A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of meeting The Blaine Brothers – a great British filmmaking duo. Incase your unaware, they have conjured up numerous award winning shorts and are currently cutting their debut feature, or rather art-house masterpiece, Nina Forever.
The pair showed me the ‘ropes’ and gave me great insight into the working life of an independent filmmaker. More than this though, I got to see the rushes of Nina Forever and watch the edit come together for a couple of days. I don’t want to give anything away, but from what I saw I will be rushing to the picture house for this one.
The primary reason for this blog post however is to share the answers to a few questions that I asked the Blaine’s alongside my own opinions. As we know there appear to be seamless questions to ask about the film industry and art of making films and a million different ways to answer them, though the Blaine’s have given me some very well-respected advice.
As I have recently established crbfilms in the hope of setting up my own production company I saw it worthwhile to ask the Blaine’s opinion. It’s always hard starting out, especially when funding is minimal, so keeping low overheads was mentioned as number one priority alongside finding a passionate partner to go into business with. Finding someone with a likewise mind to work alongside can be a wonderful thing and spur on creativity and motivational workflow. Myself, I am yet to discover the true potential of this, yet I do have a list of possible collaborators. So, if you’re sitting in the same position as me and reading this, get in touch!
Finding part time work in the field such as in a camera hire shop or postproduction house is a good way to meet like-minded people as well as earn money to put towards your first film. Or offering freelance services is a good way to craft your skills alongside earning money and meeting new people; both are ideas mentioned. Alongside this, the Blaine’s homed in on the fact that making actual friends is more important than establishing so called ‘contacts’. Friends are the people you’ll end up working with and who you can actually rely on to do anything forward moving etc. Likewise marketing yourself in the right way is also crucial, be friendly not overtly business-like. What I take from this is that at film festivals and other film friendly places, one should chat about filmmaking and cinema interests with fellows rather than throw a contact card in their face for example. After all, this is surely the best way to encourage a potential audience to interact with your work?
A prominent question entering a lot of young filmmakers minds is the importance of a theoretical background and academia versus the practical approach i.e. school versus self-learning (learning from mistakes), or at least this has certainly been at the forefront of my mind. What I learnt from The Blaine Brothers here is that film credits, who you’ve worked with and who you know is really what it comes down to, more so than any degree. However, unless it’s a prestigious school such as The National Film and Television School (NFTS) then this would be worth noting. It really appears that practical work ethic is make or break for a film entrepreneur; no new conclusion by any means.
Important skills for any director is to be able to successfully communicate with a crew on set as well as enforcing creative boundaries and authority in such a manor that everyone feels the same positivity towards the production. The Blaine’s thoroughly agreed with this statement adding that one should always be honest and respectful to crew members even in the most tender of situations. Rehearsals are very important, even on lower-budget productions where there commonly isn’t the same lengths of time for production, “Space to play” as Ben put it. It allows for actors to build confidence and just as importantly, allows crew members to set up their shots, design, direction etc.
Intention and meaning are two key purposes on every filmmakers mind on a day-to-day basis. Ben exclaimed that a film director should always have a meaning behind everything that happens on set and followed on from this an intention. Every shot, every cut, every movement – what’s the intention? This is definitely something to keep in mind and absolutely something I will work on myself, after all how can you create a film with meaning without understanding the intention; art (cinema) is built through meaning.
Online media is another fundamental area inflating around the industry, or rather taking over the industry; one only needs to look to Netflix to see evidence of this. Online media and social networking is “good for independent filmmakers” says the Blaine’s. Only if it’s used correctly however, pieces need to be quickly engaging and interesting, if so, people are far more likely to follow your tweets (posts) and in turn follow through to links of your work. This stuff is common sense right? But it seems so many people do otherwise. Engaging with your audience is also important, let people know you’re interested that they follow you.
Crowdfunding, another emerging area of importance for independent film, especially considering the celebrity status it’s gaining through campaigns like Veronica Mars and Zach Braff. There are two reigning sites for crowdfunding – Indiegogo and Kickstarter – though both have a very different method. “Kickstarter appears more successful,” says Ben as it has a “hit or miss factor” – unlike Indiegogo, Kickstarter won’t give the campaigner their funds unless the target goal set at the start of the campaign is fully reached. Advice for starting a campaign is that one should have a unique, original proposition and a significant audience already in place. Rather than just seem like another hopeful filmmaker proposing another film like the other 1000 film projects on Kickstarter, Chris says you should aim to “make a story from your pitch”, something innovative that will attract attention and envelop that desire in your audience to donate and see the picture come to life. Also, having money invested into your film from the get go makes it appear successful, so those first funds are all important to attracting more investors to your page. It’s a sticky business crowdfunding but one worth learning as The Blaine Brothers, like many others, have been successful in doing so. Ben and Chris were also both sure to point out that you should search through other innovative campaigns and network on the site supporting projects other than just film, “there are plenty of inspirational campaigns around.”
I asked the Blaine’s their opinion on short films versus the holy feature and when, if ever, a small time independent filmmaker like myself should tackle one. I received a look of slight perplexity; “write for a feature straight away” said Ben. This is an encouraging statement to hear, though I tried two years ago and gave up after 50 pages. Keep making and writing they reassured me. The key here of course is to keep what you write transferable to a low budget production; a task in itself, but a task certainly worth striving for.
Interestingly, Chris said that “shorts aren’t calling cards” and that filmmakers should “use them as a piece of art” to craft their skills and meet contacts to carry over onto a feature production. This statement, though contradictory to how many filmmakers pursue their endeavors, makes complete sense on a scale of success and diversity. How many filmmakers have broken into the industry from a single successful short film? Undoubtedly not more than who have a great feature at their disposal. Creating numerous short films for artistic purposes calls for great diversity in filmmaking technique, and thus is a great way to experiment and once more craft a filmmaker’s style. I believe this is what Chris was getting across to me. In terms of meeting contacts and crew members, short films are definitely a great place to start and I’m sure the more you make the more trust you’ll envelop within your crew to commit to a feature.
Finally, I was keen to know if there stood any particular online resources that The Blaine Brothers would concur useful. Shooting People and Creative Skillset Academy were the two prominent websites referred to. Links below:
Here is one of my favourite short films by The Blaine Brothers: Free Speech.
Check out the website for Nina Forever.
Oh and if you don’t follow Ben’s blog then get going because there is some great advice and seasoned opinion to plough through. Ben’s Blog.
Thank you Blaine Brothers.