Paul and I were interviewed for Wired magazine!
I have no idea when it’s coming out (or if it already came out) but here’s the interview in full because Wired would probably make you pay for it…
When did you realise you want to make films?
BEN: I was eight years old and my dad let me use one roll of super-8 film in the family cine-camera. I filmed insects out of focus and then my big brother filmed me killing them.
PAUL: I was probably the same age as Ben but instead of having a Super 8 camera I used to daydream all day long. I used to sketch out ideas in note books. Then when I was a little older I caught a short film called La Cabina which totally blew my mind. I realized around that time that I wanted to bring my ideas to life. I usually have an idea that keeps coming back again and again and it feels the only way to progress with it is to bring it to take it out of my head and into this world.
On what occasion was Blunt productions formed?
BEN: Paul and I met in 1996 when we were both doing film clubs in London. His was comedy themed and mine was Kung Fu themed, and we were both making a fair amount of original content for the shows- filmed stuff and live stuff. The first film we made was a comedy/kung fu film called Ilford Ninja. Later, after we started selling stuff to the new Digital TV shows and then to the BBC we wanted to do it under a company name so we thought of Blunt Instrument which is what we were making our films with, metaphorically speaking, but it almost immediately got shortened to Blunt. That was in about 1999.
PAUL: Thinking of a name to present as an umbrella for your work is a lot harder than you think. It’s a bit like thinking of a name for a band. You want it to be snappy but not too specific so you don’t get pigeon holed for one thing (unless of course you’re making something like gory horror or hardcore porn, then you probably don’t give a shit about what your company is called).
Can you describe your relationship to low-budget/horror/sci-fi generes
Why do you stick to them so much?
PAUL: I’ve always liked horror and I think so do a lot of low budget film makers. Our film making tips are geared towards those people so it’s only natural we lean towards those genres.
BEN: Well, Horror is a genre that can be done well or badly at any budget. It is almost the only genre where a film can become wildly successful without any name actors in it. Short answer is I’m a geek who knows where his strengths are.
You are releasing short videos via youtube about zero budget filmmaking tips.
How and why those filmmaking tips started?
BEN: We were commissioned by BBC Scotland to make a series of 13 Filmmaking Tips for a show called ‘Bob’s DIY Filmmaking Club’, and we just kept making them after that as offshoots, DVD extras if you like, of other, bigger projects we were working on. If we solved some problem or came up with a cool idea on set we’d document it with a secondary camera and make it into a Tip, or make notes and film a tip when we were between projects. We make them entertaining enough that they’ve taken on a life of their own, and have thousands subscribing to the series on Youtube. We became Youtube partners and monetize our films, and the revenue from these comes to a bit more than what we spent to make them, and it’s rising all the time. Our ratings always peak around Halloween when loads of people want to see our tips on Zombie Makeup and fake blood and stuff.
PAUL: It seems as if our Zero Budget Film Making Tips just keep gathering interest. As Ben said we were commissioned to do 13 episodes for Bob’s DIY Filmmaking Club but we had been asked before then to do some Tips for another programme. Some of those were cannibalised for the 13 episodes. After we made them we were paid again by other people to put them on their websites and now with youtube we have gained a lot of subscribers who want more.
Will there be more Strong Man? When? We are curious!
BEN: You are the first people who have enquired about Strong Man in a very long time! There will be more Strong Man when our public demands it in sufficient quantities to merit a revival. We’re playing it like Fox did with Family Guy.
PAUL: There will be some more Strong Man in the near future as we are planning to do some more animation tips. It’s just a question of finding time. Animation takes longer to do than live action, so we tend to make films and Tips using actors.
How do you distribute your movies?
Would you agree with big distribution companies’ politics in terms of
distributing your works?
BEN: We sell them on DVD, we have them on pay-per-download Video on demand, and many are on YouTube. You get about a pound for each 1000 hits. We coordinate this from our website www.bluntproductions.com on which we have some Google Adsense ads which also provide revenue. Sometimes a distributor or TV station will ask to licence one or more of our films and we agree on a term and we give them permission for certain territories and they pay us a licence fee. We always retain the rights to our films, and we’ve learned to never use copyright music for which we don’t have permission- it makes the film impossible to sell. As for the policies of the companies we deal with, each case is different, but it all comes down to the terms of the contract in the end. We’re pretty used to protecting our interests and most people are OK with negotiating the terms.
PAUL: I suppose, for me, the ultimate is getting your work on television but if you can produce a film on youtube that gathers mega hits you can gather some revenue. It’s nice to have a bit of money to pay people. Youtube is the best place I can think of for distributing your own movies but in the past we also had our own film club. That did eat up a lot of time and energy but it was fun while it lasted.
What is your opinion on sharing movies via internet (torrent portals,
file hosting, Peer2Peer)?
BEN: If you’re talking about sharing or distributing our own movies, it’s cut out so much hassle and expense it’s fantastic. We started in the bad old days of having to make a VHS or a DVD and put it in an envelope and send it in the post. Now people can see your stuff with a mouse click.
If you’re talking about illegal sharing of movies and piracy and so on, I think that’s fantastic too.
PAUL: I concur.
Do you have some “production plans” for the future, or you just film
whatever pops to your mind?
PAUL: We do tend to go in what ever direction our minds take us but it’s usually connected to creating a film making tip. I think we try to combine ideas that interest and excite us at that moment. So if we don’t film something straight away we might lose interest in it and move onto something else. Both Ben and I would like to produce a feature length film in very near future.
BEN: Occasionally we film whatever pops into minds, but that’s usually during the shooting of something else. We like to keep it a bit loose and go with any ideas we have on set. Some of our best stuff was thought up 10 seconds before the cameras started rolling.
However we do have plans for the future, which is our first feature film.
Have you ever cooperated, or were in a coproduction with similar group?
BEN: I work with Exploding Cinema in London to put on shows of the latest underground and low-budget shorts. www.explodingcinema.org
I think it’s important for film makers to help each other find an audience. It makes you a better film maker and you make great contacts.
PAUL: Both Ben and I collaborate with other writers and film makers. Some of this material is produced by Blunt Productions, for example the Jim and Heinz series. We haven’t really cooperated in making a film with any other groups except when we made a show for television based on a character from our zero budget film making tips called Captain V. We found the experience rather horrible as our ideas were questioned and diluted. I think in the end you have to feel comfortable with whom you work with.
Is low budget boosting your creativity?
Is it something like “finding a way out?”
BEN: If you’re working with a limited budget you have to make everything that doesn’t depend on a budget really good. Having a low budget forces you, the filmmaker, to work harder in planning and shooting great stuff that doesn’t rely on a high budget, and with computers nowadays there’s a million things you can do. Budget or no budget, one can sit down with a pad and a pen like Hitchcock and create a movie without spending anything.
PAUL: I love what you can create on computers now. It seems as if you can create anything you want. If you can master the computer programmes coupled with a really good idea there’s so much you can do. Lack of money isn’t so much a hindrance to the low budget film maker compared to lack of time.
Are you technology freaks? (I mean, if you are going for better
equipment whenever possible, or you stick to your trusty old DV cam?)
BEN: In theory, If your idea is good enough there’s nothing you can’t do on a tiny disposable camera or super-8 or VHS or mobile phone. I’ve seen loads of great films made on low-tech and outdated equipment. I just digitized a whole stack of old hi-8 tapes from the 1990s and they looked amazing. In practice, the TV companies and the TVs themselves are getting more and more stringent about picture quality and such, and it’s silly to have your piece rejected for not being ‘Broadcast Quality’ but it happens all the time. So you have to follow the curve to some extent and have as much tech-y knowledge as possible because it’ll save you a lot of time in the long run.
PAUL: I love the new hard drive cameras. Being able to drag your video files onto your computer rather than capturing saves so much time – on the downside, as detailed in a film making tip we did on sound, so many of these HDD cameras don’t have any socket for external microphones.
How do you see the role of irony/humor in independent filmmaking?
PAUL: Hopefully we will start seeing people take a few more risks with comedy. I don’t mean making more bad taste stuff, I mean less formulaic. Four Lions is the kind of thing I’d like to see more of. The rise of fly on the wall documentary style comedy has come out of the new equipment available. Really my answer is that independent filmmaking is a place where film makers can and should be experimenting with all genres.
BEN: Like Horror, in Comedy if you know what you’re doing you can get big laughs from people with your film. Also like horror, there are tons of people trying to do it who haven’t a fucking clue- and I’m talking across all budgets. So the role if irony/humour is to make us laugh, and if a $10 film makes us laugh more than a $10,000 film, then it’s intrinsically more valuable.
What is your opinion on today’s state of cinematography?
BEN: Firstly, I would hate to be a lighting guy right now. I saw some DSLR Hi Def video footage projected last year and it looked like Barry Lyndon. Turns out it was shot under a sodium street lamp. The problem with what I’ve seen so far is the narrow depth of field. I’ve seen people’s eyes in focus but the ends of their noses blurred. Maybe it’s down to the lenses. The only other thing I can think of is it’s weird when someone comes up to you with a DSLR and you don’t know whether to pose for a photo or say something for the video.
PAUL: I like the handheld action films that are coming out. They look fantastic and bring you closer to the action; gritty and exhilarating.
What will be your feature smash-hit?
PAUL: I really want to make a black comedy/horror but the jump from short film to feature is a big one; it’s like trying to expand a joke into a novel. In a feature length movie you have to start thinking about pace, sub plots, three act structure, character development and much more. Can your film keep someone’s attention for 90 minutes? We’re still learning but I think we’re getting closer to a film we’re happy to produce.
BEN: We have three contenders, and we’re trying to work out which will be a smash hit by a foolproof method. Do you know where we can get an Octopus?