I knew public funding wasn’t an option because, well, it is scarcely available, takes a long time to apply and the lottery funding usually only goes to people who have a proven track record. This being our first film, I had to convince people of our worth as a producer and director team and that we had an amazing idea that just had to be made into a movie.
I also knew that crowd-funding over the time we had wasn’t likely to raise much, especially seeing as we had no concept art or any form of trailer to enable us to stand out amidst the thousands of other film projects online (IndieGoGo). So our main avenue for raising money was going to be private equity. I knew we wouldn’t be able to raise much in the time slot I had allocated so I had to be realistic about the budget. I basically worked out the minimum amount we could shoot on. What were the necessities and how cheap could we get them.
If you want to be taken seriously by investors you must do your research, and also be realistic and honest. I drew up a business plan which detailed everything a potential investor should know about us, the film, the industry, the market and realistically what was achievable. And this wasn’t easy; you can’t get sales estimates for your film without a sales agent attached, which we didn’t have. Also accurate sales figures for comparable films are seldom available. Check out Jim Barratt’s blog on the availability of industry research and statistics.
The best advice I can give when writing an investment proposal is to be as honest as possible, and also as modest as possible. I’ve seen so many of these things where people have a comparables section containing films like Blair Witch, Once or Paranormal Activity. I think you will have more chance of winning the lottery than your film being a breakaway hit comparable to one of those films. I’ve also seen a business plan where someone has quoted the box office gross of a comparable film and clearly suggested that if their film takes a similar amount, the investor will take 50%. They seem to have forgotten about deducting tax, exhibitor share, distributor share, sales agent fees, expenses, more tax. Don’t mislead your investors. Do your research.
By the time we started shooting we had 50% of the budget, which was enough to get the film ‘in the can’ so to speak. Throughout production and well into post, I continued the investment quest. We didn’t want to wait til we were fully funded because there were opportunities and deals available to us at the time, and, well, I was impatient. In hindsight this may have been a poor choice. Post-production has been slow, in part due to the lack of funds and slow process of raising the rest of what we needed. However, if I had decided to postpone the shoot until we had all the money we could have hoped for, I may still be in development with it today.
By the time we were on the final straight, and money was becoming increasingly hard to find, I decided to try something different to attract the attention of potential investors. We had a trailer by then, so I decided to summarise the business plan in a short video – A Video Investment Pitch. We duplicated DVDs of the video and stuck them through a few doors in our area. We also put the video online and sent the link out to who ever we could find.
Sure enough, 4 weeks later we had the rest of the money!
In the end we did also get some lottery funding from Screen South, my regional screen agency, to help finish the film. This was after showing them a rough cut of the film.
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Writer / Director
Oliver S. Milburn
So as I said in ‘Concept’, I’d made the blunder of choosing a type of film which the market was soon to become saturated in.
That’s a good beginning note actually – think ahead of the curve. If you have an idea that seems really relevant now, by the time you’ve raised finance, shot it and finished it it’ll probably be a bit old hat. Learn from my mistake and try to think of what’s around the corner, rather than what is currently emerging. The first good idea you have is probably the one everyone else is having.
For now, don’t do robots, or containment. From what I’ve seen there seems to be a lot of robot scripts/talk flying around at the moment, not sure why. Now that writers are cottoning on to this whole ‘low production cost = high chance of being made’ thing, every writer seems to have a containment movie – generally involving torture – on the go as well.
Fortunately for me, in HLOD I never set out to make a ‘vampire movie’, but a movie with vampires in it. The focus was the revenge. It is an emotion, a goal, which is endlessly fascinating to explore. Sadly in films it is often used as an excuse for – rather than the cause of – extreme onscreen violence, but beneath the physical it is a brilliantly dark and complex idea. The vampire element just seemed to chime with so many of the themes of revenge movies; selling the soul, rebirth through blood… I could go on. I don’t want to spoil the more subtle plot-points, but it also allowed the introduction of a more physical complication to Dan (our hero)’s revenge.
So I had my idea. Emma (producer) liked it. I started writing…
For a brief aside – and a brief rant – on how I write go HERE. I didn’t want to put this in the main blog because, not yet being a well-established screenwriter, my tips on writing are possibly presumptuous nonsense and I’m not quite egotistical enough to include them in a piece which is supposed to be about micro-budget filmmaking.
The basic tip applicable to all filmmaking is that your film is only as good as your script and story. Don’t write the script yourself if you have no writing experience, and don’t assume that one draft will suffice. Redrafting – and I mean real redrafting, not grammar checking – is the key to getting the best out of your story. For example, at one point the ‘baddies’ in HLOD were just common housebreakers. They later became snuff movie makers because that was more interesting and posed far more complex thematic questions which could then be explored within the script. Also, handheld camera footage added another cheap production element.
It is important to tailor your writing with a knowledge of the limits of your production. Things like razor-sharp dialogue, naturally beautiful locations, ominous alleyways, cctv camera footage – all this stuff is your friend because its cheap. Spaceships, explosions and horse-riding are not. Again though, this does not necessarily mean containment.
Final note, I’m sort of anticipating people reading “only as good as your script” and thinking of recent films like Another Year and Monsters, both excellent films in which there was no ‘script’ as such. So I’d like to establish that by ‘script’, I mean the written or understood plan by which the director will work with the actors and crew to deliver the film. It is whatever best suits the film and (vastly) more often than not it is a screenplay. To address those two examples however, Monsters was a road movie in which – the director has publicly said – the desired form of dialogue was very natural. Improvised dialogue suited the production as well as the story, since the crew did not know where exactly each scene would be shot, but instead actually went on a road trip and stopped off at various visually remarkable sites. They had a written plan detailing which particular plot point and which emotional milestones must be reached in each scene and would improvise on that basis. So effectively, the form of the ‘script’ reflects the form of the movie – and would probably be an ill-advised method of making a film like, say, Michael Clayton. Similarly, the actors involved in Another Year have on several occasions mentioned that while the dialogue was improvised, the basic structure and goal of each scene was established beforehand in rehearsals. Again, this suited the natural feel of the film’s dialogue.
Hello to Jason Isaacs.