Event: Raindance Open Evening / Q&A with Mark Mahon
Date: Tuesday 15th May 2007
Venue: The Gibson Studio, London (off Oxford Street); Gibson as in guitars – there were guitars, and posters of guitar heroes, everywhere. Cool. Also, the evening was sponsored by Cobra, so there was a constant supply of samples for the thirsty. Home-made scones are great, but this place has free beer. Hooray!
The Set Up: Elliott Grove, founder of Raindance, was our host for the evening, and - as anyone who’s met him will tell you - he is the consummate showman. Introductions to film training institutes have no right to be this entertaining. And, as a Canadian, Elliot is keen that us reserved Brits network with each other as much as possible; he halted proceedings early on and urged everyone to turn and introduce themselves to their neighbour. “You don’t have to touch each other, though,” he added. “This isn’t California.”
Raindance has three main areas of activity: a range of training courses, the Raindance Film Festival (since 1993), and the British Independent Film Awards (since 1998). Additionally, they arrange events and screenings, and are in the process of starting a Raindance TV station on joost. Details of all these were discussed by various members of staff.
And there was a raffle. Everyone was given a ticket free on arrival, and prizes of Raindance training CDs, and places on courses, were given away. What an absolutely genius idea!
I didn’t win anything.
The main part of the evening was then taken up with a Q&A with Mark Mahon, debut writer- producer-director of ‘Strength of Honour’, an independently-funded feature starring Michael Marsden and Vinnie Jones. The trailer is here, and this is Mark’s website.
Mark started off as an actor, but had to give up after an industrial accident, which left him in a wheelchair for two and a half years. It was the accident that prompted him to start writing. He learnt by doing, rewriting his work over and over to improve it (his rule of thumb is never to show a screenplay to someone else until he’s done at least eight drafts). Later, he went to Raindance courses to develop his producing and directing skills, and he was very complimentary about the standard of training he received. He wrote for eleven years before his major breakthrough, winning a Hollywood screenplay competition. Interestingly, it was a competition he hadn’t entered!
Mark recommended US script analyst services such as ScriptPimp or ScriptShark. He used such an analyst, and the commendations he received there, to attract a cast and backers for ‘Strength of Honour’. Having made a name for himself through this route, he thinks the Writers’ Guild of America – he’s still not sure – must have put forward one of his scripts for the award. When telephoned about his nomination, he needed a lot of persuading that he wasn’t the victim of a prank. In the end, he went to LA more for a holiday than anything else, only to find that he’d won.
Winning the competition got him invited to many Hollywood events and parties, but he was frustrated that his career still wasn’t making any progress. Rather than wait for Hollywood to dish him out a project, he decided to write a feature he could achieve on a modest budget. He raised the money privately, selling profit shares to private investors.
After years of effort, things seemed to come together quickly. The screenwriting award was won less than three years ago, the ‘Strength of Honour’ script was completed 15 months ago, and the film completed only days before Mark gave his talk. But it was hard work – Mark estimates that he was working an average of twenty hours a day during shooting. The film was launched at Cannes on the 24th May.
The key to all this, he tells us, has been a good script. That’s what will attract high-calibre talent to a movie without vast amounts of money. And also, it seems, a lot of ‘can do’ spirit. “Nike should sponsor the Hollywood sign,” Mark said at one point, “And underneath the letters it would read: JUST DO IT.”
Value for Money?: Another free event, with as much free beer as you could drink . Oh yes. I showed restraint, though, as I had an early start the next day. This also meant that I had to rush off, and I missed what looked to be a lively networking session after the Q&A. I’m sure I shall be going to another Raindance event soon to make up for this.