Last week I had the pleasure of attending the LoCollege Kickstart Your Comedy Career course at the BFI run by LoCo, a company who champion comedy and support emerging comedy filmmakers.
The two day event featured 12 panels, 28 industry experts and 50 filmmakers in attendance; countless business cards exchanged. As a producer it was a fantastic opportunity to meet emerging writers and directors.
The course covered a broad range of subjects, such as getting noticed by TV commissioners, crafting comedy characters, composing/selecting the right music and editing. Here are a few tips I found particularly useful for aspiring comedy producers:
Five of us got to pitch our comedy ideas to three professionals working in TV and Film Development and you can learn from our collective mistakes. Here’s what the panel wanted to know:
• What’s the format (e.g. feature film/TV sitcom)?
• What audience are you aiming it at?
• What other Film/TV comedies does it compare to? This will help convey the style and humour of your idea.
• As well as hearing about the story/plot, they want to know a bit about the central character, i.e. what will make the audience care.
• If you are pitching a sitcom keep the locations simple, and ones that can be re-used. This will keep costs down.
• Derelict buildings make fantastic sets as different parts can be dressed to look like different locations, while keeping costs down.
• Write the script first and then worry about whether you can afford to get it made. There are often affordable solutions.
• Check out http://www.stockyard.tv/ for specialist sets and props (such as plane interior/wreckage or even a replica House of Commons set).
• To get the attention of a TV Commissioner/Development Executive, a 2-3 minute online video is preferable to just a script.
• In 2010 Alice Lowe set out to make 12 short films in 12 months.
• Cavan Clerkin set up The Sunday Film Club where selected filmmakers had one month to make a short film: two weeks to write, one day to shoot (in one location), and two weeks to edit. Sunday Film Club resulted in Abi Blackmore’s wonderful short Blind Date which has had success at various Film Festivals in the States.
• Ben Wheatley shot Down Terrace in 8 days for just £6,000. It went on to win the Raindance Award at the BIFAs in 2009.
• If the script is good enough then well known actors will want to be a part of your project (so long as you can bypass their agents), just ask Mark Gill whose short The Voormen Problem stars Martin Freeman and Tom Hollander.
In short, if you are using music in your film you need the right clearance. PRS deal with songwriters, composers and publishers. PPL deal with record companies and performer’s rights. Using music in your work can become quite expensive so, in the style of Martin Lewis, here are some money-saving tips:
• If you have no money, bring in a composer who is looking for more experience.
• If you need a collection of songs try and get them all from the same record label, it will give you greater bargaining power.
• It is cheaper to get a band to cover a song and then pay the publishing rights.
• Any questions: contact PRS/PPL.
For a really simple animated video on how it all works, check out this Domino Publishing Blog.
While you might fist-pump the air at receiving £50,000 to make your short film, it can actually become something of a poisoned chalice. Panellist and filmmaker Ben Blaine felt he was “poorer than I’d ever been” after achieving such funding for Hallo Panda. “When you are working on a no/low budget film you might be able to pull in a few favours from friends, but as soon as you are dealing with that kind of money you have pay the going rate. Our first quote for an animatronic bear was £100,000.”
The key message throughout the writing workshops and the panel of TV Commissioners is that the key ingredient to most successful comedy is time. Comedy needs time to be developed properly and road-tested before it hits our screens. For example, The Inbetweeners started off as coming of age sitcom called Baggy Trousers set in the 1980s and only featured two central characters, while the internal monologue in both The Inbetweeners and Peep Show didn’t appear until late on in the development stage.
Jonny Ash graduated from the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama in 2010 and is a freelance film producer specialising in comedy and comedy-drama. Find him on Twitter at @jonny_ash1.