Making a film in the West Midlands with next to no budget

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Producer Caroline Spence and her team ended up making a film in the West Midlands with little money – here, she takes us through just how it all happened.

Caroline Spence (@cspenceproducer)

Making movies is hard. Raising money to make them is even harder. We’ve spent years trying to raise funds to kick off our film projects, and we’ve come so close! Named actors attached, sales agent attached, locations sorted – you name it. Despite very positive reactions to our screenplays from Hollywood and London, as unknowns without a track record in feature film, the money just didn’t arrive.

Then an opportunity arose: the chance to base ourselves in the Midlands for a month, house-sitting in the coming November. We decided there and then to push forward and shoot our debut movie. We had no money for production – hey, we’re indie filmmakers and that’s normal! – but what if we experimented to see if we could make a feature film with commercial potential on no budget?

Community spirit

In June 2015, the screenplay was written (first draft completed in three weeks), and auditions followed in August. Locations were proving to be tricky, if not impossible, because this wasn’t our hometown and we didn’t know many people. After a few fruitless weeks, we were on the point of shelving the whole thing, when a small item about our proposed production appeared in the local MP’s newsletter. A local charity for disadvantaged youngsters saw this, got in touch offering help in return for us hosting a few talks and workshops. They then introduced us to a local entrepreneur who offered free run of his apartments and business premises, including a pizzeria, hairdresser and gym. The local parish council allowed us the use of a derelict pre-Victorian primary school, and now it was game on for production with all lights green to go!

So on a cold and misty morning on 2nd November 2015, principal photography for Do Something, Jake began.

Holding the ladder

Throughout the filming process, we were able to offer work experience, on-the-job training, referrals and CV points to university graduates and people of all ages wishing to make a start in the film industry. So it was about more than just making a movie – it was about education, experience and creating opportunity for everyone. The cast was diverse and seriously talented. Sixty-eight-year-old Sue Moore had just embarked on her acting career, and her audition with us was her very first. She won the role of ‘Grumpy Old Woman’ on the spot, and we are proud that Do Something, Jake was Sue’s first role on the big screen. Ed Bergtold, a very experienced actor from New Jersey, USA, flew himself over to star as lead bad guy Morten, and London-based actor Jamie Alderson, who took the lead role of Jake, based himself for three weeks in the Midlands for the duration of the shoot.

Production was intense with a tight schedule, which required many run-and-gun-style street shooting techniques on location. The weather was bitterly cold, and we commend all cast and crew who braved the elements without complaint. On the last two days of the shoot in particular, when we were choreographing complex scenes in the derelict primary school, the temperatures were permanently below zero. With no heating and the occasional power cut, cast members huddled around fan heaters with hot drinks, patiently waiting their turn to be called into action. When we finally called “It’s a wrap!”, the mood was ebullient, and we must have spent ten minutes or more hugging and congratulating each other. What a feeling!

The final stretch

Do Something, Jake then underwent a rollercoaster ride in post-production. With no budget to play with, it was a long haul, with some significant setbacks and obstacles to overcome. We had a few strokes of luck, however, with post-production professionals from Europe and Los Angeles (some of whom work on Hollywood blockbusters!) who had heard about the project and approached us to offer their help. Thanks to them, we completed the film, crowdfunded to raise funds for the BBFC certificate and DCP, and held our first screening for the general public. On 20th September 2018, in a packed Odeon Loughborough, our ambitious 110-minute zero-budget indie film was screened to an audience of 263 people, including the local MP and many film lovers. The big question for us: would they think that ‘no budget’ was ‘no good’?

To our massive relief, audience members described the film as “thrilling”, “gripping” and “inspiring”, and ended the screening with cheers and applause never before experienced by the local Odeon staff. Then came the UK premiere in London, which was a very different affair in the private cinema of the five-star Courthouse Hotel in the West End. On the evening of 15th November 2018, Londoners battled through deadlocked traffic and huge crowds drawn by the turning on of the Christmas lights, to watch and support our crazy Midlands indie movie. The event was supported by a number of celebrity models, television actors and personalities, including health guru Gillian McKeith, making this a very eclectic and lively premiere. We were hugely honoured that these people took the time to attend as – by their own admittance – many of them only watch Hollywood blockbusters, such as The Avengers. We were thrilled and surprised that their response to the film was so positive, since this was a much younger audience than the Midlands screening. The celebrity and audience members we spoke to praised different aspects of the plot, direction, acting, and production.

And now?

We’ve had some amazing responses and reviews, and this helps us in the next phase of our journey: to take Do Something, Jake across the pond to the Big Apple and find out what New Yorkers will think of our quirky British zero-budget movie.

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