Filmmaker Q&A: Douglas Sannachan on Starcache
Starcache is the debut feature from Glasgow actor Douglas Sannachan (That Sinking Feeling, Gregory's Girl, Taggart). The comedy horror follows the weekend of a group of geocachers (the collective term for a group of people partaking in geocaching - a GPS, smartphone enabled treasure-hunt) on the search for a $1,000,000 cache. The pursuit of the prize soon becomes a battle to stay alive; who is in the woods picking off the cachers one by one?
Made on zero budget, with five years passing between first inspiration to it's premiere screening at the Southside Film Festival this weekend, we caught up with Douglas to find out more about the making of Starcache.
This is your first feature as a writer and director. What was it that made you want to take the jump from the front of the camera to behind it?
I had been helping out a few young indie film makers as an actor in some shorts and a a a couple of feature films. I got talking with a guy who wanted to make a feature film so we set about writing and thinking about a script, but it all fell through. I decided to have a go myself and write my own film script
What did your many years as an actor bring to your experience of directing the film?
I obviously knew the mechanics of filmmaking after being on a few sets and as an actor and I knew how to relate to the cast on an acting level. This helped hugely when it came to blocking scenes and getting the most from their performance.
In my acting experience it was always helpful when the director allowed you to express the character the way you felt it had to be played, this was often discovered at the audition. After that you can be guided by the director in a way that feels natural and at the same time giving the director what they want. I found that this approach was very fruitful. So we would rehearse the shot first without directing and if it worked we would just shoot it like that but if it didn’t feel right I would suggest that we tried it in a different way. I tried not to be very specific as I have found as an actor that it can make the performance seem a bit wooden if you have to remember detailed directions. If you are allowed to interpret it yourself then it is much more natural and believable.
Were there any challenges in directing Starcache that surprised you?
Yes there were many challenges that surprised me. Notably the pre-production side of it when I started I didn’t realise there was so much organising on a shoot.
I wasn’t the most technically informed so when it came down to lighting, sound and camera shots I had to learn pretty quickly and rely on the expertise of the crew. Also having to think on your feet when some obstacles cropped up like an actor not turning up for a shoot - then you would have to change the script on the day.
Starcache was five years in the making - talk us through the timeline from first inspiration, to kicking off production, to the finished product.
I first got the idea at a Geocaching event five years ago. People that I was introduced to at that event were amazing characters, talking about their experiences and being just plain, weird folk. I thought these people had to be killed in strange and interesting ways! It took me a year to write it and after a number of drafts I was happy to start the process of getting cast and crew together.
Getting cast and crew to work for free was tricky, but I was lucky that I had plenty of friends that were actors. I had helped other filmmakers in the past and so they were very glad to help me out with my project giving their time and equipment for free.We worked on the shoot for three years filming in various locations in the west of Scotland mostly East Kilbride, Blantyre and Glasgow. Local councils and the parks departments were very accommodating and allowed us to shoot for free. It took 52 days in all, spread out over that time, and this had its challenges too as some of the younger cast were growing very fast. So we had to start doubling up characters and also some of the actors dropped out on the way so we had to re-shoot some scenes. Post-production has taken two years and I was very lucky that a friend of mine, Gerry Clark, came on board to edit the film and also score it. The edit was very harrowing for me as Gerry had to make a huge amount of footage into a film he explained to me that I would have to kill off my darlings – in other words delete scenes which I really liked. I wasn’t sure about doing this, but I had to accept Gerry’s judgement. Now I think he was right and it has paid off as we have a film which moves along a good pace and clearly tells a story.
The film was made with no budget - what were the most challenging parts of production in this respect? How did you get around that?
I was determined to make this film zero budget as I didn’t have any money to spare. Getting funding from the usual bodies looked impossible as this was my first time filming. I felt that approaching these bodies would be a waste of time. Crowdfunding also seemed to be a hard task as a few filmmakers I knew had tried and failed. I decided to have a fundraising evening as I knew a few singers, actors and artists that would help out. We raised £400 on that night which helped us buy food and transport on shoot days. Costumes and props were donated from some friends and in fact the actors themselves. People were very generous - using their own transport a lot of the time. One of the main characters had a van and he was brilliant transporting costumes, props and filming equipment to locations. The rest of the time I used my credit card and and eventually my car had to go.
Was there a certain creative freedom in having no budget?
The main thing I think was there was no deadline. Also being writer director I had freedom to write what I wanted and didn’t have a screenwriter looking over my shoulder. In hindsight it may have been a good idea to get a screenwriter to look over it as this could have saved a few days filming scenes that didn’t need to be shot.
Your first foray into acting on-screen was in Bill Forsyth's That Sinking Feeling - there's obvious comparisons here with Starcache in terms of its (low) budget and the way it was shot. What influence have you seen coming out in your own work as a director from your early exposure to Bill's working methods on TSF and Gregory's Girl? Was there anything in particular that you remember from working with him that seeped in and stayed with you over time?
I was very influenced by Bill Forsyth I worked on three films with Bill. I think the main thing was to have a happy cast and crew as working together as a team brings the best out of you and that reflects on screen. Improvisation on a shoot day also adds another dimension
Bill joined the [Glasgow[ youth theatre and became one of the group spending two years getting to know us, we improvised a huge amount of the time using his synopsis as a guide rather than a finished script. This has rubbed off on me I think. I was often open to actors changing the script as long as it worked. And also spending 3 years getting to know the Starcache cast and crew was incredibly important as you got to know their strengths and weaknesses.
The film premieres at the Southside Film Festival on 3 June and there's a (sold-out!) screening at the CCA a few days later. What's been your experience in getting the film out there so far and what's next for Starcache?
We have been busy out and about getting involved in other filmmakers’ screenings, plugging whenever we can and even posting in local shops. We recently had a full two page spread in the Glasgow Evening Times and I’ve been interviewed on local radio. Also Facebook and Twitter has been a great source of advertising so people are getting to hear about it.
The next move will be getting it into some festivals and hopefully get a distribution deal. That would be the icing on the cake :)
Starcache premieres at the Southside Film Festival on 3rd June at 8pm (Lok's Bar and Kitchen; tickets available on the door), followed by a sold-out screening at Glasgow's CCA on 11th June.