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Thursday, December 18, 2014

Christmas Treat Part 2!

And more Christmas fun - here's the new podcast! For this podcast we spend over an hour talking to script editor Andrew Ellard. We felt this extra length was worth the level of his insights into some of your favourite shows. Plus we couldn't shut him up.

Here is how he describes himself - "I'm a writer and script editor. I’ve worked on various shows including Red Dwarf, The IT Crowd and Miranda. I also offer (paid) rewrite notes for your script. You may know me from Twitter (@ellardent) having seen my opinion/review #tweetnotes."

We recorded this at the Royal Festival Hall, so you get free background music with this one. Lastly, I hope 2015 is a good one for your writing projects.

Double Christmas Treat Part 1

Every year I make a film instead of sending out Christmas cards.

This year's effort is called Ho Ho Horror. This is now my sixth year of doing it. The ‘rules’ are always the same. Whatever can be done in a single working day. It used to be Christmas Day itself, but then I realised no one checked their emails on the big day so I now send it earlier.

Ho Ho Horror - Apparently, on Christmas Eve, it is okay for a strangely dressed man in a red suit to break into your home - nothing scary about that - or is there?

BUT SERIOUSLY, MAYBE DON'T LET YOUR REALLY YOUNG KIDS WATCH THIS. While its not a horror per se, you don't want Father Christmas being attacked with a stocking and shiv made from a pencil on Christmas Eve.

This year sees a return of co-star Kim, her first appearance since 2008’s Christmas Film "Stocky". Anyway, watch it. And have a (Night)marey Christmas!

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Podcast Episode 42: Structure

Structure - the most important skill of a writer or the basis for generic and boring stories? Danny talks about the '5 act pixar poker idea' and I talk up non-linear structures (as always!).

I mentioned Linda's book on unusual structures a couple of times in this episode and here is the link - The 21st Century Screenplay

Lastly, Danny mentioned Nelson Nutmeg Links...

And its not too late to support the film, which has some cool rewards (including an exclusive podcast) by going to this page.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

How to find great child actors - the top 3 thing I learnt

Currently I am filming a low budget children's adventure feature film called "Who Killed Nelson Nutmeg?" with my good friend Danny Stack. It is a classic kids-solve-a-mystery-on-holiday story. Perhaps, from a film industry point of view, this is a bit out of fashion right now, but children still seem to love this kind of narrative anyway. So we thought we'd make it.

Central to the tale is a gang of four kids and an older brother. The dynamic of the group is really the drama of the film. How they work together, and how it starts to all fall apart as the mystery deepens. This, therefore, needs to be a proper 'gang', not just four kids who happen to be standing next to each other!

If I say so myself, we got this right, and it is one of the best parts of the film. Each actor is good in their own right, but they also gel together well.
How did we pull it off? How do you get four kids to act together and get along with each other for 10 weekends in a row?
In reflection, here are the three things we planned that really paid off and made it happen.

One: Spread the net wide and for a long time
We had three main sources of potential actors and we started reaching out in March, knowing we weren't aiming to actually start shooting until August.

The first source was going to every local acting school that we could get in touch with and who were open to us coming along and giving a talk and doing auditions. Some of the smaller classes are the better ones. A lot of these classes and schools focus on theatre, so the kids who do well there may not be the best ones for film! We met James (aka Woody) at one acting class that specialises in drama and doesn't do any musical numbers or dancing.

The second source was online casting sites such as the special kids version of casting call pro where more experienced actors such as Hattie, above, have profiles. We then did a closed audition day for people we liked from the casting web sites and from the acting schools. This also gave us a chance to interview the kids in a more informal manner. At the end of this process we had a short list.

The third source was an open audition. We had to start planning this in March for a June open audition date. The reason for this long lead time was because of the time it takes to get information out there and in the hands of parents. One of the main ways to communicate to local families is via magazines sent out to all parents by the schools. These only get distributed twice during a school term, so the long lead time was essential. The open audition was amazingly well attended with 280 young actors coming along. The fact we already had our short list from the closed auditions in our minds helped, in that we knew we were looking for young actors who could bring something different to what we'd seen already, something fresh or a new take on it. This was how we found Jonah (aka Swindon) as well as some of the smaller unusual roles. Some actors make such an impact we knew we'd have to get them in one way or another.

Two: Mix things up
At this point we had the short list from both the closed audition and the open audition. The task then was to try and mix people up and see what worked overall. Everyone involved by this point was a great actor and had a good take on the character. So this stage was really concerned with getting the overall mix working.

How do you do this? The answer is simple - you do as many different scenes from the movie as possible, with the biggest variety of people possible - and film them. It can be tempting to do special audition pieces or games. This is a distraction. Audition people with the actual thing you want them to do! It was also useful to ask the young actors who they liked for the other roles. It was this way that we ended up with JJ in the role of Shiv.

Three: Audition the parents
All through the casting process (and especially near the end) we were also auditioning the parents. Not for their acting abilities of course, but for their commitment to the film. Although the kids are doing the role, it is the parents who need to make the dedication. They would need to give up their own time too!

At the end of the process we had a group of young actors who:

  • had worked together a lot already during the various auditions
  • had had a hand in selecting each other
  • who had proven themselves committed to the film by returning many times
  • who already understood the film and our process in realising it 

Key Point
The overall method we have used throughout is one of transparency. We have tried to always be totally honest and upfront about this whole process and also the potential of the film with the kids as well as the parents. So no tricks or hidden agendas.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Podcast Episode 41: Writing and making a feature

In this podcast episode I chat to Danny about the challenges, the fun and the surprises of directing a feature - as two people who have come more from a writing background.

Have a listen above. And here are some useful links below.

Who Killed Nelson Nutmeg? is the film we are talking about. Here is the website, the Facebook page, the twitter and the IMDB page.
You can download my free shot list template for word from here if you fancy using it yourself in your own productions.
Below you can see an image of Danny's "heartbeat chart"

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Nelson Nutmeg Update

It has been quiet on this blog for a while. Sorry about that. The reason for the silence is that I've been posting more on the Who Killed Nelson Nutmeg? blog - as well as actually making the film.

In case you don't know, Who Killed Nelson Nutmeg? is a children's feature film I am co-directing with Danny Stack. You may know Danny as my co-host of the UK Scriptwriters Podcast.

It is going well and we are on schedule so far. We are fine-tuning the process as we go of course. But we got a lot right! It is all too easy to overlook those and focus on the negative. But here's what we got spot on:

  • Starting the audition process early means the kids feel like a real unit now and get on well together. There is a good vibe, which helps a lot.
  • Having two caravans on site next to each other is perfect. One for crew, one for cast.
  • The crew is just the right size, allowing for some flex (e.g. we split off a B-unit the other day) but without people hanging around waiting for things to do.
  • We have hired a minibus everyday to take us there and back. This means everyone arrives fresh, plus it is no more expensive as it saves about 5 or 6 people driving cars.
  • The location is amazing. Not just in how it appears on screen, but also the helpfulness of the people there. Free plug for them - Freshwater Beach Holiday Park.

But never mind all this text - here's some pics (thanks to Jo for these snaps) ...

Who Killed Nelson Nutmeg
Danny on location. Steve has a breather.

Film crew
Some of the crew

Digital loader
Adrian wrangling the files

editing on location
Dan Mellow adopts the edit position

dorset children's film
Dylan rehearses for his part in the 'staring competition' (no joke!) Chloe has to help him out

blackmagic 4K film UK
Yep. We can burn through 480GB in an afternoon

kids film british
So many funny faces here

hattie gotobed loretta walsh
Never too early to start promoting the film!

kids movie 2014
Mum gets the brew on

kids film for kids
P-Dizzle does her MA dissertation 

children's film villain
Elliot has a run in with "Mr Slug"

how to make a children's film
You must be this tall to be in the scene

Lastly, the IMDB page for the film is slowly being updated also.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Podcast Episode 40: Want to move to Hollywood?

This podcast is another interview special. We talk to writer Tim John about moving to Hollywood, how to fit in, how to find work there and why it all fell apart. A great episode for those thinking about hitting tinsel town. You can find Tim's book on Amazon - or simply click here.

A little bit about Tim John in his own words...

With over 20 years’ experience as a copywriter and creative director, plus 7 years as a Hollywood scriptwriter, I’ve worked with a huge variety of clients – from Burger King to Bill Murray, from Sunsilk to Schwarzenegger - winning awards and achieving significant results, even on tiny budgets.

Friday, July 04, 2014

How do you co-direct a film?

Note: Myself and Danny are the co-directors. Nelson Nutmeg has no directing duties!

I am co-writing, co-directing and co-producing a children's feature film called Who Killed Nelson Nutmeg? alongside Danny Stack. We've worked together for years creating the UK Scriptwriter's Podcast.

That's a lot of co-filmmaking duties we are sharing though. However, two out of those three get no comments from anyone at all. Lots of films are co-written. In fact many times there are 4 writers on the credits of major films, which normally means about 10 writers were used, but many were uncredited so the film didn't look so bad. And lots of films have more than one producer, in fact having only one producer would be very unusual. But directing? Wow, no one co-directs.

One guy on reddit even said about our idea - "Co-directors=Creative poision 95% of the time." In a way he could be right. When we see more than one director on a project it is actually often because the first one has left / been fired and another one brought it. But does it need to be like this?

Our inspiration for this film is the Coen Brothers. Not just in their film making style but also how they work as a double act. They are both credited as director for No Country for Old Men, for example.

We may change our minds but here are our current three thoughts on co-directing.

One - Don't focus on taking the credit
Agree up front that this is a joint effort - 100%, equal billing. Sometimes you may feel that you doing all the hard work. Sometimes the other person will (you won't notice that of course, as that's human nature). If you are solid in the fact you are doing this together, it will work out.

Two - Know your strengths and weaknesses
Simply put, I'd say I'm more technical and Danny has a better grasp of story. We are both okay with the actors. That gives us a lot of strength to be doing two directing tasks at once. One person can be rehearsing actors, the other can be looking at lighting set ups or making art direction choices. Provided of course....

Three - You plan and create the film together
Personally I feel this can only work if you've created the story and worked things out together. Why? Because you have already crafted a world together, you both know it inside out. Co-directing from someone else's spec script would be harder as you may disagree about the interpretation or look / style or even the meaning. This isn't an issue if you've created all those elements together.

Join in the fun yourself. Our Kickstarter still has a few weeks to go.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

A special mini episode of the podcast

A special mini episode of the podcast today, giving a shout out to our Kickstarter campaign for Who Killed Nelson Nutmeg. You can watch our pitch below - or go straight to the website by clicking here.

A big thanks to all the blog readers and podcast listeners who have given so far, too many to list here.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Who Kicked Nelson Nutmeg?

The Kickstarter campaign for my new children's feature film is now live. Click to watch the rather excellent video above. Or visit the Kickstarter page directly here -

I hope you can support the film and share it with others. We really need to be making more home grown children's movies in the UK.

If you can chip in even £1 that is really, really useful. Kickstarter focuses more on how many backers there are, more so than the actual amount given. So a quid given early is worth a lot more than that over time.

If you are telling people about the film, here's the blurb I use - On their annual summer holiday to the south coast of England, four misfit kids suspect that their holiday park’s mascot, Nelson Nutmeg, has been pushed off of the cliff! They set out to find the evidence they need in order to reveal the culprit and convince their parents they were right.

Just a reminder of how lucky we've been with this so far. Nigel Cole (dir of Calendar Girls) is on board as a directing mentor and we have had script feedback from BBC children’s presenter Chris Jarvis. Our location is also the place where the BAFTA winning ITV show Broadchurch was filmed. I am co-writing and co-directing the film with Danny Stack, writer of Octonauts and Thunderbirds Are Go!

The campaign launched today and as I write this we already have over 10% of the minimum amount in place. This is amazing. Thanks to everyone who has supported the film so far. Here's to the next 10% and the rest!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

How to launch a Kickstarter - using video!

One of the key things we were told time and again with a Kickstarter was to build up to the launch date. The first few days are key to a successful campaign (at whatever level you are doing it) which means people need to know about the campaign BEFORE you launch it.

Obviously by Kickstarter I also mean any crowd funding platform, such as IndieGoGo and the rest.

One of the fun things we've been doing with our own project, a children's feature film called "Who Killed Nelson Nutmeg?", is a series of videos. We started with kids talking about the ideas of the film, this made the film feel like it was coming to life and having an impact, before a single frame had been shot. You can watch them all in the play list below...

Then we progressed to a generic countdown, just to keep people on their toes. But these are fun and silly too so at least the audience gets a giggle. Again, the full play list is below...

Did it work? We shall see. The kickstarter goes live very soon!

Monday, June 09, 2014

No one has heard of your film - and that's maybe how you should like it!

Check out this trailer. Seems like an okay film, got good people in it, was finished a few months back, had a recent screening at Cannes Market. Its UK premiere is soon.  I remember the writer / director pitching the idea to me ages ago. Maybe 5 years ago. Myself and Tammy go back quite a way as she was involved in my BAFTA nominated short, Eight, in an admin role - and I'm pleased she is now making great films herself.

But the point of this article is how easily things like this can pass one by. I knew about the script, but now its done, its made, its out! How did that happen? Heck, my light leaks are even used in the trailer, which I love. In this social media based world it is easy to think that everyone knows about your film, or should know about your film.

I like that fact that I didn't know about this film until now. That's cool. Sometimes surprising people is a good tactic. That makes it intriguing to me, like it is a secret, a delicious one!

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Podcast Episode 39: Jesse Cleverly at Wildseed

This episode I speak to Jesse Cleverly from a relatively new set up - Wildseed Studios. They are giving seed money away, for wild ideas - hence the name! Their aim is to be a home for new, long-term, entertaining ideas, probably based around funny or crazy characters who can grow and work across different media. Jesse explains it better than me, so have a listen.

If you think your idea fits then you can apply here, its really easy!

On a similar, but unrelated note, the kickstarter for our own low budget feature, "Who Killed Nelson Nutmeg?" is coming soon. Sign up below to be kept in touch about that.

Friday, May 09, 2014

Light leak app - on sale today

I've made a collection of light leaks available on here for use by video editors and compositors. But what if you like the look, but don't know your Avid from your FinalCut? Well now you can access and use these clips on your iOS device easily.

Ben Wong has created a cool app for your iPhone or iPad that allows you to add my light leaks as well as other cool looks really easily. 

In bonus news - I will be doing some 4K leaks soon.

Monday, May 05, 2014

Excited to get your film in the Cannes Short Film Corner - check this out!

Heading to Cannes this year with your short film? Here's the scale of the competition! Which isn't to put you off, but rather to prepare you. Is a small poster or postcard enough? Probably not anymore. What can you do to stand out?

1 - be bold about any awards so far
2 - make a play on any links between your short and features in competition this year
3 - email short distributors about your film, inviting them to check it out

This is the third of a set of vodcasts I did in Cannes a few years back. Links to parts 1 and 2.

Saturday, May 03, 2014

What is waiting for you in Cannes? This.

In the second part of my Cannes overview, I look at the challenges of how to get your film seen. Part 1 is here, and more to come in the future.

I shot these a few years back, but in the approach to the cannes film festival it seemed like a good time to share again.

Behind the camera is Suki - his film is here.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Podcast Episode 38: Debbie Moon interview

This month myself and Danny Stack met up with Wolfblood writer and creator, Debbie Moon.

Perhaps, like me, you've heard vaguely of the show but don't know too much about it. It was commissioned by CBBC and ZDF as is both a genre show and a children's show. Here's a link to the BBC site.

To bring you up to speed, below is a brief outline from Wikipedia on the set up of the show.
"Being a teenager is hard enough. Being a Wolfblood teenager is ten times more complicated. 14-year-old Maddy loves her abilities - heightened senses, being faster, stronger and more graceful - but hates the secrets that come with them." Wolfblood is a children's fantasy drama, created by English writer Debbie Moon for CBBC. Set in Northumbria, it follows two teenagers who are wolfbloods, humans able to transform into wolves (wolfbloods) at the full moon and at times when they're stressed. Wolfbloods are a mysterious race who have lived among us for centuries. Wolfbloods retain their superhuman speed, strength, agility, and senses when in human form, their abilities are very useful in helping them negotiate the turmoil of teenage life. But this is a secret that must be kept, or they and all wolfbloods could be in deadly danger from humans.
We asked Debbie about writing genre, about getting your own show made as a new writer and about what's next. A very inspiring story that shows that it is possible to get your own show made.


Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Going to Cannes? Watch this first.

Going to Cannes soon? From a few year's back here is my take - on what to take! People take way too much. I used to do that too, almost relying on the printed materials to do the work I was doing. A better use of preparation time is to arrange meeting, get your head around your sales points and keep on top of the biz!

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Recent P&O Cruises Advert on 4OD

Here's my recent advert for P&O Cruises, available on video-on-demand platforms such as 4OD. Shot last year it was held back to help push sales this year. I talked about the production before, but it is good to see this new edit also making the rounds.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Children's film - is the time now?

Myself and Danny went to hear a discussion at BAFTA about the future of children's film. This was of much interest to us as we continue to develop our own micro budget kids feature, Who Killed Nelson Nutmeg?

The event was sponsored by the Children's Media Foundation (of whom I am a patron) and overall was probably more upbeat about the future than I thought it would be. Here's the blurb…
The discussion was chaired by Briony Hanson, Director of Film at the British Council. Panellists were Linda James, Sly Fox Films and Board Member, CMF; Justin Johnson, British Film Institute; Rupert Preston, Vertigo Films; and Jocelyn Stevenson of Mind Candy, co-writer and producer of Moshi Monsters: The Movie.
My three takeaways from the discussion were these;

One: How profitable the whole genre can be. 3 children's movies together took over £50m during half term week, in the UK. This means that UK-centric kids films can survive on UK takings alone. International sales are not so critical as they are for other genres. This means if you have a story that is a UK focused, that's okay!

Two: BBC Films, Film Four and most of the larger production companies are not so interested in children's films. But the BFI is, and is attempting to support the genre and increase interest.

Three: The big screen can be important. This was perhaps the most eye-opening part for me. Angus Reid was in the audience and he described the joy he had of showing his zero-budget kids film to a jam packed auditorium - and how they arrived from schools by the bus load. We'd put Nelson Nutmeg into the digital distribution arena in our minds. Yes, we are shooting on 4K, but that was more to create a strong digital master rather than to create a 4K cinema release. Now, inspired by Angus and by the support that the BFI can bring we perhaps should look again at the big screen.

Don't forget, sign up to keep up to date with Nelson Nutmeg (we will be aiming for about 1 email per month, not a bombardment)

Monday, March 24, 2014

Podcast Episode 37: Speaking to director Nigel Cole

This podcast is a special. It focuses on my interview with Nigel Cole. If you don't know the name, he is the director working across both films "Made in Dagenham" and TV "Doc Martin, Cold Feet". Here is his IMDB for a full list.

I asked him about his career between the two formats, how he works with writers and how to gets on in this crazy biz.

Also in the podcast is Danny's screenwriting news - with lots going on right now. Here's some links…

See you next month listeners.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Who is Nelson Nutmeg?

As mentioned in the previous podcast, myself and Danny Stack, aided by other local legends, are pulling together a low budget feature. The twist; it's a children's film.

Here's why…

We’ve noticed that a certain kind of film doesn’t really get made anymore, a kind of film that we both remember from when we were younger: a children’s film that has kids in the lead roles (think The Goonies, Flight of the Navigator, Explorers, BMX Bandits, and the like). These films weren’t based on best-selling books or pre-existing properties. They were original ideas made to appeal directly to a child’s sense of fun and adventure.

But where are those types of films now?

In 2013, none of the top 10 family films actually features children in the main role. Sure, there are a lot of family films around – but these are either animated or use adults in the central roles – or both! We realise that big expensive motion pictures need to appeal to the widest possible demographics but, with few exceptions, it seems to us that children don’t get any films to truly call their own. Films that share their sense of mischief and wonder with main characters of their own age.

This is why we’re making our film. It’s silly, exciting, fun and it’s just for children.

We can do it because we are making it as a low budget movie. It’s not going to compete with the big family blockbusters at the cinema; it’s created for the DVD/ instant streaming market. However, low budget doesn’t mean low quality and we’ll be using the newest range of cameras (Blackmagic 4k in fact) to bring the film to life. Plus we’ll be collaborating with the best in local talent (in front and behind the fancy camera), and celebrating the photogenic coastline of Dorset that’s right on our doorstep – one of the best places for kids to go on an adventure.

As the film develops we really hope you'll follow it's development and help out if you can. A few ways to do that. Follow on Facebook, Twitter - or sign up for emails below. There will be more on casting and crewing to come.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Podcast Episode 36: Being proactive and introducing Nelson Nutmeg

This episode is about being proactive. What can you do to make sure you chase down every avenue? Are you an amateur or a professional. PLUS we launch our new feature film for children - Who Killed Nelson Nutmeg?

Obviously there will be more to come from Nelson Nutmeg over the next few months, our adventures in bringing this film to life. In the meantime, sign up on the website for news. Or follow on twitter.

Easiest way, sign up below…

Keep up to date about Nelson Nutmeg

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Sunday, February 23, 2014

Patron of the Children's Media Foundation

I recently became a Patron of the Children's Media Foundation. Why? A couple of reasons. 

Firstly, I have been getting more into the children's scene, having been working on the editing pieces for Lego and also productions focused on early years education. And of course, my own BAFTA nominated short, Eight, was about a kid is used within schools to open up discussion about grief sometimes.

Secondly, I think it is important to support what you believe in. Too many creatives look for the industry to support them, rather than the other way around.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Swirling light leak - free HD download

A swirling, ghostly light leak. Light flickering through ice. Created with low level sun near the Arctic Circle, which is great for making these. Ideal as a background / backdrop / composite over titles or footage OR maybe use as transition. Speed up for a crazy wipe!

You can download it in 1080p HD Quicktime format from here: (both clips in 1 download)

If you like this and want more then you can go to the whole archive of lens flares and light leaks here.

They are offered under creative commons. Read more here. If you are super kind and get something out of using these then please donate a small amount and I can do some more. If you use them for commercial projects then you should pay also...