RED RIVER – My New Drama for Directors UK

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It started with an image. A tiny girl chased by a giant red veil. But it started before that, at a Human Rights Watch talk at the Frontline club, where I first heard about child brides, the number one issue facing human rights campaigners.

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It stuck in my mind. A girl, clever girl, young, still at school, who didn’t want to get married. Not yet. Not to a man much older than her. Not when she was ten, twelve, thirteen. So I carried this idea around, waiting to write it up. And in the winter, just before Christmas, it came out – this dream, this chase, this story. A runaway child bride, here, in London, on the River Thames. And then this story was made real. ‘Red River’ was selected for the Directors UK Challenge ALEXA scheme, sponsored by ARRI.

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We went into pre-production in February and have just shot the film over three action-packed days in March. Alongside my writer-director role, I put my producer’s cap on and started to pull the elements together that we needed. There was a 12 year old girl in a boat on the river, a VFX dream sequence involving a giant veil, a chase sequence on the River, involving mud, more boats and water, and a series of driving scenes across London. It seems I had written a rather complicated ten minuter. But mostly I thought about the girl in the boat. The boat and the girl, drifting away in my dreams. And the Risk Assessment…

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Nikhita Mani and Munir Khairdin

The best thing about producing as well as directing is you get to pick the best people as your team. 90% of directing actors is great casting – and I had an amazing cast thanks to our clever casting director Shakyra Dowling, including  Goldy Notay, Munir Khairdin, Simon Nagra, and our two young actresses – Nikhita Mani and Mia Rolfe.

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Goldy Notay with Mia Rolfe and Nikhita Mani

So I do believe that directing a crew depends on – well – that crew being something special. Which of course they turned out to be.

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Abigail Berry at Directors UK provided invaluable production support while ARRI gave us an Alexa XT camera with a set of Master Anamorphic lenses and a generous lighting and kit allowance – plus a terrific amount of goodwill and technical know-how from Milan Krsljanin and his team of Challenge Alexa camera trainees (and all trainees are Met Film School graduates!).

So we hit the River running – and then God gave us the weather.

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Light on the water, captured on those beautiful lenses by expert cinematographer Patrick Duval.

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Footfall and dialogues caught by our very own Sam Cousins.

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And production design by creative dynamo, Sam Sharma.

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Then 11 year old Nikhita Mani ran on screen and became that character I had dreamed of all those months before. That clever girl, that girl who didn’t want to get married so soon, so young…

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So now we are in the edit, with my old friend Alex Morgan, and in a few weeks time I will have to let her go – to the composer, the VFX compositor, the sound mixer and the colourist, ready for our Challenge Alexa screening in May. And then she will be off again, across the screen, running for her life, towards a new life.

Catch her while you can…

For more updates on RED RIVER, you can like our Facebook page here or follow us on Twitter: @emlin32, @golday_notay, @Nikhita_Mani, @ShakyraDowling, @Directors_UK

HUGE THANKS  to everyone who has worked with us so far! Emma xxx

Emma and Nikhita

 All photos by Doris Zajer..

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FOUR GO TO CANNES


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Last year I wrote  Diary of a Cannes Virgin to share the experience of going to the most famous film festival in the world for the first time. But I didn’t go alone. I went with three new friends from the WFTV mentoring scheme.  ‘Four go to Cannes…’  It was a real Girl’s Own Adventure story, although we were less Enid Blyton and more a writers’ splinter group, a Gang of Four curious to see how the international system of buying and selling features worked on the inside.  Faced with long queues for badge collections and deciphering the arcane booking system to see films, our first day in Cannes felt less like ‘What dress shall I wear to the premiere?’ and more like hacking into a heavily encrypted national bank.

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It took us a good 24 hours – helped by Elizabeth’s insider knowledge of previous Cannes – to simply work out where everything was. We spotted the red carpet easily enough – the big one at least. The pavilions, the film market, the food stands and the loos took a while longer. But like all good Brits abroad, we splashed out on overpriced hot dogs and vino with cheerful humour and threw ourselves into the long Cannes days – from queueing in the rain for our bus in the morning to all jamming into a taxi together at midnight…

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Three days later, after countless industry panels, rained out screenings, a party and a case of food poisoning from a dodgy salad at the panini van where we took most of our meals, we took refuge in a proper French restaurant outside the enclosure and celebrated our first Cannes visit. Despite the crazy conference centre atmosphere we’d all had a really great time.

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I put this mostly down to our natural support of each other. From sharing beds on the first night in our hotel and giggling into the night, to sharing canapés at drinks dos, to arranging to touch base for lunch and dinner during the festival and compare notes on networking events, we had each other’s backs from day one.  Although Cannes is full of people you either know or think you want to know, it’s important to draw breath – and have a real conversation with someone you really like, who you’re not trying to sell anything to, and who knows your feet are aching and you’ve been on the go since 7, and, most importantly,  have a laugh with.

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Looking out for each other at Cannes created a real bond, and we’ve stayed in touch during the last year, reading each other’s scripts, supporting each other through  the ups and downs of development, and sharing our good and bad writing days.  Our faith in each other has been rewarded times ten.  One year on, it’s fantastic to see how well our Gang of Four has done.

Elizabeth closed a development deal on her feature script this year.  Wanda has enjoyed a stellar series of acting roles and is writing her first UK feature.  Our other friend has a feature length thriller in development.  As for me, I met a great producer during that first trip to Cannes, who is helping me develop the US feature I took there so hopefully a year ago.  As Sinatra would say, ‘It was a very good year.’

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So to Cannes 2014 – Wanda and I will be braving the Croisette once more, with the others there in spirit. This time we have a studio apartment thanks to another friend from last years’ trip. We are determined this year to hit the best parties, the most exciting premieres and sample the delights of proper French food.

That is until we get there – and the panini van beckons.

 

Share your Cannes stories (or plans) below – or you can find me on twitter @emlin32.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Deal with Development

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Almost a year to the day since I began writing my feature script, I have found a great producer who likes the project and has agreed to help me develop it further.

And my recce trip to Arizona is happening in the New Year – the reward for a year spent writing and rewriting the script.

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This is of course not the end but the beginning of the next phase  – getting the story ready to film.  There’s still a long way to go.  But I am excited!

I started the year wishing for a development deal for my script.  I realise now I already made a development deal back in January 2013 – with myself to write this story.

Only you can write your script. But it’s hard to do it alone and get it right.  I owe a huge debt to all the creative and talented friends who have read my story and taken the time to give me feedback and ideas to get it to this point.  Thank you!

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To all of you out there writing – and rewriting – your scripts – hang in there, ask for help when you need it – and well done!

Here’s to a successful and fulfilling 2014 for all of us… I look forward to hearing your stories and updating you with mine.

Best of luck!

Emma 

Pitching for the International TV Market

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So many film-makers I know live and work around the world.  So how do you pitch yourself and your projects to this brave new global market?  I have spent the last five years between London and New York, producing and directing for US and UK television.  I recently gave a talk on how to pitch beyond the UK  for the BBC and Creative Skillset  – here’s what I came up with:

1)   Get Moving. Go to international TV festivals to meet TV Execs from around the world – MIPCOM and MIPTV are well-established markets; for factual try Realscreen and Realscreen West in the US and Sheffield in the UK.  NYTVFest can put you in a room with networks like Fox to pitch your comedy pilots directly.

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2)   Get Online.  There are many online briefings available   – Radarscreen offers global factual briefs and commissions; Cynopsis is great for US TV news;  our own TVMole serves up excellent UK and international commissioning news, not forgetting Broadcast which covers not only the UK but the latest  international deals too.

3)   Partner Up. You can find a UK Indie that has a presence in the country you are targeting, or contact the Indie Unit at BBC Worldwide for advice on where to pitch your projects and who to contact, which can act as your sales and distribution company.  Or use your agent or approach foreign channels directly through your own company if you prefer.

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4)   Watch their Shows.  Sounds obvious but if you want to make shows for a foreign audience, you need to key into what already works there, it’s a different country, a different culture with different audience expectations.  Ignore this at your peril… because

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5)   Style matters. Identify the many differences in format for the country you’re pitching to compared to say the UK version of the same show and adopt this style in your pitch, written treatments and teaser reels.

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6)   Speak their Language – Each country has it’s own particular business culture, which you need to learn and operate within. The best way is through living and working there, but you can also ask advice from colleagues who’ve been there and learn from their experience.

7)   Treat Co-producers with Respect. A commission from another country is not just gap-financing, they are buying a say in the final product and if you have more than one country in play, you need to balance the needs of all of them with your own taste as a writer/director or producer.

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8)   Be your own Brand. Be you – internationally. Your programme ideas are could be universal in their appeal if you think outside country lines and reach out to the audience you identify with most – wherever that may be in the world.

Good luck! And see you Up in the Air….

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You can leave a comment here or contact me @emlin32 on Twitter…

The Miracle of Mentoring

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I am wearing waterproof mascara for the last day of our Women in Film and TV Mentoring Scheme.  Six months after we started, twenty talented women are now firm friends and, together, helped by our industry mentors, we have changed our lives from the inside out.

If this all seems a little sentimental, consider this.  In a recent survey by Directors UK, the average percentage of TV dramas directed by a woman was found to be 8%.  This means that in the already highly competitive field in which I work, I am in a distinct minority.  I have never been one for special pleading.  However a series of diverse and challenging jobs and the death of my mother had left me feeling low.  I wanted to move forward in my career but I needed someone to talk to.  In my interview for the scheme, when I was asked what the hardest thing about taking part would be, I said I had already done it – it was asking for help.

A questionnaire helped me identify my concrete goals.  Although I had enjoyed the last few years directing factual programming I wanted to move back to directing my first love, drama.  And after working in the States for some time I needed to re-introduce myself to the UK industry in that light.  I was lucky enough to be paired with the inspirational Emma Turner, Senior Executive Producer, Worldwide Drama at Fremantle Media.  Encouraged by our monthly meetings, my focus, energy and application to finding and creating new work tripled.

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Mid-career is exactly when you need a mentor most.  Re-positioning to get what you really want takes a lot of time and effort and, as a freelancer, having a sounding board is a huge plus, while having someone you have to report to really makes you get on and do stuff!  Emma was warm, practical, straight down to business, which suited me perfectly.  She also got the range of my work and saw it as an asset, not a drawback.  This was not psychoanalysis or cosy chats about the industry, this was ‘What can you do to get where you’re going?’ and it suddenly all seemed possible.

Nadia and Kate.aspx copyForging a supportive network with the other twenty women on the scheme came easily.  The weekly seminars we each had to deliver on our specialist subject helped us realise what we already knew, and share it with others.  Although I have lectured professionally, I still found it quite nerve-wracking and that fear bound us together and made us look out for each other.  I also found it cathartic as it allowed me to articulate what I had been feeling and had noticed in the industry for a while now – that my role as a director was changing.  There was a point one evening when it all just came together, the group gelled, we had become more than colleagues, we were all friends.

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So what did I gain from all this camaraderie and support?

Not just a warm fuzzy feeling – real benefits.

  1. Contacts.  It’s a hard fact that this business is built on who you know and whether you are starting out or starting over you wonder how you’ll ever get to know all those fabulous people who are going to give you work. What you come to realise is that everyone is connected, so the industry meetings generously set up by my mentor led to many others.  The group also went out of their way to help each person make contacts and shared advice and support along the way.
  2. Soft Networking is a vastly underestimated skill.  Going to screenings and industry events, helping friends promote their work, sharing contacts and ideas all help build a community that you are part of, so important if you are a freelancer.  You get to hear about funding opportunities and it can lead to great work relationships.
  3. Confidence. Everyone always says this about mentoring but it’s true.  Having discussed approaches and solutions for six months with Emma, I now know what she would say in most work situations.  Her mantra is ‘Just do it’, and the more you do, the more confident you feel pushing out of your comfort zone.
  4. Emma directing Us series 'In Search of Food' download 092 New projects.  In the last six months I have written the first draft of a new feature script and am preparing for my first trip to Cannes.  I am directing a new short written by one of our group.  I have written a prize winning pitch for a TV drama series.  I started this blog which has now had almost 1,500 views and been reposted on industry websites; and I am delivering my  seminar on directing at Cardiff Digital Week.  I have also recut my showreel, reworked my C.V. and improved my interview technique, all using professional industry coaching and feedback on the scheme.
  5. Jobs. I am hearing about more jobs now through my new network, and I am much more focused about what kind of work I am looking for.  This might sound counter-intuitive in the recession hit world of ‘take what you can get’ but trying to please everyone and do everything wasn’t working for me.  Now I’m doing what I really want to do and so can be 100% dedicated to making it happen.  And although range is useful, everyone loves a specialist.
  6. Goodwill. You hear a lot about how difficult this industry is and how cut throat but not much about how people genuinely want to help you out. Experienced practitioners love passing on knowledge so asking for advice is much more profitable than gunning for a position in their company. Mentoring brings out the best in people and makes them feel they are giving back.  So believe in a benevolent universe.
  7. Passion.  No one does this job for the money. We do it because we love it, and we can’t imagine ourselves doing anything else.  Mentoring someone or being mentored reignites that passion and the desire to make someone proud.  I am extremely proud of everything we have achieved on this scheme.  We are a community who care so much about the stories we tell and our desire to tell them.  Why not offer that same care to each other along the way?

So, to sum up, to Women in Film and TV, especially our gifted scheme producer Nicola Lees, huge thanks.  My fellow mentees and new-found friends, I know we’ll be seeing a lot more of each other.  And, as my lovely mentor and namesake, Emma, said at our last meeting, ‘Shall we just keep going?’

Now that’s an offer I can’t refuse… Thank you.

Who has been your most memorable mentor, or are you still looking?  Have you enjoyed being a mentor yourself?

Leave a comment below or find me on Twitter @emlin32

Who is the Perfect Producer?

images-30OK, so I am going to Cannes in less than a month with my script tucked under my arm.  I am looking for a producer, but who exactly am I looking for?  We can all make lists of our favourite films, breakthrough talent and companies we’d love to work with but what are the qualities you need in your perfect producer?

1. They have to get it.
They can be the best producer in the world but if they don’t understand your story or relate to it, move on.  Feature film producing takes years of dedication for relatively no financial reward (unless your movie is one of the few that makes it big at the box office).  So they have to really want to do it.

2. They have to believe in you.

images-27This is not just to satisfy your need to be loved.  They have to believe you can deliver a great shooting script and, if you are a writer-director, that you can make it into a fantastic film.  No matter what happens, they have to believe you can do it.

3.  They’re persuasive.

Ben Affleck and producer Grant Heslov accept the Best Picture award for Argo They have to convince the people with the money to invest, key talent to come on board, great crew to commit, distributors and broadcasters to buy your film, and you that you can write another draft/move the film from Venice to Venezuela.

4. They’re good people.
Arguably an optional trait in such a tough business, but you need to trust them, and you’re going to be spending a lot of time together.  So when the going gets rough you can lean on each other and feel encouraged to keep going.

5. They’re marriage material

images-32If this is all sounding like a relationship that’s because it is. It ain’t no one night stand. The best producers are the ones you go back to again and again, because you love working with them, trust their judgement and respect them because they absolutely know what they’re doing. Or you believe they do…

6.  They’re you.
You are your own first producer.  If you don’t get your project and believe in it, nobody else will.  You have to persuade people to come on board your project and that you can make it happen.  You need to be kind to yourself on the winding road of development and be in it for the long run, for better or worse, for richer for poorer…

So I guess I’ve found my first producer.  Now I’m looking for a companion.  A co-producer who will take my project to the next level.

I’m hearing music… Love lifts us up where we belong

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Rescue fantasies aside – if you find the Perfect Producer, let me know.  I’ll buy a hat because it could be a marriage made in heaven.

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Check out this list of the newest Top Ten US Producers who are tipped to change Hollywood.

Who is the best producer you ever worked with and why? Or if you’re a producer what do you look for in a writer or director? Leave a comment below or find me on Twitter @emlin32 . Good luck in your search!