Tuesday, 25 July 2006

Private Investment in Feature Films

Films in Australia are mostly financed by the government. You need a distributor and around 40% of your budget sourced from the private sector before you can make a $2m+ feature film here. In an effort to keep the riff-raff out, the FFC have added another requirement to their list - a very high quality, developed screenplay. To this end, they employ a team of readers (usually writers) to vet scripts which ultimately land on the desks of two assessors.

In other words - your screenplay had better be tight . . . and interesting.

But do you think the private sector know any of this? Do the Mums and Dads of Australia know that by investing in Australia's film industry, they can write off 100% of their tax bill under the Taxation Department's 10BA tax-incentive scheme? No. But lawyers do and it's probably why the film industry is suffused with them. That and intellectual property protection.

As you know, I had someone approach me recently with a whole lot of cash - like this lady here. A lot of cash . . . and an undeveloped screenplay which they wanted to go into production with. These blokes were moving from property investment - to film production. They seem like good, honest investors and they have a huge portfolio of clients.

But they also had a very undeveloped screenplay.

To get a screenplay into a condition where it is even eligible for government agency development money takes about 3 full-time months of writing with a good script editor by your side. The money is spent on fees for; the writer, script editor and producer and the odd airfare for deals and meetings etc. (Anywhere between about 20 and $50,000).

Naturally, there will be many more conversations as we all got on really well and want to work with each other on film projects in the near future. In fact, Friday's meeting with the FFC advisor (Tait Brady) and the Fortissimo Sales Agent (Ashley Luke) couldn't have gone better. Beware the Stingray is definately something that the FFC would be interested in pursuing. I was quite surprised. And relieved. What the hell would we do if they weren't?

So it's nose to the grindstone today for Phil and I.

None of the FFC's enthusiasm, of course, was put in writing - despite many pleas from our producer. I feel good about things . . . today.


Friday, 21 July 2006

Feature Film Financing - finally?

Phil Jang Kane (screenwriter), Carmello Musca (Producer) and myself (director) have a 20 minute meet-n-greet market briefing with the Film Finance Corporation and a major Oz film distributor this afternoon. Based on our synopsis, they will advise us of sales opportunities in today's marketplace.

Should be interesting. We're going about things the traditional, Australian way. Which isn't a bad thing.

The Australian way of raising feature film finance isn't a bad one. We have limited funds and fewer good scripts than the US (where everybody in LA is working on a feature screenplay).
In Australia, screenplays are thoroughly scrutinised by industry professionals before they are even allowed to jump through a series of hoops. You also need private cash, a distributor and the FFC on board for budgets over about $2m. The system only allows scripts which have been thoroughly vetted to make it to the screen. And for writers, it adds to their growing pile of rejection letters along the way - which I think (seriously) counts for something.

The majority of filmmakers could learn a great deal from a little humility and having the odd chomp on humble pie.

I love the films which show a certain degree of humanity (or writerly humility). Most screenplays don't reflect the plights of real people because, sadly, there are so very few real people in our industry.

The Phone Call

What happens when someone calls you up out of the blue and offers you the opportunity to direct a feature film - with a small (but realisable) budget?

This is exactly what happened to me the other day.

In an effort to bring a pre-existing screenplay to the screen, two investment brokers, on behalf of their clients, were scouting around for a director. They called a friend of mine (who they found in the Yellow Pages and on Monday, I get to be the first director to read the script.

I have hitherto said "no" to feature screenplays (often written by well-known Australian writers and with money on the table) - so I was very surprised to hear my mouth say yes to this particular project - sight unseen. I guess my body has heard me say no one too many times.

I told the writer that I probably wouldn't like his screenplay and would want to make changes. He seemed very amenable to this idea and so . . . a new process begins.

We shoot in January and we need to have spent all the investors' money by June 30th. A situation we are all familiar with in this industry.

Monday, 17 July 2006

Writing to House Style

If you are getting paid to write - even if it's as little as $500 for a script - you are probably going to be working with a script producer or script editor - especially if it's a TV show with episodes. That's because - whoever is giving you the money - is being told to deliver a certain thing to the broadcaster and your script needs to bend like a reed, Grasshopper in an effort to make it consistent with other epoisodes.

This is writing to house style. More often than not, the script editor (and sometimes the TV producer) will rewrite your piece wholesale. It's not a bad thing - but a lot of people don't know this going in and new writers get burnt (read hurt).

House style means to a writer pretty much the same thing as result-oriented direction means to a director. At some point, you are going to be told what to write. You are not going to be left to your own devices a you are when writing your feature film screenplay.

If you're writing TV, you can bet someone is reading your screenplay - regularly - and really closely. Getting somebody to even read your feature screenplay is the hard part. And for the most part you don't get paid!

Tuesday, 11 July 2006

Short Film Festivals

I just heard that A Stone Throw is a finalist in the Frankfurt Children's Film Festival (Germany). It seems that somewhere in Germany and India is an Edwin James Lynch fan-club. They've certainly bought films I've directed in the past. But there are just so many bloody filmmakers in the world today.

I'm beginning to understand that AST ain't a crowd-pleaser. How could it be when it was ever-so-loosely based on Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment (set in a school). I guess it's a bit dark. In fact, pretty much everything I write with Phil (or by myself for that matter) is a bit dark or creepy.

More good news (for us) is that Phil, Carmelo (producer) and I are having a casual meeting with Tait Brady (Feature Film Evaluation Manager, Film Finance Corporation) and Ashley Luke (Vice President, Development & Acquisitions, Fortissimo Films) to receive informal feedback on our feature film synopsis.

Marx & Venus update

I don't know who the successful applicants are, but they have already selected 25 scripts (from about 2,000 submitted throughout Australia) for the Marx and Venus series. So if you haven't heard anything yet, you'll probably receive a thank you for your submission, but there were thousands of applicants and unfortunately your script etc. letter shortly (if they can afford the postage). I'm eagerly waiting for mine. I like to see how they word these things.

Stay tuned to the Taylor Media website to find out more on that one.

In the meantime, Phil and I have a screenplay to write. But first, my dayjob beckons.

Sunday, 2 July 2006

The Three by Five Card Index System

Here's another approach to writing your screenplay. The screenwriter's friend. Introducing the infamous Three by Five Card Index System.

Wow! How can I get one?

In my case - I made it. What it amounts to is this: Three 90cm x 40cm sheets of chipboard hinged together so that the whole thing stands like a concertina on a table or floor.

Every 5cm or so down, I have drawing-pinned small cardboard hinges (triangles if you will) made from old file dividers. These become placeholders for your cards.

A couple of bunches of 3 inch by 5 inch index cards (available in packs of 100 at any newsagency) and there you have it. A sure fire way to make your screenplay bubble to the top of the pile . . . Not. But it's a tool and writers need their tools.

Cool. How does it work?

As you can see - each act has three mini-acts in it (fitting in with Australian script theorist Linda Heys' Second Act Story). Or rather - going one step further and suggesting that all three acts have a beginning, middle and end. You can see from our picture, that we have yet to rewrite our 3rd act. The 3 x 5 card system will only work if you already have a screenplay - even a rough one. Each card represents a scene. We write the scene heading with any rewrite notes underneath. If we feel that there's too much of one character or we want to move to another location (often a hunch thing) we leave a space in the cards so we can go back and fill it in - or at least identify and fix the problem.

Tomorrow we approach our screenplay with trepidation because the third act is a doozy.

Our synopsis is in and we meet with the Film Finance Corporation late July. Nobody will even read our new screenplay for a few months yet. The FFC just want to talk about marketing, casting, ideas - that sort of thing.

I write 2 days per week with Phil. We've given up on the idea of three because life is just too - well - busy. So I just bought a laptop and today I pick up Viki King's 21 Days to Write a Screenplay. I'm, hopefully, about to start a speed draft of a genre screenplay Phil and I have mapped out.

Once the rough draft is done, the three by five card system will come out again and Phil will rip into my draft as I stand there pumping iron and shifting cards around on the board. Feeling irritable because - even though we've worked together for years - when anyone criticises my work, it always feels like someone is tugging an unborn child from my writer's womb.

Am I helping, kids?