Top Ten Things I Learned From My Last Film… And the REAL driving force behind it

Last weekend we premiered the latest film I directed, a hard hitting drama about forbidden love called ‘Seeing Him’.

Starring, produced by and written by Vanessa Bailey, it’s been several years in the making, with reboots, re-envisioning, recasting… and with at least four directors at the helm!

Why so long? Why so many incarnations?

Put simply, this film was for Vanessa, her education, her baptism of fire and her ‘first born’ movie.

If ever there was a tale of tenacity and NEVER giving up, this is it.

So looking back, what can we learn from this film and Vanessa’s journey?

  • Surround yourself with talent
    Unlike many other filmmakers, Vanessa only worked with people with more experience than herself – cast and crew. Letting go of needing to be the biggest fish in the pond means you get access to much greater experience, talent… and invariably (at the needed moment) their contacts, who are also working at higher levels. This elevates the film and the focus of everyone involved. Reduce your ego and hire upward. 
  • Don’t fear tough choices
    The first shoot of this film just didn’t work and it became apparent that it would be better to restart than to try and fix. This meant letting go of a huge amount of work and relationships. This was a hugely painful choice that I saw Vanessa make. But the right one. Others would have buckled, completed it and let it out on Youtube with a shrug. Vanessa simply said ‘No, it’s not good enough, let’s start again’. Or ‘it’s not happening, we need to change direction’. That’s why she actually fired me at one point! Though I was resurrected again to complete the film (all done in the nicest possible way too). Make the tough choices for the film.
  • Casting, casting, casting
    Being an actress (who changed career from teaching at 35 – so it’s never too late) and now a successful one too, Vanessa was always going to cast upward. George Taylor who plays the male lead opposite her is very much in the ascension, and when you see the film, you will see why. Again lesser filmmakers might have cast from their friendship group. Not Vanessa. She weedled her way in via Twitter, managed to get a coffee date, then wrote the part SPECIFICALLY for the actors she wanted. It’s ALL about the casting.

Behind the scenes of the reshoot

  • Respect the filmmakers
    While there was a HUGE amount of ‘actor’ talk and writing going on, Vanessa was (eventually) sure enoughin herself to allow me, a filmmaker, to hone the structure and execution. This was achieved in a final one day pick-up / reshoot day. I could see that Vanessa didn’t always understand what I was pushing for, but she trusted I understood that mechanics of the story, and so gave me freedom – writing new scenes for me as a director (like she did with the cast). While it’s ALL about the casting, it’s ALL about the filmmaking too.
  • Crewing, crewing, crewing
    Hiring an experienced DP with credentials (James Layton) meant that others became attracted to the film too. This elevated everything. Hire upward and your ALL your crew will be more experienced. 
  • Rewrite, rewrite, rewrite
    Vanessa could write at an Olympic sports level and the words were always there and ready to be re-wroked and edited in the morning. This was a phenomenal strength and allowed for constant evolution and refinement. Never mind first draft, Vanessa passed 100th draft! Respect.
  • Become a stalker
    To get me involved Vanessa stalked me on Twitter. I later found out that she did this for a great many people. She would make a connection via Twitter and then solidify that in the real world by meeting at an event or for coffee. She would always promote my stuff BEFORE the real world relationship and so in effect, ‘paid it forward’ and created a favour bank in advance. A small favour bank mind, but enough to create interest and traction from those she had her eye on. Vanessa is very good at selling herself, her projects and the work of others that she tactically or emotionally wants to support. This sets her aside from an ocean of people who just want others to market them by retweeting and sharing with NOTHING offered in advance. Behave like a marketer and GIVE first.

Recording the music

  • Vision
    Vanessa knew what she didn’t want and set high standards for herself, reaching out to people who could help her with greater access to the resources and skills she needed to help her achieve her standards. . The music was a good example of this – hiring an award winning composer and recorinding a live score with musicians. This could only work of course with flexibility, trial and error and a relentless desire to work at the highest possible levels. And working with the right team. Aim high.
  • Don’t give up till you find the hook
    It took a very long time to find the hook for this film, the heart, that single thing that we knew would make people lean forward when watching. Until that point, the project was very good, just not outstanding. Keep working on the idea until you find that essential factor.
  • Crowdfund with fun, engagement, passion and total commitment
    Vanessa has become an expert crowdfunder through the five campaigns she has run. All throughout she has carried her backers through the ups and downs and remained in contact and accessible. She has maintained high social media visibility too. Her tone is always fun and engaging, a little self deprecating and also aspirational. Put simply, people just like Vanessa and what she is doing, so they continue to support her. Something Simon Cox does well too on Kaleidoscope Man. Connect and keep the relationship alive.
  • Killer Premiere
    I have always said that a film premiere is a rite of passage for everyone involved and this film was no different. We hosted a stunning event at the Prince Charles in Leicester Square and everyone in the core team and family will remember it for the rest of their lives. Hosting a killer premiere elevates you, your film, your team and perhaps most importantly, creates a magic moment of acknowledgment and reflection that you will never forget. Host the unforgettable premiere.

The next London Breakfast Club is with Vanessa and is ideal for writers and actors who want to take charge of their work and career but are a little reluctant to dive into the production pool. Come along, you will be inspired and informed in equal measure. More HERE.

Onwards and upwards!

Chris Jones
My movies
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