Case Study: “CON” a 7,000 Euros Irish Feature Film
One thing I want to make abundantly clear from the beginning is that producing a feature film for 7,000 euros (8,500 dollars) in total (from idea all the way to screen) is not easy. You have to think outside the box. The point is this; you have to be prepared to do what it takes and be relentlessly resourceful.
Shooting in Ireland was helpful as it’s more relaxed. I know that filming in the United States can be a lot harder and more complicated because of Unions and Permits (especially in major cities). Where we shot made the whole process much more comfortable, cost-effective and fun! Although the long days weren’t easy I was so wired to the production – I did have a great time.
Development & Pre-Production
First things first, you have to know your budget. In our case, I knew for a fact that I had 3,000 euros cash to work with for the production budget — this was an investors stake (I would pay him back when the project was starting to bring in money). I could put in around 1,000 euros and change of my own cash for extra production money. And, I had faith in an Indiegogo Campaign that I had planned to raise for the post-production money after the shoot. I am reasonably good at fundraising small amounts through crowdfunding campaigns, so I gambled on the few grand coming through once we had the film shot.
Secondly, you have to be utterly realistic as to what you can shoot and who your crew and cast will be with the money you have. Think of it this way, “What can you really do with 7,000 euros of a full production budget?”
Here’s how my mind worked: 1/3 on the Cinematography/Editing; 1/3 on the Sound Recording & Mixing and 1/3 on the rest of Post-Production and Production Expenses.
Simple as that, I had to find a way to complete every area of the production for the money we had, it helps that you develop your entrepreneurial spirit!
This brings us to what I could film for such little money: I had a few scripts in the works, but I knew that none of them was feasible on such a micro-budget, so I had to compromise. I knew that I would have no lights, no gaffer, no prominent actors, no special effects or anything that would cost money. I also knew that I wouldn’t have much shooting days, so the turnaround had to be very quick. What this did to my producer’s brain was quick weird actually, it began to take a story I was thinking about years previously where a local celebrity shoots a movie about himself and his name was Con Casey. I started to visualize a film that was breaking the third wall and a run-and-gun guerrilla-stylee film.
Writing the screenplay
After spending time in the film industry and working on the scene as a filmmaker and actor, I knew the independent biz and how it operated. I also knew about the disease of alcoholism or addiction through personal experiences and family members and friends. I also know about the loss of loved ones to cancer and how that can affect the mind. So I wrote what I knew as the old saying goes and thus “Con” was born. The film is an interweaving of prominent social issues into one specific plot:
The story is of a successful filmmaker and actor, Con Keogh, who leaves rehab and takes part in a documentary to reunite him with his estranged father after 25 years.
I felt that shooting “mockumentary” style would be doable and cheap; but, I hate the term “mockumentary” and prefer fictional documentary or in our case a straight drama with some light humour. Our screenplay and ultimately the film came from what was necessary and feasible rather than the other way around where debut filmmakers put incredible amounts of pressure and strain on themselves financially. I will never do that to myself!
Lesson 101 – do not go into significant debt for a film! Unless you are insane!
Filming a tiny micro-budget feature film
Shooting “Con” was a dream because I acquired some actor friends and new actors to come on board and help out. I didn’t have the money to pay actors. Having people on board that were supportive and wanting to create a film for themselves was key to keeping the costs down. Of course, there are huge arguments against “free” labour with artists, but I stress that everyone involved wanted to create this film and get the credit. I have myself been involved in many projects for free because I wanted the credit and understood that there was no money involved. In total there were only three people in the crew: a cinematographer, a sound recordist, and an assistant director who unfortunately didn’t even last the full shoot because of considerable differences in work styles. I pretty much did everything myself and starred in the film.
I shot “Con” in my hometown of Tralee, County Kerry, Ireland and regarding costs, this was vital because all the locations were free, and most of them were in the family. I have many contacts in Tralee, and I used local businesses and apartment complexes to house the actors and to support the film. Tralee is a small but a commercial town, so it was a novelty for most people to know that a film was being shot here. Our footprint was so low we could manoeuvre all over the town and in and out of locations very quickly; all this helped with the style of Con, very naturalistic and “fly-on-the-wall”. We were blessed with the weather also as we shot during the most prolonged heat-wave in recent memories in May 2016. It lasted several weeks, and our shoot happened right in the middle of it. In Ireland, we experience a lot of rain, and this was always a concern for us. If anything it was probably a little too bright at times, but for the most part, our lighting consistency was good. Because it was a mockumentary, we could get away with a slightly edgy look or a rough and ready style. We shot 4k, and in hindsight, it wasn’t necessary, but hey, you live and learn. But, the images are insanely crisp so maybe it was a good thing. Shooting HD with a micro-budget is much more suitable and efficient in the editing room, time wise.
Equipment & locations
We used a Panasonic GH4 owned by the cinematographer, Brian O’ Connor. I highly recommend this camera for newbies to filmmaking because you can shoot beautiful images and it’s a very mobile camera. I shot another short film, Last Service with Brian on this camera too. The key to filming on a tight budget is locations, and how far they are apart. I like to think of a “Nucleus of Locations” where you have Unit Base in the centre and every location within a few miles of that base. I learned this trick on my short film Sineater which is currently distributed with Shorts TV worldwide. The more moving you do, the more expensive everything is. Simple as that. We shot Sineater in one night and Con in eight days. Preparation is key. Visiting locations beforehand and nailing the shot composition for the most critical moments in a scene. Once you know what you are doing before you arrive on set, it makes life so much easier. I have worked on sets where the director is arguing with the dop, and there is nothing worse than that.
Working with actors
Rehearsals with the actors are essential when possible. I am a great believer in playing to people’s strengths. I like knowing what actors are good at and feel comfortable doing and using that to save time and effort. Actors are beautiful beings – usually. I love actors as I am one. I enjoy the creative process of speaking about the character and working on the dissection of a scene. If you do not know what I am talking about – I urge you to take acting classes and understand how actors work. The most prominent skills I have is the ability to express myself to actors. One of the most influential elements to Con is the realness of the piece. People think it’s real at times. All I did was use what actors had already in their consciousness and exploited that – in a nice way. Everything I did was to save time, hassle and to make sure we got a quality story. The acting was very strong and much of the feedback confirmed that.
Post-Producing and Distributing “Con”
Brian O’ Connor and I edited the film right away after shooting. I don’t recommend that, but we had to do it. I made a deal with Brian for 20 days, so I had half of that for filming and half for the post. It worked out a treat. I hired an old colleague for Color Grading – Phillip Morozov who coloured all my pieces, and he did a fine job. I was able to get a bulk deal for Con and two short films. You have to be a lean entrepreneur if you are to create films on a budget. Of course, you will have people or snobs judging you because you aren’t as polished as a film with a budget twice yours or ten times yours – I ask the same people to do exactly what I have done and show me their results.
People told me to spend two years on a screenplay, to wait until I get a 100,000 euros, wait for a certain actor, or find a shit hot producer – how long will I be waiting? Will I still be alive? Will you? I do things. That’s how I learn. This is my film school. I have never paid for film school. I produce my films as my experiments. Films should be experiments. Experiments in creativity.
To get back to the post-production, we finished the edit and colouring, and I hired a sound mixer and designer, Nikki Moss and we finished the mix in Gorrila Post Production in Dublin. I obtained a cool track Bright Stars from a band Exit: Pursued by a Bear. I know these guys well and was always a fan so they were delighted to be in the film.
I managed to get so much for free because most people are just awesome and the others gave me great deals. I am eternally grateful for the help and the people I met along the way. We didn’t enter into any festivals. I got rejected from one very important festival and so I decided to go straight to distribution through Amazon Prime and Vimeo…. why? Because I do not want Con waiting in my hard drive while I pay others to judge it. I want the general audiences to judge it – I managed to get a few critics to write about the film. They all liked it. I was so happy with that. I hope to get a few more. So far on Amazon Prime – the reviews have been terrific.
Where do we go from here?
2018 will see Con pushed to the world while I move on from it. Con will be available to the world forever more and all for 7,000 euros. Instead of paying a semester in tuition – go write a feature and produce it yourself. Make all the mistakes. Piss a few people off. Let people judge you. Make some friends along the way. Most importantly and this is what people forget: Go be creative and speak your truth. Write what you know and make your impact on the world. Most people I have met in the industry are boring – too worried about sounding good and talking shite. I want to hear real themes, profound universal ideas, art, creation! Drop the vampires and be your own person. Walk away from the people who do not understand you. Stand firm and film. And don’t get caught up in awards and results – this will hold you back – I know a lot of people who make films for festivals and awards. I make films because it’s in my heart and it’s what I am meant to do. I want to reflect my subjective experience of this strange but wonderful world to audiences so that they can feel what I felt the very first time I was affected by film and cinema. I am not mainstream but I have my niche. Niche is King these days. Find your niche!
Where can you watch it?
CON is available on
- VIMEO https://vimeo.com/ondemand/conthefilm
- Amazon Prime in the UK: https://amzn.to/2JV3n6X
- Amazon Prime in the USA: https://amzn.to/2rpwcRk
- Con’s facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/conthefilm/
- Bertie’s facebook pg: https://www.facebook.com/bertiebrosnanfilms/
- Bertie’s Twitter: https://twitter.com/bbrosnancreates
Check out my websites for updates:
BONUS: Filmmaking Resources
- Martin Scorsese’s Film Directing MasterClass
- Ron Howard’s Film Directing MasterClass
- Filmmaking Hacks: Filmmaking Master Course
- Directing Actors Film Workshop
- USC Film School’s ONLY Online Course: Directing the Actor
- Film Lighting MasterClass
- Recording Sound for Indie Film
- The Art of Micro-Budget Filmmaking
- Cinematography MasterClass
- Film Festival Hacks: Submit Like a Pro
- Self-Distributing Your Film Online
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