John Truby screenwriting class

8 Reasons Why
Filmmaking Is Tough
And The Heavens Will Fall

 By Tim Barrow


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

It’s a tough life working in the film industry, even if we’re not cutting steel or working down mines. Anyone who guides a feature film through to completion deserves respect, commendation and medals. It’s nothing but hard work and set-backs until you finally get the luxury of watching your film on a cinema screen at a swanky premiere. So forewarned is fore-armed and the greater number of weapons in your armoury, the greater the chance of you have winning the war. Here’s a few reasons why it’s tough.

1. Unpredictability

Film-making is volatile, and volatility is, by its nature, unpredictable. Even with immaculate planning, no-one can foresee the future – what films will unexpectedly seize a mood or social trend, or miss the boat altogether. Sure-bets can become certain failures. As bankers will tell us, markets are unpredictable and it’s incredibly risky forecasting the future. People can anticipate what will succeed but no-one actually knows. Which is to the indie film producer’s great advantage – their project has just as much chance of succeeding as anyone’s.

2. No Short-Cuts

Films take blood, sweat, tears and time. Overnight successes are products of dedicated hard work. If it was easy more people would do it. Short-cuts are a myth – they lead to dead-ends and whole heaps of unexpected problems. So roll up your sleeves and get used to putting in the hours. On the long, arduous journey you learn a great deal about yourself. Rewards come through dedication and sacrifice, and good luck happens to people who work impossible hours, think most creatively, sleep the least, and maintain a wicked sense of humour throughout.

3. Things Go Wrong

The only guarantee! The working environment is intense and problems will arise that you can never prepare for. Shooting The Inheritance on location in the Scottish highlands was incredibly challenging. Our principle action vehicle was a ‘70’s VW van which broke down a few times and finally, in the middle of the night, 2 days before the end of shooting, died completely. We had to rewrite the ending. All of us are measured by how we overcome our challenges and sometimes the worst news becomes your greatest opportunity. If you prepare for the worst, then it can be managed.

The Inheritance 4. Fashions Change `

One year is dominated by vampires, the next it’s all about angels. If you’re trying to catch a trend, you better run fast. Film-making is slow – it takes a long time to write a script, shoot, edit, and screen. There were precious few films that cottoned onto the banking crisis last year – be alert for ones to come, there’ll be a few, but by the time they appear, the current mood will have been replaced. As soon as mobile phones appear, they are out of date. Fashions change, style endures. Anchor your film in qualities that last – story, truth, great performances.

5. We Make Our Own Obstacles

The higher our ambition, the greater the risks. Terry Gilliam’s outrageous ambition is matched by his chronic bad luck – see Lost In La Mancha. When you depend on variables such as weather, kids, or world-wide social trends, you have to accept they bring their own challenges. Shooting a feature in the Scottish Highlands in winter is not necessarily to be recommended, but the results were fantastic, and became the award-winning success that is The Inheritance. We gambled on the obstacles and each risk we took paid off.

6. Failure Happens

It’s common to fail, that’s the price of ambition. Most people fail a lot before they get it right – that becomes experience. So work your ass off and accept that you won’t achieve all you wish to. Smart filmmakers learn from their mistakes and move onwards and upwards in pursuit of their aims. There are horror stories of people who risk everything on their films succeeding – mortgages, kids’ college funds, you name it – and it’s terrible to hear. But sometimes that’s what it takes. You’re in this for life, not just the first year or first 5, and if it takes decades before you succeed as you wish to, then so be it. The point is that you do.

7. Distribution Is Tough

A world-wide recession is not good for the film industry. Sure it may inspire film-makers to comment passionately on their times, but a lack of money at the top filters down to all levels. Distributers still pick up films – it’s their job – but it’s tougher than it’s ever been. However, there are many ways for film-makers to get their films out to audiences. Independent cinemas are one route – The Inheritance screened on 25 cinema screens across the UK. Self-distribution is certainly possible, and online there are many options – sites like Raindance.tv – and as technology advances, the options will only increase. Sometimes your work will lend itself to specific media – a DVD cult-following or internet phenomenon. And if no one wants to help, then find your own path – you may well be pioneering a brilliant new method of distribution.

8. It Takes Whatever It Takes

Who is going to drive your film to completion? Forego sleep, lose money, time, work and occasionally their mind in order to get the damn thing made? How hard can you work? Someone with an inspirational idea started the ball rolling, and it’ll be that same person who sees it through to the end. Great amounts of heart, patience, courage and fortitude are needed to stay the course – to keep going back into the edit suite, always looking for ways to make your work better, or to keep promoting your film when no one wants to know. And sometimes nothing will work and you’ll wish you never started the whole thing. It’s tough, progress seems slow and objectivity is very hard to come by. People break their backs and hearts in order to make their films. But the rewards are well worth it.

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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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8 Reasons Why Filmmaking is Tough