Level Up Your Filmmaking, Producing and Screenwriting in 2020

level up your film career

Here in New Zealand, kids around the country are going back to school. Unlike the northern hemisphere, here in NZ our school year starts at the end of January/start of February and ends in December. I was always the weird little kid that used to love the start of a new school year because of getting new stationery and potential to learn new things.

That hasn’t changed much- I still love to learn new things and I believe that learning is an ongoing, life-long process. Currently, I’m in the early stages of learning something brand new: if you follow Sprites on social, you will have seen that I am transitioning my career from publicity and social media marketing to producing. And while the best way to learn is through doing, there are lots of resources out there that can help too.

That’s why I’ve put together this list of handy resources for courses, podcasts and other materials that can help you to upskill your film career in 2020. While the title of this post references filmmakers, producers and screenwriters, the resources aren’t limited to these particular strands of the industry.

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Courses, Workshops and Webinars

You don’t have to go to film school to pick up some excellent insights! There’s lots of courses you can do at your own pace from the comfort of your own home; including courses which lead to certifications:

You can’t go wrong with the courses offered by Raindance. With branches in London, New York, Vancouver, Montreal, Toronto, Berlin, Brussels and Budapest, they offer excellent-quality courses with the tutors who know their stuff. For instance, if you’re UK-based there’s courses, workshops and sessions like the Director’s Foundation Certificate, the Deep Characterisation Workshop, and Breaking into the Film Industry. A few years ago I did the Producer’s Foundation Certificate online through Raindance LA and found it hugely beneficial for building my knowledge base.

Another resource for courses and workshops is Sundance Collab. They offer a wealth of courses(usually 4- 8 weeks) that cover writing, filmmaking, directing and producing. They’re pricier than the Raindance courses, but another resource to keep in mind.

Want a quick dose of knowledge? Try their Master Classes. There’s one Master Class per month with a knowledgeable practitioner in the field, and take place online. They’re reasonably priced as well.

They also offer free webinars on occasion, and I find their newsletter is one I actually take the time to open and read because the content available is really valuable.

Speaking of webinars, Stage 32 offer some excellent on-demand webinars that cover a really wide and varied range of topics, like distribution, financing, pitching, directing, and international co-productions (just to name a few!).

And, finally, it’s time to take your seat in class, because today’s instructor is David Lynch. Or Spike Lee. Or Mira Nair. Yes, I’m talking about MasterClass, the online platform where the greats will teach you what they know. The film and TV offerings in MasterClass include Natalie Portman teaching acting, Aaron Sorkin teaching screenwriting, and a generous handful of directors teaching their craft. MasterClass classes are the kind of gift you give yourself when you want a dose of inspiration and insight from a practitioner in your field that you greatly admire.

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Film Guilds

Your local film guilds can provide great opportunities for working (and networking), including workshops and clinics. In New Zealand, we have incredible industry guilds, like WIFTNZ, which provide workshops covering various topics. For instance, there’s an up-coming safety workshop being held by WIFTNZ which will no doubt have excellent attendance. Membership fees vary, but with some guilds their workshops are free for members, with a very small fee for non-members to attend.

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Skill Sharing

Want to learn something completely different from someone you know? Offer a skill-sharing arrangement. I am about to undertake a few skill-sharing arrangements this year; including sharing social media insights and knowledge in exchange for producing know-how. If you want to learn from someone or have a mentor, think about how you can skill-share with them. The beauty of this arrangement is that you can do it face-to-face if you both live in the same location, but you can also do it via Skype if you’re living in different cities.

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Hit the Books

Of course, you can always find new insights in a good old fashioned book. A few years back, I made a list of Great Reads for Filmmakers you might want to check out.

Cheap and Cheerful Options

Learning something new doesn’t have to break the bank (and let’s face it, when you’re in indie filmmaking there’s not a lot of $$$ to spare)! Here’s some no-cost ideas:

  • YouTube: I’ve found that many of the big film festivals have great YouTube content, including Q&As with directors and actors, as well as the odd master class or two. TIFF Talks is excellent and includes industry masterclasses, Q&As, In Conversation sessions, and more.
  • If, like me, you like your knowledge on the go, think about subscribing to filmmaking podcasts. There’s many excellent podcasts to choose from, but here are a few of my favourites that I have found most valuable: Indie Film Hustle, Screen Australia, Film Threat, and IndieWire Screen Talk. The Big Screen Symposium in NZ have also made many of their talks and masterclasses available via podcast, as have the New Zealand International Film Festival.

Our Blog and Free Resources

Finally, you can find 7 years of publicity, social media marketing and crowdfunding experience distilled down into blog posts right here on the website, and FREEresources available for download. Topics include putting a publicity budget into action, how to prep for a crowdfunding campaign, and more.

Wellington Film Folks: You Won’t Want to Miss This!

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Over the years at Film Sprites PR I’ve had many people wanting to ‘pick my brains’ when it comes to social media for filmmaking. If you’re in Wellington, New Zealand on May 25th, here is your chance to do so!

Thanks to the Emerging Women Filmmakers Network, I’m bringing you Social Media Success: How to Make the Most of Social Media for your Film or Webseries. In this 1 hour presentation, I’ll be filling you in on the current research into where audiences in Aotearoa are finding out about films, as well as a solid formula for social media success that will connect you to your audience and bring new fans to your work. There will also be a Q&A where you can ask all your burning social media marketing questions!

In addition, there will be drinks and nibbles and an opportunity to network with other members of the filmmaking community, so don’t miss out on what I hope will be a really exciting and fun afternoon.

For further details and to book tickets, visit the Eventbrite page. Know someone who might be interested in attending? I’d love it if you would share this post with them.

Publicity Prep From Post-Production to Release

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Recently, we took you through a handy timeline for publicity and social media of your film at the various stages of production. We then broke it down even further to talk about the pivotal preparation needed from pre-production through to filming in order to put your best foot forward further down the track. Now, it’s time to give you some ideas about how to make the most of publicity and social media from post-production through to release.

In the post-production period, many films opt to crowdfund for post-production funds to finish the film, and this in itself can prove to be another opportunity to grow your social media audience and media exposure whilst securing your funds. If you’ve prepped thoroughly during pre-production through filming, chances are you have a wealth of materials available that you can use to let people know about the film, both on your crowdfunding page and via social media and regular media. People don’t like being bombarded with constant links to crowdfunding campaigns on social media, so if you can keep the consistent tone you have developed on your social media platforms from day one, you don’t run the risk of having people ‘switch off’ or unfollow. Yes, you can direct people to your crowdfunding campaign, but it doesn’t have to be done in a ‘salesy’ way.

When it comes to blogs, thankfully there are independent film blogs out there that often have sections dedicated to crowdfunding projects, and it’s a good idea to seek them out during the campaign. We’ve mentioned before that IndieWire has a special section called Project of the Day which is great exposure for your film.

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If you’re not crowdfunding for post-production funds in post-production, it’s a good time to keep your social media audience updated, especially if you have chosen to submit to festivals prior to releasing your film to a general audience. Make sure you schedule in any film festivals your film has been accepted to, and keep people up to date on social media and via your website. You can have a page on your website which links to your festival appearances to make it even easier for people to know when and where they can see your film and book tickets. If you have the budget and ability to travel to festivals, it’s worth asking the festival co-ordinators if you can distribute a one-sheet of the film to people who are seeing your film. That way they have something tangible they can take with them and hopefully talk about on social media.

During the pre-release phase, it’s a good time to reach out to reviewers. That way if they love your film it can provide you with quotes that can be put on future marketing materials and your website. I suggest asking permission to use quotes from the review prior to doing so- this is usually not a problem, but it’s better to be safe than sorry and shows that you value their writing. Let’s face it- there are some absolutely incredible reviewers out there and they do an incredible job so you want to make sure they’re happy.

Pre-release is also a good time to start pitching to media outlets for interviews and/or features. Why pre-release as opposed to release with an indie film? Editorial calendars are very tightly packed and booked far in advance, with things like blockbuster films taking prominence. Be aware of when large film festivals are taking place during the year as well, as this will also dictate the media calendar. I suggest approaching large media outlets three months from your film’s release, that way if a journalist’s interest is piqued by your film there is plenty of wiggle room to organise an interview/feature. When it comes to TV and newspaper newsrooms, it’s worth noting times when staffing is affected by holidays, as they may be working on a skeleton staffing schedule (especially over the Christmas period, more so if it’s in the Southern Hemisphere where it’s summer in December) . It’s definitely worth getting involved with regional news outlets and community newspapers, especially if you’ve filmed in a particular region. Quite often here in NZ it hits the news when foreign film crews are in the country (for instance, the latest instalment in the Mission: Impossible franchise were on location in NZ recently), but even if you’re from the same country/state/region, having a film crew filming in the area can be of great interest.

When it comes to your film’s release, it’s all systems go! By this stage you hopefully have reviews that you can share with your social media followers, interviews or features, and hopefully some festival laurels as well. You can still continue pitching for reviews and features at this stage, but this is best reserved for film blogs and podcasts as they can be more flexible than large media outlets when it comes to being able to fit a review or feature into their editorial schedule.

Don’t forget local groups and organisations, especially if you have a film that is suitable for a particular group, interest or demographic. Got a film with an astronomy theme? See if you can have information about the film posted in the newsletters of local and national astronomical societies. If you haven’t secured a distributor and you are self-distributing, think about having small exclusive screenings in places that are relevant to your film. Let’s go with the astronomy theme again for a moment: you arrange with the local astronomical society to have an exclusive screening and Q&A with the director at the local planetarium or society headquarters (make sure you have someone on standby to post on social media, e.g. live tweet the Q&A, post pictures on Instagram etc!). Have one-sheets on hand for the viewers to take with them, and if you have physical DVD/Blu-ray copies of the film you could get your director and/or cast to sign the covers and then have a giveaway during the event. Or perhaps your film is a documentary about an aspect of the fair trade coffee industry. Contact a local fair trade coffee company and ask if they will sponsor a screening and Q&A with free samples of their coffee, or a coffee tasting event. With these sorts of events it’s definitely worthwhile sending out a number of invitations to local media, reviewers and social media influencers so they can not only talk about the film but talk about the event as well.

And don’t forget- people love freebies! It’s worth making up special PR packages for social media influencers or to be given away as prizes via film websites and blogs. A copy of the film, a unique postcard, a t-shirt with a catchy phrase that displays the release date of your film- the options are as endless as your imagination.

Publicity and social media for your film doesn’t have to be a chore. It can be creative, energizing and a lot of fun, but you do need to put in the groundwork to maximise your success. Good luck!

Cinema For Change: How Filmmakers Can Make A Difference With Their Films

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When it comes to film I can honestly say I have a great love of documentaries. There’s something so magical about a filmmaker being able to show lives through a lens and present the viewer with unique true stories.

Recently, I watched the documentary I Am Jane Doe.  Written and directed by filmmaker Mary Mazzio (who also serves as producer with Alec Sokolow), I Am Jane Doe is the powerful story of American mothers waging a war against online sex trafficking on behalf of their daughters who were trafficked. The film is narrated by Jessica Chastain (who is also an executive producer).  I highly suggest looking at the film’s synopsis page to find out even more about this incredible documentary.

As the credits rolled on I Am Jane Doe, I was in pieces. I wanted to do something about this. I didn’t just want to be a passive viewer. What sprung to mind was the famous quote by Aung San Suu Kyi: “if you’re feeling helpless, help someone.” Making my way to the film’s website, I was pleased to see a section dedicated to actions that viewers can take themselves: actions like signing petitions, donating to organizations listed on the page, right through to spreading the world via social media.

The reason I wanted to talk about I Am Jane Doe is twofold: firstly, because it impacted upon me so profoundly, I knew I wanted to spread the word. The second reason is that I Am Jane Doe highlights the fact that filmmakers can make a significant social impact. I Am Jane Doe goes beyond just being a documentary- it is a call to action.

Does that mean that only documentary material can make a social impact and create a movement outside the cinema? Not at all. Over the years of running Film Sprites PR we’ve seen films from filmmakers who have chosen to create a narrative around an issue they are passionate about. For instance, filmmaker Evan Kidd’s short film Displacement Welcomed talked about the reality of homelessness using a fictional scenario. If you’re passionate about an issue/cause and it is weaved into your story you have the ability to not only raise public awareness about the film itself, but about the issue/cause in your film’s narrative.

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So, what are some ways to achieve awareness of your film as well as the issue or cause you are championing?

Firstly, if you’re crowdfunding it’s a great idea to let people into your ‘why’. What drew you to this issue or cause in the first place? What do you hope your film will achieve in terms of public awareness around the issue? Is it something you have personal experience with? People who are passionate about the issue or concern your film talks about are likely to want to support your crowdfunding efforts, be it pre-production or post-production. On the I Am Jane Doe website’s press page, filmmaker Mary Mazzio has provided a powerful and honest director’s statement that is well worth reading.

You might also want to team up with charities, organizations and community groups that are relevant to your film. This could mean collaborating with an organization, charity or community group to organize special screening events, and finding out relevant statistics and information regarding your cause or issue that can be used in your press release and/or with social media posts.

Nowadays there are film festivals that cater to specialist subjects as well. From sustainability and architecture through to festivals that highlight feminist films and filmmakers, it’s worth doing your homework and seeing if there are specialist film festivals that would be ideal for your film.

If you’re looking for media coverage, don’t forget to take the ‘grassroots’ approach while sourcing media outlets to cover your film. Sometimes people forget that Facebook groups, newsletters and specialist blogs and podcasts are ideal for spreading the word. Have a film that would appeal to people who live an environmentally-conscious, sustainable lifestyle? See if you can have posters displayed for VOD or cinematic releases (and/or special screenings) in stores, cafes and restaurants that cater to sustainability, environmental consciousness and organic products/food.

When it comes to social media, think about creating a Street Team to help spread the word. You can set up a special private Facebook group and provide your Street Team with sample social media posts and graphics that can be used on their social media accounts. If possible, make sure you credit them in the film as a way of giving thanks.

There are so many ways to make a difference with your filmmaking, and the film itself is just the beginning. Happy filmmaking!

I Am Jane Doe is available via Netflix. ITunes, Vimeo, Google Play, Amazon and on DVD. Visit the website for more details.

 

Greek Myths Come Alive on London’s Northern Line in The Northern Line Series

You’ll find them along London’s Northern Line: Aphrodite’s temple in Shoreditch, Athena’s temple attached to the British Library, Ares’ temple in Trafalgar Square…welcome to the world of The Northern Line Series, created by Jessica Burn and produced by Fall of the House Productions. Film Sprites PR is thrilled to be assisting publicity and digital marketing of The Northern Line Series in preparation for the crowdfunding campaign for the fourth short film in the series, Medusa’s Kitchen.

The Northern Line Series is a retelling of Greek myths, set around locations on London’s Northern Line.

Let us acquaint you with the first three short films in the series, all available to view on YouTube. Enter the world of The Northern Line Series, but beware: be very careful what you say about the Gods. Remember they are always listening and are very sensitive to insult or hubris…

A Gift From Aphrodite

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The hapless Pygmalion is hot property thanks to his novels. Despite Aphrodite’s best efforts, the lovelorn Pygmalion only has eyes for his fictional creation, Galatea. What’s a goddess to do? This is the story of what happens when Aphrodite decides to help Pygmalion find love by thinking far, far outside the box.

The Guardian of Thebes

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Thebes is a particularly nasty run down neighbourhood in London located between Kings Cross and Caledonia road. A ruthless gangster named Laius controls the area and is determined to build himself a nefarious kingdom which he can rule unrivaled and eventually seize complete control of the underground criminal networks of the city.
But Thebes has another dangerous inhabitant who, in her way, provides a certain protection for the lost souls of London, an inhabitant who even Laius is wary of. She is waiting for a man whose arrival has been prophesied…a man who will destroy Laius and finally clean up the streets of Thebes. Until then…Let me ask you a question…

Into The Labyrinth

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A rare look at the inner workings of the famous Labyrinth of Borough Market and how one day even the gods might want to see an end to the annual slaughter.

But the short films are just the beginning…visit the website and acquaint yourself with the Gods of the Northern Line as Hermes, the God of communication and technology attempts to bring the Gods into the 21st century by filming them. This has mixed results, as you will see!

Enter the world of The Northern Line Series on Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and Twitter.

Watch With the Lights Off: Oliver Park Brings you Horror Shorts VICIOUS and STILL

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Film Sprites PR is thrilled to be working again with the multi-talented Oliver Park, actor writer and director. We have had the great privilege of working with Oliver since 2015 and since then he has written and directed the terrifying VICIOUS (which is now free to view on YouTube) and is now in post-production with the short horror follow up STILL.

Vicious has won eight awards internationally, including Gold Award for Best International Film at Toronto After Dark and Platinum Award at the LA Horror Competition. It was nominated for a further seven awards, including Melis d’Argent at Molins in Spain.

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VICIOUS centres around Lydia, whose sister Katie died in mysterious circumstances. When she returns home late one night to find her front door unlocked, a series of strange occurrences suggest she isn’t alone…

The first teaser trailer for STILL will be available online in the coming weeks, so make sure you keep up with all the news at the STILL Facebook page and via Twitter.