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A JOURNEY FROM PRODUCING SHORT FILMS TO A MICRO-BUDGET FEATURE by Christine Hartland

06 Jun

I fell into the film industry thanks to my downstairs neighbours asking me if I wanted to produce a short which a friend, Amelia Hann, had written and wanted to direct. At the time I was (and still am) working as a corporate event and video freelance producer so didn’t really think it would be a big jump – how wrong was I?!   (from an article written by Christine Hartland in Network Nine News)

I met Amelia early 2001 and came on board her S16mm short film ‘Big Girl Little Girl’. I knew nothing about working on film itself as I had only ever worked on video, so things like shooting on 24fps or 25fps or what a focus puller did, was a total mystery. Luckily, another producer came on board and her knowledge was invaluable and we made it all happen. In 2004 ‘Big Girl Little Girl’ won a few awards and can now be seen on the BBC film network thanks to Dazzle (the short film distributor).

I learned an awful lot on that project and caught the bug: I wanted to carry on producing short films with the view of one day maybe producing a feature. The film industry became more accessible and doors were starting to open, especially after the festival run.

The next short film I produced was the 35mm ‘Sick’ by Mike Rymer, which tackled the subject of depression.  Not an easy sell but the support of the Samaritans right from the beginning was invaluable. In 2004, we submitted the project to the Wandsworth Film London scheme and were awarded some production money. A year later in August 2005 with £10,000 in the bank, we shot ‘Sick’ on 35mm. Like Mike, I was keen to shoot it on film as opposed to video. Film does look incredible and, thanks to the support from Kodak, Panavision and Deluxe, we were able to do that. It suited the content of the film and we knew that we wanted to show it eventually in cinemas, which has just happened as the film was shown recently at the Odeon Cinema as part of Epsom Mental Health week. 

Just like on ‘Big Girl Little Girl’ it took us a year or so before we had a fine cut during which time we managed to raise additional fund to cover post-production costs (to include neg cutting, grading, Dolby 5.1 sound mixing at Goldcrest) thanks to the South London and Maudsley NHS Fund which remit matched ours: to raise awareness of depression.

In 2007 the film was finally sent to festivals. Mike managed the whole festival strategy over the course of two years (the ‘A’ list festivals in the first year and subsequent festivals in the second year).  A lot of hard work but so necessary in order to get the film out there to be noticed. Once again we managed to get financial support, this time from Screen South.

Over that time I also helped on two other shorts ‘Wooden Soul’ by Rehana Rose Khan (distributed by Shorts International – 2006) and ‘4 Conversations About Love’ by Jessica Townsend and producer Maria Goyal (distributed by New World Films – 2006). Both were shot on HD, which was the new format at the time, so that was quite exciting. I was also starting to read feature film scripts.

In August 2008, an editor friend suggested that I get in touch with David Holroyd who was looking for a producer to make his micro-budget film, a political thriller called ‘WMD’, which had been short listed (but not selected) in the Film London Microwave Scheme. I really liked the script and the concept. David was keen to shoot on CCTV and surveillance cameras, which was quite exciting, different and innovative – but at the same time very risky.

Very quickly I approached some investors I had met at the Cannes Film Festival a couple of years before. We signed the contract in November and the filming started on 21st January 2008 for about 30 days spread until early March. The filming included shoots in Berlin, Rome and Washington. Post-production started as we were shooting with editor Celia Haining at Clear Cut Pictures, which were extremely supportive. My aim was to finish the film by May 2008 so I could take it to the Cannes Film Festival market with a view of finding a sales agent. Risky strategy as sales agents do not go to markets to acquire more films but sell the ones they already have – but I felt as a first time producer that it was my only shot.

In May 2008 we showed the film at the market and had a few sales agents interested. Success – the strategy worked! Back in London, Independent Film Company (‘Adulthood’, ‘Mr Nice’ amongst many) took the film on.

We wanted to get the film out very quickly and decided to follow a reverse distribution strategy, which in itself was very risky as no one had done it before: we launched it at the Brighton Film Festival and on the digital platform Dailymotion for 48 hours in December 2008. Very quickly we had so many hits, three times more than their most watched film, that Dailymotion asked to expand the screening to many other territories over those 48 hours so we knew there was solid interest in the film.

In 2009 we sent the film to a few festivals including East End Film Festival in London, where it was nominated as Best Debut UK Feature. We also sent it to people such as  the Vanity Fair Editor, Graydon Carter, Clare Short (then an MP) and John Pilger for an endorsement. They all liked it! In October 2009, we had a simultaneous UK theatrical & iTunes release which lead to 3 star reviews from both the Guardian and Channel 4, describing the film as ‘gripping’. In 2010 ‘WMD’ is still going and we are continuing to look at opportunities to get it out there – it never stops it seems! The latest screening to date is on Scandinavian Television on the 1st December 2010. 

The speed at which ‘WMD’ happened was incredible especially compared to the short films I had previously worked on. In less than one year we had a feature length film in our hands and a sales agent on board. It seems that when you have no money, projects can either take a very long time, as people work in their down time alongside their paid work, or go very fast as people block book some time off for the project and all has to fit within that time. The latter is how we managed to make ‘WMD’ – there was no other way possible at the time.

However, one of my biggest learning curves was the phase once the film was completed: it was the beginning of a very long process and journey.  The work, especially for a small independent production, can be slow and painful as usually there is not much industry support and/or barely any budget for advertising and PR, which is key to get your film out there to the world. Whether it is a short or a feature it takes a lot of time, energy and perseverance to get the film out there as well as a little bit of money despite the fact that nowadays a lot of things can be done for free eg. social networks etc.

In October 2010, ‘Sick’ was launched at the BFI – that is five years after we shot it – and in 2011 there may well be some more news about it so does it ever stop? It does not seem to and that is a short film! Therefore as a producer, a good relationship with the film director is key as embarking on a film is not a short but a rather long and adventurous journey.

Unfortunately nowadays, producing a debut feature often means that it will be on a micro-budget level (ie under £100,000 and often even under £50,000). What is key is a good script, a good director and cast, and, a very dedicated crew with a lot of support from family, friends, colleagues. A bit of luck and good timing are also very important but harder to factor in!

Personally, apart from still pushing ‘WMD’, my next step is raising money for the next features I am working on using whatever support I can get. For example, for the feature project ‘Nitrate’ by Guy Ducker and Gavin Boyter, we have had a bit of interest after the Trailermade Competition in which it was one of three winners. To be able to show a pre-feature trailer has been very beneficial and, as an independent producer, the main aim is to make sure the project is out there and get noticed. With what I have already learned, I am able to help other debut feature directors and producers with their first micro-budget features. Currently filming is ‘Life Just Is’ by Alex Barrett which is being promoted on YouTube,  both during and post shoot so feel free to check  it out. Again the aim is to raise as much awareness of the project both in terms of building an audience as well as being noticed by the film industry. Let’s see how it goes!

My final thought I would like to share with you: I believe that thinking outside the box and using any means possible such as script (or any other) competitions, seminars, networking events, new technologies, partnerships, charity support, festivals, film markets, endorsements etc can only help get your project noticed by both its audience (very important to know who the film audience is) and the film industry (key for future projects). Good luck!

 
2 Comments

Posted by on June 6, 2012 in Feature Film Production

 

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2 responses to “A JOURNEY FROM PRODUCING SHORT FILMS TO A MICRO-BUDGET FEATURE by Christine Hartland

  1. gazebo in legno

    February 11, 2014 at 2:45 pm

    I couldn’t refrain from commenting. Perfectly written!

     
  2. Unknown

    January 19, 2015 at 8:57 pm

    Appreciating the time and effort you put into your blog
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    while that isn’t the same outdated rehashed material.
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