Most of us wouldn’t get much out of $70. A pair of tennis shoes, a week’s worth of groceries. Welsh moviemaker Marc Price, on the other hand, turned that paltry sum into a feature film, a coveted slot at the Cannes Film Festival and the uncontested right to call himself a moviemaker.
Price’s debut feature, the 97-minute zombie thriller Colin, stunned industry insiders with a strong showing at Cannes. The film has been well received by the horror community, garnering positive reviews and an enthusiastic response from audiences. But it’s the picture’s sub-$100 price tag, made possible by the volunteers who supplied equipment and costumes at no charge, that has put Price and his movie on the radar of major distributors and the moviemaking community at large.
“We looked at what was available and found a way to tell our story using what we had rather than blindly rushing into a script that required a ton of CG and a wealth of locations that we wouldn’t be able to control,” says Price, who never attended film school and learned most of his directorial knowledge from the making-of bonus features in his DVD collection. “We became these opportunistic prop guys, walking home from our day jobs and stumbling upon objects thinking ‘Hmm… That would make a good weapon!’ and taking it home with us. Or we’d use Facebook to try to find objects that we could use.”
This use-what-you-can-find approach extended to the equipment as well. Colin was shot with two consumer Panasonic camcorders: An NV-GS250 and an NV-DS15. Sets were lit with “the kind of ugly, hot, yellow halogen garden lights that would turn a professional DP to stone.” Price edited his film with basic desktop editing software that came with a video capture card he bought years ago.
“I cut it all together and mixed the sound in Adobe Premiere 6.0… Not even an up-to-date version of Premiere!” he says (rather proudly).
The sound design was based on an “inaccurate memory” of the climactic shootout from Michael Mann’s Miami Vice. “I think the cinema we caught the movie at was a bit rubbish and the sound peaked quite a lot as the bullets shredded through metal. I thought this would be a great way to deal with the sound in Colin.
“So we recorded everything in-camera, including all the ADR, sound effects and Foley. The idea was to embrace the sound flaws that come with on-board mics and incorporate them into the sound design.”
Abetting Colin’s success are its convincing special effects. “The make-up people were fantastic,” Price says. “At the start we said, ‘It’s up to you guys to get out of it what you put into it.’ So they had the freedom to make whatever zombies they wanted, as long as they were prepared to also create the ghouls that we specifically asked for.
“We ended up with four ladies who would leave their equipment with us and even showed us how to make zombies ourselves. We’d have a friendly competition where the real make-up girls would have to make better zombies than us. They did this easily, of course, and it all helped make a better film.”
The make-up artists, like the actors, were volunteers, and brought their own supplies every day. “They had plenty of liquid latex and we knew how to make blood using everyday household stuff,” notes Price.
The film’s “costume department” followed a similar DIY approach. “We asked anyone volunteering for the day to bring clothes they didn’t mind getting destroyed,” recalls Price. “I have a whole heap of clothes that found themselves sacrificed to fire and scissors to become zombie outfits.”
Another invaluable asset came in the form of unexpected help from make-up artist Michelle Webb, whose resume includes work on X-Men: The Last Stand. How did Price manage to recruit such a highly regarded professional?
“I put out a couple of ads on mandy.com and talentcircle.org,” he says. “I met a lot of people and they were all very talented, but none were as enthusiastic or as kind as Michelle, who at first offered to come down and simply help out. But after meeting for a coffee, she instantly became someone I turned to for any make-up advice. I was also excited to hear that she glued the sideburns on Hugh Jackman for an X-Men movie! I have no idea why she’d want to work on a cheap-as-chips zombie movie after that, but she did and ended up our head make-up artist.”
Price and his team understood the importance of maximizing what few resources they had. “I always felt that the key to completing the film would be based on what was available to us,” Price says, “mainly Alastair Kirton and the amazing actors who volunteered to be in the film just for the fun of it.
“With the exception of make-up and music, we had carefully considered absolutely everything. For the areas where we didn’t have the technical skill or financing to be able to create something as written, we looked at what effect we wanted that specific moment to have on an audience. We then looked at ways to achieve that effect so that the essence of what we were trying to do would be captured. Sometimes we could get that effect across using a camera angle… other occasions required the foresight and understanding of sound design and editing techniques to get around problems.”
Price says he encountered none of the problems that might be expected when working with a cast and crew comprised entirely of volunteers, but stresses the importance of a supportive and respectful on-set atmosphere. “Working on the film has been one of the best experiences of my life,” he says. “When you get a room full of people working for free, you appreciate the contribution of every single one of them. We made a point of treating everyone with a lot of respect and encouraged ideas from anyone.
“This may sound like a lack of on-set discipline, but people always seemed to know when to make a suggestion and we made a point that if an idea was to be rejected, it would be rejected in a way that would allow them to feel they could suggest something else.”
Price has one message for aspiring moviemakers: “The one thing I’d want more than anything else is for other people to realize that they aren’t beholden to funding or risking their own money in order to tell the stories they want to tell… I like the idea of someone grabbing a camera or borrowing one from a relative to make their own movies.” MM
April Snellings is an entertainment journalist based in Knoxville, TN. She studied moviemaking at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts.