Updated: Dec 22, 2019
A tale of never giving up by Director DB Morgan
Every year, thousands of aspiring filmmakers give up. They put their burning dreams and ambitions to the back of the closet and go get ‘proper jobs’. Some manage to get their break, most don’t! After all, wishing to be in and around the magic of movies is just not a sensible career choice.
‘Making zero budget movies is a stupid idea! The only way to make a movie is the right way – the traditional way with ‘real’ actors, ‘real’ crewmembers and all the golden nuts and bolts that build the magical Hollywood machine. People like you don’t make movies. It’s a ridiculous notion. Go make a short, get it out of your system and know your place!’ SOURCE – pretty much anyone you ask.
It’s 2003. I’ve recently turned thirty-two, fifteen years deep into a career as a Chef. Number two son has just been born and something re-ignites in me. I caught the filmmaking bug as a kid and it never went away. I’ve always written. Mainly text based adventure games for the BBC Model B computer and other ‘even more’ nerdy shit. It’s always been in me - that urge to create. But I ended up rolling spliffs, working as an unfulfilled Chef and dreaming my life away: on societal autopilot.
I panic about the wasted years, and finally do something about it. I begin reading everything I can get my hands on and enrol in a few courses at Raindance, London. I also spend many hours a week sitting in my local library. Reading. Learning.
To be honest, I’m a bit of a problem child. A loose cannon. An ex-stoner, expelled from school, mental health surviving fuckwit. I really don’t fit into the ‘new producer’ scene (Back then attending regular ‘New Producer’s Alliance’ events.) ‘Wait until you’ve got a proper budget,’they say, sipping the latest fad cocktail downstairs at the Curzon, Shaftsbury - costing me about £50 for the return ticket from Colchester to listen to this elitist bullshit. To the left of me – the guy lining up his debut £10m blockbuster, to the right, the guy who’s negotiating with Mr X. for the rights to his Himalayan epic debut multi-million feature.
We’re not cut from the same cloth, you see. I have zero contacts, no money … just a burning desire to write and make my stories come to life. I literally cannot play this game, and its befuddling ‘Emperors new clothes’ fuckery.
So I write my first feature script, ‘Hard Sell’. Huge cast, loads of locations, guns and action galore. I make a short proof of concept trailer with famous TV actors. And feel pretty proud of myself. It never goes further. Nobody wants to back me.
‘Wait until you’ve got Brad Pitt interested and a distribution deal lined up,’they tell me. ‘Go get an internship at a studio and work your way up. Get an agent. Do it properly … or not at all!!!’Basically, a million hurdles that I couldn’t, or wasn’t prepared to commit to, due to family and financial reasons.
I gave up on those sessions. They filled me with major insecurities. In fact, everything with this ‘breaking in’ game is designed to fill you with insecurity. It’s elitist. It’s the rich man’s game. Funnily enough though, I’ve yet to see any progress on those multi million budget debut features! The only person I’ve kept track of was a ‘hustley’ type of guy around my own age who was making his own shit happen. He did, and he still does. In fact, he’s one of the major players in the UK film industry now. Maybe he’ll take my call when I’m ready. But probably not.
So I shelve ‘Hard Sell’, putting it down to a valuable lesson in learning my craft. I keep reading; devouring Syd Field, Joseph Campbell, Christopher Vogler and finally finding my latest love in the form of Blake Snyder and his beloved ginger kitty.
Then I write ‘Subject 3’ – a short concept piece for a longer horror feature. My take on The Wicker Man. We shot the short. I was £5k down and it came to nothing. I had added to another Director’s CV, cost myself a heap of money and ended up with nothing to show for it, other than a distorted vision that I wished I’d had the courage to direct myself. I salvaged an edit and managed to win an MTV short film competition. Which was something tangible for my toils.
I learned more about visual storytelling and spent more valuable hours on set. The most important lesson though … location changes really do cost time and money! I then decided to do whatever I could to direct my own work from now on – to be in creative control of my own projects.
With renewed vigour, and one step closer to wiping the shit off my shoes and getting a foothold on the bottom rung of the ladder, I extended ‘Subject 3’ into the feature script, ‘Rave Island’. I finished up that script lying on Fistral beach in Cornwall as my family holidayed around me.
And then our daughter, Jodi, became critically ill with Aplastic Anaemia (a form of leukaemia) at the age of 11. She passed away a year and a half later.
So I gave up for a very long time. Throwing ourselves into fundraising events and coping mechanisms. Five years of wound licking and finding a way forward!!!
The inner urge finally came rushing back and I wrote the feature script for ‘Ladies Day’ (Oceans Eleven meets Tootsie). Following several rewrites it was optioned by a seemingly reputable production company - for a pittance. The date came and passed by. Ladies Day came back to me ad I added the script to my slate … motivation stripped once again.
No one was coming to fund me! I was never going to be discovered. So I decided to write for my own resources.
I wrote the feature script for ‘Sackbury Pitch’ (Evil Dead meets Blair Witch), my debut micro budget found footage horror movie. A cast of three, filmed in local woodland.
I perfected the Sackbury Pitch script, cast and crewed the movie, secured the majority of the funding, locked in the locations and shot the trailer. I was there. I was finally on the movie trail.
Until it all came crashing down! Casting issues, locations dropping out, my main backer disappearing after I refused to cast his friend in the lead role. Issue after issue, problem after problem. I sensed the impending chaos, and pulled the plug before anyone got hurt!
Shooting in the woods turns out to be extremely costly, with power, lighting, sanitation, catering, accommodation and all the other little things that kept adding up.
I ran away, tail between my legs; cursing myself for even bothering to think I could stupidly make a movie.
That was the hardest knock of the lot. So near, yet so far. But, looking back, it was extremely self aware damage limitation and I am still proud of myself for taking the right choice at the right time to protect everyone involved as well as myself and my family. It was hard not getting to make my debut movie, so to fill that creative void, and recharge my creative batteries, After all, I could always come back to it when the stars align!
I decided to make one more short film, but this time without any money. My final short film, ‘Little Man’, cost me less than £50 to make, starred my two youngest sons and was nominated for awards at several international festivals.
That was my budgetary epiphany!
I then decided to write my first novel, just to keep the skillsets fresh while I planned my next creative move - utilising my budgetary epiphany as a blueprint for success.
Just over a year later (2018) I had Trollrider. 55,000 words of middle grade magical-realism novel. I always wanted to write a book. Finishing it made me feel good again. I had a tangible achievement to keep me motivated while bubbling away on ideas for a debut feature film I could shoot within available resources.
I’ll decide what to do with Trollrider once I’ve completed production on my debut feature, ‘Faith’, next spring. Besides, Trollrider will make an awesome feature film to add to the top of my ever-growing slate!
Faith - #faithmovie
£8k budget. Commencing 8-10 day production on Monday 17thFebruary 2020! A solid, primal, story that a cavemen would understand. Written to budget, (proper budget in the bank) predominantly based in a barn on my parent’s farm. A cast of two/three actors: all incredible talents with big IMDB credits. Plus a minimal crew made up of awesome people.
I changed my philosophy, the way I look at filmmaking and my route to possible success. Whatever’s in the bank, that’s my budget. Whatever’s available to me, that’s my locations and resources.
My past endeavours have allowed my to pull together a fantastic group of creative to work alongside. So much kit has been sponsored by people who know my story and, hopefully, respect my chutzpah. Rather than focussing on what I need or don’t have, I’ve built a blueprint based on what I do have. My story and script are stronger for the limitations and my resolve is stronger because of my backstory and the amazing support of my family and peers.
Have I got pre-distribution? Nope. Have I got A-list cast? Nope. But it’s a solid genre story that will be made with love, creativity, and bags of commitment. Then we will set sail on the festival route and the journey begins. Or shudders to a disastrous halt!!
But what if? I love those two little words!! What! IF!
What if my little movie makes its money back and people see I can make a successful film for under 10k. What if someone asks what else I’ve got and fronts £25k for Sackbury Pitch, knowing I took the initial risk with my own money. My project’s budgets are scaled up: £8k/£25k/£50k/£100k/£1m. What if I got to make all my movies? Or other peoples?
Who knows? But I’m doing what I love, by the seat of my pants. My only fear is lying on my deathbed, cursing the risks I never tried.
Knockbacks, I’ve had them all. Doubters? Every-fucking-where. Huddled alongside the mockers and naysayers! Self doubt? Daily. Hurdles, problems, family dramas, health issues? They get thrown from the rafters every bloody day. That’s life!
Motivation to continue? It’s hard, dude. But it always comes back with a flourish and you need to harness that motherfucker and ride it into the ground while its there.
Am I going to finally make my mark with my debut feature film?
Why not check out www.faith-movie.co.uk to follow our journey and see how things pan out. www.facebook.com/FaithMovie