Escalator – New Zealand Film Commission

I realise this post isn’t exactly timely, but I’ve been a little bit obsessed with getting our application in for Escalator over the past couple of weeks. Which we did, and I actually really enjoyed the process, even down to fitting each synopsis onto one page without dropping the font size to 6…

The following is a seriously abridged version of Blake Snyder’s Beat sheet. I use it EVERYTIME I write a script and it helps me make sure I’m not missing anything. This time I used it for all 3 synopses. I basically wrote a short paragraph for each beat, then wove them together. Do get his book (Save the Cat) if you want more detail. I highly recommend it.

Opening Image – The first impression, which sets the tone, mood, type and scope of your movie. Come back to this when you are writing your final image to make sure you are showing the change that has taken place place. This is the ‘before’ to your ‘after’.

Theme Stated – The main question you are exploring/answering in the film. What the protagonist will learn. Often this is stated around the 5 minute mark, not usually by the main character.

Set Up – Sets up the hero, the stakes, and the goal of the story. Mention the protagonists character flaws that need fixing.

Catalyst – Around 12 minutes something happens that sets off the whole adventure.

Debate – The protagonist debates whether they should accept this challenge. Should I go? Dare I go? What’s my choice? Stay here?

Break Into Two – Your character accepts the call to action and steps, (generally willingly and knowingly), into the new world.

B Story – Around a third of the way in another side story beings. It could be the love story, or introduce new characters, it gives your story more depth and dimension.

Fun and Games – Now have fun exploring your idea, the fun stuff that makes you want to tell your story goes here. I usually find this the fun and easy part to write. And this is where you’ll get the fun images for your movie poster.
eg. Jim Carrey gets to walk around and act like God in Bruce Almighty.

Midpoint – This is usually a high (which will soon collapse) or a low when the world collapses all around the hero (though it’s a false low). It is the point where the fun and games are over and we head back to the real story.

The MidPoint has a matching beat call “All Is Lost,” which is described as “false defeat.” These two points are a set. The two beats are the inverse of each other. The rule is: It’s never as good as it seems to be at the midpoint and it’s never as bad as it seems at the All Is Lost moment.

Bad Guys Close In – All seems fine, but the bad guys decide to regroup and send in the heavy artillery. It’s the point where internal dissent, doubt, and jealousy begin to disintegrate the hero’s team.

All Is Lost – All aspects of the hero’s life are in shambles. There’s no hope. A lot of great movies use the All Is Lost point to kill someone. Obi Wan in Star Wars is the best example – what will Luke do now?

Dark Night of the Soul – This is the point just before the hero reaches way, deep down and pulls out that last, best idea that will save himself and everyone around him. S/he shouts “Oh Lord, why has thou forsaken me?”. Then and only then, when the hero admits their humility and humanity, and yields control of the events over to Fate, do they find the solution. They must be beaten AND KNOW IT to get the lesson.

Break Into Three – Thanks to the characters found in the B Story (the love story), thanks to all the conversations discussing them in the B Story, and thanks to the hero’s last best efforts to discover a solution to beat the bad guys who have been closing in and winning in the A Story, lo, the answer is found.

Finale – The third act where it’s all wrapped up and the lessons learned are applied. It’s where the A story and B story end in triumph for our hero. It’s the turning over of the old world and the creation of a new world order. This is where the bad guys are dispatched (in ascending order).

Final Image – The final image in a movie is the opposite of the opening image. It is your proof that change has occurred and that it’s real.

And that’s pretty much the formula I followed, and then cut it down, down, down to fit on one page. And then tackled the log lines… I had a formula for them too. It took a bit of tweaking, and polishing, but this way helped me make sure our stories made sense, and were the best they could be, given that we had two weeks to get them down.I’m copying this straight from Blake’s blog because I can’t improve on it. Basically, after filling out the Beat Sheet above you take elements and put them into the log line.


On the verge of a Stasis=Death moment, a flawed protagonist has a Catalyst and Breaks Into Two with the B Story; but when the Midpoint happens, he/she must learn the Theme Stated, before the All Is Lost, to defeat (or stop) the flawed antagonist (from getting away with his/her plan).


On the verge of another “suit and tie” assignment, a tomboy FBI agent is assigned to go undercover in the American Miss Pageant and has a complete makeover to blend in with the other contestants; but when the pageant receives a new threat, she must learn she can be a woman and tough, before she gets thrown off the case, to defeat the warped pageant organizer bent on revenge. (Miss Congeniality)

And there you have it. Of course, this is in no way saying our application is a sure thing, but it sure was fun to do, and our synopses feel right because the structure is strong.

So good luck with your applications, and now back to the real world… hahaha – as if I have a ‘real’ world…


Digital filmmaking 101 – Dale Newton and John Gaspard

I didn’t think I’d like this book. I bought it months ago, put it on my shelf and promptly forgot what it was about. I picked it up again based on the title as I kinda thought it was about the nuts and bolts of what you teach film students, and since I’m tutoring a video production paper again I thought I’d flick through it for ideas.

It’s not that kind of book. At all. It’s better.

What it IS is a really great guide to producing low budget movies. These guys have been there and done it, right and wrong, and they still love the process. And they love to share their knowledge and experience.

They discuss scripts including ideas for how to write low budget films. They show you how it’s possible to make a feature for around $8k (US$), what that includes, where to spend more money if you have it, and where to pinch pennies. They even tell you exactly what gear you’re going to need. They make suggestions for how to raise funds, breakdown your script, cast and crew up, and how to make it through production. They even have a section for special effects on a low budget, with lots of anecdotes about their own indie effects.

I was surprised that they went into great detail (and books usually lose me at this point) and it was still interesting, readable, and on every page I found hints and ideas that I will utilise on my next ultra-low budget film. And though they are very realistic in their expectations for their movies, their excitement is infectious.

Now excuse me, I have to go work on my application for Escalator!

Good luck with yours 🙂

Unleashing the Idea Virus – Seth Godin

I really like a lot of Seth’s ideas. I’ve reviewed his book Linchpin (hate that word though), but what I find is he’s very wordy, and repetitive, which is great for retention, but not good when you have limited time. So here’s the Cliff Notes for Unleashing the Idea Virus, which is actually free to read online. And I’m passing it on to you, which makes it an idea virus…

People used to get rich owning farms, then factories… now is the age of the idea. Which is cool. Because we’re full of good ideas 🙂 “If something is new and different and exciting and getting buzzed about, we want to knowabout it, be part of it. The fashion is now to be in fashion, and ideas are the way we keep up”

Basically the gist is that in the past advertising has been about interrupting a customer from what they are doing, to give them a message they don’t want to hear, about a product they don’t want to buy. And though for the last 100 years this may have been the best/only way to inform a customer about a product, it’s not the best way now, and it doesn’t really work. Instead of talking TO customers, we need to help customers to talk to each other.

A better way to advertise is to find people who ARE interested in your product (movie, short, whatever) and GIVE it to them, and then they will LOVE it, and tell people about it, and there’s your marketing. And it cost a lot less than traditional advertising. It does take a bit of work though. If your product is a movie, giving copies to everyone you know may not be the best way. Your Mum might rave about it to all her friends, but her friends know she’s being a proud Mum and it isn’t an indication of the quality of the movie. But if you make a movie about a Tattoo artist, and you give copies to the top Tattoo artists, and THEY love it, and THEY tell other artists… who tell their customers… who tell their friends…

The key is to find the people who will spread your message. Seth calls them Sneezers. And Sneezers have different value. We all know people who pass on everything, whether it’s of value or not. And generally we block them on facebook, making their Sneezing ineffective. And then there’s the Promiscuous Sneezer who passes things on because they will gain from it somehow, which takes away their effectiveness. The Powerful Sneezers are the people who not only pass things on, but people believe them. They can’t be bought, and “they do it because it’s remarkable, thoughtprovoking, important, profitable, funny, horrible or beautiful”

Seth is not just talking about Viral Marketing that uses the internet as it’s medium of travel (remember he published this in 2000), but about all viral ideas (and he uses a heap of interesting examples). Basically, have an idea worth spreading, make it easy to pass on, create a group of supporters, be persistent.

Quick ideas:

  • Be the best, or the most, or the cheapest, or the fastest… this is news worthy and can be passed on.
  • Create something that people want, maybe didn’t even know they wanted, but when they see it they must have it.
  • People are hesitant to try something new, especailly if it costs. You have to let them know that your idea (film) has arrived. That’s it’s a done deal before you’ve even started shooting. That the water’s warm and the air is safe to breathe.
  • Don’t be afraid to give stuff away for free. Even if it’s your whole movie streaming free online for a limited time. The more people who know about your movie the more it’s worth.
  • Don’t make the mistake of marketing only to your arty film/theatre friends. They don’t necessarily push your marketing over into the mainstream, where about 90% of people are.
  • Make your idea (film) easy to remember, talk about, pass on.

Like Linchpin, I wish this book was available as a fold out brochure, or an 18 minute TED lecture, but I did find all the case studies interesting, and there’s a lot of food for thought.

Oh, and if you’d like more info on why people pass on ideas, there’s a great (though probably not exhaustive) list from Seth here.

Your Brand: You

The Brand Called You – Tom Peters

This entry is a summary/adaptation of an interesting article I read about self-branding written by Tom Peters back in 1997. The original article is geared more towards people working in large companies, so I’ve tailored some of it to be more applicable to marketing filmmakers.

To be in business today, our most important job is to be head marketer for the brand called You.

It’s that simple — and that hard. And that inescapable.

In this industry you learn stuff, develop your skills, hone your abilities, move from project to project, and you figure out how to distinguish yourself from other filmmakers. During this process you need to create a distinctive role for yourself, and create a message and a strategy to promote the brand called You.

Ask yourself: What do I do that makes me different, indispensable, intriguing? Start by identifying the qualities or characteristics that make you distinctive from other filmmakers. What do people say is your greatest and clearest strength? Your most noteworthy personal trait? What makes you stand out?

So how do you market brand You? You work on other people’s projects. Teach. Blog or write for the paper. Meet people. This article was written in 1997, before social media was on the scene so I’m sure he’d write it differently not but basically you need to be visible.

This next paragraph is important so I’m cutting and pasting.

The second important thing to remember about your personal visibility campaign is: it all matters. When you’re promoting brand You, everything you do — and everything you choose not to do — communicates the value and character of the brand. Everything from the way you handle phone conversations to the email messages you send to the way you conduct business in a meeting is part of the larger message you’re sending about your brand…The big trick to building your brand is to find ways to nurture your network of colleagues -consciously…Most important, remember that power is largely a matter of perception. If you want people to see you as a powerful brand, act like a credible leader.

I also particularly like this idea about résumés:

You don’t have an old-fashioned résumé anymore! You’ve got a marketing brochure for brand You. Instead of a static list of titles held and positions occupied, your marketing brochure brings to life the skills you’ve mastered, the projects you’ve delivered, the braggables you can take credit for. And like any good marketing brochure, yours needs constant updating to reflect the growth — breadth and depth — of brand You.

And this concept of a career:

A career is now a checkerboard. Or even a maze. It’s full of moves that go sideways, forward, slide on the diagonal, even go backward when that makes sense. (It often does.) A career is a portfolio of projects that teach you new skills, gain you new expertise, develop new capabilities, and constantly reinvent you as a brand.

What you want is a steady diet of more interesting, more challenging, more provocative projects. Instead of making yourself a slave to the concept of a career ladder, reinvent yourself on a semiregular basis. Start by writing your own mission statement, to guide you as CEO of Me Inc. What turns you on? Learning something new? Gaining recognition for your skills as a technical wizard? Shepherding new ideas from concept to market? What’s your personal definition of success? Money? Power? Fame? Or doing what you love? However you answer these questions, search relentlessly for job or project opportunities that fit your mission statement. And review that mission statement every six months to make sure you still believe what you wrote.

It’s this simple: You are a brand. You are in charge of your brand. There is no single path to success. And there is no one right way to create the brand called You. Except this: Start today.

You can find Tom Peter’s original article here or check out his web site here

Friends with Benefits – Darren Barefoot and Julie Szabo

A Social Media Marketing Handbook

I hate to think what the nice christian librarian thought about me borrowing this book, and to be honest I kind of hid the cover when I was reading it in public, but that aside it was actually quite a good read. Not my favorite out of the Social Medial Marketing books I’ve read (this could be in part because a lot of it is duplicating info I’ve already come across) but it certainly has some good ideas. And some contradictory notions that are good, in that it makes me think hard about which advice I follow instead of blindly following. A lot of the book was geared towards businesses, like companies rather than creative industries, so I kinda skim read a lot of it.

I did appreciate the thoughts on blogging, in particular thinking about if you should have a blog at all (generally, yes) and what its focus should be, and how to use it.

There were also hints on how to attract people to your blog, such as

  • Write a ‘top ten’ list, or any list. Top 31 films in 2010 would work, too.
  • Share stories about technology innovation. Easy in our business.
  • Teach something. This also covers video blogs, how to… stuff.
  • Be political.
  • Be controversial.
  • And post anything cute and cuddly. Which is very big online, apparently, but I just can not bring myself to do it. Ever.

It also suggests you become active on other people’s blogs, Boing Boing, Digg, etc, but don’t go around plastering advertising for your blog. I know I never follow those kinds of links, on principle really.

One point I found interesting is that it doesn’t matter how professional your youtube clips are. I generally strive to have them polished and high quality, but most people don’t seem to, and that’s become the norm. And keep it to around 2 minutes, which is hard for me, but I know I get bored with a lot of stuff after about this length of time. Except some of the TED stuff. That’s great.

Oh, and I knew this but I need reminding so it doesn’t get me down, only about 1% of people on an online community create content, that is to ‘like’ or comment on videos. The rest are lurkers who visit without interacting. Sometimes it feels like you’re writing into a void, but hey, maybe 99 people have passed through and you just haven’t had the 1 person who will comment yet. Or maybe you just need to rethink what you’re blogging about… 🙂

So, over all, Friends With Benefits is worth a look for filmmakers, but maybe borrow it from the library rather than purchasing it.

A collaborative film production platform

I’m kinda loving Wreckamovie at the moment. The basic premise is filmmakers can crowdsource elements of their production. Music. Artwork. Crew. Ideas. Whatever. It’s kind of fun to see what other people are doing, and actually find that there are people you can quite easily help. I’ve passed on a few pieces of original music, and also recommended some composers who aren’t in the habit of pushing their product but who will benefit from having their music as part of a movie soundtrack.

Initially the name a is a little off-putting but Wreckamovie was created by the filmmakers from Finland who made the feature Star Wreck. They then decided to create a free platform that would allow other filmmakers to easily crowdsource their own movies. They also like to claim they are “wrecking the traditional model of filmmaking”. Okay, sounds like a good afterthought. 🙂

One thing to note is that if you submit a file (“shot”) it seems you are thereby giving permission for the project to use the materials or ideas royalty-free, so might be good to make it clear if you have terms you’d like to have them agree to first.

Wreckamovie sounds to me like both a great tool to get your film made, and to help other indie filmmakers!!

El Cosmonaut

A Film Project by Riot Cinema Collective

“A Sci-Fi movie that uses crowdfunding and Creative Commons licenses. It will be distributed through the internet, DVD, TV and cinema at the same time, creating an experience

I’m really floored by what these guys are doing. Based in Spain they have created a new model for film making that seems almost perfect. Their website is excellent (and bilingual), the transparency in their production is enticing, they have crowdfunding, a timeline that shows the development of their project, videos of their team that are appealing and exciting, I’m so impressed with the whole package.

If you’re looking for ideas for how to market your film this site is a must. There haven’t been many films that I have been inspired to contribute to their crowdfunding efforts, but this was definitely one. They have very cool things available in their shop For just 2 euros you become a ‘Producer’. This is from their site:

What does being a producer include? (*please see update at bottom of post)

  • Your name appears in the movie’s credits
  • We’ll send you a certificate with a few small gifts
  • You’ll be entered into the prize draw for one of our authentic cosmonaut suits

That is great thinking. I’m sold, which is a bit odd because honestly, what would I ever do with an authentic cosmonaut suit, except make a sci fi movie, which is EXACTLY what I’ll do if I win. Promise!

*Update: They’ve changed this offer now. Apparently sometime soon after I paid for the the producer pack they decided it was no longer financially viable to send them out unless you purchased something else from their store. They also no longer send ‘a few small gifts’ but just 1 badge. I understand the change, but IMO it would have been good marketing to honor the previous offer to those who purchased it. Just sayin’