Ben and Jacob Burghart

Jacob and Ben Burghart wrote and directed their feature directorial debut, Head Count, using only the props and locations that they already had — and almost nothing they didn’t.

“We said, let’s write something that we can manage to do. Let’s write locations that we have, let’s write props and ’67 Mustangs that we have access to, and make something doable for our budget and in a way that looks way more expensive and had way more production value than we actually had. It turned out really great, and we had a really great crew helping us all the way,” Jacob Burghart told MovieMaker.

It’s a strategy they had to learn the hard way.

“As a filmmaker, especially as a younger or starting out filmmaker, you have a tendency for your eyes to be bigger than your stomach and your ambitions to be bigger than your resources. Ben and I were certainly like that,” he added. “At a certain point, we knew that we needed to have everything meet — our ambition and what we had available — at the right spot. I think that was a good lesson we learned.”

Making Head Count

Directed by the Burghart brothers and written by them and Josh Doke, Head Count follows Kat (Aaron Jakubenko) who escapes from prison only to find his own revolver pointed at his head by an unknown assailant. As the empty rounds click away, Kat tries to remember what happened to each bullet.

The film also stars Melani Zanetti, Ryan Kwanten, Polaris Banks, Addam Bramich, and Chris Bylsma.

In addition to several short films including “Suspense” (2020) and “Neon Veins: Hemmohrage” (2015), the Burghart brothers had already made a short film version of Head Count in 2014 for a 48-hour film festival, which called on that same spirit of using only what was immediately available in order to complete the entire film in two days.

Head Count
Aaron Jakubenko in Head Count courtesy of the Burghart brothers

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“We really liked this concept of the revolver and the empty rounds, and every bullet is a memory of how this guy got here,” Jacob Burghart said.

They decided to put everything they’d learned from previous projects to use on the feature version of Head Count, which MovieMaker is proud to support through MovieMaker Production Services.

“The biggest lesson we learned was, for some of our other scripts and ideas, there’s usually one or two things that we just don’t have, and we’re like, ‘If we could just get that, then everything else will fall into place.’ And then that doesn’t always happen,” Ben Burghart said.

“So we got to the point where we were like, even if we only had a few thousand [dollars], what could we make? We had friends who had a bar location, our brother-in-law had a ’67 Mustang… so basically, we would take what we knew we had, and then we were like, Okay, let’s write a scene around this because we know we can get it for the right price,” he added.

“Instead of a scene being written entirely from nothing, we’re like, here’s the piece we have — let’s write around it, and then let’s connect all the pieces in the end.”

Head Count will have its first premiere on Sept. 27 at Screenland Armour in Kansas City, Missouri. You can find tickets here. Its Los Angeles premiere will be held on Oct. 4 at the Laemmle Royal. It will also play at the Tallgrass Film Festival on Oct. 6.

The film will play in select theaters across the country for one week starting on Sept. 29, when it will also be released on VOD. You can buy it on DVD starting Nov. 14. You can watch the trailer here.

Main Image: Jacob and Ben Burghart courtesy of the Burghart brothers.