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Perspective of a Director

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Dave Lojek's picture
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Joined: Aug 2020
Perspective of a Director

Hello from Berlin.

I enjoy this community of screenwriters and have found many nice reads.

If you are interested in the perspective of real filmmakers and directors / producers regarding the process of what we like to read and turn into a film, we can have a nice forum topic thread here.

Subjects I can comment on are ultra-minimalism, probability and feasibility of production with regards to what I seek and what I reject. (Genres, running time, complexity, structure, arcs, plot, etc.)

I love to read well-written screenplays, of course. Yet I often receive texts from writers who have no apparent experience in actually making or watching short films in cinemas. That is deplorable, because most of the time they write things and events and scenes into their texts that are simply too expensive to make happen. Even if I specifically list all the no-gos in detail, the writers seem to ignore them and rather let their imagination run wild, because they have been socialized on commercial cinema and television or in film schools. The independent short film world is hugely diverse and has myriads of niches. This becomes apparent if you run a film festival yourself and see the submissions flooding in.

Mind you, that this is only my own personal opinion based on 25 years of directing about 178 films in Europe outside the film funding system.

If you want to know more about my experience, oeuvre, portfolio, and the cinema niches I serve, look here: https://linktr.ee/apeiron

It is best if you ask brief and specific questions here that you feel could be relevant to other writers and filmmakers as well.

Kevin Machate's picture
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Joined: May 2020

I think deplorable is a bit too strong of a word. I understand what you mean, but sometimes scripts are written for the writer, not necessarily to actually get made. 

When I was looking for my first short script to make (before I started writing), I did look for the minimalist ideas. Small cast, few locations, no special effects... I was lucky to have found one on another site that was pretty good, and as my first one, I gave it a go. It turned out pretty good. Played in a few festivals, but it was a learning experience more than anything.

I recently picked up a script on here for the same reason, although I'm putting more into that one than I did that first film, but that's really just because I know more and understand how to get what I want from my 8th short. (all self-funded)

I have seen what you're talking about though. Big car crashes, airport scenes, skyscraper explosions... All not very reasonable. But when it comes to writing, not every script is written to be made. That's actually been a really frustrating note that I've gotten from contests. I wrote it for my own purposes, knowing it wasn't going to ever get made. When I wrote Last Thursday I did so knowing it was way too expensive and too long to make with the current script.

Scriptapalooza gave notes that it was very good, but, not knowing I was an experienced short film producer, insisted that it should have been around 15 pages (Instead of 33) to "be viable for film festival programming." While the person wasn't wrong, that was never the point. If LT were to ever get produced it would cost easily $50k or more. There are 2 explosions, including blowing up an RV. Plus... Mike Tyson. I knew all of this when I wrote it.

Now all of that being said, I AM working on writing the feature. I just haven't gotten "there" yet. As you see it's a (so far) Semifinalist at AFF. I have the option to pitch to producers (Like, really big ones...) Bit I'm declining to pitch it because it's a short and isn't viable for a sale. 

Anyway, I do get what you mean, but sometimes the writer doesn't really care about what the budget would be. 

Dave Lojek's picture
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Joined: Aug 2020

Thanks for that insight, Kevin.

It should have occurred to me that some scripts are written for fun or to work out a personal issue, not primarily to get produced. They would be a great read and more like literature. In my mind the "production machine" always begins to rumble, when I read a script, though.

I was referring to the hundreds of scripts that I have received where the authors had clearly ignored my guidelines of doability. Was my expectation flawed? When people submit to specific screenplay contests, do they not want their script to be made into a film? Why waste the time of the reader / producer in this way?

Kudos on making 8 films. Every one of them will have been a lesson. It is a start. My flat learning curve even after the first 50 films I made shows I am a slow learner. But by making these first few dozen attempts, I picked up the craft of directing by simply practicing with actors and crews in real life a lot.

For me, short film is its own art form and extremely diverse. Not primarily a way to make a feature. Short film is not so industrial. Having visited hundreds of festivals with my own works and also hundreds as a spectator, the plethora of niches fuels my optimism for some kind of exposure for even the strangest and weirdest ideas.

As to your 33 pages script, I totally understand the reactions. 97 % of all 5.000 to 10.000 short film festivals on the planet have a limit of 20 minutes or less for their submissions. This leads to a lot of disappointment in film students who manage to make a 30-minute short and get ignored. They have simply overlooked that vital criterion that almost no event will ever be able to accept their film.

In reaction to that problem, a handful of festivals have created sub-sections for "middle-lenght" films around 30 minutes. There is even a German award specifically for "mittellang". They list international events that accept longer shorts. That list shows you, how few of these festivals exist (only 65 events, often with steep submission fees). The probability of getting selected or awarded depends on the film quality, of course. The competitors usually have the film school and film funding resources to give them a head start. So any producer / director who ventures to make a good 30-minute films will have to take these facts into consideration. I have seen beautiful and well-crafted movies in our cinema events in Berlin where the filmmakers had next to no exposure for these works.

My suggestion to all screenwriters that aim to have their short scripts actually turned into films is simple: Just visit as many small and big regional short film festivals as you can. They are everywhere, really, but they often have no advertising budget. Which means you have to look for them actively. When you think you are overwhelmed or disappointed by fluctuating film quality, just go and visit a few dozen festivals more and watch all the programs you can. This way you consolidate reality with your beliefs.

As festivals funnel audience attention and create a mirage of "festival feeling", you will discover the immense diversity of styles, subjects, and approaches in the programs. Most of the shorts you will see will have been written by the directors themselves, but there must me more exotic filmmakers like me, who also accepts scripts from other people.

CJ Walley's picture
Script Revolution Founder
Joined: Jul 2016

Very interesting thread. Not only do I agree that those writing short films should at least look at what short film festivals screen, they should also thing hard about if festivals are where they want to be. There is, of course, writing for students and producing proof of concepts.

Something I had to accept was that I am a poor festival script writer. It's just not really my thing. My material often feels episodic and more like mini-pilots for a series.

I've also said before that it's easy to throw a party with fanfare and fireworks so many writers can rely on big budget action as a crutch for mediocre stories.

Personally, I'd like to see is short film festivals diversifying into clear niches, some of which could more commercially orientated.

Dave Lojek's picture
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Joined: Aug 2020

Yes CJ, the festival world is diversifying every month. There are now festivals exclusively for vertical 9:16 frames (the way amateurs film with smart phones), also festivals exclusively for mountain films, sport films, drone films, mental illness subjects, forced regional connection of both filmmakers and films, festivals for oddities, provincialism, arctic themes, preservationism, documentaries about musicians, exclusively female filmmakers, exclusively punk or poetry films, scifi, zombies, vampires, activists, horror, comedies, romances, .... the list goes on and on.

So you see, in the end it is just a bit of research and you can find a niche for almost any film, even expressively bad ones, that fall into the trash film festival maker's laps. How do I know that? Well, I have played many of the aforementioned events many times over.

Once we had to change all the genders of our characters in a film, which turned it into an LGBTQI* niche product successfully. Boom.

The relevant takeaway for screenwriters is: Festivals serve as the primary exposure and testing ground for film ideas, provided that the screenplays are DOABLE. The overwhelming majority of film festivals on the planet mainly screen short films, because you can have a colorful program squeezed into a short time. Also you can earn more submission fee profits from 3000 short submissions per event as opposed to 200 feature submission. Almost no short film is presented alone. The attraction of festivals for audiences relies on the curator's craft and the promotional activities of the events.

The longer your screenplays get, the lower the probability of production becomes. It would be an interesting study to figure our how many short films are made each year (in each country) and how many features. I bet the number of shorts would be 100 or 1000 times higher than the features.

Mind you: This whole thread focuses on short films up to 20 minutes. I make no claims about TV series or feature length films here.

 

 

 

 

John Hunter's picture
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Joined: Oct 2016

Writing to a budget is the last thing on the minds of aspiring and beginning writers. Most are just trying to learn the craft and develop their voices. As a writer, a good low or no budget script is the hardest thing to do. Big FX, CGI, car crashes, explosions and a cast of thousands can and are used to make up for a weak storyline. Heck, some of my early stuff is so reckless with budgets the only way they could ever be produced would be as ebooks, animation or graphic novels. Chastened by time, experience and looking for a payday, I now try to write mid-budget and stay away from blockbusters. 

Dave Lojek's picture
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Joined: Aug 2020

I think my perspective as producer could be summed up like this: When I have to get a first impression about a screenwriter, I would look at his / her filmography to try and discover the short films that were released to the circuit. I would watch those films and then have a better grasp as to the abilities of the writer to create a text that was actually made into a film.

For me it is almost completely moot how many screenplay events and awards the writer has listed, as long as those films have not actually been made.

Reading posts here in this forum and similar pages, I have the feeling most writers don't even have 10 films to their names, yet. They all seem to think budget for long and short films is limitless.

This might be because of lack of exposure of the writers to actual short film directors.

There seems to be an interruption in the signal chain from writers to directors, although there are film schools everywhere. Or it may be the ignorance of the writers to the Kino Community, a network of film workshops on this planet that gathers all kinds of film talents but lacks enough gifted writers like you.

 

CJ Walley's picture
Script Revolution Founder
Joined: Jul 2016

You certainly have an interesting take. I don't think I'd put too much weight on short films personally. I'd just read the writer's bio/synopsis/early pages and go from there. As I said, I really don't think the short film festival circuit lends itself well to the commercial realm. In fact, in many ways, it feels juxtaposed to me. Most of the niches are introspective and tend to lend themselves to social causes, which is fine but little value to making a profitable feature film.

I've also found it can be surprising what's achievable on a budget and what isn't, and a lot of that can hinge on the director/producers you're working with.

Plus, I know of some crazy expensive shorts that have been made such as a sci-fi concept I learned about in 2018 that had $75K thrown at it. They even paid the writer five figures for the script.

John Hunter's picture
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Joined: Oct 2016

Shorts are where we learn our kung fu and find our voices. As their name implies, they are short. This gives us a great way to leave yourselves notes about ideas which can be explored or expanded at a later date. As an example, I wrote a 2 page experimental sci-fi with loads of CGI and no dialogue. On screen, it would be visually stunning, but in reality, it would be way too expensive to produce as a short. So unless a well funded filmmaker comes along and falls in love with the concept, I apparently wrote it for myself as a reminder...And yes, I followed up with a beat sheet for the feature.

CJ Walley's picture
Script Revolution Founder
Joined: Jul 2016

I agree that shorts are a great way to practice becoming an efficient storyteller. It's one of the main reasons why I've always pushed for people to get into writing them. I'm not convinced it's exclusively where a writer can master their craft and find their voice however. I've witnessed plenty of other ways of doing that. I just think aspiring writers need to know what makes a short script appealing and successful can be very different to what makes a commercial feature script appealing and successful.

Dave Lojek's picture
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Joined: Aug 2020

I agree. If writers can get their feature scripts or TV show episodes made, short films might become less relevant. The commercial TV + streamers +cinemas don't really care about shorts. If there is a "market" for them, it is minuscule.

In-between long intervals of waiting and rejections for the feature scripts, why not draft a few shorts? Sometimes these can become episodic features done by multiple directors like MONTREAL DEAD END. Sadly that film would have deserved much more exposure.

Interestingly the money-flow in short film distribution is the exact reversal of feature film distribution. For shorts the distributor needs to pay many festivals steep fees to be allowed to even submit them  (and often be rejected and having burned that money) and most often does not even get screenings fees. In features, the cinemas pay the distributor / production a rental fee to get their hands on the product to then sell it to their regular audiences.

Many outlets keep trying to force curated short film programs into the market of broadcast and streaming TV. The technology does exist. But these firms often take a hefty cut of the proceeds and it is very obscure to me, if and how there are audiences generated in this way.

Maybe some of you have more experience and results in selling your short film rights to these intermediaries. You could link and list them here.

CJ Walley's picture
Script Revolution Founder
Joined: Jul 2016

This is sadly the biggest issue short filmmakers face and I wish there was a clear solution. Perhaps some of the big streaming services will open up some sort of free submission system in time which allows them to host their own virtual festivals (which are free to watch) and helps them themselves discover valuable new talent and concepts in the process.

I think HBO are doing this to some extent with their Visionaries Contest.

Kelly Hughes's picture
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Joined: Nov 2020

Reading a screenplay and being able to see it come alive as a movie in your head is a very specific skill. Not everyone can do it.

I'm always surprised that big studios and production companies have interns and people barely out of school reading scripts for them. I think it takes experience and maturity to evaluate a screenplay.

 

Steve Garry's picture
Rockstar
Joined: Sep 2016

> In-between long intervals of waiting and rejections for the feature scripts, why not draft a few shorts?

After writing a ton of features I tried my hand at shorts.  The first three were fun enough, and I was satisfied with them,. but I got fewer read requests from those than I had with my features.  Worse, I found the shorts took me 1/2 to 2/3 as long to write as my features had! 

Well, what the heck, I might as well stick to features, which are definitely more marketable! 

But I wasn't going to let even an hour's writing go to waste, so I wrote a wrap-around storyline for the shorts, and bundled them all up into a feature ("Scary Stories for a Summer Beach Party").  And proceeded promptly to do no better with read requests. 

I "may" consider shooting one or more of the four segments of this feature as shorts, or as proof-of-concepts toward eventually including the result in the feature once full funding is located.

All in all, I look at it as just another effort to try to break in... one of a thousand different methods we all have to slog through.

CJ Walley's picture
Script Revolution Founder
Joined: Jul 2016

This is indeed one of the issues with short films for screenwriters. The effort vs payoff can be pretty weak. 

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