I’ve been down in London for a week, at the Film London Microschool, along with my producer on ‘Mum and Dad’ Lisa Trnovski. I didn’t have much of a chance to write anything at the time, so here is a brief synopsis pieced together from my scraggy, doodle-ridden notebook.
Monday – First day of the ‘Microschool’, Lisa’s not there because she’s working. Start off feeling like I’m at a bad party – too self-conscious to introduce myself. Then Sol – the head of the scheme – arrives and immediately introduces me to everyone else in the group. Someone takes a step back when they hear that I’m the writer of ‘Mum and Dad’ – “This guy’s got some dark thoughts” he says. “Better out than in” I say.
First up is a talk by some Sales Agents. We all have to pitch our projects in a couple of lines. I do my spiel – and get told that ‘You’ll never sell a horror film called Mum and Dad. Change the title.’ Feel deflated and defensive – a mixture of ‘what the hell does she know’ and ‘what the hell do I know’. Feel like I should point out that there have been films called ‘Mother’s Day’, ‘Parents’, ‘A Tale of Two Sisters’ and ‘The Stepfather’ – but then realise that no-one’s probably heard of them, so probably not good comparisons. After the talk, Carol, one of the other Microschoolers comes up to tell me that she loves the title and I shouldn’t change it. Feel heartened.
Then we go into our groups and meet our tutor, Phil Hunt. He tells us that we need to operate in a spirit of ‘co-opetition’, which he swears he didn’t make up and is actually a word. Although naturally pessimistic and cynical, I find that Phil’s relentless optimism and postive thinking mantra is actually quite a good thing to have at this point. Either that or he’s brainwashed me. One piece of advice he gives is that we should always be polite and personable when dealing with people. This strikes me as quite a sad state of affairs – that you have to be told not to be a wanker. Phil also advises ‘never give up your primary source of income for filmmaking’. As someone whose primary source of (pitifully small) income has come from filmmaking over the past couple of years this gives me The Fear.
At the end of the day, Lisa arrives and we go for a drink with most of the other Microschoolers. This was the best part of the day, just because we got to talk to each other without feeling like we’re being continually assessed. Later on in the evening, one of the people organising the course says to me “I’ve read your script and I just wanted to ask – where’s the redemption? Where’s the humanity?’ I should say something like “In somebody else’s film” but that would sound glib, so I try to explain – to someone who’s not a horror fan – why a lot of horror fans don’t want redemption at the end of their films. Not sure that he quite agrees, but it’s an interesting discussion and it makes me wary of how my film might be percieved – all the way along we’ve talked about it as a full-on genre film, which has both a plus and minus to it; on the plus side, it’s probably easier to pitch and market, while on the other hand, some people Just Don’t Like Horror Films. I know, I know, it’s hard to credit…
Tuesday: Script and Directing day. Lisa’s here for the day, but locked away with the other producers for most of it, going through the budget and getting told wildly interesting things about insurance and Tax Credits. Also here today is Chris Cooke, who’s the directing tutor for the comedy group. Our tutor is Tom Shankland, who, when he learns that I’m from Nottingham, says ‘Ah, the centre of British filmmaking”. I tell him it’s also probably the centre for British debt as well. It’s amazing how many times I’ve heard people talk about the East Midlands as being a hotbed of creativity – especially when I’m in London. In Nottingham, in never feels like there is the same kind of attitude about it – it always feels a bit like funders look at us like we’re just lucky amateurs - but outside people really envy the community we have up here.
Today is all about looking at the script and how we’re going to translate that to screen. We get some actors to work with, although a lot of times we don’t get much beyond a couple of readthroughs. Luckily, I get to block out a couple of scenes and Tom gives me some advice about restructuring and cutting dialogue which is quite helpful. It’s good to hear the script out loud for the first time – and to start thinking about the type of performances we need. It’s also quite instructive, because a couple of the actors are definitely not into horror, but the one who is gives the best performance. I think it’s really key that, if we get to make this, we cast people who are really going to be into going along with the horror, rather than putting up with it. I kind of want to get people who can add more wrong – who, if I say ‘Can you take the severed head out of the bag”, say “Okay, what about if I licked the blood off it as well’. Y’know, that kind of attitude.
We also have a session with a script editor, which is really good. He likes the script and gives us some good ideas about how to lengthen it (it’s still only about 72 pages at the moment, although I know it’ll play longer) and how to add some further psychological resonances. At the end of the day, everyone else goes out for a drink, but I go home early – after wandering around Charing Cross road for about an hour trying to find a DVD shop that Cooke wanted to show me, only to find out that it’s already closed. Good job probably – if I have to carry any more stuff around with me I’ll have to hire a pack mule.
Wednesday is all about marketing. We have a talk from Mia Bays, which is great, then have to go out a prepare a marketing pitch. We only get about 45 minutes – so me and Lisa go down to the café and knock about a basic structure and some selling gimmicks. Then we go back up, and group by group, have to stand up in front of each other and a panel and pitch our films for up to five minutes. Me and Lisa are one of the only teams to go up together (we’re honing a kind of double-act schtick by now) and all is going well until my mobile starts ringing in the middle of it. Aware that this is, at the very least, terribly bad form, I make a joke of it and tell everyone that it’s my Mum and Dad calling. Get a good laugh and plough on – while making a mental note to call Jeanie later and apologize for rejecting her call
After that, we get a final pep talk from Phil about how to prepare for our final pitches on Friday, before we get a talk on pitching by Judy Counihan. Then off to the pub again, to drink too much and talk indiscreetly about film financiers. Everybody is on good form – particularly Vaughan (another Microschooler), who goes off on a very entertaining ten minute rant about what he hates about Michael Haneke’s Hidden. Have a good chat with another director, Vesna, who is shocked to learn that I’ve got a child (although maybe the shock was that I’ve left her with my Mum and Dad, considering the nature of my script…)
Thursday, I go round to Lisa’s and we prepare our final pitch to the Film London panel. Lisa’s got a great flat in Battersea with terrific views and a big open-plan lounge which is good for rehearsing in. It takes us a few hours, but we manage to get our pitch down to a comfortable (i.e. not too breathless and panicked) ten minutes. The whole time we’ve been allotted is twenty, including Q and A’s, so we’ve got to keep it brief. We go over and over the pitch, rehearsing what we’re going to say and making sure we know who’s doing what bit – then we leave it so that it doesn’t sound too overrehearsed. I think the main things with pitching are to know your film and be relaxed. Try to remind myself not to drink any coffee in the morning – caffeine really fucks me up.
So, on to Friday. Get to Film London in Shoreditch for about 11 and meet David and Edwina, one of the other teams. They’ve already been in and tell me it’s nothing to worry about – the panel are all really nice. This is good to hear. We spend about half an hour talking ghost stories and then me and Lisa are up.
The pitch goes well – we manage not to forget anything and to seem relatively natural. I get a few gags in (always helps if you can make them laugh, even when you’re pitching a brutal horror film) and I feel like we’re presenting a good front. I think the key moment is when we’re talking about managing the effects on the budget and I get prompted to talk about Through A Vulture Eye’s fake eyes. I give everyone a breakdown – lychees, nail varnish, rice paper – of the ingredients and the process, and when I get to ‘then parboil the rhubarb’ I get another big laugh. (My advice for pitches – get the word ‘parboil’ in there somewhere.) All in all the whole thing goes really quickly, and then we’re out of there and dissecting the whole thing over lunch. Both of us feel like we’ve done a good job, and that, if we don’t get the money from Film London, we’re in strong position to try and get it somewhere else. Now we just have to wait and see.
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