Markham – notes on making a zero budget horror film

My feature debut as a director Markham is all but finished as of today.  It’s been around two years in the making.  With no budget and no script Markham has been an experiment to see if we could actually pull of a film of any worth, starting from scratch.

Well we did. Markham is a tight, arty, experimental little horror film, with a cool look, cool music, some very good acting and some great locations. 

It’s Grindhouse in a way as well, parts where shot on film, it’s experimental, and wouldn’t be out of place alongside a lot of Shameless films  or  Arrow films releases

But what have I learned from making a zero budget horror film?

Okay, when Peter Jackson made Bad Taste, he did it, in a style similar to how we made Markham.  Shooting on a part-time basis as and when cast and crew where available, without much of a script to go along with – it took Peter Jackson FOUR years to complete the film, and now I know why (it’s taken nearly two years to complete Markham).

When I started shooting Markham I thought it might take six months.

Working without a script is a crackers idea, especially in low to zero budget filmmaking.  Initially when we started out, me and the actors just shot scenes that were interesting visually and we improvised the characters, and narrative, eventually a fitting plot emerged. This is an interesting and creative way to work (Kubrick worked like this sometimes).  But, it means it will take years to finish and you never know (as a director) what you’ll need – from a simple coverage POV – right up to major scenes that are required that only become apparent later.

The first lesson for next time, is to write a script and stick to what’s written.  There’s always room for experimentation but have the blueprint in script form first.

Another thing I’ve learned never to ignore is sound, especially when shooting on location.  A lot of ADR work was required in post production that would have been better avoided with more attention to paid to the sound recording on location, although admittedly recording dialogue on the open sea, in a raging storm is always going to be hard. 

Difficult locations is another point of learning. We picked some spectacular coastal locations to use in Markham.  But we didn’t consider how difficult they were going to be to get there, or actually shoot in these out of the way, and often dangerous places. 

The locations look great, but I should have considered the impact on production of where we shot.   We filmed in places never used in productions before – these were startling virgin locations for UK film.  But there were reasons why nobody had shot there, and they became clear to us as we used the often dangerous locations ourselves…

Finally one of the main things I’d say I learned at this stage is that IT’S COMPLETELY feasible to now shoot a low budget film, post produce it and edit for very little money and have an end product that’s completely serviceable.   The film is going to be released on DVD and on VIMEO at the end of August, but I could easily in future put the film on AMAZON PRIME myself.

The whole process has been a massive learning experience for me.  And I can’t wait to do it all again…

As well as being a freelance film director for hire, Matthew has also enjoyed a long career as a script writer for hire he’s written for most of the UK soaps, including writing award winning episodes of Emmerdale, EastEnders, Hollyoaks and Family Affairs and has been BAFTA shortlisted and Royal Television Society nominated as a script writer.

You can find some of his broadcast credits on the IMDb You can find out more about Matthew’s work as a director here.

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