Counting Sheep

It's that time of the year again, we're getting ready for Bridging The Gap 2014; our call for applications will open very soon. In the coming weeks we will publish new blog posts from previously participating filmmakers, who will share their personal experiences in the process, and give you tips on how to apply this year.

First up, Rosie Reed Hillman, who not only managed to make Cailleach, a beautiful short film, but who also had her first baby during the process. Rosie, we salute you.

Rosie_Headshot.jpgMy passion for filmmaking is born out of my interest in people, their lives and the stories they have to tell. I had completed an MA in Visual Anthropology just as I was applying for Bridging the Gap. Prior to doing my MA, my background was in social care, predominantly in homelessness and supporting survivors of domestic abuse, which gave me the opportunity to work with and support people with compelling and humbling life stories.

For me documentary film is all about the relationship you make with people, respecting their stories and engaging them in the film making process. Applying for Bridging the Gap seemed like a great way to move on with my filmmaking practice, bringing all my experiences together and getting the opportunity to make a cinematic piece, after receiving lots of amazing training and mentoring.

Also, with a real budget - how could I not apply!?

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Where next for crowdfunding – is staged finance the answer?

“Staged financing must become the film business’s immediate goal.”
– Ted Hope, September 2013

Over a series of blog posts I’ve been looking at some challenges that film and documentary are dealing with online. In a conclusion to the series looking at what can be done, I explore the limits and opportunities around crowdfunding.

Crowdfunding’s lack of sophistication around risk

Much of investment is about dealing with risk. A backer of a project – be that an equity or debt investor who is hoping to see some kind of profit, or a crowdfunding supporter who wants to get their perks and see the finished film – has to predict risk. Normally, the closer a project goes from idea to release – from pitch to screen – the lower that risk gets; in other words, it's reducing all the time. To reflect this, in the majority of business investments, the first ‘angel' investors will normally put in the least and get the most equity, and as subsequent funding rounds continue, new investors put in greater amounts and get less relative share, but more value as the business is now worth more. As risk decreases, the cost of participation increases, just as there are far more ideas that get turned into scripts than scripts that get made into movies, or movies that get a theatrical release.

orion.jpgBut crowdfunding, not technically an investment, is flat and treats all types of backer the same. At the start backers have to decide if a project looks viable and convincing, pay their money and hope for the best. It’s an investment of faith and confidence when 75% of all crowdfunded projects arrive late and a quarter over six months late (according to a July 2013 study). Some end up cancelled (examples here or here), which damages the whole space as they will doubtless put some people off backing a crowdfunding project again.

The problem is arguably even more of a challenge with flexible crowdfunding where projects can miss their target and end up raising far less than they need but still cash in. On Indiegogo, 80% of projects raise less than a quarter of their target, meaning often there isn't the money to deliver the project or to do it to the standard promised. This is a problem both for the creative, on whose shoulder the stress and reputation rests, and the backer, whose money is at stake. Meanwhile, the crowdfunding space depends on people having a good experience, backing a project and doing it again.

Yet the money is almost never all needed at the very start. For a lot of creative projects, some money is needed to pay some wages and overheads over the many months or years it will take on an ongoing basis – so it could trickle in. Indeed, the biggest cost might be towards the end during post-production or when 1,000 DVDs need to be pressed or a dozen DCPs created. By that time the risk is considerably lower – if a book is ready to print or a film fit to screen, there's less risk about delivery, while it’s easier to assess the quality at that stage.

hope.jpgRolling with it

Is there space for a rolling or staged crowdfunding that drips money into the project throughout its creation? It seems to resonate with how Ted Hope (pictured) has been arguing the indie film world urgently needs to adopt staged investor financing to get more people investing in film.

It would support the kind of structure where, say, of 1,000 scripts or ideas that got funding, 200 would be supported to produce a budget, assemble a team and make a trailer/promo, 100 get shot, 50 get full post-production and packaging for delivery and 10 get extra marketing and distribution support. Investors at each stage would be taking a smaller risk and would be putting in larger sums of money – while the backer who’d taken a risk and made a good choice during at the initial idea stage could make a much bigger share of any profits.

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Diaries from an intrepid filmmaker (17)

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A safe canoe

The intrepid filmmakers are coming home

When we first got to Bubaque from Bissau, our ferry got lost and took over 12 hours to get us to its destination. Yesterday we heard that this boat had broken down half-way through and people had been stranded without food or water for over 24 hours, only to be towed back to Bissau. So no boat for us... We had planed to rent a small plane in order to film above the canopy of the islands and pretend our cameras are birds.

That did not happen either. It seems that we would have had to confirm the confirmation that had already been confirmed. Confused? Yes, so am I. My guess is that, because of the trouble with the ferry, the plane operators received a better offer and conveniently forgot about our confirmed confirmation.

Getting out of Bubaque has proven as difficult as coming there. Anyway, we finally managed to rent a private boat and get ourselves to the mainland ready, for a long wait at the airport and another sleepless night in Bissau.

We now have many hours of footage to translate. Need to find several native speakers in Bijagó and Creole with fluency in Portuguese. Even in Lisbon these will be hard to find... Impossible to start editing the material without subtitling. We are going to opt for an editor who speaks Portuguese so we can save English subtitling till later.

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Diaries from an intrepid filmmaker (16)

No matter how experienced you are in documentary filmmaking and all things African – no shoot is like any other. And in particular, this shoot is like no other. Trapped in what has been described a 'closed society' – the Bijagós archipelago – Noé Mendelle struggles to find some sense of balance between traditional and modern influences. When a blog becomes your only place to vent, irony is inevitable. Raw, unfiltered and dispatched on the same day, here is the latest post in her series.

This is our last day in the Bijagós

Today was a day of ceremonies. The main one was to get Iran to enter into the sculpture the making of which we had been following for the last few weeks.

  • Eggs smashed: 4
  • Palm wine: 20 litres
  • Clothes: 3
  • Chicken sacrificed: 1
  • Goat sacrificed: 1
  • Future president met: 1

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Sculpture not yet possessed by Iran

How do you know if a spirit has entered into a sculpture?

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Diaries from an intrepid filmmaker (15)

The island of Uracane

This is our last trip to another island. Time is running out. I m not looking forward to another camping trip. Despite constant attention, the spots on my legs are looking like craters and are all getting infected. My toe is still home to a worm farm and starting to look beyond repair. God knows what my Edinburgh doctor is going to make of it... I'm struggling with my right foot and Luis with his left knee. What a pair of wobbling directors!

On our arrival I changed my mind. It was such a pretty beach were we landed at, and such a lovely village! Too bad that villages are always a few kilometres into the forest. I would have loved to do a dive. Ancumbo was different from other villages we had seen so far. All the houses had big terracotta pots to keep the rice. They gave a majestic look to the place.

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Village with pots for grain

Our arrival always creates a buzz, but here you could see that not many people had seen a white person before, let alone two women and a man! Some kids run away crying, but adults and braver children would come and stroke our skin and hair in disbelief. I can't wait to bring a ginger Scot along!

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Diaries from an intrepid filmmaker (14)

Abu in Formosa

Today we got back into our canoe in order to move to another island: Formosa. We were welcomed at the beach by some strong lads to carry our luggage, and then we set up our tents inside their local disco. A lovely round house, with beautiful paintings. Our host, Aliu, had build it in order to make sure the young in the village of Abu would have some form of modern entertainment at weekends and would not feel the need to leave the island.

Abu is the first village on this trip where I felt genuine love and use of the Bijagó tradition beyond the motions of rituals. There is a genuine attempt to combine it with modern life. Children are encouraged to go to school all year round. We saw them playing until bell time, and then a couple of older children took them through the drill of physical exercise while singing, and then they all scattered in their classes, eager to learn.

For the first time children were not excessively on the top of us and no begging went on. At last we could have conversations without feeling that a fare meter was clicking.

We met one of the old chiefs who is in charge of one of the Iran (spirits embodied in a sculpture) living in the village. Apparently this spirit is a mischievous one who is not accepted by the other Irans and lives alone in the hut built for him. He put a spell on two large stones and anyone trying to move them gets hit by disaster.

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A chief, an Iran, and the two stones.

But it seems that this old man managed to tame his Iran and somehow developed a peaceful relationship. I think the chief was even proud of having a difficult Iran! His cheeky giggle when he spoke about him said it all. He may have many funny stories to tell but he won't share them. Not because we are foreigners but because our fixer is of a younger age. The entire Bijagó society is organised around the six different phases of a human life. The elders only reveal their knowledge bit by bit.

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Diaries from an intrepid filmmaker (13)

Running with canoes

While camping in Canhabaque, we did not get a minute of solitude. Our tent became a point of entertainment for children and adults. Whenever we got back to base we had to switch on the generator in order to recharge batteries. Of course we were greeted by a long queue of people wanting to recharge their mobiles (mainly used to play music) and another long queue hoping to watch TV. It appears there is an association between the sound of a generator and television. Meal times were a bit tricky, with 20 pairs of eyes looking at everything we put into our mouth. We managed to 'consume' 12 kilograms of rice in five meals!

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Louisa and Marianna

Just before we left we did a quick interview with one of the young women who hung around us. Marianna is 20, and her dad has been away for several months to do his initiation. He too appeared at our door step and she was taken aback to see him. However, tradition does not allow him to talk directly to his wife and children. He needs to use a child as a messenger to pass along updates. The sad thing is that even once his initiation is over, he will not be allowed to return to his wife and children. He will have to marry again. This part of the tradition is now being questioned by many young men who emotionally suffered from that rupture of family.

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Diaries from an intrepid filmmaker (12)

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Imagine this sacred drum playing throughout

3 days in Canhabaque...

We got invited to a unique event: the crowning of the new queen of Canhabaque. Here, you can only be queen if you are beyond 60, in the last phase of your life, and of course having done all the various initiations. The potential queen needs to have several meetings with her family to decide if she accepts the position. It means saying goodbye to her family, friends and village. She moves to a new home and a new village and will reside there till death.

The ceremony is three days of festivities with the sacred drum playing messages throughout. The queen-to-be sits in her hut with a screen in front her door and can only communicate or watch the festivities by peeping through it. The drum is meant to be the mode of communication for the queen, her mobile!

Many chiefs of villages come to take part. They too can only be made chief once they are 60. This age class is so important to Bijagó culture. The young work for the elders who, bit by bit, give them their knowledge. We are very curious to see what is happening now, with the young having access to schooling and others forms of knowledge. Will killing a chicken in order to make decisions persist over other avenues of information?

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Village chief

The chiefs are all dressed with colourful drapes, an extraordinary choice of hats, and objects around their necks. They all carry lovely handbags with important objects such as their wine tumbler made from a horn. They all have a dog. When the chief dies, the dog is killed and buried with the chief in order to protect him in his afterlife.

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Diaries from an intrepid filmmaker (11)

Local network was down – now back online!

So far we have been following characters in villages around the island of Bubaque, the main urban space, if we can call it that. Today we left our modest but comfortable hotel for a trip to another island, Cahabaque.

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We landed on a paradisal beach but then had to walk several kilometres through a forest, beautiful but hellish having to carry our equipment, tent, food and water for five days. Thank goodness a few kids were waiting for us on the beach and delighted at the prospect of earning a few bobs. What a workout! And of course we are wimps next to those skinny kids, all muscle and strength!

This had been my shopping list to survive 5 days:

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Diaries from an intrepid filmmaker (10)

No matter how experienced you are in documentary filmmaking and all things African – no shoot is like any other. And in particular, this shoot is like no other. Trapped in what has been described a 'closed society' – the Bijagós archipelago – Noé Mendelle struggles to find some sense of balance between traditional and modern influences. When a blog becomes your only place to vent, irony is inevitable. Raw, unfiltered and dispatched on the same day, here is the latest post in her series

A presidential pain

Insect bite cream tubes: 3
Ibuprofen for headaches: 32
Meeting with presidents so far: 1

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Extra security for our documentary production?

This must be the most presidential week of my life. Having met leading candidate for presidential elections at breakfast four days ago, we returned to our hotel today to find it surrounded by a crowd of performers and taken over by strong military presence, only to meet the ex-president of Timor in our hotel. We are staying in Casa Dora, a modest hotel with small traditional huts: a bed, a cold shower and a great cook – wonderful but not the place where you would expect to find VIP clients, let alone presidents. This little island is getting very crowded, and those official visits seem to become bank holidays for everyone, bringing our characters into town... and costing us another day of shoot.

I hope that, if you managed to put up with my extreme sense of humour so far, you got curious enough to go and check where the Bijagós are. Everything is extreme here:

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I AM BREATHING
FUTURE MY LOVE
PABLO'S WINTER
STEM CELL REVOLUTIONS

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