It's interesting how we the theater-going public will salivate over people once they stand in the limelight on the rich red carpet of a Cali or West End sunset. Having wound their way around miles of velvet rope to get there, deservedly so - in one way or another, something glistens about them, and the attention paid is not really avoidable. The market demands it as we walk down streets plastered with posters and splash screens. Love us! Pay attention!
Yet for every dozen shining faces who catch a glimmer of the flashbulbs out front, there are a hundred others on the razor's edge making it happen in the background. Many filmmakers don't realize in their quest to land the big connection that it's the people who are actively "making it" in the "now" who will soon be on a cabbie screen near you as fully present "made" entertainers you'll want to know when your time comes to step up at the pitchfest.
In other words, hedge your bets. Pay attention to the powers that be going about their business behind the scenes to really make things work, and you'll get a much better understanding of who to approach next about your new film or project. Research and set out to meet the people you actually need to know.
To that effect we've tagged a few real life film and theater professionals who are out making a name for themselves being active in the industry, as opposed to active in the photo ops, and asked them relevant (we hope) questions about their basic strategy for survival and success in their industry.
Creative Producer Lorrie Sheehy, a well made name already in the UK, currently works at Lost in Soho, based in Salisbury, UK, with a passion for film, theater and television writing. She's won a Writers' Guild of Great Britain (WGGB) award, and has directed Love Me, Dorothy! in London's West End as a musical comedy.
She's also spent time at Warner Bros. Television, as well as Taylor-Bologna Productions, working for Oscar-nominated writing duo husband and wife Joe Bologna and Renee Taylor. Next, she's working on her fourth feature film - it's under wraps - but she's willing to share a few answers on her experiences writing and working for Hollywood...
MC: So the obvious question. What first turned you on to stage writing?
LS: I started writing for the stage aged 15 when Writer in Residence of the Royal Court Theatre, Hanif Kureishi (later nominated for an Oscar for his screenplay For My Beautiful Launderette) came to my school. Hanif invited me onto the Royal Court Young Writers Programme and I was hooked! After a hiatus in Hollywood, I returned to the stage after completing an MA in Playwriting.
MC: Well that's quite a beginning. What have you been up to lately?
LS: I've been working on the very intricate and involved research for my third screenplay, which is based on a very famous murder case, and which I can divulge no more about except to say it's a psycho-noir.
MC: Hmm... Black Dalia? Ok. Next question. Was working for Warner Brothers part of the overall strategy or just a bit of luck in the right direction?
LS: I worked for WB in London for about a year in which time - during their merger with AOL - I learned a huge amount about business, contracts and, most importantly, that ultimately all art and entertainment share a common basis: an absolute need to find an audience. I still use lessons I learned during that time when looking at potential projects to either invest my time or money in!
MC: It's true. - Anything you've learned about the WB system that might help would-be filmmakers with fantasies of calling on the big shots?
LS: Like all huge corporations everything is run from Head Office. In WB's case Burbank, which I think makes it difficult for UK based individuals to really feel part of everything. Not many recent WB films ever originated in London (unless you include Kubrick who was nurtured by WB for years.) Even Harry Potter went via a First Look Deal with WB Burbank and not WB London.
MC: Oh look, we've gone and key worded ourselves to the Harry Potter phenomenon. Dear me. What will the server administrator say to me tomorrow? I think I'll be mysteriously on vacation...
LS: I'm sure that with the Harry Potter-
MC: Again! You said it twice! Can you feel our server shaking?! You can say Voldemort all you want. We don't stand on ceremony here. Just avoid the Potions Master. We'll be offline for weeks.
MC: Weeks. He's got 347 groups on meetup.com Somebody should really study that, speaking of making money...
But truthfully the struggle of local production workers is a complicated issue when working with corporate financing. The blessing of a major studio is that it brings a huge amount of funding and expertise in a whirlwind single production so that we can get astounding 3D Potter flicks out there at Christmas to put a smile on every little kid with a chopstick and a head dent. This is fundamentally a good thing. The smile, not the dent. Chopstick is neutral.
To give you a perspective even from US production artists, I know production crews in Connecticut who have a hard time getting jobs even when filming is in he heart of the state due to the way the NYC production houses sweep in with their crews. Likewise I know people who live in Connecticut who work for the same crews in NYC. It cuts both ways. With big money comes an incredible amount of controlling interest.
LS: With the HP franchise... if you look at the [studio] company as a whole, even HP is a very small drop in the corporate ocean.
MC: It seems like the bigger studio efforts will get damned either way, unfortunately. The films promote UK-regional talent on a large scale to everyone, global audiences familiar with a specific style of (some would say boring, others seizure-inducing) American cinematography, and while those films probably could not have been as illustrious from all the blockbuster special effects without a multinational corporate interest to fund them, you do have to wonder if something made completely in the UK by local crews with only local funding would have been more genuine and more true to the culture of the story - or would it have been rejected due to inflated expectations from larger studio competition? It's a hard question.
The good news (I think) is there's also a more long term advantage in the short-term compromise - that more awareness of UK-native actors as advertised by these films will give more options in funding to future films by boosting UK Star power in the periphery of all the HP madness. I'm being an annoying optimist, aren't I?
LS: Despite its billions raised at the Box Office.
MC: Yes, people seem to love those films in the US because he's so quintessentially representational of the hero / survivalist. However Americanized a concept of British values we get in the films, the Potter kid bucks up to the challenges he faces. In a world currently hard selling enable-ism (is that a word?) he's out there slaying dragons. I think we even get to see him running naked in Equus in a few weeks. He's what, sixteen now? One buffed little - I'm sorry, go on...
LS: On the flip side of the coin I think it's very sad that [many studios] have recently gotten rid of their classics division to concentrate on blockbusters.
MC: Well it's sort of inevitable, but one thing we try to at least encourage through our efforts is the idea that technology will prevail, and with it the unyielding storytelling spirit. Even so there is a lot of fading tribal knowledge that is still relevant as we work on new mediums, digital processes, solitary projects. etc. It's always sad to see the classics listed as "no longer in stock" or shoved out of the line at the rental store.
LS: I think that is a huge loss for the independent film-maker and film-goer but obviously the numbers didn't stack up.
MC: Well, if you're ever in, oh, say the Eastern Seaboard, there's always Best Video. But I know what you're saying. Still, it's good to encourage that same spirit in newer projects, as you've done in many of your works. I applaud that. In a way I think that's the natural progression of things. It has to be. Otherwise what choice is there? - OK, last Question - Favorite inspirations?
LS: Shakespeare, Pinter and Mamet.
MC: Of course. The Cliff's Notes served me well!
LS: For film I am a cinematically inspired writer. Talking has very little place in film, a fact most British writers don't actually realise which is why they make films that look and sound like bad TV shows.
MC: We have got to see the match between you and McKee. I'd pay money.
LS: Films you can watch with the dialogue turned off (not the music!) and not miss a thing include: Apocalypse Now; Lawrence of Arabia; and Picnic at Hanging Rock. Seminal films.
MC: Fantastic choice of movies. Mike Figgis would agree about the music. As for wit, I downloaded the pilot episode of Little Britain the other week, thinking it would be classical Brit comedy. I'm still a bit scarred. There was no dialog, just some grunting and a loss of towels.
LS: When you add dialogue it should be absolutely pared down to its essential core, not just there to film the page with black type.
MC: I still think they needed to keep the towels, but seriously you're spot on about the need for good dialog. People write awful conversation these days. That's the tribal knowledge that's gone missing and they need help finding. New writers don't just get it right without practice. I'm STILL practicing. Good scene turning is hard work!
MC: So... what's the elevator pitch for your current project?
LS: It's absolutely top-secret - I could tell you but then I have to throw you down the elevator shaft. You choose...
MC: Oh and me without my spare parachute. Curses. - On that note, thanks for giving us some fantastic insight into Independent filmmaking in the UK, and an insider's view of working with US studios in Europe. It's been a real pleasure! Best of luck with the new project and keep us posted when you're ready to reveal what it's about.
Labels: Lorrie Sheehy