A Zero Budget Filmmaking Story – Emperor
I want to share with you this story about low budget film making… In case you have watched my film Emperor you might have already read parts of it in the movie description – here’s Adrian’s (DoP, producer, main actor, sound engineer and sound designer) and my statement on how we made a full feature for (almost) nothing:
In Nov 2007, we got together to talk about our movie careers. Juliane was tired of waiting for money to drop from the Gods of Film Funding, and Adrian has had enough of TV bullshit. We wanted to test ourselves to see if we could make a movie for nothing, so we worked around the mantra; “if you don’t have money, you can’t spend money.” Making a movie this way keeps the stakes low and the fun factor high for us. If there’s zero budget, there’s zero risk for damage.
The genesis for the “Emperor” project was we wanted to do a practice movie, with absolutely no money, at our own time, using any and every available resource around us, and utilizing both Malaysia and Germany (where Julie is from) as locations.
So we kept the premise simple; an action-chase movie, where one guy runs around getting chased by the mob.
Months earlier, we had started putting ourselves out there as filmmakers who were looking for cast and crew to work with. We signed up for acting classes and took part in local theater (Juliane had to learn Tamil for one of them). We made a lot of friends, and treated everyone as nicely as possible (keeping in mind that some or all of them may become useful as cast or crew later on). We shot a short film called “Unsecured Loan”, where we learnt that working with a traditional-sized movie crew could be a pain, especially Malaysian ones. Hence, we developed a system of doing it all by ourselves.
So we hung out and developed the idea further. As we got seriously into pre-production, Braham Singh came to us and offered to adapt the first draft of his novel “Emperor”, which we developed and weaved into the idea we started with. The story in the movie was born.
Principal shooting began in Germany, over Christmas 2007, and quickly continued back in Malaysia. We literally did everything ourselves. Juliane was director, production manager, AD, secondary camera operator and SFX make-up artist. Adrian was lead actor, DP, primary camera operator, sound supervisor, gaffer and driver. However, credits were also given out deservingly as we had many dedicated helpers on set, and they made us look more heroic than it sounds. Consisting mainly of students and film buffs, we are proud to say that by the end of the “Emperor” shoots, they had graduated into a bona fide film crew.
One of the key to successfully making this movie was, we had not 1, but 3 plan B’s! “If this doesn’t work, we do this. If this person doesn’t turn up, we use this guy” kind of thing. We planned everything to hell, and then somemore. The process was almost mechanical, with little or no space for experimentation. The results however, felt organic, because to a certain extent, it was ALL experiment. The main focus was to FINISH THE SHOOT.
We finished principal shooting in March, took a short break, and went deep into post-production. We had put together a simple setup of iMacs with Apple’s Final Cut Studio and an audio-post room, which we now affectionately call “The Factory Movie Studio”.
Post-production was a similar story, we did everything ourselves. Juliane did graphics and editing, Adrian did sound design, scored most of the movie, and supervised a couple of collaborators for additional music. When it came to crunch time, we went shopping for quick-preparation foods (supplemented with lots of coffee, chocolate, ice-cream and muesli bars), disappeared from society to camp at the “Factory” (note: no heated shower), and emerged weeks later with a finished movie.
Now we have a movie. So what do we do with it? Fortunately, Juliane was selected for the Berlinale Talent Campus earlier in February, and had met many inspiring characters like Mike Figgis, M Dot Strange and Arin Crumley, who are pioneers in new age film distribution and marketing. Bringing back her experiences and lessons from these gurus, we decided to do it ourselves too, thus completing the whole process independently.
We are now in the process of finding our audience in the new era of social networking: Youtube, Facebook and Myspace, and Filmannex to generate interest in the movie and ourselves as filmmakers.
It is our sincere hope that you will help us on this journey!