Monday, June 28, 2010

The Poster Test

I'm still digesting all the information from Chris Jones's amazing film making masterclass. When I wrote about it a few days ago, I promised to write more regarding lessons that novelists could take from the class.

One of the things in Chris's course that struck me most forcefully was a test he used in deciding whether/how to proceed with a film making project based on the title, strapline and poster image.

Does the title alone tell the potential audience what sort of story to expect? Or does it mislead? Does it imply a story or not? What about the strapline - does that help? And the same question goes for the poster image. Unless you have a HUGE advertising budget, your potential audience will make their decision to part with money or not based on this information alone: title, strapline and poster image.

How about these for movie titles that imply a story:

Home Alone
Snakes on a Plane
Star Wars

And for a perfect strapline:

Alien - in space no one can hear you scream

And a poster that tells the audience all they need to know about the kind of film to expect:

Chris described how he had designed three posters for one film project but couldn't get any of them quite right. Thus the film remains unmade. The poster test was revealing a flaw that would have come back to bite him at the point of trying to sell the movie - an ambiguity in genre and audience.

Perhaps novelists think they are above such base commercialism. But it seems to me that we have a lot to learn from filmakers. Even if money doesn't matter to you as a writer, surely having readers matters hugely. And in this game, one equates to the other.

So how about it? Before getting stuck into a long writing project, choose a title, a strapline and a cover image. Who is going to buy that book? Where will it be sold? And if you are really happy with your answers to those questions - why not write the back-blurb? Fifty words of hard sell. Do a mock-up of the book cover. Ask twenty friends what they think of it. Better still, ask twenty strangers.

Even if we don't like to think of our work in these terms, be sure that editors and agents have to.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Marantz PMD661 field recorder

Excitement yesterday as a parcel containing my new Marantz PMD661 field recorder arrived at the door. Having a new toy does tend to throw my day out of equilibrium. Instead of writing two thousand words of novel, I unpacked the box and started to explore a new world of high quality sound recording.

My choice of the Marantz over other field recorders came from an extensive survey of reviews on the Internet - reviews penned by people who know more about sound recording than I ever will. Without getting too technical here, I'll say that I needed a recorder that would take an external microphone input via balanced XLR connectors. I wanted it to record onto memory cards, have reasonable battery life and as good a quality preamplifier as I could afford.

Of all the review sites, the most helpful was the one at Wingfield Audio - with its superb table of sound samples from different machines. And I eventually found the best UK price at Pink Noise Systems, who were so helpful that I will certainly be checking their website if I need more audio kit in future.

So - now it is out of the box and I've had 24 hours to play with it, I have to report that I love everything about the Marantz PMD661. The look and feel of the machine are very satisfying. Plugging in a good microphone and a set of reasonable headphones is like having bionic hearing. I don't know where to take it that is quiet enough to find out how good the preamp really is - but so far so good. Yesterday I thought I detected a slight hum - but then realised I was hearing the fan in my laptop some distance away.

If I can figure out how to embed audio into this blog, I'll share some recordings in the near future.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Guerilla Filmmakers Masterclass

The Guerilla Filmmakers Masterclass by Chris Jones is a huge journey crammed into 2 intense days. It is film making from story conception through screenwriting, production, post-production and premier all the way to film sales and beyond to the development of your career in film.

Thanks to the work of Hive Films, Creative Leicestershire, Phoenix Square and of course Chris Jones himself, this workshop was brought to Leicester. And thus for the last two days I have been sitting, absorbing what felt like gigabytes of information. Some of it I knew before. Much of it was new to me. It was by stages uplifting, fascinating and frankly terrifying. In short, it was reality.

All the information I might have been able to dig up from books and the Internet. But nowhere could I have had the whole package served in one go. The effect of this was quite startling. Going through the journey of the filmmaker in two days from start to finish gives a sense of perspective. It lets you see the whole thing - every stage in its place.

And having seen the big picture, I can now go and learn more about the individual parts of the process and understand where they fit into the whole. Short of having done it - having made a feature film and taken it to market - short of that I can't imagine a better way to get perspective on the process.

If you are thinking of making your first feature film I strongly advise you to attend this excellent course. It'll be the best money you spend on your project.

I'll write more about one or two specifics in a later post - particularly some lessons that I will be taking from this into my novel writing.