Making A No Budget Short Film Over Two Continents


Michael Chandler rooftop london shooting AKMy name’s Michael Chandler, and I’m a young(ish!) London-based filmmaker by night. AK is my second short drama. I originally drafted the film in 2007, following my second visit to Sierra Leone, inspired by some of the tales of hardship and courage following the civil war. Towards the end of 2011, a year since my last short film, I decided it was time to start planning the next one. Limited by having no budget, few resources and even less time due to a new, challenging full-time job, I intended to make it a simple short, utilising talent and locations I had access to. I re-visited and developed the AK story. Having recently met Julian, I thought he could be the perfect person for the role, and planned the shoot with him clearly in mind. However, as I broke down the story into shoots, developed the storyboard, and reviewed the filming requirements, I soon realised this may not be as simple as originally hoped.

AK is about a young Sierra Leonean man who lived through the conflict as both victim and perpetrator, and now finds himself a student in a foreign land; London. Lost, alienated and isolated, AK’s mind starts to blur the lines between the past and the present, memory and reality. He becomes haunted and tormented by his ‘debul’, which increasingly threaten his hopes, goals and dreams.

Shot in both English and Krio on location in London and Sierra Leone, AK stars up-and-coming Sierra Leonean actor Julian Sandi. The film mixes reality with fantasy, and features dark, exciting Krumping from young east London talent from the Think Big Project.

AK is technically my second short drama written and directed by myself, (first was The Fall, which was successful at festivals). I’m experienced in making short documentaries (Stay Sailing, a film about pirate radio) and was involved in making some award-winning campaign films for charities such as Shelter and Sierra Leonean charity WAYout. I’d done two short films for Marie Stopes/WAYout in Sierra Leone, shot in Krio, so was familiar with shooting in two languages. Useful for AK.

Making the film was both a pleasure and a challenge. The highs were numerous, included seeing the actors bring the story to life – Julian really was AK, and made this film work entirely on his shoulders. But also seeing the unexpected range, energy and talent the four youths from the Think Big project brought as well – both to the fight scene and to the dance sequence – that was really exciting.゠Secondly, doing the first few edits, bringing Andy’s music in, and seeing that this film – shot in drips and drabs here and there with snatched time – come together and actually starting to work.

Finally, this point now, is fun – with a certain amount of fingers crossed. Having finished it – getting it out there. Having a film, with some great pics, thanks to Iain Weir, to promote.

Michael chandler AK black and whiteBut it didn’t all go swimmingly. There were several frustrations along the way – mainly due to my over-ambitious shoot. I’ve more recently been involved in a short film project shortlisted for Film London funding, where they are offering £3,000 for a short film, but are always stressing that it needs to be simple – three or four cast members, for one or two locations, and a fairly large crew, for a budget of around £3,000. For AK I had absolutely no budget, no funding at all, and had three crew maximum – yet had 15 cast members, over 20 separate locations in two countries, in two separate continents. Over 10 days and nights shooting, including several night shoots (with no lighting rigs whatsoever). So, whilst it may have been over-ambitious, it was also a real learning experience, and I’m proud of what we managed to achieve. Not having any budget made it a real challenge, a labour of love, and an exercise in extreme guerrilla filmmaking – grabbing shots where and when we could – in shopping centres, buses, tunnels, rooftops. Nerve-wracking, but also fun.

It didn’t help that we also had a shoot during which the DOP/Sound Recordist soldiered on through pneumonia, the lead actor also had health concerns, and the rest of the cast and crew had their own substantial commitments, from work to school, to filming around the world, and my own full-time job – a bit of a scheduling nightmare. We then had numerous editing issues which really were torturous, all the more frustrating because they came so close to the end – lost files, a corrupt timeline which wouldn’t render three quarters of the edit.

And it has to be said, that its only thanks to all those that were involved, that gave their time and energy, that made it happen. Including Julian and Hazel, who pushed me on with their passion and determination when I was shattered or bewildered, so major thanks to them.

Now we’re currently getting it out there – promotion, submitting it to festivals. Its about to be premiered in the best place for it – Sierra Leone, at the Opin Yu Yi Human Rights Festival, which will be great!

If I had to give advice to wannabe filmmakers, it’d be this:

  1. When starting out, make it simple! The film I’m currently on pre-production on was one day, one actor, one room! (I learnt my lesson from AK!)
  2. Plan plan plan as best you can. You can get some pretty good stuff through guerilla filmmaking, if you plan and put in the work before you start shooting.
  3. Get a team around you that believe in the project and will follow you anywhere.
  4. Do try to aim to keep it down around 10-15 minutes – over that and its harder to sell to festival curators who may want to get more short films into their screenings.

Now – I’ve just finished a new short documentary, UV: Birth of a Festival, which is now getting out there and will be screened in London at the beginning of April. And I’m currently on post-production on my next short, Move (as mentioned above, a simpler affair than AK), and am developing three feature scripts at present – fingers crossed for those. Also keen to collaborate with other filmmakers on other projects.

Visit Michael’s site.


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