At the London Screenwriters Festival this past weekend, I met six brand new people who, when I said I run Action On The Side, knew what it was.
So, let me answer: What is Action On The Side?
In July 2013, James Doherty, a motion designer who wanted to direct, set up a project for filmmakers. Get together and make a short film in a month. This was Action On The Side.
The concept is simple. Get together and make a short film in a month of weekends.
- Weekend 1 is preproduction
- Weekend 2 is production
- Weekend 3 is postproduction
- Weekend 4 is the screening
It is designed for people who make films in their weekends and evenings. Those of us with day jobs or who study.
It also recognises that we need deadlines to finish projects; otherwise they will just drag on and on.
I took part in the first event. A group of 25-30 of us in the Medicinema in Westminster broke into two groups and produced two films. James produced one, I produced the other.
I got to talking with James about promoting Action On The Side (AOTS), and was invited to co-organise the project. James and I co-ran the projects until he stepped out to direct ‘Breathe‘.
AOTS has run seven projects, has entered one competition, and has produced 11 short films. Our 8th project is November 2015 — and it’s starting in 8 days!
Since I’ve been running AOTS, we’ve been developing our community.
Our facebook page has 330+ followers, and our twitter has 480+ followers.
Every day we share links to articles, tips, tricks, and inspiration to our social media followers.
9am every Monday we share a scriptwriting challenge: write a 3-6 page short film in x genre. Include a x prop. The challenges are designed to inspire scriptwriters to write a short within a week. If they take up the challenge, they develop their writing skills (just by the act of doing), and develop scripts that they can bring to our script development meetings.
We trialled script development meetings last year, and started running regular meetings earlier this year. The script development group has been named ‘Screenwriters On The Side‘, and now meets fortnightly. Any one can join us, and can bring their scripts or ideas for feedback.
Our February short, ‘Arms Trade‘, was developed by three regulars (James, Chris, and Josh) at our script development meetings. Our July short, ‘Drunk Dialling‘, was an idea that Rosie brought along to our first regular script development meeting. The subsequent meeting she had a first draft. The next meeting she had her second draft. And so it continued until the July project where the film was pitched, selected, and made.
So why the blog post?
I recently started my Masters degree with Raindance. The MA is negotiated learning: meaning we negotiate what our focus is going to be. My masters is designed around Action On The Side. Specifically, my learning goal is to develop AOTS into a sustainable film business model.
“How can I develop Action On The Side into a sustainable film business model?”
I’m currently working on a Learning Plan, whereby I outline the steps I’ll be taking to achieve my learning goal.
Part of this process is working out what I want to do with Action On The Side. What does it mean to me? Why do I want to develop it?
So what does AOTS mean to me?
Action On The Side is a collaborative filmmaking model. You get to make a short film with a new network of people. You see who you like working with and you work with them again. There are people I met through the project who are great friends now. There are people I will work with and recommend for jobs (and I have).
You get to try new ideas out. A lot of the ideas that get pitched are ideas that people have had percolating in their minds for a while, but have never had the chance to get out and make.
And you actually get to finish a film. You get a product out there with your name on it. Something you can show people and say “see what I can do!”
When I look at the people who take part in AOTS, they fall into three categories.
- Filmmakers who are new to London, looking to develop their network.
- Filmmakers who know one aspect of film but want to learn another (quite a few who want to direct, but want to learn other roles first).
- People who are new to filmmaking but want to get into it.
That’s 2/3rds of the members using AOTS as an educational model.
Now, what do I get out of it?
I’m a Producer. I love producing films. I love getting people together and sharing a love of film. I get to produce content. I think every film is a learning opportunity – so I learn from the films we make as well. I get to learn from the people who join our group, who have different (film) backgrounds. I get to learn from others who are passionate about film.
I get to experiment, try new things out.
But also, I’m like the educational aspect. I taught film for two years, and I love sharing my passion for film. I’ve trained in many different film departments, so I get to teach people what I know. Don’t know how to use the sound kit? let me show you. Want to know how to schedule a film shoot? let me show you. Don’t know how to pitch? let me help you. And, as a producer (and writer), I get to help develop writers and their scripts. There are writers returning to the script development meetings with better and better scripts, all getting closer to being ready to be shot. I helped with that.
But what do I want out of it?
I think the AOTS model is a great opportunity for filmmakers. I want it to grow.
I want to grow AOTS in London. I want more teams taking part. I want more filmmakers taking part. I want multiple films being made during the projects so when we have the screening at the end of the month, there are more films being screened.
I want to take AOTS outside of London. I want to run AOTS in other UK cities. Hell, in other countries. Let’s get a few AOTS’ running a month. And then, when we have multiple films being made in a month, we can have screenings showing all the films that were made that month during the project. Imagine the London shorts, the Manchester shorts, the Berlin shorts all being screened on the same day!
I want it to be a training ground for filmmakers. I want the returning filmmakers to be making better films that we submit into film festivals and win competitions. I want new filmmakers to come in, learn, and develop their filmmaking talents so they grow with the organisation.
I want people to come regularly to the script development meetings and develop their writing skills so they are producing great work.
I want to run film screenings and q&as and workshops so people can learn their craft. I want to run a vlog on filmmaking, producing content regularly, which Actioners can help to produce.
I want to run our own film competitions. A 48-hour film competition. A one-minute movie competition. Cinema SoundEX.
I want to run funding for short films.
I want people to come up to me in a few years’ time and tell me they took part in AOTS in x city, and developed their craft, and now have an awesome network of filmmakers they work with all the time, and now they’re working commercially, and winning awards with their films.
So how is does the MA help me?
Over the next two years of my MA (which I’m doing part-time whilst running my business and running AOTS), I’ll be developing AOTS into a sustainable business model.
The skills that I’ll be developing are two-fold:
- I’ll be developing my entrepreneurial and business skills
- I’ll be developing my teaching and mentoring skills
These skills are closely related to my role as a producer and educator.
Now I don’t know exactly what will come with this business plan. I’m still working that out. But I think these skills are being developed so I can be the Executive Producer to other Producers running the project.
So here’s what I’ll be doing over the two years
- I’m going to doing market research into other film communities within London. What are the opportunities available to London filmmakers? And from this research, defining Action On The Side’s unique selling point (USP).
- I’m going to be running a vlog on filmmaking. I’ll be interviewing people making films, running film communities, showing what goes on behind the scenes and what every ones role is on set. I’m hoping regular content creation will be developing our audience and brand awareness, not just for AOTS but for me as a producer and educator as well.
- I’ll be developing resources for the project, and trialling them with the projects (we’re running AOTS in London every 4 months). This will include meeting with a Media & Entertainment Lawyer and developing the project’s IP.
- I’ll be developing a handbook, outlining how to run an AOTS project, so someone else can produce a project. This will include defining the AOTS brand and outlining its management.
- And then, with all of these resources and research and development, my masters project will culminate in a Beta test — running AOTS in a new market, outside of London. And making sure that the development that I have done until that point results in a sustainable project (e.g. a project that gets good feedback, and that breaks even or makes a profit that we can invest in the next project).
It’s a lot to do.
So what do I need?
If you’re in London, join us for this November’s project.
Sign up here.
If you’re not in London, but have friends who will want to take part, direct them to sign up. Or at least join our mailing list.
If you don’t live in London, but like the idea of Action On The Side and think there’s a community of filmmakers near you that will want to take part, send me a message. I can bring the project to you.
Now this November is the first time we’ve asked Actioners for a fee up front to take part in the project. Previously we’ve advertised the event as free, but then, once we had selected the film and knew the budget, would ask for £30 or so to go towards catering and equipment and transport. Sometimes people would pay; often times they wouldn’t. This was fine – the Executive Producers (me and James) would pay a bit more because, hey, we were making movies.
Since quitting my job in July and going freelance, that’s impossible.
Our costs have gone up, so now the fee is up front. It’s £40 to take part in the project this November.
My MA is focused on how to make this great filmmaking project sustainable, so it can keep growing and developing and supporting filmmakers.
If you like what you’ve read, and you want to support Action On The Side and this filmmaking journey that I’m going on, then sign up to the next project and let your friends know too.
I look forward to sharing this journey with you.