Some months ago we were asked by the Arts Officer at West Devon Borough Council to give a little presentation to a gathering of local creative business folk on the subject of crowd funding. One of the aspects of the campaign that attracted the most interest was the little virals we’d made to promote our it. One guy in particular was really keen, and asked us make one for him to promote his website business, a Company called 2Day Microportals (www.microportals.co.uk). After a few meetings and some back and forth finding a suitable location, we finally shot this little Ad last week at the Bedford Hotel in Tavistock. They could only allow us to film after 9 O’clock at night for obvious reasons. The Hotel was fairly quiet, but there were still plenty of guests wondering about giving the new ‘Receptionist’ a bit of a curious once over and Paul’s pain-in-the-bum guest a wide berth. The pressure was on, and with our micro cast and crew of 4 we managed to set up and shoot the whole thing in less than 2 and a half hours, (thanks mainly to the wonder that is Chris Jones and the marvellous Tom Barwood). And, with the magic of Final Cut Pro X, we had the film pretty well done by the end of the very next day. You can watch the finished Ad here
By the way, the little bit of music we used is by Ma Bain our incredible in-house composer (Paul, in other words) who has been really hard at work these last few months writing and producing an entirely new album of beautiful songs – we are very excited about this project and we will be writing more about this in the next few months…
Some years ago we produced and toured a theatre show called ‘See Them Cows? They Don’t Know Nothing About London’. It was a very physical and fairly abstract devised work that told the story of the city from it’s bucolic beginnings through to modern times – rather ambitiously cramming 2000 years of history into 80 mins. Atmospheric soundscapes were created with a strange array of implements hanging from an old clothes rail, and a number of weird and wonderful characters popped up to tell their tales and give a brief glimpse of London during their particular era.
One of the oddest scenes was a 1950′s boarding house populated by a bunch of eccentric residents each with a story to tell. None more colourful than the posh old landlady fallen on hard times (‘Mrs P’ – beautifully played by Paul in a pink headscarf!) who worked her way up the house introducing all the residents to the newest lodger on the way. Among them was ‘Mary’ a chirpy cockney saucepot/’school teacher’ who could be heard giving ‘correctional instruction’ to her ‘uncle’ who turns out to be a High Court Judge. ‘Jones the Professor’ a welsh opera singer with too much charm and too little talent. ‘Moose’ a giant monosyllabic bruiser who probably ‘worked’ for the Kray Twins but who adored his tiny pet canary. We found them all hilarious, slightly grotesque and definitely a little larger than life. But just recently we came across this incredible little film on the BBC archive , exploring exactly the kind of house we’d had in mind when putting our show together. It was like finding some footage of old friends – making us realise that, compared to the real people, the characters we’d created were far from being over the top.
The film is a very early short from Ken Russell and tells the story of an old town house in Bayswater populated by a disparate bunch of folk all introduced to us by the extraordinary landlady who bore more than a passing resemblance to Paul’s creation. It ‘s an astounding little film – capturing a moment in history just before it disappeared for ever as all those beautiful old houses, so crammed with character and ‘characters’, were being pulled down to make way for the new high rise blocks of the future. It’s really worth a watch – The wonderfully enthusiastic yet slightly tragic dance teacher who appears to have only one pupil. The ‘art’ photographer who makes his living snapping girls in bath tubs on the roof. The pigeon loving spinster who’d once been a ladies’ maid in New York, and the amazing landlady with her long white tresses and an eye for a bargain, still optimistic that one day she might find a new husband amongst the treasures on the Portobello Road. It’s like looking through a tiny window into the past, and a little reminder of the old saying that fact is usually stranger than fiction – funny, nostalgic and inspiring, I recommend you give it a watch… A House In Bayswater.
When was the last time you got a letter from someone that had been written by hand? I can hardly remember, they come so infrequently these days. The only person I can think of who still communicates by the handwritten letter is our set designer Nick Watkinson. Now Nick is a genius and therefore a little eccentric. He refuses to have an email account or a mobile phone, utterly frustrating in this world of instant messaging – but on the plus side, when he does get in touch, his letters are always hand written and accompanied by the most wonderful drawings and/or diagrams – they are charming, personal and and a joy to receive.
There is a great article in the Guardian (from a book called Missing Ink by the writer Philip Hensher) which talks about how special handwriting is because of the way it’s imbued with the personality of the writer. ‘In the second year at school, our form teacher had a way of writing a 7 in the European way, with a cross-bar. A world of glamour and sophistication hung on that cross-bar; it might as well have had a beret on, be smoking Gitanes in the maths cupboard.’ As children our handwriting would change dramatically depending on who we were currently admiring or trying to be – remember the craze at school for everyone to dot their ‘i’s with circles and hearts?
Writing by hand is also meant to be a way of tapping in to our creativity. Julia Cameron in her book ‘The Artist’s way’, advocates that as a creative person you should write continuously for 10 minutes every morning before you do anything else. Just the process of your hand unsensored on the page is a way of clearing the mind to make way for creative thinking. It takes discipline, but apparently it really does work – This is what she says about it on her blog…
‘Morning Pages are three pages of longhand, morning writing about anything. There is no wrong way to do Morning Pages, and they are for your eyes only. Doing Morning Pages, we find that we go into our day with more clarity. Although they do take time (about 30-40 minutes), they actually make more time than they take because we move more efficiently through our day. They are three, single-sided, 8.5×11 pages (so in other words, not 6 pages). Yes, they must be done in the morning. Yes, they must be done by hand.’
As Paul is currently hard at work on the umpteenth draft of our feature-length script, it’s been fascinating watching him go back and forth endlessly between notebook and keyboard, alternately hand writing and typing up as he goes. He certainly finds it more difficult to ‘write’ directly into the computer – Creatively, ideas have to go from his head to the page via the pen in his hand. He has very particular likes when it comes to his tools too (lined foolscap paper and black gel pens are his preference, although he’s recently switched to Bics as a cost consideration).
Our great friend, the writer Sebastian Baczkiewicz (creator, among other things, of the amazing Pilgrim series for Radio 4) has had, for all the many years I’ve known him, what can best be described as a ‘writer’s lump’ on the middle finger of his right hand – evidence of the endless hours he’s spent holding a pen. For a man who conjours up such beautiful and magical stories, you might imagine his handwriting to be dramatic and full of florish. But it’s not – It’s robust and honest and solid – and (something I find hilarious given how much he writes), not even joined up. I would recognise his writing anywhere, as I would for almost everyone I love.
One of my greatest ‘clearing out’ regrets was a hat box of old papers which, in a fit of ‘Fueng Shui’ I turfed onto a bonfire about 10 years ago. Some time later, I realised that box had contained many letters my father had written to me when I was at school – daft little stories and jokes to entertain. He’d always play around with my name on the envelope; Tanya Scott-Wilson would become ‘Tinyer Scatt-Woslin’ – evidence of his mischievous and maverick nature, as he knew how much it would irritate the staff and amuse me in equal measure. How I would love to have those letters now that he is no longer here to write me any more.
Haven’t seen Joe Wright’s Anna Karenina yet, but am looking forward to it, in spite of (or rather because of) all the furore about the whole thing having been set in a theatre… This is certainly not the first film to use this idea, and oddly enough we’ve watched a number of old films recently that have done exactly that. Two of them are also by the same director. Max Ophüls’ Lola Montès, is a bizarre yet totally compelling biography told in flashback through a circus show depicting scenes from her life. La Ronde, (based on the stage play by Arthur Schnitzler) is a carousel of stories depicting love and infidelity – where the actors sometimes walk from one scene to another, and theatrical paraphernalia (ladders and lighting rigs) can clearly be seen.
The other thing both these films have in common is that they star my current obsession, the incredible Anton Wallbrook. He is nowhere near as well known as he should be given how amazing he is. Some of his other films include Powell & Pressburger’s Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, The Red Shoes and Thurrold Dickinson’s The Queen of Spades.
This last one is an absolute cracker and has been hugely inspirational in the way we’ve been thinking about the settings for Oddbodies’ current project, our first feature-length film script with the working title The Doorman and the Usherette… Given the title, it will come as no surprise to know that the theatre features heavily in the piece.
When talking about film, some people apply the term ‘theatrical’ rather sneeringly - But we see it as a virtue ! (it’s certainly something all our films have been accused of being!) For The Queen of Spades, Dickinson recreated St Petersburg in 1815 , on a shoestring, and in a tiny old studio in Welwyn Garden City, (apparently next door to the Shredded Wheat factory). it’s fantastically theatrical – atmospheric, haunting and magical, He manages to create the illusion of freezing, snow swirling street corners complete with horses and carriage in what was probably a very modest space. We haven’t even started set building yet. but when we do, this film will definitely be our inspiration.
After the success of Mrs Lustleigh’s Fancies, we were feeling pretty hopeful when we put forward our treatment for The Nature of Angrove into the Greenlight funding back in Dec 2010. Even though we have a track record for ‘almost’ getting grants, (5 or 6 times in the preceding 18 months we’d been down to the last 2 or 3) we were confident we might finally get some decent funding. After all, we’d been shortlisted, had great feedback on the idea, and we’d just won Best Film at the 2 Short Nights Festival, how could we NOT get it? Needless to say we didn’t… But, after 10 days of weeping and wailing (me) it suddenly occurred to us – was it really such a bad thing? After all, grants inevitably come with strings attached which can be very frustrating and on occasion a bit stifling. With no one to answer to, we had complete freedom to make the film we wanted to make, all we had to do was raise the money…
Crowd funding was not a new thing when we launched our Indiegogo campaign last year, but it was certainly nowhere near as common as it is now. Never having done it before, we had a lot to learn very quickly. We took advice, we were careful, and we were lucky – we managed to successfully raise, and even go over our target, and were able to make our film.
As we may be launching another campaign fairly soon (!), we’ve been thinking about our first experience of online funding, and what we’ll aim to do better next time. So, for what it’s worth, here are a couple of things we think are important.
Being realistic about your target - unless you have a massive online following (see below), the majority of your contributers are likely to be family and friends so you can’t ask for daft amounts of money. Some of the funding sites, Kickstarter for instance, have an all or nothing policy – in other words you have to reach your target by the end of your campaign otherwise you don’t get nothin’ – another reason to be realistic about your aims! With Indiegogo however, you get what ever amount has been pledged by the end of your campaign whether you reach your target or not which takes the pressure off a bit.
Giving a lot of thought to your ‘perks’ section – after all if you are asking people to give you money they should get something interesting, quirky or worthwhile in return. Looking at other people’s campaigns is always good for getting ideas – I saw a great one for a Horror Film where in return for giving them $50 you got to be a Zombie for the day – I was pretty tempted.
Recently, we’ve been following a couple of filmmakers on Twitter, (@HybridVigorFilm, @indywoodFILMS) both of whom have amassed huge followings and have been doing (quite literally) non-stop tweeting to promote their funding campaigns, with spectacular success. Not sure quite how they’ve done it (if you pledge $250 to the Hybrid Vigor project they’ll let you in on their strategy) and although whatever it is certainly seems to be working, they do appear to spend their entire lives on the internet! Not really an option for most of us, although getting your stuff RT on Twitter will certainly help…
So, try and be imaginative with your promotion. It feels awkward sending emails harassing people into responding to your campaign, so it’s good to find more creative ways of getting people to take notice. Here are a couple of virals we made to promote our campaign (Hollywood Lifestyle I and Hollywood Lifestyle II). They did seem to make a difference to our campaign, and when we launch our next one, we’ll certainly be making more….
Some years back, ACE SW gave us a small research & development grant to explore a project we called Stories From The Stone Forest - something which we’d described in our funding application as being ‘a multi-disciplinary work exploring Dartmoor life’. As it turned out, the project took us on a bit of journey we never expected to go on, and SFTSF became the launch pad for a whole load of new work which we could never have forseen coming out of the project at the time we applied for funding. The theatre piece The House of No Return, and the short film Mrs Lustleigh’s Fancies for example, can both trace their initial inspirations back to the R & D we did for SFTSF.
It just goes to show that the opportunity for a bit of R & D which the funding from ACE SW provided is crucial for a company like ours to breathe - to explore ideas without the pressure of producing a specific ‘product’ at the end of it is a luxury so very rarely afforded to tiny organisations like Oddbodies – and of course in the end, we came up with much more stuff than we would have done if we’d had to make it… (if that makes sense?!).
One of the pieces of work we made specifically for SFTSF was The Shed Project. This curious and rather lovely thing was a movable and interactive installation which was designed to collect personal stories, memories and reflections of Dartmoor. It travelled around from place to place; Lydford Gorge , Bedford Square Tavistock, even outside the Museum of Dartmoor Life in Okehampton for quite a while. Which was rather fitting – because as well as all the lovely stories we were given, people also left ‘found’ objects which we collected in our very own ‘mini’ museum of Dartmoor . This little museum was, in turn, the inspiration behind The Curiosity Box, a sculptural installation we were commissioned by Devon Artists’ Network to make for the Devon Open Studios…
Click here to see a short film of Stories From The Stone Forest Click here to see film of The Shed Project