Tag Archives: financing

Edinburgh Fringe financing – was yesterday the tip of a deeper iceberg?

Bob scarred himself by falling down his own trapdoor

Bob Slayer scarred & maligned by yesterday’s caption

My blog yesterday was about a Facebook spat between comedy people Harry Deansway and Bob Slayer on the subject of free and pay-in-advance shows at the Edinburgh Fringe.

I captioned a photo of Bob Slayer with the words: Comic Bob Slayer has some issues with Harry Deansway, triggering this comment from Bob himself:

I have issues with this line “Comic Bob Slayer has some issues with Harry Deansway”. I don’t have any real issues with Harry.

He puts across a perfectly valid opinion – the pay-to-play venues suit some acts and some shows perfectly and Harry obviously had a thoroughly lovely time at the Fringe…

I feel that in the past the large venues tried to marginalise independent venues – but we have successfully redressed the balance and now there is a place for everyone at the Fringe. I think the big venues will need to offer small productions and comedy better deals and they will increasingly move into big production and theatre where their deals have more justification. But Tom Binns, who is possibly the smartest man at the Fringe, had a show with the Pleasance (Ian D Montfort) and a show with us (Ivan Brackenbury and others) – This worked really well for both shows helping each other out. We coordinated the promotion campaigns and Tom had a wonderful Fringe with literally the best of both worlds.

As for Harry’s rudeness which some people have pointed out, well that is just an exaggerated stance as part of his Harry character act. It’s beautiful really and maybe he is the funniest thing in comedy.

Sonny Hayes

Sonny Hayes triggered an unexpected response

When performer Sonny Hayes then commented on the blog: Gotta say, Bob Slayer wins the debate hands down, Bob replied:

Thank you Sonny but I don’t really want to win this debate… See what Harry is doing for whatever reason is attempting to polarise the debate. It’s them or us. This is divisive, negative and dated.

The Independent Fringe doesn’t need defending anymore – a couple of years ago I was very frustrated that the industry, media and acts believed the line that you had to be in one of the big venues to get noticed – However this year has really proved that is not the case. OK, some people still don’t get this but that is fine.

There is a place for everyone now and we can leave discussion about bad deals and pay-to-play to go on in the board rooms of the big venues and agents who need to decide if they want to offer better deals for low production shows and comedians OR if they want to continue to move into higher production and theatre shows where their deals have more justification.

Now that we have an extremely viable independent set up it doesn’t really matter what other people are up to – we can just carry on and have fun. There are more than enough acts who want to join us in this now and we can continue to explore smart ways to make the Fringe and comedy industry work.

Meanwhile, over on Facebook, comedian Mandy Dassa commented:

Mandy Dassa

Mandy Dassa was a bit shocked by the ego one-upmanship

Aside from all the ego one-upmanship, which clouded the actual point of this debate, we need to thank Bob Slayer for creating hype for the free/pay what you want Fringe and giving it the creditability it deserves.

We do need ‘the Big 4’ with its advertising and big purple cows and the like (if anything just to decorate the city of Edinburgh in bright colours) but, let’s put this straight right now, unless you are a massive comic you are being taken for a ride financially (if not by a venue then by your promoter pushing you to spend) – It’s not fair to cash in on people’s dreams so shamelessly.

Maybe all this debate and ranting may shake the big venues to lower their prices for acts and give the Fringe a bit of unity with its ticket prices. All I heard all summer was good things about Heroes (Bob Slayer’s venues) – We should be glad someone is expanding on the already genius idea of Free Fringe. Pay what you want/cheap tickets in advance was always going to be the natural move and well done Bob for making that happen.

Harry, I love ur ass, I laughed and laughed when I saw your show, but not all of us can afford to lose thousands of pounds in the name of performing in a venue like the Pleasance and people like Bob have given us broke comics a platform to bring our goods to Edinburgh without having to sell our grandmas!

There was another comment on Facebook – from Adrienne Truscott who, at this year’s Fringe, won both the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Award for Comic Originality and the panel prize from what used to be the Perrier Awards for her show staged at Bob Slayer’s Bookshop venue. Now back in New York, she wrote:

Adrienne Truscott and her one-woman bottomless show

Adrienne Truscott’s multi-award winning show: Asking for It: A One-Lady Rape About Comedy Starring Her Pussy and Little Else!

Thanks for keeping this most necessary conversation alive. And to Bob Slayer for trying something new that seemed to work very well. Everyone I shared our venue with seemed genuinely happy and supported not only by our venue people, Bob and Miss Behave, but also by the model, the press and one another.

It’s hard to imagine any artist being angry about new models and paradigms emerging, fiscal or otherwise, for presenting art. Of the many Fringes I’ve done with many houses (3 of the Big 4), this was by far my most successful by any stick you use to measure.

Choosing Bob’s Bookshop and this model allowed me to bring a new and rough-around-the edges show to the Fringe to work on it in terms I could live with, without pretending that I was presenting a completely finished show to a paying audience and without the stress of paying more than I can afford at the top or thinking of my audience in terms of money made back, but rather as interested parties whose presence and energy every night helped change and improve my show, which is the main reason I brought it to the Fringe.

As it became popular and hard to get in to, the Heroes model swung into full effect and worked organically the way ‘the free market’ as I understand it says it will. Also, when it became successful I did not have a vulture of a venue runner suddenly laying claim to it as it suited him, but rather a supporter and friend who continued to evolve ideas about how to do things as the season went along. I reckon entertaining new models can make you sharper about how and why you make your own art too. It may depend on what kind of show you’re doing and what kind of audience you are after and, for some, the Big 4 may be an appropriate fit.

I knew for my show I needed to be able to retain control over how it was presented, how the room felt etc. and I was allowed that freedom. It would be hard to argue that going with the costs and demands of one of the Big 4 would allow an independent artist to bring a new work to the Fringe without getting gutted financially. Also, this conversation doesn’t even dip in to the longstanding problem of some of those bigger houses failing to pay, on time or indeed at all, the artists that have filled their houses working every single night, a far dodgier conversation…

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Edinburgh spat between Bob Slayer and Harry Deansway over free Fringe shows

Harry suggested I shoot him next to a rubbish bin last week

Harry suggested I shoot him next to a rubbish bin in Soho

On Facebook over the last couple of days, there was a bit of a mini-ding-dong… between Harry Deansway (former editor of comedy magazine The Fix turned stand-up comic) and stand-up comic turned promoter Bob Slayer.

It started when Harry wrote an online piece giving his thoughts about this year’s Edinburgh Fringe which, he said, were written “to generate discussion about issues that will affect the future of the Fringe.” He added: “I’m not trying to piss anyone off, that is apart from Bob Slayer,” whom he called a “fanatic self publicist and cheap Fringe zealot.”

Below are edited highlights of the spat from Facebook. Who knows what the copyright is on such things? In my opinion, on Facebook, everything is either in the public domain or possibly owned either by Facebook or by the NSA and GCHQ.

Bob Slayer holds his hand, if not his head, high

Comic Bob Slayer has some issues with Harry Deansway

To explain some background… At the Edinburgh Fringe, audiences pay to see some shows. Others come under the banner of either the PBH Free Fringe or the Free Festival and, this year, Bob Slayer added an extra ‘pay-what-you-want’ layer where, at his two Heroes of Fringe venues (which were included in the Free Festival), you could either turn up for shows and get in free if there were seats available OR pay £5 in advance to guarantee a seat.

Harry Deansway’s piece basically pushed the line that:

“Ultimately giving shows away ‘free’ is damaging the long term sustainability of the Fringe… First of all, it is not free either for the performer or the audience. For the performer, both Free Fringe and Free Festival have administration fees in some form or another. For the audience, it is not free, as a bucket is forced in your face at the end of the show for you to donate money to the performer. Maybe a better name, not in breach of the Trade Descriptions Act, would be the Cheap Fringe? As a result, Fringe acts on the paid Fringe can’t compete.”

Below is some of the to-and-fro on Facebook in reaction to Harry’s piece:

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BOB SLAYER: You have got your facts wrong in the first sentence – Adrienne Truscott was not in the Free Fringe in either sense – i.e. the PBH Free Fringe – or the wider ‘Free shows at the Fringe’. She was of course part of Heroes’ pay what you want or buy a ticket in advance – the show was hot and so if you didn’t buy a ticket after the first couple of days you wouldn’t get in. I had several journalists interview me and ask if they could call it Free Fringe as it would suit their agenda – and I said No, call it what it is.

HARRY DEANSWAY: Yes Bob you are part of the “Cheap Fringe”. I state this quite clearly in the second paragraph. You and your journalist friends can call it the Free Fringe, Heroes or Pay What You Want, however you want to market it.

BOB SLAYER: It’s terribly written! I mean I agree with much of what you are saying Mr Harry but you have let the fact that I enjoy mocking you at every opportunity cloud your judgement – you have totally failed to understand that it is not a case of Paid Fringe v Free Fringe (or Cheap Fringe as you quite rightly call it) – we moved on from that debate 2 Fringe Festivals ago.

The important consideration (which you do discuss but miss where the change is coming from) is Good Deals v Bad deals. Pay-to-Play is a terrible basis for a deal. 60/40 is also a shitty deal – add them together and you have a really terrible shitty deal – all it does is push up ticket prices as shows have to charge more to even stand a chance of breaking even.

The Free Fringe is a symptom of the shitty Pay-to-Play not a cure – shows and punters demanding a cheaper, more creative alternative – the Pay-to-Play reaction to this has not been to offer better deals but to offer worse and worse deals – this has created a gaping void between both models and is increasingly driving the new and more innovative comedians towards the Free model. They know it is not ideal and so these independent thinking acts have explored other ways around the problem.

At this year’s Fringe, Heroes launched a new model that bridges the gap between paid and free. (The Edinburgh Fringe is a unique scenario where we needed to innovate to compete with the big venues and their bad deals)

We called it Pay What You Want – ‘Free’ shows that you can buy tickets for to guarantee entry.

This means ‘hot’ shows sell out and quickly become paid shows. But shows that are still finding their audience can let people in on a Pay What You Want on the way out basis so there are few empty shows.

Our Pay What You Want model is simply a more honest version of both models. Free shows are not really Free – and most paid shows have to give away tickets to find an audience – so why not admit this? Because once you do admit it then you get huge benefits: the risks associated with promoting a show reduce drastically, the amount of unnecessary marketing spend you need reduces drastically. In short, the economics of the Fringe change drastically in favour of the artist.

All our shows made money at the Fringe, (there are only two other promoters – both independent – who can claim this). Also some shows made significant money – something I am very proud of and will continue to develop… Now if the Pay-to-Play venues would adopt this model the Fringe would be full of spirit once more…

HARRY DEANSWAY: Bob. Have you thought about re-branding Heroes as Bob’s Discount Fringe? I think you would come across really well in one of those late night cheap infomercials. Happy to continue this discussion when you (a) stop misusing the term Pay to Play and (b) actually state the facts of what deals the big four operate not the deals you make up to promote your own agenda.

BOB SLAYER: Nice one Mr Harry – but again terribly written! It doesn’t matter how much the tickets cost – but how much the artist sees – We were selling tickets for £5 and our acts saw all of that if they were producing the shows themselves or 70% if we produced the shows. Shows in Pay-to-Play venues actually see 60% of fuck all because they never cover their costs. Oh one of our shows on Heroes was £500 per ticket – the most expensive on the Fringe – and sold out all 4 shows – they sold 100% of that.

OK so we all know you got a better deal than most at the Pleasance – super – acts should not accept shitty deals and so well done for setting a good example… But whatever deal you got it was because they needed to fill a slot created by an act dropping out after the registration deadline. They simply needed to fill the slot – fortunately they got the best man for the job…

But the fact remains that the basic deals at these venues are appalling – and demands that acts need to pay money before the Fringe starts… £3,000, £5,000, £8,000 depending on what size room that they go into. The details of how they work out guarantees are public on their websites.

Of course extras and marketing costs are extra and can vary greatly – There are many acts who have given the facts of their deals. Tiernan Douieb didn’t go up this year – but his deal last year meant if he sold out all his tickets he would only lose £4,500.

The big venues have sold these shitty deals by pedalling the myth that you have to be in one of the big venues to get noticed. This year proved that was completely wrong. In fact you were less likely to get noticed in a big venue this year. How many reviewers did you get Harry? How many awards? It’s hard isn’t it and now that reviewers and awards are no longer giving preference to the Pay-to-Play venues (because the quality in independent venues is so high) it is equally hard for everyone – unless you are really good – like what (award-winning) Adrienne Truscott and John Kearns both were.

You know this. But it seems that you enjoy preaching to the ignorant by telling them what they want to hear. You are still banging that out-of-tune drum promoting the emperors new clothes after most people have seen that he is naked. Which makes you like a hilariously coiffeured TV evangelist.

HARRY DEANSWAY: Bob. I’m not going to enter into a discussion when you keep making things up and misusing the phrase Pay to Play. It’s pointless.

BOB SLAYER: Would you like to debate what Pay to Play is then? Here is how I see it:

Pay to Play is when a venue or promoter takes money off an act prior to them performing – usually with some system where they might be able to make that money back through people through the door / ticket sales. Underbelly, Pleasance, Assembly, Gilded Balloon, Just The Tonic all charge acts various amounts (in the thousands) to play in their venues for the month of August – and then offer the acts a shitty deal (60/40 at best) on trying to cover those charges – which few of them do.

Anyway sorry that you had such a shitty Fringe Mr Harry – I hope you come around and see that there is a much more fun and interesting way to do the Fringe – come and join the spirit of the Fringe x

HARRY DEANSWAY: What do you think the “big four” spend the 40% they take on?

BOB SLAYER: You tell me what they spend it on? Building huge temporary bars that make them the real cash? Promoting mixed bill shows that also make them cash and suck tickets from their real shows? Sending their kids to Eton?

What I can tell you is that it is not necessary for them to charge such shitty deals – and what is more – as more and more acts find alternatives elsewhere and leave the Pay-to-Play venues – then they will be forced to change how they operate / what they offer.

They will either be forced to offer comedians and other low production acts better deals.

Or, as we have already seen them doing, they will move out of comedy into shows requiring larger production where these deals originated and have more justification. I suspect we will see both happening

It’s all very exciting watching the Fringe move towards a more interesting place – something that independent promoters such as the Free Fringe(s) and now Heroes have made happen.

HARRY DEANSWAY: You had a bar in Bob’s Bookshop. Did the acts you promoted get a cut of that or did you get it all on top of the 30% you were already taking from them as a promoter? Sounds like what you would call Pay to Play to me.

Also you are going on about your deal like it’s amazingly better, it’s 10% better and considering your venue was so tiny and were only charging £5, relative to your interpretation of the Big Four’s deal yours really is not that great. In fact relatively speaking it’s probably worse than the Big Four’s.

Also can I just clarify your ticketing policy. You charge if a show becomes successful ? But the unsuccessful ones are “free?” Why do you not charge for all shows, do you think some are lesser quality than others?

I don’t know what they spend the 40% on but at a guess I would say maintaining the infrastructure of the venues to make it the best it can be for performers and audience alike.

BOB SLAYER: As you know you are looking at the percentages all wrong in order to add confusion where it doesn’t need to be… We price our tickets so that they sell without huge inefficient marketing costs (This year we went with a fixed price of £5)

That means the acts that we produced on a 70/30 split saw 70% of their ticket income = £3.50 per ticket pretty much from the first ticket – We also offered acts the option to self produce their shows and take 100% of their ticket = £5 per ticket – the majority of our acts opted for self production

Whereas the costs are set so high on the pay-to-play venues that the 60/40 split hardly come into play and so acts in their venues see roughly the square root of fuck all from each ticket sold.

HARRY DEANSWAY: I think you’ve had quite enough airtime now Bob and as usual it’s all been spent promoting yourself. The article is about the Fringe in general not Bob Slayer or for that matter Harry Deansway. Your opinions are laid out in detail in these comments so anyone who can be bothered reading this thread can make their own mind up now.

BOB SLAYER: Hey Mr Harry – so you do want a discussion? And now you don’t want a discussion? If you weren’t so accidentally funny then it would really hurt my feelings x

SALLY WESTERN: I am confused as to why Bob has to justify himself to Harry Deansway.. ? I’m scared..

BOB SLAYER: Ha ha – it was a nice exercise – I am currently writing up a piece about the Fringe – and ‘justifying to Harry Deansway made me realise that I need to simplify the intro somewhat in order to explain it to those that are ignorant of Fringe ways… Or in case of Harry, those that just like to be contrary and blindly support the underdog.

Harry has quite rightly spotted that the independent is no longer the dog that is regularly kicked and so he has withdrawn his support of it in favour of the poor folks behind the beleaguered Pay-to-Play venues… He is a noble and charitable man.

HARRY DEANSWAY: Congratulations on learning to write Bob! If you could just add reading to the pantheon of your abilities which include getting your penis out on stage and getting dressed in the morning I might start to take what you say seriously.

I’m glad that something I wrote honed into perspective what it is you are doing, it reminds me of the time when I told you to drop alternative from your marketing materials. Best of luck with the Cheap Fringe. (You can have that name for free, £5 if it becomes popular)

BOB SLAYER: But Harry isn’t it lovely that we both are thinking similar things about “cheaper Fringe”… www.cheaperfringe.co.uk

OK your idea is cynical and negative and has come on the back of what seems to have been quite a tough and challenging experience for you at the Fringe. And my “cheaperfringe” experience has been something I have been involved in for a couple of years and is about getting the Fringe to give something back to local residents and making the Fringe a more positive and happy place – but it is uncanny how we think alike x

HARRY DEANSWAY: Not at all, I had a great Fringe. My show sold out, had some lovely audiences, made some money and I wrote and performed a show I was really proud of. I even got a five star review. My article is objective, you should try and write something objectively. All you do is talk about yourself.

BOB SLAYER: I also talk about you Harry – with everyone I meet – I know your comments about me are merely joshing and I love you with an intensity that knows no limits x

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“The Real Reason Why Edinburgh Fringe Tickets are Overpriced in 2013” – The article The Scotsman newspaper decided not to publish this month

Bob Slayer: comedian and venue runner

Bob Slayer: comedian & Fringe venue man

Last year, The Scotsman newspaper asked comedian and Edinburgh Fringe venue runner Bob Slayer to write a piece about the way the Fringe is financed. They read it and told him it would be published in a week’s time in their 4th August 2012 issue.

On 3rd August, they told him they had decided not to publish it. He was not told why.

So I published it in my blog on 4th August 2012. 

The Scotsman DID publish an excellent piece on Fringe financing last year – on 25th August 2012 – written by their own much-admired (by me and anyone who knows her) Claire Smith. In it, she wrote that, while researching her article, she had been threatened with legal action by a major Big Name comedian and by the owner of a major Fringe venue (NOT one of the Big Four).  

Claire wrote in her 2012 article: “I have never seen so much paranoia as I have this year. The Fringe is changing, as it always does. The dynamics are changing. But a Fringe where journalists who ask questions about money get threatened with legal action?”

In the fortnight leading up to this year’s Fringe, there was (and continues to be) a renewed surge of hits on Bob Slayer’s original article published in my blog a year ago. In one day alone – 23rd July this year – Bob’s year-old article got 6,433 hits.

According to strangely-reliable Wikipedia, The Scotsman’s circulation is currently around 28,500.

The moral is clear. If you want to get your ideas read consistently over long periods, suck up to me and get in my blog, sunshine.

Yesterday, I got an e-mail from Bob Slayer. It said: 

The Scotsman have done it again – They commissioned me to write an article and then (after saying they were going to publish it) pulled it. Why? Who knows?”

Bob currently runs two venues at the Edinburgh Fringe – The Hive and Bob’s Bookshop. I presume that was the reason The Scotsman commissioned him to give his inevitably highly personal view of Fringe financing in 2013.

Below is the article The Scotsman commissioned, decided to publish then, at the last minute, decided not to publish. The opinions, obviously, are Bob Slayer’s.

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At the heart of the Edinburgh Fringe is an open access, ‘all performers are equal’ philosophy that was developed by a group of passionate theatre groups when they were excluded from the first Edinburgh International Festival in 1947. They decided instead to seek out their own model with more creative ideals and the Fringe was born.

Ever since this noble start people have been attempting to pull the Fringe off balance with attempts to ensure that ‘some performers are more equal than others’.

In 2008, the year I first came to the Fringe, the ‘big four’ venues of Assembly, Gilded Balloon, Pleasance and Underbelly chose to launch ‘The Edinburgh Comedy Festival’.

This is a marketing initiative that prints thousands of brochures which, despite excluding all shows in independent venues, still purports to be the complete guide to Comedy at the Fringe. It is clearly designed to sell tickets by marginalising shows that are not in their venues… It seems that some shows are ‘more equal than others’.

These are the same venues that are directly responsible for driving up ticket prices. The average venue and marketing charges imposed on performers to put on a show in one of these venues is £14,000. This gives the shows little alternative but to raise prices in an effort to cover their costs.

The big names and the shows produced by the venues themselves are largely shielded from this, but the vast majority of acts in these venues leave Edinburgh in debt.

I spoke to Tiernan Douieb, who is taking a break from the Fringe this year for the first time in seven years.

He told me that, if he sold out all his tickets last year then he would have only been £4,500 in debt.

Only?!

He thought he actually had a good deal and – in comparison with many others – he probably did. However, it is hardly in line with the egalitarian ideals laid down by the original Fringe Board over sixty years ago.

This combination of modern day exclusion and a one-sided financial model, set up to serve everyone except the artist, is the primary reason why so many performers and punters have again looked for a new, more creative Fringe model.

Free shows were 10% of the Fringe in 2008 but have significantly grown to become 25% this year… Quality has also accompanied the quantity.

In recent years, free shows have won awards, received widespread media acclaim and have been picked up outside of the Fringe. It would be fair to say free shows have achieved all the things that paid shows have done. They have become a really viable fringe of the Fringe that will continue to grow..

I suspect that the mainstream commercial venues will always be a part of the Fringe: the glamour of big marketing spend and shiny, over-priced bars attracts punters and performers. But the increasing strength and innovation of the free shows provides a healthy alternative that will keep the pay-to-play venues in check.

If these pay-to-play venues do not want to respond to what is happening by offering punters better ticket prices and performers fairer deals, then the flow of quality acts moving over to free and independent shows is only going to grow.

Free shows are a symptom of the commercial venues but they are not in themselves a complete answer and we are in very real danger of the Fringe splitting into two opposing factions, perhaps irreversibly.

Of course, any change presents an opportunity.

The £5 Fringe attempted to bridge this gap with cheap tickets. Unfortunately, its model was still based on pay-to-play. The performers paid the promoter to use the space and then tried to make that money back with ticket sales. However, with their ticket price capped at £5 they struggled even more than other paid shows to break even. The failure of the £5 Fringe just shows that the pay-to-play model demands higher ticket prices.

Heroes of Fringe, the comedy collective and Fringe venue promoter which I set up, is now in its third year.

We aim to bridge the gap between paid and free shows by finding a place where commercial interests are in balance with creative ones. We asked ourselves the question: What if we could take the best of both worlds and actually create a new model that more suits the unique requirements of punters and performers at the Fringe? 

We think that, maybe, we may have come up with the answer.

This year, all Heroes of Fringe shows are adopting a third way.

Our shows are:
FREE, pay what you want on exit
OR you can buy a ticket in advance to guarantee entry…

We have created Free shows that can sell tickets. It seems to be working and, despite some scepticism, tickets are selling. In fact, shows such as Phil Kay’s and Ivan Brackenbury’s are close to selling out some weekend dates.

And, in our smaller venue Heroes @ Bob’s Bookshop, dates already have sold out. Including the amazing Adrienne Truscott’s show.

The model also means that less known shows or quiet days still have all the advantages of being able to let audiences in for free, impress them and then pass the hat around.

The real beauty is that, because we do not have the same risks as paid shows, we can keep the pre-sale ticket price low at £5,

We also do not need to charge performers rent / high venue fees or insist on high marketing budgets and, due to the pre-sales, there is more money to go around than free shows. Audience levels are more predictable.

This helps us to kit out the venues properly and enables us to give proper support to the performers in our venues. Of course, the most important part of all of this is that performers will see more money than on either free or pay-to-play shows.

If we can make this work then we will create a happy creative environment, a perfect home for some of the most exciting shows on the Fringe. It is also a model that could be adopted by both sides of the current divide.

We really believe that the Fringe can return to being somewhere where punters can see affordable shows and where acts do not have to accept losing money and getting into huge debt. A place where shows can support themselves with their own creativity and develop at their own pace.

When this happens then the real ‘Spirit of the Fringe’ will return.

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I have to declare an interest, in that my Edinburgh Fringe chat show is at one of Bob’s venues in the final week of the Fringe.

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A British film about a South American psycho killer made by a kung fu master

Chet Jethwa - kung fu master

Chet Jethwa – kung fu man

The enterprising Chet Jethwa is a chum of the equally enterprising Borehamwood-based Jason Cook, about whom I’ve blogged before.

Chet has a movie he directed currently being sold at the Cannes Film Festival. So we had a chat via Skype this morning.

“I’m originally a kung fu martial artist,” he told me. “I got into the film world when I was asked to do a fight scene in a low budget film a friend was making – The Estate. I went along for the day and played a Bruce Lee type character in a fight scene and had fun.”

“So how did you end up directing your own full-length feature film?” I asked.

“Well,” he told me, “I decided to do more movies, but no-one gave me the time of day, which basically pissed me off. So I told myself: I’m going to do it myself. So I decided to make a few short films and get some producing, acting and directing experience.

“My first 10-minute film – D.O.D. – won at the Angel Film Festival in London in 2009. This gave me the confidence to continue and I met Jason Cook on that. The second short I made – 55 Hill Rise – was the incentive I needed to move onto feature films. Jason helped me to produce that. I shot it, completed the final edit, put it on the shelf and then started writing my feature Carlos Gustavo – the one that’s now at Cannes.”

“Why this particular idea?” I asked.

Carlos Gustavo

Carlos Gustavo – the psychopath with instructions not to kill

“Well, because it’s not your typical British film,” explained Chet. “Carlos Gustavo is a South American hit man who has been hired to come to Britain and find a biological weapon by hunting down a scientist. He is a psychopath – Carlos is – but, on this mission, he’s not allowed to kill the guy because he has to bring him in alive. In the process, you’ve got MI5 chasing him, but they are not as competent as they should be.”

“And,” I asked, “he manages to kill a few people using kung fu?”

“There isn’t a lot of martial arts in the film,” said Chet. “It’s more to do with the characters.”

“How did you get finance for a film about a South American hit man running around Britain not killing people with kung fu?” I asked.

“It was very difficult,” said Chet, “and I pulled-in a lot of favours from everyone. But we shot it in just under thirty days in HD. We had to change a couple of cast members halfway through filming, so we had to re-shoot all those scenes, which added another couple of days, then we went straight to post production.”

“Why did you have to change the actors?” I asked.

“They didn’t get the concept, basically.”

“Which bit of the concept didn’t they get?”

“Their roles.”

“Well, Apocalypse Now!,” I said, “was re-cast after a week’s shooting. Martin Sheen replaced Harvey Keitel. And that worked well.”

“It happens,” said Chet. “Whatever the budget.”

“When did you finish Carlos Gustavo?” I asked.

“About a month before Cannes started,” said Chet, “so there was a lot of rush going on to get it out there in time. We got an international sales agent involved – Eddie Leahy.”

“What interested him?” I asked.

Cannes poster for Chet’s new movie

Current Cannes poster for Chet’s new movie

“That Carlos Gustavo is a different type of action thriller,” said Chet. “It has a lot of interesting twists. What you see at the beginning and what you think all the way through the film… In the end, you find out something completely different. It’s a really big story twist. What attracted everyone to get involved was the storyline.

“We’re hoping to get the international territories first and then bring it over to the UK and USA. I did a lot of research before shooting and people want strong characters rather than it all being action. This film, hopefully, will create an emotional response, rather than just having lots of action thrown in. It focuses more on emotional response.”

“I did see research once,” I said, “which found that, when audiences watch violence, they don’t look at the punch or the bullet hitting the victim; they look at the face of the victim. So their eyes don’t watch the action, they watch the reaction.

“In martial arts,” I prompted, “you’re in total control of what’s going on, but making a film is anarchy and everything changing…”

“Yes,” said Chet, “ it’s very difficult. You just work hard and keep hopeful, really. It’s certainly very difficult to get finance up-front.”

“And the cliché,” I said, “is that you never make money out of movies because the distributors nick it all.”

“It happens,” said Chet. “Creative accounting. But I’ve done my maths and we’ll have to be hopeful, really. Just get the film out there.”

“What about piracy?” I asked. “If you have a film that makes $200 million, you can afford to lose $20 million but, with small-budget films, online piracy can wipe them out and the distributors don’t/can’t stop it.”

“You can never be sure what will happen,” said Chet. “It’s really difficult to get the support you need from the industry people, so you’ve got to do it yourself. It’s very hard to get an opportunity, so you’ve gotta make the opportunities yourself.”

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How to finance a show at bottomless money pits like the Edinburgh Fringe

My elfin stand-up comedy chum Laura Lexx (she really did once work as an elf in Lapland) is going to the Edinburgh Fringe with multiple shows again this year and the problem as always is that playing the Fringe is (in the words of a comedian whom I have embarrassingly forgotten) like standing in a cold shower tearing up £20 notes.

As well as being a stand-up, Laura has her elfin toe dipped in ‘legit’ theatre. Her company is called Spun Glass Theatre. Last year, they played the Edinburgh Fringe for a second time and played the Brighton Fringe and branched out into school entertainments and – I love reading a bit of good creative PR speak – “completed development on a truly original piece of theatre”.

You Left Me in the Dark is, according to the blurb, “a piece of new writing inspired by Chekhov’s The Seagull which explores the themes of abandonment and devotion… The music of Florence + the Machine reflects the passionate nature of the characters’ love affair with each other and the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.”

Frankly, I see few openings for knob gags in that – I am a simple man with simple tastes – but Chekovian drama has its followers.

The brain-stumper, though, is how do you finance a trip which you have to assume may result in a 100% financial loss – which is how any trip to the Edinburgh Fringe may end however good the project is – although, with luck, you may break even and fame and fortune may follow?

One route is ‘crowd funding’ which Spun Glass Theatre enterprisingly and successfully tried last year. There are websites like WeDidThis.org.uk which allow members of the public to donate money to artistic endeavours. If the company reaches their target for donations within a specified short period, they get to keep the money and give rewards to those who donated. If they fail to reach their target, they do not get the money and the people who have pledged pay nothing.

This year, Spun Glass Theatre is trying to raise £1,000 and the deal is that, if you cough up anything from £5 to £20, you get a variety of rewards from free tickets to free workshops to original artwork. And the money goes to funding the planned show.

“We regularly apply for funding via other routes,” Laura tells me, “but the numbers applying mean it is almost impossibly competitive. Crowd funding gives you the chance to be more proactive than just continually spending all your time writing applications and poetry.

“And I think crowd funding is a good test of whether you’re making something which has some appeal. If people won’t fund it being made (for rewards) how are you going make the project seem attractive enough to sell tickets?”

Of course, any project is in competition with all the other projects on a crowd funding site to get money. But, Laura says:

“We’re already half way to our target on our WeDidThis page and kicking the ass of everybody else that’s in the running this month, so we stand a good chance of getting there! We’ve only got a fortnight to go, though..”

Well, I’ve coughed-up.

I admire enterprising elfin chutzpah.

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