Sleeping in the Slaughterhouse: 12 lessons in Microbudget Filmmaking / by Heather Taylor

One of my favourite talks at London Screenwriters Festival had to be Signe Olynyk & Bob Schultz giving their first hand experience in producing their first feature, Below Zero. Signe locked herself into the slaughterhouse in Edson, Alberta and made the film right where she wrote it.

Here is a list of their advice and a few things to think about when you go to embark on your next project:

1) Talk to strangers, have experiences, drink too much, succeed and fail as much as possible

2) Make a list of all the things you have access to and start from there.

3) Horror and thriller? It’s a stepping stone. Signe usually writes Rom Coms but realized that a way into making projects that get attention are to go for a horror. What’s scary in London is scary in Japan. Fans eat it up.

4)  If you want to be credible in Hollywood, you have to have a casting director which will probably cost you around 5-10k. Casting directors have more clout with agents so you can get in with the actors you really want to work with (within reason).

5) Audiences are savvy. Blood and gore has to be earned. They want smart horror. If you don’t get horror fans you won’t get the mainstream. So you need someone who will be a positive force for that audience group. That way you secure that base and can expand into the mainstream. The next casting choice Signe and Bob made was Eddie Furlong from Terminator 2 as he still has mainstream appeal.

Then you secure quadrants with the rest of cast. Find a star on the rise internationally and cast the small roles with people who can step up for the main role. Send them sides for both small and big role as they may have to step into the lead if someone drops out. It’s much easier to recast the smaller roles then.

6) Give them everything but money. Titles are free. Below Zero cost 1.2 million if you add up all the money for deferred payments as that has a value even though it only cost them 400-450K. Signe and Bob made a lot of deals and looked at step up positions for anyone with resources. For instance, their DOP volunteered his 110k worth of camera equipment in order to become the director.

7) Budget makes you more creative. In order to make the slaughterhouse have the aged and rotting look it needed, they used mustard, instant tide, and coffee

8) When working in a small town and with a small cast, you have to give them faith and give them support. You need to have the towns people and businesses involved. For instance, they rented a community hall and cooked freezer meals and then teams brought food out once a day. In order to save money, you can do all your own cooking for catering. Also they needed a monster truck and needed to crash it. Someone said, well yes, as long as I can crash it…

It’s not only about bringing money into the community, but it’s about being a part of it. Join the community, legion, go to the local game, support the community that supports you. This is a also a great way to use local media as your own mouthpiece.

9) Arial shots add a more expensive look and you need a big action / look in the first three minutes.

10) Now more than ever, writers also have to be filmmakers. Build following and audiences. But you can’t just market to them. You have to give them content as well.

11) Don’t shoot movie without using all the tools. Man in a box films have limited characters and limited locations so you can use your budget wisely. Also look at where you are filming. You can get a 25-29 % tax savings from films shot in Alberta. Louisiana also has great deals as does Romania. Make your currency work for you.

12) Add fair value. Be fair and open as possible. And most of all, always leave where you shoot in a better condition than when you arrived.