Film: Spike Lee, Quentin T - now it's your turn, baby

Film schools are pointless; Britain is run by socialists; start with the money not the script. So says producer Dov S-S Simens

SO YOU want to make a movie, but don't know where to start? Dov S-S Simens - a former Green Beret in Vietnam who cut his cinematic teeth as Roger Corman's assistant producer - is your man. If you've got pounds 225 (plus VAT) to spend, he'll tell you everything you need to know to go out and do it. In 48 hours.

"I'm your remedial salt," the self-styled guru of low-budget film-making said to an eager audience of 200 aspiring film-makers attending his latest London workshop, last weekend. He makes no excuses for his "negative teaching presentation" and rejects "baby talk" (references to passion and talent - "I assume you've got that") in favour of a strictly no-nonsense approach. "You wanna make a movie?" he barks. "Shut up and write the cheque!"

The aim is to impart a dose of "entrepreneurial Yank spirit", he explains. "My approach is that the film industry is a business, not an art form - it's a combination of both, of course, but there's no one out there blatantly teaching it from a business point of view." Which is where the 48-hour film school comes in.

"There's an old adage that those who can do, while those who can't teach. I'll admit it, I failed." The revelation, an hour into day one, has the desired effect. The audience laughs, wooed into a sense of false security as Simens prepares his counter-attack - a barrage of practical advice that continues unremittingly for the next day and a half.

"I was in Hollywood long enough to know that everyone talks about making a movie, but those who really do it are the people writing cheques," he'd explained a few days earlier. "From beginning to end there are 38 basic steps to go through. Or, to put it another way, 38 cheques to write."

The film school is divided into two parts. Day one focuses on producing and directing the film; day two is about marketing it. The starting-point is not the script ("I assume you've got that, and it's the best script in the world"); it's money. "My advice is not to start by doing a budget - that's the film-school way, the right way, but it won't get you making your film, as you'll come up with a number anywhere from pounds 1m to pounds 10m. I teach the `wrong way' - start with a number you can feasibly get, then make the film."

Delivered at break-neck speed with the showmanship of a born stand-up comedian, Simens's workshop covers a dizzying range of experience and advice. Any budget can be made to work, so long as everything is accounted for. First films should be kept simple (one location, because it's cheap) and a script of 90 to 120 pages, assuming one page equals one minute of finished film.

There's advice on how to hit on the local Richard Branson for support, buying film stock ("only suckers buy retail"), selling your name and creating a mystique about your product. Marketing your movie should be about selling it to the 90 or so acquisition executives who are able to write you a cheque - of which only 12 or so are in the UK.

"There is more talent per capita in Britain than there is in the US," Simens observes. "And it's far easier to make a film here than it is in Hollywood. But there's not enough entrepreneurial spirit here to make films that make enough money." The reason? Socialism.

"The British problem is the expectation that the Government or the BBC will give funding. In America there is no government support; in fact, government is a hindrance." Another problem is British film-makers' preoccupation with the word "problem". "Whether you do the film is up to you. Whether you can sell it is up to the script," he says.

So does it work? Simens claims that over the past nine years, his tapes have inspired Quentin Tarantino to produce Reservoir Dogs, while course participants have included Spike Lee, Robert Rodriguez (El Mariachi), Ed Burns (The Brothers McMullen), Paul Brooks (Leon the Pig Farmer) and Guy Ritchie (Lock Stock & Two Smoking Barrels). But, he admits, his approach promises no guarantee of success.

"Between 1.5 and 2 per cent will make a feature film within six months of taking my course. That may seem low, but put it in context. If you take all the graduates of film schools in the US and UK over the past four years, you will find that not one has made a feature film that's in the marketplace."

That means just three of last weekend's participants can expect to have produced their first independent feature within six to 12 months. Whether that film will be any good, or will make them any money, remains to be seen. But in Simens's book, it's not bad going. Success, he says, is up to them: "They provide the raw materials. I provide the lubrication."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Chocolat author Joanne Harris has spoken about the financial struggles most authors face

books
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from How To Train Your Dragon 2

Review: Imaginative storytelling returns with vigour

film
Arts and Entertainment
Josh Hutcherson, Donald Sutherland and Jena Malone in Mockinjay: Part 1

film
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
A waxwork of Jane Austen has been unveiled at The Jane Austen Centre in Bath

books
Arts and Entertainment
Britney Spears has been caught singing without Auto-Tune

music
Arts and Entertainment
Unless films such as Guardians of the Galaxy, pictured, can buck the trend, this summer could be the first in 13 years that not a single Hollywood blockbuster takes $300m

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has her magic LSD brain stolen in this crazy video produced with The Flaming Lips

music
Arts and Entertainment
Gay icons: Sesame Street's Bert (right) and Ernie

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Robin Thicke and actress Paula Patton

music
Arts and Entertainment
The new film will be shot in the same studios as the Harry Potter films

books
Arts and Entertainment
Duncan Bannatyne left school at 15 and was still penniless at 29

Bannatyne leaves Dragon's Den

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The French economist Thomas Piketty wrote that global inequality has worsened

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant and Benedict Cumberbatch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck plays a despondent Nick Dunne in David Fincher's 'Gone Girl'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty (L) and Carl Barât look at the scene as people begin to be crushed

music
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Caral Barat of The Libertines performs on stage at British Summer Time Festival at Hyde Park

music
Arts and Entertainment
Ariana Grande and Iggy Azalea perform on stage at the Billboard Music Awards 2014

music
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

    How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the northern Iraq

    A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
    The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

    The evolution of Andy Serkis

    First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

    Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
    Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

    Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

    Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
    Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

    Blackest is the new black

    Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
    Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

    Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

    From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
    Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
    Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

    Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

    The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
    Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

    Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

    The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

    Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

    Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport