I recently completed my debut feature film entitled Committed. It’s an English-language romantic comedy about a chance meeting between a man and a runaway bride and it’s set on the gorgeous island of Cyprus. This small country has a keen, developing film industry that up until recently was funded by the government. With the arrival of the crisis about two years ago, these funds were slashed and filmmakers were left to fend for themselves. This is how Committed was born. I designed a film that could be made on next to nothing without compromising the story (too much) and raised funds through a crowd-funding campaign and an angel investor.
A shoe-string budget film is by no means a model to follow for life, but you have to start somewhere. So this is what your day looks like when you’re directing a micro-budget film: You’re up at 4am so you can put pastries in the oven (because this is cheaper than buying them at a bakery) after which you collect the actor’s shirts that you washed and tea-dyed the night before so you can iron them (because you can’t afford a stylist) and then you pick up that day’s packet of props (because you had to sacrifice a designated art director as well) and load up your car. You are also fully equipped with the world’s most detailed storyboard and breakdown because you have no assistant director or continuity person, so you’re counting purely on your notes and shooting schedule. You then car pool to your location (to minimise fuel costs) which is about an hour away as you’re doing a road trip movie so you have no location expenses or sets to build. You then finally get to wear the director’s cap, while still juggling your notes, walkie-talkies and some props and costumes. The movie takes place over one day so you’re shooting outdoors using mostly natural daylight so you minimise crew, equipment and set-up time. You have a core crew of 12 very dedicated people who learn to shoot and run like a mechanical travelling circus. You get to the end of your 12-hour day, you have a brief meeting with your actors to either rehearse, vent, drink or all of the above and then you go home so you can wash costumes, organise props, check shot lists and prepare for the next day. You repeat this for 17 days over 3 weeks and BAM! You have a film in the can!
That’s right, 17 days. A road trip movie with 25 different locations and a temperamental vintage car from 1958 in 17 days! We were filming in the rural parts of Cyprus so we also had the added challenges of dealing with unwanted set visitors like herds of goats, stray dogs and the occasional watermelon truck with a loudspeaker blaring “Patichaaaaaaa!” (Cypriot for “Watermelon”). Not to mention the blistering heat. Credit has to be given to our actors: Melia Kreiling (The Borgias, Guardians of the Galaxy), who had to wear a lace bodice and multi-layered wedding skirt, as well as gloves and stiletto heels for the duration of the shoot, and Orestes Sophocleous who wore a suit and had to perform while driving a difficult car with a camera strapped to the hood; so he couldn’t really see where he was going while having to maintain a certain speed to hit certain marks, all the while delivering his lines.
But we did it, and the little film that started out as an experiment has gone as far as being optioned for a Hollywood remake!
But perhaps more important than that is the local impact. The crisis and depletion of government funding may not have been such a bad thing. It just means that filmmakers who really want to tell their stories will find another way. It also means that they need to become a little more business-savvy in order to build an audience and create a local film industry that is self-sustainable. We have seen incredible movies come from our neighbouring country Greece during the darkest financial hour; and now it’s our turn. We haven’t felt the hit as hard, so the economic climate may not affect our content as much, but it will certainly affect the creative process, and perhaps for the better. Already a ripple effect has begun and at least three new independent features are in the works by local filmmakers, and it’s a wonderful thing to see!