9 Ways Filmmakers Celebrate
Limitations

By Tim Barrow

The phrase comes from Charles-Henri Belleville, director of award-winning Scottish road movie The Inheritance.

In the world of independent film there are clear parameters within which filmmakers work. Far from hindering or restraining ambition, this gives great freedom and opportunity. Don’t worry about what you haven’t got. What do you have for nothing and how can you make it, not only work for you, but sustain an entire film and subsequent marketing campaign? How can your story thrive? How can you make a splash in the industry and retain your vision as a filmmaker?

Here’s some ideas.

1. Make The Story Personal

Independent film relies on quality of story. Any story has to be tight, engaging and keep people’s focus – otherwise they’ll turn their attention to better things. Tell a story you want people to hear. Your passion and drive are great assets. Write for what you know and love, or hate.

Our first film was a road movie through Scotland – 2 brothers and their sibling rivalry, shot through with jet black humour, because that’s what we know. If we had anything worth saying it was to do with a search for identity in our contemporary culture. The hot, young American directors in the 70’s used what was at their fingertips, drama they cared passionately about, and their films became such classics as Mean Streets and Taxi Driver. Their energy and style are mesmeric, these stories have been hammered, thrillingly, into life. Everyone has at least one story they’re dying to tell, so find the one you’re most committed to. I knew that before I died the one film I had to make was an Edinburgh love story. Which has become my second film The Space Between.

The Inheritance2. Maximise Your Budget

So you’ve begged, borrowed and finally found the budget – how do you ensure it best benefits your film? Put it onscreen. Pay for what will enhance the look and feel of your film – production value. A great camera that will capture your actors’ great performances is key. Stunning tracking shots and wides can be achieved using wheelchairs and friend’s cars. Think creatively – I saw some incredible footage captured on a camera phone a guy mounted on a puck on an air-hockey table. Film at the most amazing locations you can. The great outdoors are free. Pay for as little as you can. Find composers and songs from YouTube. Bring in your most talented friends. However, certain things you can’t compromise on – you must accommodate and feed your crew properly – if they’re working for pennies, or the love, then hearty meals become vital. Pay expenses – if people use their own vehicles for transport, you must pay their petrol. Reward what you can. And leave a little in the pot for marketing – you’ll need it.

3. Digital Media

Film stock used to be the main financial stumbling block to creating films. Costs are non-negotiable – film has to be developed after all and every print costs a great deal. The biggest aid to independent filmmakers has been the digital revolution, which is still in its infancy. Costs have come crashing down, whilst the quality of camera and editing software have got cheaper and better. Editing programmes like Final Cut Pro only improve and it’s now possible to edit, grade and sound design all on 1 system. Shooting on miniDV gave us freedom on our first feature to keeping the camera rolling. The Space Between, which will be out later this year, was shot on HD flashcards which meant there was no cost of stock involved. Footage was downloaded and logged at the end of every day. And we could create as many roughcuts as we liked, since we were non-destructively cutting. The quality of digital projectors in cinemas has vastly increased, and will only continue to do so. Shooting a film, editing, and presenting it is eminently possible for new filmmakers, and the plethora of new platforms makes digital film the exciting, brave new world.

4. Time Is On Your Side

There’s no time to make the film of your dreams, only what’s been snatched from other people’s schedules. Forget an idealised three month shoot. But it is to your advantage. Necessity drives decision-making and brings everything into clarity. Filming takes on real focus. And it makes good publicity – a crew that dedicated a year shooting at weekends in order to make their dream project, or improvised something in a week and shot the amazing results, is a great story. And once you’ve shot the footage you can spend as long as you like creating your perfect film. We shot The Inheritance in 11 days and I’ve never worked with such immediacy, focus and belief. But the immediacy and energy are vital to the film, and I wouldn’t change the process one bit.

5. Cinema screenings

Feature films look best on the big screen. After screening The Inheritance at 10 film festivals, we self-released the film at 25 cinemas, touring it all over the UK, extensively in London and as far afield as Vancouver, Dublin, Shetland and the Isle of Skye where we shot the ending. There is a network of cinemas who want to support independent film. Call them up, cut out the middle men. If it’s a good film and they like your style, plenty will say yes. You meet your audience, do a great Q & A, learn a lot and walk away with your box office share. And if you do enough of them, create publicity and momentum, who knows who will pick your film up? The industry loves a success story, especially one that’s been built from the ground up by hard work.

6. Create Your DVD

It’s easy to create DVDs. The trick is getting the content right. Once you have a feature, shoot some  EPKs, add in a photo gallery, soundtrack, a film commentary, e-book, whatever you like. They’re easy and fun to do – far easier than making the film – pretty cheap, and provide space for imagination. To partner our first film we made a 60 minute documentary showing exactly how we made an award-winning road movie, 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. There are plenty of ways to sell your movie online. We made our money back and a small profit was channelled into making the next film.

7. Find Your Level

It’s crucial to understand the level you’re working at. The difference between low-budget, micro-budget and no-budget. The kind of film you’ll be expected to make, and how you can play on those expectations. Industry people are film-literate and compare what they see with what’s gone before. They’ll be genuinely fascinated by how you succeed, on any level. It’s very satisfying to make a film that punches well above its weight. There are probably hundreds of movies made for 5 grand, and many might be similar to ours. Winning the Raindance Award at the BIFAs swung us into the spotlight and gave The Inheritance a wider audience than we could ever expect.

8. Take Risks

There’s 10 road movies shot for the same budget – what makes yours stand out? I’ll bet people want to see the most edgy, inspirational, unique one. You must take risks. And you can afford to. It may be the only time in your career you have such luxury. The chances are that the risks you take wholeheartedly and truthfully pay off. Risks make film thrilling, and as long as you are not damaging anyone or deceiving them, they will make your story better. Rare accidents happen on film sets all the time and quite possibly they’ll be the best moments in the film, or ones an audience most connects with. It’s a bizarre rule that works.

9. Reach Your Audience

Who is the audience for your film? Hopefully, everyone on the planet, but it’s unlikely they will all get to see it. If you’ve made an Andorran love story, target Andorra. There’s a core audience for every film and the good films transcend their immediate audience sphere. With our Scottish road movie we focused as much publicity on Scotland as we could, pooled all our resources and called in every favour. Short-term we were rewarded – the film screened all over the country, got great reviews and generated lots of press – and long-term a seed has been sown and there’s great interest in what we do next. It takes time to build up a fan-base, but it’s worth it. The most accessible and cheapest way to do so is online. It’s becoming the go-to medium for the market. Blog, email, Facebook and Twitter all your news to prepare the way, and take time to get it right. Audiences are smart, savvy, curious and loyal, and they are dying to meet you.

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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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9 Ways Filmmakers Celebrate Limations