Ep 106

Unreal Engine, Fortnite and Netflix: My Journey to Indie Film Director

with HaZimation
Watch this episode: https://youtu.be/-Q2ibkvJiKI

About this episode

HaZ Dulull, founder of HaZimation, is a multi award-winning Film and Games Director, developing & producing feature films, tv and video games using Unreal Engine. In this episode, HaZ shares his journey from in-house VFX artist to indie film director. We also discuss how to access funding for original content/IP, how to win pitches, and how to start your own studio.

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • How HaZ went from VFX artist to indie film director/studio owner
  • Techniques and strategies for winning pitches
  • How HaZ wrote/directed a fully animated film released on Netflix
  • The importance of networking at conferences
  • How HaZ transitioned from indie filmmaking to building a game in Fortnite
  • How HaZ fully utilised Unreal Engine in his career
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[00:00:00] HaZ: You know, it’s kind of interesting. I kind of wish there was like a podcast like this when I was like out doing This whole process of working in Hollywood Studios meant that I got to work with 20th Century Fox, got to work with Paramount. I was a writer. I can’t freaking write, I’m just a director writes that necessity.

[00:00:13] Hayley: That’s Haz Dulull. He was originally a VFX artist, but now he has his own animation studio called, has Animation. He is a film director and he’s worked on lots of original content, including a film that was acquired by Netflix. He has also worked on a game called Mootopia, which is an island in Fortnite, and now he is directing the cinematics for the new Dune game, Dune Awakening.

[00:00:36] HaZ: And that’s another tip I’ll give, is that have an exit plan. We don’t set ourselves up for huge disappointment, and we always knew that, hey, if this doesn’t work, we’re not going to be overstressed or really burn ourselves out. Luckily, it worked out. Every festival we ensured that we had a plan of attack way in advance before turning up.

And of course, when you turn up in a conference, you end up being introduced to other people, but you need to have a plan in the first place. If you’re a motion designer, right. And you, you feel like you can come in as a creative director or an art director, whatever you want to do to elevate your career from senior motion designer to the next step, right?

The obvious ways work as many companies as possible and step it up.

[00:01:11] Hayley: In this episode, you’re going to learn how to use Unreal Engine to win pitches.

[00:01:16] HaZ: We’ve all gone through the process of doing a pitch, right? Whether you’re a freelance. Artist or creative director, so on. Pitching can be very expensive. Now here’s the thing Hayley, this is the thing that this is a good tip.

What we did was instead of saying here’s 10 minutes of a proof of concept, it’s kind of rough, obviously if we get the proper financing we’ll do it properly. We didn’t do that.

[00:01:33] Hayley: How to build a studio making your own original content.

[00:01:36] HaZ: Instead of set up another company and servicing Other productions, which we could do getting paid way more being a freelancer, by the way.

Why don’t we set up a company to do the things that we’ve learned that work so well in the industry and not do the things that we’ve also seen that doesn’t work too well in the industry and create a company that allows us to make films the way we want to make them.

[00:01:55] Hayley: How to co partner on productions.

[00:01:58] HaZ: You have to bring stuff to the table. You can’t really go in and say, Hey, I’m going to be a co producer on this project because I feel like I should be a producer. Which some people do do that, by the way, absolutely. Seen it

[00:02:07] Hayley: and how to get your own films and personal projects financed.

[00:02:10] HaZ: Financiers are not really financing a project.

They’re investing you as the artist, as the creator, as a director, as a produ, they’re financing you.

[00:02:20] Hayley: So as a studio, you make a lot of your own original content and films and games. I wanted to know, like, how you started out doing that.

[00:02:30] HaZ: I mean, first off, it’s very, very hard, from a business point of view, to set up a studio and say, we are going to make original IP, original content, and not be a service company.

So, just a little backstory, like, Hazimation was set up by myself. And, um, my business partner, Paula Crickard. So Paula Crickard, if you’re IMDB, you’ll see, she’s worked on countless movies, like from like the Harry Potter franchises to, um, Expendables. And she is a post producer by trade, but also a producer.

Uh, we both met on my, on my first movie, The Beyond as well as 2036 Origin Unknown, the movie with the lovely Katie Sackhoff. And we, we, we both realized working on those movies, even though they were my movies that I directed, we still followed a very traditional path, especially the second movie. So we looked at it, we’re like, how can we make.

Content that we have a bit more control over. And we both have been in the industry for so long, like decades. Like I started in video games, went into visual effects, and then from visual effects, started making films. Um, and she’s a similar thing. We’re like, I think it’s time we kind of broke and do our own thing, but instead of set up another company and servicing other productions, which we could do.

Getting paid way more being a freelancer, by the way. Why don’t we set up a company to do the things that we’ve learned that work so well in the industry, and not do the things that we’ve also seen that doesn’t work too well in the industry, and create a company that allows us to make films the way we want to make them.

And that’s where, um, originally it was called HasFilm, because I had a slate of projects I wanted to make, and Paula came on to kind of support me as a producer, then we became business partners, and we decided, like, we are going to make Original content that we have control on the script. We have control on the financing.

We are controlling distribution. Very hard, very ballsy, especially in the climate that, yeah, this was just before the pandemic, by the way. So you can imagine what happened in pandemic hit, right? We’re like, Oh, do we change our business plan? But we didn’t now to be fair, we do end up doing co productions and that is probably the closest thing to like what you say, servicing.

So we get a lot of companies reach out to us, especially after we started doing a lot of the unreal. So side of things. A lot of companies came out and said, Hey, we want you to work on our cinematics. We’ll hire you as a production company. And we’re like, we don’t do that. But how about we tender to be the production company with me directing it and me and Paula producing it as a production company, as, as a director.

And all of a sudden we started getting into that route where I was pitching as a director, like you would do when you’re pitching to direct a commercial. But instead of pitching to direct the commercial for a production company, like Partisan passion or so on. We’re going in as Ation is a production company.

We’ll work with this games company or this commercials company and I’ll direct it. All of a sudden it’s a different psychology. It’s a different, different business plan. It’s also a different way of pitching as well, and we found because of collectively, me and Paul are having decades of experience and a body of work, it allowed this conversation to be like.

Sure. Okay. And then from there, so we started doing like video games, cinematics, they ended up directing something for rebellion, rebelling games in Oxford called evil genius. While at the same time, we were able to use all of the finance from those projects and follow that into our company to make our own content.

And every project we do, whether it’s a third party co production, we do it in a way to grow the company as opposed to just churning stuff out. So again, it’s a very, it’s quite a unique business model. It’s very ballsy one, but it took a lot of planning and a lot of like focus to say. Learn to say no, because the problem I’ve got Haley is I’ll say yes to everything like, yeah, let’s do it all.

I love it all. And whereas someone like Paula comes and goes, dig the enthusiasm. But do we have the bandwidth? And is this trajectory, is this where we want to go as a company, as individuals? And that’s always the cream that we have in the back of our head with every project we do, every project we support.

You know, we just recently, I don’t know if you saw, the Deadline Hollywood article came out last week. That, you know, we’ve done a co production of the BBC. I would never in a million years, imagine doing a co production of the BBC. I’ve been a VFX supervisor back in my VFX days as a freelancer for the BBC.

But to do a co production is a whole different thing because you are producers. You have skin in the game. You are also. Accountable for the production. So, um, we always ask the question, why should we do a project? Um, as opposed to just do it, cause we want to make the money. We kind of take a different angle to that.

[00:06:34] Hayley: Yeah, that’s really interesting. And like you were saying, kind of a ballsy move, especially in this climate. So yeah, I want to like dig in a little bit more about that. So sort of where did this come from originally? Because you said that you worked in VFX, you’re a VFX artist. Artist, is that right?

[00:06:53] HaZ: Yeah. I, I started as a V FX artist and then became a vf and then you kind of climb ladder, you become a lead artist.

Lead v FX comp. I was a compositor, right? So I chose to be a compositor, uh, because I, I suck at 3D modeling on the worst. But when it came to composite, I loved it. I love photography and I loved cinema. I then became a VFX supervisor, then became a VFX producer, then became a VFX executive producer. And at that point, Haiti, you’re like, I ever run a VFX company with, be something different, right?

Yeah, yeah. I chose to go filmmaking. Yeah.

[00:07:19] Hayley: Yeah. Okay. So. I guess like, because I’ve never really heard about this before, you know, people being like, okay, we’re going to, and I’m sure people do, it’s just, you know, as most people listening are motion designers or studio owners that kind of do a lot of advertising and stuff like that.

We’re not really used to this, like, Oh, you’re creating your own content. So how does that work from one, you were saying that the kind of co productions finance the other original stuff. So can we dig more into that? Like how does the co production stuff work? From a finance perspective and also you just going in and saying, Hey, uh, we’re going to be co producers on this.

And then how does that play into the other stuff?

[00:07:56] HaZ: Yeah, that’s a really good question. You know, it’s kind of interesting. I kind of wish there was like a podcast like this when I was starting out. So, um, yeah, these are really good questions, Haley. Oh, well, first off you need to have some cash in the bank.

Let’s be frank, right? So it’s like with anything, you need to have some kind of equity in your account. So for us, Me and Paula knew we can go off and set up a production company for one sole easy reason, and that was my first movie, The Beyond, end up becoming a profitable movie. I know, it’s very rare to hear the words, Indie, self financed, recoupable, profit.

Very rare. We somehow, like the movie came out, 2018, January, February, it was number two in iTunes charts next to Blade Runner 2049 and Wonder Woman. This is a movie with no cast. You gotta remember, Hayley, most time films depend on a good cast in order to sell the film. We had unknown cast. It was pitch of kind of like, it was pitch like District 9 meets a Blumhouse film with kind of like the Monsters kind of vibe.

I mean, it was a fake documentary. It was like Spinal Tap for sci fi, right? That’s essentially what it was without the comedy elements. And then in April, we get what you call a spin off. Sales report. So every quarter you get a sales report from the distribution company called, so our distributor called Gravitas Ventures.

And um, they sent the report saying, yeah, you’re like in 300 percent in profit. Because we made the movie for like, I think it was made for like 70k or something, and we had made way more than that past the budget. And this was money that I financed myself. So again, just a quick rewind, how I got to that point was when I was working in VFX, like I’ve got time, I made a bunch of short films.

And one of them called Project Kranos, Kind of went viral, it was massive, got a Vimeo staff pick, it was an io9, Geek Tyrant, and then Variety ran a whole article about studios put it in a bidding war. I don’t know what a bidding war was, I’m like, what’s a bidding war? I thought I’d have to put my films through festivals, there was no festival route, it was like the perfect timing.

This was back in 2013. When there were movies at District 9, Garry Fenton’s Monsters doing well, you had Chronicles by Josh Trank, and independent sci fi films made by VFX artists turned directors was a hot thing. And I just happened to find the right timing, so I got signed to an agency, a manager in LA, did the whole Hollywood thing, and then a couple years later, I’m like, I still haven’t made a movie yet.

The whole Hollywood dream hasn’t come true, like, what’s going on? I speak to my agents, my manager goes, yeah, we love you, man, but like, Yeah, you’re still a first time director. It doesn’t matter how many awards you’ve won and stuff. So I’m like, okay, well, and I was working on a show called Poldark. The, the, yeah, I was like, so yeah, very not sci fi.

Um, but I was a VFX producer on that and an amazing company called Lexhang, who were just like, yeah, come work for us while you figure out your filmmaking stuff. So it was really cool to have that support. And I remember thinking, you know what? The renewable, the renew option. So basically I went to studio.

So kind of called Bendis being optioned the IP and what that means. They give you a little bit of money and they say for 14 months, 12 months, whatever the option period is, we will own that and we will work with you to get it developed to a state where we can then get it made after that period. If it hasn’t been made, we give you back your, your IP.

So I was like, cool. So that option ran out. I’m like, what are we doing guys? And all we just renew it again. I’m like, Oh, cool. I had a great time working with studios and I have to say like doing this whole process of working in Hollywood studios meant that I got to work with 20th Century Farts, got to work with Paramount, I was a writer, I can’t freaking write, I’m just a director, write is out of necessity, but you know the writer director thing works, but nothing was being made, nothing was being made, the thing about, the thing about Los Angeles and Hollywood in general is things take a while to get made, you may think oh this is a movie that came out, but if you look at the backstory it’s so long for a movie to get made, like I remember reading about the Imitation Game that took like 15, 20 years to actually get to screen.

So it is a process. A lot of it is down to marketing timing. A lot of it due to financing or casting. So for me, I’m like, I need to make a frigging movie. So I had some money saved up for mortgage. So is going and I’m like, buy a house, make a movie. I thought, fuck it. It’s going to make a movie. So, um, we put the money and made that movie.

And because you’re using your own money, I think that was the first time where I really felt like I was running a business. When you use your own money to make content, you do not waste other people’s money. A penny. You don’t do freaking. Let’s cut that out. Let’s not use that. You don’t render visual effects stuff that isn’t gonna be used in the film.

Everything goes. I storyboard everything. I plan everything. Excel spreadsheet. Everything was itemized. And guess what? That’s what a producer does. So all of a sudden I was a producer on my own stuff because I’m using my own money, right? So the film got released, like I said, it made a lot of, it made a fair amount of profit.

And at that point, I was in my second movie called Origin Unknown. The funny story is that second movie was supposed to be my first movie. So remember I told you my short film went kind of viral and stuff. And when you go to the, when you get to Hollywood studios, they always ask you the famous question.

So what else you got? What else, what other stories you got? I’m like, well, I got this movie about this. I’ve got this, I’ve got this other movie that’s, It’s set on Mars, and there’s this cube that appears, and we have to figure out what this cube is. It could hold the secret to humanity. I remember at the time, this was like 2013, or, yeah, and they were like, No, we don’t hear nothing about Mars.

Mars movies suck. You know, Red Planet, uh, Last Days on Mars, they didn’t do too well in the box office and so on. And then, this amazing director called Ridley Scott makes a movie called The Martian. All of a sudden, Hey, do you still have that script? So that gives you an idea on how the market works in Hollywood.

It really is about the thing that works. They want more of that, right? Like John Wick. Everyone wants another John Wick film, right? And that’s why you have Atomic Blonde and so on. So I ended up going straight into production for that. But that was a, that wasn’t independently financed by me. That was another financier called Parkgate Entertainment.

They came on board. They financed the whole thing. And I was a producer on it, but only took like by name, not by company. And I was a hired director with my IP to make the film, which was amazing. But that’s where I met Paula. And that is where we realized what really was the charm about making the first movie, which was very independent guerrilla, do what it takes to make it, shoot stuff in your room, comp all and after effects was there was this level of like autonomy that you don’t get when you make a movie for a production company, because they have a set rules.

And. Neither was right or wrong, but me and Porter loved the way we were making the first film. So when it came to making, setting up our company, so instead of taking our profits and going, oh, let’s go buy lavish stuff. We’re like, how much you got left on the profits? I’ve got this amount. How much have you got left on the profits?

I’ve got this amount. Why don’t we just cash flow the company for a year? See how it goes. If it works, we continue. If it doesn’t work, we continue. We haven’t lost anyone’s money apart from our own profits in a way from the film. So we’re not out of pocket. And that’s another tip I’ll give is that have an exit plan.

So we always had an exit plan. We’re like, we’ll try it for a year. If it doesn’t work out, I’ll go be a high director in commercials or go back and consult for VFX and Paula will continue being VFX producer on some of the Mason movies and continue producing other indie films as a freelance producers.

Right. So we had our exit plan. Having the extra plan meant that we don’t set ourselves up for huge disappointment. And we always knew that, hey, this doesn’t work. We’re not going to be overstressed or like, you know, really burn ourselves out that crazy. Luckily it worked out. We’re still here today. But the thing was having, having capital is a big thing.

Having your own capital is even better. Now, of course, there are different routes. Some people take venture capital. Some people take external bank loans. They’re all good. They’re all fine for me and Paula. For us. To have full autonomy, you’ve got to have your own skin in the game. And we felt like, you know, maybe in the future we will get venture capital.

You know, we get offers all the time. Maybe in the future we will bring on other finances to help grow the company. But at the time, we’re like, let’s just do it with ourselves. And therefore we could fail fast and recoup very quickly. And that’s the way we kind of grew the company from there.

[00:15:10] Hayley: Yeah, it’s really fascinating because it isn’t something that we on this podcast ever really.

So I’m like, yeah, I’m like, how does this all work? Because I like literally, you know, it’s kind of a new thing. And I think also at the moment, you know, it’s on the client side, there’s not tons going on out there, you know, for freelance motion designers and stuff like that, which is obviously. a big problem.

So I guess what I’m trying to explore is like, are there things that people can think about and things that maybe they could do? I mean, the financing is really difficult, right?

[00:15:44] HaZ: It’s very circumstantial, that’s what I would say. And by the way, when I say we finance, okay, we didn’t put millions in, by the way, just so you know, we’re not freaking, we made money, but we didn’t make millions and millions of dollars, what I think, but we made enough to kind of kickstart.

me and paula to be on bare minimum wage to keep us going just just so if just so you know i only recently bought my apartment like a year and a half ago like i never i wasn’t even a homeowner right when i was freelancer it was virtually impossible to be a homeowner try getting a mortgage if you’re a freelancer the amount of stuff they put you through is a nightmare and because i end up me and paul end up making our own company and having a bit more ownership and autonomy we were able to be very successful Specifically, what projects we take, right?

So, to answer your question about how do we go in as co productions, well, a lot of that is you have to bring stuff to the table. You can’t really go in and say, Hey, I’m going to be a co producer on this film. Project because I feel like I should be a co producer, which some people do do that, by the way, I’ve seen it.

Um, for us, we’re like, what do we bring to the table? And for us, it’s like both our experiences, but also the whole Unreal Engine side was the big thing for us. It’s the fact that, and the fact that we have made a profitable movie. That was the other thing as well, that you can go in and say, be a film producer.

They’re going to look at your track record right now. Of course, The movies that I make have mixed reviews. Some people like, like it, some people hate it, which is fine. It’s art. But when you’re working with a studio to come in as co production, they’re not going to look at the movie. They’re going to look at the sales, unfortunately.

And they go like, damn, that made a shit ton of money. You must be good. We’re like, okay. So if you’re like, if you’re a motion designer, right? And you want to work on this animated show, And you feel like you can come in as a creative director or an art director or whatever you want to do to elevate your career from senior motion designer to the next step, right?

The obvious way is work as many companies as possible and step it up. Or the other way is join in on a project, come and say, hey, I’ll consult with you as an art director on this project and be part of this project. Instead of charging my full rate, I’ll give you this rate, which is enough for you to And then the rest will be deferred.

And on the condition you come on as a producer on the show, because already now you’ve given some kind of equity, which is your deferred payment of what you would have got your full rate. So there’s ways of working around that, but I would say, be very picky on the projects as well. Make sure it’s a project that you feel like you, you have a lot to bring to the table, whether it’s from genre to your style.

Style to storytelling and so on. And that’s how essentially co production tend to work.

[00:17:58] Hayley: Yeah. It’s really interesting. The first time I kind of saw you talk, you were talking about using Unreal Engine for pitching and how that sped everything up. So I wanted to hear more about that. Cause I think it’s really interesting.

[00:18:10] HaZ: Yeah. So, um, traditionally, like when we did, we all know we’ve all gone through the process of doing a pitch, right? Whether you’re a freelance artist or creative director, so on. Pitching can be very expensive. Like if sometimes You have to hire a studio to do a pitch for you. I know some people, some agencies spend up to like between 40 to 100 grand on a pitch for a Nike commercial and they don’t get it, right?

They’ll never win the job because they’re up against the big studios. So for me, when we’re pitching on my next live action film, so we’re getting ready, I’ve done two films, I’m getting ready for my third film, I can’t draw. To say, I mean, I could draw, but I wouldn’t call myself a story. When I is they’re like little matchstick men.

So I’m like, I need, I need something to kind of like pitch, but we’re an independent studio. We don’t have the financial luxury to go, Hey, let’s go hire the best concept artists in the world. So I was starting to look at, and also, you know, the higher on Maya artists to get a Maya license or cinema 4d license.

All that stuff adds up. Right. And we’re like, you know, for pitch, we’re not too sure. So we had the script and, um, for some reason, I, you know, I think I read that the director Wes Ball, the guy who did Maze Runner, who was repped by the same manager as me, so hence I was seeing all this stuff. He was using it for pitching on this film that he was making called Mouse Guard, which ended up getting cancelled because of the whole Disney merge thing.

And I was fascinated, I’m like, game engines? Really? So, and then I started seeing stuff by Neil Blomkamp. Who end up doing stuff for his Oat Studios called Adam, which is all done in Unity. So actually the first, the thing I downloaded was Unity originally. I downloaded Unity, I was like, oh that short Adam looks amazing!

I loaded it, I’m like, uh, how do I create a queue? Like, I have no freaking idea. Close. Instantly. And then I looked at Unreal, and Unreal felt so much more familiar. By the way, Unity and Unreal. They do just the same thing. No, no, none of them are better than the other. They just have a different way of achieving stuff.

Unity is more programmer led. So, you know, you have to build a lot of tools to get what you want. Whereas in Unreal, it was just there. Like, it felt familiar. It felt like, it felt like Nuke. It felt like Maya. It felt like C4D. It felt like all of the tools that I was familiar with. And it was cinema based.

So I remember like the first thing I did was how do I learn this tool? And the first thing I asked myself, what is it I want to get out of this tool? I don’t have the time to learn an entire software. So I’m like, okay, I need to know how to load it up. I need to know how to download a free character asset for the marketplace.

And I need to know how to move a camera and then how to render it. So I did that over a weekend. It was a simple shot, T pose character, camera moving around. I’m like, Ooh, what if I do a close up? What if I do a wide? What if I do a master aerial shot? And I started rendering those out, putting in an edit.

I’m like, whoa, I have a movie here. And then from there, I’m like, how do I, next weekend, how do I do lighting? How do I bring animation? Like from Mixamo, because I was using Mixamo a lot, right? Bringing Mixamo mocap. And all of a sudden you started building. So I’m like, you know what? I could build a pitch fizz.

I can create an animatic, but all in Unreal. All in real time and then use that as part of my script and my pitch deck to go and help raise finance and get actors on board and so on. But here’s the thing, when I was rendering the stuff out and I was showing it to studio executives, they’re like, what is that?

I’m like, oh no, this is just a rough previz. They’re like, no, no, we’ve seen previz. Previz is usually gray and blocky and we know what previz is. That looks like a rendered thing, like a first pass rendered animated film or something. I’m like, interesting. And they’re like, well, yeah, you’ve got lighting reflections.

You have all that stuff. And in my head, I’m like, damn, that’s my laptop. This is all in real time. So I remember coming back from one of my meetings. This is before the pandemic. I’m like. Why are people not making movies like this? Because there’s a, and you know, there’s a massive process of making any animated content.

You got to do the storyboard, animatic, and then you got to do the layout, the blocking, shading, lighting, character, blah, blah, blah, blah. And by the time you get to the end and you want to make a change, you got to go through all those steps again. So I’m like, what if we just did everything in real time?

And we don’t render passes. We don’t do any compositing. And we just do what you see is what you get. Final pixels. I looked around, no one else is doing that, and my colleague Andrea Tatechi, who’s worked with me on every single of my films, were like, are you thinking what I’m thinking? I’m like, yeah. So we, and this is before we told Paula, by the way, because Paula, like, if I was going to tell Paula we’re making a movie in the game engine, she’s like, get the hell out of here, you crazy nutters.

So we did a test sequence, and it was a test sequence called, uh, for Luna, which is the, which ended up becoming Moontopia later, and we showed it to Paula, and Paula was like, Damn, where’d you get this from? I’m like, no, we made that. They’re like, she’s like, shut up. You didn’t make that. That’s a fucking animated film.

We’re like, no, we did it all in Unreal. Then she was instantly got it. She’s like, and just, yeah, Paula comes from a very traditional filmmaking background. She’s, she loves technology, but she’s not into Unreal and stuff at the time. She was like, holy shit. And she got it instantly. And I’m thinking, wow, she’s got it.

Then. We’re doing something groundbreaking. And from there, we started to really invest a lot of time in Unreal. The pandemic hit, and we’re like, well, this movie that I’ve created an amazing pitch viz for isn’t going to happen any soon. But we all love making stuff in Unreal. So I was giving a talk at a conference called the Future Film Summit, and I was talking about how I did the pitch.

Pitchfizz using Unreal. This is on my Mac, by the way, so obviously you don’t run Unreal on your Mac. But this is like Unreal 4. 13, so it’s not like Unreal 5, which is beautiful and everything. And some people from Epic were like, we dig what you’re doing, we’d love to support you, we want to support more independent filmmakers.

And at the time, and again, this is another example, Hayley, timing. Back then, this was around 2019, you know, virtual production was the key buzzword. People making animated films in game engines. What? That didn’t exist back then. Like, if it did, it wasn’t as commercialized as it is today, right? And I got a lot of support from Epic.

I got two mega grants from Epic. People were interested, and they thought we were crazy about making a full film. But we were like, it’s a pandemic. Let’s just take one of our scripts that we’ve, that we were gonna make, turn that into an animated film. We had some money still, we still, we’re still getting royalty checks from the film.

Obviously it gets lower and lower each year, but we were still making money, and we had made money on the various projects we had done. So we’re like, let’s just put it in making a full animated feature film. The plan was we will finance, uh, a good chunk of it first, and then we bring on other equity finances that come burden some of the financing with us, but we wanted to go off and make the first.

So we did the first 10 minutes all in unreal for 24. I think it was, it was still rough around the edges, but we had some motion capture done by XN, you know, using XN suits, everyone worked remotely. And we showed that 10 minutes to certain people. Holy crap. Now here’s the thing, Hayley. This is the thing that this is a good tip.

What we did was instead of saying, Oh, here’s 10 minutes of a proof of concept. It’s kind of rough. Obviously, if we get the proper financing, we’ll do it properly. We didn’t do that. We’re like, here’s 10 minutes of the dailies from production. This train is moving. We’re making this movie. If you want to join the ride, join the ride.

If you don’t, we’re making the movie in a way, it’ll just take a little bit longer to make. The psychology changes. Now you’re not. The conversation you’re having is like, tell me more, like who’s going to be in it? Like what, how much equity financing do you need? What’s your finance structure? As opposed to if I did it the other way, which is here’s a proof of concept.

Here’s a script. We want to make it properly. They were like, well, we got notes. We want to take it through the development rounds and go through that whole song and dance for them to only say, not for us. So we avoided that. And we just said, and it wasn’t a bluff. We were actually going to make the film was going to take longer.

But because we had 10 minutes of the opening scene from the script, we had voice actors on already. People either say no, not for us. very quickly, or this is cool. How much do you need and how can I help? And that’s, that helped massively. So the game engine side of things didn’t just enable us to make content.

It enabled us to speed up decision making, which I still use today.

[00:25:30] Hayley: Okay. Yeah. Yeah. It’s really fascinating. So I guess like. There’s a few things going on here. I’m like picking everything apart. Hope you don’t mind. Um, so I feel like it’s partly, you know, you had some success and then you reinvested that back into the business.

But then the other part of it, I think is your kind of networking. And like that kind of side of it too, right? Because I just, you know, I want people to understand like exactly how these things happen and how they can set themselves up for success. Right?

[00:26:01] HaZ: 100%. The one thing I can say Hayley is success isn’t this.

You put a video on YouTube. And you get all the hits and boom, like I have a lot of YouTube influence and friends influence of friends I’ve made over the years. And each one of them tell me it’s not that magic bullet. It’s like, it’s a lot of work that goes behind trying to create something successful, even on YouTube or even on TikTok.

Right. So, you know, for me, yes, there’s an element of success in my first film, but there was a lot of graph, not just in the production of making a movie. You know, when you’re making any type of content, whether it’s a movie, short film, whatever content you’re making, right? There’s, there’s essentially a free stage.

There’s a stage of the ideation process. It’s like, am I making, am I going to make content that is going to be relevant to the market by the time it finishes, right? And that’s the thing you’ve got to think. You can’t just think about, oh, I’m going to make something that is cool now, because I think right now everyone loves pink because Barbie did so well.

a pink movie. And things take time, right? It could take two years to finish a movie. Some take three years to make a movie, right? But then it finishes. No one gives a crap about pink anymore. Blue is a new thing, right? So you’ve always got to keep your finger on the pulse. And the way to do that is you’ve got to read the trade press.

If you’re a director, read things like Hollywood Reporter, read things like Deadline. These are all free newsletter subscriptions you can get for free in your email box or go on the website. Look at IMDB. Look at what’s trending on IMDB in terms of films. What films are being picked up by studios that are gonna go into production?

Cause then you know, oh, that’s going into production now. That’s gonna come out in like a year and a half, two years time. And that is the sort of genre that’s gonna be doing well. So I always knew that sci fi was gonna be a big thing ever since I did my shorts. Now, to be fair, if I made that first movie, The Beyond, today, I don’t think it would have been that successful.

I don’t think it would have had that traction it got, because back then everyone was looking for the paranormal activity, the Blumhouse esque type films, whereas now it’s saturated with that stuff, right? So now you have to start thinking about, what kind of sci fi should I be making? More like the Westworld stuff, but that stuff costs a lot of money.

And then you have to think about what can you do. So like, I always tell a lot of filmmakers that, or even creators in general, whether you’re a filmmaker or even music guy, uh, person, is look at what you have, Resource wise, look at the market and what’s happening in terms of what’s working really well and see if there is a gap that you feel like, Oh, this could be extended further and then look at how much you’ve got and then try to make something work.

[00:28:14] Hayley: Yeah. That’s really interesting. And like, I’m like, who are these people? Like, who are you talking to? And like, how did you get finances? Like, how did you get those contacts in the first place? Right. Because like me and all newbies on this stuff. So we need your help.

[00:28:29] HaZ: Yeah. Very good question. The key thing.

That you have to remember is there is working hard to make the content and there is networking. Now, yeah, I’m a bit of an intro. I know this is hard to believe. I am a bit of an introvert as well. I can, you know, I don’t want to go talk to a bunch of people. I want to make cool shit on my computer. I want people to see it.

But unfortunately, if you want to work in the world of the commercial angle, which is getting financing, we would support your vision. You are the brand. You can do the most amazing work. Don’t talk to me. Just look at the work. The work is great. Do you want it? Do you want to finance it? That doesn’t work anymore.

Financiers are not really financing. a project. They’re investing in you as the artist, as the creator, as a director, as a producer. They’re financing you. The project is the outcome, the product that they’re going to get after investing in you. Once you get into that mindset, you’re like, I gotta network the hell out of this room.

So, and that’s the thing you do. You’re like, okay, so you go to film festivals. It’s financers we met where we’re at film festivals, but how do you meet those people? You gotta, you don’t just turn up and go, right, I’m going to talk to you. You don’t know who that person is. So here’s another tip for you.

People listening is when you go to any type of conference, whether it’s FMX, whether it’s any, any animation festival or film festival is you, when you buy your ticket, you sign on, you also get a list of all the, all the companies that are going to be there. Right. And now a lot of these conferences, like the GDC game developers conference, or even SIGGRAPH, they have this thing called meet to match, which is a online app that you get for free.

When you buy a ticket, use that app. You can get their email address, you can DM them, say, Hey, I’m going to be at this. I have this project. I’d like to talk to you. Most people say, yeah, I’ll come and talk to you. And that’s what we end up doing. Every festival, we ensure that we had a plan of attack way in advance before turning up.

And of course, when you turn up in a conference, you end up being introduced to other people, but you need to have a plan in the first place. Also, sometimes. The other way I’ve done it is I volunteer to give talks on conferences. I’m like, Hey, look, I’m going to be at this conference. I would love to be a speaker.

Do you have spots? Like, yeah, we actually have a slot. What do you want to talk about? And then the minute you’re on stage and you’re talking, people come up to you at the end and go, Hey, I loved your talk, love to know more. And that’s how we met a lot of finances, a lot of executives, a lot of producers. In fact, when you see the trailer for the new movie that came out last week, Max Beyond, I know I have a thing about the word beyond here, but Max Beyond, you’ll see the trailer from the executive producer.

of The Expendables and Rambo. You’re like, how the hell did that happen? It’s because, like, we, Paul has worked with Yurif Lerner at Millennium on movies like The Expendables and so on. But also he was a fan of the stuff that I was doing. So when I was at film festivals, I always made an effort to go have coffee with him or go, hey, say hi.

And he remembers you. People remember you. And the other thing I also have to say, Lee, is like networking isn’t about meeting someone and then the next day you’re going to get a deal. Relationships take a long time to flourish. So, look at it as like wine, you just let it mature, and when the right time to pop the cork and drink it, that’s the right time.

[00:31:20] Hayley: Yeah, and I think it’s definitely a big thing, but definitely the hardest thing to kind of

[00:31:25] HaZ: It is hard. Swallow,

[00:31:27] Hayley: I guess, you know, especially when you’re like, oh, you know, I need some work, or I want to do this thing, you know, and you don’t quite have those connections yet, you know, it takes time, like you said, like even years.

[00:31:38] HaZ: You know, when you’re a freelancer, you’re essentially kind of doing a network, if you think about it. I only realized that several years later, and I’m like, I know all of these artists who are now VFX supervisors, who then left and become producers, or doing their own thing, or running mocap studios. I’m like, I only knew that because I sat next to him when we were both artists.

But yeah, if you’re a freelancer, you are always networking, always keep in touch with people, keep in touch with your previous employers. Just say, Hey, how you doing? Or on LinkedIn link. By the way, LinkedIn is the best thing ever. I wish I had that back in VFX days. You get so much output on LinkedIn. The advice I would say is if you want to do the network on LinkedIn, if you don’t wanna do the face-to-face for whatever reason, that’s okay.

Post stuff that feels again timely. So you know, if there’s a big games conference happening, like post that, hey, I can’t make the game conference, but these are my thoughts and this is my latest working games. Constantly update it ’cause you’ll be surprised. Even if you don’t get the thumbs up likes, people are looking at your posts.

Like, I always look at the impressions. I’m like, damn, that’s a lot of impressions. But I’ve only got like 20 thumbs up. People only thumbs up because they want to, they physically thumbs up, but the people are still looking at your posts and people remember that. So I remember like we got approached by, um, by Gamescom to do cinematics.

I’m like, how did you know about me? Like, because I’ve never once interacted with anyone at your company. He goes, oh, didn’t you do that post on LinkedIn like a year ago about this thing in Unreal? I’m like. Yeah, that’s how we found you. I’m like, damn, it works. So it does work.

[00:33:08] Hayley: Yeah. And I mean, I think everyone’s kind of getting a little bit jaded with it now, right?

Cause I think a couple of years ago, LinkedIn, I’m always going on about, I love it. I think it’s great. But like a couple of years ago, I feel like LinkedIn cause no one was on there. And it was all new. And especially like in our industry, I feel like everyone was like, Oh, it’s just a boring CV place. So people weren’t utilizing it.

Right. And then, and then I think I went on about it so much that people started to, I’m not, I’m not solely taken the, you know, but I feel like I had a big part of, cause I kept saying you should go on LinkedIn to motion designers at least. So, and then now what I think has happened recently with the algorithm, as I think it’s.

It’s starting to show, it’s starting to get more niche in the way it shows things to people. So like, if you’re posting about motion design, it’s going to be like, well, I know who likes this motion designers, right? But then they’re not your client. So this is kind of the new issue, I think, with LinkedIn, but then also to your point, the other thing that I think we have to remember is I’m sure I read a report the other day that it’s only about like 1 percent of people who are on LinkedIn are actively posting.

So if you’re that 1%, you’re automatically giving yourself a chance, right? Like above everyone else. And then obviously trying to think about maybe what your ideal clients are. would want to see or what they’d be interested in too.

[00:34:27] HaZ: Absolutely. Also comment on potential clients that you would like to work with.

[00:34:31] Hayley: Yeah. You

[00:34:31] HaZ: know, like, um, I remember like, for example, Funcom, which is the company I’m directing Cinematics for Dune on at the moment. I remember, I’ve been a huge fan of games like Conan Exiles. I’m just a fanboy, right? So, you know, on LinkedIn, I’ll see like the producer at Funcom posting all the latest Conan Exiles.

I’m like, oh man, love this game. It’s super cool. And then someone in PR was like, Oh, he’s a director. Oh, okay. And then a year later, we need a director, the direct cinematic. Well, this guy’s familiar of our work because he’s commented on our, on our posts. So even just a comment is part of the network and you contributed, you’re on the algorithm now.

They’re going to be tracked.

[00:35:05] Hayley: Yeah, I think that’s really good. Do you think, cause it’s something that we haven’t really touched on, but I know that you made, An island in Fortnite called Moontopia. I’m totally not a Fortnite person as you can tell.

[00:35:17] HaZ: I wasn’t back then too. Don’t worry. Um, the Fortnite thing was interesting.

We had this project called Moon, um, Luna, which ended up becoming Moontopia. And we had developed, we had done a test in Unreal Engine 5. Very early last year when Unreal Engine 5 first came out, and we wanted a way to get the whole team to move into Unreal Engine 5. So we did a teaser trailer, what an animated film looks like.

We showed it around, and everyone was like, this is great, but it’s going to be very expensive to make, you need a showrunner, all that stuff. So we’re like, we’ll park it. And then we tried to make it into a VR game. That didn’t really work out. So we parked it. It was one of the, it’s that project. Just no one is jinxed project.

Right. So I was at GDC and I remember seeing that, like, you can now create, take your Unreal Engine content as an artist, as an Unreal Engine creator, your content can live inside Fortnite and it doesn’t need to look like Fortnite. So I’m like, interesting. And to top it all off, you could generate revenue.

I’m like, wait, what? No. So not only can I get my own content in Fortnite with 500 million plus user base. I can also join at revenue. What the hell? So I came back. I’m like, how do I, how do we test this? Why don’t we just take that Moontopia project that’s jinxed? We’re in Unreal Engine 5 already, bring it into Fortnite, and all of a sudden, within like a couple of months, we had an island, which we treat as a game, original IP, and we were one of the first at the time to do original IP.

So again, what I said earlier, it’s all about the timing. We got in right at the start and Epic helped push out promotion. It got a lot of press. You were at one of the talks as well. Like if I did Moontopia now in UEFN, it probably wouldn’t get that traction. They were like, oh yeah, it’s just another Fortnite map made in Unreal by original content creators.

Whereas back then there wasn’t because everything in Fortnite was Generated using the fortnight assets. So everything looked the same. Whereas now you’re like got beautiful cinematics. You’ve got this moon monster. Like what is this? It looks like Fortnite, but it’s not people got interested. It wasn’t so much of a money spinner.

I mean, we made some money, but I wouldn’t say we made enough to make, to make more of this, but it opened the doors for us to become a game developer. Because while we’re making Max Beyond, we were interested in making games. Cause we love the idea of having multiple vertical spinoffs and really understand the world of transmedia.

You build it once, reuse as many times. And as an artist, you don’t want to have to keep rebuilding the same thing. Right? So it’s kind of, you invest in very high quality assets you build or IP. And you have multiple revenue streams, any investor you speak to, we’re like, okay, you want me to finance a film, very risky, or do you want me to finance a universe where there is a film, a game, a comic book, all of a sudden, I can spread my bets a bit better.

That’s, you gotta have to think sometimes when you’re asking for financing. Kind of put yourself in their shoes. What would you want to see as a return of investment? The classic ROI, what do they, what do you want to see? And that’s what finances. We don’t want to see a return on investment. The only difference is how long they want to see it, whether it’s going to be a five year thing, long game, or they want to see something very quick.

Right? So we use the Fortnite thing to get in into the games industry market. And here’s the thing. When you make a game in UEFN in Fortnite. It’s already deployed on PlayStation, Xbox, Switch, Samsung. So already you’re like, my game is accessible on all these hardware. And that ticked the box for us. We’re like, Oh, we’re no longer a first time game developer.

We’ve made a commercial game that’s out making revenue and it’s on every single console. So that was for us, our, um, our result, our return on investment working on a Fortnite game. And now, and now we’re, we’re being asked to make other Fortnite projects with other big studios, which we’re going to announce soon.

So again, another revenue stream, because the same thing I did back in 2018 was. Learn a new tool. I kept learning new tools and of course everyone has to pay their bills and has to work and stuff. So, and I find it hard now to try and play with new tech because the bigger you grow, the more responsibility you have, like running a company and so on.

So now I just have like every Sunday, like half a day, I just play with new tools, new mocap solution stuff. I feel like it’s very important to keep learning. I think the days you lose the ability to learn. Yeah. Not only you lose the ability as a creator, but also you miss out on opportunities. Like, I’ve got game development opportunities because we learned to make gaming in Fortnite.

I’ve got filmmaking opportunities way bigger than it was when I was trying to make live action films because I learned Unreal. So always keep your eye on the, on the prize and just look at what’s, what’s new, what, what will work for you. And at the end of the day, it’s just storytelling.

[00:39:27] Hayley: Yeah, that’s awesome.

Well, so much, Haz. I really appreciate you coming on the show and My

[00:39:32] HaZ: pleasure. My pleasure. Giving

[00:39:34] Hayley: us all this. It’s great new knowledge to play with. I really appreciate it.

[00:39:38] HaZ: Thanks, Hayley. Appreciate it, man. Thank you.

[00:39:40] Hayley: Thanks so much for listening all the way to the end. If you’ve enjoyed this podcast, then please do consider leaving us a rating and review wherever you listen to podcasts.

To make this easier for you, you can go to motionhatch. com forward slash rate, and you’ll find all the links in the description. And if you think it will be useful to a friend of yours, please do consider sharing it with them or share it on your social media. You can always find us at Motion Hatch on any of the social media platforms and we’d love to know what you thought of this episode.

Thank you again for listening all the way to the end. I appreciate you. See ya.

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