Shane Davey’s positive account on taking his film The Albion Falls through a seven-day residential workshopping process at Production Value 2016: Amsterdam.
Towards the end of 2015, my producer Andy Noble received confirmation that our project The Albion Falls had been selected to take part in Production Value 2016: Amsterdam.
The film had originally been conceived for submission to Film London’s Microwave scheme, where it was shortlisted and received positive feedback from the panel. Their readers also took to the film, giving praise with a glowing review, but sadly the scale of the project was too large for Film London to move forward with.
The Albion Falls is a sci-fi thriller about a prison ship that crashes on an uncharted planet, pitting its remaining survivors against each other; think The Grey meets Ashes of Time!
Subsequent drafts of the script have been through industry reading circles and professional script report services for feedback. There were a couple of bad versions of the story but then everything just started to fall into place; characters clicked, the dynamics became fluid and the action defined.
The next steps were to create a sizzle reel and accompanying brochure outlining the project’s tone and aspirations. These explained the crux of the story and its underlying themes using visual references and mood boards. A short test film (below) where we rehearsed the fight choreography and scale model work was also completed.
The three minute test film had a life of its own, playing at genre festivals around the world including two comic conventions in the US, one in Spain, and the Australian Sci-Fi Film Festival. It was also featured on HeyUGuys, a London-based film news and reviews site ‘celebrating the freshest new voices in cinema’ .
Then we met with Hubbards to discuss casting options and, with their help, put together a realistic shortlist of talent that we could approach. This in turn enabled us to get estimated figures from a UK sales agent, though at this point we still didn’t have a concrete budget breakdown and schedule to complete the package and that’s where Production Value 2016 came in.
@ Production Value 2016: Amsterdam
Production Value is a training initiative organised by multiple partners including FOCAL Resource (Amsterdam), the Austrian Film Institute (Vienna), the Norwegian Film Institute (Oslo), the Swedish Film Institute (Stockholm), the Finnish Film Foundation (Helsinki) and FOCAL (Lausanne), with additional support from Creative Europe, European Union programme. It is the brainchild of Swiss filmmaker Denis Rabaglia who has been Head of Studies at Production Value for ten years.
Production Value is a seven-day residential workshop aimed at simulating the pre-production for six existing film projects, ultimately delivering professional budgets and shooting schedules. Working in teams of two, junior line producers and assistant directors from all over Europe are assigned one of these projects, brought to the workshop by directors and producers. The teams are coached by top-level European line producers and 1st assistant directors to ensure they receive the best budget breakdowns and schedule plans possible.
Our junior line-producer was Zdenka Gold from Croatia and our junior 1st assistant director was Silvia Martinez from Spain. Our senior line producer was Mathias Schwerbrock from Germany and our senior 1st assistant director was Stuart Renfrew from the UK. Roaming between the projects was VFX supervisor Frank Schlegel; Frank’s keynote speech was a brilliant recollection of the scale model work he did for The Grand Budapest Hotel.
Prior to our arrival in Amsterdam the team had already been deconstructing the project for five days and were ready to present their work to us. They had been meticulous in their analysis of the script; breaking down each scene in detail so that every word had a cost and time equivalent. For the purposes of the exercise we had selected Germany as our shooting location so everything presented was based on German rates.
Our low-fi indie sci-fi, inspired by Corman, Carpenter and Kurosawa, was about to get a reality check. We were presented with a tight schedule of 50 days and a budget of €7,500,000. Given the ambition of our film these numbers felt accurate enough, however as an indie filmmaker working outside of the UK system - no TV credits, agent or production company (and only Directors UK there to ease the isolation) - it is unlikely we’d raise that kind of budget for a first, non-micro, feature.
Together we got to work cutting the schedule and bringing the budget down. This first meant reassessing the script and making fundamental changes. Our surviving army of convicts halved from 50 to 25, the climactic battle scene switched from night to day, the crashed spaceship’s scale was reduced to a third, and the water stunt sequences were refined. Swathes of dialogue was cut and all of the effects sequences were deconstructed in order to determine if they could be practical or CG.
It was crucial that we reduced the fight sequences; I’ve worked with MMA fighters when choreographing action sequences and I was confident of finding cinematic solutions to these demands - but Albion features 18 bone-breaking brawls, some a couple of blows, others long-drawn-out punch-ups in the dirt, all with an accumulative effect of demolishing our schedule and inflating the budget.
For the revision some fights were cut entirely, others combined, a few shown in abstraction, and some translated into a single shot; Sword of Doom and Sanjuro have always been important references for the single shot sequences in Albion.
The end result
The overall impact of this was to reduce the time and money needed to make the film – as a result our schedule went down from 50 days to 37, reducing the budget from €7.5m down to €3.5m - still a significant spend but more realistic to raise than the previous figure, and within the safe working parameters of our sales estimates.
The scheme culminated in presentations to the other teams and their tutors, senior producers and also the European funding partners for Production Value. The juniors led our presentation, explaining their methods for breaking down the project and the process of making revisions. We presented after them, expressing our gratitude for the care they had shown our project and praising the timely reality check in terms of scheduling and budget.
I had assumed that the outcome of Production Value 2016 would be a detailed budget and schedule for us to present when pitching the project, but the truth is we got a lot more.
Once the presentations were over it was straight to the bar for valuable networking. We found producers, students and teams wanted to discuss the Albion project in more detail. Some just wanted to bounce ideas around the creative elements but most wanted to help us get it made. We were given important contacts across Europe for finance, studios, locations and SFX, with the promise of further introductions to the wider European industry at a later date.
In the week after Production Value we made more progress on the film than we had in the year preceding it. The project has accelerated forward and that’s purely down to the generosity and enthusiasm of the filmmakers we met in Amsterdam.
We are currently exploring location options and met a producer that has blazed a trail through the former Yugoslavia for Europacorp. The recce photos his fixer has forwarded to us are incredible, otherworldly and perfect for what we need. If we shoot in Eastern Europe, instead of Germany and the UK, it could save us €1m from the budget.
Next is one more go on the script, incorporating the crucial changes highlighted by the Production Value process, and then (hopefully) finance and shooting…I’ll keep you posted!
Shane Davey is an independent director who has shot music videos for bands such as Bullet for My Valentine, Enter Shikari, Bring Me the Horizon, Fightstar and Skepta. His micro-feature The Horror of The Dolls, which won ‘The 28 Day Feature Film Challenge’, is currently streaming on Amazon USA. Shane has since been developing his second feature, a sci-fi thriller titled The Albion Falls.
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