During the seminar, moderator Maurice Lee, Partner at Maurice WM Lee Solicitors, introduced five topics for discussion: investors, intellectual property (IP), actors, awards and marketing.
- Finding investors
Mr Hevia remarked that finding investors is a process of matchmaking. He suggested that first-time filmmakers find a way around funding obstacles by making very low-budget films initially to develop and demonstrate mastery of their craft. "Creativity comes from this process," he said. "Once you develop your craft, the money will find you." He suggested renting a camera and using friends as actors. "You can't skip steps. Try two or three movies for 5-8 years instead of spending years chasing money," he advised.
Mr Mak said a good film is all about the story - the characters and the meaning in it. "Once you derive a message from this, find a producer who understands your concept," he said. He opined that there are no new genres, but "what is special is how sensitive you are and how you want to depict your story idea within conventional genres. There is no point in doing what has already been done. You need an angle to make a genre work. You need to work with the resources you have and just focus on being a filmmaker."
- Presenting ideas
Mr Mak emphasised the importance of preparations - knowing the characters and story. "If you are uncertain about the details, people will lose confidence," he said, adding that it is very important to provide "the vibe" when meeting potential producers and cast members to grab their attention. He suggested being prepared to provide as simple or detailed a description of the story as required in the circumstances, which could range from a paragraph to 100 pages.
Mr Hevia suggested a producer find talented people who understand his idea. "Since half the job is convincing people the idea is going to work, prepare to explain the story in two minutes in the initial meeting," he advised.
- Protecting IP
Saying he is not concerned about having his idea stolen by people he is pitching to, Mr Hevia nevertheless suggested pitching only to people who have been recommended as trustworthy. "If you make a film you are uniquely qualified to make, it's not worth someone stealing your idea," he argued.
Mr Mak and Mr Lee also agreed that filmmakers should be selective in their pitching audience.
- Approaching artists
Mr Hevia said it is easy for a scriptwriter or director with credibility to present their idea to artists. "Try to assemble a package that looks great," he said. "Be realistic and don't set yourself up for failure."
Mr Mak suggested being straight with potential cast members. "Find out whether they are interested in being celebrities or actors. If they really want to be an actor, you have to provide the space for them to act," he said. He added that as famous actors may get 10 offers a day a director has to be well-prepared to tell them what kind of film is being planned and how it will be made. He suggested the director to take a respectful attitude and ask the actors to work with him rather than for him. "Get into the scripting details first so that you can get the actor to focus on the job," he suggested.
Mr Hevia pointed out that since established stars have so many offers, it is a waste of time for a first- or second-time filmmaker to approach them. He suggested getting the actor to focus on the craft, not the money - position it as an opportunity to transcend, rather than a per diem."
- The importance of awards
Acknowledging the value of awards in validating and distinguishing a work, Mr Hevia nevertheless advised filmmakers to focus on the craft instead. "How do filmmakers distinguish their work? One does something the other 499 aren't doing. They have to take a familiar genre and make it new," he said. "Awards are the consequence, not the goal." He said his goal is to create a work that respects the craft, and that will be talked about. "That is the priority and the reward."
Noting that no one can guarantee a hit or an award, Mr Mak said filmmakers have to decide whether they are making a film for an award or a film that tells a meaningful story. "Things that go into an award are not the things you should think about when you are making a film. It shouldn't be about the award," he remarked.
- Marketing the film
Mr Mak said there are many ways to market a film, including social media, which can be used free of charge. While marketing involves preparing posters, photos, a musical score and a trailer, the young director said it is the production itself that is most important.
Mr Hevia said that marketing must be regarded as part of the film from the beginning. Fundamentally, he said, a filmmaker has to make a film that people will want to watch. "So first you have to find out whether people will want to see the film and then think about the writing," he said. "Filmmakers have to understand who their audience is and who will find their story interesting. This is the essence of film marketing."
- Magic moments
Mr Hevia also underscored the importance of staying flexible - and focusing on the whole rather than the details - when making a low-budget film. He shared his experience of shooting a short film in Miami on a US$7,000 budget, when the production schedule was interrupted by a hurricane. While the obvious solution was to cancel the shoot, subsequent engagements made that impossible. Consequently, they adapted and shot the film during and after the hurricane, making a very different production which captured plenty of attention. "You could not buy those effects for US$100 million, yet here they were free. You have to be fluid," he said. Mr Mak remarked: "These are magic moments for a filmmaker."
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