In the spring of 2011, myself and Ulrich Wehner (Co-Producer) had just wrapped on a shoot, another in a long line of productions. After producing a few of our own short films and working with other filmmakers in-between we discussed taking the leap; making that first feature film.
The opportunity came when Ulrich found out he had a house free for a summer in the middle of London (his brother was away, working for a year). So we declared that that would be our base of operations and main shooting location.
The idea for ‘Caring And Killing’ came about from an old short story I had written The premise was of an unhinged boxer somewhere between finding success through a series of brutal, emotionally scarring fights or self-destruction through a drug addiction. With prospective dates set for the first block of shooting I quickly began to adapt the story into a screenplay, with around 3-4 months to develop it.
With the limited resources we had available the idea seemed to fall into place. We quickly set about recruiting various friends and filmmakers we had worked with before, calling in favours and putting down schedules and budgets.
It turned out to be the hardest year of our lives. Here are a few things I learned throughout the process…
1. Write with budget in mind
Writing with your budget in mind is a key step in no-budget filmmaking. Some writers find this disheartening but you need to be realistic with the resources at your disposal. It can be a motivator as well – if you strip away the luxuries of bigger production values then the characters and drama of your script are going to define the film more than anything.
The script for ‘Caring And Killing’ became a character story; a deep look into the morality of one man whose livelihood and future depends on destroying the lives of others. I knew from the onset that I wouldn’t be able to have all of the fights I wanted so I decided to focus on the fighter instead; the build-up and the aftermath to that kind of intense emotional struggle. I found I could work with that type of story on the budget available and still find a satisfying balance between production values and good dramatic struggle.
2. Get feedback from the crew
Around the time of finishing the first full draft of the script we had secured most of our Heads of Departments. I was keen get their input on the script from the get go. There are two main reasons why I would recommend this…
If you don’t have a technical background in filmmaking and are working in the confines of no-budget then your Production Designer or Editor may well have the solution to various problems you may be facing, giving you creative license through simple technical methods to express your story.
At that point in time my background in filmmaking was mostly based around Sound and Post-Production. In my case, I found developing several drafts of the script along with the Director of Photography (Jon Ratigan) really opened my eyes to what we could do in terms of how we visually perceived the protagonist.
In all likelihood you won’t be able to pay people on your first production and while deferred payments/production points sound nice they’ll likely not amount to anything. Getting your crew involved in the early stages and taking their input gives them a creative connection to your work.
It may not pay the bills but it’s surprising how motivating it can be to feel you have a creative input on a project you are working on besides the logistical and technical side of things.
3. Be prepared to adapt, rework and redraft
There’s nothing wrong with big ideas, but some may not come together practically so you need to adapt, rework and redraft; often at short notice when you have limited development time.
In my case we shot ‘Caring And Killing’ in a multi-block schedule over a year (a week here and there) so there were numerous cases of rewriting the script between shoots, redeveloping scenes based on scenes we had shot so far, reworking elements of the story and writing additional scenes based on edit feedback.
Adapt and be flexible – work with what you have. You may not have money and time as a luxury but you can make up for it with a strong work ethic. That doesn’t cost anything.
4. Have commitment and drive
One of the most draining things about no-budget filmmaking is that pretty soon you’ll realize that if your film is really going to be made then you are going to have to be the absolute driving force behind it. Your commitment most be total. Why?
Firstly, because you are going to have to sell the production to people and if you don’t believe in it then why should they? On the other hand if a potential cast or crew member buys into your idea and how passionate you are about it then you’re more likely to get a commitment out of them.
Secondly, there are going to be testing times; those shooting days that go over schedule; when everyone is tried and short-tempered; when there’s an idea you just can’t quite communicate; even something like the weather throwing your plans into turmoil. When the morale is low there can be make-or-break moments and people are going to look to you for a call.
It may sound obvious but I learned the hard way that making a feature film is a total life commitment and you have to give everything you have towards it.
5. Allow cast to have input
By the time we came to auditions it was quite a nerve-wracking to process to see a selection of actors read through the script and get a glimpse of those characters starting to grow. In the UK I would always recommend setting up auditions in London. You’ll have more applicants there and the competition tends to raise the bar in terms of acting talent. It may cost a bit more to set up but the result will be worth it. We were looking for actors who had some sort of background in stage combat, boxing or martial arts experience which narrowed things down a little bit. I really couldn’t have been happier with the cast we ended up assembling. It also provided me with a very important lesson about the impact casting would have on my script…
I found it to be a great experience to develop the characters with the actors during the later drafts of the script, when it came to fine-tuning the characters. For example, we cast Cengiz Dervis as the protagonist’s coach. Cengiz was a professional kick boxer and trainer in his past so his input into that relationship and getting him to actually train with the other actors really pushed the detail, performances and script to the next level.
Much like the above point regarding your crew, getting your cast involved with script development can give you further insight into the characters as well engaging the cast and drawing them deeper into the production.
6. Keep location in mind
In my experience this can be the basis for most no-budget films coming to fruition. Most of these films use one location as a base of the film and narrative and then branch out from there. Even a road movie, when you think about it, is based around two or three crew cars.
In our case we had a house free so I decided to base the story around the protagonist’s bedroom, the scenario being that he was locked in the room in an attempt to go cold turkey to get over his addition to pain killers.
Writing with this in mind gave me my structure for how the spine of the film should progress while making it viable within the constraints of our budget.
Of course, the risk is that a film set in one room, no matter how good the performance or the dramatic writing is going to be, will get boring after a while. This is where I took the opportunity to branch out and add different locations and scenarios (through flashbacks and fantasies in this film’s narrative) with the intention of trying to break up the sequences in the main location and boost the production values of the film by throwing in as much variety as I could in small doses.
Building your script around one main location will really give you a core of a film that’s workable with your budget. Once you’ve got that down you can look at adding things on as they become viable to you to add variety.
More about Caring and Killing
Caring and Killing is the story of up and coming boxer Caleb (Tom Fava) whose career might already be finished due to his reckless attitude and abuse of painkillers. Fed up with the situation, his trainer Doc (Cengiz Dervis) decides to lock him in his room to go cold turkey and get his life back on track. Over the next 5 days Caleb comes face to face with ghosts and repressed memories that have led him to his current demise. Caleb must now choose to rise up and fight or sink into addiction and fade away.
Caring And Killing is a independent UK feature film. It is the feature debut of Director/Writer Michael O’Connor and Producer Ulrich Wehner, filmed in London and South Wales. The production was born from the desire to take the next step up from music videos and short films, made by a crew who features some of the best young filmmaking talent in England and Wales along with an exciting cast, most of whom have real boxing and combat experience.
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