Crowd-funding is a growing trend for creative projects in these recession-hit times. We've seen this happen recently with publishing with the likes of Pubslush press, but it is particularly prevalent in the world of low-budget film-making.
Together with his partner, Lydia Wood, Gabriel Strange is one director who has embraced crowd-funding as well as sponsorship for his project Casimir Effect, which is now awaiting a release date.
Can crowd-funded films garner the necessary kudos and groundswell of critical or public opinion necessary to create a buzz about a team's work? Makers of A Little Bit Zombie, the My Million Dollar Movie project, went for a somewhat obvious low-fi B-movie zombie flick, but pulled in a cast with some bona-fide credentials, such as Shawn Roberts, who has acted in Resident Evil, Land of the Dead and other reputable horror flicks, and Pontypool's Stephen McHattie. The result: zombie lovers have lapped it up.
For Casimir Effect, Wood and Strange also pulled their punches and got in the likes of Torchwood's Gareth David-Lloyd and The Matrix's Neil Rayment, but have arguably aimed a little higher with the film's plot: a science fiction romance set in a temporal paradox. The proof of the pudding will be post-production, but reactions to the released clips on Youtube have been unfalteringly positive.
As we await the release of the film, I put some questions to Gabriel Strange:
First of all, congratulations on having completed this ambitious project. Did you ever think you would get there? What’s left to do now?
We remained positive throughout; even though we had a few detractors who said we wouldn’t even get to filming. We made it there and beyond. We knew it would be hard to do something like this and it was hard, but we were driven enough to keep moving forwards and on occasion do the odd sidestep.
Now we’re in post production we have a locked edit, we have people doing special effect tests once were happy we can dig in and get the effects finished. We have rough version of the songs and music for the film as well these should be getting some polish and finishing off over the next month then we can start mixing them into the soundtrack. We will be releasing the soundtrack once we have final mixes of the songs. Then we have the final sound mix where we balance the dialogue, music and sound effects to create the mood and emotion of a sequence.
There has been a bit of a movement towards both low budget sci-fi indie films and fan-funded film projects of late. What makes Casimir Effect different from the likes of My Million Dollar Movie, for example? Has the success of Moon spurred you on to aim higher with your project?
A good story is the key to making any film a success no matter what the budget. We feel we have a good story, but we also have high standards, we aimed as high as we can with everything. Were trying to give every aspect of the film a level of polish you don’t usually see in micro and no-budget films.
One of the things to remember here is millions of dollars don’t mean a film is good. The recent film ‘Battle for L.A.’ (Dir. Jonathan Liebesman) is essentially a B-Movie with lots of bells and whistles. It’s great if you love popcorn and don’t mind switching your brain off. At the core of a good sci-fi is a discussion on the human condition, ‘Moon’ (Dir. Duncan Jones) covers the morality of cloning, looks at identity and touches on the big issues of playing god. Moon also did an awful lot with a small budget, which is what were aiming to do. We don’t have millions but we have a lot of talented people and an idea they can get behind.
In Casimir Effect we wanted to look at how individual choices no matter how small can change a person’s fate. Time travel is a perfect for this, but rather than making time travel the core of the film, we made the love story and the choices the main character makes to subtly alter the future and stop a paradox.
I must say the cast you have is quite impressive – Zöe Mills, Gareth David Lloyd (Torchwood) and Neil Rayment (Matrix Reloaded). How did you manage to land those actors for a low-budget project?
As mentioned in the above question a good story and idea can be just as good as millions of dollars. Everyone commented on the script and said there is a lot of subtext for all the characters, and how every time they re-read the script they discovered something new about their character. Even on set Neil was commented on something new he discovered about his character which changed his performance in a scene. You know you have a good script, when the actors can find the character and develop its history, just from a few actions or lines of dialogue.
There was an element of just having the balls to ask them in the first place, and offering them something new to get their teeth into. My philosophy has always been if you never ask you will never know. I asked a lot of companies for help, most said no but a few helped out a lot with free stuff or massive discounts.
You’ve even got Blue Gillespie – Gareth David Lloyd’s band – doing music for the soundtrack. I’ve heard fragments accompanying the trailers – very atmospheric! Are these specially written for the film?
All the music has been written for the film, the song on the trailer of called ‘Paradox.’ It’s is one of two track the band produced for the film, based only of a handful of words and the script. There is an accompanying song ‘Time Knot’, Blue Gillespie has a solid and unique sound to them that you expect from a good movie sound track.
Clarky, the guitarist for the band, is writing and producing all the other music for the sound track. I have heard rough cuts so far, and even at this stage it starting to sound awesome. There is depth and emotion to the music and a song for every mood in the music Clarky has crafted.
How much has it helped to have actors like Gareth David Lloyd on board in terms of attracting funding? Do you get a lot of fan support? Has that helped you to keep going?
One thing I was taught is that names sell films, not always, but a big name can attract a lot of funding. Gareth’s fans have helped us meet our targets, and through merchandise, auctions and spending out of our own savings we raised enough to make the film and take us into post production. Funding this way was the only option for us as we applied and looked into other avenues of funding, and everyone said no because at the time they didn’t think low-budget sci-fi was possible or even turn a profit. Yet in the last 12 months it has shown it can be done successfully, with the success of ‘Moon,’ ‘Skyline’ (Dir. Colin Strause, Greg Strause) and ‘Monsters’ (Dir. Gareth Edwards) to name but a few.
We still get a lot of fan support and as we go from stage to stage, the fans help us out with promotion and any fundraising we do. In a way it feels like this is a film has created a small family of crew and fans all of which are important to the success so far.
Not only do you have an actor from Torchwood, you also appear to share your location with that programme as well, as most of the film has been shot in and around Cardiff. What makes Cardiff so attractive a location do you think for both you and Auntie Beeb?
Well good locations get used a lot, 6 months after filming at Mir Steel, the Doctor Who Christmas special filmed in exactly the same location as us, but we got our time machine there first.
As the cost of filming can be in the tens of thousands per minute on set, anything to reduce that cost is always good. So I think the reason Cardiff is so popular is cost, your not paying London prices for locations you can easily adapt to suit your needs. Our interrogation area became part of the town in the Christmas special. Cromwell Jackson’s office was also a science institute in Doctor Who. Even though Cardiff looks nothing like London, a few signs and a fake underground station and it’s passable.
With such a low budget to work with, I imagine you didn’t get to do much delegation... how many crew did you have working on this project altogether? Of all the different hats you possibly tried on (director/producer/location finder/casting agent/script writer/script editor... am I near enough?) which did you like best and were there any hat-styles you found it really difficult to let go of?
So far we have had around 150 cast & crew, most of them were during filming when you need people running around getting the small things sorted. Every film set has a lot of people, some may only have one task that day but it means the filming runs smoothly and doesn’t get delayed and end up costing more because of it. It may seem silly to have someone just getting coffee for the director, but if you had to stop filming while the director made a cuppa; that could be hundreds of crew standing idle and potentially costing tens of thousands of pounds (millions on bigger films), rather than one person standing idle costing very little in comparison.
I took on a lot, but only what I knew I was capable of or could learn how to do in time. I did most of those roles with Lydia Wood, so we could share the stress. I’m also doing a lot more than that, chipping in where I can, so this includes sound FX, mixing and some of the post production work. I like the green pointy hat of scriptwriting the most, because you can forget about everything else and let your imagination run wild, well until you come to the practicalities of making the film. None of them are too hard to let go of when you trust those you’re working with, and you can’t juggle everything at the same time when on set because you need to stay focused.
And now for the science bit... Casimir Effect is described as a science fiction romance set against a temporal paradox. Just how romantic can Quantum Physics get?
Well look at Prof Brian Cox, I think he could be very romantic with the ladies. One of the key factors in writing the story was to take fundamental theories of quantum physics and to see how they can be used to tell stories. The Casimir Effect itself is a very small attractive force, which essentially holds the key to limitless power. We have the attractive force represented in the love story and how the main character love grows stronger the closer they are to each other. And unlimited power in the face that Dr. Alice Sharpe is in her own past and can control the fate of the universe.
There is a lot more in there such as how a lone particle travelling in one direction cannot change its own fate, but if another partial comes close and crosses its path they can change each other’s fate. This is represented in the fact that Alice cannot change her own fate, but by falling in love she can change the fate of another who in turn can change her fate.
We even get a bit of mythology in there to.
I read that you are looking to take the film out to the festivals this summer. Are there any dates we should look out for, any screenings planned? How can we see Casimir Effect?
Like all good plans things happen, because there is a lot more CGI than we previously thought, we’re delaying the release by at least six months rather than rushing and making a bad job. This is one of the advantaged of independent film making, you can release the product when it is done and not do a shoddy job. So the best advice is keep an eye on the website, dates will be coming soon.
I imagine you are already planning your next movie? If so, are you sticking with sci-fi?
I always plan several things at once then you have options so you can pick the best match to what is current or going to be the next big thing. So at the moment I’m writing an action thriller for a local director, this is going to be a fun project to work on as I won’t be in control but I can see how someone else interprets the words I put down.
I’m also working in a few ideas for TV series, ‘Chad Cox Private Dick’ a comedy about a crap private detective. I’m also working on a series about faerie tales and how stories and imagination are important to us as human beings; this is called ‘My Imaginary Human.’ Both are super secret for now as were hoping to pitch them later this year or early next year.
So not really sticking with sci-fi, many because the development cycle of a film is so long anything planned now won’t be seen for 3 years when something other than sci-fi might be popular. So I’m looking at what will be popular in 3-4 years time and writing for that, and in case you’re curious it’s faerie stories and the power of imagination.
Apart from learning how to make a film, how would you say that Casimir Effect has enriched your lives?
We get a lot more headaches now and the parties are more interesting. Mostly experience and the knowledge that two words in a script can cost a lot of money to get on to the screen. Its introduced us to new and interesting people and at least we have something on our CV that most people only dream of.
And finally – a temporal paradox has occurred! You find yourself back in 2009 about to start work on Casimir Effect, only this time you are armed with knowledge of the future – what would you advise your slightly younger selves to do?
Probably to run really fast and don’t look back. Really the only thing would be to tell myself to tell the gaffer to test the power at the locations in advance rather than the day before filming.