The wording in the title is a little deceptive; “post-production” doesn’t mean the problems one is faced with when they put too much faith in that old adage “we can fix it in post”, I mean the time you have to wait from wrapping on production and finally getting the film out to the masses. It can be a real roller coaster: you’re going to face some extremely high highs and sometime some devastating lows and if you lose energy for your film you could be heading for a really dark tunnel; however, if you power through you’ll get off your ride feeling exhilarated and queuing up to do it all again!
Let’s examine what happens to filmmakers after they wrap. See if the following sounds familiar… You had a stroke of genius when you first conceived your story, spent days, weeks, months maybe years on a script. Then, chomping at the bit to make your film you call in every favour, save and then spend every penny on preparing, casting, producing and filming your masterpiece and eventually you get to say those sweet, sweet words… “That’s a wrap”. And then…. nothing….
You’re tired, you’re emotionally, physically and mentally drained; you’re happy but you’re running on empty. Furthermore, your ego is high with accomplishment and adrenaline and who could fault you for that – not everyone gets to this stage, well done, be proud but for heavens sake take a break! I know it’s tempting to dive straight into the edit but please let your film breathe, step back so you can come at your edit with some objective creativity.
If you can’t take a break in the true sense of the word, here’s a few things I did for my latest horror film “Time Lapse” that will hopefully make you feel productive while at the same time relaxed.
Build a website for your film
It doesn’t have to be the best website in the word, just simple and straight to the point, easy to navigate around and interesting. There are lots of free ways to build a website (wordpress, blogger, blogspot) and loads of tutorials to help you.
Write articles about your film
And I mean EVERYTHING about your film. Use what you have, you’ve spent so much time planning and preparing and filming I am sure you could write about how you conceived the idea, how you approached writing dialogue, developed the characters, how you lit certain scenes, any tips and tricks, I could go on. My point is that you have a wealth of material at your fingertips AND it shows people just how serious you take your filmmaking.
Create promo material – ready for when your film is complete
If you find yourself frantically trying to cut a trailer and slap up a few posters in photoshop then you’re probably being reactive and not pro-active. Take your time and have all the promo material in place so when the film is ready, people can be wowed by everything you produce. If you expect that all that rushing will result in 500,000 fans over night then good luck with that!
Build a fan base
Now you’ve got interesting articles, a few good production images and possibly some behind the scenes footage, start directing people to your film. Think of the site as a platform for the people of the internet to explore and become interested fans. You can do this by asking friends to follow on facebook, start a fan page, pay for some promotional marketing (a couple of £ could get you infront of 1,000’s of people) and twitter, follow like-minded people on twitter and start talking to people – it can quickly snowball!
A common mistake: most filmmakers wait until after the film is completely finished before they start looking at festivals – usually because they’re caught up in making the film look right; but ask yourself, what’s the point in making a beautiful film if no one gets to see it? Start looking for the right festivals too, don’t just blindly submit your film into everything because you’ll waste your money. If your film is a horror film then submit to horror festivals – do the research and be selective!
Distribution: Ask the right questions!
NEWSFLASH: There’s a little more to this industry than
- Enter a film into a festival
- get approached to sell your rights
- make a feature version
- win an Oscar
Now I’m not saying that it’s impossible, it’s not. It’s just difficult. So do your homework. What rights do I need to protect? Which festivals will qualify me for an Oscar and BAFTA nomination? If I want to sell my film what would be a realistic price tag? Would selling to one distributor prevent me from selling to another? All of these questions answered will empower you – The BBC have a great blog around all this issues – click here for more!
The moral of this story has been to plan your marketing early; all of the above tips can be done during post-production and it can help channel your time and energy. When the time comes to send your film out into the world, you’ll be calm, focused and look professional. Additionally, people realise that months and months of marketing material takes time so you’ll give the impression that you’re a passionate and serious filmmaker. Avoid the post-production blues, do yourself a favour and start your marketing today!
Gore over suspense or vice versa can often lead filmmakers down very different paths. Luckily there are many intersections where the two beautifully collide and tear apart. For my latest short horror Time Lapse I wanted blend the both together but I think I naturally lean towards the ‘suspense’ side of things; for any filmmaking approaching the horror genre, here’s a few things to consider.
Threaten the audience! Not Literally though…
I’ll start with a little fable – When I was a little boy, my grandmother went to the Sunday car boot and bought me a life size doll which eventually ended up sitting in the corner of my room. The night before by sheer coincidence I’d been quite naughty and crept downstairs to watch ‘Child’s Play’. Now, you can imagine what these two incidents did to my over-active imagination. Even now I can recall the feeling of lying in bed, staring at it and it staring at me! The threat was terrifying and I guess that feeling stayed with me. It was the constant threat that this doll ‘could’ come alive however more often than not, the tension was dissipated by creaky floorboards or some other weird house noises.
A shock doesn’t have to be explicit.
This is actually called the Lewton Bus Effect, first coined by Val Lewton in his fantastic 1942 horror ‘Cat People’. Since then filmmakers have been using this technique enrapture their audiences, most notably for me in William Friedkin’s The Exorsist (1973) where Regan’s mum explore the attic! Watch here – http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xrfltb_the-attic-from-the-exorcist-1973_shortfilms
Understand how to represent your characters!
In Time Lapse I really wanted my monster to personify fear so rather than show him explicitly, I wanted his character to be reflected onto his victims so much so that by the end they’re two completely different characters representing the same thing – ‘fear’ ! Joe Berlinger illustrates how effective this can be, especially for any low budget production in The Blair Witch Project.
Omnipotence is scary
When your heroes start to represent fear as well as your monster/vampire/slasher/zombie/ghost/devil then you get this overwhelming sense of omnipotence. The monster could be anywhere which also creates a sense of claustrophobia. John Carpenter truly gives you that feeling with his portrayal of maniac Micheal Myers in “Halloween“. Omnipotence has been a popular theme throughout horror’s history but really took off in the 70’s. In ‘The Omen’ (SPOILER ALERT) Richard Donner gets Damien to break the 4th wall at the end of film which is really chilling because it lets the audience know that the devil is watching.
Gore works well when the imagination works out the details…
As an independent filmmaker you may feel forced into choosing suspense over gore due to lack of time or budget or whatever but you shouldn’t let that stop you from using gore in your films. Edgar Ulmar in 1934 made a soon-to-be-cult-classic with “The Black Cat”. In it, you see Bela Lugosi flaying Boris Karloff completely in silhouette. It’s an amazing scene because your imagination does all the hard work. Imagine flaying something and hearing the screams… It’s horrible isn’t it? Now back then it may have been a logistical solution to poor SFX but I think if the modern filmmaker does it, it demonstrates fantastic restraint –
Gore doesn’t have to be seen, just suggested.
Peter Cushing will teach you a thing or two!
In the argument for gore vs suspense, neither will matter if you don’t believe the characters, especially the antagonist. In Time Lapse, it was incredibly important to get realism in all of the performances which is why I’m so grateful for my wonderful cast. Peter Cushing was a fantastic actor because however absurd the plot he brought a tremendous amount of gravitas to the performance.
That’s the history lesson over, sorry if I have been a tad bias and not really shown you any gory examples but I hope you’ve enjoy the read. Exploring this genre has been an amazing experience and I would urge any filmmaking to dive deep into Horror drawing from over 100 years of it’s rich history!
If you’d really like to learn more I would watch Mark Gatiss’ History of Horror on Youtube, a three part documentary. Extremely interesting!
I was in a meeting a few weeks ago and someone asked “What makes the difference between a ‘good’ and a ‘bad’ film?” Luckily someone jumped in as I paused for thought too long, trying and simultaneously failing to find the best Aristotle quote on good vs bad. My mind runs on Windows 98 on the best of days. To put the question in to context, it was in relation to the ‘process vs product’ debate; do filmmakers find virtue and meaning by simply making regardless of standard of film produced? Of course they do. Process vs Product is quite an interesting topic and I will write about it in the near future i’m sure. ANYWAY… We meandered around the conversation until we arrived at the subheading ‘Originality’ to which someone said
I always find that originality comes from the execution, not the idea
Think about that. Isn’t that a wonderful way of looking at your work? With nearly every story done to death how is it that original work keeps emerging? It has to be from the individuals involved hasn’t it? When I think about it it’s quite naive to think a killer script is all that will launch you into the upper echelons of the film elite.
Furthermore, I can imagine that most filmmakers can liken one of their screenings to a form of execution, I know I have. You wait until the credits role, the ‘Good Standards’ Emperor in the Gods gives you a thumbs up or thumbs down depending on the crowd’s reaction. The thumbs by the way in modern times now look remarkably like the You Tube ‘thumb’ icons.
Yes the guillotine and hang rope have been replaced with dislikes and trolling; the only notable difference it seems is that with the former you’re out of your misery, if you get the latter then you’ll really have to suffer!
So how do you create original work?
1. YOU are original.
Nevermind the camera, the software or even the story, it’s YOU that has to be the winning feature. If you can’t shoot on a RED, fine shoot on another camera. Can’t use FCP X? Edit on something else. If you’re at a point where you can be replaced then you’re in trouble. Don’t for a minute assume you know it all but recognise that your take on the film is unique.
My latest film Time Lapse uses the ‘found footage’ device, a technique that’s common in the Horror genre. I use it because I know it’s crucial to my storytelling and I know that because I understand what my story is really about. This brings me to my next point…
2. Know the truth behind your story
I learnt this lesson from BAFTA award winning writer Geoff Thompson. I was fortunate enough to meet him last year and he spoke about the search for truth and how to identify it in your work. OK, my film has recognisable traits to the horror genre but it’s not a film about found footage it’s really a film about fear and I use to explore my thoughts of the effects of fear on the human psyche. The Shawshank Redemption isn’t about prison it’s about hope. There’s a single truth to most films, you just have to look a little deeper.
3. Plan to be original
Don’t confuse ‘Originality’ with ‘Spontaneity’. Sure, spontaneity can conjure some highly creative solutions however to rely on it to always be the ‘ace up your sleeve’ is just plain stupid. Planning actually highlights all the un-original areas of your film just as much as the original areas.
For Time Lapse, I storyboarded the entire film because I wanted to see how the film would flow on paper before I picked up a camera, it was a great starting point for my camera crew and I to work from and it gave me heaps of confidence!
So let’s recap…
Relise that you have an original take on the world that no one else does. Know what your story is really about and consider how you’ll stay true to that knowledge. Plan as much as you can because it makes being original more achievable.
“A poor original is better than a good imitation.”
― Ella Wheeler Wilcox