Tuesday, May 15, 2001

No Budget Nightmare

Submitted by Natalie McRae

I came into the film industry completely by accident. Last January I was finishing up a class in music production and was setting up my career to follow that path when my teacher asked if I would help out with an independent film he was involved in. The production manager he hired was busy with another project for the first part of shooting and they needed someone to fill her position in the meantime. I took the job without hesitation, thinking, "How hard could this be?" Well, it was a lot more work than I expected, but I loved it. There were dozens of picky details to look after, a few tense moments before and during shooting, and, of course, the long days - or nights, in our case. We shot through the night for two weeks. It was totally fun, and we had a great group of people. I learned so much and hoped that I would get another chance to work on a film.

My opportunity came about a month after we finished the shoot. In mid-March I was reading a local arts paper when I saw an ad for a director's assistant and a production assistant on a local indie film. No pay, but I was anxious to work on another project and build on my resume a bit. So I met with the director and was hired as his assistant.

I was impressed with him at first. He is a very high-energy guy and genuinely enthusiastic about his script - two important qualities, I think. However, right off the top he talked about doing his movie for no money. He told me about all the people he knows who were happy to donate their time, skills, and property to him. Then he asked me if I wouldn't mind finding funding. That was a bit of a surprise, but I looked into it and found a few places that might give us some grant money. One source had an April 2nd deadline which gave us just over a week to put together all the paraphernalia they required, so we were a bit rushed. Still, it was all packaged up on time except for the required clip of any previous work the director had done. That is where everything stalled. The director said that he was just going to send the application in without the clip, and I told him it was no use - they would just toss his application in the trash without it. So he said he wasn't going to bother sending it in at all, then, because he didn't feel that he had anything worthy. After that episode he returned to his stance of doing the film with no budget, and he told me the legend of El Mariachi.

Next up was the cast and crew meet-and-greet and script read-through. It was scheduled to be held at a local media co-op, which we scoped out one afternoon. The director planned to use the co-op's A/V equipment to show some clips from scenes he had shot in the fall. Where was this footage when we were applying for the grant? He also planned on serving appetizers, which we went shopping for a couple of days before the meeting. His idea of appetizers was a tray of the large muffins from Costco, which he planned to cut into quarters. I told him that I was against that idea, but he said that's what people had to expect when they're working on a no-budget movie. I disagreed and suggested that maybe his girlfriend, who is doing the catering for the shoot, could cook up a dinner for everyone since the meeting was from 5-9pm. But he didn't agree, and we left Costco with the muffins.

At this point I was getting uncomfortable with his approach to the actors and crew. He was intent on the point that he was going to do this film for no money, and I felt he was taking advantage of everyone's generosity with their time, talent, and equipment.

But the meet-and-greet and read-through turned out to be a fun evening. The director had forgotten to get the keys to the media co-op, so we moved the meeting to a local tavern. It was a really lovely place, and we had the entire top floor to ourselves, complete with a fireplace and sofas. The director paid for a couple of pitchers of Coke, except for five dollars worth when one of the actors chipped in. I was amazed when the director took the five dollars, but it furthered his point about spending no money on the movie.

A few days later, the director asked me to come with him and one of the actors to go location scouting. I picked the director up at work at four-thirty and we met up with the actor and were on our way. We drove around the city for five hours, stopping here and there so the director could videotape the areas and discuss the scenes that would be shot there. Then he said he was done and wanted to go home. No food, no drinks. Just a very theatrical, "Thank you so much for your time and patience and goodnight." My stomach was not impressed. If I ever work on a movie for free again, I am going to have a contract stating that I am to be fed every three hours. And I'm going to charge for mileage.

I also need to mention that, while we were driving around, the director was asking the actor if he could get a plane to do some aerial shots for a couple of the scenes. The actor explained that his pilot's license had expired and he had to pay $500 and put in a few hours in the air with a supervisor to renew it. The director asked if he could come up with a camera while the actor was putting in these hours, and they could do the aerial shots for free, since the actor needed to fly anyway. To my amazement, the actor said he'd see about arranging that with the supervisor.

Following that debacle, several administrative issues started coming up. As we approached the first day of shooting and were getting everything ready I brought up the subject of insurance. The film involves several stunts, as well as borrowed high-end vehicles and sound and video equipment. The director avoided talking about insurance until I told him I was going to phone around for quotes. At this, he launched into a tirade about how our society has become rampant with lawsuits, and how ridiculous it all is. I agreed, but pointed out that although everyone is his friend now, that would not be the case if someone got hurt or if equipment got broken. I also said I was not willing to be held personally liable for anyone's safety, nor for any damage to the equipment.

It was then I told him that I no longer had time for his project. I did find someone to take over my job, and warned her about things that needed to be addressed - like the insurance. Hopefully she has better luck than I did, though I don't see the movie being shot any time soon.

As for me, I'm currently without a project, though I have signed on as a permitee with the Director's Guild and have put in some time with them. I do enjoy the work - it's a fascinating industry and I've met so many really talented and interesting people, and learned so much. I can't wait to have another film to work on, though you can be sure I'll be a lot more cautious about signing up.

Tuesday, May 08, 2001

The Enemy Within: British Guerilla Filmmaking

Submitted by by Peter Courridge


My name is Peter Courridge, one-half of Telsa Productions. The other half is Peter Davis. We are both students at the East Norfolk 6th Form College (ENSFC) in Norfolk, England. This is the story of how we created our film coursework The Enemy Within. It is basically a ninety-second trailer done in the style of the gangster/thriller film conventions. We hope it'll provide an amusing insight into student filmmaking. Without a doubt, it was a memorable production for reasons both amusing and frustrating.

The Plot

A lone man is on the run. He has been given a briefcase and has no idea of the contents. He is then kidnapped, watched, and chased by gangster style agents. It couldn't be a bigger cliché if we tried! Usually Telsa's productions are entirely original material. But in this case we had to "recreate conventions" and therefore accept no responsibility for the overwhelming "cheese" factor of our production.

The Cast and Crew

Peter Davis and I wrote, directed, edited, and produced The Enemy Within. Mike Dicker stars as the man with the briefcase and Phil Thompson is his accomplice. Agents include Ross Smith, Adam McGee, Nathan Lacey, and Phil Hill.

The Shoot
Hostage Scene - April 5, 2000

At lunchtime, Peter Davis, Mike Dicker, Ross Smith and I filmed the kidnap sequence in a science lab. The science lab was equipped with blackout blinds. Mike sat on a stool in the middle of the dark room. Peter Davis pointed a single light down on Mike while I filmed Ross doing the interrogation. However, Ross, is actually harmless and pointed that out to Mike during a take: "Please don't do that because I am actually weak. I have about as much anger in me as a piece of cardboard that's been chewed." Everything went well, until next week.

Castle Shopping Mall - April 12, 2000

I got permission from the local shopping mall in Norwich to film there for a day. But before we even got there, things started going wrong.

9.55 AM - Leaving College

Peter, Ross, Mike, Phil, Adam, and I, along with our friend Sarah, who came along for the ride, set off from college to the Yarmouth train station in costume with our bags and camera cases. Our train was due to leave at 10:20 AM. Unfortunately, our bus was late and we arrived minutes after the train left for Norwich.

10:25 AM - Stranded

The crew was now stuck at the train station for an hour until the next train came. To save time I decided we should film while waiting for the next train. The first shot, in the men's bathroom was a scene where Adam, Nathan, and Ross had to kick in the stall doors. By the time the first shot was complete, Adam had broken his shoe and Mike had purchased some condoms. We were all a little excited, especially Adam, who couldn't stop firing his gun. He even asked the woman at the ticket office if she'd like to be in our film. Naturally she declined. As we discovered later, it wasn't a good idea filming there.

11:25 AM - On the Train

Another not so bright idea: filming on a train full of passengers. I thought it would make for a good shot. But the conductor stopped us, and rightly so since we had no permission. We said no more about it until we reached Norwich.

11:45 AM - Norwich Station, Reported

At the Norwich station I asked the same conductor if we could shoot here. It was our intention to do a couple of shots before we moved on. He made our situation clear. We had been reported by the woman at the Yarmouth ticket office for carrying "authentic firearms." These were cheap cap guns. Besides, who were we kidding? It was obvious we weren't real gangsters. The conductor claimed we were close to having the police waiting for us at Norwich. Whether this was true I have no idea. I said no more about it and got everyone to hand back their "authentic firearms" before proceeding to the Castle Shopping Mall.

12:05 PM - Castle Shopping Mall

Events went smoother for a while. Filming in the mall was interrupted by the occasional security check, but largely we were left alone. Except when Adam attracted some unwanted attention in the shape of two large middle aged ladies. I felt very cautious looking around the balconies. We were attracting a lot of attention. I didn't want to lose any equipment while filming. Thankfully, Sarah kept an eye on our bags while we ran around filming. Our chase sequences looked good, with one minor defect, Ross can't run. After a couple of hours we packed up and went to KFC.

3:30 PM - Home, Disaster

We took two cameras with us. To my complete horror, the main Hitachi camera had not recorded a thing, with exception of the bathroom scene back at Yarmouth. A whole day of footage was lost. I called everybody to break the news. Mike and Peter were still both in good spirits.

The Re-shoot - May 2000

With the re-shoot, we couldn't go back to Norwich, so made use of the local harbor. Nathan Lacey now had full-time job and Adam McGee was on vacation. So we ended up replacing them with Philip Hill. The re-shoot went well except when Mike jumped over a concrete wall and sprained his ankle. We also had a lot of fun trying to get Mike, to say his one line. He had to dangle the briefcase over the harbor edge and say "tell me what's in this." Simple enough but here's how it turned out on camera:

Mike Dicker and Peter Courridge are both giggling.

Ssh. You can't do it can you?


Alright. Alright. Go for it then.

Tell me what's in this.

That's pathetic.

Ah, f*** you. Tell me what's in this.

One more time, louder!

F*** sake.

Louder, come on!

MIKE(grits teeth)
Tell me what's in this.
Philip Hill(mocking in the background)
Tell me what's in this!

Don't grit! Just Shout!


PETER(lighter tone)
That's good, excellent, well done.

The Aftermath

Happy days! Of course it was all done in good spirit. I hope this has given some insight into the world of "guerilla" filmmaking. It's obvious, we still have a lot to learn. Since The Enemy Within was completed, Peter Davis and I formed Telsa Productions and have been making short films ever since. Now we stand at a crossroad in our lives. University. But with any luck there'll be more films made before we actually have to get a real job.