Saturday, October 16, 2010

Micro-Budget Movies can be Drama too…

Stupid title. Ek.

Ballooning budgets, on-set drama, producer/director in-fighting, prima dona actors, these things are often associated with big budget productions. But is the drama any less significant when it’s thousands of dollars at stake as opposed to millions. Well, that’s obviously a matter of perspective, but for the most part I used to think the answer was no. I was wrong.

Monsters in the Woods is the most expensive production I’ve directed. It was not originally intended to be so. It started out has a low-end production, even by micro-budget standards, to be shot for a low wage job’s monthly salary using friends for cast and crew. Almost no one was to paid, I was either multi-taking crew positions myself or calling in favors (I’ve done plenty over the years.) And I was totally cool making this kind of movie.

Then a few things happened.

One of my friends had a personal connection to Glenn Plummer. He said he could get him in the movie and he did. Glenn was cast in the role of Jayson. While he would only be shooting a few days, it still put a substantial strain on our extremely meager budget. I also wanted to get a legit location, permits and insurance to shoot our massacre sequence. These two costs were starting to push the budget beyond what we could manage on our own. So, I reached out to a producer friend of mine and he came onboard, along with another producer. They brought with them a little more funding that would cover the location (Big Bear), insurance, permits and Glenn Plummer. The budget basically doubled. But we were still talking very low. And I was ok making that movie.

Then a few more things happened.

We get to Big Bear. We have two days to shoot out Glenn Plummer and get our major massacre sequence in the can. Things didn’t go exactly as planned. As with most productions, our 1st day was full of hiccups. We got started a few hours late. The 1st scenes took much longer to shoot than expected. Then we had some major drama between a few actors (which I can’t really get into). By the time we got to our second and last day, we were more than a half-day behind. Luckily we came back strong in the 2nd day, finished all of Glenn’s stuff and were ready to shoot our massacre sequence.

Then something else happened…

Our monsters weren’t ready. The crew helping out with FX had to exodus early the 2nd morning (personal reasons.) This left a one man FX make-up crew to do 3 full monsters. We were already behind and it just wasn’t doable. When it came time to shoot the sequence we had less than one full monster. The massacre sequence (one of the main reason we were shooting on location in the 1st place) could not be shot.

These two days in Big Bear were the bulk of our budget and we only got done half what we needed to. Well, Glenn was shot out. The massacre could most likely be done somewhere cheaper, probably guerilla. We were going to soldier on. And I was still ok making that movie.

Then something else happened…

I reviewed the footage we shot in Big Bear. It was awesome. Glenn Plummer and the rest of cast were incredible. They were clicking and gelling better than I could have ever imagined. I think the script is pretty damn good, but they were taking it to a whole other level. If done right, this could be a really good movie. Of course, done right = more money. So I first asked the producers for more cash to hire a proper fix company. They agreed and we hired Tom Devlin’s 1313 FX (in retrospect this turned out to be one of wisest decisions.) It was also decided to upgrade cameras from the JVC with which we had shot the entire 1st act behind the scenes perspective stuff to a CANNON 7D for all the “real movie” stuff of which we had shot almost none. And I was really ok with making that movie.

Then a few more things took place…

I didn’t realize it at the time, but the upgrade from the 720p JVC to the 1080p H264 Cannon was going to strain my older editing system past it limits. Not only were we going to have to spend money on the camera and FX, but also now I need a new editing computer has well. The budget kept rising.

Now the producers are getting miffed. What started out as a minimal investment was becoming much more substantial, especially by micro-budget standards. In addition to reshooting the big bear stuff, now there was additional post costs. The budget had pretty much tripled. I had pitched a movie to be done at a certain budget and now it was 3x’s that. I was still cool making that movie.

Then more shit went down…

I had never shot on the 7D before and am pretty much the DP on the movie. I needed at least a day before shooting to familiarize myself with the camera, especially in the lower light of our cave set. I was supposed to get the camera the day before we shot in order to do this. The owner of the camera had a shoot pop up and I could get it until the night before the shoot, late. I had no time to work with the camera in the dark cave setting beforehand. It cost us. We shot over the next 2 nights in our dark cave set. While not unusable, the footage turned out less than stellar. It wasn’t bad, but it certainly didn’t match the superior performances by the actors. I asked for more days to reshoot the scenes. The producers were not happy, but I was fine with making this movie.

Then something else happened...
A new investor turns up, brought in by yours truly, who wanted to put a substantial amount into the movie. This investment would cover a new computer for editing. The 3 days of reshooting or a new cannon of our own. I suggest that we use it for this.

Then all hell breaks loose. I get angry emails and calls from producers, saying I’m outta control, spending too much money, mishandling money, that purchasing a new camera is unreasonable. I was told how “easy it was to spend other people’s money.” Ect.. I don’t know, maybe they were right. I don’t know anymore. I did promise to deliver a certain product at a certain price, in this task I failed. The final budget was just under 4x’s the original. Now, the movie we’ve got in the can is more than 4x’superior to the one that was originally intended, but I don’t know how much that counts for. In the end the new investment was put towards the computer and the reshoots. We continued to rent the camera, went back to Big Bear for three days, got the massacre and a bunch of new fx shots. We finished out production and I’m ok with making this movie.

Then something else happened…


  1. Ah, movie shoots. Even the old saying 'Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong' doesn't apply to movie shoots, as shit that just shouldn't go wrong always goes wrong.

    Sounds like you should have has a 'making of' crew follow you around, then you'd have two good films. Although, my 'making of' crew on the last shoot was definitely one of the bigger dramas.

  2. I wish like hell we could have had a bts crew. But alas that was one expense we just couldn't pick up. But, this was one crazy, drama filled shoot. Way better than that Project Greenlight crap.

  3. timeline error...The later investment came before the 2nd big bear trip and also paid for that.