Electric Man is another inspiring micro-budget feature film made in Scotland, one that was made out-with the mainstream and without standard funding. And against the odds it managed to be successful. David Barras reveals how they did it - and you how can do it too!
Where did the idea for Electric Man come from?
Scott Mackay who I co-wrote the final script with, had the idea of a stolen comic a long time ago. He’d written a shorter script which was aiming to be a sitcom pilot based on a stolen copy of Action Comics No. 1, which was the first appearance of Superman.
The idea stayed with us and when inspiration struck to produce a micro budget feature, it had all the elements we could make work on our budget.
At what point did the idea of the feature come about. Did you have an idea for a film then write a script based around it, did you have the full draft script or was a feature mooted even before then?
So, we had this sitcom pilot script, which had actually got us a bit of interest from the BBC. That’s another story though. Years passed and I was attending a session with Shane Meadows and Mark Herbert at the Edinburgh Film Festival. They’d just made Le Donk with Paddy Considine for £50,000 and were evangelically preaching about getting out there and doing it. I was totally fired up when I left that session and knew that it was something I wanted to have a go at. I called Scott who jumped on board immediately and we started to re-write the script.
What was the budget? And how did you raise it?
£55,000 is how much we spent on making the film. We started off doing a bit of crowdfunding, which brought in some money but it was never going to be enough. We then started to create artwork and images of the Electric Man character and started to attend Comic Cons, selling off artwork and raising awareness of the film. That brought in a bit more money. Finally, we approached a investors group in Edinburgh that we had found out about through friends and made a pitch to them. That secured the production budget.
How did you cast the Film?
In a variety of ways. Our DoP, Rich Steel mentioned an American actress he knew who’s a comic book geek, so we sent her a script, which she liked and in return she sent us a short scene she filmed with some mates. We liked her performance and cast her. I thought of Fish for Uncle Jimmy and through a contact, got a script to him. Again, he liked it and after a meeting came on board. For those of you reading this who don’t know, Fish Mark Mcdonnell, I knew and Scott and I bumped into him at the Edinburgh Film Festival and asked him to audition.
The parts of Wolf and Victoria we got through holding open casting sessions in Edinburgh. The lead role, Jazz, was the worst one to cast. We saw a lot of people and some of them came close to what we were looking for but no one nailed it. Jazz was written as Scottish but through a wide trawl of the internet - Shooting People etc. we fond Toby Manley, who put some stuff on tape and then came up to Edinburgh for the day to play against Mark McKirdy who was by then cast as Wolf. They hit it off and one of the pleasure of the film for many people, is that they totally believe the relationship between them. Toby was cast two weeks before we were due to start shooting.
I’ve always been struck by how good you were at marketing the film pre and post. Describe the pre pro marketing process?
Early doors, we set up Facebook and Twitter accounts and got ourselves out into the world of comic fans by attending conventions. Even though you don’t have to be a comic book fan to enjoy the film, it helped us that we had an identifiable part of the potential audience that we could market to. That will be true of any Film. As a filmmaker, you have to work out what that niche is and engage with it.
Keep pushing the social media, interact with your fans and offer yourself up as a story to magazines and newspapers. Don’t write off old media yet, it can still be helpful in building a profile for the work.
Describe your rehearsals?
Non existent. We had a gathering of the main cast at Fish’s place and did a couple of read throughs. That was it.
Scheduling can make or break a Film made in such a short time frame. What was your process?
Get someone who is amazing at their job. In our case, Ellen Raissa Jackson, a good friend of mine who also happens to be a creative Producer and an outstanding organiser. She made life so much easier, by providing a tight but manageable schedule and juggling all the demands which that brings.
How long were your shooting days, and why?
On average about 8-10 hours. We tried our best not to take the mickey when many people were not being paid or being paid below scale.
How do you like to work with the crew?
I contacted people I knew in the first instance like Ellen, the Producer and Rich, our DoP and they brought other people to the table. So we had a group of people who knew each other relatively well. I like to keep things fluid and good natured. I’m not a dictatorial director. I enjoy input from anyone who has something constructive to say. It’s a team game and if everyone knows what we’re striving for, it hopefully leads to a harmonious and happy crew.
Always feed people. If nothing else, make sure people are fed and watered well. Eating together is an incredibly bonding experience and some of my best memories of the shooting of Electric Man are conversations or moments at lunch.
What format did you shoot on, and why?
We shot on a Cannon 5D Mark II. At the time it was the preferred camera of Rich, our DoP and since he actually had one, it was a no brainer.
What was the biggest challenge you faced during the shoot itself?
Time constraints. We had a good schedule, but it was tight and sometimes we didn’t have enough time to do all the coverage I wanted.
How would you block or approach the scene you were working on?
I had a fairly good idea in my head and on rudimentary storyboards and the actors, myself and the DoP would run the scene before shooting, if we had the time.
One of the most difficult aspects of making a feature, especially when you have little opportunity to review rushes is maintaining performance consistency when shooting out of sequence. How did you deal with this?
Probably badly. To be honest I perhaps left the actors to their own devices a bit too much. You hope they’ve got a handle on who their characters are and how they are behaving in any scene but we had a few moments where we had to work on that during the shoot.
On a film of any size or budget things don’t always go to plan. What’s your approach in dealing with the unknowns that pop up?
Have your schedule but be ready to improvise. Thankfully, a lot of my previous film making with young people, has been heavily time constrained and with low budgets, so I’m used to changing script, locations, scenes etc due to adverse conditions. If something goes wrong, think fast and find a solution. No point standing around. You don’t have time or money on your side. Make it work
another way. Occasionally it can work out - the famous Raiders of the Lost Ark sword shooting, for example - http://screencrush.com/movie-myths-9/
Again, what advice would you give to anyone looking to make a feature on a similar timescale?
Plan as much as you can but be ready to improvise when called for.
What other advice can you offer on principal photography?
Have a system in place for data wrangling, have a system in place for tea making, bacon rolls and cakes also.
You were again very active with promotion during the film. Did you find this hindered you in anyway? How important is it to market the film before it’s completed?
I don’t think it hindered us. It helps to keep you focused. In all, I spent a great deal of time over four years on this film. We were immersed, for better or worse. If you can get a buzz going for your film prior to it being seen - great. you’re going to be up against the latest blockbusters and heavily financed and marketed product from the studios and the indies when you launch. Anything that will make someone give you a chance is to be celebrated.
When did you start post-production after principal photography?
Immediately. Ellen, the producer, and I, split the editing and started straight away.
Guide us through a little of your post-production work?
First we converted the footage to ProRes 422 for editing in Final Cut 7. The edit took a few months. When we had a locked cut, we passed the project on to a grader who did an excellent job for us. Then we had the very few fx shots added and the score composed and finally we had a sound mix done by the very talented Ian Anderson at Savalas in Glasgow.
Pitfalls/Problems encountered/Advice for post?
We were very lucky in post. We got an amazing score from Blair Mowat who recently scored some major shows for the BBC. His score was nominated for a New Talent BAFTA. Our grader, Jason Moffat was also a great find and the sound mix was taken on by Savalas which is the probably the best sound post house in the country. All in all though, because we were relying on people working for less than scale, it took a year to get the film to completion. We didn’t really ahve any major problems, except wanting it to be faster, which is back to that time and money equation. It’s micro budget, you have to keep your expectations in check.
But don’t be afraid to ask. For anything. Many people helped get this film made because they liked it. Either they liked the script or they liked the cut they saw and we punched well above our budget in score, sound and grade.
As we’re often told making the film is half the battle. The next step is getting it out there and seen. You have done fantastically well with the film. You’ve had it reviewed in major newspapers and magazines.
We held an industry screening in London, at the BFI, which was well attended by some of the big players like Lionsgate and The Weinstein Company. While we got good feedback, the market is such, that to advertise a film in the UK market takes a budget ten time the money it took to make our film. People are not willing to take a risk on too many micro budget movies and ours was not one of the exceptions to the rule.
However, we had a festival run and the Picturehouse group agreed to release the film through their cinemas. We contacted a few other independent cinemas and arranged a UK tour which classified us as a release. We were reviewed in a few nationals and magazines like Screen, The List and Radio Times. We had some great screenings, including two at the Prince Charles Cinema in Central London, which is one of the great cinemas.
Prior to that, we had played the San Diego Comic Con Film Festival and come to the attention of FilmBuff, an offshoot of Cinetic. They took the digital rights to the film and have made it available on iTunes, XBox, Playstation, Blinkbox and Hulu. We also got a DVD distribution through Passion River in the USA.
Are you happy with the film?
Yes. There will always be moments which make me cringe, but given our constraints, I think we did okay. The film was awarded the accolade of third best
comedy of 2013 by This is Infamous website (http://ow.ly/rTFeU ) as well as having been BAFTA New Talent nominated for script and score, Celtic Media Festival nominated as Best Feature Length Drama and took 3rd Place as Best INdependent Feature Film at Manchester Festival of Fantastic Films.
And what’s next?
Believe it or not, working on a sitcom version of the film with a well known comedy production company as well as a number of other film and TV ideas.