Luther over at Wars of Attrition recently wrote an interesting, and personal, take on his recent brush with the making of short films and the funding available for their creation (post here).

As it was described I was unimpressed with the experience he described having with the blogger at Shooting People. It could seem a little disheartening that someone in the position of encouraging new film making is painting such a negative picture of what is being produced. That kind of standpoint would fly in the face of films I’ve seen and could be read as a little insulting to the enthusiasm, talent and hard work of those who make short films (usually with very few resources). At the same time I appreciate as well as encouragement there must also be a benchmark for quality for new filmmakers; it’s in the interest of the industry’s future, etc.

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Moving on from that (because there are people who are better informed than I who can argue the ins and outs of the above) the post also touched upon what is acceptable or expected from film makers (in this case makers of short films) and how that effects their potential for securing funding. This is certainly something that has gone back and forth in my mind ever since I was a) interested in making films and b) convinced that somebody else should give me the money to do so.

The existing main funding routes (lottery money farmed out by regional organisations such as Screen South) are ridiculously oversubscribed (especially in the South-East). They can also feel to the young renegade filmmaker as restrictive and narrow in terms of the work they are likely to develop (Luther also describes how it seems there is more support for those who aren’t already making films, which makes both some sense and absolutely no sense, all at once).

That’s certainly how I felt. To me the type of films that were being made within these schemes all seemed to be cut from the same cloth and formulaic. To an extent that may have been true (an agency’s remit is inevitably going to affect the work it champions), but I also think a small part of me was being dismissive because I didn’t want to submit my ideas to what seemed to be a officious rigor of justification and explanation of what it was you wanted to express with your film and how. Of course this probably had a lot to do with the fact I didn’t really have the answers to those particular questions, at least no answers that weren’t ‘just because, ok?’

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My writing partner and I wrote a script that was submitted to Screen South by someone who was looking for something to direct. Despite its amazing title (The Formal Handshake of the Duplicitous Bean) it was turned down. I was annoyed and didn’t pay much mind to the suggestions for improvement that had been made about the script’s story. There was the feeling that they were trying to homogenize our wacky ideas and free formed short, when the reality is that it was just an underdeveloped, undisciplined piece of work. After that we had no burning desire to make it happen otherwise, which is a good indicator of how attached (or not) we were to the idea.

More recently I have decided that perhaps I was being inflexible, that I should perhaps try to tailor my approach to that suggested by our regional film office. I, like Luther, had my script turned down for development and the chance for funding, last year. I didn’t feel totally surprised when this happened, but I also didn’t feel was that I had wasted my time or been made to dance through hoops. I still had my script, plus some feedback on it which made me see there was more work to be done on it. I realised that I’d spent so much time working on trying to realise the film and justify its value to existence that I was going to go ahead and do it anyway.

And therein I think lies the answer. Not screw it, fund it yourself (although…yeah, that’s what’s going to have to happen really isn’t it?) but what I’ve learned from all this is to follow your passion. It may translate well into something that you could pitch for this kind of funding, it may be something that with an amount of cunning you could sneak in the back door, or it could be something only you seem to be convinced is a good idea. Compromise if you need to, but if the passion wanes then try to take it back to a place where you absolutely have to make it happen, even if you have to make it yourself.

The only commodities you have as an apprentice is that which you care about passionately and the time and effort you can bring to fulfilling it. Don’t let them go unused.

2 comments

  1. Thanks for the big up Paul – guess the strange thing about applying this year for the Screen South Digital Short’s was that they weren’t looking for complete scripts, only story outlines, as they wanted to be involved in the script molding process.

    Didn’t mind the idea of that myself – would be good to work through an idea with some guidance – but I sometimes have a fear that sometimes schemes like that choose an initial idea, but somehow want you to work through the scheme and workshops and have you making something that perhaps isn’t exactly what you wanted to make in the first place…

    But then, what do I know as I’ve never been accepted on such a scheme!

  2. That’s odd that they were after story outlines as opposed to completed scripts; I’m sure that’s not been the case in previous years. No doubt the usefulness of the guidance they offer, but agreed that you might wind up with something completely different than you had in mind. But then I suppose there’s value in the experience? Plus there’s always more ideas than you have time to execute, so you can just pick another one!

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