Friday, December 12, 2008

The British Micro Wave...

I've long been threatening to finish up this post, but due to work overload and stress I'm going to have to cut my original notes down to bullet points and linkology. For that I apologize as part of my responsibility here at Pulp 2.0 is to sift through some of the ephemera of the indie film business and bring you just the pulp - the stuff that matters.

Anyhoo - apparently there is now a movement around the UK that is similar in tone,if not style to the MicroCinema movement here in the United States. The UK is producing around 100 low and micro-budget films per year that are outside "traditional" distribution channels. For clarity's sake "Low and Micro-budget" are defined as movies made for $1.62M (1M Pounds) or less. Notably less.

This movement has merited an article in the Guardian describing the movement thus:

Lately, the microbudget template has been adopted by a number of lottery and public-funded schemes. The first, Film London's Microwave division, aims to produce "commercially minded, innovative features", each with a budget not exceeding £100,000, as a cost-effective way of helping launch new film-makers. "We're not going to find talent unless we give more people a chance," says Mia Bays, Microwave's production executive. "And at £100,000, the risk is much smaller." Microwave, which is supported by BBC Films and media training body Skillset, doesn't provide the entire budget for each film; it typically invests half, then helps the producers find the rest.

Industry eyes are keenly awaiting Microwave's first two releases. Mum & Dad is a blackly comic horror about a serial-killing family. Shifty, an urban drama from 32-year-old Eran Creevy that was nominated for five British independent film awards, hits cinemas in April. Both are professionally crafted, pocket-sized movies that belie their budget. If either one succeeds at the box office, you can be sure you'll be seeing more microbudget films going into production.

Certainly, given their minimal cost, the potential for making a profit is enhanced. Once a film goes into the black, the profits are split 60/40 between Microwave and the film-makers. "So if one of the films is The Blair Witch Project or Open Water," says Bays, "then that's a pension plan for everyone who worked on it."

But of course our British cousins are learning the lessons we here know so well:

So how tough is it to make a film for £100,000? "It was horrifically difficult, because I'd never even made a short film before," says Creevy. "But as a film-maker, you trust yourself that you can do this, and you know the sort of film you can make, and hope people believe that. Preparation was a massive key."

A microbudget precludes huge explosions, far-flung locations, masses of special effects or star names, putting greater importance on story and character. "You think you've written something quite cheap, because it's one location and only a few actors. Then you realise that what you've saved on location and actors, you have to put into makeup, special effects and costume design," says Steven Sheil, director of Mum & Dad. He had to add 20 pages to his script after it was greenlit to bring it up to feature length - all without adding a penny to the budget. "I had to write five or six more scenes that had no new locations, no new characters, no new effects, no new art department."

(There's much more in the article that sounds very familiar)

And here's a page of links to explore.

According to our friends at Screen International (who don't allow links, etc...) many of the more exciting and distinctive bits of cinema of 2008 have come from the low budget end of the industry: London to Brighton, Of Time and the City, Donkey Punch and A Complete History of My Sexual Failures.

Here's Donkey Punch:

Theatrical revenues for these films is small on average, though one of the companies involved with this movement, Revolver has had theatrical success for its film Kidulthood which grossed $970K at the UK box office.

Rupert Preston of Vertigo (whose release of Football Factory sold 1.2 Million DVD units) is quoted as saying, "There is an economic reason for making films at that budget - you simply have a much better chance of earning your money back." Revolver knows this with its movie The Zombie Diaries which cost $8,100 to make and had DVD sales of more than 40,000 copies.

Preston adds, "The craziest thing we get is when we are approached by British producers with a budget which they think is low, of $3.2M or $4.8M. There's no cast. They openly say it's an arthouse film. You scratch your head and think, "They've got to wake up.' It just doesn't work."

Here are some of the companies that are bootstrapping themselves up and not waiting around for the money. They are making it happen.


Moxie Makers.


Slingshot Studios.

Warp X.

Digital Departures.

But what do they need?

Scripts they can

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