Raindance 30 Minute Film School at the MCM London Comic Con

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Taking to the VidFest stage at Sunday’s MCM London Comic Con, writer, producer and Raindance Film Festival founder Elliot Grove offered his advice to budding movie-makers on how to get their films in front of audiences.

As film-lovers filled the VidFest area, Grove threw out questions to find out what kinds of people were making up his audience in terms of interests and talents. He soon established that the room was full of aspiring actors, writers, directors, videographers and editors, eventually leading him to ask,

“Why are you all here, then? There’s enough talent in this room to make a movie.”

Making a film, he explained, isn’t really as difficult as it can seem – you just need to get the right team together. The first time you do it, you’ll be terrified, and the end result probably won’t be that great. But you keep going until you get good at it. “Just start,” he said simply, echoing the words of panellists Jack and Dean who had been on stage before him.

With that in mind, he told the audience that he wasn’t there to tell them how to make films, but rather about, “how to get your film seen once it has been made.”

“My first intern was Edgar Wright,” said Grove. “Another guy we had in the early years was Gareth Edwards, who you’ll probably know as the director of Godzilla.”

He then proceeded to tell the story of how a young Christopher Nolan came to Raindance to create his first film, The Following, which he made for just a few thousand pounds. At the age of 16, Nolan had told his parents that he wanted to make movies – something they didn’t really seem to understand. After completing a degree in English, he started up a job stacking shelves, and during the weekends, he would head over to the Raindance offices to work on his film.

“There is no one here who couldn’t raise £6000 to make a film,” said Grove, explaining that what’s important is what you do with it next.

Taking Quentin Tarantino as an example of a “master of publicity”, Grove talked about how the director’s career had been largely “manufactured” through brilliant marketing.

“After making Reservoir Dogs, he produced a press kit containing the ten most frequently asked questions about Reservoir Dogs….They were simple, basic questions, and the answer to each one ran along the lines of, ‘because Quentin Tarantino is an amazing genius’.”

What Tarantino recognised is that he could not afford to rely on the good opinion of critics and audiences to promote his work: he had to believe in what he was doing, and sell his work himself.

“We get two lots of films at Raindance,” said Grove, “the ones with great press kits, and those with bad ones.”

Of course, it should come as no surprise that it’s the films with well-presented press kits that tend to get watched first. As for those that come with no press kit at all – those films are always going to be a pretty hard sell, and will probably be turned down by most festivals.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERASo what does a great press kit need to include? Well, first of all, you need a tagline: a short, punchy sentence or phrase that gives the press a flavour of what your film is like. You’ll already know a few famous examples like, “In space, no one can hear you scream” (Alien) or, “Be afraid. Be very afraid.” (The Fly). Grove used an example of one he’d written himself for Ben Wheatley‘s Down Terrace, which was submitted to festivals without a press kit, and as a result, turned down by every one of them except Raindance: Grove described the film as “Ken Loach meets the Sopranos”, a tagline which was subsequently widely used in its publicity.

The next thing your press kit will need to have is some great behind-the-scenes photographs. Grove urged budding directors to employ someone who “understands movement and motion”, rather than simply asking “the guy who did the college yearbook”.

As a director, you’ll have to feature in some of these pictures, looking like you know what you’re doing. The best way to do this? Point at things. It doesn’t even matter what you’re pointing at, nor does it matter that you’d probably never actually need to point at anything during real filming. It draws attention to you, and it makes you look dynamic and in charge (incidentally, you don’t have to take Grove’s word for this – there are two entire Tumblr blogs dedicated to “Directors Pointing” and “Directors Pointing at Things” you can check out).

Other types of photos you’ll need to include are “cast and crew shots”, such as pictures of actors having their make-up put on. Finally, you’ll want some pictures of the cast re-enacting certain scenes. These shots are never taken during the actual filming, since additional cameras can interfere, particularly if there is flash involved.

In addition to pointing, another way you can make yourself seem like a pro is by talking the right kind of talk.

“The movie business has its own lingo,” said Grove, before telling us about what have been dubbed “the nine most famous words in film”: “I have numerous projects in various stages of development”.

In truth, these words mean little, if anything at all, but they sound rather impressive, particularly if coming from the mouths of Hollywood hot-shots like, say, Steven Spielberg.

“Who here has two or more great ideas for a film or web series?” asked Grove, and a few hands went up. “All of you, then, have ‘numerous projects in various stages of development.’”

Next, he listed the three most important things you need to make a movie. First and most importantly of all, you need a script.

“It can be a shot list, a cartoon, or a proper screenplay, but an idea in your head does not count, because no one else can see it.”

The next thing you’ll need is money. Your budget should cover any equipment and any cast and crew members you’re going to need, though not all of this necessarily has to be paid for up front. There are three ways of paying people for things to make a film: in cash, in kind, or as a deferred payment. Paying someone in kind means offering them something in return for helping you out (e.g. “I can get you VIP tickets for the next MCM Comic Con if you do this for me”). Deferred payment means paying people a share of the profits once your film has been released. Though this makes things easier for producers and directors, it is a lot less secure for whoever is agreeing to it, and many people will, understandably, be wary of agreeing to it in case the film ends up making no money at all. As a result, if you’re going to ask people to do this, you’ll probably need a pretty sound business plan, along with an obvious knack for publicity and promotion (how’s your social media presence?).

The third most important object is a telephone, “by which I mean,” said Grove, “that you need to develop excellent interpersonal skills”.

Your phone, and by extension, your phone manner, are the key to getting your team together. The confidence you put across in all your pointing photos needs to be just as clear in the way you talk and present yourself and your ideas.

Towards the end of the talk, Grove described the two routes into film-making. One is by waiting to get inside a huge ivory tower surrounded by a deep moat, which is itself surrounded by hundreds and hundreds of hopeful creatives, where every now and then, someone up at the top of the tower will let down the drawbridge and invite one or two people inside. The other route is to go independent and do it yourself. This is the Raindance way: Raindance was set up to support and celebrate the people trying to make it on their own.

As a final thought, we were left with two stories about the building of two different boats. The first was built by a man who lived way up in the hills of Persia, miles away from the sea, using only the most basic materials. Everyone thought he was crazy, but he worked hard to make his boat with only his family to help him because he believed in what he was doing. In the end, when a flood came, it floated.

“You know how we know?” asked Grove. “Because we’re all here.”

The second boat was built hundreds of years later by an enormous team of people and cost thousands of pounds to make. It was designed to be the biggest, best, most luxurious boat ever created, and yet, on its first journey, it sank, and became entrenched in popular consciousness as a symbol of expensive failure.

“Decide which kind of boat you want to make,” said Grove.

For more information about the Raindance Film Festival and its courses and events, visit www.raindance.org, or follow @Raindance on Twitter.

Photographs by Caitlin Jenkins.

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