I don’t have the money to make films, but here I am, promoting my latest short Lot 13. How did it get made? Simple – Twitter made it.
There’s two types of technological democracy at work here. Firstly, DSLRs – cheap cameras like the Canon 600D have made it possible for really quite nice looking films to be made by amateurs and edited at home on a basic computer.
But the real democracy lies with Twitter – I can’t afford to fund films or indeed fully promote them via festivals. Lot 13 managed 2000 views on the first day of release, a modest but previously unattainable benchmark for the Meat Bingo gang. So, in a slightly abridged form, this is the story of me cheekily asking people to do things, Meat Bingo films and how Twitter made it all possible through ACTUAL HUMAN INTERACTION:
My name is John Panton. Of late, I’ve been directing short films. The thing is, I’m a full time teacher (appropriately enough, Media Studies and Film Studies). I grew tired of pontificating from the front of the class and attempted to practice what I preach. I’d had a silly idea to make a short featuring my good friend Matt Jones attempting to race a greyhound. I’d shot it but felt it needed a voice over.
It turns out I work in David Quantick’s old school in Exmouth, Devon. I found out he was visiting. With a great degree of nervousness, I met him during the day of his visit and asked him if he wouldn’t mind doing a voice over. He actually agreed to do it – he took a risk and was awfully nice about it all. Thankfully, he also rewrote parts of it and recorded it there and then. After our brief meeting, he left saying – “send the film to me on Twitter”.
Twitter? I’d only just registered an account and, quite frankly, didn’t really ‘get it’. I finished editing the film, and then sent David a tweet with a link to the film – Matt V Beast. Then this happened:
- Liz Buckley mentioned the film on Twitter.
- Michael Spicer saw it, retweeted it, and followed me. I followed him.
- Michael sent me a script. I loved it, met Michael (who is lovely and brilliant) and then made the film A Man Cuts Down a Tree and it has Consequences
- People started following me on Twitter. The marvellous Chris T-T did a workshop for my students. We chatted a lot about how the music industry was changing and how social media impacted him as an artist. I made a music video for his track Binker, which he duly promoted on Twitter.
- David tweeted me late one night asking if I wanted to make a short film script of his.
- Michael saw the tweets and immediately asked if he could be in it.
I read the script and agreed to direct it (even though it was clearly ‘unfilmable’). But I still couldn’t work out how to make the film. I couldn’t do a literal interpretation of the script and needed a way to tie it together.
In the meantime, on Twitter, people kept retweeting someone called Moose Allain. He was funny, plus an artist whose style/s varied across different forms. I followed him and found out he lived in Exmouth. An idea emerged – could Moose somehow add some transitions and backgrounds to the film? I sent a DM to David, asking if he knew Moose. He did – via Twitter. Moose invited me to his art exhibition in Exeter.
He’s warm and funny on Twitter. And guess what? He’s also warm and funny in real life. As I’ve been discovering, Twitter can be pretty straightforward. You follow people who seem nice/witty/informed. Amazingly, Moose agreed to my ridiculous request for help with the film and since then:
- We shot the barmy kids film Falcon of Fury with Moose’s artwork. David joined us for filming and we went to the pub after – we drank beer and hatched plans.
- Moose has accidentally become a film producer. He’s got an honesty and objectivity that has benefited everything since – and perhaps, as he’s a skilled navigator of Twitter, he’s been able to bring people together (as a producer would) but in an agent-free manner.
- While David was filming Snodgrass, he texted me asking if I wanted Martin Carr to compose a song for Falcon of Fury – “YES!”. Snodgrass producer Michael Knowles inadvertently became my personal Mr. Miyagi and advises me in a brilliantly blunt but consistently supportive way.
- Charlie Higson was visiting the school. I hatched a plan for a little script and wondered if David knew Charlie. He did. He DM’d him.
- We ended up making Appearance. Charlie was brilliant – he’d spent the whole day entertaining huge groups of students but gamely got on board with the Meat Bingo team. We only had an hour to film with him. I was terrified, but Charlie knew we were pressed for time and was charming and focused. He would quietly and politely point me in the direction of a better shot or technique. I essentially had a personal masterclass from a professional, and have incorporated the lessons learnt into my films since.
- Martin Carr scored it, manfully adapting to my many ridiculous requests and everyone involved promoted it on Twitter. People featured it on review sites and blogs.
- In the process, I followed on Twitter and then met Jeremy Marshall, a local graphic artist and rediscovered a friend from long ago, Graham Salisbury, now residing in Australia and producing visual effects. Both kindly gave their time to Appearance and the pleasingly disturbing Welcome to Oxmouth.
And then to Lot 13. Twitter was essential. Moose and David are big fans of Simon Evans. Once we’d convinced him to risk his time with us, we tweeted out the news that Simon was going to be cast. Sanjeev Kohli saw this and sent a brilliantly cheeky tweet asking to be involved. He cunningly booked a holiday in Devon to coincide with the filming day. I knew of a local comedy duo via Twitter, O’Shea & Gaukroger, and asked them to join the team.
When I say team, I mean friends. Non-industry types. My closest and dearest friends are key to everything, running a film set laced with good humour but increasingly skilled and ruthless in getting the results we need from a shoot. I’m also supported by keen students, colleagues and family who freely give up their time, I’m guessing, to be involved in something out of the norm.
I suffer from horrible nerves prior to every shoot and Lot 13 was the most sick-inducing. This vanished as soon as Simon started delivering his lines – I couldn’t help but grin from ear-to-ear. Sanjeev, rather like his Twitter feed, kept everyone amused throughout the day. And the final Twitter coup? Martin Carr was busy recording a new album, so I met with Moose – we listed the composer types we follow on Twitter and both landed on Nick Harvey. He’s also happens to be a great tweeter. Moose DM’d him……and after a week we had an incredible soundtrack.
There’s a (to borrow Moose’s term) “peculiar alchemy” that Twitter has accessed – professional creative folk have seen the films we’ve made, made a judgement on the quality and decided, for no payment, to join us in producing new ones. We’ve managed to bypass the traditional routes of pitching, grant applications and competitions and go straight to the people we like, avoiding the barrier of funding and legal negotiations. In the future, I would love to be able to pay the freelancers and pros who have unconditionally supported me, such as my DoP Carl Shanahan. He loves working with us, favourably comparing our warmly chaotic shoots to some humour-free, bitterly hierarchical commercial productions he’s witnessed.
What next? A micro short blending some new techniques called Valentina’s Dream and our biggest project to date, combining three short stories by Moose into a portmanteau film. No funding of course. However, for now I have Twitter.
Twitter is populated by many lovely creative people I’ve never met (yet). I will continue to ask these strangers to help me make films with my friends.
Anyone up for a feature film?