When I was a junior in High School, a group of my friends and I set out to make a horror film. We sat around and brainstormed an idea: the evil Dr. Georg Schnitzelhoffer would create a creature. The creature will terrorize everyone in the neighborhood. We gathered our cast, found someone with a video camera, and filmed the scenes in our homes and backyards. We called it “The Creature of Terror”, and yes, it was terrible. But it cost us nothing, and the ideas were funny to us. We still talk about that horrible little film.
Fifteen years later, I haven’t lost that filmmaking bug. I suppose I could have gone to film school, but I chose to become a musician instead, an equally lucrative career path. Several years ago, I decided to get back into film. I made a goal to be involved with five film projects as a new-years resolution. I achieved that goal, landing supporting actor roles in an independent feature film and a couple of short films and working as a production manager on another short film. None of these films saw any success, so I went on with my life. A couple of years later, I started a theatre production company. I enjoy both film and theatre, but they are different animals. With film, your work has the potential to last forever. With theatre, you get the energy and exhilaration of performing in front of an audience, and then it’s over. During the casting for my fourth play, I met a young actor named Montetré, a recent transplant from Texas. He brought a unique energy and passion I hadn’t seen, but he wasn’t right for any of the roles. I knew, however, that working with him would lead me on an interesting path so I created a small role for him, and cast him in the play.
During one of the rehearsals, he presented me a script. It was a small, spiral-bound booklet with an orange cover. The film was called “Pickled”. I read it. It was weird – the kind of weird that makes you interested. I wanted to produce this film.
The other difference between film and theatre, from my experience, is that theatre pays off financially. I always broke even with theatre or turned a modest profit. Each weekend, I’d end up with a pile of cash. With filmmaking, there are so many hurdles to a return on investment; even more with ultra-low-budget films. Tiny budget films like “The Blair Witch Project”, “El Mariachi”, and “Clerks” have given wannabe filmmakers big aspirations of being discovered at a festival handed a distribution deal and made millionaires. I imagine for the thousands of films that get made and screened at film festivals each year, there are thousands more that don’t get picked. Thus the dream of filmmaking fades, and the wannabe producers and directors go back to their jobs at Kinko’s to dream up their next big idea. Or, give up completely.
We made Pickled. It featured a cast of people in brightly colored jumpsuits being chased through the woods by a lady in a panther costume, lots of puppets, and an old, broken down ambulance I had thrown $1000 down to acquire. The film didn’t make it to any festivals, get a distribution deal, or make any money. But $7,000 later, we had a finished film.
Montetré presented me with other scripts. Moon-Pi, a science fiction film about time travel, K’nights, Be Meaner… all these films having technical requirements that would make them difficult to produce. By this time, I had opened a coffee shop, and found that I had little time for filmmaking. The thing about Montetré though is that he has tenacity. He will get his film done no matter what. While I respect him for his creativity, I always felt his films required too much ‘stuff’ to be successful without a 7-figure budget. Poorly constructed puppets, special effects, and chintzy props and sets work for a cheeky high school film made over summer vacation, but to be taken seriously, there has to be legitimate production value. I remember telling Montetré that he needs to write films according to his resources, thus limiting his creativity. He went on to make Moon-Pi and K’nights. He filmed a trailer for Be Meaner. While none of these films saw any commercial success, they were made, proving that he has the dedication and discipline to follow through on his projects.
A couple of months ago, I met up with Montetré for drinks. I am convinced he is only capable of talking about filmmaking, but I like that about him. He’s passionate. Later that night, he showed me clips from Moon-Pi. I admit I was quite impressed by the results. He compensated for his lack of budget by making the film as noir as possible. It was dark and creepy. The film got me excited about filmmaking once again. He told me of his current project, “Holed-Up” and I agreed to become part of the film. I attended the table reading with the cast and crew, not knowing much about what the film was about. As we read through the script, I got a sense that this film was different. It had a solid plot, dynamic characters, and didn’t require bizarre, sci-fi locations. It was a narrative-driven drama. The story is Montetré through and through, but the film is marketable. During our cigarette break outside, my good friend Peter, who has acted in several of Montetré’s films, commented that this time it seems professional. After the table reading, the crew gathered to discuss their roles. He had his cinematographer, gaffer, lighting designer, make-up artist, sound engineer, and composer. I signed on to be an executive producer, art department supervisor, and music supervisor. I looked at the budget: $4350 for a production budget that included paying our SAG actor, crew stipends, locations, props, and wardrobe. I made sure we hired a solid sound guy. You can have the best film ever made, but with crappy sound, the whole movie is bad. A postproduction budget to include editing, post-production engineering, mastering, music recording, and festival submission fees could be raised after the rough-cut is made.
INT. SHITTY MOTEL was the first location. We secured the worst room at the worst possible motel in Portland. We shot the first day with two actors and the crew. The crew worked amazingly well together. I asked Montetré where he got his crew. To my surprise, they were gathered from disparate projects he had been involved with and ads on Craigslist. It didn’t matter that they were mostly strangers to each other; everyone worked with amazing synergy. The footage looked good, and I became more excited about the film.
Even with a small production budget, money needs to be raised. Montetré started a Kickstarter campaign. Kickstarter works on the concept of crowd-funding, that is, collecting small donations from lots of people in exchange for prizes like DVDs of the film, tickets to the premier, or a Christopher Walken voicemail message courtesy of Montetré. He even offered to wash your car for a donation. The thing about Kickstarter though is that just because you have a fundraiser on there doesn’t mean you’ll get the money. You must spread the word to your friends and families and encourage them to donate, and hope they get some of their friends to donate as well.
Four thousand three hundred and fifty dollars isn’t a lot of money in the grand scheme of things. It’s exactly .00575% of the budget of Gigli, one of the worst films ever made. One Gigli budget could fund Holed-Up over 17,000 times, and I’m convinced Holed-Up will be a better film, despite the absence of the real Christopher Walken from the cast. But fundraising is difficult, and eventually your also-broke friends ignore your pleas for a Kickstarter donation. The studios and producers who threw over $75 Million at J-Lo won’t give a small-guy producer like me the opportunity to check under the couch cushions in their office for extra change, so we’re forced to ask our friends to check under their cushions.
With two weeks to go, and $4000 short of our fundraising goal, we are hoping for a late flurry of donations and a successful fundraising party. The remainder of the balance will be covered by me, someone who is waiting for his tax return so he can pay his rent. That’s the dedication I have to this project. I’m convinced that we have the cast, crew, script, and dedication by all those involved to make this a film that will be great.
So, what happens after the film is made? Like all aspiring filmmakers, I hope it gets selected to festivals, maybe major festivals. Stranger things have happened. Recognition would be superb. Distribution would be amazing. But more than that, I hope this film becomes leverage to find funding to make subsequent films. This film will prove that amazing things can happen for very little money. Gigli proves that giant budgets don’t yield amazing results, but that passionate people who wish to scrape together the resources to create amazing art can tell stories the big guys are afraid to touch. We don’t expect to become millionaires. We just want to make good movies and for people to see our work.
Our Kickstarter is located at http://kck.st/11viJHd for those of you who would like to make a pledge.