As Dave rightly points out on my Facebook group Bang2writers (join here), there is a well trodden path into TV and Film (FYI, “well trodden” doesn’t mean “easy”), yet short film *feels* a lot more like a free-for-all. Where do you even start getting that film OFF the page and rendered as image?
First off, I can only tell you how I’ve done it and what’s happened. Please feel free to share your experiences in the comments section, too. So let’s go:
Meeting as many people as possible. One of my very first paid gigs was a short film. It was called The Design and I think it’s fair to say it didn’t even vaguely turn out the way we planned for a variety of very involved reasons. However, it was a really interesting learning curve, the guy who put up the money was pleased with it, so it’s all good. But how did I get that gig? After all, it’s unusual to be paid actual money for a short film. It went like this…
I knew someone who worked for someone who was looking for a writer who nominated me; we worked on a project that didn’t work out, but we didn’t burn any bridges and that other person nominated me to another friend who ended up working on a project with no writer and needed someone who could deliver a draft in a week.
Phew. Got all that? It happened so organically I’m not even sure *I* did, even at the time. But basically, it boils down to this: knowing as many people as possible and making sure your reach EXTENDS TO AS MANY PEOPLE AS POSSIBLE is absolutely imperative in getting people to believe they can work with you.
My story was early noughties, so there was no Twitter or Facebook or even blogs really, so how did I get my reach to those people? It was as basic as this: LET EVERYONE READ YOUR WORK. And I mean, EVERYONE. I know some writers only want actual directors or producers to read their work, but I think this is shortsighted – you never know who *that* person who’s just asked to read your work is *going* to be five years from now… Or who they know RIGHT NOW. So, whenever anyone wants to ask to read my work, shorts or otherwise, my answer? “Yes.” Where’s the harm? Remember, no one’s going to steal your work anyway… and you have everything to gain, potentially. It’s even easier to do this now, with the likes of Power of Three so popular, you can join The Feedback Exchange here, for free even.
Use Twitter and Facebook. At the end of last year, I decided the time was ripe to start a new short film. I made two shorts last year with Studio Schoque, Safe and Slash (still in post production, hopefully some news soon). Safe was a supernatural drama; Slash was a spoof horror. I decided I needed a new direction: I fancied something “arty”, something deliberately “short filmy” – and figured SW Screen’s Digital Shorts might be worth another punt. So I posted on Twitter something along the lines of:
Going for SW Screen Digital Shorts as a writer… Any directors out there who want to come in with me?
I got a fair few replies – but the one that stood out was Guy Ducker. He was already a Facebook friend, but had always been on the peripheral of my social network as a “friend of a friend”, rather than someone I’d met in real life at that time. He ended up reading Slash and I watched his showreel – and we both liked what we saw. I pitched him a couple of ideas and we ended up developing a short about a magic mirror. Of course, SW Screen passed on it, but with a bit of luck we’ll shoot it next year, regardless. Guy brought on the producer, Matt – and what I love about Guy is his commitment to the script itself – it’s had at least seven drafts now (a few of them quite involved rewrites), he’s not rushing it. Just the way directors should be, I reckon.
DON’T Use Twitter and Facebook like this. So many people use social networking purely to vent: “I’m so busy I have no life”, “I hate parents with buggies”, “I am so exhausted”, “I have a terrible hangover/cold/life” blah blah blah BORING. If you want to vent, then at least be evil and twisted enough to be INTERESTING FFS. And for God’s sake, stop telling everyone how depressed you are about the state of filmmaking/your career/whatever, save those moments for your real friends or your psychiatrist. It sucks for EVERYONE at some point, sometimes you will feel as if you’re putting one foot forward only to slide twenty back. Plus you’d be surprised too who’s REALLY having a shit time: it’s very often the people you admire the most for being positive, proactive or successful in ways you’re not. Why? It boils down to this: the MORE you do, the MORE rejection you get. So suck it up and keep moving. Get a name for yourself as a whiner and you’re doooooooooooomed! Dooooooomed I tell you!!!! Not sure how Twitter works? A Twit’s Guide To Twitter.
Find crew and cast even before you have a script. Writers are much more “up” for helping each other out these days and I think that’s great. But as I often say to my Bang2writers, other writers can only help you so much. At the end of the day, writers NEED the input of producers, directors, actors, DoPs, whatever to “complete” that puzzle and make that short film. So don’t just hide out in the writers’ pool – dip a toe into the different aspects of the filmmaking community. Learn about what’s important to them, what they like, who they’re interested in. If you can, do a bit of running and experience a real set. Help out as many directors and producers as you can in whatever ways you can. Basically: BUILD RELATIONSHIPS. Then, when you have a short film to shoot – suddenly you have a whole list of people to approach and say, “Do you fancy making this WITH me?” Even if people in your network can’t, they might point you in the direction of someone who can… Relationships and recommendations go a long way in this business, especially when you’re asking people to work for free as shorts often do.
Know what you want. If you want to write a short about magicians and rabbits, but the producer you’ve met online or at a party wants to make one about tower blocks and child abuse, WALK AWAY. Find the RIGHT person to work with. No producer *can* be better than *any* producer. Besides anything, you want to keep that Ken Loach-style producer in your pocket for ANOTHER project, when you DO want to write a short like that (and who can say you NEVER will? Or that you won’t want to hook them up with someone else?). Don’t burn bridges for a reason like this, it’s daft. No one is EVER going to mind you saying, “To be honest, I don’t think we’re on the same page”. Unless of course you punch them in the face and/or set fire to their trousers at the same time, that’s just antisocial.
Maintain your contacts properly. People hate it when you only contact them because you WANT something. Try and take an interest in ALL your contacts in some small way – yes, it’s time consuming, but the internet has made it easier than ever; I remember back in the noughties mailing piles and piles of Christmas Cards by SNAIL MAIL! Now I can write on people’s Facebook walls for their birthdays, wish them well for shoots; comment on their blog posts and statuses; join their groups and pages; chat about important life stuff on occasion, too. And it’s NOT just cos I *might* want something off them in the future either – I actually enjoy building and maintaining these relationships, some of my most trusted friends in REAL life started off hiring me as a Bang2writer or in a script meeting about some project that’s long since dead in the water. It enhances your life not just as a writer, but as a person.
Finally, Dave makes the suggestion I should have a SHORT FILM EXCHANGE, where writers, directors and producers can meet up on here to actively collaborate, just like the Script Exchange. If I get ten votes for YES, I’ll set that up. Be sure to comment here though…. GO!