Well…. after one epic break from the blog,we finally have a new installment! And it’s a good’n. Since we last posted, for those of you who haven’t been following us on twitter we have secured UK distribution and International sales representation. The Harsh Light of Day will be released in selected cinemas in the UK from 8th June 2012 and on DVD from late July. We also had our World Premiere at Cinequest Film Festival in San Jose, California in March. You can see our video diary entries from the festival on our YouTube page.
But enough about that, let’s rewind a little. Way back to post-production to be specific….
Once we had the film shot we started the epic journey that was post. It took us 3 months to get a strong edit, thanks to our fantastic editor David Spragg. Working with no budget and no facilities other than a couple of MacBooks (other computers are available, but not necessarily as good) the process was very slow. We had our editor in Derby, our composer in Dublin, our sound designer in Manchester, our VFX guys in London and Bristol and our director in Bournemouth. That made for a very busy and very large dropbox; forever sharing files to one another to proof, amend etc. Not the best way of doing things, but everyone had a full-time job so the work on ‘Harsh Light’ had to play second fiddle.
After a year of post we finally had an almost finished film. We had a screening with the cast and crew, which went down really well, but we knew the film could be better. We decided the opening of the film was a little too slow, so Ollie and I went out with a handycam and filmed a few shots to intercut at the start (you’ll know the ones we mean when you see it. These shots were done with just myself, Ollie and Matt Thom – who plays Steve in the film – over a year after we finished principal photography!)
A few month later, we have the FINAL cut of the film. There was much rejoice. But it still wasn’t quite working. What it needed was a bit of oomph, particularly in the soundtrack. So… in walk Dreambase Studios; a lifeline. Dreambase, run by Alex Hudd and Mark Kenna are an awesome post-production facilty house based in Wootton Bassett near Swindon. Alex and Mark have over 25 years of experience in the film industry between them, and with their fully equipped sound studios, they were able to give The Harsh Light of Day exactly what it was missing. Adding to, and enhancing, the great work already done by our sound designer Andrew South, Alex Hudd produced a terrific final design for the film’s soundtrack and put a 5.1 mix on it (which sounds damn cool).
After working tirelessly on the film for several weeks, Alex then invited both Ollie and I up to the studios for final tweaks. We had an epic session with him as he wanted to ensure the end product was perfect and we were 100% happy before taking the final audio away to have the film mastered out. Dreambase Studios definitely put the professional stamp on The Harsh Light of Day, and I like to think a big reason for them taking the project on was their belief in it’s potential. I’ve since taken my second feature film to them to do the sound design and mix, and I’ll continue to go to them in the future, after all, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
And so, 8 months later, having premiered in California, we now have an international sales agent and an imminent UK theatrical release for The Harsh Light of Day. It’s been a very long road, but if ever there was a good example of dogged determination paying off, this is it.
And finally, we thought we’d share with you an exclusive video of our writer/director, Oliver Milburn, talking all about his experience of post-production of his debut feature. Our DVD will be jam-packed with special features, behind the scenes footage and exclusive interviews just like this one, but we thought we’d treat you with one now! 🙂
More about Alex Hudd…
As producer of such a low-budget film, I was also essentially the production manager. I saw my responsibilities throughout the process as similar to that of a project manager; one whom has control over every element, from initial conception to final delivery. The keywords being production, control and co-ordination.
The responsibilities of managing a business in its infancy and managing a feature production were both tasks that were new to me. There were issues of trust and delegating tasks, which caused problems for the production later on. Thinking I could take on so many tasks myself, and underestimating the time and resources I would need to commit to my role as producer, particularly the financing was quite naïve, particularly as this was my debut feature in any of the roles I assigned myself.
The list of roles I could credit myself for on this production is long, and in hindsight I would have been better served spending more time in early pre-production trying to recruit a production manager and a location manager, than trying to do it all myself to save time and money. These were two of the key roles I took it upon myself to fill. The reasons for this were partly because there was a struggle to find suitable people who would work on the deal terms we had and partly due to my own issues with trusting someone to do the job correctly. In some respects I believe I handled the tasks well, and am grateful to have had such a broad learning experience, particularly as a production manager and a producer. If I had recruited a production manager, as a producer on set I perhaps would have felt more detached.
When working as production manager and producer, it is essential that you have a team whom you can trust and rely upon. When leading a small team such as a low-budget film crew, who are pretty much working for you for free, it can be difficult to ensure they give their best. Particularly in terms of finance, when nothing is at stake to them, they can find themselves detached from the importance of the film’s budget and schedule. In John Sweeney’s book ‘Successful Business Models for Filmmakers’ he suggests a free-flow model of communication with your crew. The model, whereby project issues can be discussed freely with all members of the crew on all levels, can give a sense of collaboration and equal value to all crew members, thus encouraging them to want to perform at their best. The error I believe I made in this respect was perhaps being too ‘free-flowing’ with information. When creating a more casual atmosphere, whilst it can prove more productive and positive, I also found I had to be more wary of individuals taking liberties, or making assumptions. Creating an atmosphere where people want to do their jobs rather than feel they have to, is paramount on this kind of project and in the most part this is very much the way it went.
Essentially, money was always going to be the key issue, because with money it is possible to buy more time. However, we were working within a time frame and the dates we had set for production were spurring the pre-production process. Without a fixed timeframe to shoot, we may well still be in pre-production today. The issue with time was specifically related to the amount of days we could afford in the primary location. We were aware, after a breakdown had been done, that with the three weeks we had there, we would be working to an almost impossible schedule. From this experience I have learnt that getting the schedule right in pre-production is essential. With the rush we had, the first assistant director was forced to do the best he could in creating a suitable schedule, obeying my instructions to prioritise bunching together actor’s days to minimise travel and accommodation costs, and secondly bunch together locations. With the schedule never properly being finalised it was forever creating problems and repeatedly changing. A twelve-hour exterior night shoot in July, for example. Another issue was the scheduling of unnecessary shots which could be done as a pick up or when more time was available. Industry practice suggests you keep aside some shots you could complete the shoot without, and pick them up later if you have time. For example, two hours were spent shooting a two-second close up of an actor’s hand switching on a light. Unsurprisingly a more crucial climactic stunt sequence scheduled afterwards did not get finished in time. I could say my reluctance to entrust important roles and tasks such as this, to others, is justified here, as the mistakes that were made are blatant. However, by assigning me the responsibility of production manager, it should have been my responsibility to check the schedule more thoroughly during pre-production, instead of only learning about these mistakes after they had happened. A weaknesses of my abilities as a production manager, it seems, is that of complacency. Without insisting on the final say I allowed important decisions to be made in my absence. In hindsight, as production manager I would have had more involvement with the scheduling.
I was stretched so much because of our limited development and pre-production time; by the time we were shooting I was still playing development producer and financing producer. But often as a producer on a micro-budget shoot like this, assigning yourself the role as production manager is a necessity. However, don’t underestimate the amount of work this is.
– Industry article on ‘The Day in the life of a Production Manager’
Writer / Director
Oliver S. Milburn.
Casting is tough, no two ways about it. Like Emma said in the last blog, my first piece of advice would be to get a casting director. We didn’t/couldn’t, which made things a lot more difficult.
Of course, as a director you should know exactly what you’re looking for… a casting director is not there to cast for you. Their primary function, particularly at a low budget level, is the contacts and inroads they have into talent pools which otherwise you’ll have to work really really hard to access. Again, I’d say read Emma’s last blog about our experience trying to get (a) named actor involved, but basically if you don’t have a casting director you’re relying on doing what we did… stumbling luckily across really talented actors amid the ocean of profiles on services like casting call pro, spotlight and – shudder – starnow.
There’s no secret magic formula to casting, or to seeing the right person when they’re in front of you. It’s a case of seeing lots and lots and lots and lots of people and using a combination of factors to determine whether they’re suitable. What I would say is it’s not just the performance of the role on the day but also understanding of the character – once you’ve explained that character clearly. There’s no hard & fast way of doing it, but generally on the first audition we’d:
- Send a scene in advance, and have the actor perform it cold on arrival.
- I’d talk about my thoughts on the character and what I liked/was not so keen on in the first performance.
- Then we’d do it again with this new understanding of the character.
- I’d also ask the actor to prepare something – anything – for the audition.
Some people would give a great performance but not get the character, some would really get the character but the performance would be a bit off. It’d be a combination of logical deduction and gut feeling as to whether to call back for a second audition.
Its not just about how good they are, but how eager they are for the film. See my blog on crewing – basically the same principal applies. You want people who will go the extra mile because the extra mile will be needed.
Finally it remains to be said that the cast we picked were wonderful, both as artists and as people. I won’t go into individuals because I could talk a little on everyone, suffice to say if you get a chance to see the film, I hope you’ll agree there are faces there that deserve to become a lot more familiar to the public.
Blog 7: Casting – A Producer’s Perspective
Another reason why I wanted to make a horror was because I believe it is a genre you can get away with doing (and selling) without having to have a ‘named’ actor. Contrary to comedies or romances (genres that often have an ‘A’ lister or famous stand-up turned actor to sell them), and particularly in slasher and gore horrors, actors in a way are just fodder. But The Harsh Light of Day is neither of these types of horror. Many of the roles, not least our protagonist, are quite demanding, so we knew we had to get quality artists on board.
Having very little money, and being completely inexperienced at casting for features, I decided that we would undertake casting the film independently, that is to say without a casting director. In hindsight the money we spent on audition venues in London could have probably bagged us the assistance of a half decent casting director.
We decided to try and aim for (near) the top with a British ‘B’ list actor (who is now doing rather well in TV drama stateside) whom we both felt would suit the role well. After pestering his agent for many weeks, who wasn’t even prepared to consider the film for her client because of the budget and the fact that we were both inexperienced, she finally agreed to read the script. Again, a good script can work wonders for you. The agent loved the script and so made an exception and passed it to her client, who also loved it and wrote us a ‘letter of interest’ in playing the role of Daniel, subject to finance. And there was the catch – ‘subject to finance’.
With this letter, I possibly could have gone away and spent maybe another 6 – 12 months trying to raise the finance to afford this actor. Or we could find an amazingly talented, unknown actor and shoot the film when we had planned. We went with the latter, and so began our repeatedly arduous coach trips to London to hold audition after audition following the hundreds of responses to our casting calls.
Whilst this was going on, Dan Richardson was busy sunning himself in Canada, after recently wrapping
another feature over there. By the time he got back we had no money left to get back up to London for more auditions, still hadn’t found our Daniel and were about 2 weeks away from shooting. Damn it! In a last ditch effort Ollie and I trawled the various casting web sites to try and find our protagonist. When we came across anyone who looked a bit handy, we had to write to them asking them if they would come to Bournemouth to audition because we couldn’t get to London. A handful of people came, including a very tanned Dan Richardson, along with his surfboard. Again, with the actors who came, they came because they loved the script and moreover the character they were to read for.
For me, Giles Alderson was a shoe-in for Infurnari pretty much from day one. He just had the right look. We invited him to an audition when we were in London and Ollie was impressed not only by his abilities as an actor, but the way he tuned into the script and the role. He was also well experienced with low-budget features with a strong list of credits to his name. Most recently he freaked the shit out of me in low-budget horror The Torment.
In terms of how the casting process worked, the search process was very collaborative. It was a bumpy road and for a number of the final cast, it wasn’t what Ollie had originally intended. Maybe this is common problem for a writer/director, especially when you have a tiny budget, no track record to entice people and no casting director. When it came to the final decisions, unless I was particularly adverse to any of Ollie’s choices, I would let him select his cast. But generally we were pretty much on the same wavelength. And in spite of the up hill struggle, I think we were pretty damn lucky with our final cast.
Useful links and books:
– The iron triangle to film making: Cast, Distribution, Financing
– Film finance and casting
The crew! That integral part of filmmaking that largely goes completely unconsidered by your average movie-goer. Rightly so, of course, we go to films to be entertained. Most people may be aware of the director and/or producer, as well as usually knowing the key actors involved. Yet the crew can make or break your film in a technical sense and will certainly change its outcome.
Oh yes, make no mistake, that vision you have in your head? When you’re working on this kind of budget, it’ll never turn out like that. In many ways I prefer the way Harsh Light turned out, but it wasn’t what I’d visualised. The essence was still there – and that’s what you have to hope for. You may not get every one of the great shots you’d planned, you may not even get remotely close to the general aesthetic style you’d planned, but you can always wrestle that essence of what you’re trying to do from it. Again (yawn), this is hugely down to the script – and there are plenty of great low-budget films that look or sound like crap, to counteract the many many many huge blockbusters that look amazing but are actually horse-piss shoddy.
However, a good looking and sounding film will stand you in much better stead with festivals and distributors. I’m not going into individual camera pros and cons, as anything I say will likely invoke a flood of nit-picky technical corrections from any cinematographers reading this (they do that). There are plenty of comparisons online, but be grateful we’re in a new age of accessible, good-looking digital technology. All I will say is that it depends on how you want to shoot, both visually and in terms of the demands of the production. The popular ones for low-budget films at the moment tend to be either Sony Ex3 with depth-of-field adapter, Canon 5D or RED One, all of which give a cinematic depth of field in a digital system for a fraction of the price of film. However, its also worth checking out newcomer Panasonic AG-AF101 (fixing a lot of the flaws of the 5D for filmmakers), and recently I’ve spoken to a few DoP’s espousing 16mm with a heavy post-production cleanup. If you’re interested in the post technical, they’ll be more on this in my later post production blog.<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/5981422″>Red One, Canon 5D Mk II, and Panasonic Lumix GH1 Footage Comparison</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/user1454713″>Birns and Sawyer</a> on <a href=”http://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a>.</p>
Whatever you shoot on pick your crew carefully; and it’s not all about experience. In our case, we knew we had to pick people who would stick with the film through what was – without a doubt – going to be a difficult, long and tiring shoot. On the whole I’m pleased to say our crew were amazing. Many of them are still my first port of call when I have something new to shoot but, being awesome, they’re generally quite busy. Back when we hired them however, the vast majority were relatively recent graduates with no feature film experience in the roles we were hiring them for. Don’t get me wrong, most of these guys and girls were well trained and skilled as hell – you need experienced, skilled people. The trick is finding them at a time when they need the CV slot (rather than the money) you can offer them.
A showreel is very important when looking at any crew on the visual side. Insist on seeing previous work; the evidence will be there. This is the one place I think we occasionally slipped up, as once or twice we hired people who – while not lacking in skill – didn’t really see the level of filmmaking that we wanted to achieve and therefore found themselves a bit overwhelmed when it came to the crunch. There are plenty of good online crewing resources such as Film Crew Pro and Mandy, as well as some more expensive ones that may require less wading through of CV’s.
Most of the crew actually came from hiring two people with whom I shall forever work (I hope). This was the DoP (Director of Photography) Sam Stewart and the 1st AD Toby Tomkins. I could go into every crew position in detail since all are very important, but I’ll keep it to a little more about these two roles and you can extrapolate:
DoP: Sam was probably the least experienced DoP we interviewed. That said, he had a brilliant showreel. Anyway, when I described the film to Sam, he didn’t lean back in his chair, starch his chin and sagely utter ‘O.K.’. No, he seemed to suffer some kind of internal electroshock treatment and shouted “Oh my god that’s like my perfect movie you gotta let me do it!” From then on, every time I spoke to him he had new ideas, new workarounds for the kit and a constantly building excitement and enthusiasm. This is what you want, because in both pre-production and production he was 110% energy, even when the days were long and the food was scarce and a fetid miasma of other issues were surrounding us. Also – and equally importantly – when you see the film, you’ll notice that he’s pretty shit-hot at lighting too.
Sam brought with him most of the camera crew; they were all very skilled and used to working together. Often your ‘heads of department’ can do this and, as long as you think it’ll be beneficial, it takes the weight of finding them off your shoulders. So hire those guys first – your DoP, Art Director, Sound Engineer etc. In all cases see their previous work (or get recommendations where visuals don’t apply).
1st AD (or First Assistant Director): I have seen low-budget features which, by virtue of wanting to keep the crew small, have decided to go without a 1st AD. This is almost always wrong. A good 1st will stop you having to worry about all the stuff which – as a director – you really don’t want to be worrying about. These include (and all of these are genuine things I’ve been asked while directing a scene in the past): travel arrangements, sleeping arrangements, people falling out, people’s family problems, when a certain prop is needed on set, how you are transporting crew/kit/props/costume. The 1st basically becomes an encyclopaedia of everything to do with the production. They also take on a lot of the stuff you can reasonably be expected to answer, such as where the next camera position is, how many shots are in the scene, how long the crew need to take setting up the next shot etc etc – the list goes on. The 1st should have your storyboards, shot list and a time-based shot breakdown. They can effectively direct the crew – given that the creative/aesthetic elements should have been worked out in advance with the DoP.
I’d also like to mention SOUND and ART DIRECTOR briefly – get a good sound recordist. There is no excuse not to. Bad sound will ruin your film, and good sound design (which needs good sound) can make up for so much that is visually lacking (more on this later). We paid top dollar by our standards for good equipment for our very experienced sound recordist to use – he/she is AS important as any other part of the crew. A good Art Director/Production Designer is also hugely important, especially for a horror film, since they contribute hugely to the aesthetic style, and can take care of visual elements you may miss as a director.
So to summarize – mix skill with passion in your crew criteria, find references/previous work, be sure you’re going to get on with the person, and ‘crew up’ (i.e. allow people one rung higher on the ladder than they’d get on a higher budget production). Finally, make sure you like them all, you’re going to be spending a lot of time together.
Join us on Twitter @harshlightmovie to receive the password to view our video business plan below.
<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/20290653″>Harsh Light Of Day Investment Video</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/user6087947″>The Harsh Light Of Day</a> on <a href=”http://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a>.</p>
I knew public funding wasn’t an option because, well, it is scarcely available, takes a long time to apply and the lottery funding usually only goes to people who have a proven track record. This being our first film, I had to convince people of our worth as a producer and director team and that we had an amazing idea that just had to be made into a movie.
I also knew that crowd-funding over the time we had wasn’t likely to raise much, especially seeing as we had no concept art or any form of trailer to enable us to stand out amidst the thousands of other film projects online (IndieGoGo). So our main avenue for raising money was going to be private equity. I knew we wouldn’t be able to raise much in the time slot I had allocated so I had to be realistic about the budget. I basically worked out the minimum amount we could shoot on. What were the necessities and how cheap could we get them.
If you want to be taken seriously by investors you must do your research, and also be realistic and honest. I drew up a business plan which detailed everything a potential investor should know about us, the film, the industry, the market and realistically what was achievable. And this wasn’t easy; you can’t get sales estimates for your film without a sales agent attached, which we didn’t have. Also accurate sales figures for comparable films are seldom available. Check out Jim Barratt’s blog on the availability of industry research and statistics.
The best advice I can give when writing an investment proposal is to be as honest as possible, and also as modest as possible. I’ve seen so many of these things where people have a comparables section containing films like Blair Witch, Once or Paranormal Activity. I think you will have more chance of winning the lottery than your film being a breakaway hit comparable to one of those films. I’ve also seen a business plan where someone has quoted the box office gross of a comparable film and clearly suggested that if their film takes a similar amount, the investor will take 50%. They seem to have forgotten about deducting tax, exhibitor share, distributor share, sales agent fees, expenses, more tax. Don’t mislead your investors. Do your research.
By the time we started shooting we had 50% of the budget, which was enough to get the film ‘in the can’ so to speak. Throughout production and well into post, I continued the investment quest. We didn’t want to wait til we were fully funded because there were opportunities and deals available to us at the time, and, well, I was impatient. In hindsight this may have been a poor choice. Post-production has been slow, in part due to the lack of funds and slow process of raising the rest of what we needed. However, if I had decided to postpone the shoot until we had all the money we could have hoped for, I may still be in development with it today.
By the time we were on the final straight, and money was becoming increasingly hard to find, I decided to try something different to attract the attention of potential investors. We had a trailer by then, so I decided to summarise the business plan in a short video – A Video Investment Pitch. We duplicated DVDs of the video and stuck them through a few doors in our area. We also put the video online and sent the link out to who ever we could find.
Sure enough, 4 weeks later we had the rest of the money!
In the end we did also get some lottery funding from Screen South, my regional screen agency, to help finish the film. This was after showing them a rough cut of the film.
A gift for our readers:
Join us on Twitter @HarshLightMovie and for every new member we will send a link and password to our Video Business Plan.
Useful Books & Links: