At the time of publication, it was recently announced that ifeatures2, Britain’s low-budget, feature film-making initiative, has just reopened for submissions. Creative England, the BFI Film Fund and BBC Films are joining forces to support the development and production of three full-length features, all to be set within the English regions.
Each film will be produced on a budget of £350,000 and the BBC is also pre-buying UK Free TV rights to the completed films. It’s open to writer, director and producer teams who can already demonstrate a strong body of work.
There are many from the British Urban Film Fraternity to whom this would apply to. One of them is Ida Akesson who is this month’s guest writer of the BUFF Blog. When the question is asked (as it invariably is) about ‘What is British Urban?’ Ida doesn’t just tick the box, she stamps all over it. Ida has been a friend of the festival for many years and BUFF has been both fortunate and delighted to have witnessed a real talent at work. The last 12 months in particular has seen Ida win a Film London award (following in the footsteps of other BUFF filmmakers who’ve won the same award including Mawaan Rizwan & Rohan Green); she also had 2 of her short films showcased online and in person at the British Urban Film Festival and starting on April 21, she completes the set by going on-air with ‘The Holiday’, which has been selected by BUFF’s newest broadcast partner The Community Channel as part of the #buffpresents strand marking the festival’s return to TV for the first time in 5 years (watch the promo here – http://www.blottr.com/london/breaking-news/british-urban-film-festival-unveils-tv-idents).
Ida also happened to correctly forecast the winners of all this year’s main Oscar categories (best actor, actress, supporting actor, supporting actress, best picture) as part of a Shooting People competition – it seems she can do no wrong. Remember the name – Ida Akesson… here’s her blog.
They say it’s not the most talented people who succeed at what they do, but those who are the most focused. It’s certainly true that to get things done as an up and coming filmmaker you need to be focused – and passionate – but you do need some talent too, and a bit of luck. Support from true champions of filmmakers such as the ever energetic BUFF is also helpful, as getting the film made is only half the battle – once you’ve broken your back getting the film made you need all the help and luck you can get in getting it seen by as many people as possible. And that’s before you start all over again and make another one. My short film ‘The Holiday’ screened to a very healthy-sized audience at BUFF 2011, and thanks to BUFF it will also soon screen on the Community Channel. Overall it’s screened at many festivals and this is a great reward as I had to be quite determined to get the film made in the first place. I wrote the film whilst studying for an MA in Screenwriting at LCC (London College of Communication) and knew that I also wanted to direct it – I had quite a set idea of how I wanted the tone and feel of the film to be. I knew that it would cost more money than I had to make the film, so once I had graduated I applied for some public funding at a grass roots filmmaking scheme. I was told that the script was good but seeing that I didn’t have a sensible piece of drama on my showreel – mainly stuff I had done in art school – I could not be trusted with any funding. Fair enough really, and not enough to deter me in any way whatsoever. Therefore, to be able to get a decent piece of narrative film on my showreel, I sat down and wrote the cheapest possible script I could come up with, my self financed 2009 comedy ‘Door to Door’, which screened online as part of BUFF 2010 (go to www.britishurbanfilmfestival.co.uk and watch it on the videowall).
There is so much to learn in filmmaking, so many parts of the process, and had I not made Door to Door first, ‘The Holiday’ wouldn’t have been the film it is – surely the case for any other director – and in this case a very good thing.
The plan was to make Door to Door for as little money as possible – a figure that quickly doubled even though it was made on love and favours. As my first proper narrative film it has its flaws but I’m still fond of it, and in the end it found its audience. It won Best Short Fiction Award at the Festival du Film Pan African 2010 and got licensed to Canal+ in France and the African Territories for a year, a great feat for a film shot on DV Cam on my own doorway. Armed with a narrative piece of fiction on my showreel I again applied for some public funding to make The Holiday, and this time I had better luck. The Eastern Edge Film Fund – one of Film London’s Borough Film Funds – supported the project with funds but also with workshops and guidance, and we completed the film in 2010. It’s different making a film within a structure where you have received funding and I quickly learned what a collaborative process filmmaking is.
Whereas with Door to Door I had written a script that I was directing and financing and nobody really questioned any of my decisions, making The Holiday was a different kettle of fish. Throughout the development period I was getting questions and feedback not only from my two producers, who were great and very involved, but also a professional script editor and the executive producer. I remember being pulled up on things in the script as late as a week before shooting – which felt like a hassle at the time – but it meant that we ended up shooting some extra stuff that made its way into the final cut and the film is better for it. My editor also refused to read the script and instead just had me tell her the story of the film over the phone before assembling a first rough cut – interesting for someone like me who’s studied screenwriting and been picking over words for years. But I guess that old cliché that you picture the film three times – in the script, on camera and in the edit suite – really is true, and this is also a good thing. Once you’ve shot the film it’s better to throw the script away and look at the footage you’ve got instead, at least for a short film. And then of course, because you’re making the film within a public funding structure, at every stage of the editing process you get questions and feedback from an entire panel of people, keeping you on your toes as you go along. You also obviously have a rigid deadline since you’ve signed a contract saying that you will deliver the film at a particular date, and this is not something I would ever take lightly. What matters the most of course is quality of the final film but getting on in this industry is also all about building successful working relationships with people so if I have promised to get something done by a particular date I will bloody well do my best to deliver. Once The Holiday was out there and playing at festivals I was lucky enough to get to make another publicly funded film, ‘Moments’. As they say, every director’s new film is a reaction to his or her last one and in this case that was certainly true. I guess after all the years of screenwriting and quibbling over character arcs I just wanted to make something short and beautiful. It was, again, the Eastern Edge Film Fund who supported Moments and even though I don’t think they were entirely convinced at first, perhaps due to the slight experimental nature of the film, I’m sure it was our previous successful collaboration that finally persuaded them. And a good thing that was too as Moments went on to win the Jury Prize at Film London’s Best of Boroughs 2011. Amazing – and this wouldn’t have been possible if the film had been self funded. Looking at the difference between making a publicly funded short, as opposed to a self funded one, I think the most important factor is that it’s good training for when you eventually – hopefully – get to make a feature. As a feature is so much more expensive to make I imagine the process is likely to become much more business-like than a short film you make for the bare minimum.
I know that if I invested 100 grand or a million in a film I would want to know that the filmmakers knew what they were doing – really – and would be able to work to deadlines and be willing to discuss feedback etc. Unless you happen to be rolling in money you’re going to have to – metaphorically – get into bed with somebody to get your idea made, whether that is a public funding body or someone else willing to invest in your project. I’ve only made a handful of very low budget short films but I do know that making a really great film is difficult – and that’s the aim, isn’t it? – to make a really great film. I see films all the time that are good or pretty good but by no means great. So when you come to shoot your own film, maybe it’s not just about someone giving you the money to do it, maybe it’s also about being able to collaborate with other people within the industry who are very good at what they do and can help make your film better? Choosing between trying to go the publicly funded route or the ‘striking out on your own’ route, I think you have to look at each project to decide what suits it best. As I have churned out five shorts in three years, two of them funded with strict deadlines etc, and two commissioned documentaries, one for BFM and one for Tate Gallery, I now fancy a breather and have started working on a project all on my own. Like I said before: every new film is a reaction to the last one and as I have been either working to a brief or having had to pitch and summarize the film at every stage of the process, I’ve now embarked on a different kind of project that needs very little money and resources and can be shot over a much longer period of time. It’s nice starting a project and having no idea where it’s going. I would imagine that once I’ve shot enough material and put together a cut I’ll again come knocking for feedback and funds to finish the project off, whether that’s from a funding body or anyone else who might be interested.
There is no best way to make a film, you just have to try and be flexible in what’s available to you and to be as critical about your work as possible, to always challenge yourself and try to make the best film possible. And occasionally keep your fingers crossed.
‘The Holiday’ screens as part of “BUFF Presents…” starting on Saturday April 21 at 9.00pm (Sky Channel 539 & Virgin Media 233). The Community Channel is also available on Freeview and BT Vision – check for availability.