FEATURES

LATEST | FEATURES | INTERVIEWS | NEWS | FRIGHTFEST | REVIEWS

How To Make A Micro-Budget Horror Movie From Scratch!
By James Whittington, Thursday 20th November 2008

Pat Higgins directed and produced the film TrashHouse on a shoestring, shooting digitally in warehouses in Southend. It premièred at the TromaFling festival in Edinburgh 2005, where it was awarded Best Screenplay and runner-up for Best UK Feature. It was released on DVD by Screen Entertainment in February 2006 (and later re-released by budget label Shriek in summer 2007) and received positive reviews in many magazines, including Empire. He has gone on to produce a string of successful low budget fright flicks. Here, in the first part of a four part series he gives honest and invaluable advice for those who are contemplating on creating their own horror movies

STAGE ONE: Writing

Each and every day, write a thousand words. Even if those words are ‘I can’t think of anything’ 200 times, take the time to sit and write that. Go fully stream-of-consciousness. Do not expect what you’re writing to be a finished thing; just let it be what it is.

Your only, ONLY obligation is to make sure that the file grows by 1000 words every day without using cut and paste. You have to actually type the words out, but let your quality control level be zero. If you need to get your thousand words done in the half-hour before you leave for the pub, so be it. They’ll be awful. Big deal. Just write them. It’s actually less hassle to write off the top of your head than copy down the text from something else, but whatever. Your delete key does not exist, as this is not the time for editing.

After three months, stop. You’ve now written something the size of a chunky novel, and most of it is utter crap. And some of it is okay. And, hopefully, some of it is brilliant.

Never ever let anyone see the thing you’ve produced. Because you’re going to be raiding that horribly misshapen beast for material every single time you need an idea for the rest of your amazing career. And after three months of producing such a wonky monster, the idea of crafting a sleek, streamlined storyline from all the best ideas that you can cherry pick from it will seem like a gift from the gods. If you’ve stuck to my ‘no delete’ rule, you’ll have been itching to do it since week two. Check as many books as possible on structure and pacing and hammer together something sleek and beautiful from the random spew of ideas in your document. Write it, rewrite it and get the thing brilliant. There will not be time later. Bear in mind that the screenplay is the only aspect of the whole thing where you can outdo Hollywood. Their films will look slicker than yours, sound better than yours, but if you’ve got a killer script on your side you’re at least in a fit state to do battle. If you think your script is ‘okay’ or ‘pretty good’, then it’s not good enough. Make it better or forget the whole damn thing

STAGE TWO: Preproduction
OK, so you’re armed with your killer screenplay, which has been assembled from your wonky manuscript with a close eye on utilising whatever resources you have available to you. The next step is getting organised. There are an awful lot of things that you really need to do at this stage to save you money, time and heartache further down the line; not least amongst them are setting up a limited company and getting insurance to protect you should things go wrong. Check out Chris Jones’ excellent Guerrilla Filmmaker’s Blueprint for all you could need to know about this sort of stuff.

Around this point, you’re probably thinking about casting your friends. Think about it for another minute and a half. Enjoy that minute and a half, because you’re never going to think about casting your friends ever again in your life. Just don’t do it. Oh, and don’t think about casting yourself, either. You may think you’re up to the challenge. You are wrong.
Drop a couple of emails to local universities to try and gather potential crew. Scout the net for potential cast. Hold auditions on neutral ground (maybe a function room above a pub) with at least one other person present. Remember that you’ve got a lot to prove at this stage, and you’re likely to be asking people to work for little or no money, so for God’s sake be nice to everyone you meet. Word travels fast if you’re unpleasant, and that reputation will stick.

Cast and crew your film with people that you feel you can work with, not just whoever has the most impressive show reel. You’re going to all be depending on each other to make something great; you’re going to be a team. It’s important not to forget that. Make sure that you get the paperwork sorted before you shoot a single frame; you will absolutely need individual release forms from every person involved. Get them before, not after. Plan your shoot down to the finest detail. If there’s any way you can realistically do so, enlist someone you trust to come onto the production team and deal with that side of things. It needs to be done. And if there’s a chance to get your cast together for rehearsal days, those will save time and money when it comes to the shoot. Make sure that the shoot days are scheduled to make the most of available locations, available actors and to minimise the amount of time spent moving around. How long are you going to need for the shoot? You’re probably asking the wrong guy; I’ve shot an internationally released feature in 8 days. But I wouldn’t recommend it.

What format should you shoot? Whatever you’re most comfortable with. We’re at a stage where even the cheapest miniDV cameras can still produce broadcast quality images; if your film is brilliantly entertaining there’s no such thing as the ‘wrong’ format. The choices that you make with the sound are, counter-intuitively, probably far more important. Sound is often the weakest link in many a zero-budget production. The on-camera sound will not do. At all. Trust me. Go and get a decent shotgun microphone (rent one if needs be) and a boom pole, and connect that to the camera. If the camera doesn’t have the right (preferably XLR) inputs, you might be better off recording the sound onto something else entirely (a laptop? DAT? Minidisc? There are no rules really) and synching up the good sound later, using the sound from the onboard mic as a guide.

STAGE THREE: Production
Go and shoot the thing. Try not to go insane. Try remembering that you’ll look back on this as ‘the fun bit’, even if it feels like a slow-motion nervous breakdown at the time.

STAGE FOUR: Post-production
Unless you really enjoy swearing and crying for sustained periods of time, I’d recommend editing on a Mac system. I’m just saying this from personal experience; I’m not a Mac evangelist in any other respect. I use PCs for every other aspect of my work, from writing to photo manipulation, but I cut my first feature on a PC and I never, ever, ever want to do it again. The Mac G5 that I’ve used to cut my last three features, all in HD using Final Cut Pro, has only ever crashed once. It was nice enough to warn me that it was about to do so, and suggested that I save my work so that I wouldn’t be inconvenienced. When it comes to editing a feature, go Mac and FCP if there’s any way whatsoever that you can afford it. That said, if you’re PC based and I can’t persuade you otherwise, there are several pretty decent editing options. Pinnacle, which is now a division of Avid, make various affordable packages that shouldn’t break your budget.

Take your time with the edit, and get the best music that you possibly can (making sure that you’ve sorted the legal paperwork, which can be a headache). Scour MySpace and similar sites for unsigned bands, and approach them to see if they’ll let you use their songs. Edit the movie together in a way that you’re happy with it. Then watch the film back and ask yourself a brutally honest question. “If someone offered me £10,000 per minute that I remove from the running time at this point, how much would I remove?” Then go and cut that many minutes out. Nobody will give you the money, but more people will enjoy your film. I’m a running time hardliner, and I see 82 minutes including credits as the perfect running time for a micro-budget movie. Less, and people feel short-changed. More, and they start getting bored.

STAGE FIVE: Completion

Organise a cast and crew screening, even if it's just in a room over a pub. If you've got any money at all left in your meagre budget, hire out a screening room.

The next part of the process, which is getting your movie sold and distributed, is not only tricky but its also ever-changing. The internet has changed everything, physical formats are on the way out but, in my opinion, the next mainstream distribution technology isn't really here yet. Use the net to plug your stuff and try and get reviews on sites with an interest in your genre. Film festivals are an option but can prove expensive. Make as many contacts as you can and be nice to all of them. Don't listen to anything that anyone tells you, me included, because there really isn't a rulebook in independent filmmaking and nobody knows anything. Just try and make the best film that you can. Don't get too much fake blood on the lens, and don't record any important scenes onto head cleaner tapes.

That's my advice, and my conscience is clear.

MORE FEATURES
Horror Channel launches assault of premieres for June plus further seasons of Farscape
Posted on Thursday 12th May 2022

Ryan Simon's British supernatural chiller Demon Eye, starring Darren Day, and Liam Fox, and Brad Baruh's Coen-sequel mystery thriller Night Drive, starring AJ Bowen and Sophie Dalah, both receive Friday night UK TV premieres on Horror Channel.

There are also channel premieres for John Carpenter's cult classic Assault On Precinct 13 and Finnish-German sci-fi Nazi horror spoof Iron Sky: The Coming Race, directed by Timo Vuorensola (Iron Sky) and starring Udo Kier, reprising his role as Adolf Hitler.

Plus, cult classic Farscape returns with the channel premieres of Season 3 and 4. This Australian-American Sci-Fi TV series, created by Rockne S. O'Bannon, has proved a big hit with Horror...

SHARE: READ MORE
Horror Channel celebrates history of genre cinema with The Vintage Vault
Posted on Thursday 21st April 2022

Starting in May, Horror Channel journeys into the history of genre cinema with The Vintage Vault, which will present double-bills of classic sci-fi and horror films every Sunday night.

The season premieres on Sunday May 1st with The Invisible Man, in which Claude Rains delivers a remarkable performance in his screen debut. This is paired with Bride Of Frankenstein, the celebrated sequel to the 1931 classic with Boris Karloff reprising his role as the monster. Then on Sunday May 8th, we have Christy Cabanne's frightening chiller masterpiece The Mummy's Hand, followed by Frankenstein Meets The Wolfman, featuring the original Wolf...

SHARE: READ MORE
Kim Newman dares to check out this weekend's Classic Sci-Fi event
Posted on Thursday 14th April 2022
Kim Newman

Respected journalist, film critic, and fiction writer Kim Newman takes us through the celebrated B-movies joining Horror for our Classic Sci-Fi Weekend event running from 16th-17th of April.

The Horror Channel returns to a decade riven with fears of devastating climate change, imminent global war, mutating diseases and general paranoia... albeit in black and white, with miniature effects and make-up masks rather than CGI and the kind of urgency that means world-menacing phenomena can be invoked, allowed to run rampage and then dispelled in well under ninety minutes of crisp, sometimes poetic, sometimes bombastic melodrama.

The times weren't really simpler, and neither were the movies i...

SHARE: READ MORE
Horror Channel reveals raft of UK TV premieres for May plus channel premieres for Dalek movies
Posted on Thursday 7th April 2022
May prems-twitter image

Stewart Sparke's award-winning dark comedic monster movie Book of Monsters and Audrey Cummings's grisly chuckler She Never Died, starring Olunike Adeliyi, are amongst the raft of Saturday night UK TV premieres on Horror Channel during May.

Also in prime-time slots are the UK TV premieres of gruesome action thriller Becky and Henry Jacobson's stylish crime chiller Bloodline, starring Seann William Scott. There is also a Channel premiere for Peter Medak's classic supernatural horror The Changeling, starring George C. Scott.

Plus, there are channel premieres for Dr Who and The Daleks and Daleks Invasion Earth 2150 A.D. The films star Peter Cushing as Dr Who and al...

SHARE: READ MORE
Horror Channel adds Channel premiere of Farscape to Sci-Fi Zone from Monday 4 April
Posted on Wednesday 30th March 2022

Horror Channel is dedicated to bringing great cult sci-fi programmes to its audience and this trend continues with the channel premiere of Season 1 of the 1999 Australian-American Sci-Fi TV series Farscape, created by Rockne S, O'Bannon and produced over four seasons.

Astronaut John Crichton (ben Browder), on an experimental space mission, is accidentally hurled across the universe to the midst of an intergalactic conflict. Taken on board Moya, a huge bio-mechanoid "living ship" desperately trying to escape captivity, Crichton is trapped among alien creatures wielding deadly technology and hunted by a merciless military race. H...

SHARE: READ MORE
Horror Channel celebrates Sci-Fi B-Movies with a second Classic Sci-Fi Weekend in April
Posted on Tuesday 22nd March 2022

It's back to terrify once more! Horror Channel once again celebrates the Sci-fi B-movie world of strange creatures, alien invaders and weird science with Classic Sci-Fi Weekend 2, a follow-up TV special to the popular Classic Sci-fi weekend broadcast in April 2020. The fifties are acknowledged as the Golden Age for Sci-fi movies and Horror Channel has picked ten of the most iconic, which will be broadcast on Saturday 16th April and Sunday 17th April.

The season includes five channel premieres: the heart-pounding Alien invasion classic It Came From Outer Space, pulp-horror favourite Tarantula, featuring an uncredited Clint Eastw...

SHARE: READ MORE
Horror Channel reveals raft of UK TV premieres for April
Posted on Tuesday 15th March 2022
April Banner

Rob W King's gripping dystopian thriller The Humanity Bureau, starring Nicolas Cage, and Rob Grant's twisted survival drama, Alive, starring Angus MacFadyen, are amongst the raft of Saturday night UK TV premieres on Horror Channel during April.

Also in prime-time 9pm slots are the UK TV premieres of Owen Egerton's supernatural horror Mercy Black and Jonathan Zarantonello's sinister, psychological thriller The Butterfly Room, starring Barbara Steele and Ray Wise.

Plus, Padraig Reynolds's suspense-filled neo slasher Open 24 Hours, starring Vanessa Grasse, gets its channel premiere.

Here's all you need to know:

Our first UK TV premiere of the month arrives on the 2n...

SHARE: READ MORE
I am not a number. I am a free man! The Prisoner tries to escape this March on Horror
Posted on Tuesday 1st March 2022
The Prisoner-socialmedia-1

Horror Channel is dedicated to bringing great cult thrillers to its audience and this trend continues with The Prisoner, a taut psycho-thriller about a secret agent who retires and finds himself thrown into a Kafka-esque world of mindplay and enigma - a man known only as No. 6.

A major cult following has built up around one of the most inventive and ground-breaking TV series ever produced. Multi-talented and twice winner of an Emmy, Patrick McGoohan who stars, also created and produced the series and wrote and directed many of the episodes.

Produced by Everyman Films for distribution by Lew Grade's ITC Entertainment, a single series of seventeen episodes wa...

SHARE: READ MORE
A tasty release from Burning Witches Records, A Banquet
Posted on Saturday 19th February 2022
A-Banquet-OST_Cover-Artwork_final+small

On March 11th, London based composer, sound designer and recording artist CJ Mirra releases the OST to IFC Midnight and Hanway Film's A Banquet, which premieres at Cinemas on the same date. A limited run of Pea Green vinyl will be available via Burning Witches Records .

A Banquet is a visually arresting, slow-burning psychological horror that uses subtle supernatural elements to create tension within a family in the midst of a breakdown, exploiting the complicated bond between three generations of mothers and daughters. Variety likens it to Lars Von Tries' Melancholia and Jeff Nichol's Take Shelter. A Banquet sees composer CJ Mirra reunite with...

SHARE: READ MORE
Horror Channel announces Killer Thriller week for March
Posted on Tuesday 15th February 2022
Killer THriller Week

Horror Channel turns up the tension in March with Killer Thriller Week, featuring the UK premiere of mystery thriller Paradise Cove, staring Mena Suvari and the channel premiere of cat-and-mouse road thriller Cop Car, starring Kevin Bacon. The ultimate 7-day suspense ride also includes Gus Van Sant's revival of the Hitchcock classic Psycho (1988), the 2014 version of erotic thriller The Loft starring Karl Urban, Colin Minihan's deliciously warped What Keeps You Alive, Rod Lurie's 2011 pulsating remake of Straw Dogs and Bad Samaritan, starring a cunningly murderous David Tennant.

Plus, there are four additional UK TV premieres, highlighted by the late Johnny Kevorkian's last fi...

SHARE: READ MORE
Horror Channel announces raft of premieres for February
Posted on Thursday 13th January 2022
The Midnight Man - WEB1

February on Horror Channel keeps genre fans alive with the UK TV premiere of What Keeps You Alive - another suspenseful knife to the throat of 21st Century genre cinema from the deliciously warped mind of Colin Minihan, director of It Stains The Sand Red.

And expect more total shock and abject terror in the UK TV premiere of Paul Hyett's sinister sci-fi horror fantasy Peripheral. This twisted cross between Ex Machina and Videodrome boasts an astonishing performance from Hannah Arterton.

Plus, there are channel premieres for the gore-filled, stomach-churning zombie chiller Death Trench, Producer M. Night Shyamalan's claustrophobic supernatural thriller Devil, the...

SHARE: READ MORE
Horror Channel ushers in 2022 with zombie invasions
Posted on Tuesday 21st December 2021

Evil-Dead II-WEB2

January weekends on Horror Channel are invaded by the undead with the UK TV premiere of Lin Oeding's newly-flavoured zombie horror-comedy Office Uprising, and the two highly acclaimed Zombie apocalypse road movies - Stake Land, receiving its Channel premiere, and the sequel The Stakelander, enjoying a UK TV premiere.

Plus, there are channel premieres for the bone-chilling The Wretched, directed by The Pierce Brothers, Sam Raimi's classic Evil Dead 2, once again starring the demon battling Brue Campbell and the original Dolph Lundgrem/Jean-Claude Van Damme futuristic thriller Universal Soldier.

Here's everything you need to know:

A VHS classic on the 8th as Je...

SHARE: READ MORE
Features Archive: 2022 | 2021 | 2020 | 2019 | 2018 | 2017 | 2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013 | 2012 | 2011 | 2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007
PICK OF THE WEEK
Bloodline
BLOODLINE
Saturday 28th May
10.50 PM
The Resident
THE RESIDENT
Saturday 28th May
9.00 PM
Viral
VIRAL
Tuesday 24th May
9.00 PM