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Film Producing in Wales

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The Pilot Could Take Us Anywhere We Want

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Thanks to those of you who have said nice things to me regarding my acting. Shooting it wasn’t actually as much fun as I expected it to be – the people who do this sort of thing for real certainly have a unique talent, it’s really hard work. For our parody, the director Paul would give me a word, e.g. ‘holistic’, or a direction, like telling the director/vision mixer (I don’t know how they crew these things) that we’re going to change camera, and then I would just have to make up the words as we went along. I think I’ll try and stay off screen in the future, and leave the idea of a web series based on the character in a locked drawer.

Speaking of web series, the internet is now being used to pilot ideas cheaply, and it’s worth looking into if you’ve got ideas that you can shoot yourself. Before many television drama and comedy series are commissioned, a pilot will be shot and often broadcast in order to gauge if the series will work, and if it has an audience. It’s quite a different process in the UK compared with the USA, where Pilot Season is an annual event – this article is old, but it explains how it works over there. Now though, shooting digitally and broadcasting online, a low-budget web series is a great way to pilot an idea off your own back. An example is Svengali, written by Dean Cavanagh and starring Welsh actor Jonathan Lewis Owen. Have a look at the episodes – the format is very simple and easily shot on a microbudget. The writing and the performances have to sell the idea – there’s no production value (aside from celebrity cameos) to hide behind here.

If you’re interested in what makes a good pilot, it’s worth starting by looking at the script. Thanks to a link found on John August’s blog (coincidentally, check out John’s web series pilot The Remants), you can find a huge library of scripts for US pilots (some successful, and some not) by clicking here. There’s pilots for The Wire, Alias, and also the Heroes pilot, directed by David Semel.

Derek is definitely not going to end up in a pilot. Honest.

Your Weakness is Disgusting to Me

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We held a test screening of Avoiding Christian Bale last Friday night – the second we’ve had. It’s really interesting watching the film with an audience, and as it’s a comedy, waiting to see what sort of laughs the jokes get is one of the most interesting parts. Ultimately, though, we’re holding the screenings to identify weaknesses in how the story unfolds, and solve any plot problems that might arise. We’ve learned a lot about what sort of film we have from doing this. So far, I think it’s charming and funny, and definitely a Welsh/British version of the popular American indie cinema championed by festivals like Sundance and Slamdance. It won’t be to everyone’s taste, and it’s still a work in progress, but I reckon we’re on our way.

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Making a low/no budget comedy is a real challenge, but it can be a stepping stone to much bigger things for a writer/director. April 24th sees the UK release of Observe & Report, the second feature from Jody Hill, and the follow up to The Foot Fist Way. ‘Foot Fist’ was made in a similar way to ACB, though they’re two very different films, but it’s encouraging to see the cult status that film attained (as it’s certainly not to everyone’s taste and I think it has its flaws) and how Hill’s career is taking off. It obviously helps that he’s now mates with Will Ferrell and Adam McKay.

Back in Blighty but still with comedy, the second series of The Inbetweeners starts on E4 on Thursday night. I recently re-watched the first series, and it was actually much funnier the second time around, and I’m looking forward to the new series. It’s a puerile ‘American Pie’ style sitcom set in a secondary school, and it’s both very well written and well cast. Lead actor Simon Bird also has a future in stand up – check out this series, as we can still do sitcom in Britain.

Finally, congratulations to the good people of Fiction Factory Films, as their series Y Pris has won Best Drama at the Celtic Media Festival.

Merry Christmas

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We’ve wrapped on Avoiding Christian Bale. Today is the last day in the office here at Tornado before the holiday season. It’s been a big year for me, and I’ve got a lot of plans for next year, which I will post about very soon. Nadolig Llawen/Merry Christmas to all the readers out there.

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Written by Matthew Redd

December 22, 2008 at 4:04 pm

Jesus is Coming, Look Busy

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As Jesus’ birthday gets closer, we’re into the last week of principal photography of Avoiding Christian Bale. Our production designers Ben and Hollie have been carefully collecting and storing props and art from the shoot in case we need to re-shoot anything later on. Hopefully we won’t.

Hide from an A list actor with this handy prop

Hide from an A list actor with this handy prop

The time has gone by pretty quickly, as has the whole of 2008 for me. This time last year, I was finishing work on a Welsh language Christmas film called Rhestr Nadolig Wil, as a trainee on the Cyfle film scheme. It was my first placement on the scheme and it seems like a heck of a long time ago now. I’ve learned a lot about the industry since then, not just about how to do your job, but also about the politics that envelop it all. The old adage of ‘it’s not what you know…’ is what everyone gets told when you start out, and there’s an element of truth to it. If people don’t know you, how can they give you a job? Or fund your film? Or recommend you to someone else who might do either for you?

Networking is vital, but nothing is more vital than working hard when you do get yourself into the position where you might impress someone. People will notice if you work hard, turn up on time and treat other people with respect. They’ll also notice if you don’t do those things, and you don’t want anyone to remember you because of that. You can make up for a lack of knowledge with commitment and motivation.

When I was training, there were times when I felt like I had nothing to do, so I would try and find things to get on with, or (if I thought it appropriate) ask other people about their job and what they were doing. I learned a lot that way. I also learned a lot by listening to all the other phone calls that came into the production offices I was in. Sometimes I was expected to know what other people had said in conversations I wasn’t involved in, so you have permission to eavesdrop.

You’ll sometimes make mistakes. Try and learn from them, and learn from other people’s mistakes while you’re at it. That will save you a lot of time in the long run.

Cyfle have launched a new film scheme, which started this month. Well done to all the new entrants to the industry who’ve been selected for it, and good luck for the future.

Tonight, I’ll be in Cineworld for the screening of Rhestr Nadolig Wil before it airs on S4C. The latest in Boom Films’ Micro Movies series, it was produced by Jon Williams, and directed by Daf Wyn, who has actually written some Batman comics. I should put some sort of Christian Bale/Dark Knight type gag here to tie it all up, but sadly nothing springs to mind.

Written by Matthew Redd

December 16, 2008 at 10:47 am

Location Location Location

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Day 11 of ‘Avoiding Christian Bale’, almost the end of week 2. Yesterday, we were slightly ahead of schedule, and so added a dolly shot which we spent a lot of the morning setting up and then shooting. I watched a few takes and was genuinely impressed with James and Gareth‘s performances, and with the shot itself. Well done to Nick and Keith.

Yesterday, Owain Gillard from the Wales Screen Commission paid a visit to the set. Owain and Penny at the Commission were very helpful whilst we were in prep, including organising recces to potential locations, introducing us to location owners and offering advice when we needed it. It was good to have Owain on set to see exactly how we’re shooting the film, as he’s been involved with the project from early on. Together with Vivien, we talked about how we put the whole thing together, and how we’ve saved money in certain places by writing a story around what we have, and what we can afford to buy.

Paul set himself the challenge of writing a feature-length script set in only two interior locations. Ultimately, locations are what cost you money when shooting. Not only because, for many locations, you’ll have to pay a fee to use them (blag what you can, because you never know), but because each new location brings a set of problems that will cost you $$$. Moving locations and crew takes time which isn’t spent on camera. You’ll need vehicles (which in turn need fuel) to move everyone & everything, and if you’re shooting outside, you’re at the mercy of the weather and sunlight. Time is money in a number of ways, and I’m sure you can think of plenty of others.

On the flipside, spectacular locations can ramp up the production values of any microbudget film, and can inspire original, creative stories. Some of these places won’t even cost you anything to use. If you’re looking for ideas or inspiration on your doorstep, just click here.

Our challenge is to tell an engaging story set in what are essentially two nondescript Cardiff homes. Sometime next year, you’ll be able to judge if we managed to do it.

Written by Matthew Redd

December 12, 2008 at 11:43 am

The 5th Day of Christmas

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I haven’t had much chance to blog this week as we’re now well into principal photography on ‘Avoiding Christian Bale‘. Today is the first day that the two male leads, played by James Kristian and Gareth Aldon, start shooting. We’ve already had four days with Amy Morgan and Kimberley Wintle, who have both been fantastic. The crew have been working extremely hard and we’ve managed to not only keep to the schedule, but even get ahead of ourselves at some points, giving Paul the director some valuable extra time with the actors. This, I believe, is partly due to the remarkable energising effects of the drinks supplied by one of our sponsors.

The first of many

The first of many

I wanted to write about distribution, but I haven’t really got the time to go into the depth I wanted to, so I’ll keep this brief, and instead point you towards an article here, written by Jon Williams*. Jon’s own blog is, in his words, more a series of articles and I think it’s definitely worth spending some time over. In this article, Jon makes some interesting points about North American dominance over the UK theatrical market. I didn’t see The Escapist, but I did catch Donkey Punch, which I thought worked pretty well and should find an audience on DVD at least, despite disappointing box office.

As an aside, the article here says that a once very successful independent music distributor has gone into administration. All sorts of businesses, particularly those that rely on retail and the sale of ‘hard’ entertainment formats like CDs, are struggling with the current economic climate. In film, cutting edge distributor Tartan went into administration in June and saw much of its catalogue bought by the Palisades Media Corp in New York.

At Tornado, we’re naturally very interested in distribution, and with digital developments, we’re working hard to keep on top of the situation and equip ourselves the best way we can. More news on what we’re doing on that in the future.

Meanwhile, I’m going back to set in a couple of hours to see how everyone is getting on. I’ll make myself useful by distracting actors with chit chat over coffee, and pinching the sound recordist‘s jammie dodgers.

*Jon is not to be confused with his Welsh namesake, the producer of ‘Cymru Fach‘, which itself had an experimental theatrical release across Wales, including sold out screenings at Chapter in Cardiff.

Written by Matthew Redd

December 5, 2008 at 10:52 am