The past twelve months have been the best of my life. A lot has happened – I filmed my third feature film ‘I WORK’, traveled the world, set up the Quandary Productions Filmmaker Support Scheme (soon to become the ‘Artist Support Scheme’ as we are now helping actors, artists, musicians, and comedians, as well as filmmakers), we’ve helped countless people both through the scheme and by supporting charities worldwide, the ‘I WORK’ release was met with hordes of incredible feedback and has received a remarkable following online, and we’re now gearing up for our next (fourth) feature film over the next couple of months.
MAKING ‘I WORK’
Last year, I’d just finished my second feature film ‘Restless Dust’ (a no-budget social-realist Drama) and hadn’t been left satisfied by the whole experience; much like the first feature ‘Ennui’. It wasn’t because the films were terrible either. It was because I hadn’t yet made a film I was completely proud of. I had proved to myself, and others, that you can make a film for less than £500, and the content could be to a standard higher than some bigger-budget films. Where we were perhaps plagued was on the technical side. We’d had numerous problems because of sub-standard equipment, cast and crew absences (obviously not obliged to be there), and the usually technical problems that come with the territory, such as weather causing poor conditions for audio. I always felt that we could do better and I held myself responsible for the mistakes made previously.
With regards to the two previous films, neither had fully touched on how I saw the world, or been as engaging as I knew I could make a film. So instead of feeling down about how I hadn’t succeeded in the ways I had hoped, I went straight into writing ‘I WORK’. I’d had a few ideas (detective story, Artificial Intelligence protagonist, characters trapped in a mundane routine seeking escape, two mismatched housemates seeking estranged family members) that ended up merging, and the final film is very similar to the first draft – with only a few lines changed, a character removed, and a few stylistic touches added. What motivated me was that, at the time, I was working in an office, feeling as if time was slowly passing me by, and although I felt it was an achievement that I had made two feature films in as many years using only what I had available to me, I hadn’t made something complete, in the way I wanted to. ‘Ennui’ touched on aspects of both philosophy and psychology that interested me, with a range of interesting characters, but I wasn’t the same person as I was when filming it, and the story wasn’t told in a wholly engaging way. I had played things a little too safe, and when you have no one to answer to but yourself (as you do when you make a film with only your own money), you are free to experiment however you want. With ‘Restless Dust’ I made a film that was more engaging, but the themes didn’t reach as deep as I had hoped, and some (‘morality in an Atheistic world’) were so subtle that they were mostly ignored.
I wanted to make a film about what it is to be. Science Fiction is obviously the genre for this but most people imagine the genre as spectacle, with lots of C.G.I and action. I wanted to make a film that was grounded in real life, present day, but still had the capacity to explore the larger themes of mortality, existence, and the human condition. When it comes to writing (and this is no huge revelation) anyone who doesn’t have an expansive budget, should write with an awareness of what is at his or her disposal. Low-to-no budget filmmakers need to admit and embrace their limitations. We shouldn’t try to make blockbusters, for the simple reason they will look terrible (and if you’re aspiring to make films just like the ‘Transformers’ franchise, you’re already setting yourself up for failure by not attempting to be remotely original). Over the course of six weeks, I redrafted the script four times in total, and we were ready to start planning the shoot.
When we began to shoot, it all seemed to run really smoothly, which was both a relief and a constant source of anxiety for me, as my past two features had been plagued with lots of little problems, and I was expecting something terrible to happen at any moment. During the shoot I kept an Online Journal detailing what happened each day we shot. It was the best shoot I’d ever been a part of. Everyone was excited to be a part of the project, it was fun every second, there were no major problems, and we all felt incredibly sad to see the end of the project near.
I uploaded the footage as we shot, in what little free time I had, so when it came to the end of July we’d shot all we needed to and it was all ready to start editing. I approached the edit a little differently for ‘I WORK’ than my other films – I took a short break after the shoot for three weeks (to see the other side of the world). The trip had been planned before I’d even written the film, but I’d suggest it’s essential to have a little cool-off period, to distance yourself from the film (especially if you’re editing the film yourself), to feel refreshed, and get inspired. Now, I’m not suggesting it has to be as long as three weeks, or as far away as Australia, but I feel that taking time away allowed me to work on the edit more comfortably. It can feel never-ending from the start of writing to the time the film is completed. From 26th August to December 2nd, the edit took exactly fourteen weeks (three months roughly).
Once ‘I WORK’ was complete, I held a one-off preview screening at the University of Lincoln, December 9th, before we set off to travel South-East Asia for seven months. Taking the break was obviously inspiring (I wrote two feature scripts, a web series, and planned a few short films and comedy sketches, all whilst building up a promotion plan for ‘I WORK’), but most of all it gave me time to plan, prepare, and promote.
As I’d been working non-stop to get the film edited for the start of December, I had only been able to promote the film locally, and not exactly to an exhaustive degree. Given a longer time period (or a bigger team at this point) I could have promoted the film before we left for our big adventure. However, I’m glad I had the seven months to build a promotional plan as I unlocked a great deal of secrets and feel more than confident now that I know exactly how to promote a film and reach an audience (without spending a penny). I openly admit, before ‘I WORK’ I was clueless.
Over the course of the seven months I slowly built a strong twitter following, set up the Quandary Productions Filmmaker Support Scheme, made the decision to support charities around the world which we had visited, with 5% of all our profits, and made a thorough list of promotional material I would release in order to get the film the attention we felt it deserved. When we returned, all the hard work paid off. We made back the (modest) budget in the first ten minutes of release, and ‘I WORK’ has started to receive something of a cult-following online.
We’ve proved to ourselves that we can make a film on the slimmest of budgets, we’ve proved we can make a great film on that kind of budget, we’ve proved self-promotion and distribution can work. So what’s next?
Well, obviously crowdfunding has really taken off over the past year or so, and we’ll be taking full advantage by running our own campaign (not using a crowdfunding site, but running it privately through www.michaelhenryfilm.com ) from September 15th, to raise the very modest sum of £5000 (it’s all we need!). The project is ‘Narcissist’ – the story of a friendship between two aspiring actors, put to the test, as they use their former insecurities to become masters of picking up women. What starts as friendly competition, soon turns to something more sinister, as their attitudes toward women, relationships, and how they perceive themselves radically change. Comedy/Drama feature film. Please support and spread the word when it all kicks off September 15th.
‘Narcissist’ is relatively small in comparison to our other plans though. Our hope is to grow our troupe of actors (currently consisting of seven wonderful people) to a full-on ensemble of regulars, similar to that of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s, so we can write for, and always have available, actors for our projects, whilst simultaneously promoting them to other production companies. We will also be looking for more collaborators for the Quandary Productions team, such as Art Director, Production and Promotion Assistants, all whilst helping make the ideas of fellow Quandary Productions team members come to life (expect short films, online sketch shows, and web series’ in 2013).
And of course, we’ll continue to help others through our Filmmaker Support Scheme (soon-to-be Artist Support Scheme), and hopefully in the not-too-distant future we’ll be raising our donations to charities around the world from 5% to 10%. The next twelve months look set to be even more exciting!
I WORK is available now on DVD, via On Demand, and through Digital Download – from our online shop. Each purchase includes a free filmmaking e-book ‘How we made ‘I WORK’ for under £300′