BFI Future Film Festival 2015 – Fiction Day

By Kat Lawson

I was lucky enough this weekend to attend the Fiction Day of the BFI’s Future Film Festival at the BFI Southbank in London, so I thought I’d share the highlights of my day at the BFI.

Now in its eighth year, the Future Film Festival is a three day festival aimed at inspiring and helping the next generation of filmmakers, with each day focusing on a different theme: Animation (and gaming), Fiction and Documentary.

After a brief introduction from the creative team for the festival the Fiction day began with a speech from writer and director Destiny Ekaragha, working in partnership with Women in Film and Television UK (WFTV). Beginning her career 11 years ago at the age of 21, Film and Broadcast graduate Destiny entered into the film industry as a runner on the 2004 film Wimbledon, before going on to work for the BBC and has never looked back. In 2008 Destiny’s name became well known after her short film Tight Jeans premiered at the BFI London Film Festival, followed in 2009 by The Park, also premiering at the London Film Festival. In 2013 she went on to direct her first feature length filmGone Too Far! based on Bola Agbaje’s play of the same name, the film premiered at the 2013 BFI London Film Festival and Destiny became the third British black woman to have directed a feature length film that was given a theatrical distribution in the UK, the other two women being  Ngozi Onwurah and Amma Asante.

During her speech Destiny reminded us that filmmaking is supposed to be fun, that rejection is a part of this business but it motivates you, it drives you forward making you work harder and that when you make it the hype is great for a few days but then you need to move on a always have your next project in mind ready to start. Destiny also talked about the struggle facing women trying to break into the film industry, society has conditioned us to be subservient and obedient, to go along with what men tell us, that this industry can be incredibly sexist, racist and homophobic, as well as including the shocking statistic that women make up less than 8% of film directors in the UK. But also that our voices are the most powerful and important tool we have and that all our stories deserve to be told, nothing makes our stories less valid, and that if there is an audience for 50 Shades of Grey then there is an audience for every single film out there!

Following Destiny’s inspiring and eye opening speech the day’s first sessions began and faced with the choice between the Future Film Fiction Awards, London Asian Film Festival: Digital Shorts, INTERMIX, Big Ideas in Low Budget Scripts, Directing Actors, and A Freelancer’s Guide, I headed to the Blue Room to join Euroscript for their talk on high concept, low budget scripts. High concept means an idea that is easy to communicate, and contrary to what a lot of us think low budget actually means any film made for under $1,000,000, and I must admit I always thought low budget was in the five figures range not seven.

All (or almost all) film writers and directors harbour a dream of making that big budget, no expense spared blockbuster that will make them rich, famous and an award season favourite, but before we get that far most of us have to start at the bottom making low budget films and entering them into festivals. But its not all bad news, have low budget films in your portfolio does help secure funding and bigger budgets for future projects, and Euroscript took us through the basics of how to write great films on a tight budget. To start with we got some examples of how much Hollywood spends on films: Tinseltown’s highest paid actor Robert Downey Jnr earns $75million per film, the special effects forAvatar officially cost $378.5million, Warner Bros and Legendary Pictures split the $100million bill racked up for advertising and marketing for Inception and rights to show San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge cost the producers ofInterview with a Vampire $500,000 in 1994. All pretty eye watering figures when you’ve got less than $1million to play with.

After a few moments contemplating the vast amounts being thrown about by the big studios, wondering how it is possible to make a good film on such tiny budgets we got the good news, an explanation of how to do it! The main advice we got from the Euroscript team was to focus on the story and the characters, because that is what you are left with at the end when you strip away all the expensive special effects and exciting, iconic locations. While Hollywood can get away with a bit of average acting here and a few plot holes there because they have glamorous backdrops and CGI to distract us with, when you’re on a low budget your story and your characters are all you have.

However, rather than limiting you it gives you a chance to get creative, much like screenwriters during the Golden Age of Hollywood grappling with the Hays Code, it gives you a box to think outside of. Another trick to working on a low budget is being diverse with your characters, there are plenty of actors who are willing to work for free, for very little, or for a share of the profits if the film represents marginalised people in a positive light. And just as there are struggling writers and directors, there are also struggling actors, many of whom will work for very little if it gives them a good film to put on their showreel.

And we learnt that there’s good news for horror writers too. Horror cinema has become known for its low budget features with bad acting and low quality special effects, but the fact is it is one of the easiest genres to work with on a low budget, and that is for the simple reason that it is incredibly easy to scare people! If a CGI monster is on screen every few minutes by the end of the film you’re bored and its stopped making you jump, but by not using special effects monsters and leaving the audience guessing what the evil entity is you create atmosphere and terror as people fear the unknown.

The mainstream cinema will always dominate, even if a big studio film is terrible people will go and see it so they can be part of the conversation (50 Shades of Grey is all the proof you need on that note), but with the right mix of good, unique ideas and great writing you can make something truly spectacular on a budget.

Euroscript work closely with the BFI and the BFI Academy and also run their own educational program so if you’re a budding writer they are well worth checking out.

To finish off the day I went to the screening of Whiplash in NFT1, aka the biggest cinema I have ever been in! Even though Whiplash has been out for quite a while now I still hadn’t got around to going to see it, but it was definitely worth the wait. I laughed, I cried and there were moments when I wanted to punch JK Simmons, Fletcher’s version of tough love at times crossed over into emotional abuse with his mentions of Andrew’s mother leaving when he was young and that just doesn’t sit well with me – no matter how much it pushes someone to do better. But what I loved about this film, apart from becoming so invested in Andrew’s story and wanting him to succeed, was the character of Nicole.

During her first date with Andrew I worried that was about to become the “manic pixie girl” type, a troubled young woman whose sole purpose is to service the needs of the male protagonist, to be used and abused by him and to come running back months later after he decides she is his destiny, his muse etc. However I was pleasantly surprised when she didn’t turn out to be that character and went out and lived her own life after Andrew ended things between them. Her character wasn’t particularly developed, we learn very little about her other than she’s from Arkansas, goes to the only college that would accept her and doesn’t have major field of study, but when Andrew calls her six months later and asks her to his show she responds by saying she’ll have to check with her boyfriend because jazz music isn’t really his thing. Instead of hanging around waiting for him to call and jumping at the chance to see him again as he seems to expect to her, and as is expected from this kind of character, Nicole has gone and gotten on with her own life, she’s met someone else and moved on. Instead of being a simple two dimensional plot device she is a real person with her own life and I loved that about this film.

I absolutely loved my day at the Future Film Festival, and wish I could have attended all three days but unfortunately I couldn’t and such is life, and I would recommend it to anyone who wants to go into filmmaking or it trying to break into the film industry, or just anyone who wants to broaden their horizons. The festival has gone from strength to strength each year and for a day out its still cheap, £15 for a Delegate pass, but the knowledge you gain and the connections you can make is invaluable.

You can see more of what I got up to on our official Instagram account!