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I'm not an expert in anything, but occasionally people ask me for advice about how to get into filmmaking, or how to distribute their film. There's no one right answer, but here are my opinions based on my small personal experiences.

1 - How do you get into the film business?
2 - Should you go to film school?
3 - How can you fit filmmaking around your day job?
4 - How do you move from short films to feature films?
5 - How do you raise money for your film?
6 - How do you get post production done for free?
7 - How do you get distributors to watch your film?
8 - How do you organise your own cinema release?
9 - How do you organise your own DVD release?

1 - How do you get into the film business?

Don't try. The film business is just a business which happens to be about making films. You're much more likely to make a personal, unique, and interesting film if you're on the outside.

So don't aim to be in the film business. Aim to make films. And then if the business decides that those films are good, they will welcome you in. They need people to make films for them. But they're only likely to commission you if you've already made a film that is good.

2 - Should you go to film school?

I don't know, because I didn't go to film school. However from my experience of making one small film, I think that filmmaking is so practical and changeable and unpredictable than it seems almost impossible to teach it in a classroom. So I suspect the money you spend on film school might be better spent on making lots of cheap short films and then a feature film. Learn on the job. Once you've got access to a camera and a laptop, you should make loads of short films all the time. But it's really important not to spend any money on them. The most important aspects of filmmaking are the script, the performances, and the camerawork. Those are the only things you should be worrying about. And, if you plan carefully, they don't have to be terrifyingly expensive.

The best thing you'll get from a short film is the chance to discover your own style. And the only way you can do that is by eliminating the wasteful bits of filmmaking, and just concentrating on what's most important. Don't worry about making it look professional. You're not professional, and no one is expecting you to be.

3 - How can you fit filmmaking around your day job?

Unfortunately, there's no magic job that pays you money and also gives you time to write and direct films. You always hope that you'll have some more free time to work on your own stuff soon, but unfortunately that happy day probably won't arrive until you're retired. You just have to make time, and basically get by on less sleep. I worked long hours as a runner at a commercials production company, which maybe made it slightly harder to find time to work on my own projects - but it did teach me everything technical that I know about filmmaking.

4 - How do you move from short films to feature films?

After you've made lots of short films and watched lots of long films, you should have a pretty good idea of what you think works and what doesn't work. So go ahead and do it. It's a lot more effort, and it's initially daunting, but there's no big secret to it. You just have to make loads of mistakes and then figure out the most simple and tasteful ways to correct them.

By making short films completely independently, you'll have learnt how to do everything yourself. This is great, because you'll probably have less time and fewer resources when you're making a feature film. When there's a problem, you'll be able to fix it yourself.

5 - How do you raise money for your film?

The main thing is to keep the budget as low as you possibly can. Don't try to be a small version of a normal studio film. Start from nothing - assume you'll have no money at all, and then only spend money on the absolute essentials. Adapt the script to a few locations which you can use for free. Keep lighting to a minimum. Have the smallest crew possible. Learn how to do all the post production yourself. This is all tough, but it does mean that you'll work more efficiently.

Once you know the minimum budget you need, put together a really impressive document about your film. Make a demo trailer. Show people the short films you'd previously made for no money. Then you might do well on a site like Kickstarter or Indiegogo. If you're lucky enough to know anyone who might consider directly investing in your film, then you should consider registering your company under the government's EIS scheme. It offers tax incentives for people to invest in films (and other 'risky' businesses), but making the most of this initiative is complicated and involves seeking professional advice.

I found the accounting side to be the hardest part of making Black Pond, because I hadn't done anything like it before. Registering the company, issuing share certificates, setting up PAYE, filing regular company accounts - it's boring and confusing and if you get it wrong then you're breaking the law! It's not something you want to make a habit of. Except you actually have to do all that year after year after year until you shut the company down. My point is, it definitely is possible to make a film completely independently, but you just should be aware that it is stressful and ridiculously time-consuming.

6 - How do you get post production done for free?

You can't. We tried. Post production is always expensive, and even though we met lots of people who were happy to help us do it for free, they just didn't have the time to spare to do a good job. But that was ok, because we already knew how to do it. So I'd advise that before you start making the film, you need to be able to shoot the extra footage, edit the whole film, do all the colour grading and any special effects you need. That said, on Black Pond we had our sound mix done professionally. That made a huge difference.

7 - How do you get distributors to watch your film?

Don't bother. Distribution companies are big and expensive, and they need to make a lot of money to survive. A low budget debut film isn't helpful to them - from their perspective it's just too much hassle. And if you do manage to get distribution, you will lose the rights to your film and almost certainly never see a penny in return. That's not necessarily a bad thing. People respect you more if you have proper distribution, even if you lose money in the process.

Distribution companies only became interested in Black Pond once the film was nominated for a BAFTA. And the contracts we were given to sign were extremely unfavourable. That's why we organised the cinema and DVD release by ourselves.

8 - How do you organise your own cinema release?

We had no idea before we started. But in retrospect, here's what we happened to stumble upon for Black Pond - and luckily they worked well for our particular film at one particular time.

First, you need to get into a festival, and get some really good reviews for your film. If you don't do that, it's not going to work.

Then you take those reviews to the best cinema you can find, and hire it out for a week. You'll have to pay them up front - buying out maybe like 60% of the seats.

So technically, you've now got a cinema release. This means that critics could conceivably review your film in a newspaper or magazine. But you need them to watch it and print their reviews before the cinema release. And to do that, you need to hire a smaller cinema a month in advance. Make a great press pack, cut together a great trailer, and invite all the critics to your screening. If they can't come, send them a DVD. Every film-reviewing publication has a website, and you'll find the contact details there.

Hopefully, on the first day of your week-long run at that one cinema, the critics will publish reviews. If the reviews are bad, then that's the end of it. But if those reviews are good, then you can call up every independent cinema in the country, and use the reviews as proof of why it would be good for them to show your film. There's no special tactic, but it is a very time-consuming and frustrating process.

It's important to say that you will make very little money out of the cinema release. But it's still good to do because it raises the profile of the film, makes you eligible for awards, and means that you get to talk to the film's audience when you do Q&A sessions after the screenings. For info, Black Pond's budget was £20,000 - we made about a third of that back from the cinema release, but still had to spend another £5,000 on cinema distribution costs.

9 - How do you organise your own DVD release?

There are quite a few sales companies that do the tricky bit of making DVDs and getting them into shops. Have a look on the internet and find one that seems good for you. They give you a far better deal than a big DVD distributor, but you'll have to sort out the publicity, packaging, certification and insurance by yourself.

As with all of this stuff, there's no great mystery to it, but it does involve a lot of hard work. However, the return is brilliant: you keep the rights to your film, you find out for yourself how it all works, and you're more likely to see some money back from it. We've so far made about a third of Black Pond's budget back from DVD sales. Lots of people say that iTunes or other film streaming sites are a good option because they avoid the huge start-up costs for making DVDs (we had to spend about £6,000 on things like certification and production). It's true you won't lose any money from the internet, but you won't make any money either. Black Pond has just made a few hundred pounds from streaming sites so far. You're best off selling proper DVDs.

The gist is:

There is no mystery to making films. It's just trial and error. The more you try and the better you become at solving your mistakes, the more likely it is that you'll make a good film.

Once you've made a good film, the industry will come to you. And you'll be offered a bigger budget and less creative control than you had before. And then you'll find yourself in the very nice dilemma of choosing whether to take their money or not.

PS - There's some more precise info about how Will Sharpe and I made Black Pond on the Black Pond site.

   
  Tom Kingsley is a film director nominated for a BAFTA for his debut feature Black Pond. He has also directed videos for Fatboy Slim, Darwin Deez and the Guillemots.