hour, hour - who cares - more odd ball lengths please.
Genres: Where is UK sci-fi, fantasy?
Series: Why do series have to be narrative threads. Why not a series all featuring a great cast but in a new story each week?
Frequency: Why each week? Why not every day for a week? Every other week?
Drama vs Doc. Docs are one off in a thread (eg Horizon series - but each episode different). Dramas are serials? Why is this like this? What would a documentary cliff hanger look like and how would let new viewers in?


Tuesday, February 21, 2006

The small crowd

A quick thought about the future of the big boys. Now we live in a world where:

we don't need big cameras to film with
we don't need large edit suites to edit
we don't need post houses to composite
we don't need 'middle men' to get our film out there.

So what do the big boys bring?

Without your cloat you ain't got nought.

Monday, February 20, 2006

New visual ideas

Check out the trailer for A Scanner Darkly by Richard Linklater.

Another new technique (although building on Waking Life) that shows that new technologies, when married to the right material, can create an interesting result. Cheap too. Shoot on DV, rotoscope and output at HD/film.

Funding yet again from Clooney / Soderburgh. These guys are on a mission!

Puttnam at the BAFTAs

Great news to see Lord Puttnam recieve the Fellowship Award at BAFTA this year. He reflected on the quality of this year's films and how the nominated films were important films, with a message. What he didn't touch upon was the importance that the funding was from elsewhere. As film makers lower down in the chain we have to make sure we stay on top of our game. The big films this year are using 'new ideas'. So must we.

The most moving part of the speech however was Puttnam's belief in the importance of film - that it is important, its more than just entertainment. What it can do (and what blogs etc are so bad at) is communicating an emotion and the message of a feeling. This is a crucial attribute and why film is important in the world. Facts and figures can only take us so far. Really understanding each other (which is important is so many ways) can only come through emotions. So its more vital than ever that we concentrate on making the films we want to make.

I had a conversation with Lord Puttnam a few years ago. He had just retired from the film industry and we were discussing games and other forms of new media that I knew he was interested at looking into. Since then he has done a lot of work for NESTA and in other industries. In this new age of film making, with new distribution ideas, I wonder if we can tempt him back.

Extra bit: Also last night on TV was Rock School where Gene Simmons said that teaching was more rewarding than being a rock star. Maybe the best way to move forward is to move sideways. That way you move ideas around.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Stop wasting time

I was going to call this post "Market Research" - but I didn't. Are you kidding??? Imagine the sound of all the delete keys being hit at once. That's because when we think of market research we think of these nonsensical diagrams above.

But if we are to succeed as writers (and film makers) then shouldn't we try to understand our market a little bit. If we don't then this is the scenario...
You spend a year writing a spec script. People quite like it but won't make it because they know that the industry can't support your $10 million World War One epic. At the moment not enough people will pay to see it. So that's that.
Well if you knew that at the start you might not have done it, or you may have reduced its priority and written another one of your great ideas first. All market research means is finding that information out early.

Questions that might be going through your mind:

One: Yeah, but Tim. You said we must write the stories we want in a recent post. Now you're saying write for the market. Wrong! I'm saying that any idea you are putting foward must be a good, personal vision idea. But instead of spending 6 months writing one script you could work up 6 ideas to market research.

Two: But nobody buys treatments / outlines! Correct. But you're not selling anything are you. You are doing market research. Its nice to offer people a meeting where someone isn't trying to pitch / flog something. Its just a chat to discuss your feature treatments. Of course, if your lead happens to like the idea then this is good news for your market research and good news as you can put them top of your list of people to send the script to when it is finished.

Three: Does it work? Yes. This was my stategy last year at Cannes. I got 20 meetings from a standing start - no previous contacts.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

The writer's favourite

This film (now on youtube) always seems to be a favourite amongst writers. The reason is obvious. Its about a guy who talks about his story but never gets down to the hard work. Something I think we all do.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

New ideas for film makers - or old ideas

From Seth Godin

The reason they teach biology before they teach chemistry in high school is that biology was invented first. Even though you need chemistry to do biology, but not vice versa.

The reason that you have a water bubbler in your office is that it used to be difficult to filter water effectively.

The reason that Blockbuster exists is that VCR tapes used to cost more than $100.

The reason that SUVs have a truck chassis is that the government regulates vehicles with a truck chassis differently.

The reason you have a front lawn is to demonstrate to your friends and neighbors how much time and energy you're prepared to waste.

The reason the typewriter keyboard is in a weird order is that original typewriters jammed, and they needed to rearrange the letters to keep common letters far apart.

The reason we don't have school in the summer is so our kids can help with farmwork. Or because it's too hot and there's no air conditioning...

The reason there's a toll on that bridge but not on that road is that there used to be a ferry on that river, and the ferryman needed to make a living.

The reason you go to a building to go to work every day is that steam or water power used to turn a giant winch-like structure that went right through the factory building. Every workman used that power to do his work. As factories got more sophisticated, it remained efficient to move the workers, not the stuff.

What's your reason?

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

I know the figures

Its an oft quoted phrase in Hollywood for people to say that they "Know the figures". That is - that they know the audience, who will turn up, who will open their wallet, or purses.

Here is the IMDB ratings for Eight. Great! What do these figures mean though. I'm none the wiser really. Does anyone really know the figures? Should they?

If you always try to second guess the audience, wrangle the demographics and agonise on how this relates to the industry you will always fail. Your story must to true to itself. This is for three reasons:

One: Artisically you will feel better about writing what you want to write
Two: From an industry point of view they have moved on. Why are you writing a 'My Name is Earl' clone? Yes. Its fresh for us. But for TV people its old news. They want the next thing.
Three: A smaller market. Get youtself into a smaller market. I don't even know if there is a market for a Medieval Western or not. But I do know that I'm at the top of my market. I don't have to spell out the small detail of where my idea is different from the last 10 scripts that landed on their desk. My genre is original in itself!

So, perversly, ignore the figures to be better at marketing your script!

Picture: After Eight. Jack Langan-Evans and Mark E'von after an awards ceremony back in 1998.

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New domain

You can now access this blog through the domain name: Its supposed to be TV 2.0 of course. But you can't do that. D'oh!

Monday, February 13, 2006

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Future Shorts

Future Shorts (Bournemouth) time again on Monday, 8pm, Twisters comedy club.

I've lost count of the number of people I've recommended this to now. Its such a great chance to see films and for a monthly networking session. Who's doing what? What's the word on the street? Meet bloggers in person. Who's planning what for Landcrab?

And any profit goes back into film making and film students! See you all there!

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Agents Part 2 - how to approach

More tips from the recent conference.
If you do want to get an agent (a film or literary agent, not Agent Smith as above) here is some advice that the panel passed on about getting in touch with them.

  • Do some work. It seems obvious but have some great work under your belt. Can you do what you say you can. Prove it!
  • Write a letter. Write a letter first outlining your work, your approach, your goals and how the agent can help you and how you will help them.
  • Highlight successes. Make it easy for them to say yes. Highlight artistic or commercial successes eg. awards or commissioned work. Make it look like you are a person on the way up.
  • Use contacts. A recommended contact counts for a lot. It puts you on the top of the pile. Can you get someone you know to recommend you to an agent - this will be your best chance
  • Name drop. If you don't get a personal 'in' then name drop in your letter. Show you are part of the industry.
  • One at a time. It's a small world that agents live in. So send out your prospective letter to one agent at a time.
  • Have your work ready. If you're letter works then have your spec material ready to go out. In the best condition, best draft, best layout etc.
  • Patience. Agents represent their clients. Looking for new clients is therefore low priority. So expect a slow progress. This is an activity to do in the background. Writing is more important anyway!

That's it. I will probably do a new post on writing a great letter or email at a later date. I am doing this process myself at the moment so I will let you know how it progresses.

Suki says...

A tiny extract from Suki's reply on to my post on Agents.

Remember, it's not who you know, but who knows you.

A better advert for blogging than I have heard so far.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Agents - do you need one?

Last week I was at an event run by South West Screen and BAFTA. The event was called "Meet the Agents" and was a chance for writers and directors in the South West to meet London based agents and to hear their message.

It was a good event and any chance to network is a good one and an opportunity to increase your gravity. In some ways it was a downbeat affair as the chance of an unknown writer or director being picked up for work (and therefore by an agent) is slim.

But in a way I also felt that the agents themselves didn't put themselves forward in the best light. I wanted to see much more charisma and a go getting attitude. These people are paid to be better at pitching than I am! It's their specialism. Being my cheeky self I even laid down a light-hearted challenge in the Q&A - could the panel pitch their services to us.

The answer, and the answer indeed to the title of this post, is - maybe. Certainly its not crucial. So I've come away with a message of; promote your own writing (or films, or whatever). You'll get good at it and when you're really good - only then will an agent want to take you on anyway. So look to yourself first. More reason to get this up and running!

A big part of the gravity idea is blogging. Anyone know an agent with a blog?

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Bonus post

This is a quick post that repeats an email I've just sent to Shooting People. For those that don't know Shooting People is an online email forum for film makers. At the moment there is a discussion around distribution of shorts.

Well we all know that gaining distribution is difficult. Some of that has to do with the quality of the shorts or features obviously. But I think it also has to do with how efficient we are, as the UK industry, in the selling of our films. Not just filling out withoutabox and waiting. But getting out and knocking on doors. If we aren't proud of our films and want to sell them, who will.

For those that say that they shouldn't need to bother with all this I'll drop in this anecdote. On a documentary I saw Baz Luhrmann sitting all the way through Moulin Rouge, HIMSELF, AGAIN before a press screening. He wanted to be sure it looked right and sounded right himself. He didn't mind doing the grunt work as he was proud of his film.

I'm trying to convince Skillset / Film Council etc to help me create an on-line course for film makers designed to help with selling and pitching. It won't be focussed on 'quick win' bits of fluff advice. It'll be about doing the structured dedicated work. But I think we need it in this country. I'm sure, like Baz, we are proud of our work. We just need the tools to get those scripts out of the bottom drawer, get those films of the shelves and be better at getting the right people to see it.

More on this at my blog entry

Let me know your thoughts. If Shooters agree I can build up a case. If not then its early enough days to steer this proposal in a new direction.

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Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Powerful, but short

A quick plug here for Rob Brown's film called Family Portrait which is the on BBC Film Network. We wanted to include this powerful film in the Landcrab Film festival last year but Rob missed out due to 'be there or we don't show it' rule.

Why is this film being recommended? Because it is a strong and dramatic film that goes against the grain of cliche shorts that try to deliver a comedy twist or fluff ending. This is proper drama my friends. Check it out.

The good news is Rob has some more shorts planned for this year that sound great. Keep an eye out for him.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Statement - not a question

Here is a quick technique I've been using recently in meetings and pitch sessions. Its about the first thing you say. What is the first thing you say when you meet somebody?

Is it a question: Can I sit here? How's things? Did you get here okay? Did you find us?

Or is it a statement: Hey, it looks busy in here. It was great to see your name on the TV last week. Thanks for sending me through that script.

The statement is much more powerful as it creates an instant energy and up beat feeling. What a great way to kick off a meeting. Exactly what that statement will of course changes every time. But when people look foward to meeting with you because they know it'll be positive and full of goodwill you'll know it is working.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Pence into Pounds

Remember Million Dollar Home Page where the laddie from America sold a pixel on his page for a dollar?

These guys are doing the same, for film. Its called Fund-a-Frame. Speaks for itself.

Still from 10 Seconds.
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Oscar! Oscar! (nominations)

The Oscar nominations are in. It has been a long held belief at this blog that the Hollywood studio way of making films is damaging the industry. Repetitive sequels and no-guts genre films have kicked the life out of the life and they have had enough - ticket sales are down. It was my belief that the answer would come from elsewhere, from games, blogs etc. In part it has. But I didn't predict that it may come from smaller, well made films. And it has - check out the list below.

Only Munich is a 'Hollywood Studio' film. The other four are independent. And in a way the answer has come from elsewhere. Participant Pictures (who are behind Syriana, Good Luck and North Country) is owned by a guy who started up eBay. The guts and daring ARE coming from outside. Who cares? Lets just enjoy some great films.

Last note: Its not in the list but I can say again that you must check out New World.

Here are the Oscar nominations:

“Brokeback Mountain” (Focus Features)
A River Road Entertainment Production
Diana Ossana and James Schamus, Producers

“Capote” (UA/Sony Pictures Classics)
An A-Line Pictures/Cooper’s Town/ Infinity Media Production
Caroline Baron, William Vince and Michael Ohoven, Producers

“Crash” (Lions Gate)
A Bob Yari/DEJ/Blackfriar’s Bridge/ Harris Company/ApolloProscreen GmbH & Co./Bull’s Eye Entertainment Production
Paul Haggis and Cathy Schulman, Producers

“Good Night, and Good Luck.” (Warner Independent Pictures)
A Good Night Good Luck LLC Production
Grant Heslov, Producer

“Munich” (Universal and DreamWorks)
A Universal Pictures/DreamWorks Pictures Production
Kathleen Kennedy, Steven Spielberg and Barry Mendel, Producers

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The image shows how Google image search has let me down again. I take that back. In fact it picked the best picture, but probably by accident, but only probably.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Window of Opportunity

Talking to the guys from Hallmark the other day we both highlighted the importance of letting people know what you do. The gravity model is part of that. And that is about letting MORE people know what you do. But what about your existing contacts? Do they fully know your skills?

The Hallmark example was this. They provide conference facilities for a company. They have done it for 10 years. A good client therefore and a regular one. This year when they turned up the company had a new video. Now Hallmark do videos, have done for years. Why hadn't they been asked. That question sat in the room the other day like a bad smell. But the answer was clear. No one had ever told them - or sent them a showreel - or shown them some cool new ideas.

Not to pick on the Hallmark guys specifically of course - we all do this. One answer is a 'window of opportunity'. A shockingly cheesy american name for a spread sheet. Across the top - all your clients / customers / contacts etc. Down the side - all your services (for Hallmark it would be videos/conference etc).

Tick where you have done work. For most people this is a appalling result. Most of the window is empty - no ticks. So get in touch. Its not difficult. Its not cold calling. Its just speaking to people, people you already know and saying "Do you know we do this, can I tell you more"

Try it!

Still from "Tattooed Man" created for Britannia Building Society.