How I made an award-winning film with no money, no ideas, and no camera
essay // filmmaking, diy // 5-minute read
"Why did I make this film?" I said as I looked out to the audience.
I was onstage. Award in hand. 300 people with their eyes on me. I tried to move my balding head out of the spotlight. Not a good look. These were important people. I needed to impress. People in the know. Faces from the TV. I'd never done this before. I was sweating, shaking as I tried to remember ... why did I make this film?
8 months before and I thought I should give up. I'd applied for every single funding scheme available and nobody wanted to give me any money. I was either too old, too young, too far away, too close, didn’t have the right smell, and in some cases, I didn’t have the right film.
Every day I checked my email, hoping to find a pleasant surprise but nothing came.
I wanted a big fat man in a suit with a beard and bottomless pockets to put his arm around my shoulder and tell me I was fantastic. No, not even that. I wanted him to tell me that I was good enough. I wanted his approval.
But there were no fat men, no emails, no phone calls or once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. There was nobody out there who was going to give me a shot. Nobody to give me any money and the message was clear. I was shit. I was useless. I must’ve been. Why else would I be shunned in such a way?
Now I’m a little (b)older and wiser I completely understand that when you apply for funding, you’re entering a lottery. A lot of people want that money and there’s no room to take punts on people without a proven track record. The only difference with this lottery is that the cost for a ticket is a finished script, a logline, director’s statement, details of your life plan, and a fresh DNA sample. A lot of work for a chance at a shot.
I don’t mean to be all down on funding because I think it’s fantastic that there’s anything out there at all, but at the time, I took it as an affront.
"Why don't you just make something anyway," my girlfriend said. "Just use what you've got."
"No that will never work!" I said, berating the love of my life.
A second later and the cogs started to grind. The ideas began to form. The clouds parted and the sun peeked out its cheeky face.
I jumped to my feet and announced, ”wait I've got it! I'll just make a film anyway with what I've already got!"
If people weren’t going to give the shot, I was going to fucking take it. I was going to carve something out of nothing and prove to them that they missed out. Hell, they should be applying to me to use their money. I was mad as hell. I stood up, raised my finger to the ceiling and proclaimed:
"Not only will I make a film with no camera, no actors, no scripts, no props, and no money, I’ll do it in 7 days!"
And I did it.
Somehow, within seven days I coughed up a surreal glitchy thriller called KEITH.
I used screen capture software instead of a camera. I used myself, some fake accounts, and my girlfriend instead of actors. I used royalty-free sound effects and repurposed music from previous projects. I found everything I needed right there in my bedroom.
As Jeff Goldblum said, “Life ... err ... finds a way".
I will say that the deadline was important. Without giving myself the 7-day window I would never have finished the film. It was labour intensive. I had blisters on my fingers from all the clicking and the scrolling, but I did it. I finished it. And the reception was pretty damn good.
I think the reason this film turned out quite well is because it’s 100%unapologetic. I didn’t have time to worry if a joke made sense, if the film was too weird, or if I should spoon-feed the audience more. I just had to concentrate on making it.
And what came out was pure authentic me. In today’s world, I think that’s what people want to see more than anything else — authenticity. Even if it comes without a budget.
It showed me that you can be 100% unapologetic in the kind of story you’re telling. You can make yourself a character in the film. You can make a film without a camera and maintain pacing, drama, and tension.
I threw the thing online not expecting much of anything. Regardless, I was kind of proud. I’d made this little thing and … it wasn’t too bad.
And then within 24 hours people were talking about it on Reddit, a few days later and Vimeo decided to feature it as a Staff Pick, blogs around the world were talking about it. It got watched 40,000 times within a couple of weeks.
... not too bad at all.
Convinced by some friends to send it around to a few festivals I sent it to the cheapest ones I could find. I spent more on festival submissions than the film itself (about £30).
CUT TO 8 months later and I got that surprise email. The one that said my film had won the Best Low-Budget Short Film at The London Short Film Festival.
They wanted me to collect the award at the award ceremony.
“Great,” I said. “When is it?"
“Okay, I better put some clothes on."
I was all kinds of grateful for them to play a clip of the film on that giant screen in front of all those people, for them to call my name out, to hand me that lovely award. I was even more grateful that I didn’t slip on the stairs to the stage.
“So, Luke, why did you make this film?” the presenter said.
“Why did I make this film?” I said, trying to recall the anger, the outrage I felt, that gave me the impetus to start in the first place. “Well, I made it because I could."
Maybe I didn’t say those exact words. I think they were less cohesive and a tad more mumbly, but that’s what I meant to say. I meant to tell people that they were good enough. That they had all the approval they needed.
All this time, I’d been telling myself I wanted to be a filmmaker but nobody would let me. I didn’t realise that we become filmmakers by making films. Simple as that. We verb therefore we noun.
Somebody asked me recently, “What next?"
I smiled and said, “Well, make more stuff I guess.”
Speaking of which. I'm now making Keith into a feature film. Want to help out and also get access to exclusive essays, short stories, podcasts, and more? Then become a patreon!