We began doing research on the best equipment to invest in, best sound package, and best HD camera (we judged each camera based on the level of color captured, best sound captured, and overall user experience). Months later, we had the whole set up.
I was ready to make my next narrative feature. And I wouldn’t need so much money after all. By owning my own equipment, omitting unnecessary personnel and expenses, and keeping costs as low as possible, it would be possible to make a feature film for little more than the price of a used Toyota.
This also appealed to investors. Distribution has changed significantly since the glory days of the million-dollar buys at Film Festivals. That simply wasn’t happening any more. A top sales rep told me, “no company is buying low-budget independently made films for more than $50,000 up front. And if you get that much you’d be one of the lucky ones.”
The first project to test if my new renegade style of filmmaking would even work or not, was an adaptation of Joseph Suglia’s dazzling novel WATCH OUT. Could I really make a feature-length movie using only two people on my crew, with me doing all the camerawork, and still make it high-quality art?
The answer was a big loud YES.
WATCH OUT, which became my third feature film, was shot in two weeks. Our working days were incredibly light. We’d start shooting at 9 AM and on a few days we were done by 4 PM. It felt like summer camp and everyone had a ball.
The film was highly praised by critics as “One of the great cult films of all time, (MJ Simpson).” WATCH OUT also premiered at the Raindance Film Festival in London to sold-out crowds, where it was nominated for Best International Feature.
A review in Film Threat wrote, “(Balderson) makes movies that are so gorgeous that it’s not unreasonable to say that, cinematographically at least; he’s the equal of an Argento or Kubrick in their prime. Some people have perfect vocal pitch, Steve has perfect visual composition.”
I repeated the road-show tour concept we did for FIRECRACKER and released WATCH OUT theatrically in 2008 to sold-out audiences in the “Stop Turning Me On” world tour, to promote the self-distributed DVD release several months later, where it debuted at #24 on Amazon.com’s Top 100.
The third and final installment of the WAMEGO TRILOGY on DIY Filmmaking (WAMEGO: ULTIMATUM) chronicles how we did it.
Once I knew we could do it, I decided to raise the bar a bit more and experiment with a cast of all well-known actors. The production would cost and be the same = the film would be shot in my new renegade style, without permits and in a secretive manner. There would be no equipment trucks lining the street, no craft service table, no excessive lighting or camera gear, no substantial crews, or anything to attract attention. The cast and crew would resemble tourists, which would give the production the freedom to do whatever we wanted, whenever we wanted.
With no make-up or costume person the cast would be required to do their own make-up, take care of their own costumes. We’d all be staying in people’s homes, not hotels, and would have to accept there would be no cash per diem.
I approached several stars, some I’d worked with before, and others I hadn’t, and to my astonishment, they all agreed.
That project, my fourth film, became STUCK!
When I called SAG to ask them if they had special deals for projects under $50,000 they laughed at me and said, “It’s impossible to make a feature-length film for less than $50,000.” They also said I “needed to seek professional help.” Actual words.
But, they were wrong. I had just proven it was possible with WATCH OUT. I thought about telling them, but decided that they were just like those insecure filmmakers who needed all that phony “stuff” for passers-by. Trying to educate SAG on the reality of the world was going to be a waste of time.
(To be continued next week)