Tuesday, 22 November 2016

SCREENWRITING FUNDAMENTALS #16 PROOF OF CONCEPT

One of the most common questions I'm asked by amateur screenwriters is, 'how do I get my script read?'

It's one of the most frustrating aspects of starting out in this industry.

If you're an unknown with little or no contacts in the industry, getting people to simply READ your work can be incredibly difficult. 

The reason for this is over saturation.

I've gone into the statistics on this before - but at any one time, your script is essentially competing with around 1 million other screenplays. 

A little-known fact in the industry is that when your script DOES manage to make it in front of someone and they give it a read, they will, at best, skim read - being one of the main reasons I heavily advocate lean writing. 

So, in a time-poor world, how do you get your script read?

One way is to create a PROOF OF CONCEPT of your feature.

A proof of concept is a short film that conveys the CONCEPT or IDEA of your film. 

There are many examples of highly successful feature films that have come from a proof of concept short film. 

The horror film MAMA started life as a two-and-a-half-minute short film. 

The same for LIGHTS OUT.

I have had personal experience with creating a proof of concept.

I won the Page Awards Thriller/Horror category with my screenplay Damage Control. 

It was the top script in its category of an overall 7000 entries. 

To help support the screenplay I created a proof of concept. 

It takes 5 minutes to watch a short film and see if you like the concept, or it can take two hours to read a feature. 

Simply put, if you have a feature script that you feel is as strong as you can write it, and you're ready to get it out there, then creating a short film that conveys the concept is a powerful way to beat the masses.

There's a saying in LA - if you go into a restaurant and throw a rock over your shoulder you're going to hit a writer.

Writing (along with photography) are the two most easily accessible art forms. 

To be a writer, all you need is a computer with word processing software - something that almost everyone in a developed country has.

So, how do you define yourself in the world of writing?

Create a short film that conveys your idea. 

Proof of concepts can take many forms.

There really is no rule - so long as you convey your concept you've done your job.

Some people have created fake trailers for their film, a sub 2 minute short that expresses the key concept of the feature, and from there they've gone on to make a feature.

Here're a couple of tips I'd suggest for any writers out there who want to create a proof of concept for their feature script. 

KEEP IT LESS THAN 3 MINUTES.

If you can't get your idea across in less than 3 minutes you're not telling your idea well.

Now, I'm guilty of this. 

My first proof of concept I created was 8 minutes long.

The proof of concept for my Page Awards winning script is 5 minutes long. 

I'm currently working on a new proof of concept for another feature - I created a pre-vis of that short film - and it came in at 5 minutes.

After reviewing it, I've since re-written it so that it will be just under 3 minutes when I shoot it properly.

WHY 3 minutes?

3 minutes is most people's attention span. 

Look at the world of pop-music. 

All pop songs are around the 3-minute mark. 

There're three types of short films - too long, far too long, and waaaaaay to long. 

Creating a 3-minute time mark to convey your concept forces you to CUT THE FAT. 

It forces you to focus on your CONCEPT, nothing else.


GET A GOOD DP AND A GOOD CAMERA.

One of the things that producers look at is production quality.

Did you shoot your proof of concept on an iPhone 7 or did you actually engage a DP (director of photography) and shoot it on a decent camera?


I DON'T KNOW ANYONE WHO CAN HELP MAKE MY PROOF OF CONCEPT.

It doesn't matter if you have a great creative circle of friends or not.

Here's how to create a proof of concept.

So long as you live in a city that has a film school, then you can do this.

You become the director/producer. 

You go to the film school and speak with the faculty there. 

Explain that you're looking to create a short film that is a proof of concept for a feature film.

You're looking for a good DP.

Start with the DP. 

DP's have all the contacts you will need.

Put your proposal to all the DP's that have recently graduated from that film school.

Some of the DP's will not get back to you, some will and won't be all that keen, others will be excited by your project.

Once you have a DP onboard you will need to find the rest of your crew.

The DP will have worked with others and will no doubt have a suggested list of people they'd like to work with. 

I DON'T HAVE THE MONEY TO CREATE A PROOF OF CONCEPT.

You'd be surprised how many people straight out of film school will be willing to work for free.

With that said, I've found from personal experience that if you pay everyone a nominal amount - as a token of appreciation - it goes down well. 

Everyone is aware that most people don't have large sums of money lying around to be thrown at making films.

But rather than saying, hey, do this for me for free, if you say, I'll pay you a small amount, your crew will be appreciative of the gesture. 

I've seen $40k films made for $2000 - where, if everyone was paid properly it'd cost $40k, but instead, the producer paid what they could. The film got made and was successful. 

I won't go into the details of the crew required to shoot a short film here - that deserves a post (or two) of its own. 

ALTERNATE BENEFITS OF CREATING A PROOF OF CONCEPT

So, let's just say you create a proof of concept of your feature film - but it still doesn't get picked up - what a total waste of time.

WRONG.

You can now use your proof of concept as a producing/directing sample.

Again, I've had personal experience from this.

I have a new feature film that has just been announced is part of a production pipeline - set to go into pre-production next year. 

I'm set to direct the feature - and when asked by the producers why I should be allowed to direct it, I showed them my proof of concept I had directed for my Page Award winner.

On the back of that proof of concept short film, the producers are happy to let me direct the new feature.

THE TAKEAWAY

If you’re having trouble getting your feature screenplays read – create a proof of concept short film that’s less than 3 minutes.

You’ll be surprised how many doors it will open for you. 

Here's a link to my short film proof of concept for my Page Award winning script.

If the link doesn't work copy and paste this into your browser.

https://youtu.be/-ZtzrjddBwg