The Raindance Film Festival wrapped a week ago. Writer/Director Scott Murden, whose film The Dinner Party got a full house – and a nom for Best Debut – has recovered and he looks back at a fortnight of films and fun.
So I wrote a script. Actually I wrote several. One got optioned. One got a ‘Consider’ at a big LA production company. One got some warm fuzzy script coverage.
And one, just fucking do it, I made.
That was the easy bit.
Finishing it is what ground me down till all the gloss of being a filmmaker and screenwriter wore off. And then came the festival circuit – I mean trying to get ‘onto’ the festival circuit. Followed closely by the pursuit of sales agents/distributors/acquisition executives.
By the time my film comes out in cinemas – which goddamn looks like it might – it will be a FOUR year journey from the initial idea of “let’s make a film!” to cinema release.
And so coming to this year’s London Raindance Film Festival was such a pleasure. There were 75 features being screened and a lot of filmmakers. Meeting them and hearing their stories of how they made their films; heartwarming.
“Finishing it is what ground me down till all the gloss of being a filmmaker and screenwriter wore off.”
I thought I had it bad. I didn’t. I got a nomination for Best Debut feature and suddenly people returned our phone calls. Actually people opened the door – even if it was just an inch. Receptionists were suddenly nice. Press screenings were well attended by journalists. We sold out both our screenings days in advance. At bars, cute young actresses tried to crack onto our partners in the hope of getting an introduction to us. Crazy times.
And there were many good films to see. People who moan about the death of independent film or the lack of good films must not venture further than the local blockbuster to see them.
“Suddenly people returned our phone calls. Actually people opened the door – even if it was just an inch. Receptionists were suddenly nice.”
I saw three great films, all done for little money, all by writer/directors: ‘Humpday’ by Lynn Shelton, about two re-united straight college buddies who, after a wild party, find themselves locked in a mutual dare: to film themselves having sex together for an amateur porn contest. Asiel Norton’s beautiful and haunting ‘Redland’ set in the deep forests of California about a family trying to survive the 1930’s depression. And also ‘Exam’ the directorial debut by Stuart Hazeldine, an in demand Hollywood script doctor, whose film is a kind of ‘Lord of the Flies’ set in a group interview and asks, ‘how far would you go for the ultimate job?’.
There were a number of other films that I wanted to see but didn’t, including ‘Down Terrace’, ‘Colin’ and ‘Crying with Laughter’, each with their own interesting premises all of them with a cinema release in the UK and even possibly in Australia.
It was then interesting to be interviewed live on Sky News about the dire state of the Independent film scene. How hard is it to raise money to make independent films? How hard is it to get your film noticed?
Well, ‘Colin’ a Zombie film and a hit at this years Cannes Film Festival supposedly cost £45(AUD$100) to make. Do you have that much money? Then go make a film. Don’t want to make your film on video? ‘Redland’ pitched their film to Panavision, who were excited by the look that they wanted to capture using new lenses and filters that Panavision were developing. Panavision gave their equipment for free. ’Humpday’, made for US$5,000 and shot in 8 days, is now being touted as a minor classic.
“‘Colin’ a Zombie film and a hit at this years Cannes Film Festival supposedly cost £45(AUD$100) to make. Do you have that much money? Then go make a film.”
The filmmaking in all the films I’ve mentioned may not be conventional or even completely professional, though ‘Exam’ certainly was. At the very least these films had a great idea, well executed in the script, and were highly innovative either in how they made the film or in its point of view; ‘Redland’ felt like a story being told by the forest. And of course some good performances helped.
But to me, what made each of these films great, was the well-crafted script and an original, fresh idea. This, the filmmaker has full control over. Not money or time, or the clash of personalities of cast and crew. They will derail all your best intentions.
A good, well told story is what holds it all together. Craft and innovation will get you noticed. Eventually.
Scott Murden’s film career began soon after graduating from the New York Film Academy’s 8 week intensive, where he was involved in 16 short films. Two months later he was writing his first feature screenplay for a H’wood producer after he successfully pitched it to H’wood writer and story guru Jeff Schechter. Before starting on his digital feature THE DINNER PARTY Scott had written, directed an produced 10 short films.