We at Discobole.Com® had the pleasure of being able to exchange a few emails with the man behind the micro-budget horror film Savage Island. You can find a review from our own LDH here, and the movie's official site here.
   That's a tough question to answer succinctly. The process was far, far more difficult than I really expected. I think that what I learnt fundamentally is that I could do it. It's one thing to think you can do something, climb a mountain for instance, it's quite another to have made it there and back. Most of all, what I think I brought from the experience is a respect for the power of intention. Anything that one intends, that one focuses upon and follows through with, one can accomplish. It really is only a matter of not stopping.

   Just don't stop. I developped a personal motto for this: "Brute force solves all problems." Of course I mean brute force in a somewhat abstract sense.


   Glad you appreciated that. My background is as a cinematographer and I was very interested in approaching the medium from a different paradigm. It seems to me like people generally approach DV in one of two ways: either try to make it look like film as much as possible or offer it up raw. I've always thought that digital video has a lot of unexplored potential.

   So, what we chose to do is give ourselves all of the advantages of digital video: shoot handheld, in low light and gain up, amplify the signal, boost the contrast and sharpness in post so as to be able to do more on set. The idea was to make it look real (digital video can be so real), as though it had actually been shot in the moonlight. We purposefully underexposed drastically, much to the cinematographer's horror.

   Then, on the other hand, there were many day-for-night shots that I just treated in post to create a good night look, generally by adding noise, lowering the contrast, desaturating the colors, adding a bluish cast, darkening (obviously), and often keying the sky darker and the ground brighter. There is so much control available in this medium!


   Right, some statistics: principal photography was 13 days. It took a further two years for me to edit (working part time at it in my living room). Throughout post we did a lot of additional shooting. I put together a database with over 280 setups I wanted to pick up. We crossed them off, one by one.

   The crew was about twenty people or so, post added a lot of people due to the sound design process: we replaced ALL the sound. It's not unusual in a nobudget picture for the sound to suck. Thankfully Columbia Academy here in Vancouver does this thing where they take on independent films they like and do the sound work gratis (a valuable educational experience for the students). About 65 students worked on it over nine long months. They did a great job because they too had the same philosophy: "We won't stop until it works".


   Yeah. A word of advice: if you're making a no-budget film, use a small cast. Tiny. One person, no people if you can. Also, avoid night exteriors, and action scenes, and special effects. Don't have any boats or scenes where cars are driving. And above all things: don't put any children in the film, especially not babies...

   We did all of these things. Anyone who knows anything about filmmaking knows that those are all no-nos when you have no money. We knew this going into it, I knew all this intimately as a cinematographer. We decided not to let that stop us. The story demanded it all. Where we chose to compromise was in the look of the film. We created this Savage Look concept that would allow us to shoot with no lights and figured it would give us just enough of an edge that we'd be able to handle all those other elements.

   And it worked.


   The horror genre is great because it is inherently a transgressive genre. It's all about transgression so you get to be very subversive if you want. Also, because the nature of the medium is that you have the audience by the throat (people's lives are at stake) you can really afford the luxury of experimenting with style and exploring character in ways that another genre doesn't allow.

   It's a great genre for a first feature (see Peter Jackson's career for a stellar example) because it can be raw and unsophisticated and not alienate it's audience, because you can have no-name actors and not kill your chances of distribution, because it can be flawed acting-wise, story-wise, any-wise really and still be enjoyable.

   I set up to make a film just because it's something I love to do, I chose the horror genre because it made the most sense. Besides, it's fun, it's the most cinematic of genres: you use all the tools as fully as possible. Music, editing, camera, lighting, acting, writing. All to an extent you never see in other genres. It's a genre of extremes and as such, an extremely fun and satisfying genre to work in.


   I'd decided to make a horror film. I wanted it to be edgy, to be intense, to be savage. I also have family here that owns a house out in the islands so I figured we'd write to our resources. I figured we'd make a film called SAVAGE ISLAND that would be set on this property. Of course, that was the first location we lost...

   So you see we had the title first, I was going around telling people I was going to make a horror film called Savage Island. People told me: 'That's an awful title', 'why are you making a horror film?'. 'what's wrong with you?'.

   I was planning on writing it myself but a friend introduced me to Kevin Mosley. Kevin is your archetypal horror writer. He literally lives in the basement of this old house on hardly any money at all. He's a horror maniac, has all these Steven King hardcovers and back issues of Fangoria and weird cult monster dolls. He'd written about a dozen screenplays, a psychic murder mystery, a serial killer movie, a UFO movie, and lots of horror... Lots. We hit it off right away and together we spent a weekend at the island house brainstorming. We came up with a number of scenarios and settled on and developed together what would eventually come to be 'Savage Island - Love Thy Neybor'.

   Kevin works as hard as I do, maybe harder. We went through more than twenty drafts, very intense rewriting, he'd punch out anywhere between ten to twenty pages a day. A draft a week. He continued to be involved all the way through post. That was very important to me, in a lot of ways he's the soul of the film.


   I think filmmakers have to be aware that they're storytellers, that as such they have a responsibility to their audience, to society. Not just to entertain (which is I believe the primary responsibility) but to provide a moral or spiritual framework as well. Let's just say none of that was subconscious. We did a lot of rewriting, we thought a lot through.


   The actors were great. They're all film professionals and are used to 'real' sets with trailers, great caterers, craft service, drivers, etc.. We had none of that. They put up with it which was damn lucky, especially given the shooting conditions (Vancouver in December, cold cold rain, non stop).

   Actually it all worked beautifully. Unable to retreat to their trailers, the actors were forced to spend their time together, time which they used to rehearse their scenes, their lines. They'd always show up on set well prepared and very related to one another. Winston Rekert (Eliah Savage) was also very helpful, he has a lot of directorial experience (far more than me) and would often marshall his 'family', keeping them in line and on their toes.


   I did everything on a 400 MHz G3 iMac, using Final Cut Pro.


   One important thing I think is to aim for a specific market. Keep in mind that film isn't just art, it is a business, hopefully you're making a product that will one day be sold. Generally this will mean that you need to get some 'names' into your picture, but there are genres (horror and erotica) where this isn't necessary.

   The most important is the 'Brute force solves all problems' thing. You can do it. Just keep going. Keep making it better. Make it as good as you can, then rest for a while and see if you can make it any better.

   Don't stop.