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Thursday, November 06, 2014

Podcast Episode 42: Structure

Structure - the most important skill of a writer or the basis for generic and boring stories? Danny talks about the '5 act pixar poker idea' and I talk up non-linear structures (as always!).

I mentioned Linda's book on unusual structures a couple of times in this episode and here is the link - The 21st Century Screenplay

Lastly, Danny mentioned Nelson Nutmeg Links...

And its not too late to support the film, which has some cool rewards (including an exclusive podcast) by going to this page.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

How to find great child actors - the top 3 thing I learnt

Currently I am filming a low budget children's adventure feature film called "Who Killed Nelson Nutmeg?" with my good friend Danny Stack. It is a classic kids-solve-a-mystery-on-holiday story. Perhaps, from a film industry point of view, this is a bit out of fashion right now, but children still seem to love this kind of narrative anyway. So we thought we'd make it.

Central to the tale is a gang of four kids and an older brother. The dynamic of the group is really the drama of the film. How they work together, and how it starts to all fall apart as the mystery deepens. This, therefore, needs to be a proper 'gang', not just four kids who happen to be standing next to each other!

If I say so myself, we got this right, and it is one of the best parts of the film. Each actor is good in their own right, but they also gel together well.
How did we pull it off? How do you get four kids to act together and get along with each other for 10 weekends in a row?
In reflection, here are the three things we planned that really paid off and made it happen.

One: Spread the net wide and for a long time
We had three main sources of potential actors and we started reaching out in March, knowing we weren't aiming to actually start shooting until August.

The first source was going to every local acting school that we could get in touch with and who were open to us coming along and giving a talk and doing auditions. Some of the smaller classes are the better ones. A lot of these classes and schools focus on theatre, so the kids who do well there may not be the best ones for film! We met James (aka Woody) at one acting class that specialises in drama and doesn't do any musical numbers or dancing.

The second source was online casting sites such as the special kids version of casting call pro where more experienced actors such as Hattie, above, have profiles. We then did a closed audition day for people we liked from the casting web sites and from the acting schools. This also gave us a chance to interview the kids in a more informal manner. At the end of this process we had a short list.

The third source was an open audition. We had to start planning this in March for a June open audition date. The reason for this long lead time was because of the time it takes to get information out there and in the hands of parents. One of the main ways to communicate to local families is via magazines sent out to all parents by the schools. These only get distributed twice during a school term, so the long lead time was essential. The open audition was amazingly well attended with 280 young actors coming along. The fact we already had our short list from the closed auditions in our minds helped, in that we knew we were looking for young actors who could bring something different to what we'd seen already, something fresh or a new take on it. This was how we found Jonah (aka Swindon) as well as some of the smaller unusual roles. Some actors make such an impact we knew we'd have to get them in one way or another.

Two: Mix things up
At this point we had the short list from both the closed audition and the open audition. The task then was to try and mix people up and see what worked overall. Everyone involved by this point was a great actor and had a good take on the character. So this stage was really concerned with getting the overall mix working.

How do you do this? The answer is simple - you do as many different scenes from the movie as possible, with the biggest variety of people possible - and film them. It can be tempting to do special audition pieces or games. This is a distraction. Audition people with the actual thing you want them to do! It was also useful to ask the young actors who they liked for the other roles. It was this way that we ended up with JJ in the role of Shiv.

Three: Audition the parents
All through the casting process (and especially near the end) we were also auditioning the parents. Not for their acting abilities of course, but for their commitment to the film. Although the kids are doing the role, it is the parents who need to make the dedication. They would need to give up their own time too!

At the end of the process we had a group of young actors who:

  • had worked together a lot already during the various auditions
  • had had a hand in selecting each other
  • who had proven themselves committed to the film by returning many times
  • who already understood the film and our process in realising it 

Key Point
The overall method we have used throughout is one of transparency. We have tried to always be totally honest and upfront about this whole process and also the potential of the film with the kids as well as the parents. So no tricks or hidden agendas.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Podcast Episode 41: Writing and making a feature

In this podcast episode I chat to Danny about the challenges, the fun and the surprises of directing a feature - as two people who have come more from a writing background.

Have a listen above. And here are some useful links below.

Who Killed Nelson Nutmeg? is the film we are talking about. Here is the website, the Facebook page, the twitter and the IMDB page.
You can download my free shot list template for word from here if you fancy using it yourself in your own productions.
Below you can see an image of Danny's "heartbeat chart"

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Nelson Nutmeg Update

It has been quiet on this blog for a while. Sorry about that. The reason for the silence is that I've been posting more on the Who Killed Nelson Nutmeg? blog - as well as actually making the film.

In case you don't know, Who Killed Nelson Nutmeg? is a children's feature film I am co-directing with Danny Stack. You may know Danny as my co-host of the UK Scriptwriters Podcast.

It is going well and we are on schedule so far. We are fine-tuning the process as we go of course. But we got a lot right! It is all too easy to overlook those and focus on the negative. But here's what we got spot on:

  • Starting the audition process early means the kids feel like a real unit now and get on well together. There is a good vibe, which helps a lot.
  • Having two caravans on site next to each other is perfect. One for crew, one for cast.
  • The crew is just the right size, allowing for some flex (e.g. we split off a B-unit the other day) but without people hanging around waiting for things to do.
  • We have hired a minibus everyday to take us there and back. This means everyone arrives fresh, plus it is no more expensive as it saves about 5 or 6 people driving cars.
  • The location is amazing. Not just in how it appears on screen, but also the helpfulness of the people there. Free plug for them - Freshwater Beach Holiday Park.

But never mind all this text - here's some pics (thanks to Jo for these snaps) ...

Who Killed Nelson Nutmeg
Danny on location. Steve has a breather.

Film crew
Some of the crew

Digital loader
Adrian wrangling the files

editing on location
Dan Mellow adopts the edit position

dorset children's film
Dylan rehearses for his part in the 'staring competition' (no joke!) Chloe has to help him out

blackmagic 4K film UK
Yep. We can burn through 480GB in an afternoon

kids film british
So many funny faces here

hattie gotobed loretta walsh
Never too early to start promoting the film!

kids movie 2014
Mum gets the brew on

kids film for kids
P-Dizzle does her MA dissertation 

children's film villain
Elliot has a run in with "Mr Slug"

how to make a children's film
You must be this tall to be in the scene

Lastly, the IMDB page for the film is slowly being updated also.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Podcast Episode 40: Want to move to Hollywood?

This podcast is another interview special. We talk to writer Tim John about moving to Hollywood, how to fit in, how to find work there and why it all fell apart. A great episode for those thinking about hitting tinsel town. You can find Tim's book on Amazon - or simply click here.

A little bit about Tim John in his own words...

With over 20 years’ experience as a copywriter and creative director, plus 7 years as a Hollywood scriptwriter, I’ve worked with a huge variety of clients – from Burger King to Bill Murray, from Sunsilk to Schwarzenegger - winning awards and achieving significant results, even on tiny budgets.

Friday, July 04, 2014

How do you co-direct a film?

Note: Myself and Danny are the co-directors. Nelson Nutmeg has no directing duties!

I am co-writing, co-directing and co-producing a children's feature film called Who Killed Nelson Nutmeg? alongside Danny Stack. We've worked together for years creating the UK Scriptwriter's Podcast.

That's a lot of co-filmmaking duties we are sharing though. However, two out of those three get no comments from anyone at all. Lots of films are co-written. In fact many times there are 4 writers on the credits of major films, which normally means about 10 writers were used, but many were uncredited so the film didn't look so bad. And lots of films have more than one producer, in fact having only one producer would be very unusual. But directing? Wow, no one co-directs.

One guy on reddit even said about our idea - "Co-directors=Creative poision 95% of the time." In a way he could be right. When we see more than one director on a project it is actually often because the first one has left / been fired and another one brought it. But does it need to be like this?

Our inspiration for this film is the Coen Brothers. Not just in their film making style but also how they work as a double act. They are both credited as director for No Country for Old Men, for example.

We may change our minds but here are our current three thoughts on co-directing.

One - Don't focus on taking the credit
Agree up front that this is a joint effort - 100%, equal billing. Sometimes you may feel that you doing all the hard work. Sometimes the other person will (you won't notice that of course, as that's human nature). If you are solid in the fact you are doing this together, it will work out.

Two - Know your strengths and weaknesses
Simply put, I'd say I'm more technical and Danny has a better grasp of story. We are both okay with the actors. That gives us a lot of strength to be doing two directing tasks at once. One person can be rehearsing actors, the other can be looking at lighting set ups or making art direction choices. Provided of course....

Three - You plan and create the film together
Personally I feel this can only work if you've created the story and worked things out together. Why? Because you have already crafted a world together, you both know it inside out. Co-directing from someone else's spec script would be harder as you may disagree about the interpretation or look / style or even the meaning. This isn't an issue if you've created all those elements together.

Join in the fun yourself. Our Kickstarter still has a few weeks to go.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

A special mini episode of the podcast

A special mini episode of the podcast today, giving a shout out to our Kickstarter campaign for Who Killed Nelson Nutmeg. You can watch our pitch below - or go straight to the website by clicking here.

A big thanks to all the blog readers and podcast listeners who have given so far, too many to list here.