What You Can Learn From A $70 Zombie Movie That Was The Buzz Of The Cannes Film Festival

In: case studies| entrepreneur| ideas

14 Sep 2009

marc_price_colin_zombie_movieAspiring filmmaker Marc Price wanted to make a zombie movie, but had no budget to work with. However, he didn’t let that stop him.

For about $70, he managed to shoot, edit and release COLIN, a full-length movie about a zombie invasion, told from the point of view of an infected zombie. COLIN created a buzz when it was screened at the Cannes Film Festival a few months ago and managed to secure a distribution deal for limited release in UK theaters. The film is also being considered for distribution in the US and Asia.

Aside from being an inspiration for other amateur filmmakers, Marc has a lot to teach everyone about executing big ideas on a small budget. He was gracious enough to answer a few questions for us.

1. How was the idea for COLIN born? Did you write the script then figure out a way to shoot it, or did you write the script based on what you could do on a small budget?

We definitely approached the story knowing what we would have available to us. Particularly actors. I knew that someone like Alastair Kirton could carry the movie on his shoulders and we’d be able to find great supporting cast members to keep each scene interesting and full of character. We also knew what locations would look suitably desolate at particular times of the day and we planned to use that to our advantage.

Lesson: Learn to work with what you have available.

2. How did you go about learning what you needed to know to make COLIN a reality (both on the movie-making side and the special effects side)? What kind of relevant skills did you have going into this project, and how much did you have to learn on the fly?

I’d been shooting and editing the film for a few months when someone gave me a copy of Robert Rodriguez’s “Rebel Without A Crew.” Whether its getting to know your camera, how you’re going to edit your shots or how you’re going to design the sound, Rodriguez insists that it’s important to know your way around the film-making process.

Only when I read that did I realize that the experience gathered working on our shorts helped us get to know what we could and could not do. Most importantly, it gave us a good idea of what can work effectively on an audience. We’d find ourselves looking at what effect we’d want a scene or moment to have on the viewer, then look at what we had available to us and find the best way to achieve that effect.

In terms of make-up we didn’t know a thing at the start of production. We didn’t know what materials we’d need or how to apply them. Luckily we had Michelle Webb who would not only handle some of our more complex make-up jobs, but she would actually show us how to apply make-up to actors and leave equipment with us for the days she wasn’t available.

Lesson: It’s important to study as many different aspects of a business as possible. But when you don’t know something, find someone who does.

3. With a budget this small, you had to convince a lot of people to work for free, both in front of and behind the camera? How did you get so many people to donate their time?

I guess most of the favors came from the actors and make-up people. I asked the make-up guys to bring their own materials and gave them the freedom to create any zombie they wanted providing we could have the specific ones we asked for. We ended up with some incredible zombies and the make-up team were very generous in showing us how to do it ourselves. I was very lucky to know a lot of actors who could bring incredible layers of depth to relatively small parts.

As for the crew I found myself taking on the majority of production roles (like many low budget film makers, I guess). But I have no practical skill at building props or weapons so my flatmate spent a lot of his time finding objects on the way home from work and adapting them into interesting effects rigs or exciting props.

I think the key is to treat everyone with a lot of respect. Ultimately when you get a bunch of people working for free on anything it always starts with them caring a great deal for the project. We just tried to even the playing field a bit so that everyone was aware of how important their role was in the film. We said “please” and “thank you” a lot and although we weren’t really feeding anyone, general courtesies such as tea and coffee were always available and people were kept busy with as little waiting around as possible.

Lesson: Look within your personal network to find people to help you out, then get them personally invested in your success. Respect their time and their effort.

4. The movie takes a new approach to the zombie genre, telling the story from the perspective of a zombie. How much do you think the novelty of this unique approach has contributed to the success of COLIN?

It’s difficult to say. The audience response to the film so far has been very positive, which is obviously far more important to us than anything else. Hopefully if an audience embraced the movie, the low budget element will work to inspire other filmmakers to make their own movies using whatever equipment they have available.

It certainly felt like we had a lot of material to explore and what I really wanted was a solid emotional core that could get under the skin. To create a character we could genuinely care for and have a vested interest in his journey.

Lesson: A gimmick or novelty can help generate initial interest, but it needs to be backed up by substance.

5. How has the fact that the movie was done on a such a small budget contributed to interest in the movie? Do you think that is one of that factors that makes the movie so unique? Would it have been as successful on a larger budget?

The “£45 ($70) zombie movie” thing is certainly a good platform to start discussing what we wanted to do with the movie in terms of story, character and especially how we managed to get it made. So I certainly don’t resent it. But I do worry that the label can get old pretty fast.

If the film would have cost a few thousand pounds or even a few hundred I doubt it would have had as much attention. I think circumstance played a large factor in that it was a relatively quiet Cannes Festival, the global economic crisis was at the forefront of everyone’s mind and our film happened to be a story that someone thought would be interesting. It kind of took off in its own small way.

Lesson: What seems like a negative, such as a bad economy, can provide unexpected opportunities. And fewer people doing things lessens your competition.

6. Making a movie on a such a small budget is a huge undertaking. What made you think you could actually pull this off? Did you go in with sort of a “let’s see if we can do this” attitude or was it more of “I know we can do this.”

I didn’t really think about it (I hope that doesn’t sound irritatingly naive). Aside from the larger action sequences the bulk of the movie was essentially me, the camcorder, Alastair Kirton as Colin and any actor along for that day or morning. When you think about it like that, knowing what locations we had available to us and how we were planning on editing everything together with the sound design. It was more a case of “this is what we’re going to do! Now let’s go an do it till it gets done!” I didn’t really ask if it was feasible, but the idea of taking our script to someone who would decide whether it was worthy enough to make into a movie didn’t really appeal to me.

Lesson: Overthinking can be destructive. Focus on the task at-hand, work to get it done, then move on to the next task.

7. What’s next for the movie COLIN? What’s next for you personally?

The plan with COLIN was always to show what we could responsibly create in order to get the next film made. But I despise the sort of film-making that would use a genre film just “to break into the industry.” Our efforts first and foremost was to try and make a film that an audience would respond to emotionally and it would be the quality of how we achieved that which would hopefully allow us to acquire a fairly modest budget. The plan for the next film is to hang onto our low-budget ethics long in order to retain control over our projects and grow as a team.

Lesson: A small-budget approach provides creative freedom and can open doors to bigger things.

Not Just For Making Zombie Movies
Hearing how Marc went about making COLIN has a lot to teach us about making things happen. Hopefully his story will inspire you to work with what you have to bring your ideas to life.

Thanks to Marc for taking the time to share his experience with us. For more information about both Marc Price and his movie COLIN, be sure to visit www.colinmovie.com

Share Button
Mark Webster

About Mark Webster

One of the Co-Founders of SideTour, former TechStar (NYC Summer 2011), ex-NBA'er, and past TechCrunch Disrupt Hackathon Winner.