Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Behind Blue Glass and Monetizing Video

 Xisco Perez and I on his boat, "Katy"

I was having a chat with a very good friend of mine on Saturday in Manchester, who I had gone to visit as, due to my life being consumed solely by work, I had not seen for two years. He was telling me about how glad he was I was following my dreams and how he has always struggled to find that one thing which he knows he could achieve and which would give him the life fulfilment he and everyone else craves.

Of course, the issue got on to finances and how everything we do is dictated by money, or rather, the lack of it and it reminded me of my own experiences but also something I read a couple of years ago that issued a stark warning that as soon as you set out on the journey to build a career out of something you would do for fun anyway, people automatically expect that you should punish yourself by not being paid properly and living a life overshadowed by constant financial stress, which is, of course, complete and utter nonsense. I work harder than most people I know, I work longer hours then most people I know and now that I have finally launched Scarlet View Media, putting a value on my time, expertise, energy and effort is not just an act of principle, it's also an exercise in analytics and maths. I understand that a part of making a promise to myself to maintain my own standards through everything I do, means not doing things on the cheap, sacrificing quality and therefore, that also means there will be times when I turn down opportunities because a potential client simply isn't willing to pay what the job is worth.

This all took me back to the production of Behind Blue Glass and A Ray of Light which took place either side of "Of Shark and Man" and both of which represent stark differences in how ready I was to run productions with such lofty artistic and creative ideas. Behind Blue Glass was shot with a four man crew, three of whom, myself included, had never made a film before and A Ray of Light was just me with Brad helping on a couple of the organisational things.

Behind Blue Glass cost around €3200 to make or at least that was the budget we had, that had to cover four people, all food, transport, salary, board and diving for almost three weeks, the pre-production phase and also the post-production phase and what I actually earned myself by way of being paid for the enormous amount of time and energy I put in, over a period of four months, is roughly the same as what I would charge now, for a day's work and works out on the BBG time sheet, at less than £1 an hour...

Before you start feeling too sorry for me, I should point put that it was entirely my fault because that's what I asked for, making the biggest and most common mistake first time film-makers are guilty of, assuming people won't pay you properly so pitching at way, way less than you should so you can convince the people funding your film to let you do it.

Despite grossly undervaluing myself, my time, my energy and my expertise, the production of Behind Blue Glass was an invaluable learning process for me, it is far from perfect, mistakes were made but what I really love about it is it has a heart and soul, a group of friends setting out to do something really, really difficult and succeeding, not only that but the content is actually, really, really good, an in-depth look at the story of Great White Sharks in the Mediterranean and the human interest aspect of positive shark/human interactions. In May Brad and I held a screening of the film in Mallorca and the room was packed, there weren't enough seats in fact and the feedback was really, really positive, a few people picked up on things like parts where the sound could have been better (wind...I HATE wind) but given that we had a bare minimum of resources available the end result is still pretty impressive. Behind Blue Glass is a film made by passion, endurance, good will and positive energy and it shows.

A Ray of Light was an infinitely simpler, more streamlined and artistically successful production, aided by the fact I had come off the super intense, non-stop crash course in film-making that was making "Of Shark and Man." I went into it knowing how I wanted it to look, what I wanted the message to be and how I wanted to express myself as an auteur and it also introduced my natural style of film-making. A Ray of Light is different to Behind Blue Glass in that a lot of BBG was scripted, a constructed narrative delivered into camera in a very pure documentary style and that was originally what I had intended for "Of Shark and Man." It was only two days into production in Fiji that it became clear that I was more natural just being me, no script, just genuine emotion, feeling and honesty, captured in a conversational style, as though there is no barrier between you and the viewer.

This stylistic imprint now defines how I make films, they must be honest and they must be aesthetically appealing, to me, film is not just putting an image on screen, each shot counts and each shot should tell the story in itself, its composition, framing, focus points and colours, anyone can point a camera at something, not everyone can engage you in a story. A Ray of Light was shot primarily when the people involved weren't aware they were being filmed, a window into that point in time in which one man's story is told, a story we ultimately found out cut a little too close to the bone for some of the glossier yet more impotent NGOs out there. It is popular though, the feedback has been quite incredible and at the time of writing, it is closing in on 13,000 views and it is that number which encouraged me to write this blog...

A Ray of Light helped raise almost €40,000 for the Mallorca Stingray Survey and cost about £700 to make, not including payment to me as the Director, Producer, Cameraman, DoP and Editor, had that been included, it would have cost around £5000-6000 to produce. The reason I don't include that is because it didn't exist, I didn't get paid because I paid for the production out of my own pocket, that £700 came out of money I had earned for an order of Behind Blue Glass DVDs.

We live in a world where, like music, people all of a sudden feel entitled to films for free, why should you have to pay for music and films when everyone who makes them is a millionaire right! It's also easier to put a film out now than ever, more people are doing it than ever which is great but does that mean there are loads of great films out there now? No, there are still the same amount of great films, there's just more really, really bad ones making it harder for the good ones to get seen.

I was chastised by a scientist a while back for suggesting that the worlds of art and science should work closer together to make use of each others expertise, science is about analysis, statistics, solid facts, years of research, art is about expression, emotion and story telling but this particular individual felt that no, the scientific community should be responsible for its own film-making and media output, presumably on the assumption that, because they know the results of their research on the subject matter, they also know the best way to present that in an engaging and thought provoking way to the lay man which is, of course, complete nonsense. That is why I suggested the two worlds should work closer in the first place.

Making films can be pretty easy, making good ones though, isn't, making good films which appeal to an audience who may otherwise not be interested in the subject matter, is really, really difficult and that is challenge with conservation related media. Conservation isn't about scientists and how they spent years in a lab researching something, it's about how law makers, game changers and the man on the street take the information provided by the scientific community and put it to use to make the world a better place. The scientist in question didn't seem to grasp that dry statistics, white coats and laboratories doesn't really stir the emotional loins of the average person.

The one thing that makes good films happen, good films which can help make the world a better place, is money. Films cost money, the people who work on these films deserve to be paid properly and they need to be marketed properly, its hardly rocket science. That brings me back to the 13,000 number...

Introducing Vimeo Tip Jar and more Creator Services from Vimeo Staff on Vimeo.

If every person who had viewed A Ray of Light had made a voluntary donation of £1 then the film would have raised an extra £13,000 which would go towards recouping my costs, marketing and promoting "Of Shark and Man" and making more films to highlight important environmental issues. It would also show that people accept and appreciate that there is value in work like this and it deserves to be rewarded by helping the film-maker have the luxury of perhaps a few less sleepless nights worrying about the next bill to come through the letterbox, food, stuff like that...

People have complained for years, myself included, at the quality, or rather the complete lack of it, in media representation of sharks and the ocean environment, through expensive, yet completely soulless, cynical and contrived shows and series like "Shark Men," "Whale Wars" and most of the stuff we see on Shark Week and the simple way to get better, is to support the people who make better quality media. Shows like the aforementioned ones are merely pretty wrapping around the commercials, they're not there to save the world, they're there to make you watch the adverts and buy shit you don't need, that's all.

How do you do support the film-makers who want to make the stuff you want to see? Financially, that's how, if the money isn't there to make proper shark related films, then they won't get made, simple, so if you watch the video above, I have decided to add Tip Jar to A Ray of Light, Love Sharks Love Fiji and The Sanctuary so if you like it, you think it's well made, you like the message or the way it's filmed, please make an affordable donation which will help me keep making these types of films and giving a voice to all of us who want a better world for our marine creatures.

To go back to Behind Blue Glass as well, in 2013 Vimeo are launching a Pay to View service meaning that finally, regardless of where you are in the world, for a very fair one off payment, you can stream the film whenever you like for the rest of your life. As soon as Vimeo implement it, I will be adding BBG to it and will of course be announcing it here, the mailing list and on the Facebook Page.

I make these films for the message and I make these films for you, I appreciate your support, it is one of the main things that keeps me going and I hope you also see the value in financially supporting independent film. Nobody is owed a living, but I do believe that effort, hard work, get up and go and artistic creativity do deserve to be rewarded.

I would love to read comments from you all about this, particularly from other film-makers and also all the people who make an effort to watch low budget productions as well.

Over to you...