Three years ago TV editor Kit McDee got an idea when he read that Paramount Pictures had launched Insurge Pictures with the initial mandate of producing 10 films, each budgeted at $US100,000. The studio was looking to unearth more rough diamonds like 2009's Paranormal Activity, which cost just $14,000 and raked in $193 million at cinemas worldwide.
McDee did some research and concluded that a film budgeted at $100,000 will generate at least that amount of money in distribution deals, and potentially a lot more. He came up with the idea for a film set in a world of gangs, drugs, guns and assassins, about two ex-Army guys, Mike and Ed, who join forces to rescue Mike's fiancée.
He and Canadian colleague Dirk Foulger wrote the screenplay of The Hunters Club, with McDee making his feature directing debut and Foulger as the director of cinematography, and both sharing the producing chores. They spent three weeks shooting the film in Brisbane and the Gold Coast last August and plan two more days of pick-up shots in June.
The Sydney-based McDee says the final budget will be about $75,000, most of it money he saved while working as an editor on shows such as I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here! and So You Think You Can Dance Australia. Currently he's working on The Mole and will then segue to Australia's Got Talent.
While most low budget movies tend to be horror/thrillers and dramas, McDee, who had directed short films and music videos, has gone for an original approach, crafting an action-comedy, billed as a “gun-toting, fist-fighting, skateboarding action flick”.
Nicholas Gunn plays Mike, a military drop-out who spends his spare time practicing martial arts, skateboarding and playing video games. Mike gets a shock when he bumps into his former best friend and Army colleague Ed (Ty Hungerford), whom he thought had been killed in action in Afghanistan 10 years earlier. Ashlee Lollback plays Mike's fiancée Sarah, a sports therapist and yoga teacher. When Sarah is kidnapped, he and Ed take on The Hunters Club, a band of assassins. Its members include trained killer Manson (Brad McMurray), the gun-loving Flick (Lauren Jackson), who is rejected when she applies to join the police force for being morally unstable, and The Boss (Rob Horton), a mysterious and powerful figure.
McDee says the key cast and crew were paid wages and will get a large percentage of the profits (or back-end, in film parlance) if the film is successful. “Filming went reasonably smoothly although with hindsight we did push it a bit with a three-week shoot,” he tells SBS Film. “In many ways, ignorance is bliss.”
The producers did not seek funding from any government agencies, as McDee explains, “We did not want to get bogged down with any bureaucratic elements; we just wanted to make the film.”
McDee is currently shopping around for a composer. He plans to go to the US to show the finished film to potential buyers.
This seems to be a good time to be in the business of making micro-budgeted films. Movies made for less than $1 million have lost their bargain-basement stigma and have become an important part of the Hollywood equation, Variety's Dave McNary reported last week.
Paranormal Activity producer Jason Blum told McNary the growing popularity of Video-On-Demand services and the continued expansion of some international markets (such as China and Russia) are spurring demand for genre films.
Los Angeles-based New Artists Alliance sold three ultra-low budget projects at the SXSW festival in Austin, Texas, last month. Cinedigm acquired 3D thriller Static, starring Milo Ventimiglia (TV's Heroes); Drafthouse bought Cheap Thrills, starring Pat Healy (Rescue Dawn); and Magnolia picked up horror-comedy Milo, starring Ken Marino (Veronica Mars).
Lionsgate hired John Sacchi in January to run its lower-budget film division, which is producing sex drama Addicted and supernatural thriller Ghosts (formerly Jessabelle), which stars Aussie Sarah Snook.