DANIEL THOMAS FREEMAN
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"The Silence After Life" cover

Feature film released 2020 on Blink in the Endless

reflections on making a hidden film


Sally Mortemore and Emma Spearing in a scene from the feature film The Silence After Life


INTRODUCTION


In the last of these articles about our film "The Silence After Life", I thought I would share some thoughts and reflections on the film itself, its release and the filmmaking process we've used, as well as a few thoughts on my next creative project.


HOW DID THE FILM PERFORM NUMERICALLY?


screening description audience count
test screenings cast and crew       158
film festival submissions industry only 88
film awards submissions industry only 39
press reviews industry only 27
film festival screenings public 131
release through Vimeo on Demand       public 86
TOTAL 529

The above numbers are as at 17th January 2021, 7 weeks after the VOD release.


So, after running around doing two years of promotional activity (including film festival submissions) and spending five years in total working on this project, just over five hundred people have seen the film and under a hundred of those have paid to see the film on its official release. So not exactly worrying Netflix. And rather less than the several thousand viewers I had hoped for when I started this project.

It was also very disappointing that the paid adverts we put out in film and music magazines and websites had almost zero response, despite specifically targeting the more niche film and music fans who would not otherwise have heard of the film. It's also been really difficult to get the film reviewed and the social media reaction has been low. This is why this article is called "reflections on making a hidden film".

On a purely economic and numerical level, TSAL has failed badly: we (the producers) spent a lot of time and (for us) a lot of money making and promoting the film only to find we are effectively paying each of the viewers to see the film!

But this is where a purely numerical analysis is in direct conflict with the actual value of creativity.


WHAT ABOUT THE ACTUAL VALUE OF THE FILM?


So, if you ignore ecomonics and ignore the numbers, what did we collectively accomplish? This is where I believe the true value of the film comes to light:
  • When people have liked the film, the beauty and depth within it has really spoken to them

  • We created something completely new and unique

  • We were screened and acclaimed in two passionately-run film festivals

  • Sally won Best Actress at the little Brighton Rocks Film Festival and all the main performances have been externally recognised as being "wonderful" and "magnificent"

  • We meaningfully depicted the realities of grief

  • We attempted to show what it feels like for an individual to have and wrestle with an intense experience of God, both on a personal level and within a church context ... I can't think of any other UK film that has done that in the last ten years (let alone one shown at an LGBTQ-friendly festival like Brighton Rocks)

  • We positively depicted a gentle resolution between the LGBTQ+ and faith communities ... and, again, I can't think of any other UK film which has done this

  • From scratch we made a 70-minute feature film to professional cinema and EBU technical standards

  • We now have the contacts, equipment, knowledge and skills to create other films

  • We met some really interesting and wonderful people, some of whom we know will be lifelong friends

  • We showed the film in an actual bricks-and-mortar cinema - that now seems rather remarkable in the age of the COVID-19 pandemic

  • Over five hundred people have seen the film despite us having no studio backing, no production company, no PR company and no major celebrities behind us

  • Over two hundred members of the public have seen the film online despite being up against the huge number of films available for 'free' through terrestrial TV, Netflix, Amazon Prime, Sky etc and the truly enormous number of films submitted to film festivals (large and small)

CONCLUSIONS


Five years is a long time to spend on any project, especially one as mentally, physically and financially all-consuming as a feature film and especially one which involves so many other people, disciplines, emotional upheavals (my mood went up and down like a yo-yo at times), a pretty vertical learning curve and so, so, so much admin!

There is an entire industry of film festivals, equipment manufacturers, books, websites and social media posts all selling the dream that any one individual (or a very small amateur crew) can make a feature film which can compete with those created by the professional film industry. Whilst there is a certain amount of truth in this idea (and certainly a huge amount of inspiration), there is another truth which does not often get spoken about. For every inspiring story of Shane Carruth or Robert Rodriguez winning awards at the Sundance Film Festival for their 7k USD budget features ("Primer" and "El Mariachi" respectively), or Peter Strickland winning an award at the Berlin Film Festival for his under-50k GBP feature "Katalin Varga", there are literally thousands of micro-budget feature films made which never even get selected for a major or medium-sized film festival, let alone get seen by anything like a mass audience.

And in some respects this is only right and proper.

Now I've been through the entire filmmaking process from script to release I can see that, as well as my enormous enthusiasm and joy at starting to create a feature, there was also perhaps a little arrogance. As a total newcomer to film scripting, production and direction, I was comparing myself against entire teams of highly trained professionals who've been through years of film school and subsequent years of working up the ladder on film industry productions. I was expecting to create something with the same technical, creative, cultural and economic quality as a UK low budget (under a million GBP) film like "Lady MacBeth" with far less resources and far less experience. With hindsight I can see that this was a very unrealistic expectation of mine. Moreover, it was very inadvertantly a bit of a slight to all of the huge amount of good work being done by so many in the film industry (sorry).

And yet ... much of my favourite art has been made by very small teams of artists working outside the cultural industries. Who else but Shane Carruth and his cast and crew would have up with possibly my favourite film of the last ten years: the glorious and gloriously mind-bendingly brilliant "Upstream Color"?

And even working within the film industry, there's a long history of outsiders getting in at the very edges and making amazing stuff. David Lynch moving on from painting to spend five years in a shed creating the wonderfully bizarre "Eraserhead". Peter Strickland building on his experience of "Katalin Varga" to give us the tensely immersive "Berberian Sound Studio" and the luxuriant "The Duke of Burgundy". Steve McQueen moving on from video art to direct the monumental "12 Years a Slave". Even Christopher Nolan started with the intriguing puzzle of "Following" shot entirely part-time and on a micro-budget on a year's worth of Saturdays.


WHAT'S NEXT?


The biggest question for me personally is, of course, will I start another feature film?

The short answer is yes ... but with major changes to our filmmaking process and expectations. It is pretty clear from the experience of TSAL that hoping the next film will attract a major / medium film festival or a reasonably-sized cult audience is unrealistic. It is also abundantly clear that, as TSAL is extrememly unlikely to ever break even, that we will need to curb our budget severely as well as our expectations.

However, crucially, neither restricting the budget or our audience hopes affects why I want to make another film. Whilst money and a bigger audience would be very welcome, I make art because I have to; because I'm an artist; because it gives me enormous satisfaction; because it keeps me sane; because it's a spiritual practice for me; because it helps me to explore and understand and translate the world around me. And one of the great joys of working in film is working with many other people - at least during the shoot.

So with all that in mind, I have started to dream up the next project, code-named LDAC, and I hope to start writing, shooting and recording material for it later this year with the eventual aim of getting it shown in a few tiny film festivals.

To focus my efforts, I've created a new manifesto. I've really created this just for myself but I'd be delighted if it helps any other micro-budget filmmakers out there.

My final thought is that I want the next film project to be less constrained by expectation and structure. I think there is going to be a lot of play in it. And hopefully it won't take five years to complete!

That's all folks!

Over and out for now ...


Sunday 17 January 2021


All content © Daniel Thomas Freeman 2011 - 2021 (except where otherwise marked)

DANIEL THOMAS FREEMAN
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