Making It As A Screenwriter | Sam Baron

By Sarah Chaisson-Warner

Each year, Shore Scripts’ Short Film Fund competition offers an opportunity for emerging screenwriters and filmmakers to get their short films financed and produced. Our short film fund has an extensive track record of success, with its 16 produced short films playing at some of the top film festivals in the world.

Sam Baron’s short film, The Orgy, is one such success story. The winner of Shore Scripts’ 2017 Short Film Fund competition, The Orgy went on to play at major festivals, including BFI London, Austin Film Festival, and Encounters. Since its run on the festival circuit, Sam has been approached by a number of producers to develop the short into a television show.

But how did The Orgy come to be? Every good film comes with a good story – and this one just happens to include a hangover and a Burger King.

The Origin of The Orgy

A veteran writer and director of micro-budget shorts, Sam was still searching for that one film that would be his calling card. He knew he wanted to create a short film that showcased a love story with a twist. As he considered potential ideas for the script, he focused on themes of love and belonging.

“We wanted to make a film about feeling like you don’t belong – the feeling you get when you start a new job or a new school or walk into a party where you don’t know anyone,” he said. While out on a walk to cure a lingering hangover, the idea of an orgy came to him, and he immediately wrote the first draft on his phone at a nearby Burger King.

“I immediately saw the potential for a tragicomedy about the mundanity of orgies, feeling like an outsider, and looking for love in the wrong place. An orgy seemed like the ultimate version of that. The expectations are so high, and the potential for embarrassment is so huge – the tension would be unbearable.” -Sam Baron

He sent the first draft to his friend Tilly Coulson, a producer, unsure of what she might think. An orgy, after all, isn’t everyone’s cup of cinematic tea. But Tilly responded enthusiastically to the idea, and the two set out to make a short film about a heartbroken young man stepping out of his comfort zone to find love.

Going from Paper to Film

But having a great script is only half of the battle. Getting your short film made can be challenging – everything from financing to timing to talent can be barriers to moving forward.

After writing the film, Sam and Tilly sought to capitalize upon the momentum and move into production, but there were limited options for getting a short film financed. Many of the financing options were tied to schedules, posing significant delays. “We wanted a strategy which could allow us to keep up our momentum and move quickly from writing to casting to shooting the film,” he said.

Upon further research, Sam found Shore Scripts’ Short Film Fund and found both the fast turnaround from deadline to the announcements and the prize package, which includes funding to produce the film, compelling.

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Shooting The Orgy

After The Orgy won the 2017 Short Film Fund competition, Sam and Tilly got to work building their team. They partnered with Daniel-Konrad Cooper at Rather Good Films, and brought on Dave Beazley, founder of Shore Scripts, as the Executive Producer.

Their casting director, Lauren Evans, also quickly went to work with their exciting acting team, including Amit Shah (Crashing), Alexandra Roach (Utopia), Dustin Demri-Burns (Cardinal Burns), and Kerry Godliman (Derek, After Life). “With her help, it became a real project starring some of the U.K.’s best performers, and this helped us attract an equally talented crew and raise the money we needed to make it.”

Sam and Tilly also relied on the help and support of friends and colleagues, many of whom they had developed relationships with while working as assistants in the film industry in the UK. “We knew a lot of wonderful people we could call on for favors. Every single person who joined our team was far more experienced than we deserved, but for some reason, they were all willing to help us. I still don’t know why they did, but we made sure to thank them profusely and show our tremendous gratitude every step of the way,” he said.

With only three days in the schedule to shoot the film, Sam and his team worked together to develop scheduling and contingency plans and met with the actors and creative team to ensure everyone was on the same page so they could work together quickly and effectively. “We had to be very precise with our plan – perhaps ironically for a film about an orgy, there was no wiggle room,” he said.

Getting the performances right was critical, especially for creating hilarious moments of awkwardness. “For the moments when our tragic hero is moving through the event, witnessing the proceedings and feeling disconnected from everything, we chose subjective shots which penetrated his polite façade and allowed us to feel his heart beating with yearning and insecurity. We knew that the more the audience cared about him, the funnier his discomfort would be.”


Post-Production and Accolades

Sam began editing The Orgy the day after they wrapped shooting, and within two months, with the help of composer Roly Witherow and Oscar-winning sound designer Glenn Freemantle, the film was ready. (A testament to the value of having friends in the industry – Glenn asked a few well-known actors who were on-site during post-production to contribute sex sounds to the film’s audio. Don’t ask who they were – Sam is sworn to secrecy!)

Sam and his team then began submitting the film to festivals and the film was accepted into some of the top film festivals in the world, including Austin Film Festival and BFI London.

“We were initially nervous that the risqué content might scare people away, but we were pleasantly surprised to find that all over the world, audiences seemed to connect to our strange little sex party.” -Sam Baron

From beginning to end, the moments of discomfort are perfectly hilarious. From the protagonist’s arrival on the doorstep with a box of chocolates under his arm as a misplaced attempt at an orgy-housewarming gift to the orgy-regular who always stands just a little too close to him, to the awkward and cringeworthy scene in the sauna, every moment is baked with laughter, humility, and genuine empathy.

Shore Scripts: The Orgy Teaser Trailer – 2017 Short Film Fund Winner from Shore Scripts on Vimeo.

Advice for Other Filmmakers

Sam’s top tips for filmmakers are to be bold, personal, and proactive. He credits The Orgys eye-catching title and premise with opening doors and cutting through the noise to get the film made and seen, but boldness alone isn’t enough – it’s also a deeply personal exploration of loneliness and vulnerability, which may go some way to explaining why audiences around the world have connected with it – even people who would never dream of going to an orgy (or wouldn’t admit it).

And perhaps most importantly, filmmakers who wait for permission don’t get to make films. “There’s no doubt that the system is broken, but we need new voices more than ever, so don’t be disheartened – let your passion for your project shine, be proactive, and don’t stop until you find a way to get your story on the big screen.”

Sam’s previous comedy short films have over 6 million hits online, received Vimeo Staff Picks, and have been featured on Short Of The Week. Sam is developing his feature The Science Of Love with the BFI. The script won the Academy’s Nicholl Fellowship award. He also has original film and TV projects with Netflix, Sony Pictures, DNA Films, and New Pictures, and recently he’s been in the writers’ room for Netflix’s Lockwood & Co.

After 15 years of working in state and national politics, Sarah Chaisson-Warner is moving into the entertainment industry. As the former Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Athena Magazine for Girls, Sarah is now focusing her passion for creative arts through screenwriting. Many of her feature-length scripts focus on the often unseen experiences of gay women throughout American History, and she is also currently writing sci-fi and a family Christmas script. Her script, Serafina Stavinovna, was placed in “The Next 100” in the 2021 Nicholl Fellowship Competition.

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