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David Mawson

Disastrous figures for low budget UK films

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David, I think this continued discussion would probably benefit from a less aggressive tone from yourself. Strong opinions are welcome, but personal attacks are not. Lets keep it civil.

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29 minutes ago, David Mawson said:

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

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?

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???

I haven't said anything about documentaries or Ken Dodd.

May I suggest you re-read the thread as you're now slagging me off for pointing out that you've been slagging me off for things I didn't say, and also that you take Stuart's tip?

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Posted (edited)
On 6/28/2019 at 5:18 AM, David Mawson said:

It surprised me because with those odds I can't see why investors stay in the game.

Re. non-cinema release, for most films this will mean Amazon Prime. Amazon's new revenue rules would seem to work heavily against low budget productions - they actually pay less per hour if a film doesn't include name talent:

https://variety.com/2019/digital/news/amazon-prime-video-direct-cut-royalty-fees-1203163736/

...So call revenue 4-7c an hour - probably 10c for watching a whole film. So a million views in a year - which is doing amazingly well - is $100K. Perhaps we can be optimistic and assume that 0.5% of films are profitable after 5 years of Amazon Prime and the 25% tax credit are taken into account...

Investors like the idea of making movies....it is cool. And maybe they can use their position to impress (#metoo) some young climbing starlet.

Edited by Daniel D. Teoli Jr.

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I think in the UK for many people we have a film making "Hobby" rather then a filmmaking industry. The actual number of British films making any sort of profit is pretty minimal. One of the reasons I think (compared to other places) is the fact that we speak English. So its easy to be swamped with US product. I mean why would a cinema risk booking a typically lower budget British film when they can book Hollywood Product.

In countries where English isn't the main language US content has to be dubbed or subtitled which is never perfect, that gives local films access to the market, since people are more likely to want to see a film in their own language. Its a way to encourage the domestic market (France as we know has even had quotas). But in the Uk if you want to see a film in (near enough) English US product will do fine. 

As a kid growing up in the 80's watching mainstream content - I didn't even know films were made in the UK. I never saw a contemporary  80's film on the big screen that wasn't from the US. At least now with Harry Potter (yes I know is not really a UK film) British kids can see other British kids on the big screen. The US has been of course very good at exporting its films at the expense of local product, read David Puttnam's excellent book "The Undeclared War" - it describes how hard Hollywood worked to build its monopoly.

So theatrically your kind of stuck, UK films can't raise the budgets that will compete with the spectacle of Hollywood's $100Million+ movies. Cinema is increasingly about spectacle and attraction. No cinema owner in their right mind would book a typical UK indie over Pixar, Marvel etc... Historically there was no market for UK films even in the UK.

But on the positive - more new platforms exist and now we don't have to compete for screen space. Amazon, Netflix et al will take your film. TV (as Richard states) plays a bigger role, direct to TV, DVD has less of stigma then it did. But with this long tail approach, your not likely to raise much money off the back end unless your very lucky. We have more platforms but the revenue per view is much less.

Hence it starts to look a bit like a Hobby, a thing you do for joy and not financial reward,  is not always a bad thing. It might not be sustainable as a career. But it can be as valid as any other mode of production.

If someone is making a micro-budget film with a crew of 2, an iphone and fuelled with passion, red bull and love for filmmaking - that is no less proper or less valid then the next Adam Sandler movie. I'd much rather watch "Following" then "The Cobbler" - even if the latter is more "professional".

Its not a failure to not make money, it could be a valid choice to make a film that doesn't seek a large audience, but talks to a particular group. I don't buy into this if your film isn't making X amount of money or its "not professional" its not a "proper" film. There is no right or wrong way to make a film - they are all equal in front of the audience and thats what counts.

That said it would be nice if their was a bit more money sloshing around, it would make this thing a bit easier and I'd like to be able to quit the day job. In the UK at least its very difficult to make indi production your "career". Too many people competing for the same pot of money/audience. We also have a strong "class" problem - where opportunities aren't made available on the basis of merit alone.  It is more difficult to operate if you didn't get the private school leg up. 

Still its not enough reason to not make films.  I like many others have to have a portfolio career, I do paid work, I teach, but writing and makeing films makes me happy, so I'm going to do it. I've not been able to make a living as a "Drama Director", but I don't see that as a reason not to do it. Of course I have the dreams of making something that will land  with an audience and catapult me to commercial success. But, I have to be honest with myself and accept that it probably won't happen, the odds are against me even if I am talented and hard working, so I should enjoy the process and make films for other reasons. 

Or I could move to the US and join the "actual film industry" and try that route, hmmmm 

Avoid the IMDB dick measuring contest - that way lies madness

TV on the other hand is booming in the UK, tons of work - but its more focussed on formats and entertainment. Good Drama opportunities are still quite rare. 

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13 hours ago, David Mawson said:

 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.

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.)

Yes now I dont have to wonder ,I wondered if you were a journalist actually .. you have never been on a shoot .. I doubt you are even in this industry .... .. I hope you find some peace and let go of the anger inside..  its really not worth it.. peace and love ..

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9 hours ago, Robin R Probyn said:

Yes now I dont have to wonder ,I wondered if you were a journalist actually .. you have never been on a shoot .. I doubt you are even in this industry .... .

In other  words, you can't think of any fact-based defence for your ridiculous argument. And I note that Phill, who is a camera operator and dop, agrees that a film like Sirracha doesn't need a director. So even if only a camera operator's opinion can be valid, you've been contradicted.

But, sanely, that doesn't matter. Because Sirracha exists.The film maker shot it without problems. It succeeded. So saying "It can't be done" is arguing against reality. Which is just not an intelligent use of time.

Now - YOU may not be able to shoot that way. But that doesn't mean that other people shouldn't. It just means that you're in serious danger of being shaken out of an industry where that may become an increasingly required skill. (Which is perhaps why you are trying very hard to believe that something has already happened is impossible.)

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17 hours ago, Phil Connolly said:

But on the positive - more new platforms exist and now we don't have to compete for screen space. Amazon, Netflix et al will take your film. TV (as Richard states) plays a bigger role, direct to TV, DVD has less of stigma then it did. But with this long tail approach, your not likely to raise much money off the back end unless your very lucky. We have more platforms but the revenue per view is much less.

Actually, crunching the numbers, you SHOULD be able to raise money quite easily for a wide range of films based on most of your revenue coming from VOD. As long as you make low budget horror, family films, and other genre films, and qualify for those tax breaks.

BUT - it's not going to happen on any scale. You can make a decent UK movies for $500K, get an immediate $250K tax break for investors, then another $150K if you have a disaster. Fine. And without stupid union rules and with modern production technology you can do a lot for that money. Again, fine. 

The problem is that you need good scripts. And where will you get them from on the regular basis you need for an industry? The US TV and movie industry are offering absolute fortunes to successful writers. So people will shop their scripts there first, you'll get the leftovers, and the moment you have a success the writer will go to LA or sign a deal with Netflix. You can't make a good movie without a good script and you won't be able to hold on to writers. Or directors, either.

And that will only get worse. Camera operation requires radically less skill than fifty years ago. Editing is vastly easier than when you had to cut film. Animation is easier (or least less manpower intensive) than ever before. But these things mean that the talent for the purely creative roles is just stretched more thinly than ever.

 

 

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10 minutes ago, David Mawson said:

Camera operation requires radically less skill than fifty years ago. Editing is vastly easier than when you had to cut film. Animation is easier (or least less manpower intensive) than ever before. But these things mean that the talent for the purely creative roles is just stretched more thinly than ever.

I''m not sure about that,  you still require a high skill set to make a quality film. Bad camera work and bad editing are just the same as they were 50 years ago, it just costs less money to do it.

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17 hours ago, Phil Connolly said:

If someone is making a micro-budget film with a crew of 2, an iphone and fuelled with passion, red bull and love for filmmaking - that is no less proper or less valid then the next Adam Sandler movie. I'd much rather watch "Following" then "The Cobbler" - even if the latter is more "professional".

 

I think we're past that phase now. Decent video cameras are extraordinarily cheap to buy or rent. You can shoot on a Fuji XT3 at 400Mbs. Or a BMPCC16K in raw. Or rent a C200. Or buy an old 7D for a fraction of the price of that phone - that was the camera used for Tiny Furniture and it's in the Criterion collection. Then you sell the 7D when you're done, if you're really broke. You're more likely to have problems affording decent sound gear than a camera. 

Quote

Its not a failure to not make money, it could be a valid choice to make a film that doesn't seek a large audience, but talks to a particular group. I don't buy into this if your film isn't making X amount of money or its "not professional" its not a "proper" film. There is no right or wrong way to make a film - they are all equal in front of the audience and thats what counts.

Zombie Orpheus specialises in films for D&D players. Their first film in their main series - Journey Quest, which is sort of Pratchettish - looked very creaky. The latest one looks completely professional. They've had no trouble funding on kickstarter. 

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Posted (edited)
10 minutes ago, Brian Drysdale said:

I''m not sure about that,  you still require a high skill set to make a quality film. Bad camera work and bad editing are just the same as they were 50 years ago, it just costs less money to do it.

I have to disagree. Bad camera work and bad editing LOOK the same as they did 50 years. But it's much easier to achieve competence using Lightworks than a Steenberg. Ditto for shooting on a C200 instead of an Eclair. A huge mound of hassle and learning of technique has gone away. It's much easier to get the high level stuff right now the low level stuff is easy.

..If you asked me to shoot a film Breathless style with a film camera, I'd run. But with a C200's low light ability, DPAF, and ability to fly on a gimbal or shoot from the shoulder without frequent changes of film cans? Much easier, yes?

Edited by David Mawson

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I was skimming over cheap horror films on Amazon a couple of nights ago. Many had bad acting or blocking or storyboards. They all had poor scripts. But not one was incompetently shot or had a glitch with editing. There were two with sound problems - one a super low budget SF movie and the other a UK horror film where they were trying to record "low ennunciation" regional accents that don't record easily and some of the actors were unskilled.

..In fact, I can't remember the last time I saw a bad film where the problem was camera work or editing. Lots of amateurs are now excellent at both these. There's a whole "AMV" scene where teenage kids cut apart anime and make alternate trailers for them on their laptops, and the results are often outstanding. (Check youtube for examples.) Fifty years ago, virtually no one edited for fun. Now you've got seventeen year olds with hundred of hours of editing time on their laptops behind them.

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It still comes down to costs, you can practice more with a digital camera, but using lights and lighting remains the same as 50 years ago. Perhaps it's more complex because of the greater range of lighting instruments and light modifiers available today than back then.

You need background knowledge of film lab workflows to make use of a Steenbeck .  However, you now need knowledge in how to do these procedures (eg colour grading, VFX etc), which were formerly done by the film lab, when using Lightworks.

The main difference is that you needed to be able to pre-visualise  what you were doing 50 years ago. Although, the best people can still do that today.

Scripts, acting and poor direction have always been the weak spots. There's nothing new in that, the other areas tended to be competent, with the budget being a limiting factor. However, the investment required may have acted as a filter to some extent, although dentists have seemed willing to invest in some poor films in the past.

 

 

 

 

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1 hour ago, David Mawson said:

I think we're past that phase now. Decent video cameras are extraordinarily cheap to buy or rent. You can shoot on a Fuji XT3 at 400Mbs. Or a BMPCC16K in raw. Or rent a C200. Or buy an old 7D for a fraction of the price of that phone - that was the camera used for Tiny Furniture and it's in the Criterion collection. Then you sell the 7D when you're done, if you're really broke. You're more likely to have problems affording decent sound gear than a camera. 

Thats not the point I was making, I could have substituted any low cost digital format for my iPhone comment. I purposely chose a poor example of equipment to indicate that I would prefer a good film on any format then a well shot bad film.

Funding is difficult, most films fail at this first hurdle 

Filmmaking is difficult - I have a lot of respect for anyone that got a feature film made. That is a huge achievement regardless of how good it is artistically. 

 

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7 hours ago, David Mawson said:

In other  words, you can't think of any fact-based defence for your ridiculous argument. And I note that Phill, who is a camera operator and dop, agrees that a film like Sirracha doesn't need a director. So even if only a camera operator's opinion can be valid, you've been contradicted.

But, sanely, that doesn't matter. Because Sirracha exists.The film maker shot it without problems. It succeeded. So saying "It can't be done" is arguing against reality. Which is just not an intelligent use of time.

Now - YOU may not be able to shoot that way. But that doesn't mean that other people shouldn't. It just means that you're in serious danger of being shaken out of an industry where that may become an increasingly required skill. (Which is perhaps why you are trying very hard to believe that something has already happened is impossible.)

So Dave .. what are your credentials in this discussion .. you seem very reticent to actually give any details of your own glorious career .. only intent on belittling others .. I have a strong feeling you are weekend BM pocket camera warrior .. :)..  but seriously.. why are you so angry .. you have come onto this forum like an angry teenager who just had their phone taken away for being naughty .. chill Winston .. Im sure you have a lot of interesting things to say.. but you don't have to be so insecure .. 

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The longer I do this, the more a realize that filmmaking is almost an impossible task to succeed at. The odds are so stacked against you, it's like winning a lottery ticket if it turns out great. I have nothing but respect for those that manage to pull of filmmaking and have every department pull in the same direction, despite all the odds, and elevate into something else.

I also started out thinking it was easy. Now I know better.

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Nobody needs credentials to be right, but they do need some degree of geniality for anyone to care about what they say. And I say this as... well... me.

P

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Thank you. A script I think I will write. Degrees of Geniality being the working title. Could even make it to the release. If someone can give me a good name of a UK director or producer I will approach them when I've completed the final draft.

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13 hours ago, Phil Rhodes said:

Nobody needs credentials to be right, but they do need some degree of geniality for anyone to care about what they say. And I say this as... well... me.

Well, no. If you only consider an opinion based on how much you like the person it comes from, then you're not being rational.

Also, from my POV this thread quickly became "We don't like what this guy is saying so we're going to ignore facts and attack him for not being one of us." Whether or not I have ever been paid to operate a camera is irrelevant to the fact that people have shot one man documentaries successfully. In fact, your little club is the one with "geniality" problems. And like most would-be bullies, you don't like it when people push back.

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Posted (edited)
14 hours ago, Robin R Probyn said:

So Dave .. what are your credentials in this discussion .. you seem very reticent to actually give any details of your own glorious career

Why should I need "credentials" when I'm not arguing from personal opinion but from facts? Do actually understand how logic works? If I say "Canada is a large country next to the USA" and I have give good sources for my beliefs, then whether I am Canadian is irrelevant.  That you are a paid camera operator and I am not is irrelevant to the question of whether documentaries like Sirracha can be shot without a director. Because they have been. This is reality.

If you keep saying "I'm Canadian and I say that Canada is an island off the coast of China the size of Belgium" - which is exactly what you are doing - then, really, the only response you can expect is not a positive one. Intelligent people are going to look at the map and the Canadian embassy's website and then ask why you're capable of believing something so silly.

 

Edited by David Mawson

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Posted (edited)

Or to give another example of how ridiculous Robyn's argument is, you're got into an aircraft and notice that the pilot is drunk. You tell him that you want to get off and he refuses to listen because you're not a pilot. Does this make sense?

Or your wife is sick, you check the treatment she's been given and based on her symptoms and a lot of research, question it. Do you really settle for a reply like "I'm a doctor. I don't care if you do have a major study on your side saying this drug causes side-effects exactly like the ones she is experiencing: shut up"? (Which is a true story btw. Except that the doctor I spoke was smart enough to deal with facts, unlike Robyn.)

Now, it's reasonable to assume that an expert knows more than someone who isn't - that's what an expert is. But when someone responds to a concrete fact they don't like by saying "I'm an expert, the person quoting the fact I don't like is not, therefore we shall ignore" - then they should only expect odd stares. At best.

 

 

Edited by David Mawson

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13 hours ago, Adam Frisch FSF said:

The longer I do this, the more a realize that filmmaking is almost an impossible task to succeed at. The odds are so stacked against you, it's like winning a lottery ticket if it turns out great. I have nothing but respect for those that manage to pull of filmmaking and have every department pull in the same direction, despite all the odds, and elevate into something else.

I also started out thinking it was easy. Now I know better.

This absolutely...even just eeking out a living requires a huge amount of work and dedication. But to work the top level on features - its equivalent to representing your country at the Olympics (only more difficult)

Anyone thats worked in film production for any length of time will have been involved with some absolute "trainwreaks" and will have further "trainwreaks" in their future. Most of us show solidarity for each other, aware that we are in glass houses and better not be chucking any rocks about. 

There are some very experienced people on this forum that are sharing their experiences as a gesture of goodwill. Its not a place to pick fits and say X person is wrong. As a general rule the more "opinionated" a person comes across on the forum, the less experienced they are. Which is fine we want less experienced people on the forum is a place of learning. But its flipping filmmaking, there is no correct approach, its not an argument to be won.

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Posted (edited)
14 hours ago, Adam Frisch FSF said:

The longer I do this, the more a realize that filmmaking is almost an impossible task to succeed at. 

I suspect that depends on who you are. The odds are much worse for would-be cinematographers because the investment needed to achieve basic competence has dropped so hugely.

Exposing a tricky scene for film with nothing but an exposure meter requires a couple of orders more magnitude in skill than doing the same for video with a field monitor, false colour, waveforms, etc. Just the ability to see what you shoot changes things hugely.

And the cost of developing each level of skill has dropped - because shooting film was expensive and video is free.

So the guy could reliably shot that tricky scene you needed on film was really special. He'd learned at the cost of $100K's of Kodak's best and he'd only got that chance because he'd impressed the hell out of everyone. But now there is no cost. So the so-so guys who would have been winnowed out weren't. They took twice as long to learn, but so what? Video is free. So between the job being generally easier to learn and the cost of learning being lower, and therefore there being many more people able to function at middle levels of competence, camera skills have become relatively low leverage.  And this trend will continue as eg tracking AF becomes better and starts to become an option for reasonably budgeted narrative. (Which has arguably already happened with the C200.)

Otoh, if you're a comedian who writes his own material, your leverage has probably gone up.

Edited by David Mawson

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David, while you are correct that it is not necessary to be either an expert or likeable in order to be right, being likeable has other benefits. On a forum like this, where most members will carry on conversations over a period of months or even years, and yet never meet each other, it is only natural that people will be curious about each others backgrounds and experience. Knowing what experience informs the attitudes of our fellows makes it easier to understand their views, and helps to avoid unnecessary arguments, particularly in a medium where nuance and tone are hard to convey.

You evidently have strongly held opinions on a variety of subjects, and you appear to be well informed, but it's also true to say that you are extremely aggressive in your tone when responding to others with whom you disagree, and you seem very willing to attack the poster, rather than the post. That's not good for anyone involved.

May I suggest that we turn the heat down under this conversation, and keep it friendly.

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But seriously  I agree totally there are some docs that its best to have a small crew ,or even just one person.. but thats a tiny percentage of the total..and usually quite specialized  subject matter...but  I can assure you that the general move to "shooter/Director" .. AP,s ,Interns, anyone cheap ,shooting instead of actual DP,s and sound recordists .. is totally to do with cost cutting and not a good thing for this industry or the films that it produces .. fortunately there actually seems to be a move away from it..purely because the editing /audio/post was a nightmare and costing more  than having a DP at least..on the crew and producing not very good films .. a lot of disaster stories from editors .. filming is a collaborative pursuit .. it will always gain from at least one more set of eyes and idea.. its not stills capturing just one frozen moment .. a doc might start out as one story and change as int goes along.. a director just cannot be doing all the other  stuff and concentrate on the story .. and 99% of them don't want to be doing it either ..

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