Producer Gavin Humphries takes stock of what he has learned about the industry so far and relives the moment he discovered that his short, The Curse, was nominated for a BAFTA. He is nominated alongside director Fyzal Boulifa.
9th January. 7.38am. Reload page. Reload… One more time… Reload. OK, I'm not hallucinating. The BAFTA website does indeed list The Curse in this year's nominations and a couple of people have now texted to say congratulations. It must be true. Woo-hoo!
You don't make a short film aiming to be nominated for BAFTAs or Oscars and that would probably be a little misguided. When you start out it's enough to make a film you feel proud of and one which finds an audience, large or small. Oh yes, and hopefully they'll like it too. Festival selections and awards do however very concretely help you make the next film, so they're not to be ignored.
My second short with director Fyzal Boulifa, The Curse premiered in Directors' Fortnight at the Cannes Film Festival last year where it won the Illy Best Short Film Prize. Now travelling the world, it's currently at Sundance (where I'm writing this blog). Financed by Film4 and the BFI, we shot almost exactly a year ago in the middle of the Moroccan countryside.
Since graduating from the National Film and Television School in 2006 I've produced 18 shorts, The Curse being the most recent of these. There's no magic formula to make a great film and as they say 'talent will out', but here are a few things I've learnt along the way:
Tell a story or have a journey
A common problem for new filmmakers is they have a strong concept or inspired idea, but subsequently experience problems developing this into some form of narrative arc or journey. Having produced all kinds of shorts, including experimental work, an audience doesn't necessarily demand a conventional A to B story, but it's important to take them on a journey or experience. Working with a writer is extremely helpful here or simply getting feedback from other filmmaker friends can also be useful. Once in production, the story sometimes takes second place to the technical execution of the film, so it's important for the director and producer to maintain this creative overview and not become too microscopic.
"The best advice I ever had from a producer is always work with people you admire. Collaboration makes better films."
Find a team
Easier said than done! One of the most important ingredients for any successful short film is a tried and tested collaborative team. By team, I mean as much of the crew as possible, not just the heads of department. Short films offer little or no money, so the only reason people want to work with you is A – they like you and B – they're genuinely engaged with your story. If you have a great project you're passionate about you can find a strong team to surround you. It's not easy, but worth investing the time and effort upfront. The best advice I ever had from a producer is always work with people you admire and who can bring something extra to your film which you couldn't. Collaboration makes better films.
There are no rules
You certainly have to know the rules in order to break them, but the world of short film is a great place to experiment creatively and technically in a way that's not often possible in the realm of features. Shorts which stand out are ones that show us something we haven't seen or experienced before. Festivals and feature funders are looking for confident new voices and shorts are a great way to show you can tell a story successfully your way. Don't straight jacket yourself and enjoy the creative freedom. As long as you make a great film, people don't mind how you got there.
Don't accept 'no'
With the advance of technology it's ever easier to make films. If you really believe in your story and it's not set on an alien space ship, there's no reason for you not to make it. With the exception of a few brilliant official opportunities, such as the BFI fund, money for shorts is few and far between. If you can't get a bonafide fund to support you, that doesn't spell the end of your project. It does of course mean you have to make some sacrifices, but be inventive and adapt to your circumstances.
Crowd funding platforms are a recent exciting development where increasing numbers of filmmakers have managed to raise money. There are also exciting opportunities to showcase your work outside of the traditional festival world.
Don't give up and don't take no for an answer.