Writing Movies For the Supermarket Checkout.. #LondonSWF

lswf2013day3 035Writer, director, producer Paul Tanter and producer Simon Phillips came along to speak about the consumer market for low budget genre features, and the sales options that become available for those independent films in the dvd market.

The guys had some experience of projects but began their independent film franchise careers with the ‘Jack’ franchise making a film called ‘Jack Says’ which had roles filled by actor Mike Reid and a cameo from Eric Cantona. Knowing nothing about distribution they sent the DVD out everywhere. Circumstances conspired that popular actor Mike Reid who had been a public favourite in the ‘Eastenders’ soap had died a couple of weeks before and because of the surge in interest for his body of work, plus the popluarity and well known persona of Eric Cantona there was interest in the project. The guys however were unknown and so ended up taking a split royalty deal. The film however got the support of the supermarkets who stocked DVD’s and that meant the deal they took, though risky, made a profit. Tescos, Asda and Sainsbury’s stocked the project with Tesco’s being the key retailer in accepting their work for sale. They managed to repay their investor’s money, not with as much as they might have in a booming market but they made profit during the height of the credit crunch.

With the next project they were able to get a graphic novel out ahead of the film, which engaged another level of audience and gave them a franchise with Danny Dyer who was popular on DVD. Optimum (who are now Studio Canal) got involved and put up a chunk of the budget money with the rest coming from their original investor pool who backed them a second time having made money the first. They also pushed hard with the supermarkets to secure the shelf space in store and because of that the film sold 115,ooo units. Because Optimum had taken the majority of the budget investment risk the deal on the second film ‘Jack Said’ was a £75K buyout. Although they did utilise UK Tax Credit they knew little about it and that really didn’t come into play until the third movie, Jack Falls which got a royalty deal with Lionsgate. However because of less focus on the pulls of marketing with the DVD cover etc. and the fact that the film was in black and white, distribution outlets were put off by the viability, the supermarkets didn’t support it and it underperformed. Lessons were learned from the experience such as overpaying for the draw of a known cast, three actors from Lock Stock doesn’t garner you any more interest than one actor from Lock Stock for instance so money could have been saved by including lesser known actors in some of the roles. Though they’d found their feet artistically it wasn’t what the market wanted. The investors were behind them however and despite the underperformance were extremely proud of the project, having been clearly warned of possible losses and the risks of investing in film projects from the outset. Overall the view of Paul Tanter on EIS isn’t a particularly positive one. He ideally makes films to make money and had learned that without the backing of the supermarkets they would never sell units. Armed with that knowledge they moved on.

When the time came to create a new project they went back to basics and had conversations with the distributors up front about what would sell and where interest was pointed. After a number of responses that had larger production costs were disregarded, the idea of a football hooligans genre was floated that they realised they could work with and would not cost too much to create and they recommend this as a good thing to do when creating work for a specific market. If you hear several people saying the same thing then you know the market wants it. Put together a treatment/artwork etc. to show a distributor that they’ll be able to market a project and then go and pitch it. The drama doesn’t have to be prescriptive though, with a good story they wanted to tell about credit card fraud, they were able to meld that with a football hooligans theme and it worked very well. For the marketing they focused on the hooligan theme that was attractive to sales and for the story they focused on the dramatic tale they were telling within that. ‘White Collar Hooligan’ 1&2 followed as another very successful franchise.

These sorts of supermarket optimised films may be not movies you’d watch yourself but they’re rewarding to create friendly genres with an audience base who desire them. With the back to basics approach and a solid plan to make profit their investor pool once again funded the first movie in the franchise, it was picked up by Momentum who gave them the sequel budget to make another straight after. Casting people who’s names and faces ring a bell with the public is fairly key and making sure their picture features on the DVD cover and artwork. They don’t have to be in the entire movie so you can budget for having them for a couple of days as a featured role. You need a commercial proposal, with artwork to back it up and show how it will appeal. Making and selling a film are different things and it’s important to understand both. Paul Tanter and Simon Phillips have released some of the most successful independent films of the last 12 months and that’s nothing to be sniffed at.

Leilani Holmes from the London Screenwriters’ Festival

Tweet me @momentsoffilm 

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