Thursday, 8 September 2011

Making It Happen Part 3

Okay, so we left part two after I made the decision to go it alone and stop trying to get a Production Company to help me shoot the film which ultimately, would make the already seemingly insurmountable mountain I had to climb even steeper and higher. Nobody really knew who I was, nobody really cared who I was and I had absolutely nothing to show to anybody that would illustrate where the hell I was coming from with the idea for "Of Shark and Man," so realising this needed rectifying, I did the following...

I shot a "Teaser Trailer."

You can watch it in all it's full HD, fullscreen glory here.

First of all, what problems did I have with this?
  • I didn't have an HD camera
  • The film is going to be based in Fiji, I have never been to Fiji, nor do I have any footage of Fiji
  • I was living in Leeds at the time. There aren't many sharks in Leeds.
  • At this stage, I had only ever shot and cut music videos for the band alongside two parody "rockumentaries" used merely as a way to put a load of live footage from different gigs on one tape, I had never had to storyboard anything or construct my own shoot.
The camera was the easy part. In a symbiotic illustration of things to come and something which would become a big part of "From the Office..." Liam at Banter Media and Hamish had, on the same day, told me about the range of Canon DSLR cameras which would also shoot broadcast quality HD 1080p video and it just so happened that Hamish had one, the Canon 550D which he very kindly allowed me to borrow and also volunteered to shoot the scenes with me in them. Result!

The lack of Fiji and the lack of sharks was a big problem, it's a teaser for a film about sharks in Fiji and it won't have either in it so what the hell was I supposed to do?! This is lesson seven, learn to make the most out of the resources you have available and more importantly, be creative with them!


I had some video which I had shot in the Bahamas in 2008 but it was only SD footage and would not have been anywhere near the quality required for this introduction to "David Diley the film-maker." It was in a meeting with Dave Glanfield of Ocean Leisure Cameras where I had a pretty cool idea, well, I say I had the idea, it was originally a suggestion made by Dave in regards to still imagery for promo material which inspired the idea but I figured it would be a cool idea to focus on the urban and very "un-sharky" nature of my everyday surroundings. Like I said, I wanted to be original. I would take the footage of sharks and subtly place them in the glass as reflections, they were the embodiment of my dream so I would show that dream following me through the mundanity of my life.

It was only a small project but provided great experience in actually structuring my own shoot and coming up with ideas which not only reflected my idea, but were achievable.

The trailer was edited on an ordinary laptop using Adobe CS4 Master Collection and the music was my own, recorded in my close friend, Mark Burrows' bedroom on a desk top PC where we also did the voice over. This trailer cost in total, £2 to make and that was for the bus tickets to shoot the shot on the bus!

The reception was very encouraging and despite not really knowing what I was doing or how to get to grips with the camera, I don't think it looks too bad. Most important, I had something to show people how I was behind a camera but perhaps even more important, what I looked like in front of one!

Crowd funding

First things first, crowd funding is ace.

For those who don't know it's a way for cool people who like your idea to donate towards the cost of whatever it is you're doing and it could be anything. The concept is simple, you advertise your project and people donate whatever they want in return for a variety of "perks" like credits, merchandise, premiere screening tickets etc.

I used Indiegogo and found the whole process simple and effective and I raised $1000 which ultimately went towards the purchase of vital equipment needed to make the film and I cannot stress enough just how appreciative I am to the people who gave their hard earned money, in a time of extreme financial downturn, to help me make this happen. I can't wait to start giving out the perks when the film is complete!

I was always highly dubious of trying to source funding from ordinary people as the concept made me feel uncomfortable, however, it actually became something I considered when people started asking me how they could donate money to help me. It was immensely humbling and also went to show that people really did want to see this film get made.

Assemble your crew

I'll admit, my single biggest mistake came at this point and it's one I would urge you not to repeat yourselves. I didn't allow myself anywhere near enough people to actually help me make this film. The point of a crew is that their expertise and energy ultimately make your life easier in your role as director/producer/talent (eurgh, I hate that phrase!). However, in my paranoia about escalating my budget further, I simply employed people to do the things I physically couldn't do due to me operating in another role simultaneously as opposed to thinking about my own workload. 

I was used by now to working stupidly long hours and overloading my plate with too much responsibility and I should have thought that during production, I should give myself less of a workload than I did. I should have taken a co-producer and co-director who could help me with the mountain of responsibility I had in making production run as smooth as possible. The major role my co-producer would have been given would have been to log and back up all footage whilst editing dailies because alongside directing, filming, producing and on-camera responsibilities every day, I would have to do this every single night, all footage and sound from three people and listen to me when I say that it is a huge pain in the arse, by the end of production I was an exhausted gibbering wreck. I won't be making that mistake again.

I like to think I'm pretty good behind a camera but if I were to ask someone to hand over their hard earned money I could hardly ask them do it on the basis that I think I'm pretty good and I shot a three minute trailer and nothing else, so I needed a pro cameraman with a proven track record to guarantee the footage would be broadcast standard. On Hamish's recommendation I got Hugh Fairs on board and I'd already promised Hamish he could come to fulfill a variety of roles, many of which he'd have to learn on the spot and that was it, that is literally how I put my team together! Like I said, I didn't really know what I was doing and was making it up as I went along, to go into a production like this with a crew of only three people is ridiculous and not something I will ever do again, however, we pulled it off and that is testament to all involved but I would suggest to you that you save yourself the headache and try to cover all the bases.

Promote yourself

I already mentioned using social media to announce you and your project to the world but the big thing you have to do is get some media attention and this isn't easy! I spent a good while emailing and phoning all the major newspapers and although they thought it was a nice idea, none really thought anything would come of it so decided against committing to speaking to me about the film, which to be fair, I can understand.

A couple of websites had featured little bits about me but it was, bizarrely, the BBC of all places which gave me my first break. In December last year the shark attacks in Egypt made sharks front page news in the UK and it was the usual Daily Mail-esque scaremongering and nonsense for the most part. Hamish called me one day to say he had heard people discussing it on the radio and that I should try to call the radio station and provide a more balanced and informed opinion on what was happening, so I did! I was surprised to be put straight through and the journo seemed genuinely interested in what I was saying, we must have been on the phone for at least forty five minutes and lo and behold, the next day I'm on the front page of the BBC website!

Within a couple of days I had been approached by the local newspaper who wanted to do a feature on me (see above) and since then I have been featured and interviewed by numerous places, a particular favourite being this interview with Beyond Limits. The main point here is that when you get your first bit of coverage, use it cleverly and others will follow if your story is interesting enough.

I often feel uncomfortable putting myself out there as the figurehead of these projects. I'm not some attention seeking primadonna desperate to be a star, in fact, I'm quite the opposite, but I have to appreciate that I am the glue which binds all these films together, therefore I need to be a recognisable element throughout the lifespan of "From the Office..." after all, the films are, to some degree, about me and my passion so it's unavoidable, you gotta bite the bullet and put yourself out there, it gets easier the more you do it, I promise.

Find your sponsor

I had my idea, loads of detailed proposals, a buzz, media coverage and was gaining industry support for my project but all the while I was still skint, so much so that by this time, January 2011, I had had to give up my flat as I couldn't afford the rent or the bills anymore, financially, I was on my arse at this point so in the highly likely event I wasn't going to win the lottery, it wasn't going to be me paying for this production.

I had spent a week or so sending emails to an enormous list of companies and corporations along with famous and wealthy individuals like Richard Branson, Peter Jones, Duncan Bannatyne, Karen Brady and I even tried to get in touch with Lars Ulrich but all to no avail, I had sent approximately a thousand emails in this week which remains possibly the most tedious and boring exercise I have ever undertaken, with no serious nibbles on my proposal I was starting to worry but I had an ace up my sleeve...

The previous October, I had swapped a couple of emails with Jane at Fiji Me who had responded positively and said she would discuss it with her partner, Martin, and get back to me. That same month, at the Dive Show at Birmingham NEC, I stumbled across the Fiji Me stall and thought I had nothing to lose...

"Hi, is Jane about?"
"I'm afraid not but Martin is, would you like to speak with him?"

It turns out that Jane had spoken excitedly to Martin about my idea and we got on like a house on fire, his energy and enthusiasm was a breath of fresh air for me and he gave positive signs that they might just be interested in helping me out! They were passionate about animals and conservation and even more passionate about the people of Fiji, I knew they were the ones I wanted to work with. The saying goes that you "shouldn't put all your eggs in one basket," I always say it depends how strong the basket is, Fiji Me were the obvious choice for me and I thought if I was already gambling everything, I should back the winner and the winner in this race, was Fiji Me, I was certain of it...

The next few months consisted of hundreds of emails back and forth and a couple of really enjoyable meetings with Jane and it was looking good, they were definitely interested...

Shoot a short film

This was an obvious thing to do and in all fairness, I should have done it sooner. I had had an idea for some time and out of the blue I was contacted by a complete stranger who I didn't realise at the time was going to become a close friend and a big part of "From the Office..." The email was from an Aussie called Brad Robertson who, along with his lovely wife Bea, had set up a conservation focussed eco-business in Mallorca called Ondine Escape and I liked him immediately, he shared my enthusiasm and passion and he was responsive to ideas and advice. Soon we were talking on Skype about my project and during one of these conversations, I mentioned I had always wanted to shoot a film about sharks in Mallorca and his response was typical of the man he is, "why don't we?" 

Brad was running a PADI Shark Awareness course in conjunction with Palma Aquarium and within less than a week Brad and I were discussing my idea with two amazing people, Debora Morrison and Roman Gradel who both held educational and conservational positions within Palma Aquarium;

"I want to take a group of non-divers, train them up to dive then put them in your tank with the sharks and document their reactions, it won't cost much, barely anything and would be a nice short, ten minute, pro-shark piece..."

They thought it was a great idea and it was then I asked a question which popped into my head, remembering the main feature of the idea I had had for a few years, "I don't suppose you know anyone who has any photos or first hand experience of the Great White Sharks caught there do you?"

It turned out that they did and "Behind Blue Glass" was born (full HD trailer here). 

We got out micro budget funding within three weeks and three weeks later I was on a plane to Mallorca for pre-production, returning a week later to put the script and screenplay together before returning with Liam in tow, for the two week production on April 14th, only two months after Brad's first contact.

Shooting "Behind Blue Glass" will always be one of the happiest periods of my whole life. Three people who barely had any idea of what they were doing and poor old Liam, trying to make sense of my explanations of what I wanted in garbled, pseudo techno speak but in all honesty, he was brilliant, he knew I was new to this and that Brad and Bea had basically had things thrust into their hands to record sound, operate cameras, translate and be interviewed on camera and instead of getting frustrated or narky, he was immensely positive, gave encouragement and advice when needed and took a lot of the workload off my shoulders. 

Brad and Bea were nothing short of a revelation and I would have them in my film crew again in a heartbeat, professional, enthusiastic and energetic they never moaned once despite being driven way harder than they should have been, we all worked far too long hours and were emotionally and physically drained by the end of shooting but it was a hugely enjoyable two weeks and we managed to get some really, really great stuff. 

The trailer was incredibly well received and off the back of production, a shark conservation initiative is being launched by Palma Aquarium, not only that, shark conservation is now being discussed in Mallorquin media now, not bad considering all we had was an idea a couple of DSLR cameras and a load of enthusiasm! "Behind Blue Glass" will have its premiere screening in Mallorca in October and will then be available for you to buy, shortly afterwards.

Full speed ahead Fiji!!

In keeping with the way I seem to do things, I was about to get the news I wanted at a time when it would challenge me the most.

Having still been unsure as to whether I would source the funding I needed when I committed to doing "Behind Blue Glass," I figured it could be the thing that would be the final piece in the jigsaw that would encourage Fiji Me to take the plunge and finance "Of Shark and Man." It turned out that I didn't need that final piece of the jigsaw after all because on March 27th, two days before I set out to Mallorca for pre-production, I got confirmation that I had secured full funding to go to Fiji and make this dream a reality.

Less than a year previously, I was nothing more than a dreamer sat in an office wishing he was doing something else, now here I am with not one but two films to make! I would return from Mallorca on April 28th and have to start editing "Behind Blue Glass" immediately in order to finish that before I flew to Fiji. On top of all this I had to write the guide screenplay and script for "Of Shark and Man" and stock up on everything I needed for production and make sure that both Hamish and Hugh were ready to go as well, I still can't quite believe I actually managed to do it but it did entail working through to 5am pretty much every single day for a month so here is lesson eight, if you can, put gaps between your projects!

It took me nine months and twenty seven days to go from nothing to actually changing my life forever, endless days work, long sleepless nights, no money, highs and lows but here I was, this stupid gamble had paid off, this naive belief that yes, anything was possible, had actually got me over the finishing line of my single biggest obstacle and I couldn't quite believe it. I felt two distinct feelings, absolute, utter joy and vindication but also the weight of pressure that came with knowing, the hard work was only just beginning, I'd been given the golden ticket, this is my one and only chance, whatever you do, don't blow it...

To be continued...

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