Last week we were extremely fortunate to attend the Show Me The Money film funding course provided by First Light, a four-day residential programme running alongside Birmingham’s always entertaining and ever unpredictable Flatpack Festival. Designed to increase participants’ awareness of film funding models both traditional and new, as well as to give a greater insight into marketing and distribution of film, we were selected along with fourteen other extremely gifted young filmmakers, including our friend and collaborator Lauren Hatchard. It was an immensely informative and monumentally intensive week, and after some well-earned relaxation over the Easter weekend we wanted to take this opportunity to share with you just a little of what we learnt those heady and hugely inspiring few days.
During the four-day programme, we navigated the dangerous waters of pitching, from an initial attempt to explain our projects by way of an icebreaker to the culmination of the course, pitching in front of a panel including independent producer Natasha Carlish. Pitching is a nerve-wracking and occasionally frustrating experience for filmmakers, but it was very helpful to receive guidance on how best to wow potential funders, and immensely gratifying that our peers responded to our idea so much. Hearing praise, advice, encouragement and suggestions from talented writers and directors about the project, which remains under wraps to the outside world, was both useful and humbling, particularly when every film pitched would make a spectacular finished product. We also learnt about the vagaries of recoupment (which financiers get back their money when) and were offered a bleak but refreshingly candid assessment of the traditional sales and distribution model from sales agent Gary Phillips and distributor David Wilkinson. The general consensus was this traditional model is dead or dying, and the new opportunities afforded by more modern models, greatly enhanced by the advent of the internet, are extremely exciting.
We were given an engaging and enlightening seminar on crowd and audience building from Mark Ashmore, where his message of identifying and creating a community to enjoy your work became a theme of the course. We became acquainted with the role of Producer of Marketing and Distribution via Sally Hodgson, who was able to apply such principles of audience engagement with the well-regarded documentary Sound It Out. Director of acclaimed documentary “Last Shop Standing” Pip Piper talked us through the potential and the pitfalls of crowdfunding campaigns, whilst Sarah Gee from Indigo Ltd, a marketing and fundraising consultancy firm for arts organisations, provided an interesting perspective on how looking at how the creative sector raises money for projects could be applied to films. Our minds were also blown by the possibilities of online distribution as explained by Peter Gerard of Distrify. A brand new fully customisable video player that allows filmmakers to sell their work directly to audiences via digital downloads, DVDs, cinema listings and more in one place, Distrify seems to be the way of the future, and it was thrilling to be able to peer into this technological crystal ball. All speakers emphasised the value of putting the audience first: identifying who is your audience, and interacting with them well in advance, not after the horse has bolted (when the film is complete). This invaluable advice is something we will be certain to implement for our future projects, as whilst audiences are in many ways the most important part of making films, it is sometimes all too easy to overlook with all the craziness of the creative process.
Personal highlights for us included a hugely inspirational talk from Anna Higgs, Commissioning Executive for Film 4.0, Film 4’s hub for emerging and established film talent. As well as giving us an insight into the amazing things Film 4.0 are doing in the near future, she was wonderfully supportive and encouraging towards us as emerging filmmakers. She was even good enough to remember, and compliment, our entry to the Film 4 SceneStealers competition The Iron Lady. This was extremely gratifying, and, coming just hours before a screening at the monthly Roots To Shoots, goes to show that prime ministerial cross dressing has its advantages. We also had an opportunity to sample the delights of Flatpack, such as the screening of the BIFA Award winning Strings, a beautifully filmed relationship drama. We were also lucky enough to spend some time after the event with the film’s extraordinarily talented director Rob Savage, his charismatic lead actor Oliver Malam and sound design wizard Tom Whetmore. All three will go very far in their selected fields and it was a privilege to hang out with them, pitch ideas to them, receive (perhaps disingenuous) funding offers of fast food chain vouchers and a couple of Euros, as well as talk about the strengths and weaknesses of Skyfall. But the main highlight of the course was its residential component. The ample opportunities it afforded to network and get to know like-minded people in our own age group, particularly as all were impressive filmmakers from the length and breadth of the UK, was incalculably rewarding. We may have only been together for four days, but we can safely say we have made some friends for life. When the future history of British film is written, they will surely say it started here.
We would like to take this opportunity to thank First Light for providing such a fantastic platform for young directors and writers, arming them with the tools they will need to get by in this brave new world of marketing and distribution. Check out their website for all their latest opportunities, tips and resources for filmmakers aged 5 to 25. We would also like to thank our fellow Show Me The Money alumni, for creating such a dynamic, fun and inspirational atmosphere across the programme. It was an honour to hear your ideas, share in your jokes, and begin forging the future of the British film industry with you all. And finally, we would like to thank our programme teammate Lauren Hatchard, for being a supportive collaborator, networking dynamo and film visionary. We will put the techniques we have learnt into practice on our upcoming projects, and world domination will follow (weather permitting).
Studio 279 is currently experiencing some exciting times. During Show Me The Money we submitted a short film funding application, using the tricks of the trade learned in those very halls. We are optimistic about the project, buoyed by the positive feedback it received from our peers, and we hope to be successful in securing the desired funds. We will update you when we know more. We are in the process of developing our first documentary, several short film projects and we more grand plans on the horizon. We remain confident that 2013 can be our greatest year yet. Stay tuned!