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Here’s How This Filmmaking Collective Produced This Short Crime Thriller for Only $500

Here's How This Filmmaking Collective Produced This Short Crime Thriller for Only $500

Martin Wisniewski and Ayz Waraich, producer and director of “Loot,” a six-minute crime thriller, set out to make a short film that would enable them to experiment. The two filmmakers, part of the Toronto-based filming collective The Wild Machine, decided to share the film for free – and offer up audio/video stems so that others can remix the movie. “Viewers can take the film, pull it apart, recut it, re-score it — and then show us. We’ll be featuring the best versions, and maybe even meeting some future collaborators!” they explained. You can watch the film above. Then access the “Loot” stems via this 
dropbox link.

Below, Wisniewski shares his complete — and hilariously honest — production breakdown. Read more about the project and their collective here. They’re also part of the Bureau of Creative Works project which you can read about here. And you can also listen to their newly launched podcast here.

READ MORE: New Film Collective to Produce 12 Original Shorts

Concept: ideation to creation

So we decided to make a short film using some of the story elements we learned over the years. It was an exercise just as much as a shoot; shake the cobwebs off and test some of our story theories. We were not going to be precious, if the film was good we’d release it. If it sucked we would use it as kindling. We used a note book and Final Draft 9 to write the script.

We applied our short story theories to the script. Between the two of us, the seven page script was written within three hours. Ayz Waraich, the director, did most of the writing, I made notes and wrote the first page. The film would be a simple two character crime thriller. The story would be  bare bones and have to move forward very quickly. Our length for the film from the outset was “no longer than six minutes.”    

AYZ – “Dude you know what we should do, make a remix film. Release the stems and make a how to booklet for young filmmakers.

This particular project was going to be small in scale. All of the props and production elements had to be things we owned, or had access to. We would shoot days in the elements because we didn’t have money for lighting. 

Ayz sent the script out to our collective of filmmaker friends that very same night. Our buddy and badass cinematographer Kevin Rasmussen was in immediately. If you are reading this saying “oh, they just called a cinematographer” — I directed and shot 30+ music videos without ever using a camera operator or cinematographer. THIS IS AN EXCUSES FREE ZONE! 

Rehearsal: On-the-spot casting

Ayz and I originally planned to shoot the short on a Canon 7D with some of the 42mm Russian lenses we own. The dialogue wasn’t dense/complicated, so Ayz knew the actors could be friends, people he felt had the potential to pull it off. It helps when those friends are creative directors/producers, and one of them is the handsome guy writing this. 

Not casting the roles in the traditional sense took the pressure off of us.

We met up at a studio space that Shervin, the other actor, owned. We went out for lunch in Yorkville like the fancy douches we are and discussed some ideas. When we came back the actors left to read lines and rehearse off the page. It took us about 45 mins to get comfortable. Once we felt ready we invited Ayz to come and watch the whole thing.

It’s time to do a rehearsal and run through! 

I had never acted a lick in my life. Shervin had a little experience.  

On the first run through, the director, Ayz, started to notice something: The “actors” brought “real” performances and ideas to the characters. We did more run throughs and Ayz gave us additional notes. The performances were coming to life with each additional adjustment. Suddenly, Shervin dug deep and delivered a performance that blew us away.

AYZ – “FUCK IT, let’s use the RED and see if we can get some lenses!”

Our second rehearsal would be at the location while we were location scouting. 

READ MORE: Essential Tips for Micro-Budget Features

Checklist: What do we have?

I made a checklist of all the props and equipment we required. It was a lot more than a shotgun mic and  a Canon 7D. But still tiny scale compared to features we’ve made in the past. Beggars can’t be choosers so we structured our shoot around the days we could get some anamorphic lenses from our producer friend Judd. We own an original RED camera (from a previous feature shoot) and accessories, so audio equipment was going to be our one major hurdle. 

We got the Lavs, and found an old shotgun mic we had lying around. We made a make shift boom from a greenscreen stand with some gaffer tape. Here’s the thing: when you decide to go ahead and move forward, shit just happens to appear — whether it be helping hands, equipment or locations. Remember that people like to be involved in something that’s happening. People are fascinated by film — that’s your ace in any situation. 


DAY 1: “We have a problem.”

We purposely shot days outside, because it would not require lighting or time consuming set ups/ turnarounds. Our first day of shooting never happened, it was dark overcast and raining. The weather was never going to match our next two days which were supposed to be clear and sunny. So before we started we already lost a day; typical indie bullshit. 

We didn’t get discouraged though. We just used the time to block our shots and set up our laptop workstation. I ran a final equipment check and made sure we had wardrobe and props, while Kevin (the cinematographer) and Ayz discussed lens choices and angles for the shots.

We made our schedule for the next day, we would start with all the driving shots first. They would help warm up Shervin the actor and we could get some of the lengthy set ups out of the way. We hung around, talked films for a few hours and headed back to the city. 

DAY 2: “Let’s try this again.”

We shot two full days 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.. We were pushing our luck but didn’t let it discourage us. Oddly enough, all the complicated shots and acting scenes moved very quickly, but the inserts killed us. It took us a few takes to get the simplest shots, which slowed down our schedule.

As a producer, I knew this was going to complicate our final acting scenes. My experience told me we’d be chasing the light at the end of the day, and we did! The pressure on the actors (me!) to perform was really stressful, but I had a real nervous energy for our first acting scene on the log in the forest. My brain went from knowing all the lines to suddenly going blank!

Ayz called out: ACTION! 

And just like that I remembered my lines again. I learned a huge lesson though: never produce AND act in a no-budget short film. It’s just way too stressful. However, on the flip side ,you’re acting and reacting on instinct which is good for the process. I had all these ideas of what I was going to do with the character, the camera rolled and I felt like I was out of my body. My brain was doing what it felt like doing, I was just a passenger. 
DAY 3: “Push the finish.”

On day three we needed to get a lot done and we were going to start with our most complicated shot of the film (car exterior trunk to window – film intro). We drove a pick up truck beside the 53’ Chevy, down a quiet back road. Kevin was in the truck bed with a tripod and camera. Somehow we managed to only do this shot twice and nailed it on the second attempt! We did a third for safety — but it pumped us up. Back to our basecamp we went, really feeling ourselves (ahahahha). We started to shot inserts and all the walking through the forest scenes. At the end of day near dusk we would shoot our showdown.

Once again, the inserts killed us. Our lack of equipment made any moving shots incredibly difficult. Racking focus by hand, no nd filters, two pipes and a makeshift dolly with an unstable tripod on it (FML). Kevin is a pro, he’s like “let’s reset and do it again, quickly let’s go.” Like soldiers, we ran to our positions and did it again. We were running out of sunlight, and of course now it’s time to shoot the climax of the film. Once again, my mind went blank just before Ayz yelled action. We shot so quickly I really don’t remember much, just that we kept moving around to get light on our faces. It was funny, Kev was like “if you feel the suns heat on your face, that’s your mark!” We finished and scrambled like madmen to drive over to a field to get the hero shot of me walking to the Chevy across the vast field at sunset.


1st Assembly: “Don’t get discouraged.”

So we labeled the footage and lined up the sound. We didn’t record the audio into the camera, it was a standalone XLR recording device with two channels. LAV and shotgun mic (L and R channels). We recorded the audio in sequential order like the takes, so that labeling and lining up audio was a days work in post. 

I used to be a music video director/editor so I never recorded audio in camera. So lining and syncing audio in 30 or so music videos was practice that finally paid off. It took less than a day to prepare the footage. Once we were organized, Ayz came over and we looked over all the footage. We choose our favorite performances and takes/shots.

Now it’s time for the first assembly. We put the rough skeleton of the film together, it was a bit under ten minutes and made Ayz the director downright suicidal. He proclaimed “I could’ve sworn we had a good film.” That first assembly took about eight days. It was long bloated and didn’t have all the story beats. First assemblies are always brutal, they are the worst representation of what the final film will be.   

Editing: “shed the fat.”

Now we’re ready to add some temp music tracks. The film’s missing flow and polish, but we knew we had something. The script was direct and concise so we would use it as our template just in case we got lost in the edit. We really noticed how much the music was heightening the visuals and bringing the project to life. The music was written into the script but this was the first time visuals and music would actually meet.

When you’re in the edit, it’s a culmination of: taste/style, polish, hard work and shaving off the unnecessary self indulgences. This is the “killing your darlings” stage. Some of our favorite shots and performances didn’t make it, Remember if they’re not making the film better they need to go. We went through about four edit/drafts. We both took the final cuts and made adjustments individually. The culmination of those two edits is the final film (Ayz + Martin edits).

Final Edit: “time to make adjustments”

We went back and removed a few of the temp tracks and decided to find songs we thought would fit best. A few tracks sounded better and were more cinematic, but they did not fit tonally. Just because you personally like a song more doesn’t always mean it’s the right fit for the film. Tone is a fickle beast and usually where most films get lost in post, knowing when and where to make the right decision for the film is just gut instinct and taste that comes from experience. No one knows your story better than you, so that makes you the foremost expert on the material. That doesn’t mean you’re always right though, so be open to ideas and other people’s creative input. Film is a fucking collaborative art form first and foremost; the best collaborators bring great ideas.

We went out to create a grimy crime flick that was also a fun ride. The film does not exist in a particular place in time and is ambiguous that way. It takes place outside of Toronto and that’s really all the audience needs to know.   

Sound Design: “We made some mistakes.”

We decided to export the final cut of the film from the Mac Book and use the PC and Sony Vegas to do the sound design. I was opposed to this idea at first, it was a program that was unfamiliar territory to me. I personally learned on FinalCutPro and moved over to Premier when Final Cut became horse shit. I have to say after learning Sony Vegas, it’s actually the most intuitive program I’ve used. It allows you to move at two to three times the speed of other non-linear programs. To me trying out multiple ideas quickly is the best approach to post-production, and Vegas allows me to work at the speed of thought. Either way, this is not an infomercial for motherfuckers that aren’t paying us, give it a try and tell me I’m wrong.

We imported the dialogue sound stems and lined up the music we were going to use. Here’s when we ran into some issues. None of the sound recorded in the car was useful, goddamn sound guy (which was also this guy btw!). We used all the sound libraries we had purchased and collected over the years. We literally made or overlaid every goddamn sound in the film. We used a USB mic and Mac Book with Logic X to record foley (leather scratching, spoons hitting) to get the sounds we needed. All our ADR for dialogue was recorded on that USB mic or onto our cells into the memo app, I’m not going to tell what parts –’cause you’ll never know the difference.

The sound design took us the longest amount of time in post (two weeks).

Color/Titles: “Polish and shine.”

We were split shifting audio and coloring at this stage. Ayz is amazing with visuals and color pallets, so I trust his “eyes” more than my own “no pun intended.” Ayz literally colored the files from the RED RAW extensions on the files, we don’t have post coloring software or a computer good enough to do it with to be honest. Plus this was intended to be a fun little DIY project, no real colorists needed. 

So now we had the colored film, sound design, dialogue/ADR all assembled. Great everything works and we were happy. Most filmmakers would stop here, but not us! The film needed more attitude and polish: titles, grain/flicker and ridiculous sound effects. Ayz added gunshots over titles and we both laughed, which to us is always a good sign. Ayz added fonts we would never use in our own designs, but this film is made by a 70’s grindhouse director who thought they looked good. It was meant to look like a washed out 30 year old print, a print you’d find in a dumpster. This is where your personal touches as a director come alive. It’s not just about the moving pictures, it’s about the film as a whole. So the “swearing movie,” as my parents called it, was complete. Most filmmakers would stop here, but not us. 
Completion: “8 weeks of work”

So here we are. This is the first of more of these to come. We will take more time to record, take pictures and write diaries of our projects in the future. You’re getting a culmination of what it took us 10+ years to learn. The Wild Machine is a collective, it’s not a production company. We support all art, but we just happen to be filmmakers. Robert Rodriguez’s “Rebel without a crew” taught us that we could do it years ago. So from now on we want to create content that’s great and give away any tricks and knowledge we’ve picked up along the way. 

If you have this book, that means you have the stems, go out and remix the shit out of the film — “it’s yours” — and then show us what you’ve made!

Time for us to get off the soapbox and make another film. If you’ve ever wanted to make something, now is as good a time as any!

READ MORE: Attention, Filmmakers: This Filmmaker is Giving You Free Music for Your Soundtrack

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