We've teamed up with the prestigious London Film School so that you can pick the brains of their brightest graduates. If you have any questions about how to get on in the film industry, making your own film, raising funding or even a question on the film you're making for Film nation Shorts - ask our expert.
Send in your questions and then in a couple of weeks the featured filmmaker will get back to you with the answer.
2011 was supposed to be Annabel’s year. So why is she here, sitting in a restaurant, being told by a fourteen-year-old that her boyfriend, Thomas, doesn’t want to see her anymore. The small messenger is Wilbur. He has agreed to break the news as payment for borrowing Thomas’s tent. But dispensing with Annabel proves a bigger challenge than Wilbur had anticipated.
BiographySee how our expert became a success, who inspired and motivated them?
Sasha Collington graduated in 2009 from the Masters in Filmmaking at the London Film School. She won a Skillset Bursary, a Postgraduate Bursary from South West Screen and a John Brabourne Award to attend the two-year MA.
After graduating, Sasha began work on a feature film screenplay, Another Anna. In 2010, she was selected for the Writers Lab at the Binger Filmlab in Amsterdam, where she spent five months developing the script. After completing the Binger Lab in February 2011, she was selected as a Director for the Berlinale Talent Campus at the 61st Berlin Film Festival.
Sasha returned to London in March 2011, and began work on a new short film, Lunch Date, which she wrote, directed and acted in. As an experiment, Sasha decided to use a crowd funding website to try and raise the budget. The pitch was successful and Lunch Date raised 271% of its initial funding goal in less than two weeks, and was selected by Kickstarter as one of their recommended projects on the home page:
Lunch Date is currently in post-production. Sasha is presently doing the final tweaks to her feature film screenplay, Another Anna. She has plans to develop a romantic comedy sitcom.
Your questions answeredOur expert answers your questions providing helpful tips and advice.
Apparently when I was eight, my Aunt asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up and I told her, ‘I want to be a film director.’ My Dad overheard this, and he said, ‘If you're going to be a director you really should make a film. Otherwise you're all talk.’ So, with the help of my Mum and Dad (I'm an only child so there weren't any brothers and sisters to help), I made a six-minute film called ‘The Helpful Friend’, in which I played the villain. It was such an exhausting experience (as I hadn't realised you had to repeat the scene so many times) that I decided I never wanted to make another film ever again in my life. So it looked as though my brief film career was going to end there (aged eight.)
Eleven years later, I was studying for a degree in English Literature and Italian at Cardiff University and was preparing to leave for my year abroad in Italy. I had the idea of making a documentary following various students for the year, so I used my student loan to buy a DV camera. I spent nine months filming four friends of mine who were ‘characters’. ‘Just pretend I’m not here,’ I would say from behind a huge lens, while lurking conspicuously in the corner of the room. I spent the summer editing down hundreds of hours of footage into a fifty-minute piece that I was going to submit for broadcast. I sent the film to the then Head of Factual Programming at Channel 5. In my cover letter I described the documentary as ‘fascinating and insightful’. Several weeks later I received a letter from the then Head of Factual Programming at Channel 5. He said that my 50-minute documentary was neither fascinating, nor insightful, but was very well edited. Spurred on by the one encouraging line in the midst of an otherwise not particularly encouraging letter, I decided that I was going to learn as much as I could about the process of film production.
Also you could apply for a job as an Assistant to a Producer, as then you can learn on the job, and then will learn more about the financing aspect. When I had just graduated from university, I was looking to get experience so I sent my CV and a cover letter to all the production companies in Oxford (where I was living). I didn’t initially get any responses, but then I got a call from a Producer/Director, who was looking for a Research Assistant who spoke some Italian for a documentary proposal. It was only two days work, but it led to future work and one of the projects I worked on ended up getting shortlisted for an Oscar. So I would advise getting out there and contacting people before they advertise roles.
I also think crowd funding is a really interesting area to look into. As a new producer if you can show that you’ve already successfully raised money for shorts, then it stands you in good stead for future projects, and again looks good on your CV, as it shows that you are resourceful, that you’re not going to wait until someone gives you money. You’re going to go out and get it. We raised $5,871 for my last short film, ‘Lunch Date’, in less than two weeks using a crowd funding website. And it means that you can bypass all the traditional waiting time and hoops you have to jump through to get a short film funded. So definitely also an area to look into.
Once you find a course that you like, I would check how much of the course is practical and how much is theoretical. I think you want to go for a course that is largely practical (say 80%) as I think film is something you learn by doing, and by making mistakes (in my case). And you can always buy books to read about film theory. Talking of books, there are some great ones written on structure and screenwriting, which I think would definitely be worth a read. My favourites are ‘Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting’ by the infamous Syd Field, and ‘Alternative Scriptwriting: Rewriting the Hollywood Formula: Successfully Breaking the Rules’ by Ken Dancyger and Jeff Rush.
Being an actor, you’ve probably spent quite a lot of time on film sets, but I think the experience is quite different when you’re part of the crew. So I would also suggest trying to gain experience that way as well. I started out working in the art department on independent features in New York. My first job was as an intern, and then I worked as a Set Dresser and Props Master. It was great as I got to really understand the art department and how that functioned. I think it’s important for a director to understand the different departments, and their roles. And the best way to do this is to go and work in one. The advantage to working on smaller projects, rather than large big budget features, is that you will probably get to be more hands on.
The other important thing I learnt was how much you can achieve in a day’s shooting. In advance of the shoot, there is always a tendency to be optimistic about how many shots and locations you can do in one day, and I would say that especially with student film crews, it’s best to be pessimistic about how many you can do. Because things invariably go wrong – it rains when it shouldn’t, your actor is late, your location falls through. There are always problems. So it’s best to anticipate that there will be problems, and factor in contingency time.
Another important thing I learnt was about story. In my first year at the film school, I was always trying to condense a feature film story into a short film. It took me a while to realise that a good short film is essentially one scene. And keeping the story simple is better than overcomplicating it.
I think it was crucial for me for several reasons. The main one being that I discovered the genre that I want to focus on, which is variations on the romantic comedy genre. Prior to the Binger, I had been a bit scared of writing comedy. There is always the worry that, horror of horrors, people won’t laugh. So previously I had focused mainly on drama. So my first draft of the script for ‘Another Anna’ was written as a drama. I had my first development session with two other writer/directors (from Australia and Bolivia) and a Producer (from Colombia) and my development consultant, Olivia Stewart, (the British Producer who produced Brassed Off, The House of Mirth amongst others) and Olivia looked up from the script and frowned at me, and said. ‘It’s not funny. It should be funny,’ and I said. ‘Oh I didn’t write it to be funny,’ and she looked at me and said, ‘But you’re writing a romantic comedy.’
I think this is really crucial. This process of discovering what subjects/genres/stories you want to focus on, to use the cliché: finding your voice. But it’s true. It takes a while to figure out, but I think as a writer or a director, that’s what the beginning of your career is all about. Finding out what it is that you want to say.
I think having a good headshot is really important, as this is the first thing that people look at. So make sure you get several pictures done, and choose the best one. I think actors have to be the most relentless out of all the relentless people who work in the arts, and I really admire that. It’s always disheartening when you are turned down from roles, but you must remember that even the most successful actors suffered from countless rejections earlier on in their careers. You have chosen a difficult career path, I won’t deny that, but if it is what you love doing in life, (and you can’t imagine yourself ever doing anything else) then you must pursue it.
I also think it’s a good idea as an actor to have other strings to your bow, other ways of supplementing your income aside from acting. If you are a good writer, then I would use this to your advantage, as it is an incredible tool. If you’re not getting offered the right roles, then write a good script and cast yourself and get somebody to produce it.
I think it would be good for you to join a local organization that does workshops for young people, as they would be well equipped to advise you on anything of interest happening locally that you could get involved with. You can also look at making your own films. (Perhaps you’ve already been doing this). If you don’t have access to a camera, then you could always use a camera on a mobile phone, just to try out ideas. Or write down some ideas and draw a storyboard.
Another very interesting organization is First Light as they work exclusively with young people who want to be filmmakers:
I think determination is the most important thing with filmmaking. You have to be a little bit relentless and never give up. And you sound determined. And that’s a really good thing.