July 2019 Archives

First Time Directors


I have been thinking about the stigma and the draw surrounding this title. All my feature projects - and I guess my shorts too in terms of "feature status" - are pretty much with first time directors. Sometimes I long to be at the stage where I can be working with more established directors (albeit them also being the first-timers I'm working with, only them (and me) having MADE that first feature!!!). Get me out of perpetual development please....

And then I saw a little piece in one of the AFM emails - basically the stats on first time directors' profitability. Overall looking to see if first time directors are the liability they are thought to be or are they just as likely to make breakout hits as repeat directors. What they found was that first time or not first time makes little difference to a film's profitability and that hiring a first-time director is not the kiss of death for any film. In fact au contraire on $1-$2 Mil the first timers do marginally better and on the $5-$10 Mil they do significantly better.

As ever, those producing and looking at this analysis draw very thwarted conclusions. They do mention that luck plays a part in the film's outcome, and that producers and investors are generally fairly smart in selecting first-time directors, or at least in giving them the right budget to work with. Beyond that we can make our own observations...

Which of course we do all the time!! As it's our livelihood.

Producers are taught to do a SWOT grid for each of their projects and to come back to these all the time, using the knowledge and clarity that comes out of them to guide the foot that goes forward and what needs to be done to mitigate for the other. Directors always get cross and defensive when they see "First time director" in the W: Weaknesses box (I know - why is your director looking at your SWOT !! Right!). And yet they would be the first to agree with the below statement produced on the analysis document I mention above:

Of all the creative jobs involved in the making of a feature film, the role of director is perhaps the most important. It's also the one which most clearly identifies a film. We talk about Spielberg films and Tarantino films more than we do Streep or Hanks films, even though all of these creatives are at the top of their field. When it comes to picking the perfect person to helm a film, producers and financiers want to do all they can to ensure the film will be a financial success. There is a perception in some quarters that hiring a first-time director is too risky but Data shows otherwise.

What this analysis doesn't take into consideration is how likely is a first feature director to get financed and their film to get made. They only look at what happens once the film is made and out there. The process of selection has a massive wooding effect, and what this analysis says to me is that the painful and rigorous process of that wooding in development ultimately is a successful one. What we don't look at here is what would happen if every filmmaker who had a film they wanted to make made it - what would the results be then...

To me the conclusion shows that with enough money, and that money going to what is needed to make the film great, results are positive. Those low-mid range budgets especially are more profitable for the first time director as the money goes into the film instead of high fees (which is what happens when you make that range of budget with established talent). It is also likely to be due to an amount of soft money going into the project which means break even point comes sooner. It also shows that the director is not the most important creative job in the making of a film, perhaps just the most recognised - once again this counter-productive desire to pull one element out of the machine to assign merit. If everything is aligned successfully, the track record and experience of the director is only one of the factors - key of course -but not the determining factor in a film's outcome. If all the building blocks fit together beautifully - there is no reason (beyond the luck factor) the outcome should not be a successful one.

The independent producer (and most particularly the emerging independent producer) is a totally under-estimated part of a first feature film's success. Without industry endorsement and real support, the emerging producer has a massive great feat to surmount to achieve this success for themselves and their director. They are the biggest casualty of the wooding process - generally unpaid, under-valued and unrecognised ( In space no one can hear you scream ...). A group of producers (known as The Producers' Circle) came together to try to change this. And they have gained a voice - the BFI, BBC, PACT and other industry gatekeepers are listening and giving them access and platforms. I am passionate about improving awareness of how institutionalised industry practices handicap the emerging industry producer. I know things are improving, with a focus on women in the industry especially - and with BBC Films pioneering super positive practices. Beyond the whole sustainability issues ( a whole minefield in itself) we need to look at how industry should stop dismissing the emerging producer, and instead be empowering them to do this job - that quite frankly - most sane people wouldn't do!! I might do a separate blog post on this, as this one is already long, as was meant to be focussed on the director! Eeesh.

So wind this up Ohna - in conclusion: The risk of working with a first time director does not lie so much in the profitability of the film, more in the perceived risk's added challenge to getting the film supported in the first place. In this lies The Stigma of a first time director. And the verso of this... In countries where there is a public fund to support emerging talent, this issue is mitigated by a pot aimed at first time directors and a remit to support local emerging talent. If you choose to work with an attractive "talent to watch" Director, this can be an asset, whereas the second or third time director who has not yet built a reassuring amount of experience and is saddled with low budget failure track record becomes much harder to get funded. In this lies The Draw of a first time director.

Suspended Island wins Vila Do Conde Parliament

We were super excited to receive this award from Vila do Conde for Suspended Island. It feels very apt in the wake of BREXIT so imminently anticipated on October 31st with dread.

Jane and Louise were thrilled and sad they had not been able to attend what they know to be such a well-curated, warm, beautiful and eclectic festival. Being a big fan of Portugal myself and seeing all of Laurent Crouzeix's posts - I had been feeling a hint of wish-I-was-there throughout.