The Ever Elusive Feature Film

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Hollywood in Shinagawa, Japan. Photo by Paul Leeming.

Short films are fine, but they haven’t really made money since the end of the era where audiences would sit in the cinema all day and watch a Newsreel, a Cartoon, a Short Film and then a Double Feature. All for less than a dollar. But that era has long gone. The B-Movie has now overtaken cinema, and the A-movie, has been relegated to the indie scene, TV or now, Netflix and the like in the VOD wasteland. And how can one prove that they understand the movie business unless they actually get out there and make some serious – as the kids would say – bank.

I’ve spent a lot of my time as a screenwriter thinking that I’ll somehow get plucked out of obscurity and that a studio executive will wave a magic wand and I’ll be showered with money. This is never going to happen. As they say, it takes ten years to become an overnight success.

So, the game plan has radically changed. I’ve actually known this strategy for some time, but I’ve ignored it thinking that I was better than the hard slog, that I was somehow special and deserving of an express pass to fame and glory.

The strategy is this. Make a zero-budget feature film. Hopefully it only costs $10K and then we make $20K. Put the $20K into the next feature. It makes $50K, and we repeat the process until we are making million dollar features that actually get seen in a real cinema. Then, get “plucked out of obscurity” to remake Spiderman for the umpteenth time. Fail upwards, as Paul would say. Look at my new favourite filmmaker Andrew Haigh. His first film, “Greek Pete” won a few awards on the LGBT film circuit, but wasn’t setting the box office or the critics on fire. However, it was cheaply made and proved that indeed he could make a feature film. His next film, “Weekend” was the breakthrough film that set the LGBT festival circuit on fire and even went on to some box office success. This led to the “Looking” TV series, which is his most successful project, but was cancelled by HBO in it’s second season due to a lack of ratings. Yet, the fan interest has warranted a TV-movie to finish off the series. And, then, his third film, “45 Years” was nominated for an Oscar and was a minor Arthouse hit. From zero-budget to Oscar nomination in just a few steps. Fail upwards.

So, ever since going to Cannes a couple of years ago, this has been the strategy. But, ideas for zero-budget features don’t fall out of the sky. It’s hard enough to write something good, let alone something that fits a minuscule budget. But, after three (or more) attempts at writing a cheap screenplay and failing, Paul and I might have finally done it.

The key word being MIGHT.

Stay tuned. Something delicious is cooking. We’ve got a couple of buns in the oven. And the world is pregnant with possibilities.

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5 thoughts on “The Ever Elusive Feature Film

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  1. Work begets work. The only way to learn the craft of writing and film making is to do it. One of my sayings is: “Genius is the by-product of the prolific.” If you write enough script and make enough low budget films and have a modicum of talent, things will happen. In the film business, one is often rewarded just for sticking around. Stick hard, my friend. Stick hard.

    1. I was just reading a similar quote by RuPaul today saying that this business rewards those who stick it out. I can definitely see the truth in that statement.

      Here’s to sticking it out. Check out the blog come November. Hopefully, I’ll be able to report good news!

  2. Interesting and poignant. Don’t give up, you’ll find that perfect idea. And thanks — your post gave me an idea: I’m going to write a piece about how to write a screenplay for the super low budget movie. Look for it on my blog: writesmartblog.wordpress.com

  3. Nice little article. Really like that you pointed out the hard truths that every new screenwriter must face. As we are both writing screenplays, we have to face that tight rope of hope and despair, the ever present thoughts like “This screenplay may never see the light of day” VS “This might just be worth all the effort some day”. Keep up the writing and if you ever want chat screen writing or some simple encouragement, email me at leesmith2342@hotmail.com

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