Micro-budget digital filmmaking for digital distribution
Many thanks to all the Glasgow and Edinburgh filmmakers who turned out for the screening of TimeLock in Glasgow on 12th October 2013 at the GMAC Cinema. A lot of great feedback and much praise for all the cast and crew involved in the production.
There was a much discussion afterwards about the need to look more deeply at the aesthetics of micro-budget filmmaking and for Scottish micro budget filmmakers to co-operate more to create a platform where they can share their innovative work.
Though there is currently little or no public funding in Scotland to support this type of production, as it does not fit the 20th Century industrial paradigm, it is clear that this is the new training ground for tomorrow’s filmmakers and will form an important part of Scotland’s film culture moving forward.
The audience learned that the majority (90%) of the cast and crew of TimeLock were trainees, first-timers or fresh out of college and had never worked on a feature film before (and only one of them in the same role). This makes their achievement in producing a quality film like timeLock even more impressive. Hopefully, once the results of Creative Scotland’sFilm Sector Review are announced the national agency will change its policy and adopt a more positive attitude towards independent micro-budget and very low-budget digital filmmaking for digital distribution.
Watch TimeLock on Distrify now, or share with your friends and earn your cut from every transaction.
”The perfection of art is to conceal art.”
Quintilian (35 CE – 100 CE)
“To reveal art and conceal the artist is art’s aim.”
In his brilliant work Understanding Comics – The Invisible Art, Scott McCloud suggests there are six layers to an art work. These are, from the outside in: 6/ surface, 5/ craft, 4/ structure, 3/ idiom, 2/ form, 1/ idea/purpose (p 176-180). He goes on to write (or should that be draw) that the biggest question of all facing an artist is, “Does this artist want to say something about life through his art or does he want to say something about art itself.” (p. 180) McCloud states that when a creator places more importance of Form over idea, “His art would just become his purpose and the ideas would arrive in time to give it substance.” He suggests that creators who follow this path are pioneers and revolutionaries who question the fundamental laws that govern their chosen art. Artists like, Moebius, Stravinsky, Picasso, Virginia Woolf, Michael Haneke or Orson Welles.
Contrariwise, if the creator chooses the primacy of purpose over form, McCloud writes that then art becomes a tool of a great storyteller, and the artist devotes all his or her energies to controlling the medium and refining its ability to convey messages effectively. This is the path of creators like Herge, Capra, Dickens, Woody Guthrie and Edward G Morrow who seek to make their art invisible. McCloud goes on to reiterate that this choice is neither permanent, nor exclusive – but that it is a key distinction in great art.
So what relevance does this discussion have to micro-budget filmmaking and aesthetics?
The budgetary restrictions of digital micro-budget filmmaking mean that the filmmaker will necessarily have great difficulty choosing Quintilian’s path approaching artistic perfection by concealing art (or in McCloud’s terms, prioritising idea and purpose over form). Even in the most contained narrative setting, the micro budget filmmaker will come up against constrains in the use of locations, lighting, production design, grip equipment – and most of all shooting time. There is therefore no way micro-budget filmmakers can or should hope to compete with big budget movies in terms of continuity and production values. Instead they should concentrate on form over idea and become true pioneers of a new type of filmmaking, rather than simply making micro-budget films because they don’t have a bigger budget and then trying to use the resultant film as a calling card to use to find bigger budget producers. If you want to make a calling card to get a job on a big show then you’d probably be better placed using all your money to make a very slick, high budget short rather than a feature on a shoestring.
Digital production and distribution offers an exciting new start for a more popular and democratic type of filmmaking, and eventually we hope film consumption. However, we need to make sure that the films we produce turn the limitations of the budget, kit and time to create a new micro-budget aesthetic rather than trying to ape the continuity system of Hollywood or big-budget TV drama.
In making TimeLock we knew from the beginning that we would be using a DSLR camera to record the footage. Noir is one of the most subjective and artistically innovative genres and from the start David Griffith set out to develop a highly subjective camera system that would allow him to work in the first and second person, rather in the traditional third and first person. Here the camera and narrative voice would always appear to the audience be in the body space (or the mind’s eye) of one of the main characters (either Mark, Cal, his colleague) to enhance both the sense of claustrophobia, the maze-like dimensions and layout of our fictitious hotel, and the moral and psychological relativisations at the heart of the story. To accomplish this, David storyboarded the step outline before revising it in line with the imagery, and only then writing the full screenplay.
One of the main reasons for inviting DOP Simon Hipkins to join the project was because he was a stills photographer as well as a cinematographer with an instinctual feeling for composition and camera movement using a DSLR as opposed to a larger, more traditionally proportioned camera and lens. The compactness of the DSLR also meant that we could get incredibly close to the actors without intimidating or inhibiting their thoroughly rehearsed performances.
On set we were ruthlessly strict with ourselves in terms of coverage; about whose perspective and whose POV it was at any given moment. It was not uncommon for us to shoot scenes in two or three ten-minute takes. This not only ensured we achieve our target shooting-rate of eight and a half pages of screenplay per day but also produced great results in terms of performance and flow, adding greatly to the credibility of a highly stylised film with an accentuated approach to reality.
These audio-visual aesthetics are complemented perfectly by a highly characterised score from Howie Reeve, RM Hubbert and Rafe Fitzpatrick and a cleverly modulated and highly subjective soundscape courtesy of the brilliant young sound-designer Dave McAulay, who set out to express the sweetly unpleasant smell of moral decay through sound. The result is a film with uncompromising audio-visual aesthetics which is like few other films you have ever seen.
If you haven’t already taken the plunge, rent or buy the movie now on Distrify or Vimeo VOD http://vimeo.com/ondemand/4213
Do you know any film bloggers?
Do you know any journalists?
Could you share the film on your blog or Facebook page?
With TimeLock now released on Distrify on Facebook and this website (see below), Facebook and on Vimeo VOD, it’s now all about trying to get the message out there.
When you start a movie it seems that the biggest challenge is going to be making the film, but as an increasing number of filmmakers (including me) are finding out the real challenge these days is making the distribution work. According to Julia Short of Verve Pictures, a respected specialist independent distributor speaking at the Edinburgh International Film Festival, the average British film makes £960.00 at the box office. Not good, particularly when you factor in the occasional stammering British hit to boost the box office averages.
So what is the solution for indie film if theatrical distribution is only now a form of PR. Well the BFI, Skillset, and Creative Scotland have all put their money behind viral distribution system, Distrify.
Distrify is a great model in theory: whoever embeds the film on their Facebook page or blog, or shares the film virally, receives a 10% cut of any sales as tracked through the Distrify engine. And as soon as they hit £50.00 they can download the money through Paypal. But for this viral distribution to work, we really need to find people who care about independent film in the UK and are prepared to help us get the word out into the wider world
We currently have a new feature, ‘Into the Trees’ in the late stages of development and we hope to make the film in 2014 subject to winning back some of our ‘poker’ money from ‘TimeLock’ to reinvest in the next film.
So can we make Distrify and VOD work, that’s the fifty thousand dollar question? Only time will tell. But if you are reading this you can help?
The word so far from the few reviewers and film professionals who have seen ‘TimeLock’ so far is very good.
“Gripping plot with emotive undertones” writes Peter Swindon of the Courier, “Incredibly well shot given the micro budget.”
“The lead character’s performance was brilliant. He allowed the viewer to get right inside his head.” Writes Kirsten Johnson of the Mail on Sunday.
“The twists and turns had me guessing all the way to the end.” Ros Borland, co-producer on ‘The Last King of Scotland’.
We’re obviously delighted, but as the saying goes ‘it takes a village to raise a child’’. So if you are able to help in any way by sharing the film or introducing it to journalists, cineastes or film buffs, we’d be eternally grateful.
How to use Distrify
To share the film via Distrify, this is all you need to do:
1/ Click on the ‘Share’ arrow on the film on the homepage.
2/ This will bring up a pop-up with a series of options to share on Facebook, Twitter, email or to embed the film on your webpage.
3/ Distrify keeps a record of where every sale comes from so the more you sell, the more money you make.
Go on, give it a try…
Here’s a short video David Griffith shot of one of our fantastic composers, Howie Reeve playing the song Past Perennial from his new album, Friendly Demons.