Bend Don't Break - Alex Harron Interview
I pretty much Love sport movies, Moneyball, the Rocky films, Friday Night Lights and The Fighter probably being my favourites. They contain a lot themes that I find fascinating, passion or obsession? The will to win, does it matter it?.
I had made two shorts documentaries about two different types of sports - Wrestling (Wrestling is Ballet with Violence) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kfil-RYFRSA&index=3&list=PLgiitOpV7ZF4F7II0J2wGLCm-WbpHRdNz and Boxing.
After making several shorts on a various different subjects, I got it in my mind that I wanted to make a feature documentary, to really push myself and I knew the difference between a short and a feature was that a feature is sellable. I thought long and hard about what I would do and nothing clicked, One of things you do with documentaries is you go and shoo, film interviews them cut it together as a dry run to see if there enough a story. I tried this with the world of Ballroom dancing and it did work. I just didn’t feel the passion for it, If you don’t want to watch it, why will anyone else? So I made a 3 min short with the footage you can judge the result for yourself:
Murder on the Dance floor
It was about this time I watched a documentary about a rival league to the NFL called the USFL, I didn’t even realise that there was another league, I went into Google and typed 'American football in Scotland' and the British American football association website came up and I click on the Edinburgh Wolves & Dundee Hurricanes I could not believe there were teams in Scotland, I have to admit insanely at first I thought I want to play, Then I thought film: documentary.
I decided I would go up to the last two games of their season and shot some footage and interviews then cut them together to see if there was enough to make the film.
I had done lots of research online that they hadn’t won in year and the club was falling part, but you can’t beat speaking to people, it’s there you get the sense if things can work or not.
Not only was there potential for great stories and drama, I really felt I could make this work and this was my dream to make a sports film. But that’s not the whole truth, the business side of me thought American football in Scotland is so out there that this could be very sellable especially to an North American audience. The most important thing was to get the material in, crew and do a proper pre-production so the shoot would be stress free. Best intentions eh??
I was at a film night put on by Fife Film Crew
I heard a talk by Lawrie Brewster talking about crowd funding and I will always remembered what he said. If I can do it you can, As he had crowd funded successful for his feature Lord of tears:
My plan was so naïve I’m embarrassed to write it down, but it’s the truth. I thought that I would film most of the documentary myself and get a few friends to help here and there, I realised after hearing Lawrie talk there was another way. A more structured and professional approach.
Without those words I may not have made the film as it is, I needed some money to start the project, just over £2000 for expenses mainly food & petrol.
Myself and the producer organised a crew of camera operators, boom operators and shot the film over a year, following the team throughout pre-season and the season, following some of the players during it. It was a gruelling shoot at times mostly outside; especially in the middle of winter. I forgot my gloves once and couldn’t untie my laces as my hands was frozen one night.
The main thing was we got amazing footage, with documentaries when your shooting sometimes you just know when you capture a bit footage it’ll be in the film and sometimes it’s not until the edit you’ll see it in a different way, After filming for just over a year, we finished production finishing on 88 hours’ worth of footage.
A few months into filming I realised I have enough footage to cut into a trailer this is important for two reasons -your subjects always want to see footage it sets their minds at ease and it’s an effective way of getting them onside. It becomes real for them when they see a well put together trailer all of sudden it’s real!
The second reason was I wanted to get in contact with The Scottish documentary Institute to get some help with the film and I needed a minute trailer to send to the future directors scheme through the Sheffield doc/fest.
I got accepted into the future directors programme which consisted of getting feedback on your film treatment and feedback on your trailer. There was also a networking & workshop day that I attended with distributors and producers.
It was the first time I was going to talk to industry “type people”. My motto is be prepared. I had my 1 min teaser with me on my tablet, my full colour treatment with synopsis, character profiles, and director’s bio with lots of production photos. I was good to go. It was somewhat nerve-racking as I knew other filmmakers would be there and to be honest I had been working away in relative isolation in fife so I assumed that I would be least experienced and that maybe my idea wasn’t that good! The horror!
It was the opposite, I made lots of contacts and people were very impressed by what they saw and a couple contacts wanted to see more. In contrast a lot of filmmakers didn’t have anything or a really poorly cut trailer. I learned a lot that day, maybe I wasn’t as inexperienced as I thought. I learned a little about the business side of things such as what does a sales agent and distributor does, it really opened my eyes. I was advised to send a full trailer once I was finished filming and a really good treatment to sales agents, distributors and TV channels to get interest in the project.
It was at this stage I got in contact with the Scottish documentary institute and Barbara Orton an independent documentary producer, I got into the interdoc programme with SDI which meant mentorship through anything to do with my film. What I needed was help with the structure and editing. With both the SDI and Barbara’s help I cut a 4 min trailer. it unbelievably took 3 months. This is the bit I can’t stress enough - mentorship with any filmmaker is probably one of the most important things you can do, someone to bounce ideas off and someone at higher level than yourself with more experience. Sometimes filmmakers ego won’t allow then to take constructive feedback, my experience is we as filmmakers have got to be more open minded to new view points and ideas even with our owns films.
I sent the trailer and a treatment to 36 distributors, sales agents and TV channels and most didn’t get back to me, some said no thanks and few said they were interested but wanted to see more and a few were really interested, It was really exciting, But at this point, I actually had no film to show, just a trailer and 88 hours of unedited footage.
One point I can’t stress enough is interest is nice but it doesn’t really count for much until they’ve seen the final film and you’ve signed the contract and you’ve received the money. But it was a massive step forward, it was at this stage I really started to reflect on the fact my original idea was to shoot this with some friend’s then just have a little premier in Dundee and that would be it, things were getting serious now.
I had shot 88 hours of footage and condensing into, as of today 100 mins(still needs to come down to 80 mins hopefully!) was a nightmare. The thing about freelance filmmaking is you have to stop every time paid work comes up and it takes while to get back into the edit. I remember at one stage editing my film and a week went past and I didn’t edit one minute,(it was Facebooks fault!). The job seemed so big I didn’t know where to start!
I was told by Sonja Henrici at SDI to cut sequences and just try to find that way into the film, it worked. I made myself a rule I had to cut 3 mins a day. Hopefully more but no less than that and it had to be a good 3 mins. Working to a goal makes all the difference. Within a week I had 30 mins cut, the film was coming together.
It was at this time the SDI made me aware of the chance to go to The Sheffield Doc/Fest as part of creative Scotland’s “Scottish delegation” as a upcoming documentary filmmaker. I got in and got a free ticket and expenses. That was a big thing for me and I not exaggerating when I say this but the two places in the entire world that I always wanted to go to were the doc/fest in Sheffield and the modern art museum steps in Philadelphia (The Rocky steps).
The experience of being at the doc/fest was amazing to me, to get up in the morning go see a film and have meeting with interested parties about your film, go to workshops. I got onto some roundtables where you got an informal chance to speak to TV channels, sales agents and distributors, many of the same people who I had sent my trailer and treatment to previously.
At one of the table Shanida Scotland from BBC Three/Four sat down and I was given three mins to pitch. By this time I had my perfect logline worked out. I always said my film was Rocky with American football but in Dundee and with lots of swearing and big laughs. Then I would explain it in more depth. To my surprise Shanida said we had got the email I had sent and the whole office had watched the trailer and thought it was great and would work for BBC three and I was to send her more details and a rough cut when I was ready, What a result! I would have never had that opportunity if not for the SDI and creative Scotland.
Another thing I learned was the difference between “boutique films and screenings” and more “populist” documentaries for example a “Boutique” film like the wonderful Addicted to Sheep -http://www.addictedtosheep.com/trailer/
has had screenings all over Britain since the doc/fest at independent cinemas and has been gathering a cult following that has led some great reviews that may be able to leverage into a TV deal.
I also went to see a film that was really similar to my own “Scrum” - http://www.scrumdocumentary.com/scrum-trailer
about a gay Rugby team hoping to win a new rugby tournament, It was really cinematic and the music was amazing, It made me really think about the direction of film and how music could be used to enhance the overall experience.
Speed Sisters http://www.speedsisters.tv/ was the festival hit and had every sales agent, distributors and TV channel was after it and I was lucky enough to be at the same table as the producer on one of the pitching tables. Their way of making a success of the film was easy they got a distributor who released the film worldwide and then sold it to regions all over the world, megabucks!!
One thing that was crazy about the doc/fest is everyone talks to each other so words spread fast. I got several phone numbers and emails for meetings from sales agent, distributors and TV channels, all of them really wanted to see more and it seemed to add more weight that I was there as part of the ”Scottish delegation” and was part of the “interdoc” programme with the SDI. It added to the legitimacy to film.
I learned a lot over the 5 days, made a few contacts, watched some amazing films, attending some workshops.
Where in the world can you talk simultaneous to the head of documentaries for Sky, channel 4 and BBC one, mental!!!
One good thing was I went to a funding forum, The only reason I went was because Leslie Finley head of film at creative Scotland was on the forum, I had spoken to him before briefly at The Edinburgh Pitch about my film, But this time I had my business head on, I introduced myself and told him about my film. He remembered me, as my documentary is in Dundee everyone thinks I’m from Dundee?? It doesn’t help I don’t correct them! Anyway I said I was in the interdoc programme and needed help getting the film finished and getting it out there, He said he would be happy to help and I should get in touch when I had a rough cut finished another result, amazing!!
At the moment I’ve just finished my latest cut of the film and sent away to the SDI for feedback. Once I receive that I can hopefully cut down the film more and get a sound mix and the music can be added.
It's am exciting time, once the cut is done I will organise a private screening for the Dundee Hurricanes and crew, then it sending away to interested parties and film festivals.
I learnt more about filmmaking over the last 2 years than I have in the last ten. I learnt more about how the business works in the last 6 months than the last 6 years and that’s down to getting that little bit of help.
There opportunities out there, but you have to look. Nobody’s going to chap on your door and say 'here it is' on a plate for you. You’ve got to work for it. Take a chance what the worst that can happen?
One of things that I’ve learned it’s never too early to get your social media for you film online from Facebook
https://twitter.com/TheSeasonDundee to have having a website http://buytheticket.wix.com/benddontbreak#!screening_press/c1t44
The more people can engage with your film the better, and also having relationships with other filmmakers so you can share each other posts about your films
Indie filmmakers need to embrace each other’s film and work collectively to help each other promote them, rather than think of everyone else as the competition. It’s a view point I find very tiresome.
Overall making my first feature film has been amazing, but it has been a gruelling experience, the end is in sight thing and I can’t wait for people to see it. I also recently started test shooting for my next documentary feature this time involving female boxers, working title “Ladylike” here we go again! I must be nuts….
Latest Bend Don't Break Trailer" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=deGtkTnHNmg