The Tunnel, from Australian director Carlo Ledesma, is the story of five journalists who encounter more than they bargained for while investigating a network of abandoned tunnels underneath Sydney. The only thing more shocking than this Blair Witch-esque horror flick is its ticket price: Zero. Yes, free. The Tunnel is now available to download through BitTorrent clients as part of’s Artist Spotlight program, which digitally promotes the work of its featured artists. MovieMaker spoke to Ledesma about his experience shooting The Tunnel and about the film’s unusual method of distribution.

Samantha Husik (MM): Your film will be available for download for free through BitTorrent clients. Why did you decide to go with digital distribution? Can you explain how works and why you partnered with them? How do you plan to make money if you’re giving your film away for free?

Carlo Ledesma (CL): The idea to distribute The Tunnel on torrents came from Enzo Tedeschi and Julian Harvey, the film’s writer-producers. We decided to explore sharing our film online for free because we wanted to tap into a resource that is, at the moment, more commonly associated with pirated films. We thought that if we could reach out to that audience, garner their support and ask them to share our film legally, then hopefully they would respond to us in a positive way and support us even further by buying frames of our movie, donating and buying our special edition DVD.

VODO is a terrific resource, because the films they promote are legal to download and people can download and share them without repercussions. When they came onboard and agreed to support The Tunnel we were incredibly excited because they have some quality content and are backed by millions of people all over the world. To us, that was the main goal as first-time feature filmmakers: To get our work seen by as many people as possible.

Hopefully, the financial benefit for us in the long run will come in the form of frame sales, DVD sales and TV and theatrical screenings. To date, Showtime has secured our Australian TV rights, and Transmission Films has come onboard to handle DVD distribution in Australia and New Zealand. We’ve also managed to secure a limited theatrical run in Sydney for the month of June, with a few film festivals to follow.

So, whilst it’s still early days, the signs have been very encouraging. The words of support we’ve been getting on our Facebook page have been incredible. What would have cost us millions of dollars in advertising money to promote our film, we have managed to do almost for free via social networking, which is an absolutely indispensable tool if you want to be a filmmaker today.

MM: You shot on location in underground tunnels in Sydney. What were the difficulties of shooting in that space? Did you have any real-life scary moments in the tunnels?

CL: The toughest challenge by far was having to shoot in the dark. You switch off all your lights and you literally cannot see your hand in front of you. Because we were in tunnels that hadn’t been used in decades, we had to rely on flashlights to make our way around. Throw in collapsing floors, protruding metal bars, and walls that got tighter and tighter as you went down deeper, and you had 12 hour days that were just grueling.

The scariest moment for us didn’t come in the form of anything supernatural, but as something more potentially damaging. One of our key underground locations had a particular type of dust floating around. A red flag was raised by our production designer, [who said] that the dust could very well be asbestos. So we had to shut down filming for a couple of days while a team of experts came in and did tests. Thankfully it wasn’t asbestos, but even then, just the possibility of what it could have been made us all wear masks for the duration of the shoot. I felt like a surgeon in the grimiest, dirtiest hospital ever built.

MM: You made The Tunnel for $135,000. Do you have any advice for independent filmmakers on how to make a film on a tight budget without compromising their vision?

CL: The classic pieces of advice that are always dispensed in indie-land are “Write what you know” and “Write things in your script that you have instant access to.” In El Mariachi, Robert Rodriguez wrote a guitar, a small town, and a turtle into his script because he had access to all of those things.

A third piece of advice: Work with what you know you cannot get. In our case, we knew we wouldn’t have the budget to bring a massive lighting kit into the tunnels, so we tailored the story to work around one main light source: The light attached to the camera. We knew we wouldn’t be able to afford shooting in the actual underground lake, so we scrounged around and found a swimming pool which we then creatively gaffer-taped to look like the lake. I also knew as early as pre-production that I wouldn’t have enough time to shoot exclusively underground. In order to maximize the amount of coverage we’d be able to shoot in the tunnels, I took the script and identified scenes I could film in one continuous take. To be able to do this, I made sure I rehearsed extensively with the actors, who had to know their characters well enough to improvise their way across a 15-20 minute scene. This saved us a lot of time and preserved the spontaneous docu-feel that we were after.

At the end of the day, I think it’s also important for filmmakers not to use the lack of money as an excuse for a film looking a certain way. Don’t apologize for your budget, but challenge yourself creatively to make your film look like it costs five times more. With The Tunnel, I didn’t want it to be 90 minutes of grainy HDV handheld footage. I wanted to incorporate other cameras to suit particular scenes. That’s why you’ll see interview sections shot on RED to balance out the frenetic handheld sequences. The opening title sequence, which was shot on the RED and the Canon 5D, was crucial as well. I wanted to present Sydney in an elegant, yet strangely gothic way that the world isn’t quite used to seeing.

Whether you have a huge budget or not, the heart of any film is the story. For me, it was important for people not just to know about The Tunnel because of its “clever funding and marketing gimmick,” but also because of its own merits as a film. So while the producers were busy nurturing the growing online community, I purposely tried to shield myself from all of that. I just focused on getting the story locked in and the actors in the right headspace. There was a bit of pressure knowing that there was a slowly-growing audience eager to see the film, and I certainly didn’t want to disappoint them.

MM: Any more films in the works? If so, will you stick to horror or focus on another genre? Will you distribute your future films digitally?

CL: I’m working on a new feature script at the moment. It’s a horror film, but it’s totally different from The Tunnel, and it departs entirely from the found footage genre. Enzo and Jules are working on their own script as well, and it will be one of those two projects that we will most likely be doing next. We’ve also got several other ideas which aren’t horror-related. We just love films of all genres and, as a director, I certainly wouldn’t want to be locked into doing horror for the rest of my career.

Now, as to whether I would like to distribute any of my future films digitally, I would answer “Yes,” but hopefully within a strategy that includes a theatrical release, DVD, VOD and everything else. The way people watch movies is evolving, and we need to constantly challenge ourselves to keep up. As a filmmaker, I still love the undeniable magic in seeing a movie projected in 35mm film print on a massive theatre screen. Nothing will ever beat that. But at the same time, I also want to be able to connect with an audience of people who choose to watch films on their own schedule, on their own devices and on their own terms. The Tunnel is our attempt to find that elusive middle ground between being able to satisfy that audience and still being commercially successful. Time will tell if our little experiment works.

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