Let's Make This Short

By Tony Burke

How one first-time director used his freelance advertising career to make his first short film.

More and more advertising creatives are stepping out of the safety and security of agency jobs and going freelance.

The money’s better. You can pick your projects. But most importantly, you can indulge your real creative ambitions.

In my case, film.

As a busy freelance advertising creative and frustrated screenwriter, last Christmas I sat in a café with my friend Henry - a successful commercials director - berating him for not coming good on any of the scripts we’d discussed but never made.

At which point he calmly explained that directing wasn’t a dark art, and suggested I make one myself.

That night I went through everything I had and decided to make ‘The Fox’, an idea I’d scribbled down earlier in the year.

I’d had a good 2010. My tax and VAT was up to date. And I had a few quid in the bank. So as 2011 beckoned, I had nothing booked for January and no real pressure to earn. I was in the perfect position to do it - quickly and cheaply.

So I took January and February off and set about making my first short film.

As a first-time director I’d already picked the simplest, shortest script I had. No dialogue. One actress. One location. But, for me, it still represented a complete story full of tension and conflict. The idea came to me fully formed and sat comfortably on one sheet of paper.

(‘The Fox’ is a dark tale of a lonely old Christian spinster who is tempted outside by the mating calls of an amorous fox outside her bedroom window).

So with my script and the prospect of two months off, Henry gave me some names and I very quickly had myself a great DoP with his own camera and lights, a co-producer, art director and editor. All of whom offered to work for nothing.

Everything else quickly fell into place. And by the end of January I had a full cast and crew, including a costume designer who’d worked on ‘An Education’, a set dresser who’d just finished working on ‘Tyrannosaur’ and actress Lin Clifton who’d starred in BAFTA-nominated and Raindance-winning short-film ‘Lin’.

I even booked myself onto Raindance’s ‘Directing Essentials’ course which helped me mentally prepare for the task ahead.

So while I concentrated on storyboards, shot-lists and my vision of exactly how I wanted my film to look and feel, my co-producer was securing free post-production at Rushes and sound design at Eclectic Sound. Favours I’d attempt to pay back when I made my next commercial.

A musician friend was on standby to compose the score and my artist brother was designing the poster.

The Fox

Henry even lent me his beautiful location house for the shoot which would have cost me £1500 a day through an agency.

However, there were certain expenses I simply couldn’t avoid.

Additional props, food and drink and cabs on the day.  £600 on fox fur, ears, tails, coyote faces and two full fox fur coats. Then there was the cost of master tapes, a hardrive, DVDs, the website and ongoing festival entry fees.

I also decided to screen it at De Lane Lea in Soho for 100 cast, crew, family and friends with a free bar which with posters cost me about £750.

But as a director of a limited company – Hoffman and Voight - everything I spent was tax and VAT deductible, which helped me keep the cost of the film down to around £2,500 all in.

A couple of weeks before the shoot I was even offered some work In New York, from London, which I was able to take by getting my film stuff done by lunchtime before America woke up.

Obviously I couldn’t have done it without an immense amount of help and support from those around me, but if I wasn’t a well-organised freelancer there’s no way I would have found the time and energy to make ‘The Fox’.

I certainly couldn’t have done it stuck in one place with the beady eye of the agency peering over my shoulder, but was instead able to bring ‘The Fox’ to life by taking a risk, stepping out of my comfort zone and using what I had around me.

And with freelancers becoming an increasingly integral part of the new advertising business model as agencies move to accommodate the shift to integration, and brand storytelling becoming a dominant part of the digital marketing mix as the 30 second TV commercial declines, there should be more and more advertising creatives like me with the impetus and space in their lives to pursue personal film projects.

Which is why I’m planning on doing it all again in 2012 with my next film ‘Angel’.

For more information on ‘The Fox’ and forthcoming film projects visit www.thefoxshortfilm.com or email Tony Burke at voight@hoffmanandvoight.com






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About The Author

Tony BurkeTony Burke is a freelance advertising creative and half of creative hotshop Hoffman & Voight.

A creative for eleven years, he’s worked at some of the world’s biggest agencies and agency networks in Europe, America and the UK.

He’s written seven feature scripts and has just directed his first short film - ‘The Fox’ - which enjoys it’s UK premier at this year’s Leeds International Film Festival on November 12th, 2011.

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