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Things to Consider Before Putting Pen to Paper


How does one come up with a great idea for a film?

These days with remakes, reboots and novel adaptations, it seems as though most films are graduating from having a pre-existing fan base or standalone source, which means that a pre-existing work needs to facilitate the process. Studios are much more likely to back ideas that already have merit and seem bankable based on their roots. While star power certainly has its place, it seems that it's not quite as critical as it used to be. Grand productions such as Marvel's Avengers, demonstrate that it's possible to rope in a multitude of leading celebrity actors into burgeoning ensembles making their names not as important. This trend is demonstrating that film spectacles are now becoming the stars rather than the stars themselves.

While this reliance on high concept, CGI wizardry and box office blockbuster certified films, it does seem to be slowing down. Since Disney took over Star Wars, the franchise seems to have become all too regular after the first few films were staggered by years. Now with spin-offs and reboots it seems that there is a saturation point even for the most avid fans. Coupled with the feeling that there's just too much content to consume, it's getting to the point where studios need to start considering how to build anticipation between the slate of upcoming films. With thousands of films being put together each year and the technology more accessible it's no wonder that platforms like Filmocracy are becoming a very viable and possible addition to the industry. Traditional distribution channels have broken down over the years, making it a very strange and new playground for budding filmmakers.

In the past, it seemed that there was a formula to getting your screenplay turned into a film and easier to determine which films had a much better chance of being made. Now in this uncertain time where disruption from almost every industry seems to be changing the game and resetting the parameters, it's become a very fluid environment where anything can happen and ensuring your own evolution is a must.

The Netflix model is a great example of how an industry can evolve over a few years, destroying the old video store model and creating its own production wing for original content. Producing their in-house films at a fraction of the cost of the films we are used to, the inflated numbers of yesteryear and budgets have been significantly affected. With many stars struggling to find the big paychecks that they are used to, it's becoming a much more diverse field where actors are almost being forced into producing roles.

On the plus side, successful film enterprises can result in much bigger paychecks as is the case with Will Smith in Men in Black III. However, operating on smaller budgets with less marketing spend, smaller films are going to naturally attract less numbers. While Netflix is creating its own content and films, it's also buying up content at a flat rate.

You could put together a film on a shoestring budget like Oren Peli did for Paranormal Activity, which outperformed itself many times over. Coasting on the found footage trend, the director found a niche, cleverly counterbalancing the world of low budget filmmaking and home video to concoct a franchise of horror films that probably also had an influence on the way films are made today.

Picking something that has relevance, staying power and viral appeal is key to unlocking what sells as a film. While you may want to go the artistic route, it's almost necessary to pander to the commercial interests before in order to make the film you really want to. The trick is to capture a wave so that your film will still have legs years from the inception of the concept. In order to crack the box office and achieve success at the cinemas, one needs to ensure that people are talking about it before it opens. Generating hype through guerrilla marketing is a business in and of itself and without having traditional distribution channels and marketing presence, can be a extremely costly exercise.

For the indie filmmaker, it seems important to attach oneself to a project and themes that are relevant and front of mind. Ingrid Goes West is a good example of a film that taps into the current fascination with Instagram, image saturation and the new generation of Instagram stars, who are making money off their posts and lifestyles. Toying with the idea of accessibility, which has tarnished the idea of celebrity, they manage to tap into a curious grey area, leveraging pre-existing tension around the world of social media.

While it isn't a big film, it definitely has the right idea, capturing the zeitgeist and current youth culture in the position. Picking your story needs to have a crossover of viral appeal, current affairs relevant and position itself in such a way that it doesn't overextend itself. Costing along the lines of the new wave of celebrity is a good idea, allowing the film to operate without a source, pre-existing fan base relating to pop culture but one that is rather harnessed through celebrity itself.

Tapping into the film's extended meaning to leverage publicity stunts and campaigns is another important aspect. If you're dealing with a subject like organ trafficking, then it's a good idea to create publicity material around supporting causes and creating awareness. The local film Bypass did a great job of this by tying into organisations that support the anti-trafficking message at its core. While entertainment, the far-reaching message had many synergies. One of their publicity stunts involved a truck where the trailer was transparent giving drivers the strange view of a mobile surgery where organs are being harvested.

With so many films coming out, it's a real challenge to distinguish yourself from the rest of the field, which is why the process requires so much creativity, vision and an entrepreneurial spirit. Filmmaking is always a team effort, but the scope and requirements of launching a film successfully have become a much greater challenge, forcing everyone to think outside the box, become much more resourceful and smarter. With many films being self-funded, the indie film industry should be thinking about ways to make it easier to get films to market, to self-promote and monetise the product to the point that it is able to recycle and sustain.