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Misadventures in Low-Budget Filmmaking

September 27th 2019
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As a kid, I never really watched the special features on DVDs. Seeing the strings behind the scenes ruined the magic, right?

Perhaps it’s because I now work on films, but these days I lap up those same special features I used to skim over. What filmmakers can accomplish on-set is magic.

Just like any entertaining illusion, the magic is what you don’t see. That final film you watch onscreen is the tip of an iceberg of effort, innovation, resourcefulness, and probably more than a few last-minute tweaks and miracles – especially in the case of low-budget film.

The budget for Overdue was approximately £0, and when you’re working with that kind of budget, you need to get creative. Kieran’s already written about the visual effects behind the film, but here are some of the more notable, bizarre, and just plain lucky events that happened behind the camera.

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The first prop we needed to sort out was the alien weapon. With the deadline of our first shoot looming, I was rummaging through my bedroom back home and came across a broken Action Man glider. Rip apart some old audio jack cables and stuff them into the weapon barrels, and you’ve got yourself an alien weapon.

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It was a deadly weapon, so the first time the gun is fired, we see it absolutely trash a kettle. We created that prop in a safe, controlled manner of course.

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No Kierans were harmed in the making of this film.

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Next, they start firing cans off the kitchen counter. We achieved this with the old-school method of yanking masking tape under the cans, and editing the tape out later. Sometimes, the simplest way turns out to be the best.

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The first time the gun’s used for real is when Wayne tries to shoot a thief - but ends up literally exploding the guy. The blood spatter was achieved with a mug of fake blood (sorry Hannah), but that isn’t the whole story. Despite all of the cameramen and film equipment we had around, a concerned citizen clearly got the wrong end of the stick - and alerted the local security in Sainsbury’s. The security guard strolled casually up to us, asking if any of us were armed. It was all resolved quickly and amicably once we explained ourselves, and thankfully the campus security had a good sense of humour. One of them claimed to have once been the onscreen arse of a certain Hollywood actor, but we never confirmed the statement.

Once our characters get back to the house, we needed to show their daring escape plan thwarted by a massive helicopter. With no camera cranes around, we achieved it in a relatively simple manner; some lights in the bathtub, precariously leaning out the window, and a cameraman with no fear of electrocution.

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While it looked a mess behind the scenes, we were very happy with how the shot turned out.

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Back in Flenser’s office, we were presented with a dilemma: we had no way of fixing Wayne’s weapon arm to the table. No hooks, no connectors, nothing whatsoever. Creative narrow framing saved the day once again, by implying that the mechanical part of the arm was somehow fixed to something - and I had the fun task of struggling against a restraint that didn’t exist.

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Once Wayne gets out, all hell breaks loose. My sister was incredibly helpful in Overdue, standing in as not one, but two henchman casualties. She was also the make-up artist (and had a lot of fun making her brother look all beat-up), as well as our ‘explosion technician’. Whenever something blew up or went flying in the house, that was Helen.

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Mark also doubled up as two separate henchmen, and had the joy of being involved with Overdue’s most ambitious fight scene - a one-shot hand-to-hand brawl, shot continuously from a circling viewpoint. The fight was choreographed by Mark and Matt (in the role of Mack), who was helpfully trained in jiu jitsu - leading to the fantastic sequence in the final film.

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As Flenser takes her final stand, we wanted a good ol' Men-In-Black-style big alien weapon. You’ve got an idea of how we do things by now, and in true Max and Kieran style - it’s just a big water gun. Worth a shot.

Overdue was a joy to make. We had a lot of fun, everybody involved brought so much to it. The end result was so much shinier and more fun than we thought it might have been whilst shooting the thing.

We hope you now enjoy it all the more, knowing how this barely-professional, semi-student sci-fi action romp was thrown together in our final year of university.

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Overdue was released in 2019. You can watch the full short film here.

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