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’
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
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:
When I decided I wanted to make a feature film, my thought process was very much that of a producer. Horrors and thrillers are statistically better selling genres, particularly in the ancillary markets. I was always being realistic with my expectations of how the film would reach an audience based on the fact that it was going to be shot on a micro-budget. A straight-to-DVD, high-concept genre movie was the obvious choice.
However I was also aware that this market is absolutely flooded right now. I needed a film that could stand out above the rest. It needed individuality, something unique. I was also realistic about what sort of budget we were looking at. Locations cost money, as do travel and multiple unit moves. Cast also cost money. If we were going to make a good film we had to keep locations and cast to a minimum. So this was my brief to Ollie (the writer/director), and off he went to immerse himself in a world of possibilities.
Our winning concept was a ‘vampire revenge movie’ – The Harsh Light of Day. The story follows a man who turns into a vampire to avenge the brutal murder of his wife.
Death Wish meets Interview with a Vampire. I loved it straight away. Vampires had once again become the cool new thing on screen, but this story was no Twilight. It had mature themes and a gritty sub-plot involving a gang, who are essentially a far worse threat to our protagonist than the notion of Vampirism. Furthermore, it was our opportunity to offer a different take the Vampire myth. Ollie wanted to represent Vampires as something very biological, and I was happy because it was predominantly set in one house!
Useful tips and links:
A. Do your research:
– UK Film Council Statistic book offers an overview of the UK and Ireland film market. http://www.ukfilmcouncil.org.uk/article/16894/Statistical-Yearbook-10
– British Video Association provides great advice and practical information about the DVD market
A great book: