Monday, 27 July 2009

Bafta Short Film Market

Darling ones,

yes, on Saturday Lock And Load got herself down to 195 Piccadilly to the very lovely Bafta building for the Short Film Market, part of the Rushes Soho Shorts festival.

I got chatting to Paul and David over danish pastries. Paul is a sound mixer and music engineer and David a producer from Shoreditch. I found people very friendly and only too willing to chat about their projects.

Then it was upstairs to see Rain Horse, a nine-minute short made under the auspices of the BBC and the Digital Shorts scheme at UKFC. Starring jason Isaacs and based on the short story by Ted Hughes, this beautiful film showed how much can be achieved on a limited budget. Belying the old saw about never working with animals or children, this was a highly atmospheric film that pitted humans against savage nature.

Afterwards the director and producer spoke eloquently about the logistics of the shoot and stressed that because of the time constraints there was barely time for any rehearsals, not to say the unpredictability of the six horses they used. The location was a forest in Surrey to stand in for the Welsh countryside and they said that they found out all they needed to know by talking to the top people in the business who were only too pleased to pass on useful info such as the forest in Surrey being a good place because it was the setting for the battle scenes in Gladiator and therefore they knew it would be a good match for rural Wales. Got chatting to Andy who works at Rich Mix. Also to Karim, who pitched his Chickenhawk project to me on his iphone!

Next up was a product placement seminar which was very well attended and presented by Sean from BFG. There was a short film presentation of the main products that crop up in movies. Soft drinks, phones and cars, the usual suspects. BFG brokers the arrangement with brands and film production companies with a fee for that service being paid to BFG by the brand and an additional fee to be paid to the filmmakers. Not such a good wheeze for the short filmmaker as shorts get less exposure Surprisingly Sean said that for every two films he's placed products in, there's a hundred that never see the light of day. They also do a lot of Bollywood films. Sean said that people are influenced in their buying choices by what they see in movies. Apparently when Clark Gable appeared vestless in a film, sales fell dramatically whilst kids increased their consumption of Reese's Pieces threefold when they appeared in ET.

Sean spoke of how product placement in online drama like Kate Modern was more the way brands wanted to go because of the obvious exposure to the chosen 16-24 year-old demographic who didn't watch TV so much as cruise the web on Bebo, MySpace, Facebook etc., He also mentioned WKS09.COM an online reality based type drama. Generally, docs were exempt from product placement as were children's programming.

Sean recommended that if filmmakers wanted to approach brands directly then the best thing was to have as much information to hand and to have as fully developed a project as possible: Budget, financing, letters of intent, business plan etc., Brands will only show interest in a project when they can see clearly what's in it for them.

Next up was a How to Finance Your Film courtesy of Justin Stephenson. A seminar which, as you may imagine, was full of doom and gloom but quite optimistic in the long-term, certainly for indies. I took copious notes so will bullet point the most salient for your reading pleasure.

- Good budgets don't necessarily make good films. Justin got involved with financing Alexander and Phantom of the Opera.

- Financiers quite often want control of a film. Justin said that when when the financiers get involved is when things start to go wrong.

- Important therefore to get as much quality up there on screen as you can.

- Film finance is tax-based. Currently the most advantageous place to film is in Manitoba, but only if your film is set in a rural idyll. Justin advised NOT rewriting a film in order to fit in a tax haven.

- Justin then spoke about the film proposal being the best it possibly can in a hugely over-subscribed market but he made the good point that it absolutely has to be the best it possibly can be and that filmmakers should have confidence and pride in their work.. If you can't pitch it in thirty=seconds then you're in trouble.

- He reckoned it was worth assigning one person whose sole task was to deal with the money coming in which will not be paid until the first day of the shoot. The advantage of having just one person to deal with it means that it will be dealt with efficiently and save you a lot of hassle further down the line.

Justin then spoke about the current state of film finance as it applies to features:

- It's in freefall.

- Too many films being made at all levcels

- There is no bank lending.

- Pre-sales have collapsed.

- Foreign sales are weak.

- The sale of DVDs are down with Woolworths and Zavvi gone meaning that volumes of sales are up but prices per unit are down in order to compete.

- Online viewing is up but by no means fully developed yet. Still two years away from fulfillment but then people were saying that two years ago.

- Indie film production is actually up in the US because there is obviously a better financial returt if it is a hit.

So, what has replaced the banks in terms of funding?

- Investment funds are very much of the moment though Justin warned that extreme caution was advised when dealing with them.

- He said that in the UK, filmmakers, and crew were more realistic in their approach to work during lean times, which was good to hear.

- Post-production companies will contribute some money at point of filming.

Justin then gave a breakdown of percentages available:

- Manitoba - 60%
- UK - 20%
- Other countries - 40%
- Justin said that really the UK needs to up its tax credit threshold to 25-35%.

The huge amount of films out there means that it's really hard to stand out from the crowd, ad revenues alone costs 30 million dollars which means that kind of budget is out of reach for most indies.

- There are a couple of banks cautiously interested in lending money for films. Barclays may be one. Coutts will but only if you;re already a customer. other banks abroad may lend if it's a co-production and you fulfill the criteria for funding.

- Pre-sales are now not happening unless the film is completed or you have a significant amount of footage already in the can. Again, two year time-frames were mentioned in terms of market recovery.

So, just when we were all deciding to give up, Justin said that there was LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL.

As he said earlier, Equity Funds have taken over from the banks. There ARE little bits of funding around BUT only work with the funds that are up-front about their track record. Always ask if they have the money. They won't because all funding is tax-driven but they should be honest about that.

- There are two windows in the UK:
- September to November
- Late january to the end of March.

This is when Equity Funds may be available. Always go for fund managers with experience in film. Always have 50% of money in place from other sources. They will want to be paid fees. Because they are lending against tax credits from the government, it's not such a high risk.


- Now is a good time because of macro-economic trends.
- The upping of the higher rate of income tax from 40% to 50% means that tax-payers are looking around for interesting ways to pay less tax so there will be significant use of tax-based investment schemes.


- There reasonable amounts of revenue and it will eventually replace DVDs.


- People still go out to the cinema and in terms of value for money it's better than a meal out. people want to be entertained in a recession.

- High quality home entertainment systems bring the cinema experience into teh home.

- Justin compared the rental system of 10 years ago when Blockbusters supplied a relatively small amount of titles to rent but they got rented a lot of times to today's model Love Film where a wide range of titles get rented but less often, therefore creating opportunities for indie filmmakers to get their work seen.

- Film production and equipment has become much cheaper and within the grasp of more people.

Blimey, I think that's enough for now. part two tomorrow.


Lara said...

Excellent notes, El, thanks. Gutted I missed it due to flu... :0(

Elinor said...

Thanks Lara. Shame, there was so much going on, you'd have loved it. Feel better soon. x

Lara said...

Thanks babe - the annoying thing is I started feeling so much better yesterday...grrr! Timing!