Last weekend, I attended the Guerrilla Filmmakers Masterclass, run by Chris Jones of Living Spirit Pictures. Previously he has run this to 10-20 people per time, but this event had a whopping 360 attendees, with all manner of experience; from those just starting out, to those embarking on their third feature film; from writers and actors, to all manner of technical crew. The course ran from dawn to dusk for two days, during which my brain was in constant overdrive (a state my brain relishes).
The subjects covered were many and various, but all focused on the many elements required to make a no/low budget feature film and then turn it into enough of a commercial success that you can make a second, etc. These elements ranged from the technical (I was glad there was nothing covered here than was new to me), through legal, emotional, motivational, all the way to the cut throat world of film sales and distribution. I learned a huge amount – some of which I expect to only come to the fore when I need it – but a few days on, here are the key things I took away for the event:
Networking is not as bad as I thought it was
I am historically a very shy and retiring person who finds it very difficult to engage strangers in conversation. I say “historically”, because this weekend changed all that. I went to a short talk Chris gave in Leicester a couple of months ago, and he related a similar story in which he faced his fears and had an extraordinary outcome. The power of the story (well, how it was told, mainly) really helped me to face my own fear. And once I started striding up to people and engaging with them, I realised that every single one of them was glad I had taken the move to break the barrier. Over the course of the weekend, having sat in a different place at every break, I had conversed and exchanged cards with over 50 people (still only 1in7 attendees!) Even though each conversation was only 5-15 mins long, I feel as though these are the people I will turn to in years to come for the hard nosed impartial advice and opinion we all need sometimes. I hope that, drawing on this experience, I will always be able to conquer my fear at future networking opportunities and resist hiding in the corner.
We are the industry
It is sad, but true, that there isn’t actually a “British Film Industry” that we can break into. The industry is actually just those who choose to put enough effort into actually making a film. In this case the people in the photo above represent a significant slice of that industry and I am proud to be amongst their number. In the coming years I truly believe that a large number of successful (whether critically and/or commercially) feature films will emerge from the group.
If “we” are the industry, then “I” am the industry – i.e. I have to knuckle-down and get on with it.
The audience owes you nothing / emotional connection / WHY?
A number of strands discussed have merged into a single conclusion for me. It is a hard truth that noone will ever notice if we don’t make our film, and even when we do, it our duty to find, create and excite an audience – and above all to not bore them. Chris mentioned the emotional connection between audience and story/film a number of times, and also repeatedly asked WHY were we willing to pour heart and soul into such a painful, risky venture? Thinking back, the reason that I want to make films is that on a number of occasions they have connected to me in profound ways. Every single time I have ever watched ET or Cinema Paradiso in particular (together a number that exceeds 50) I have cried like a baby – they affect me that much, partly because I first saw them at pivotal points in my life. I would love to touch an audience even to a fraction of that extent. One of the main ways to create an emotional connection is to deal with issues that require you to open yourself up, to reveal yourself. Our recent film dealt with issues that are very dear to our hearts, and I think what success it has had is born out of that truth. So the upshot is that I have decided to try to concentrate on feel-good personal stories that try to connect emotionally. This has the added benefit of potentially gaining access to a much larger audience, but with much reduced competition (so many low budget filmmakers end up making depressing films, whereas most people want to feel good from visiting a cinema). I have already shelved a couple of planned darker short films and am instead making much lighter ones which make me feel good. Excited to see how that pans out.
I’m now ready to put in the hard graft and start realising the dreams of my youth – please wish me luck!