Filmtrepreneur Breakdown: Do Something Jake – $0 Budget
It’s not for every first time feature filmmaker: the stress, the financial worry, the self-doubt, the cojones to go ahead and announce to the world you’re gonna make a movie and it’s gonna be great!
But that’s what we did. Middle-aged, no feature filmmaking track record, no film school training… nothing but a wealth of life experience travelling, undertaking insane extreme sports, working in diverse industries ranging from defense to mental health respectively, yet with a few key interests such as photography and creative writing.
I won’t bore you with our journey from white collar occupation to intrepid filmmakers, but let’s just say it hasn’t all been plain sailing! Taking risks, losing everything in the recession and clawing up from the sewer to the gutter, we are now just hitting the sidewalk and, boy, have we got a story to tell!
But what of our debut movie? The one that got distribution, awards, and 5 star testimonials?
Finding money is HARD
Well, on deciding to ‘jack it all in’ and shift full time into the movie industry, what we discovered is that obtaining finance for feature films is often a prolonged and fickle process: in the USA, trying to attach named talent to give the financiers and producers a warm feeling; in the UK, perhaps trying to tick numerous boxes to placate the gatekeepers of subsided schemes. Neither route is easy, nor guaranteed to deliver saleable films, such is the subjective nature of this business.
We had many close calls with a particular film (a euro-comedy/thriller), which gained a lot of interest from Hollywood/LA and London: named talent attached, a sales agent pitching to exec produce the production, and a venture capitalist eager to work with us. With no track record, however, we needed to find producers with some weight. So we partnered with two guys (one in the U.K. and one in L.A. who had some mega contacts). Unfortunately, both turned out to be dubious characters who tried to not only steal our film, but also our company name. We had to borrow money to find a lawyer to swat them away like annoying mosquitos.
Let’s do this!
Fast forward two years and an opportunity arose to house-sit for a month, and it was then we had our epiphany – to take the radical approach of shooting on no-budget, out in the streets, in private residential properties, with the help of friends, family, local businesses, students, and others enthusiastic or crazy enough to believe in us.
Let’s be clear about ‘no-budget’: this was ZERO budget. We didn’t have $20K, $7K or even $2K. We had nothing but a DSLR camera, a borrowed house, and the spare change in our pockets.
Yet once we’d made the decision, the whole development/pre-production process was relatively quick:
- June 2015 I wrote the first draft of the screenplay in three weeks
- August 2015 we held auditions
- November 2015 we rolled cameras on Do Something, Jake and three weeks later we wrapped
More than just a movie
From the beginning, this film project felt special. Chance meetings with influential people resulted in shooting locations so perfect, they could have been conjured right out of the screenplay. The natural light in these settings created a warm, brooding atmosphere during the entire shoot, thus dictating the unique mood of the film.
New Jersey actor Ed Bergtold expressed an interest in working with us and offered to fly himself across the pond to take the role of the lead antagonist (and boy did he kill it!).
Throughout the filming process, we were able to offer work experience, on-the-job training, referrals, and IMDb credits to university graduates and people of all ages wishing to make a start in the film industry. We also helped promote small businesses and worked with a local charity to give talks, workshops, and advice to disadvantaged youngsters interested in movie production. So it was about more than just making a movie – it was about education, experience and creating opportunity for everyone.
Once we’d wrapped (the last two shoot days enduring sub-zero temperatures in a derelict – and reputedly haunted – pre-Victorian school) we launched into post-production, eager to turn the film around quickly. This didn’t go to plan…
Still, with no budget, the post-production process was a long haul with some significant setbacks and obstacles to overcome. We did, however, have a few strokes of good luck, with post-production professionals from Europe and Los Angeles (some of whom work on Hollywood blockbusters) who had heard about the film and approached us to offer their help.
A World Premier likened to a Marvel showing… but would the movie work?
In June 2018 Do Something, Jake was finally finished, but we had big plans to screen the movie theatrically and to do this in the U.K. we needed to get an official classification from the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC), as well as the Digital Cinema Package (DCP). So we launched a crowdfunding campaign to pay for this (it’s not cheap) and was amazed when we smashed through our goal in the first week, gaining sponsors and supporters from around the globe.
We managed to secure a 296-seat theatre in the Odeon cinema for the World Premier by working with a U.K. organization similar to Tugg.com in the USA, whereby a certain amount of tickets need to be sold before the screening is guaranteed. There is then a three-way split of the box office takings between the organization, cinema, and filmmakers… so to be clear, this wasn’t ‘four-walling’, as no money was paid for the location.
We threw the kitchen sink at this. We arranged a media board (Step ‘N Repeat) emblazoned with the logos of our sponsors, red carpet, official photographers and an after-screening soiree.
In fact, one member of the audience wrote “…as you walked into the foyer you were greeted with a rapturous welcome. It felt like I was going to a Marvel showing, it was that busy!”.
So people were expecting great things… the trouble is, we were so close to the movie, we didn’t know what we had. Would the film be okay or would it suck?
All tickets had been sold out, and as we all sat in that blackened theater I thought my heart would crash right out of my chest it was thumping so hard.
110 minutes later, no-one had walked out, everyone had laughed in the right places and we received rapturous applause as the credits rolled.
Positive testimonials started flooding in on IMDb and social media, so now we knew we had a movie that worked.
We were under pressure from London colleagues and supporters for premier in the capital, but how to top the world premiere? Answer: hire the largest private cinema in London (this one in a West End five-star hotel) and get celebrities and paparazzi along to create a buzz. With the help of our friend, colleague and professional publicist, Melanie Jones, we blitzed a London premiere, and received mentions in the national press and glowing critical reviews.
As post-production had taken so long, we didn’t consider a festival run, but we were lucky to get some festival screenings as well as a few awards including one for Best Feature. So the next big step for us was distribution.
The distribution conundrum
We had no idea if we’d be able to achieve distribution, and in fact, I took my time in researching self-distribution vs traditional distribution with the help of Indie Film Hustle and other podcasters and well-known bloggers.
We put out a few feelers to see what the reaction would be and started to receive offers from US-based companies. This was encouraging, but after many conversations with them, we had just about made the decision to go it alone when Meridian Releasing Group (MRG) said they wanted to take the film on. I grilled them, insisted on a meeting via video and undertook the required due diligence, but in the end, it was an easy decision to make. They were a perfect fit for Do Something, Jake and weren’t asking for the moon to distribute our little zero-budget indie movie from the U.K.
So now, after four years of hard work, stress, and all the highs and lows we all experience in this business, we’re excited to finally say that Do Something, Jake is available on DVD and Blu-ray through Amazon, Walmart and other outlets in the USA, UK and worldwide. The film will be made available on VOD later in 2019.
Not such a crazy strategy
Making such an ambitious movie with no regular income or money in the bank is not for the faint-hearted – tenacity, physical and mental fitness is key. Yet this strategy is not so crazy, since the discipline allows complete creative freedom, thus hopefully fostering original ideas and innovative ways to make films. Furthermore, the intention was to use Do Something, Jake to showcase what we can do at Raya Films and provide a stepping stone for our slate of ‘funded’ films. Oh, and if by chance Do Something, Jake goes on to earn revenue, then all involved will be reimbursed for their time, as well as receiving the valuable experience and IMDb credits already attained.
In fact, off the back of Do Something, Jake a number of our cast have signed on with agents, gained work, and been featured in national publications… and we couldn’t be more proud of them.
Visit www.dosomethingjake.com for more information and follow the links to purchase your Blu-ray, DVD, and merchandise.
Written by: Caroline Spence
ABOUT DO SOMETHING, JAKE
Directed by James Smith, with a screenplay by producer, Caroline Spence, Do Something, Jake follows the story of Jake, an unemployed introvert, unable to read or write, who draws on hidden skills when the woman he secretly loves is threatened.
Starring Jamie Alderson in the title role, Ed Bergtold (Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps) and Mia Mills (Black Mirror), Do Something, Jake is a 110-minute feature shot on a zero-budget, yet utilizing a large international cast and multiple locations .www.DoSomethingJake.com
ABOUT RAYA FILMS
Raya Films is an award-winning writer-director and screenwriter-producer partnership headed by James Smith and Caroline Spence. Since 2004, Raya Films’ award-winning documentary films have enjoyed sell-out theatrical screenings and worldwide broadcast distribution. Moving into feature film, their screenplays have received high praise from established companies in London and Hollywood. Having recently completed their début feature Do Something, Jake, the team are currently in production with a number of follow-up features, including the ‘smart’ horror Surveilled. www.RayaFilms.com
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