The Dark Knight answers production questions!!
On November 23rd, 2016 I posted The Dark Knight Returns, my Batman fan film, on Youtube. The views were fairly strong at first, and then around week three, it went viral. As of this writing, we are nearing 150,000 views! Very exciting to get that kind of response.
The film is also getting a lot of comments, most of them very nice, some horrible, and some that even offer creative advice on future installments. But there are also a few here and there that ask questions about the production, most from young filmmakers who are just starting out. Here are a few of those questions, and my answers.
How do you go about making a fan film like this? Like locations and actors, crew etc? How big was your crew btw? I've been thinking of making a fan film myself, but I have a struggle getting people to help. I can do planning myself, but holding both camera and boom pole might be hard.
I was a Star Wars kid who picked up a Super 8 camera and just started shooting. My first films were horrible, but I kept going and they got better. To be honest, schedule was the most difficult thing on this film. I've been doing production for 30 years, the last 10 of it in St. Louis, so I had a network of friends and connections here, but still the most difficult thing is figuring out when everyone is free. That's why it took 17 months to shoot! We had about 24 days of shooting total. Some months we'd get a day, some 3 or 4, some we wouldn't get any. But I was patient and waited until I could get everyone together who was needed for a scene. I also really planned my shoots, story-boarded everything, and usually scouted the locations and had a lighting plan together in advance. We have a small production company, Pirate Pictures, and there are three of us. I write, shoot, and direct, my wife produces and does sound, and the other Pirate Bob does the lighting and electrical. But we often need help, so people we have hired are usually game to help here and there, as long as we don't abuse them. I try to keep my days to 10 hours, feed them, and know what I'm doing. My suggestion would be to try and find a network of peers and take as much time as you need to do a scene well, and not rush it.
I just can't understand how this was done for $2500!! Incredible.
Well...we asked for a lot of favors, and got very lucky.
We have all our own gear - camera, lights, generator, grip-electric, doorway dolly, sound gear, editing system, the whole thing. We do production full-time, usually corporate and industrial stuff, so we have the toys, gathered over a 10-year plus history. Another production friend willingly loaned us a camera and a drone for other scenes. That all saved us a LOT - I don't think we rented a thing.
Locations was an enormous part of this film, and we spent a LOT of time looking for locations that would be free. In some cases we found perfect locations that matched the comic, and weren't even that expensive to rent ($300-$500 a day) but because this was a fan film, we knew we were never going to make ANY of the money back. I wanted to make this film, but I also wanted to save up for a house and get more gear!! So the locations had to be free.
With the bar where Bruce and Gordon have a drink, they asked that we rent a hotel room there for the night, so that we were "legitimate" guests, and that only set us back about $100. The race track was an AMAZING stroke of luck. That came to us through Sheila Burkett of Spry Digital, who was a friend and happened to be involved with the Sports Car Club of America. She was able to get us waivers and get us ONTO the track over at Gateway Motorsports Park, and then she introduced us to drivers. We met Steve Hamilton of CSI Leasing, and his white open-wheeled F-1000 became the Ferris 6000. The race track was a million-dollar scene, one I was never sure how I was going to do, but it all came together!
After that, other locations and circumstances came together pretty easily. The "Arcade" scenes were shot in an abandoned mall that was about to be torn down, so another lucky break. The stairs to the Batcave were the stairs up to a water slide that was closed for the season, courtesy of the local Jewish Community Center! I could go on - St. Louis is a great town for locations. People are excited by film production, and just want to be involved.
One of the biggest expenses was food. We always fed cast and crew, unless it was the core team and we worked shorter days, in which case we'd all just go home afterward. On the big long days, we fed everyone. Also, we worked when everyone was FREE from their other jobs, which is why this took over a year to shoot. It was a complex puzzle to mix and match actors, crew, and locations. But we had time.
The costume, miniatures, and props were not expensive. I come from make up and fx, and built the miniature car, Robin costume, and other props myself, most of the time with stuff I had on hand. I bought a set of RC car tires for the race car, and that was about it. Robin's costume was sculpted on top of an old GI Joe, topped with a cheap cylinder vase from Hobby Lobby. Stuff really only had to look good from one side, and work for just that shot. For costumes, we bought a few t-shirts, hit them with iron-ons that we made. Bought cheap Halloween stuff on sale. The trench coat for Gordon was a $10 Goodwill find. I wore my own suit for Bruce Wayne. And I already had a bunch of prop guns, badges, and police gear from another movie we'd done. Many of the actors contributed their own wardrobe, including pimp and hooker clothes!!
As for the Batsuit, I made the costume entirely myself. There's a few hundred dollars in latex and clay and molding supplies, but I doubt the rest of the suit even cost $200 - the boots were from an online Halloween supply, the gauntlets were from a fencing supply, the cape material from Joanne Fabric, and the grey tights were actually sports "under armor"-type gear from Walmart!!
It is very important to note that we had production insurance that we got for a steal, just under $300, I believe. But beyond that, you can't discount the dedication of the crew - they really went all-out for us, spent their own time, money, and gas to do this. They were great, and we literally could not have done it without them. Another factor is that even when you don't have money, if you scout and prepare and discuss it all in advance, figure out your lighting, know what your issues are, you can look and sound a lot better than your budget. Preparation was everything for us. We didn't have a money hose, so we had to work smart. Add to all this the hours, the sheer HOURS and HOURS I put into this, and it starts to make sense. Not even my wife and partner know how much time I put into some of this!! The end titles alone were ridiculous. They would freak if they knoew how many hours I had in this!!
I hope that sheds some light on our budget. Probably more of an answer than you were looking for, but I love what I do and love discussing it!!
Always remember - good, fast, or cheap - you can only pick two!!