Scratch Me is a Film Hub North and BFI NETWORK project delivered in partnership with Screen Yorkshire and SIGN (Screen Industries Growth Network) that acts as a filmmaking lab for those who haven’t had experience in making films yet, developing their skills/talent and pairing them with more experienced producers and other HOD’s, crew and post-production filmmakers from within the industry.
Recently, we had the pleasure of being a part of the 2020 scheme and were paired with Nathan Powell (https://www.nathanpowell.co.uk/) and Yvonne Battle-Felton (yvonnebattle-felton.com) with whom we completed their first short, as director and writer respectively, through the programme.
Here’s more from Yvonne Battle-Felton and why she wanted to be part of the programme:
‘Growing up, I spent hours imagining myself as the star of Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, and Scooby Doo mysteries. I was the crime-solving heroine observing the shadow slinking across the lane, the undaunted detective dusting for clues, the quick-witted teen fearlessly gathering facts and setting things straight. I imagined myself in any number of dangerous capers that followed me like clues waiting to be solved. Each story was different, each possibility dangerous. Still, they had one thing in common. None of them could imagine me: an inquisitive, imaginative, creative, and charming, brown-skinned Black American girl living in a small town in New Jersey.
I write to correct that.
The short features Alex, a curious, mystery-loving Black American teenager who finds himself in the wrong place (Sheffield-in the middle of mystery that seems to focus on his mother as the main suspect) at the wrong time. It’s a story about identity, friendships, and the thin line between doing the right thing for the wrong reasons and doing the wrong thing for the right reasons.
The short would not have been possible without the BFI Scratch Me Programme. The lab provided mentoring, the opportunity to work with a director, connected us with an amazing production company. The opportunity allows me to grow as a writer, ask questions, and encourages me to draft, test, and draft again. The lab provided financing, networks, and opportunities to bring Alex and this part of his story to life.’
For us, as producers it was also an incredibly rewarding process, getting to collaborate with an exceptional new voice in filmmaking like Yvonne’s and facilitate the creation of what is a wonderful and vital short as a result.
It was also amazing to get to work with Nathan Powell and see how he translated his background in theatre direction, especially his use of visually arresting blocking and experience with crafting intimate, layered performances from actors into directing for film.
However, it wasn’t all plain sailing as, of course, due to the pandemic, our usual production process had to adapt and evolve. This threw up many new challenges and as a team we had to come up with innovative solutions to ensure the shoot could go ahead safely.
So, having been through it we thought we should do as our mothers always told us to and share with the hope that other filmmakers and creatives can gain insight into what it means to produce a short film in a pandemic. Therefore showing you what tips and tricks can be taken forward and absorbed into the process even after COVID-19 (hopefully) becomes a thing of the past.
Thus, without further ado, please find our top 5 tips for shooting a film during lockdown!
- Pay attention to your budget (even if it’s fully funded!)
One of the major benefits of the Scratch Me Programme was the BFI and Film Hub North financial support. Great! Weight off our mind, you’d think (especially in 2020)! Well not really… See, a budget is never limitless and due to there being multiple shorts produced, the funding for the scheme had to be split equally, no matter the genre you were making. Thus, there were still budget constraints and being aware of them was incredibly important from the start. Whilst bigger productions have the days and especially money to try different methods and even ‘mess up’, as a smaller production you do not. Good pre-production planning thus, is always required, ensuring you are less likely to go wrong as well as providing some extra space and time to assess more methods than your budget would likely allow you to try practically. Also, always get coverage, because you won’t have the money to do re-shoots if you miss that much needed shot!
- Never underestimate the power of the tech!
Of course, key to this pre-production and planning is good communication and with 2020 forcing us all into our homes and meaning that even your Nan knows what Zoom is, there is no excuse not to utilise technology to aid this process. Even after the pandemic is hopefully over, on future productions you still need to keep every part of your team involved in the conversations that are ongoing during the process and platforms such as Zoom, Discord, Google Meet, Whatsapp, Telegram etc are important free tools in doing this. Furthermore, it also means you can collaborate with people you may never have the chance to do before, auditioning or getting in contact with creatives all across the world, so you’d be a fool not to do it!
- At the end of the day ‘It’s only a movie’.
Now this may seem flippant, and of course we’re not saying that you should ever underestimate the importance of the vision of the director or writer you’re working with, but at the end of the day ‘it is only a movie’. Gone are the days of William Friedkin shooting a gun on the set of the Exorcist or Martin Sheen having a heart attack on Apocalypse Now and for good reason. Your priority throughout the process is keeping everyone safe and well. This has only been highlighted further by the events of 2020 and so it is vital you have good discipline and once again (altogether now!) good communication.
By breaking the rules and not paying attention to health and safety (just to get the shot quickly) you can hurt someone and even cause the shoot to close (and then you’re left with no film at all!) Instead, if you are restricted as we were with COVID-19, use your skills to find safe workarounds. For example, we were able to do recces through zoom with individual members of the team at location and ensured throughout our production that our set was organised around COVID regulations. .As well as this we had great support from BFI, Film Hub North, Screen Skills and more. It might seem strict but the rules matter, your cast and crew’s safety is always paramount and that should never be up for debate.
- Collaboration is key!
We’ve already touched upon this but it’s worth reiterating that for all of the above to work and for the film to even get produced, collaboration is incredibly important. Each member of the team brings a new asset and value to the process and should be valued as such, even if they’re brand new to the industry. Everyone’s ideas are important and whilst you may have years of experience (like we have), you could be missing out on new perspectives that might be integral to make the shoot work if you don’t pay attention. On top of this as a team you should never forget that you are there to facilitate the director and writer’s vision and that can only be done if you’re all on the same page. We start every shoot by reminding everyone of this and whilst this could be taking it too far, don’t overlook the fact that you must be ready to work as a team and not only care about your discipline but give everyone else the respect it deserves as well.
- And finally, don’t be a W****r!
Following on from the previous points, it should go without saying don’t be a w****r. Again, we don’t mean to be crass but as a company we have had the privilege and honour of always working with wonderful, supportive and exceptional teams on our work and this was the case once more for this short. However we have experienced and continue to hear horror stories of crews, casts and creatives who have had to deal with some proper w******s and whilst people have tried to defend it with ‘oh but they’re good at their job’, unfortunately that does and should not fly. A successful set should be safe, respectful and accessible for all, especially during the current pandemic and it should go without saying you can be good at your job without being horrible to others. And to be honest as we’ve seen on all our sets, including this one, it actually aids creativity and morale when you’re nice. So, no ifs or buts, follow and implent your own policy of NWOS.
And there you have it, our top tips for producing a short film in lockdown and beyond.
There won’t be a test at the end to check you’ve read it all but if you do want to do us a solid check out the film when it is available to watch in Summer 2021!
Oh, and make sure you follow @BFI, @FilmHubNorth, @screenyorkshire and us @enonfilms.
Until next time!
Hugh and Gabriel