Last week has proved to me how powerful a deadline can be. I already know this - from setting dates for shooting and working toward it - but this week took my belief and reinforced it ten fold.
Shit happens. It happens everyday to everyone but for writers sometimes that shit is the difference to whether they go find some time in their own head and get something written, or whether they decide it's all too hard and don't write, thus missing an opportunity.
Stuff was happening all around me. At work - a high pressured contract was reaching delivery point, this week I had three meetings with very senior figures in a not insubstantial organisation to show progress and demonstrate what happens next. Family wise - death of an aunt, tooing and frooing on arrangements and spinning plates to keep eye on arrangements for a funeral.
In the midst of this, last Friday was the ifeatures deadline. I'd already bowed out of writing one treatment as I got a bit too carried away thinking I was further on than I was with it - so the second treatment, Project O, which I was developing with Producer Roxy Holman HAD to happen.
Come Monday the treatment was nowhere near where it needed to be and I was running out of time, patience and ideas with it.
The easier thing to do - with some perfectly valid excuses - would be to politely explain I couldn't do it but I chose instead to stick with my commitment to writing the treatment and making it happen.
I pulled in an SOS favour from Lucy Hay on Monday night concerned that the latest draft was a turd. While not an 100% turd, her notes confirmed the plot - as I laid it out - had the skits. Roxy confirmed with a set of eerily similar notes - my take, if twelve Russians tell you your drunk, stop drinking!
I stripped it back to the concept and started rebuilding the story block by block - from here I sent over a potted new structure to the two of them. It was on the right track, but with a few more notes, I fluffed it even further. A near all nighter and a lot of coffee, the treatment was with Roxy for Friday Morning.
//As a side point, the above ability to strip it back to concept and rebuild can - in my honest and humble opinion - only happen fully when you are at a treatment stage with the idea. The moment you start getting into first full drafts etc, you're married to how it happens and then need a shit load of distance to change things.//
I have no idea what it will do in I features - I hope it goes through. It's a brilliant scheme and I'd love to see Project O developed further but the process to getting it to this point has been great for me already.
I did it! I fucking delivered on something that at the beginning of the week most people would walk away from. And when you are trying to transition from "amateur with credits" to "professional seeking payment", you have to pull out the stops and deliver on things even when you don't want to, when the circumstances around you give you excuses not to, and when everyone else would have walked away.
You have to dig deep. No-one says this shit is easy but few tell you how damn hard and draining it is. You have to keep turning up, when you don't want to.
Bottom line - even if it doesn't get into ifeatures - the story is better, the treatment is better, I hit the deadline, the producer knew I delivered and the project has a momentum. That to me is a win.
Spare Change, directed by Andy Carslaw, is a short I wrote and produced at the tail end of 2013. We were looking for a 2//3 page short that was relatively easy to film in a couple of nights. This sure as heck gave us a taste of night shoots *shudder* not something that I would run back to with any great gusto soon! Total budget under £500.
And here is the result - a morality tale of a business man who shuns a homeless man asking for change, only to have the tables turned on him
Ah Christmas Holidays - that time of year when you get to catch your breathe between one year and the next, even if it is only for a few days.
For me, I have just finished one short term contract and I'm about to get head long into another one. So the Christmas break has been a brilliant time to consider what I've achieved this year and what projects I want to line up for next year.
Being an old sales hand, I call it pipelining. The industry calls it having a slate. It's the same thing, and serves the same end purpose of having a number of projects in various stages of development ready to go when the money should appear.
So I have three shorts on slate as writer/director. Cancer Hair is almost finished and I'm looking to follow it up with at least another film next year.
I have a 20/25 minute hard hitting drama, another 10 minute shades of light and dark comedy drama and a historical adaptation of something that I CAN'T FUCKING BELIEVE has not been adapted. All shorts.
Feature wise I have a couple of ideas I need to sit down and actually fucking storyline. I know there are big schemes like ifeatures and Microwave coming up and I want to have something ready to go out to them.
But, and here is the rub - all this planning is great but the shorts need money, and the features need producers standing over me yelling at me...on top of all of this, I need to go out and earn money to pay the bills.
The life of an independent filmmaker - eh? Half the time your head is in the clouds, half the time your feet are firmly anchored to the ground - no wonder you feel a little stretched.
I love it when a plan comes together. Fresh off the back for being in the top 100 scripts for the 12/13 Collabor8te scheme, my little short story/script "Me for my Father" is now shortlisted for the BBC Opening Lines strand. This is where up to 3 short stories are turned into Radio Plays for newbie writers such as myself by the BBC.
I'm really pleased about this. "Me for My Father" is going to be made this year with Producer Sean Langdon, hopefully where it was set, in and around Lanarkshire, Scotland.
It's about a young lad, on the verge of becoming a teenager, who has to take his fathers place as a pallbearer at a family funeral. The funeral, and the subsequent wake, brings a mysterious stranger into the family circle and dark, deep secrets are revealed. Told through the young lad's eyes, its about being an outsider in your own family and feeling like you never quite belong.
After weeks of hard work, blood, sweat and a few tears we are now getting ready to pitch Cancer Hair to the Film London/Eastern Edge Film Fund.
Exciting, and frankly, nerve racking stuff.
The one thing that has come bounding out of this process for me how clear our vision for the film has become.
From a script on its umpteenth redraft, with solid characters that have a journey throughout the story, to the step by step storyboards, from Mood Boards declaring the look and feel of the film, through to the production schedule - we have pulled up the bonnet of this project and really tinkered with the engine.
I’ve always found deadlines a great clarifier. They allow focus your mind and in turn your mind focuses on what you need to do to make it happen for that specific timescale. This has been no different. If we hadn’t had the Eastern Edge deadline we’d likely have drifted until after Easter with a vague idea that this was going to be our project this year. Instead, regardless of the decision from the panel, we have a short film – budgeted, written, storyboarded and ready to go.
And so, to the pitch.
How’s your 2013 been so far? Mine is shaping up very well.
I’m using my *almost* daily schlep to Ealing as time to either re-read Writing books (chewing my way through the Save the Cat series again) or actually write and plot plan. Once you get over the daily commuters looking over your shoulder it’s actually quite fun and heck of a lot more productive use of the near 4 hour round trip than sitting listening to my Ipod.
But the best bit of 2013 so far has been the news that Cancer Hair, the short I’m planning to make this year, has been shortlisted for the Eastern Edge Film Fund. Huzzah.
Cancer Hair is a 10 minute short about an ambitious short film project about a self-conscious woman in remission from cancer who goes on a date with a likely-lad who wants a one night stand.
I’m absolutely thrilled about this. It gives me, and producer Andy Carslaw, the opportunity to develop the project with more experienced filmmakers, re-jig the budget and really get the ball rolling on it.
Our plan is to forge ahead with the project anyway, but being aligned to the Eastern Edge Film Fund would give it a kudos that we had only hoped for.
Fingers crossed! I’ll let you know how it goes – and how/what the training is all about.
Gail Hackston is a filmmaker, screenwriter and producer. Her blog is about getting things made in the UK Film Industry.