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David Mawson

Disastrous figures for low budget UK films

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16 hours ago, Michael LaVoie said:

I can't honestly fathom why anyone making a movie with no name talent and no distribution plan or marketing plan would ever even expect to earn a dollar back on their movie

To give an example of the sort of film that can do very well without name talent, "What We Do In The Shadows." I doubt many people who saw Pontypool recognised a name either. Or Hostel. Or Saw or The Human Centipede.

As for "No marketing plan" - well, yes, you need one. But that's not same as having big name talent in the flick. A marketing plan starts with a reason people should watch the film and a way of getting that message to them. Eg this is a comedy about vampires and we'll communicate that in the poster, the VOD image, the trailer. We'll get stories in the horror press and build buzz and use that interest to get distributors to talk to us. Etc. A marketing plan can involve stars, but it certainly doesn't have to.

Edited by David Mawson

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I could add a lot to this one.  Something that's been missed is that the real money for indie films is TV and cable.  The delivery costs are very low and broadcasters always pay, they have to.  Here's the problem, 99% of indie films I see simply are not good enough for worldwide cable TV and broadcast sales.  They need to be "slick" for lack of a better word, and not "indie."  If you are making an "indie" film that's fine, but it probably won't go beyond its festival run, if it can get one.

I have found my family genre movies sell well to TV and cable, the broadcaster doesn't need to edit them for sex or violence, and they can air in any time slot.  I also pre cut them exactly to 90 mins bang on the nose, which is what TV buyers like.  The easier you make it for the end user, the more sales you will make.  I find that few indie filmmakers think in these terms.  One also needs to consider that in the dubbing territories the cost to dub and re mix a movie is astronomical!  Few distributors will spend that kind of money unless the film really warrants it for sales potential.

Since we are talking about the UK....proud to say I have had four movies in a row air on SKY movies, and Channel 5.  Also sold all my titles to TF1 (France), Antenna 3 (Spain), and RTI (Italy).

If you watch SKY this Sunday at 10:30PM, my latest film will be running.....again:

http://www.sky.com/tv/movie/against-the-wild-the-great-elephant-adventure-2017

They must have aired it over 50 times since acquisition.  Lions Gate bought the US rights, and made this very nice trailer, although they use a different title in the US.  

So all 50 territories were sold on this title, nothing left.  Now I head into my 6th feature film on Sept 16th.  Things can be done as an independent producer/director/writer/editor, it's not super easy that's true, but doable.

Now Phil, before you start in, I will concede a point to you.....BFI is the most useless organization I have ever come across in my life, ok you win that one.  So my "UK" project has three other streams it is going through for financing, and even though it's about as UK centric as one can get, not a frame will be shot in the UK.  Which is sad in a way.

R,

 

 

 

 

 

 

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2 hours ago, Richard Boddington said:

One also needs to consider that in the dubbing territories the cost to dub and re mix a movie is astronomical!  Few distributors will spend that kind of money unless the film really warrants it for sales potential.

I have to ask - Why? Voice actors are cheap on fiverr. And couldn't re-mixing be done in the Phillipines or India at a low cost? There are quite a few low wage economies with film industries.

Quote

 They need to be "slick" for lack of a better word, and not "indie." 

The world already has more than enough "gritty" urban dramas and films about upper middle class teenagers taking drugs, yes.

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1 hour ago, David Mawson said:

I have to ask - Why? Voice actors are cheap on fiverr. And couldn't re-mixing be done in the Phillipines or India at a low cost? There are quite a few low wage economies with film industries.

The world already has more than enough "gritty" urban dramas and films about upper middle class teenagers taking drugs, yes.

It's not that easy for dubbing.  The dubbing territories have very high standards for the voice acting, and all the best actors are going to be union. If you try and submit a "cheap" French dub it will just be rejected. Also many broadcasters have signed agreements with local unions that prevent off shore dubbing.  A typical French dub is going to cost about 20, 000.00 Euros, and there really isn't a way around this cost.

Your assessment of the "gritty" movies is bang on.  Yet the BFI is obsessed with this format and continues to invest millions of pounds into these movies.  The BFI is dropping 1 million pounds per movie, and it's shocking how little distribution those movies then go onto receive.  The UK distributors I talked to over the last six months just laugh at the prospect of distributing anything BFI is involved with.

R,

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My objection to any of this is that regardless of the quality of the film, most of the potential purchasing entities are so used to being deluged with unwatchable bilge that they're very resistant to new contacts. Making those contacts is very difficult and even someone who'd made something ticking all the boxes would find it very difficult to get the right person on the phone.

Plus there are a lot of boxes to tick, in order to convince a plausible purchaser that one had sufficient rights to distribute something.

P

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1 hour ago, Richard Boddington said:

Your assessment of the "gritty" movies is bang on.  Yet the BFI is obsessed with this format and continues to invest millions of pounds into these movies.  The BFI is dropping 1 million pounds per movie, and it's shocking how little distribution those movies then go onto receive.  The UK distributors I talked to over the last six months just laugh at the prospect of distributing anything BFI is involved with.

R,

That makes me feel better about my film, funding was rejected by the BFI earlier this year...hopefully that's a badge of quality...

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1 hour ago, Phil Connolly said:

That makes me feel better about my film, funding was rejected by the BFI earlier this year...hopefully that's a badge of quality...

Pretty much a guarantee Phil.  Also, BFI has made it very very clear......white males need not apply.   Their sole focus now is emerging women filmmakers, they have zero interest in any other classification of filmmaker.  So note to all white males in the UK, do not waste your time with them.

R,

 

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1 hour ago, Phil Rhodes said:

My objection to any of this is that regardless of the quality of the film, most of the potential purchasing entities are so used to being deluged with unwatchable bilge that they're very resistant to new contacts. Making those contacts is very difficult and even someone who'd made something ticking all the boxes would find it very difficult to get the right person on the phone.

Plus there are a lot of boxes to tick, in order to convince a plausible purchaser that one had sufficient rights to distribute something.

P

Well Phil, I have survived the Lions Gate delivery 🙂 . To say that it's tough would be the understatement of the year, but that is, as they say...show biz.

Also Phil.....how come no more responses to my emails????????????

R,

 

 

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Phil and I are back in contact, it's a beautiful thing. 🙂

R,

 

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15 hours ago, Phil Rhodes said:

My objection to any of this is that regardless of the quality of the film, most of the potential purchasing entities are so used to being deluged with unwatchable bilge that they're very resistant to new contacts

It's a lesser version of the problem with scripts. Writers now need to spend years building contacts - working as a producer's minion or whatever - before they can get someone who matters to look at a script.

My suggested solution, based on raising investment in the past, would be to offer someone a Very Expensive Dinner as a get to know each other. Spend most of the time bonding, rather than hustling, but give a brief summary of your credentials and the project. Try to fit in some funny stories that make useful points about your capabilities - especially your strict control of cash. Then ask about setting up a second meeting where they sit through your escalator pitch (which is like an elevator pitch but a bit longer) and then eat more expensive food. The escalator pitch should be more about niche, marketing plan, risk management and returns than story - at least, in the industries I'm familiar with. Film may be different there, I suppose. But when in doubt, I'd always talk about money.

Second best solution: find someone who has already achieved credibility with the people you want an in with, take them out for dinner, then offer them a %.

Edited by David Mawson

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15 hours ago, Richard Boddington said:

It's not that easy for dubbing.  The dubbing territories have very high standards for the voice acting, and all the best actors are going to be union. If you try and submit a "cheap" French dub it will just be rejected. Also many broadcasters have signed agreements with local unions that prevent off shore dubbing.  A typical French dub is going to cost about 20, 000.00 Euros, and there really isn't a way around this cost.

Are the standards for these markets higher than for UK and US dubs? Because I've been horrified by the quality of most film dubs. Stalingrad's main character seemed to be voiced by Eric Cartman. Solaris was unwatchable. And The Wandering Earth has bizarre acoustics - you just can't believe the voice comes from inside the scene.

..Which is very strange indeed, because the anime industry operates on a very tight budget but their dubs, voice acting and translations are normally superb.

Quote

 

Your assessment of the "gritty" movies is bang on.  Yet the BFI is obsessed with this format and continues to invest millions of pounds into these movies.  

 

"All I know is the Joads' lives were depressing enough - then they filmed them in black and white."

- Crow T Robot, Mystery Science Theatre 3000

Talking of dubs and the BFI, their Amazon channel has just one Bergman movie. And it's dub only - no original soundtrack. This is like an organisation for the promotion of vegetarianism sponsoring a slaughterhouse...

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Griffin Hammond, the guy that did the little 30-min documentary named Sriracha, about the famous hot sauce, has done a total breakdown of his earnings. He basically shot it himself and self-distributed it on all the major platforms, Amazon, YouTube, Vimeo, iTunes. It's a great read and very eye opening to see what venues work and which ones don't. For instance, YouTube is not the place to be unless you have staggering viewing numbers like children's stuff or funny cat videos.  And although Amazon pays so very little for their prime content, they have staggering viewing numbers that add up. And the pay-per-view option's are not entirely to be discarded either in this world.

In short, the film is profitable, but only because it cost so little to make. With any kind of professional budget, it would not have been.

 

https://medium.com/@GriffinHammond/5-lessons-learned-from-my-profitable-indie-documentary-2017-update-fd8ded8be493

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17 hours ago, Adam Frisch FSF said:

In short, the film is profitable, but only because it cost so little to make. With any kind of professional budget, it would not have been.

Which opens up another question: should a $13K budget for a 30 minute documentary really be looked at as "unprofessional"? Shouldn't it be possible to shoot this type of film with a single man crew using a C200 and swapping between radio lavs and a mic on a boom stand? Two weeks for pre-production - which is mostly just setting up interview dates and booking flights for a project like this - two weeks for shooting, two for editing? $13K should easily pay for that. Shooting two minutes a day for a doc shouldn't really be a strain, should it? (These figures would NOT apply to more complex topics or less cooperative subjects, of course.)

Also: the film made a LOT more than $13K! It would still have been profitable - from its first year alone - if it had cost $60K. Or even $120K with UK taxbreaks for investors.

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41 minutes ago, David Mawson said:

Which opens up another question: should a $13K budget for a 30 minute documentary really be looked at as "unprofessional"? Shouldn't it be possible to shoot this type of film with a single man crew using a C200 and swapping between radio lavs and a mic on a boom stand? Two weeks for pre-production - which is mostly just setting up interview dates and booking flights for a project like this - two weeks for shooting, two for editing? $13K should easily pay for that. Shooting two minutes a day for a doc shouldn't really be a strain, should it? (These figures would NOT apply to more complex topics or less cooperative subjects, of course.)

Also: the film made a LOT more than $13K! It would still have been profitable - from its first year alone - if it had cost $60K. Or even $120K with UK taxbreaks for investors.

Because that would be a total pain in the arse .. and not how films should be made.. one person doing everything .. everything suffers .. the BBC have tried this and Ive been brought in to shoot a couple of days then they have been "allowed" a budget a real camera person for the difficult stuff.. you should hear what these poor  "shooter /directors " have top say about how their film is actually ruined because they have to do everything  themselves .making a film is not like taking stills.. very much diminishing returns.. 

Edited by Robin R Probyn
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1 hour ago, Robin R Probyn said:

Because that would be a total pain in the arse .. and not how films should be made.. one person doing everything .. everything suffers .. the BBC have tried this

They're not the only ones: it works for National Geographic -

https://www.desktop-documentaries.com/gear-kit-for-a-one-man-documentary-film-crew.html

And one man can fit in with his subjects in a way that even a small crew can't:

https://www.indiewire.com/2017/03/shooting-documentary-by-yourself-city-of-ghosts-quest-hooligan-sparrow-1201797506/

Quote

 you should hear what these poor  "shooter /directors " have top say about how their film is actually ruined because they have to do everything  themselves

Maybe they just weren't good enough. There are so many people who want to make films that discarding 99% of them really isn't a problem. It won't always be a fit, but it obviously is sometimes because it has been successfully done.

As for the BBC - yes, if you're in the habit of giving jobs to your friends rather than people with talent and drive, they'll need the support of a crew. But in the last ten years has the BBC produced a documentary as vital as Cartel Land? I can't think of one.

Edited by David Mawson

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10 hours ago, David Mawson said:

They're not the only ones: it works for National Geographic -

https://www.desktop-documentaries.com/gear-kit-for-a-one-man-documentary-film-crew.html

And one man can fit in with his subjects in a way that even a small crew can't:

https://www.indiewire.com/2017/03/shooting-documentary-by-yourself-city-of-ghosts-quest-hooligan-sparrow-1201797506/

Maybe they just weren't good enough. There are so many people who want to make films that discarding 99% of them really isn't a problem. It won't always be a fit, but it obviously is sometimes because it has been successfully done.

As for the BBC - yes, if you're in the habit of giving jobs to your friends rather than people with talent and drive, they'll need the support of a crew. But in the last ten years has the BBC produced a documentary as vital as Cartel Land? I can't think of one.

Dave .. out of interest .. are you actually a camera person or director..  the push for director /shooter/sound recordist /fixer /producer being one person is 100% to do with cutting costs and nothing to do with making better films.. I do wonder if you personally have ever been on a shoot or work in this industry ? .. based on your observations..

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8 hours ago, Robin R Probyn said:

Dave .. out of interest .. are you actually a camera person or director..  the push for director /shooter/sound recordist /fixer /producer being one person is 100% to do with cutting costs and nothing to do with making better films.. I do wonder if you personally have ever been on a shoot or work in this industry ? .. based on your observations.. 

A question that I'd been thinking about, but you're much more diplomatic than me, squire.

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15 hours ago, Robin R Probyn said:

Dave .. out of interest .. are you actually a camera person or director..  the push for director /shooter/sound recordist /fixer /producer being one person is 100% to do with cutting costs and nothing to do with making better films.

 Film is a business. That means costs have to be kept down to what the investors and markets are willing to pay. What you call "better" is irrelevant - if an extra cost doesn't add enough profit to pay it's way, it should get scrapped. That's your duty to your investors.

Quote

. I do wonder if you personally have ever been on a shoot or work in this industry ? .. based on your observations..

No, you don't wonder that. You're looking for a way to win an argument rather than engaging with facts. (And you took one of the worst possible routes. Although trying to "win" rather than exchange ideas is bad enough in itself.)

A doc like this isn't Flint. The shooter can plan every shot before he goes, he's not "investigating." He isn't exploring a fast moving non-cooperative environment. He arranges meetings, can discuss where to shoot and ask for phone shoots, he can ask all his questions and get answers in advance before he flies out.

So, Robyn, based on your awesome track record of shooting Ninja Shadow Warriors - which I wouldn't have realised was a documentary  from the name - What an earth would a director do to justify doubling the budget??? And can you explain why this low budget documentary is so much more popular than anything you've worked on if it needed a director and didn't have one???

...Arguing with reality, Robyn, is rarely profitable.

(And, yes, there are shoots where you need more people. But we're talking about this one and shoots like it. The point is that some projects only need one person.)

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7 hours ago, Mark Dunn said:

A question that I'd been thinking about, but you're much more diplomatic than me, squire.

But it's a stupid question, isn't it? Because what does the answer have to do with anything? Because -

- Sirracha (sp?) was shot by one person and was a success.

- No one can point out a failing based on it being shot by one person

- The film maker's comments don't seem to indicate any problems being caused by his working alone.

- When he speculates on shooting more titles, he assumes that the cost base will be the same - so again, he'd be working alone.

Frankly, as we're abandoning diplomacy, you come over as threatened. If more talented people can do alone what you need a two or three man crew for - which seems to be the case given that Sirracha exists and you seem committed to the idea that you couldn't have shot it alone - then why should people employ you or invest in your projects? If shooting worthwhile projects on such a low budget alone is possible, then you have to ask yourself why you haven't done it, too, of course.

Because while you're very ready to ask what other people have done, you seem to never have shot a documentary yourself - at least one that anyone has heard of. Your entire IMDB record consists of a crew job on a 13 minute short shot in 2012. And the job there was only "Additional Photography." So I really don't think this is a smart issue for you to raise, "squire".

(Also, if you're any sort of film maker, aren't you supposed to be able to at least write a meaningful sentence? How can asking a question like this be  "much more diplomatic" than not?)

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I sit on the fence in all this.

Some stuff can be, should be shot by individuals. I just wrote a piece on a spectacularly beautiful natural history piece mainly shot by one woman with a Red Epic and a tripod.

Equally I've been on stuff where we were desperately shorthanded and the day was horrifically held up by it.

I suspect what Robin may be reacting to is the very real danger that producers will see the increasing portability and easy operation of camera gear as a reason not to hire an adequate crew. The fact that a lot of film crew spend quite legitimately spend a lot of time waiting for other film crew to do things doesn't help here. A lot of people will enthusiastically seize any opportunity to downscale things.

It's complicated.

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...Also, why I haven't shot a project like Sirracha, I haven't in fact "produced" several. Because a documentary about a sauce like this is no different to a corporate video for a product. The idea that you need a separate director for an on-the-rails shoot like this is one that makes sense only to talentless people hoping to make a living from doing a non-job. You do not need a director as well as a camera operator for static pre-planned shoots in safe environment with a cooperative subject!

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3 minutes ago, Phil Rhodes said:

I suspect what Robin may be reacting to is the very real danger that producers will see the increasing portability and easy operation of camera gear as a reason not to hire an adequate crew.

Then he should learn to write. Because if he says something as silly as "No doc can be shot by one man, EVER!" then his arguments will have no credibility. The only sensible approach is to create a  meaningful set of guidelines for when more than one person is needed.

Which is in fact what I've implicitly done with the criteria I cited. Eg are you just shooting or actually investigating? Are you in safe environment? Does it change unpredictably? Etc.  So Sirracha is a one person shoot, Flint isn't. 

So in fact you're not "on the fence" but agree with me....

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26 minutes ago, David Mawson said:

But it's a stupid question, isn't it? Because what does the answer have to do with anything? Because -

- Sirracha (sp?) was shot by one person and was a success.

- No one can point out a failing based on it being shot by one person

- The film maker's comments don't seem to indicate any problems being caused by his working alone.

- When he speculates on shooting more titles, he assumes that the cost base will be the same - so again, he'd be working alone.

Frankly, as we're abandoning diplomacy, you come over as threatened. If more talented people can do alone what you need a two or three man crew for - which seems to be the case given that Sirracha exists and you seem committed to the idea that you couldn't have shot it alone - then why should people employ you or invest in your projects? If shooting worthwhile projects on such a low budget alone is possible, then you have to ask yourself why you haven't done it, too, of course.

Because while you're very ready to ask what other people have done, you seem to never have shot a documentary yourself - at least one that anyone has heard of. Your entire IMDB record consists of a crew job on a 13 minute short shot in 2012. And the job there was only "Additional Photography." So I really don't think this is a smart issue for you to raise, "squire".

(Also, if you're any sort of film maker, aren't you supposed to be able to at least write a meaningful sentence? How can asking a question like this be  "much more diplomatic" than not?)

 I don't know who you're talking about but it's not me. I don't have an "IMDB record", but my name at least has been on the big screen- I don't know if my body double scene made final cut.

If you're confusing me with Robin, that's odd, because his record goes back 34 years. "Squire" is a bit of an in joke between Robin and me- you obviously don't get it. In fact you don't seem to get his style of delivery at all. Perhaps some study of the forum and its various tones and styles would help you.

This thread is getting more than a little baroque.

Edited by Mark Dunn

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13 minutes ago, Mark Dunn said:

 I don't know who you're talking about but it's not me. I don't have an "IMDB record",

..So you're the Mark Dunn who is even less important than that guy. Wonderful! Just the person to argue from "authority."

Quote

my name at least has been on the big screen- I don't know if my body double scene made final cut.

I don't quite see how being Kenn Dodd's stunt double qualifies you as an expert on documentary making...? Are the catering department for the film all experts too?

Quote

If you're confusing me with Robin

No. Again, you seem to become confused easily yourself and assume such things.

Once again - leaving aside your embrace of double-standards - Sirracha exists. It was made by one man who seems to have had no problems making it alone. So where on earth do you get the idea from that documentaries can never be made by one man???

Edited by David Mawson

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