Someone once told me that one of the best ways to improve my own writing was to produce a film. “Yeh, that’s not gonna happen,” I laughed. “I wouldn’t know where to start!”
Then came along Create50’s ‘The Impact’ Initiative which offers 50 writers the chance to have their own screenplays put out to producers. I entered six scripts and sat back, getting more and more excited as first the long list was announced, then the short list, then the winners.
I remember the moment only too well. I was sat at my desk, trying to keep my mind usefully engaged until the announcement time. As the minutes ticked away and the tension and excitement began to build up inside me, I contemplated what it might be like to actually see the words I’d written being acted out on the big screen; oh, how wonderful that would be! I glanced at the computer clock; two minutes to go.
Then… *Bing!* I received a text message from my daughter, Alexandra: “You’ve done it, Mum!” she wrote. “Done what?” I replied. *Bing* Another text with the link to the announcement of the winners. One of my three finalist listed scripts, In Vino Veritas, had been chosen!
That was it, the moment that I realised that my dream had just become a real possibility.
Half a box of tissues and some incredibly bad mum-dancing later, the decision was made. I couldn’t just sit back and hope that someone would pick up and produce the script, I had to make it happen for myself. I had to become a producer.
“Don’t panic,” I thought. “You have good organisational skills and know your way around a budget; how hard can it be?”
Looking back, one word describes those first thought processes… “Clueless!” Having never produced anything before, I hadn’t had the opportunity of being on a set during filming and therefore had grossly underestimated the learning curve ahead.
So what have I learned so far on this incredibly exciting, humbling, liberating and sleep-deprived journey?
1. Be prepared to put in the hours and be ready for an information overload.
I can’t emphasise this enough! However long you think it is going to take to complete one task – quadruple it! This is a steep learning curve for a first-timer, where just about everything is new, daunting and complex. Don’t panic! Make lists. Work your way slowly and methodically through each task and try not to become overwhelmed when it inevitably begins to dawn on you how little you know about the industry. It is all good; you are learning on the job, well done you! However, use your time wisely and don’t be afraid to admit when you don’t know something.
EXAMPLE: Very early on in the process, when I first met up with our lovely Director, Ben Mole, to discuss how we were going to make this project happen and the kind of ‘feel’ we should be looking for, he asked me how bothered I would be to lose the walking frame I’d mentioned in the script for our lead actor, as, he said, it would interfere with the blocking. Not wanting to appear either ignorant or unprofessional, I panicked and replied something like, “Hmm, the blocking; hadn’t considered that… Leave it with me.” In hindsight this was a HUGE mistake. I should have been honest and asked “What the **** is blocking?” Several hours of Googling later, I understood the concept; thirty seconds with Ben would have accomplished the same thing. BE RESPECTFUL, HONEST AND USE YOUR TIME WISELY!… Sorry, Ben.
2. Do your research and use your contacts.
There is a wealth of information out there on the internet and in publications. The Guerilla Film Makers’ Handbook (Chris Jones and Genevieve Jolliffe) is a beast of a book but with it’s easy to use index, you can normally find the solution to your producer-type queries within its pages. If you are still stuck, go to your contacts within your social media groups or post up on forums. Sometimes you will get your answer, sometimes not; folks are busy and can’t always spend the time replying to such queries, don’t take it personally! Another source is your local filmmakers’ groups. You never know where new contacts may lead you.
EXAMPLE: I scooted around our local cinemas, dropping off flyers for our fundraising Film Quiz Evening. In our small local cinema I met a local filmmaker who has contacts galore in the industry, which he has volunteered to share with us. Who says nothing happens outside of London?!
3. Be open to change!
As someone who is a meticulous planner who sticks to her goals, I had no idea that just about everything will change as you move through the pre-production and production process: the script, location, cast, crew, budget, fundraising goals, expectations. However, my advice now (and a valuable lesson learned) is to go with it; don’t fight it and don’t discount anything. Sometimes the worse scenarios lead to the best solutions and results.
EXAMPLE: I’d written the lead as a octogenarian, Yorkshire, ex-miner: rotund, clean-shaven, cuddly and not much above five feet six inches. (My daughter described him as the human version of the guy from ‘Up!’) Through various, initial location, casting and product placement enquiries, all of which had lead to nothing, we ended up relocating the entire shoot to Shropshire, gaining a fantastic, free location, more local business support than we could ever have dreamed of AND casting a seventy-something, six foot two, slim, country gentleman with a moustache!… BE FLEXIBLE!
Did I mention that it is the awesome Mr. John Challis?!
4. Think very carefully about your expectations.
It is all too easy to get carried away in the heat of the excitement. Your script has been chosen, you are now the proud owner of the title ‘producer’ and it is only a matter of time before you have to remove the dusty, miniature, plaster-of-paris Tardis from the mantlepiece to make way for that Best Producer Oscar, right? Nooooooo! Whatever you do, keep your feet well and truly planted on the ground. This is already a tough ask. Be realistic about what kind of film you may be able to produce.
EXAMPLE: It became very clear, very early on, that there were a number of options for this project. We could go the whole hog and hire the very best camera equipment and crew, persuade an A-list actor to join us and drink something chilled and sparkly at the premier… Ooooooor, we could shoot it on an i-phone, rope in local am-dram actors and buy one large bottle of cheap pop for the screening in a tent in the garden. ALL are possibilities and none of which should be discounted; ALL are valid and valuable contributions as films. ALL will catapult your understanding of the industry. However, the end solution will probably consist of a mixture of factors. Decide where you REALLY want to spend your limited resources; it is your choice. Therefore, I produced three budgets: 1. Best case scenario, 2. The middle ground & 3. Micro Budget. This way, whatever happens with fundraising, we have a plan for the future of the film. It goes almost without saying – NEVER promise fees or incentives to anyone, unless you already have the funds in your piggy bank or the capabilities to deliver on your promises, to do so would be highly unprofessional and could land you in a whole heap of legal trouble. For this reason, I felt it essential to have raised sufficient funds for casting BEFORE approaching any actors and certainly before launching any further crowdfunding campaign.
5. Never forget to enjoy the ride…Oh, and never end up launch a crowdfunding campaign in the middle of a General Election, haha!
Some days as a writer, and especially as a first-time producer, can be utterly overwhelming, trust me! Failing technology, difficult contacts, promises offered but not delivered, personal limitations (both physical and mental), family commitments and funding issues etc., may all go pear-shaped on you and, sometimes, all on the same day. I have woken in a cold sweat on more than one occasion, wondering whether I should ever have undertaken this journey at all, or I’ll have serious doubts as to whether I can pull off the biggest ‘blag’ of the century, ‘cause, you know, I’m not ‘reeeally’ a producer, am I? I’m sure that on such days, this may well happen to you too, but fear not. Take stock. Keep in mind what is important to you in your life and be grateful for the things which ARE going right. Focus on the positives and tackle the things which are not going so well, one at a time. Above all, don’t beat yourself up. At the end of the day, we can only ever do our best.
EXAMPLE: I was having a particularly low day. Just about everything had gone wrong, I’d been up half the night trying to come up with solutions, without success, and the production road ahead seemed a very long, impossible one indeed. Then, up popped a Facebook post which changed my outlook. It was a copy of a black screen with the words displayed in white over the top “Written by Kim L. Wheeler”. Turns out that filmmaker friends over in the USA had made a version of In Vino Veritas and I was looking at my first ever screenwriter’s credit. So never, ever doubt that THIS COULD BE YOU! It may take a while but you will get there
Speaking of which…
This is YOUR chance. Why not make a movie of your own from the terrific pool of scripts!
Link here: https://www.impact50film.com
What now for our project?
We have come so far already and are determined to produce a quality project for Create50, our wonderful sponsors Hobson’s Brewery, The Ludlow Food Centre, The Pheasant at Neenton and, of course, a film of which we may be proud.
PLEASE help us achieve our dream by visiting and, if you are able, chipping in to our Indiegogo Campaign. Every single penny and pound helps! We have some great perks to offer you and would love to welcome you onboard to take this journey alongside us. If you are able to help us spread our message to a wider audience, that would be amazing too. Thank you so much! Here’s the link:
Kim L. Wheeler is a produced screenwriter and playwright, a published poet, author and emerging producer, who is based in Shropshire, UK.
Kim is open for commissions in any of the disciplines.