“WHY (ON EARTH) MAKE A MICRO-BUDGET MOVIE?”
— YOU MAY WELL ASK!
Everyone who knows anything about producing knows that making a feature film on a tight budget is like a short dash across a high wire, and it’s not as though I’ve not written or worked on a low-budget feature film before. So why did I take on the challenge?
There are four main reasons:
1) As a screenwriter it’s a sad truth that one spends more working on projects that don’t make it to the screen as projects that do. Indeed as I tell my students on the Writers Factory and Strathclyde University Screenwriting evening classes, the relationship between a professional screenwriter and his or her work is like that of an impoverished Victorian parent towards their children – only one in seven make sit to maturity. And that’s if you’re really lucky. So any opportunity to protect one’s babies and take more control of one’s destiny is a very attractive proposition.
2) As a screenwriting tutor one is often asked about possible career routes one might take. A decade ago I’d tell students that they should consider making a few shotgun shorts with their friends as calling cards and to gain a little festival exposure. However, as digital technology has developed, more and more people have been making – and wanting to see longer movies. Just as I made a few shorts a decade ago myself, I increasingly felt that it was incumbent on me to put my money where my mouth was and show that it could be done.
3) I got lucky. A few years ago, the Canadian director Bruce McDonald asked me to take a look at a screenplay he had written with actor Hugh Dillon as the sequel to Hard Core Logo. I sent him some comments and before I could say, “Rock and roll is fat and ugly” Bruce hired me to rewrite it. Then Hugh Dillon landed a role in a major Canadian TV series ‘Flashpoint’ and the sequel was dead. Then in 2009 Bruce told me that he was bringing his intellectual Zombie movie, ‘Pontypool’ (which I also worked on) over to the Edinburgh International Film Festival and wanted to know whether I had any thoughts on how to revive the Hard Core Logo sequel idea without the lead character from the first movie. Without providing any spoilers, my solution was quite tangential and involved making Bruce the star of his own movie (albeit a Bruce McDonald from a parallel reality). Though I liked the idea a lot, I expected that the Canadian financiers would find the sequel too oblique. To my surprise they didn’t and the project sailed through the first finance meetings and I was in funded development. When this happened I told myself that if the film got made (and I got my percentage of the budget on the first day of principal photography) that I would invest the proceeds in a micro-budget feature. I therefore wrote ‘Hard Core Logo II’ and ‘TimeLock’ in tandem between July 2009 and February 2010 when “Hard Core Logo II’ went into production.
4) Though there is a lot to be said about following your dreams of being a writer director, taking control over your own destiny, making films you love and proving a point; however, I also believe that digital filmmaking represents a great opportunity to make interesting and edgy movies that push the boundaries of film language. While I have nothing whatsoever against Hollywood or bigger budget British movies per se, I do think that the good ones are too few and far between. While I can understand that executives in established film industry want to protect their position by producing ever more spectacular movies for 3D and IMax, I also know that there is still a great hunger among audiences for good screen stories that are well executed whatever the budget. In a country like Scotland there is only room and funding under the old film-making paradigm for about six low-budget feature films a year – of which only one or two will gain any significant theatrical distribution. Micro-budget filmmaking and online distribution offers an avenue to greatly increase the film output. The main reason for making the Tartan Noir TimeLock was to see whether it was possible to make a thought provoking feature-film with wide appeal without ripping off the cast and crew. In short my main aim was to make a film that would make its money back so that I can produce my next Tartan Noir feature, ‘Dark Stranger’ on a higher budget.
So that’s why I did it – and why I hope with your support to do it again!
David Griffith, writer and director of TimeLock
David Griffith will be writing more about the process of making ‘TimeLock’ and the opportunities and challenges of micro-budget filmmaking on an industrial and cultural level in forthcoming blogs. Sign up to the RSS feed in the top right hand corner of the page to receive them by email.