I attended the DEGNZ Rialto Film Talk last night of James Ashcroft’s Coming Home In The Dark.
Listening to James talk in the Q & A facilitated by DEGNZ member Hweiling Ow, it was clear to me that not only had James worked incredibly hard to earn the success he is having with his film, but that he has been very strategic in going about it.
Prior to the screening, James had mentioned to me that he’d made eight short films before directing his debut feature.
In response to a question from Hweiling, James told her that Coming Home In The Dark was the fifth feature film script he’d written with writing partner Eli Kent, and that he and Eli had written two more features after finishing the Coming Home In The Dark script. The majority of these done according to the NZFC funding data, without development funding from the New Zealand Film Commission.
James also mentioned that when he left his job as the Tumuaki/CEO of theatre company Taki Rua at the end of 2013 to pursue his career as a film director, he was without any collateral to work with and show. So he optioned a number of books, found a writer he could work with in Eli, and started cranking out feature film scripts—one a year to now.
Eight years later, with his Sundance-selected film under his belt and a manager and agent to represent him, James and Eli are polishing a script for Hollywood indie Legendary Entertainment, with James tapped to direct. And all this prior to the theatrical release of his first feature, which went into theatres this week.
In the U.S. there’s no script development funding system for aspiring screenwriters. Hollywood reps expect their clients to have a body of work and to keep adding to it so that they have something fresh that they can market their clients with. Everybody essentially writes on spec. until they come up with a good enough script to get them noticed and commissioned to write… something else. Or, they raise the financing from investors to put their script into production: there’s no cultural funding body there to provide production financing either.
In New Zealand it seems to me, too often aspiring screenwriters and writer – directors are more intent on getting Early Development Funding or NZWG Seed Funding to fund the learning of their craft on one passion piece than doing the work, repeatedly, that will hone their skills. And most of us look only to NZFC to finance our films. The self-funded feature here is rare. Those that do it should be applauded, not matter what the film turns out like.
Anybody can write a feature film script. I’ve written two myself. But not that many people can write a good one. James and Eli it would seem to me are a great example of that maxim, “The harder you work, the luckier you get.”