Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

NO-BUDGET FILM SCHOOL; Ben Wheatley Made Down Terrace on [Pounds Sterling]6,000 and a Wing and a Prayer -- Which, He Writes, Provided Him with the Best Possible Training and Paved the Way for His Next Film, Kill List, out on Friday

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

NO-BUDGET FILM SCHOOL; Ben Wheatley Made Down Terrace on [Pounds Sterling]6,000 and a Wing and a Prayer -- Which, He Writes, Provided Him with the Best Possible Training and Paved the Way for His Next Film, Kill List, out on Friday

Article excerpt

Byline: Ben Wheatley

FINDING funding to make a film is a chicken-and-egg situation. If you haven't ever made a film, why would anyone trust you to make one? Before I made my first feature, Down Terrace in 2009, I had directed loads of TV comedy and adverts and I wanted to do some drama. My agent explained that no one would let me until I'd made a short dramatic film. I sulked a bit and decided it would be easier to shoot a feature than a short. That was, of course, insane. But insane measures have to be taken when making your first feature. I got together with two friends and we pooled our cash: [pounds sterling]2,000 each, [pounds sterling]6,000 all told. We didn't want to spend a penny more. So how did we do it? Making a no-budget feature starts with the script. Traditionally, they get written with no thought of having to film them. Locations and performers are things to be considered after the script is finished.

Down Terrace was written from the starting point of view of "What do we have?" In our case we had Robin Hill, who turned out to be the linchpin of the project. He can act, write, edit and, importantly, he is the son of Bob Hill. Bob, apart from being a talented nonprofessional actor had an amazing house. So we had our core cast and location. The script was then written to exploit these elements. A father, a son and a house. It was going to be a crime film, albeit a laid-back one.

With no budget, the main asset you have is performances. They have to be great. Good actors can captivate on an empty stage. Bad ones in front of an amazing set are still bad.

Our script was written for actors I knew. This can be high-risk (when you ask them to do it they may say no) but it does mean you don't have any nasty surprises when it comes to filming.

I know a lot of actors, which helped, but even so half the cast of Down Terrace were non-actors. Look around you, there are great (if a little raw) potential performers in your circle of friends. The other decision we made early on was that there would be a certain amount of improvisation. This really helps non-actors and rubs the edges off slightly raw scripts.

Rob and I sat down with our producer, Andy Starke, and drew up a schedule. The key to making a no-budget film is to do it quickly. We decided that eight days was the longest time we could ask people to commit to for no money. This left us with days when we would have to shoot 40 scenes. That's pretty tough.

But then if you were making a featurelength documentary about an event that lasted eight days, you would easily get it done. So we just decided we would treat the film as a documentary.

On the really heavy days we shot with a stopwatch. Sometimes we had to shoot a scene every 20 minutes but as soon as the alarm went off we moved on. Our lighting/camera man, Laurie Rose, had a background in documentary filmmaking so he was used to this pace. We went for a naturalistic lighting look: sunlight and a few lamps, just to bring the exposure up a little. Laurie was the final piece of the puzzle, he gave us access to crew and equipment. He could operate the camera and lights in such an effortless way that it took a few months for us to appreciate what an amazing job he had done.

We did a test shoot to make sure our theories were right. We found that we could shoot very quickly but still had a lot of time with the actors. …

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