On the surface, Skinamarink looks like one of the greatest indie-film success stories. Director Kyle Edward Ball says he and his team managed to make their horror hit for the very low budget of about $10,000 by planning everything “like we were going to climb Mount Everest.” It went on to make $2 million at the box office.
But for all that planning, the Canadian production suffered wild ups and downs no one could have anticipated, and a terrible tragedy.
Skinamarink tells the story of young siblings Kevin (Lucas Paul) and Kaylee (Dali Rose Tetreault), who wake up one morning to find their father (Ross Paul) is missing. The only light in the house comes from their TV, because the home’s doors and windows have mysteriously vanished as well. For 100 minutes, they wait for their dad to show up, or the lights to come on. Time passes in strange ways. It’s a child’s nightmare.
Real-life tragedy came to the film when assistant director Josh Bookhalter died just after filming was complete. He also ran sound for the shoot, and the audio files were still on his computer at the time of his death. Ball took time away from the project to grieve his friend. Then, in time, he reached out to Bookhalter’s family to retrieve the audio files. They agreed the film should be completed in his memory.
Last summer, during its festival run, Skinamarink leaked online, appearing in TikTok clips that received over 20 million views. It was obviously not the ideal way for the movie to be seen, but it became a marketing blessing in disguise. Shudder decided to release the film in theaters this past January after it became an underground sensation, and soon viewers who didn’t see it in theaters could stream it on Shudder at home.
Ball says the experience of almost losing Skinamarink, several times, and then watching it become a box office hit, left him feeling like “Carrie at the prom, but, in a good way… before the blood.”
The Rules of Skinamarink
He said the film’s survival, and ultimate success, came down to two principles. No. 1 is simple: Be graceful.
“A lot of filmmakers gave me bad advice, so take what I say with a grain of salt, but just be nice, try to be human, try to be empathetic,” Ball says. “Being an asshole when you’re first starting out will do us zero favors in the long run. You’ll regret being an asshole.”
Principle No. 2: Create a set of rules for the shoot.
“The rules that I created would make the movie different, would deliver the atmosphere I wanted, and also would keep us under budget. The rules are: We never see the character’s faces and their dialogue is delivered off screen. We would only use one location and only see the four characters,” says Ball. “We don’t see the outside and there’s no sunlight coming in before the windows and doors disappear. There’s no musical soundtrack, so any music will be incidental stuff coming off the television.”
Ball shot Skinamarink in his childhood home, which eliminated location fees. Another advantage: Director of photography Jamie McRae worked at a local film and video co-up, and used a treasure trove of personal rental credit on the production.
“We were able to rent a ton of gear for zero dollars,” says Ball. “If that had been another production and they received the member rates, the rental costs would have been $5,000 to $10,000. So I did have a lot in my favor to make a fairly cheap little shoot.”
Skinamarink Budget Breakdown
Most of his production expenses — about 15,000 Canadian dollars, or roughly $10,000 — went to paying Skinamarink’s team. Bookhalter and McRae were each paid a flat fee of $2,000. The director wished it could have been higher, “but it’s the most anyone was paid because Josh and Jamie were on the shoot the entire time and had to do a lot in pre-production,” he says.
Ball took a $1,000 director’s fee, which he used to buy a computer to edit the movie. “Before that, I was using this dinky, $500 business laptop to edit videos and it was on its last legs,” he says.
Under Ball’s plan, he only needed glimpses of the characters and never showed their faces, so each actor only worked one day of the entire shoot. They all received $150 each, including the child actors, who only worked a half day.
Ross Paul, who plays Kevin and Kaylee’s dad, received an extra $100 for gas because he had a two-hour drive from Red Deer to the shoot in Edmonton, Alberta. Jamie Hill, who plays the children’s mother, received $150 for filming one-third of a day. The remaining budget paid for props, gas, craft services.
“Oh, and fake blood,” says Ball.
Skinamarink is now streaming on Shudder, from IFC Films.
Main image: Skinamarink mastermind Kyle Edward Bell, courtesy of IFC Films.