Monday, 10 February 2014

7 STEPS TO MAKING A MOVIE ON NO MONEY

READ THIS : Please bare in mind that this is just how I have approached filmmaking. These are things that have worked for me, they may or may not work for you. I'm not saying there is a right way or a wrong way to do these things I can only speak from my own experience and point of view. There is also no substitute for hard work. With that in mind Read on. 

Original Concept Poster
A few years ago I had just graduated from University, I had no money and a job with very few hours and very little pay. It was impossible to save anything towards improving my gear etc. In regards to filmmaking this didnt really affect me on a grandscale as I had always made all my short films on next to nothing and so that kind of carried on as usual, as I had never equated making movies with needing cash. 

I carried on making short films, taking everything I had learned from the stuff I made whilst studying and applying the mistakes I made three to what I was producing now. There was an urge in me that I could'nt fight, a film that came to be known as Creepsville. It was a concept I had worked on for years and I knew it had to be a feature, my first feature.  

My intention had always been to raise the money to make it and I had kind of been treading water with shorts till I was in a position where I could afford to make it. Then, one day, whilst I was scrollling through the pages of Fangoria, I read a quote from a filmmaker called Gabrielle Albanesi (Last House In The Woods) and he said something like this : "If you are waiting for money, You are NOT a real filmmaker". That statement hit me like a ton of bricks, It felt like a challenge, a Challenge to me, a challenge to my work ethic and I like a challenge. 

The Horror Channel around the same started to post a no budget filmmakers blog by a filmmaker named Pat Higgins (Whose debut film inspired me to write Slasher House back in 2005) and this gave me a much better idea of how to achieve my goal of putting together a feature length movie. So with nothing but a few inspirational quotes behind me I set out to make my first feature with no money.

There are things that will make this a lot easier, Some I thought about, some I learnt along the way and some stuff I wish I had know whilst I was there. I've taken the liberty of listing some helpful stuff below. 

1. WRITE TO YOUR STRENGTHS

Pre Production On Creepsville
Sitting down to finally get Creepsville down on paper, I ask my writer friend Paul Thomas, who had much more script writing experience than me, to help me break the story. We used Robert Rodriguez approach of looking at what we had access to and worked from there. We crafted the story with budget in mind and although it limited our scope it made us much more creative in how we handled it. The key to getting it made was writing within our boundaries. 

We knew we had access to an abandoned train tunnel, to the old Mill where I was working at the time, an old abandoned house, a large storage garage (although that eventually had to be reshot somewhere else), a park and various cool urban locations, so we just threw all that stuff into the mix and started using it to set our story of masked maniacs and killer taxi drivers.

Looking at the script I saw we would be shooting a lot of night shots in the streets, which I knew would result in a very orange looking picture. As there was very little way around this with what we had, I decided to make that the films look and colour scheme and it helped turn what could have been a weakness into one of the films strengths.  


2. ASK FOR HELP

Original cheap £shop mask for PumpkinFace
People get too proud and sometimes pride can hold you back, its okay to do it. Ask for help, the worst thing that can happen is that people can say "no" and even then your only back where you started. Just make sure that when people do help you are grateful, and try and pay it forward. A lot of cast and crew came from the local music scene that I was a big part of with being in HockeyMask Heroes and so I managed to call in a great many favours there too. 

Our sound guy on set was the sound guy from the events we put on at weekends. Other than that we kind of just asked people what they could help with and worked from there. One cast member was a makeup artist so we incorporated that, one cast member had a car that we loaned to be our taxi (using a old broken sign that we 'borrowed' from the dumpster outside the taxi rank). We pulled some strings at the University to borrow some better equipment too, But I was quite happy to shoot on a decent miniDV camera that I already had if it had come to it. 

We wanted some very specific mask props from an amazing mask masker at Rubber Gorilla, but they were way out of budget (which was £0 anyways). However, I knew that would lift the value of the film compared to what we had as back up, After a few e-mails and a chat with the guy who made them, he agreed to give us an extended loan and we could buy them if we wanted later or return them. The actors decided they wanted to but thier masks as keepsakes in the end anyways, but all we had to do was ask and the awesome Neal Harvey helped us out. We've used his products for all our movies ever since and he's been more than helpful :) 

3. CAST YOUR FRIENDS

People always say that you shouldnt do this, I disgaree to an extent. I had some friends who were actors and my friends had some friends who were actors and we worked from there, making sure that they were local and could get to our central location without any real bother. Not having any money we asked people involved to invest themselves in the project, by bringing food for on set or paying there own travel. 

This of course didn't suit everyone and I was happy to let them go, I simply made sure that everyone involved just wanted to make a movie for the sake of making a movie, I didn't want anyone who wasn't comfortable with spending their own money to put themselves out. We simply wanted to make something, Something that would showcase all our skills as actors, filmmakers, special effects artists, stuntmen, editors, cameramen etc.

I think the only person on the entire set who came from outside our network was the leading lady Helen Pawson who we found on Casting Call Pro. She looked right for the role and so I messaged her and told her about what we were doing, after a meet up and a reading, she agreed to join the cast and we were off. However casting you friends can have its draw backs. Two people pulled out at the beginning of the shoot, one of them a friend of ours who didn't even call to let us know, we just simply got an e-mail saying he couldn't do it the day after he was due on set. 

4. DON'T SPEND ANY MONEY


Reshooting the Garage scene with Helen
Once we had decided to not spend any money and make it on £0, the trick became maintaining that. We borrowed everything we could, including lights, equipment, props and everything in between. Then suddenly we would need something specific and of course the first thought would be to go and buy said item. However we didn't allow for that luxury. 

One night on set we needed the stanley knife prop only to realise that we had lost it. Because we couldn't buy one we had to think of a solution in regards to what we had. A couple of felt pens, a tea light and some gaffer tape later and we had crafted one hell of a prop knife that I'm still proud of to this day. 

The most important thing however, was that it started to teach me that throwing money at problems just wasn't the answer. When your shooting movies on a low budget, every penny counts and I carried these lessons with me onto future productions, Nowadays I only spend money as a last resort.

5. GET EXCITED

It's fair to say that the cast and crew were made up of my friends (or friends of friends) who just wanted to get involved in something interesting and we used that excitment that we all felt to see it through. Even waaaay back in 2009 not 'everyone' was making movies and so it was an exciting thing for us all to attempt. 

The sheer size of the project would terrify me now. It had over 32 locations, all of which had to be found with 0 budget. I think the only way we even managed to begin shooting was just by being so excited about making a movie. 

6. KEEP EXCITED

On set With Neil and Co Producer Pete
Our 14 day shooting shedule went to shit after about 3 days, a cast member (a friend of mine) pulled out without any notice or warning and we were stuck. We had already replaced a cast member on Day 2 this was a major blow to us. Luckily the other actors recommended a guy named Andy Greenwood to us, (who you may remember as Cleaver the Killer Clown in Slasher House) and he agreed to join us as an opportunity to get himself out there as an actor after only previously doing stage work. He was the furthest away cast member and he only lived about 30 miles away at the time.

This whole process of replacing the original actor took time out of our shedule however and eventually we went over and began shooting when people were free which took our shoot over into about 5 months, due to one of our locations disappearing overnight. I wish I could tell you thats the only thing that went wrong. Much more on that later. 

My point is, If we hadn't been excited about what we were doing the film would have died after the schedule fell apart. It was only because we were excited it that we kept going. 

7. JUST GO FOR IT

Final Artwork
Just believe that you can do it. That's the only thing that really kept me going in the end, was just the simple belief that I could do it. That we could all do it. It can go a long way, something as simple as belief. When everything around you is going wrong you just have to hold on to that. In the current year 2014, you don't even need to try to get a decent image out of a camera that costs £200, theres no reason why you can't go out and shoot your own no budget feature movie with your friends or at least people who are interested in the filmmaking. 

Creepsville is due out later this year after 4 hard years of work, of working around other peoples schedule and personal issues and whatnot, and sat here being the only person left on the project now it sometimes seems hard to keep giving it that extra push, But even then I haven't given up on it and the only reason the film is finished (or there a bouts) is because I believed it could be.

Check Out The Trailer below. The Film will finally be seeing a release on DVD and VOD later this year :)



BONUS STEP : DO IT ALL AGAIN


One of my biggest regrets on Creepsville is my, obvious, lack of hindsight. I wish I had known then what I know now and all that. I've since gone out and made 2 budgeted films (be that extremely Micro Budget) but I always look back at my first feature with fondness and admire the youthful persistence that I had there whilst making it. I love the idea of a bunch of people just getting together and making a movie, for fun, as a challenge and I think about the overall hellish experience with a great fondness.



So In the interests of that I decided that I would do it again. Following the above steps, this spring/summer we'll be going out and shooting another zero budget movie called "I've Got Better Things To Do Tonight Than Die' you can keep up with it HERE. It's a project that I've had on the back burner for sometime and last year found the perfect way to approach it with a no budget attitude. I have no doubt it'll be tough, because no budget filmmaking can be hell and I don't know why anyone would put themselves throughout that. 

Then again, I like a challenge. 

MJ

IF YOU FOUND THIS HELPFUL OR HAVE ANY QUESTIONS PLEASE FEEL FREE TO COMMENT BELOW.