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7 Things “The Inheritance”
Taught Me To Succeed As
An Independent Film Producer.

By Tim Barrow


My name is Tim Barrow and I’m an actor, writer and independent film producer.

With director Charles-Henri Belleville I made The Inheritance, a no-budget Scottish road movie which premiered at Raindance 2007 and was nominated Best UK Feature.

The Inheritance won the Raindance Award at the British Independent Film Awards, was nominated for 2 BAFTA Scotland New Talent Awards and screened at 10 film festivals.

The film was my debut as a producer and what I learned can be summarised as follows:

1. Celebrate Your Limitations

A mantra Charlie Belleville, director of The Inheritance, repeated time after time: Work with what you have.

We shot a road movie in Scotland because it’s where we grew up. About 2 brothers and their sibling rivalry, shot through with jet black humour, because that’s what we know. A search for identity in our culture we wanted to explore, and hoped would resonate with audiences. It did.

We screened the movie at 10 film festivals and then self-released the film on 25 cinema screens across the UK, touring it throughout Scotland, all over the UK, extensively in London and even up to the Isle of Skye where we shot the ending.

A 60 minute documentary was created showing exactly how the film was made, and released with the film as The Inheritance DVD, which is stocked by 50 retailers as well as online at our website - www.theinheritancethemovie.com.

We made our money back and a small profit was channelled into making the next film. It’s crucial to understand the kind of film you have, the level you’re working at and how you can maximise your strengths within those parameters.

2. Life Is Tough And The Heavens Will Fall

Films take blood, sweat, tears and time.
Overnight successes are products of dedicated hard work. And, guaranteed, things will go wrong.

The working environment is intense and insane and problems will arise that you can never prepare for. Failure becomes experience. So work your ass off. We did.

I got £5000 together, a cast, crew and script and we shot the film in 11 days. No-one got paid but they did get fed, watered and a filmshoot through the stunning Scottish Highlands. It was exhausting, intense and things were challenging – our principle action vehicle was a ‘70’s VW van which broke down a few times and then finally, in the middle of the night 2 days before the end of the shoot, it died.

We had to completely change the ending. Once we’d shot the film the editor and director both held down full-time jobs as they cut the footage at night and weekends. People broke their backs to make the film a success.

There are no short cuts.
Rewards come through dedication, sacrifice and good luck seems to happen to people who work the hardest.

People I admire in the film industry are the folk who work impossible hours, think most creatively, sleep the least, and maintain a wicked sense of humour throughout.

It’s a hard, hard industry to succeed in and plenty of people don’t. Distribution is tough, a film breaking even is tough, let alone making profit. Accept that what you’re doing is immensely difficult and requires total dedication, otherwise you won’t make it, grow bitter and suffer needlessly.

3. Find Brilliant Actors

In independent film the story is king and the story must driven by performances. At the level when you can’t depend on a huge budget, Avatar levels of CGI, a studio-backed marketing campaign or a Hollywood leading man, only great performances from good actors will make a film stand out.

Actors are ephemeral, dynamic, creative beings and the good ones are hungry. If you can satisfy their hunger with a great part, then you stand a chance of turning a decent story into a great film. When asked, actors usually say it was the script that drew them to the project. And because there’s no money in independent films to pay astronomical fees for stars, they’ll do it for other reasons.

Cast actors who have film star quality, who prove fascinating to watch onscreen. The Inheritance was driven from the beginning by discussions between the actors which I turned into the script.

Charlie work-shopped the character of David with me and then rehearsed intensely with actors Fraser Sivewright and Imogen Toner over a weekend before the shoot. Having put in the work, it gave us the freedom to improvise when we hit the road, and when faced with challenges we could work through the problems, with the actors giving us new, immensely rich material.

4. Think Smart

Why make the film?
Because you love the story and simply must tell it, sure, but how can it succeed?
Who’s it for?
Who will champion it and why?

Films are made for audiences to watch, but there’s an almighty journey to go from making through to viewing. You have to think smart or your film will go nowhere. No-one will call and offer you deals because no-one knows who you are.

We championed the fact that we had a £5000 Scottish road movie made by first-timers simply for the love – posing the questions: can you make a feature for five grand and is it any good?

Yeah, actually it’s pretty damn good and it won some awards. Oh, and Tom Hardy featured in a cameo. We sent DVD screeners to everyone we could think of, as well as 60 specific film festivals, 10 of which invited us to screen. We kept control of the film and therefore could control our own destiny – which included self-releasing on DVD. When stocked by the Fopp record stores and our DVD briefly became the 4th best selling new release DVD, we told EVERYONE.

Starting from the bottom, there’s only one way to go.
Advice is free.
Listen to everyone and take the advice that works for you.
Find your place, because there’s always room for fresh, imaginative talent.

5. Be Honest

In the end it saves money, time and dignity. Y
ou can blag. You can lie, beg, steal, con, manipulate – I certainly have and at times it’s necessary.

But big lies stand out and are spotted.

Honesty and integrity get noticed. Be faithful to your project and therefore trustworthy. Don’t make promises you have no way of keeping, you’ll just piss people off.

Reputations take years to build and seconds to destroy. Set your stall out early. Extend to people the courtesy of a professional work ethic. We had no money to pay crew apart from expenses, but they were still amazing. Clarity is a good starting point, otherwise the messages get mixed.

We tried to remain humble and gracious, were always polite to film festivals and journalists, on time for events and interviews, returned all calls and emails, especially the ones we didn’t agree with. We had an award-winning 5 grand road movie, shot on mini DV, in 11 days, by a dedicated group of filmmakers who believed in the story they were telling. There’s not much to criticise.

The Inheritance 6. Publicise

Tell everyone about everything.

A presence for your work can be created without spending a fortune. Website, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, MySpace, blogs and newsletters.

If you win an award, make sure everyone in the industry knows. Momentum is very difficult to create, and, once you have it, harder to maintain.

Constantly update people.

Create good production notes.

Have a range of great photos for publicity. We promoted all our news to the likes of Raindance and Scottish Screen who published in their newsletters. These newsletters reach their target audience and build up a presence for independent films. People start to look for your latest news.

When we had the DVD to promote, already there was a specific audience for us. And meet your audiences – their thoughts, advice and loyalty are priceless. When we toured the film to cinemas – from London to Shetland – we’d always do Q & A’s.

We found common relevance and themes. Audiences are smart and curious about filmmakers as well as their films. I love it when people credit me with more intelligence than I feel I have, and have always tried to do the same to others. And a core audience is established should a new film come on the horizon which you wish to promote.

With our DVD I spent months personally knocking on doors and petitioning stores to stock it. Over 50 UK retailers did and still do.

7. It Starts And Ends With Love

The Inheritance is like my baby. Like any parent, I would do anything to ensure it has the best start in life, the best possible chance of success.

And I want the world to see how beautiful my baby is.

It’s such hard, frustrating, and, hopefully, euphoric work, it must ultimately be about something.

So why do people do it?

Why dedicate 3, 4, 5 years of your life? Why put yourself through such a tough, bizarre and possibly fruitless experience?

Well, I guess, because like everything valuable in life, it’s about love. It’s unexplainable. The Inheritance, and all its success and publicity, is the tangible result of a great deal of love, faith and belief, and it’s fantastic that people seem to like it as much as we do. I wanted to make this film because I love the story and the characters, and wanted to share it with audiences.

We put the work in to give the film a chance in this highly competitive, complex, ephemeral industry. When the chips are down and the heavens have fallen (once again), you’ve run out of money and ideas, and nothing’s going your way, there must be one driving force that keeps you going. And then you will overcome the difficulties, achieve your objects, find your path and know that you’ve done it for the right reasons.

Your Comments Please

"Great article. Very Inspiring. Thanks for sharing Tim!
Thanks so much for your comment. We will post it as soon as possible."
John Osborne Hughes
www.spiritualpsychologyofacting.com
www.beyondecstasy.co.uk

+++
"It's great you shared your thoughts and experiences. What you have achieved with The Inheritance is truly admirable and other filmmakers can certainly learn from how you made your first feature a success."
Tanya Franks
www.stockpotproductions.co.uk

++++

"This I a terrific article, and so helpful to people starting out on a film making career.  Having met Tim at Shetland Film Festival last year I can confirm that he does everything he says he does in the article, and is so inspiring to work with. I’m looking forward to the next Tim Barrow film, and to hearing about the seven most important things he learnt from that."
Kathy Hubbard
Shetland Film Festival Organiser

+++
Comments are really useful and makes the team at Raindance feel like their effort has had a positive impact. If you would like to comment on this article, please click here

About The Author

Tim BArrowBorn in Edinburgh and trained as an actor at Drama Centre London, Tim Barrow has worked extensively in Scottish theatre and screen work includes Taggart; Children Of The Dead End and Richard Jobson’s New Town Killers.

He wrote, produced and acted in The Inheritance - winner of the Raindance Award at 2007 British Independent Film Awards and nominated Best UK Feature at Raindance.

He was nominated Best Producer at 2008 BAFTA Scotland New Talent Awards. The Inheritance toured the festival circuit and is now available to buy on DVD.

Tim founded Lyre Productions as a platform for future films. His second feature The Space Between is his directorial debut, and due for release later this year.

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7 Things “The Inheritance” Taught Me To Succeed As An Independent Film Producer.