Making The Fence feature film Part I

Start by… starting?

I had thought about writing The Fence as a series for quite a while, but knew that I didn’t have enough material or the talent to do so. I had written an Episode one with the idea of pitching that to some production companies, thinking one thing would lead to another… it didn’t and nothing lead to anything.

With a series out of the question it became clear that a feature film was the way we needed to go. It had also been mentioned to me plenty of times by my colleagues, writers and agents. I just always considered it too big, too expensive and too much to handle for a first film. But “what else am I going to do?” was the question I’d ask myself. Nothing, there is nothing else to do… so I may as well throw the kitchen sink at it, and see what happens… so here we go!

What does a two hour Fence film look like? What was the short missing? And what new things can I bring to the table? “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” as they say, so let’s make it an adaptation of the original, meaning we’re keeping the bike theft plot. Great… but we can’t have a two hour film about someone looking for a bike. That’s just too thin a narrative to carry the time. We need higher stakes, more drama, consequences and deeper themes. Where are you going to find those?

Block of flats in Bristol

Hartcliffe Estate

Source material

Seeing as I had interviewed my Dad for the original story I figured “why not just ask him about some more stuff?” so I did, and he told me a number of stories and things about his past, not necessarily related to the bike story, but interesting scenarios that could make for good scenes, and with a bit of work could be made to fit into any story. He had mentioned a number of different characters along the way and I thought “I’ll go speak to them too” so again, I did, and with that I was quickly gathering multiple stories and perspectives on life on estates at the time. I ended up with a folder full of notes and audio recordings which I would then go back through and highlight what I would consider the ‘best bits’, or parts that I thought lent themselves to film.

No spoilers

I’m not going to give anything away in this blog, but there’s a lot more going on in the feature version, and rest assured the ending is very different. You should expect more characters, more action and a greater sense of scale. Almost all of the script is based on a blend of real life stories which I think makes it really authentic and exciting. Personally I’m far more interested in real life than I am in fantasy. It wouldn’t matter how hard I try, I could never come up with half the amount of material I’ve found just by talking to interesting people. And some of the events will leave you speechless, like I honestly can’t believe what I was hearing sometimes. Some of the select few who’ve read the script have asked “How did you come up with that? That’s crazy?” and I just say, “I wish I was that smart, apparently that’s a real thing…”

One expensive hobby

The bottom line folks is this is expensive. Like really expensive. I’m an unemployed film graduate so when people start talking about six or seven figures it usually goes straight over my head, because I can barely fathom such amounts, it’s terrifying. But without a genuine financial plan everything you do is just talk. And whether you want to admit it or not, a screenplay is worthless if it’s never made, for it was never destined to remain it its written form was it?

So how do you go from making short films for nothing to raising six figures or more? That’s a question that I’d been avoiding… because it’s big and hard to look at. This is where it becomes a film business, rather than just a film. You need to convince people to front this cash, and you need to offer something strong in return. It’s not good enough just saying “this is your chance to be part of something creative and special.” You need some real expectations of what your business has to offer investors.

Personally I find it exciting but quite draining. I’ve had to educate myself quickly on how the industry works and how films sell. How do you sell a film? What is distribution? Who are aggregators? What the hell is an action time code? I need insurance for all of this? What does Netflix pay (Nothing basically, you’d be shocked! I nearly fell off my chair)? These are numbingly frustrating questions. But if you’re going to ask someone for a hundred-plus-grand you better know the answers.

Find a blueprint

We’re not the first crazy kids to try this, so what did the successful ones before us do? I took one look at Sam Raimi and Evil dead and said “well that’ll do… if it worked for him it can work for me.” All they did was pitch the idea to wealthy people, mostly dentists apparently. They sold shares in the film for a few grand here and there until they had a budget of around $300,000. Just a side-note: it bugs me when people say “Evil dead was made for nothing!” Because if you adjust for inflation, that’s actually about $1,000,000. Still low, but far from ‘nothing’.

Does anyone know any dentists?

There’s no secret to it, find some wealthy people and pitch your product, Dragons Den style. I made a pitch and first tried it on my dad who was actually quite impressed. I think he was proud. He suggested a few wealthy individuals he knew personally and I set about improving my presentation. I also started asking around and surprisingly, if you do a little bit of digging, you’ll find there are loads of people with money not too far from your circle… Someone is going to know someone.

An opportunity arose to pitch to a friend of a friend, and I jumped at the chance, nervous but confident after the run-through with my old-man. However, It was a bit of a disaster… I was so embarrassed that I actually went into the bathroom afterwards and had a ‘moment’. I just felt silly, I somehow managed to do half the pitch without once mentioning what the film actually was! And when I was pressed to explain how sales actually work it was clear my knowledge was fuzzy to say the least. Another big talking point was how I never really spoke about myself. Which I thought was a good thing because I never want to sound like some pretentious self-obsessed person; but apparently if people are going to give you large amounts of money, they’re actually more interested in who you are than what you’re doing. A great lesson learned.

It suddenly becomes REAL

About a week after my poor pitch I get a phone call from my friend saying “My guy has had a think, and he’s interested.” Well holy f******* s*** “You serious?” was my response. But of course there were some conditions. I clearly did not know enough about what I was talking about. Which is a position you never want to be in. My budget was a guess and just about everything else was. So if I wanted the money I’d have to really do my homework and find out almost exactly…

  • How much will is cost?

  • How long will it take?

  • What are the revenue streams?

  • How much can it make?

These are the questions that you must be able to convincingly answer if you want to have a chance of financing your film independently. And let me tell you, as a creative person, these questions are the least fun you can possibly have talking about film. So brace yourself.

After a considerably amount of stress and frustration I’ve come to somewhat understand how everything is going to work. I hate to spoil your fun but the independent film scene looks like a war-zone for filmmakers. YES there is always the chance that you can make a lot of money and have a successful film. It’s just that 99% of them do nothing and go nowhere. You can blame blockbusters and On demand sales for this. But is it going to stop us going for it anyway? Absolutely not, someone has to be the 1%.

Nearly out the blocks

Closing this blog out i’ll say we’re still in the financing stages of production. We’ve begun camera testing, location scouting and storyboarding but we still need to find the rest of the money before we can make the proper start. We’ve successfully raised a significant amount for the project and we’ll be looking to pitch for the rest very shortly.

Something that has become abundantly clear is that without some form of audience you will always struggle to get something off the ground. This is why the major studios are constantly rebooting franchises, because it’s less risk and guaranteed audiences. I thank my lucky stars that The Fence preformed exceptionally well on Youtube, because without that I’d have nothing to go off really. So for any filmmakers reading this, bear this in mind. To The Fence fans reading this, thank you for everything you do, know that without your help and attention none of this would be happening. Stick with us and we’ll do what we can to get this thing out there.

Part II is on the horizon.

Till next time.