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This Exclusive Book Excerpt Shares Microbudget Film Tips

This Exclusive Book Excerpt Shares Microbudget Film Tips

William Dickerson is a writer and director whose debut feature film, “Detour,” was hailed as an “Underground Hit” by The Village Voice, an “emotional and psychological roller-coaster ride” by The Examiner and “authentic” by The New York Times. He self-released his metafictional satire, “The Mirror,” which opened YoFi Fest’s inaugural film festival in 2013. He recently completed his third feature, “Don’t Look Back.” His first book, “No Alternative,” was declared, “a sympathetic coming-of-age story deeply embedded in ’90s music” by Kirkus Reviews. His latest book, “DETOUR: Hollywood: How To Direct a Microbudget Film (or any film, for that matter),” is available now on Amazon. You can follow him on Twitter @WDFilmmaker and visit his website.

READ MORE: How to Make a Low-Budget Horror Film

Once
the mud began to flow, the set of my film, “Detour” got dirtier and dirtier and the soundness of the protagonist’s car became less
and less reliable—the movie is about a man trapped in his car by a catastrophic
mudslide, after all. Everything about the hero’s car was practical: the glass was
real, so when it cracks on screen, it was really cracking during the shoot.
When the roof collapses and crunches into itself, that was the actual roof.

Our
special effects supervisor Bob Williams was situated on the outside of the car
destroying its integrity, while Neil Hopkins, who played the lead role of
Jackson Alder, was inside the car reacting to it imploding in on him. Yes, it
was a controlled environment, but it looks real because it was real and
anything can happen at any given time, so maintaining the safety of the cast
and crew was front and center in everyone’s mind.

Bob was like the sage of the
set, filled with wisdom and wonderful stories about working with John
Frankenheimer, for instance. This man not only worked on the “Terminator” films,
but also did the special effects for “The Goonies” and “The Shawshank Redemption.” The guy was kind of a legend in this town.

It
was really nice to have a seasoned professional like Bob validating our
filmmaking process in such a way. It meant, I think, that we must have been
doing something right.

We
did, however, run into some trouble with our fake bird. Around the time the
back seat gets completely covered in wet mud and chunks of dirt, the main
character discovers that a dead bird has fallen into the car, presumably
plopping down through an ever-expanding hole in the sunroof. We could not
afford a taxidermied bird, or anything that resembled a genuine winged
creature. What I learned from this experience is that there’s a dollar and a
cent to be made in Hollywood’s trafficking of replica animals.

We could not
rent a dead bird, since we were going to submerge it in mud, so we had to buy
it if we wanted to use it. To buy one would have cost us an obscene amount of
money, a number that went well into the thousands of dollars. We obviously couldn’t
afford it, so our art director got the next best thing, which was more of a
Christmas ornament than a facsimile of an actual bird. We were lucky that we
were covering it in mud, but even that didn’t work very well. It was either we
showed the bird—the very fake bird—or showed a glob of mud in Neil’s hand.

After
examining the footage, we noticed that it could be an issue of distraction so I
attempted to try to find us a better bird at the last minute. I telephoned my
neighbor and asked him if he knew where I could locate a dead bird. My neighbor
responded, “I just happen to have two dead birds in my freezer.” Not one, but
two, dead birds. If you think this is strange, remember that I live in Hollywood.
It was this same neighbor who not so long ago telephoned me to ask if I had any
extra fake blood. As it happened, I did, and I lent him a bottle. At the time,
he remarked how even though Los Angeles has its drawbacks, it’s a great town
for making movies.

READ MORE: Essential Tips for Micro-Budget Filmmakers

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