It all started when a friend invited me to join him on one of his film sets one day in 2009. At the time I was a professional musician, not long released from a recording contract and looking for new work. I was exploring the possibility of establishing myself in film as a music composer, and he asked me to score the music for his short film. I also started screenwriting at this time, and wrote half a dozen stories without entertaining the thought of how any of them would ever get made.
Fast forward to his film shoot, and it was a game changer. On set I saw him directing a small but professional crew, and I got chatting to various people working on set. This wasn’t a ‘funded’ shoot and most people were working for expenses, but he paid for the shoot out of his own pocket because he believed in his story. And it did well at film festivals. This got me thinking about my stories. I spoke to the producer on the team, but she wasn’t really interested in taking on the screenplay from an unknown writer that had never made anything before.
Although this was back in 2009, this still rings true today. Back then I thought I’ll just ask different producers. If I just kept sending various producers my screenplay I would get my film made somehow, right? Wrong. After speaking to a few different producers I found out that every one of them had a screenplay that they were trying to get made. Why should they make mine instead of theirs?
What I did next ensured that all of my screenplays would get made (or most anyway!). I started producing them myself. Four months after my friend’s film shoot, I was producing my own first short film. Since then I have produced films for other writers and directors as well as my own.
So my key learning was:
1 – No one was interested in my screenplay because everybody had one of their own to make. If you want something made, make it yourself.
2 – By making it myself, I got a sense of what needs to happen on set, and most importantly it go me paying attention to the budget of my films. This helped me write low budget features later on that went onto get made and distributed. I also got creative control over my work.
3 – Start small. I reduced the number of locations and characters in my screenplay and kept it under 10 minutes. As a first time writer-producer I knew that I would never get big bucks from the BFI to make it, and I had to ask people to work for small pay, expenses, and meal/reel credit.
4 – One thing my crew asked me when I started recruiting was ‘is this going to festivals?’ and ‘what is the plan for this film?’. Before committing to my film, they wanted to know that this it wasn’t going to sit on a hard drive somewhere or just be uploaded to YouTube or Facebook straight away. I was even asked about how I would go about submitting the film to festivals to see if I was talking crap (there are a LOT of wannabe producers out there that talk crap!). I learned quickly that festivals is where I earn my track record not only as a writer, but also as a producer. It also means that the people who worked on my film got something solid out of it. It is their career as well as mine. If you don’t know where to start with festivals when you make your short film, Lawrence Mallinson runs a robust Short Film Festival Submission Service for £100 (inclusive of VAT), plus the cost of any film festival entry fees (a lot are free). This includes creating an IMDb page.
Written by Saranne Bensusan on 16th January 2018.