Extreme UK Guerrilla Film-making #1

Why Extreme? Well, this is a feature film project shot in multiple locations (Leicestershire) with large cast, in 21 days, with no money or subsidy of any kind – nada, zilch. That’s what we did with Do Something, Jake and here are some insights in a series of blogs from the director and production team.

The film is nearing post-production completion and due to be released summer, 2017.

Are you Mad?

Being a middle-aged guy from a (some will say, misspent) background that involved outrageous amounts of surfing, backpacking, guitar playing, plus more considered ‘career’ soirees in software, stills photography and documentary film-making, I was unlikely to tick any boxes for lottery-funded schemes or other subsided incentives available via UK film and television organisations.

Michele Russo who plays ‘Guy in Gym’ Image © Raya Films

So, maybe I was mad to undertake such an ambitious project with all of the risks and uncertainties associated with going it alone, but there are many film-makers successfully undertaking projects on very low budgets including a great example, Tangerine, which was filmed on an iPhone! ‘No budget’ is a world away from ‘low budget’, but we had belief in our own ability to pull it off, plus enthusiasm from others in no small measure.

Kevin Smith (Action Coordinator) on set with Tom Loone. Photo © Mike Mafrici

As we shall see, despite the traumas and ‘firefighting’ requisite of making any film, there are some advantages to the guerrilla approach, not least creative freedom and the ability to produce something truly unique. The aforementioned subsidised schemes often require filmmakers to be ‘mentored’, handheld through development of the screenplay and production, after which the funding body receives a tidy portion of the profits. And let’s face it, although there is some fine stuff coming out of Britain, many films are from the same mould. You know the ones – council flat dramas, urban coming of age tales, and dodgy horror flicks. Oh, and Brit thug movies in which the first act comprises someone kicking someone’s head in, and by the third act, everyone’s kicking everyone’s head in! Well, Raya Films don’t make those, and thank goodness for that.

Whatever happens with Do Something, Jake as we near release, I suspect there has never been a British film quite like this one, and for that reason alone I am proud.

The dilemma

How could we produce something saleable (a film that people would pay money to see in a theatre or download online) with no production budget?

Oft-told guerrilla mantras sprang to mind: small cast, one location (dad’s house, that sort of place), and a simple story-line. Sounds like good advice. So, why then did we reverse all of this and end up with our complex, interwoven plot, and expansive production? The answer to that is probably temptation – I often sat down with expert screenwriter, Caroline Spence, with my “One man in a room” idea, only to end up a month later (after countless coffees and bottles of wine) with a 100 page draft screenplay comprising a large diverse cast, and a mammoth undertaking looming on the horizon. But to hell with the rules – guerrilla film-making of all of the disciplines is surely there to break them. We loved the idea of Jake, this down-on-his-luck character who battles through life with some bizarre and downright dangerous predicaments. Thus, despite the daunting task ahead, we just had to make the film.

Cinematographer, Jonathan Hawes, preparing a Reliant Robin for our ‘car chase’ scene. Photo © Raya Films
The scene involved Jake chasing a powerful Land Rover in the three-wheeler, with local resident, Dave Brown, at the wheel with his dog ‘Scamp’ on board. Photo © Raya Films

People, Places and Gear

In August 2015, we had a solid screenplay and I owned a basic digital camera, some audio equipment, plus a few bells and whistles all stashed in my parents’ house in Quorn, a small village in the English countryside. That’s pretty much all we had, so the next few weeks were assigned to auditioning the cast and seeking more gear and locations.

Some actors came from outside of Leicestershire to appear in the film, including London-based Jamie Alderson (pictured) who played ‘Jake’ and Ed Bergtold who flew from New York to play ‘Morten’. Photo © Raya Films

After nearly quitting due to inability to find locations, we hit on a bit of luck at the last minute (in the form of a kind business-minded family who provided many locations in the area), and found ourselves scheduling a November shoot. It seemed that everyone in Leicestershire wanted a piece of ‘Jake’ and involvement with the nutty film-makers undertaking this crazy venture. Having worked extensively over decades in various other parts of the UK (where, I found, film-makers and other arty types with ‘fanciful’ ideas could be greeted with ridicule and doubtful smirks), this was refreshing indeed, and I can’t praise the East Midlands people enough for their positive enthusiasm and energy.

The ‘Green Light’

But all of the above was the easy part – the real challenge would begin when we rolled cameras one misty morning in November 2015.

And that tale will unfold in the next installment coming soon … until then, check out this interview (courtesy of David Ward and Mike Mafrici) with Ed Bergtold who plays ‘Morten’. In following posts, there will be B-Roll clips and much more, so do keep checking by.

Oh, and don’t forget the trailer!

James Smith, writer-director



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.