DIY Filmmakers Explain How to Make a Horror Film On the Cheap
Feminist film collective The Final Girls are going on a UK-wide tour with "We Are the Weirdos," a showcase of horror shorts. Ahead of a special Broadly readers party, we caught up with the female directors pioneering a new approach to horror films.
Still from Shortcut, by Prano Bailey-Bond. Image courtesy of the director.
To celebrate Halloween, we have 40 free tickets to give away to Broadly readers to enjoy an October 31 screening of The Final Girls' We Are The Weirdos at The Horse Hospital in London. Join us for free Old Blue Last beer, a panel discussion featuring the filmmakers hosted by Broadly UK editor Zing Tsjeng, posters and zines. Win tickets to the Broadly special on DICE here.
If the events of the last month have taught us anything, it's that women have historically had a poor time of it in the film industry—and that's unlikely to change overnight, regardless of whether or not Harvey Weinstein ends up in jail.
Hollywood sucks at putting women on screen—and it sucks harder when it comes to getting women behind the camera. In almost every aspect of production, from directors to camera operators, women are shut out of the film industry.
And of all the movie genres, horror has been especially unkind to women. The final girl trope—in which the last character standing in the movie is also its most virginal—requires women to be chaste, pure, and physically attractive. (Beware the girl who has sex on screen, because she'll always get killed off in the opening scenes.)
Now, a new generation of women filmmakers is attempting to subvert the genre by championing a DIY approach to production and distribution.
Feminist horror collective The Final Girls are fighting to reclaim horror as a genre for women and by women. They're going on a UK-wide screening tour with We Are The Weirdos, a showcase of short films from up-and-coming female directors that feature characters like a college student whose skin mysteriously starts peeling off after a one night stand; a cyber-stalker punishing married men for using dating apps, and a ghoulish figure who murders late-night revellers in a bar. It even features a cameo from the master of horror himself, John Carpenter—and one of the films was made on a budget of about $265.
And the DIY approach extends to the film's release, as well as its creation. The Final Girls are self-distributing We Are The Weirdos in cinemas across the country. "We've had to do absolutely ourselves," say co-founders Anna Bogutskaya and Olivia Howe. Without distributors to help create buzz around the film, and huge advertising budgets, Bogutskaya and Howe have to ask audiences to trust them.
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They explain that it's all worth it to highlight emerging female directors: "One of the core objectives of The Final Girls from the beginning is to create a supportive platform to some of the talented filmmakers that we are excited about in the genre world."
But how do you create a film on a shoestring budget—and persuade horror legends like John Carpenter to appear? We asked some of the female directors of We Are The Weirdos to explain how to create a horror classic on the cheap.
The Final Girls program of the most exciting new female voices in genre cinema, We Are The Weirdos, is coming to cinemas across the UK this Halloween. If you're unable to come to the free Broadly readers party, you can purchase tickets here. If you would like to screen We Are the Weirdos in your local cinema, get in touch with The Final Girls on firstname.lastname@example.org
Prano Bailey-Bond, Shortcut director
I started making films when I was about 16 or 17 years old, living in Wales, shooting stuff on my digital video camera with my mates. I remember the police getting called out to one of my shoots after someone reporting two men bleeding and fighting in the park, but it was just us, making guerrilla films. I'd get my mom to come out with her car and use her headlights to light the scenes and stuff. It was all very beg and borrow—no stealing though! From there I moved to London and went to London College of Printing where I studied practical filmmaking, and met some of the people who I still work with today.
I'm drawn to dark tales that explore our fears, repressions and mysterious impulses; I guess I want to poke around in the shady areas of human nature. I'm probably a weirdo. Actually, I definitely am.
When shooting on a budget, find a location that inspires you, and write something to fit that location. If you're working with a low or no budget, then you don't want to write something set in a castle (unless you have access to one of course) or somewhere that's going to cost you loads of money for hardly any time. Find somewhere you can shoot in without huge time or money pressures. Think about who you know, and what kind of resources you have access to—ask your mates to get involved and utilize their strengths and talents. Basically build the project around the resources you have available. Be flexible and be imaginative.
DIY cinema is where original voices form. Digital technologies have opened up filmmaking to a much wider range of people from different backgrounds and countries, and this provides audiences with a really rich landscape of stories to choose from. It's important that we encourage new, original storytellers, and being able to tell your story shouldn't come down to how much money you have. Also, everyone needs to start somewhere. No one is going to give you any money until you've proved you can do it, so it can end up being a bit chicken and egg, and DIY is kind of the only option for some people to get started. I think we can support DIY filmmakers by sharing tips and advice, and making sure that there are opportunities for collaborators to meet one another and pool resources.
Gabriela Staniszewska, I Should Have Run director
I am 35 years old and only came to filmmaking in earnest after I turned 30, when I produced a short zombie film from scratch. I Should Have Run is a film about the pointlessness of lying to yourself, no matter what may drive you to do so. I wrote the voiceover poem for it in the wake of my best friend's suicide. I was in rather a deep pit of grief and the poem just flowed out of me. I used the process of making the film to explore the deepest recesses of my grief, trying to face up to it as much as I could.
We made I Should Have Run on £200 [roughly $265], with just four of us on the local railway path at 3AM. I made the sandwiches and bought the black rope we needed for the effect. Having some very talented people willing to work for the love of the project in your corner also helps immensely. I couldn't have made the film without the tireless efforts on my tiny crew, as well as the immeasurable talents of both our composer and sound designer. Sound is very important in horror, and Tom Hobb's work really makes the film in my opinion.
I am in the film, as I couldn't afford an actor, so that solved that issue. We found a YouTube video on the special effect we wanted to do and bought the rope from a sex shop (the only place you can get black rope from, by the way). There is no blood or gore in our film, for budget reasons really. The audience never sees the monster either. What the audience imagines themselves is far more terrifying than whatever I can offer, so I try to set up an environment of fear, and the audience brings whatever terrifies them to the table. Horror is great for this.
My advice to film-makers would be to distill your idea until it can be placed in any timezone, any era on any budget. Then make it. If the story is strong enough, it will shine through with both high or low production values.
Amelia Moses, Undress Me director
I've wanted to be a director since I was about ten years old (I'm 24 now.) Undress Me is the first short film I made outside of film school and that was very liberating because I had no one else to please except for myself.
I've always loved horror, I've always been drawn to it as a genre—I grew up watching classics like the Hammer films, Rosemary's Baby, and An American Werewolf in London. Undress Me initially started with an image I had in my head of someone's body deteriorating during sex and from there I worked backwards, creating the story in order to get to that final image (or close to it). I really wanted to work within the body-horror genre and not only create something that was gruesome and horrifying but something that also explored deeper themes in terms of social conformity and anxiety.
The biggest challenge really was trying to do all the effects on a small budget. Luckily the makeup and effects team were really great at finding cheap solutions to things. I tried to be as flexible as possible with the gore effects—I was open to adjusting the script in order to fit in what was possible effects wise.
Another thing that helped was that I wasn't going for a strictly realistic look. For me it was less about realism and more about making creative choices in terms of how the body-horror elements were displayed. The film is obviously heavily inspired by early David Cronenberg and I find in his films the gore effects feel so timeless not because they are realistic, but because they are shocking and creative and are used effectively within the world of the film.
DIY filmmaking breeds more diverse stories because it puts the creative power in the hands of people who wouldn't normally have that power. No one is giving you permission to make a film, so you have that creative freedom.