indie filmmaking

A FIELD IN ENGLAND: DID IT WORK?

So, big news, a bold English director who shoots the films he wants to, on his own terms, released another film last week.

Ben Wheatley is an interesting guy. He’s worked bastard hard to carve out a position for himself where he can shoot without prejudice, backed by actors who get it.

His films are not exactly mainstream but so what?

It all boils down to the notion of success.

For a director, the next job is the definition of success. Sure, win a few awards and that’s nice, but when the dust settles what truly defines success is the pickup, it’s the speed with which you launch into your next project.

Many’s the director who’s announced themselves with a bang only to falter on their sophomore effort.

Ben Wheatley is not one of these. He’s bounded confidently from one mad film to the next completely confident in his method and completely confident that his films will be taken seriously, on their own merit because they are so uniquely wrapped around his own peculiar vision.

He doesn’t have much money but, perversely, that gives him total control.

In many ways it’s reminiscent of Roger Corman in the sixties. He completely rewrote the rulebook on successful filmmaking. Shoot fast, shoot cheap, minimise risk and jump quickly onto the next project.

With A Field In England Wheatley launched the film simultaneously in cinemas, on Film 4 and on VOD. This has been heavily covered already in national press so Google it if you must.

This strategy was called ‘risky’. Bollocks. It wasn’t risky at all. Smart. Yes. Risky. Not at all.

A Field in England is not a mainstream film. It’s not going to woo the Fast and Furious demographic. It has limited commercial appeal and would have been destined to be one of those strange directors’ passion pieces that you pick up for £2 on amazon because you feel you ought to watch it. Let’s be honest.

By going ballsy on distribution he ensured people were talking about it. He ensured there was a crucial opportunity to tip people from ‘probably won’t’ to ‘why not’ in their decision over whether to watch it.

So, did it work?

Well, I wouldn’t go and see it in the cinema. I probably wouldn’t have paid £2 for it on Amazon. I have a young family and my options to commit to a film are soooooo limited these days I just can’t stomache anything avant garde when I do carve out 90 mins spare. I did, however, watch A Field In England on Film4 on Friday night.

So, yes, it did work. They managed to persuade a knackered, jaded, filmmaker father to sit down and watch it.

I just felt I’d regret it if I didn’t.

It doesn’t matter what I thought of the film. What matters is that the filmmaker won. The filmmaker can still win.

And that’s great fucking news.

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indie filmmaking

DRAMA IS THE PREMIER LEAGUE

There’s a lot of fucking filmmakers around these days. Yeah, I’ve got a DSLR, I’m a filmmaker.

Wank.

Most people don’t make films at all. They make videos and that’s no slight at all. I shot music videos for a long old time. I never called them films. That makes you sound like a knob. Similarly, commercials. No-one calls them films. That doesn’t mean there’s no craft in them, far from it. It’s just respectful to the genre of actual film.

Now, you might just think this is a question of semantics, but if you throw that at me I’ll turn around and walk away. I won’t even bother to argue.

Why? Because anyone who uses the word ‘semantics’ in an argument about film can fuck off.

Film implies drama. Drama isn’t a genre, it’s the name for the conflict that defines the very heart of storytelling. I’ve heard people say “No, I’m not shooting a drama, I’m shooting an action film.”

Then you have no understanding of story and your film will be shit.

Drama is the premier league of production. It’s where the best talent is to be found. It’s by far the hardest type of production to master and excel at and, for me, it is by far the most rewarding.

Shoot long form drama (could be TV, could be a feature, could be a half hour short) and I will gladly call you a filmmaker, no matter how crap your film is.

Anyone who steps into the breach, puts their balls on the line and shoots long form drama is worthy of respect because it’s fucking hard.

I’ll cover in a future post why it’s so hard. But, I can turn up to most jobs with my eyes closed and do a better job than the majority of DSLR ‘filmmakers’ out there in a fraction of the time because what they’re producing is facile.

You are not a filmmaker because you film shit. You can call yourself that if you want but no-one’s going to take you seriously.

I don’t call myself a filmmaker. I’m a director. That’s enough.

Stop devaluing the craft of real filmmaking. Stop churning out mediocre, piss poor, empty works of digital blandness and look further. A £1k 50mm 1.2 doesn’t give you the right to shoot shit.

PS You may wonder where I stand on documentaries. Feature docs can be absolutely incredible. Compelling beyond most fiction. It’s a different beast and the burden falls much more squarely on the shoulders of the director. Are those guys filmmakers. You bet your ass they are. Have I contradicted myself? Not really.

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indie filmmaking

WORKING WITH ACTORS…. GRRR

Actors. Jeez. Fucking actors. If you work in corporate or short form then you are mercifully spared the long term anguish of dealing with actors.

You might think I hate actors by the start of this blogrant. No. I love em. They’re like all craftspeople: when they’re good they’re amazing, when they’re shit you just fire them, and when they’re mediocre they make you want to rip off your limbs just so you have something to hit them with.

The problem stems from the notion of value. It’s very hard to put a value on an actor’s contribution compared to, say, a focus puller. Both very important, but the actor deals in stuff you can’t touch, shape, mark up or measure.

As directors we get taught to treat actors with a huge amount of respect, wrap them in cotton wool, protect their egos, support them, treat them like kids basically.

I’ve done that and what happens is actors start behaving like kids because you let them. And that sucks.

The best actors I’ve worked with expected and enjoyed being treated exactly like the crew. They didn’t have to sit in a quiet room for an hour before a take. They could switch it on and off, they could repeat every take exactly like the previous one with the notes you’d given correctly delivered.

In other words, they were professional about it.

Does that make the other kind of actors ‘amateur’? No, it just makes them the kind of actors I have no interest in working with. The crew I enjoy working with understand the job, they love the job, but they also don’t take themselves too seriously. The best actors I’ve worked with are no different.

So, from now on, I’m not going to baby my actors, I’m just going to treat them the way I treat everyone else. If they’re not strong enough to deal with that then I probably won’t cast them.

Actors often talk about trust, how they have to trust a director. The argument runs that everyone else controls the set, where the actor has to give themselves up to the rest of the crew to deliver what’s required of them.

My counter argument runs that actors have all the control. Without them there is nothing. That’s ultimate power. Apart from catering, every single job on set is replaceable at a moment’s notice. Your actor goes awol you’re screwed.

That’s control, that’s power.

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FIGHTING MEDIOCRITY

So, first post. Let’s make it count, eh?

I hear a lot of hate these days. Natter natter, this fucka did this, or this fucka got this opportunity and I didn’t… blah blah blah.

A lot of people I meet don’t like Philip Bloom. Very few of them have actually met him, but they don’t like him anyway. Or rather they don’t like the fact he’s successful. They think he’s a poor filmmaker. A me-too champion of the mediocre who just happened to be in the right place at the right time, a rancid symptom of the democratisation of video.

Us video pros resent how quickly our skills and protected day rates have been eroded by the emergence of DSLRs putting cheap tools into the hands of the great unwashed. How dare they?

Philip Bloom is the leading hate figure of this movement. We hold him up as a shining example of how the appreciation of the finer elements of craft is being lost as self-satisfied smug little bloggers share everything and in so doing make it okay for everyone else to be gently crap.

It’s amateurs posing as pros.

We pros hate it. We think we’re better.

And here’s the problem. Often we’re really not.

Those who diss Phil Bloom are envious of his success because he got lucky. So what, tons of people get lucky. Does he not deserve it? Sure he does. I don’t know anyone who works as hard as he does at preserving his reputation and his position.

It’s not a position I want and I don’t envy him in the slightest.

If you are one of these bitter pros then there’s a simple fucking solution.

Just be fucking better. Get off your fat arse, stop assuming because you pay the bills by waving a cheap camera around that you’re in anyway a good filmmaker because you’re probably not.

Filmmaking is fucking hard, to be good at it is really fucking hard. Drama especially. There’s so much more to it than S35mm chips and stills lenses. You actually have to have talent and precious few have any.

In a world of Instagram and Magic Bullet Looks the worst thing you can do is moan about how mediocre and shit everything has become. You have to rise above. You have to be the best mutha in the pit. If you can’t do that then you clearly are nowhere near as good as you think you are because, honestly, the level is so fucking low right now any fucking shred of originality is immediately pounced on and heralded as the greatest.

Just fucking shut up.

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