FT 065: How to Make 250K Indie Film Look Like $25 Million Blockbuster with Gaelan Connell

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How to Make 250K Indie Film Look Like $25 Million Blockbuster with Gaelan Connell

Every once in a while I come across a filmmaker who is just a bit crazier than I am. This is true for writer/director Gaelan Connell who’s film Blood Sand and Gold is a true indie film miracle. This mad man decided to raise $250,000 (much of which was out of pocket) and go off and make a big-budget action film, just one problem he didn’t have a big budget.

Yes, I know $250K is a lot of money but it’s not enough for what Gaelan Connell was attempting to do. Check this out, Blood Sand and Gold was shot over the course of 58 days across 5 countries and 4 continents! It has Jason Bourne/James Bond-style action. I mean it’s nuts. Check out the trailer below:

Here’s a behind the scenes look at the indie marvel Gaelan Connell’s Blood Sand and Gold.

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Blood Sand and Gold is a modern-day treasure hunt action-adventure film. Shot over the course of 58 days across 5 countries (and 4 continents!), the story follows ex-criminal Jack Riordan (Aaron Costa Ganis) and Mave Adams (Monica West) as they hunt down Sir Francis Drake’s stolen treasure.

So far, everything feels pretty standard, right? Action movie, check. International settings, check. Explosions, desert landscapes, helicopters, and a tiger…check. But wait: We made this whole movie with a budget of less than $250k.

Why? We intentionally made Blood Sand and Gold outside of the Hollywood system to prove, firstly, that it can be done, and secondly, that nowadays there’s a way to stretch budgets further than indie films ever thought possible. In addition to the (comparatively) minuscule budget, we gave ourselves a challenge: no agents, no managers, no money people, no casting directors. And wouldn’t you know it, every insider we approached in Hollywood said,

“Sounds cool! Never going to happen.”

As we discuss in the Podcast, here are some tricks on how we made it happen.

Trick 1: Film outside the country.

We intentionally shot Blood Sand and Gold in countries outside of the US. Shooting outside of the US is a magical experience. Unlike LA or NY, where seeing a production is as commonplace as grabbing a coffee at Starbucks, people in areas where filming is more novel, approach filmmaking as a once in a lifetime experience, which means everyone is willing to pitch in and lend a hand.

For example, starting production in Guadalajara Mexico allowed us to garner some early media attention by leading Mexican press, the awesome film commission of Guadalajara helped supply us resources for free (locations, police for action scenes, etc) which allowed us to do huge stunts on a fraction of the budget. It also led to more grassroots cooperation to help with production.

People all over the world came out of the woodwork to support our project, whether it was the 200k Mercedes SLS that a friend of a friend in Mexico let us use, or the epic treasure chest prop that a villager in Merzouga, Morocco lent us for the opening sequence of the film.

Cinematographer Chloe Walker filming on set in Merzouga, Morocco with a RED Scarlet and Cooke S4 lenses.

Trick 2: Use Airbnb.

Never before have filmmakers had the opportunity to film in literal palaces and house their crew in said places for as little as $200 a night in some of the most remote, beautiful places in the world. While filming in Chefchaouen, Morocco we stayed in a 4-story blue house with an expansive, regal courtyard. From that single location, we were able to shoot multiple critical scenes (a police station, a rooftop sequence, and more). In Switzerland, we stayed in a breathtaking chalet literally from right out of the Sound of Music. $250 bucks a night for access to a priceless setting.


Filming a sequence, steps from the productions Airbnb in the Swiss Alps.

Trick 3: Go practical.

Stunts and special effects are critical to elevating the production value of a film. Unfortunately, they also have a reputation for being non-negotiable expensive, which we proved false. In Blood, Sand, Gold our explosions cost $50 bucks. 50 dollars each. Really! (When we learned that, we tried to have something blow up in almost every scene.)

In one part of the movie a car crashes and flips in the middle of a desert. We quickly realized that there was no need to spend big bucks on a fancy looking car that would ultimately be totaled. Instead, we bought a used car in for $1500—and were free to pull off the shot of our dreams with no strings attached.

Drone shot of the car crash/flip sequence (far right), right after the stunt was filmed.

Trick 4: Structure like a startup.

We shook up the traditional Hollywood pricing model by giving our crew, in addition to our actors, a percentage of the film’s revenue. (Typically actors have this negotiated as part of their pay, but applying this model to the crew is something new.) What emerged was a production that felt very much like a startup—in the best of ways.

Everyone on the team has an investment in the movie and were happy to open their networks and expertise to help in any way they could. On top of that, filmmaking is extremely collaborative. Making sure everyone is paid for their contribution just makes sense.

Trick 5: Be prepared to improvise.

You know the saying: there are three films you make: the one you write, the one you shoot, and the one you edit. When shooting a small-budget film, you have to be at peace with improvisation. Here’s an example: During a particularly high-stress scene wherein we fired a rocket launcher and set off a large explosion, the set literally caught on fire. By thinking on our feet, we were able to (safely!) turn that unexpected event into an additional scene, with fire raging in the background, which made the edit.

Like documentary filmmaking, the film you shoot on a tight budget may be quite a departure from the film you wrote; roll with the punches and you may be surprised to find you like it better than what you had originally imagined.

The article was written by Gaelan Connell



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