The art of storytelling starts with a story recce

By Marcie MacLellan

There are moments in life where Dorothy’s line from Wizard of Oz rings true. As a small town Canadian lass dining on ‘The Great British Breakfast’ while on a (heavily discounted) first-class train from London to The North, our founder experienced that “Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore” vibe on the way to a recce.

My destination was the admittedly unglamorous, but equally intriguing, Manchester – Oldham to be precise. I was joining director Dan Kokotajlo and writer Charlotte Wise to do a story recce for our feature film project. About two sisters raised in the Jehovah’s Witness faith, it so happens that this is the same project chosen for Birds Eye View’s inaugural Filmonomics programme earlier this year.

It was at a Filmonomics event that I first met Christopher Granier-Deferre, Executive Producer of iFeatures, Creative England’s innovative low budget filmmaking initiative. Shortly afterwards, APOSTASY was one of 18 films they selected for development, drawn from just under 400 submissions. Three projects will receive £350,000 to bring their film to the big screen. In the meantime, in the words of iFeatures, we will now “undergo an intensive process of creative and commercial development, with support from partners and industry professionals, with the aim of getting greenlit in March 2015.”

But before that we’re doing a story recce. And here are four reasons why:

Get inspired

Creatively a story recce can provide both insight and inspiration. When the setting is right, your characters suddenly come to life, move around their world, and take on new attributes in keeping with their environment. This particular recce also helped Charlotte and me to better understand Dan’s vision; the unpredictable sources of beauty he sees in the peaks district, the stunning contrasts in the old terraced houses set against the imposing backdrop of an old mill, the drab setting of the Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Hall which is both passive and imposing at the same time.

Turn vision into reality

There are always practical concerns for each location. Is it quiet enough, bright enough, interesting enough? Is there a power source, light source, source of inspiration? What is the distance between each location and how will this affect budget and timing? Would any sane insurer insure it? Is there parking? Every element, no matter how small, can and should be considered. Fortunately, this particular recce alleviated my concerns from a production standpoint. Scenes with farm animals, complicated visual effects and derelict mills not only seemed possible, but entirely and affordably feasible. I can now visualise the film on screen – but more importantly, I can plan the detailed budget that will get it there.

Delve into details

The best bits about a story recce are the details it provides you with, each contributing to the realistic development of your characters and their actions. For us, we came away with answers to some of our more perplexing questions. A broken fence and rusty ladder found in the real world told us how our main character could logistically find her way into an abandoned mill. A littered and soulless street provided perspective into how two young girls would feel alone in heart of Oldham. A young boy playing on a tattered mattress gave us ideas for unexpected sources of joy and playfulness. Details such as these will go a long way in adding greater depth and realism to our story and its setting.

Entice investors

As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. By backing up your pitch with photography of key locations, you can invite investors into your world. This gives you – and them – the tools needed to convey the heart of the story as clearly as possible. The right photos of the right settings can also go a long way in alleviating – or at least addressing – any budget concerns that decision makers might have. In our case, we want iFeatures3 to get as deep an understanding of our story and our characters as we do, and that means painting a clear picture of what they can expect in its final form.

As anyone in the world of film knows, a recce is an essential part of pre-production and helps you to assess locations and research stories, both from a creative and practical perspective. Like us, even if you time is tight and your budget is tighter, a story recce should always remain a vital part of storytelling.


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