How to Make a Micro-Budget Feature Film
words by Andrew David Barker
Writer/producer/director David Bryant is a man on a mission. With four micro-budget features to his name, including the horror flick Dead Wood and the award-winning thriller Victims, Bryant is pushing his work to the next level with his latest feature, Kindred, a psychological chiller about a grieving, agoraphobic recluse (John, brilliantly played by Bill Fellows) haunted by the brutal murder of his wife and son on Christmas Eve.
This is real DIY, balls-to-the-wall filmmaking, from a director with vision and a real sense of craft, raising him far beyond his budgetary constraints. Inspired by Oren Peli and his approach to making his low-hi horror hit Paranormal Activity, Bryant designed Kindred to be shot in his own home. (Bryant’s 2010 horror short Heebie Jeebies was selected by Peli personally to be featured on the Paranormal Activity DVD and Blu Ray.) Bryant said, “I designed to film to shoot in my own home. It gives you freedom to shoot any time without getting permissions and it’s free, so we were able to shoot over several weekends rather than in one block. Made it possible to reshoot and fix scenes.”
There is a real depth and craft on display here that was perhaps missing in Bryant’s earlier films. Shot on a micro-budget across two years, Kindred became a labour of love for its creator. Bryant said, “The process of creating the base concept came from the necessity to set the film in a single location. I also wanted to develop a character-led story with events happening to a sympathetic character rather than focusing on gore or CGI effects. This was coupled with my interest in making genre films looking at current issues that are affecting society, in this case, mental illness. The story quickly developed into a journey toward mental collapse, using the paranormal as a catalyst.”
Bryant didn’t wait for permission from anyone to go and make his film, he simply got a house (his own!), a small crew, and the best actors he could find and went and made his feature. This has been his mindset since co-directing his debut Dead Wood back in 2007, a mindset really brought into sharp focus with his second film, Victims in 2011. “I have experience producing micro-budget films,” said Bryant, “and have learned many tricks in their production that I applied to Kindred. First is to set the film in one location, but also make that location somewhere you can access at little expense. Next is to cast professional actors but keep the cast small. On Kindred, I had one lead actor and every other actor could be shot in one or two days. Finally, keep the shooting schedule as short as possible and avoid time-consuming set-ups!”
It is this economy that has enabled Bryant to make four feature film and several award-winning shorts, all on little more than goodwill and sheer ambition.
“Producing a quality micro-budget film is an almost impossible task,” said Bryant. “A million things can (and will) go wrong, but it’s all about how you manage the problems to make the best film possible. The most important thing is to not give up. You have to plough through, fight to get your vision onto that screen, but also remember you cannot do it all alone. Surround yourself with good people who are great at their jobs… And treat them well. Don’t be a dick or be precious, some of the best ideas will come from other people.”
After the brutal slaying of his wife and son, Kindred finds John struggling to cope with life alone. It is now summer, but the Christmas tree is still up and twinkling with fairy lights. Christmas cards remain on the mantel. It is a house trapped in time. John relies on anti-depressants and visits from his Psychiatrist (Jane Asher) to maintain his very sanity, but at night, when the house is dark and still, strange things begin to occur. It is John’s family trying to contact him from the beyond, or it is something far worse?
This is a descent into insanity, studying themes of love, loss and mental health, all wrapped up in an intriguing and scary story for fans of thrills and chills. Bryant said, “I have been a huge fan of the psychological thriller genre since I can remember and the classics such as Psycho, Se7en and The Sixth Sense have stayed with me over decades and now, my goal for Kindred is to create a haunting movie that will stay with the audience way past the end credits. The key to this story is to create a totally believable and sympathetic character in John. He has been through a traumatic experience and has developed symptoms such as OCD that have become very recognisable to millions of people. He is a complex character, lost in a world of pain and these trials make him a strong, empathetic character, someone to identify with and invest in.”
Classic thriller cinema also informed the look and feel of the film, in both shooting and editing. Bryant said, “I didn’t want any MTV style fast cutting, no cheap jump scares every few moments. We instead build an unsettling atmosphere in a house full of shadows and memory.” He continued, “When working in the low budget arena, psychological thriller, with a healthy dose of horror, is the perfect genre with legions of fans looking for gripping new stories to sink their teeth into.”
Since completing Kindred, Bryant has made a short film during lockdown called Between Worlds, also starring Fellows, and is busy writing screenplays and planning more projects. He said, “The goal with Kindred, as well as it reaching the widest audience possible, is for the film to introduce my work to producers and film companies. Get my foot in the door to pitch new projects and ultimately raise far bigger funds to produce the next project.”
Kindred is a very assured and accomplished piece of genre filmmakers that should certainly see David Bryant take his craft to the next level. The film is currently seeking distribution and entering the festival circuit.
Watch the trailer for Kindred below