Indie film champion Joel Carr on putting the DO in DIY filmmaking
By day he works in corporate video production, by night he is a low-budget filmmaker. We talk to Joel Carr about ultra-low budget filmmaking and doing everything yourself.
Joel, welcome to the Exit 6 interview. We have the pleasure of working together, so I know what you’re up to, but for the readers, tell us about the ghost story you’re working on.
The story is something I’ve had in the back of my mind for a couple of years now. It’s a short that is a romance/horror about a man, a ghost and developing relationship. I’ve taken elements of different genres, style and tone to tell the story. It’s called An Ode to My Dead Friend (Whom I miss dearly). I’ll be sending to international festivals in August.
Where did the idea for the story come from?
I moved into an apartment 5 years ago in an old converted Georgian building and every now and again strange unexplained goings-ons would occur.
I’d wake up and all my locked windows would be open, doors would slam, lights would blow out, guests would say they would feel blankets being pulled off them. I mentioned it to my neighbours and they all very casually said “oh don’t worry about it. It happens whenever someone new moves in or if there was construction work going on’ Then continued to tell me stories of a sightings of a young girl over the last 30 years in the different apartments.
I’ve never believed in the paranormal but it really got to me. When I’d tell friends about it everyone would say can’t you just move? I’d bought the place so that would be a financial struggle, so I just dealt with it by excepting it.
Then I got thinking and turned that into an idea for a horror/romance film.
You are making this project with hardly any budget at all – how on earth are you putting it all together?
Pretty much zero budget. I think the only thing I’ve paid for is travel and catering. Fortunately I have access to lots of camera equipment and am a capable video editor. I was taught film on a very artsy course which basically taught you to throw everything out of the window. I have always enjoyed films and stories of directors who do things non-traditionally like Harmony Korine or Terrance Malick and because of this I love to experiment with visual story telling.
I do as much as I can myself and use every resource I can. At one point I had my parents waving colourful folders in front of some lights I had found to create the desired effect. Everyone involved took on multiple roles.
You write, direct, produce and edit. Do you like to be a one-man-band, or would you like to focus on just one or two of these areas?
I’d rather not be a one-man band. I just don’t have a network of people I can rely on. One of my favourite things about the process is collaboration and I’ve been very lucky with the actors and all involved who have bought great ideas and have been really supportive of the project.
You also do the music for your films – is this because you like to keep full creative control, or is it down to budget?
Similarly to the video production side of it, it’s not so much I want complete creative control; I thrive off collaboration. I certainly have a clear idea of what I think would work and fortunately my brother is a capable musician/producer who listens to my ideas and takes my basic musical concept and turns it into something much, much better. My previous project was a documentary.
Similar to this project I knew what I wanted. Put together some sounds, ideas, feelings, tones, etc, presented that to my brother and a musician friend, gave them a rough cut of the project and a deadline. We all work together with different instruments and sounds at first then I leave it up to them. I put what they have made in the film and it always suits, so it works for me and seems to work for them.
Before this, you made a documentary short about your grandfather and his experience in the war – what made you decide to take on this topic?
I didn’t actually plan to take on this topic at all. I loved the process of this project. I love the feeling of a creative project taking a different form as it goes along. My granddad started to lose his eyesight in later life and he was a keen photographer. One Christmas he had his camera out and was asking what f stop he was on. I loved the idea that he continued his passionate without the ability to do it. That was the concept of the original project.
I wanted to ease him in a little before jumping in and talking about his sight going so I asked him about his life... and the project changed within a matter of minutes of recording.
He started talking about how he joined the underground Polish army during WW2, how he was trained to shoot at school, attacks he was involved in, being shot, hiding in the woods, all these wild stories. So I never actually made the original idea and turned it into something completely different.
That’s two completely different genres you’ve worked in – any preference?
Mmmm, not sure. I like them both equally but for different reasons. I have more experience in documentary and interviewing people. Making documentary really excites me as an editor cause I like to get lots of footage and sort of re compose the project and this has leaked into my experience making short narrative films. I’ll make a more structured and detailed plan for the narrative but like documentary I like to get a lot more than I need then make it up in the edit. And it might slip away from my original idea but I like that and It works for me.
Does your inspiration come from other low budget filmmakers, or is it simply that you want to get something made and sent out into the world?
I always liked the early 90’s Sundance filmmakers aesthetic particularly what Robert Rodriguez said about write around what you have access to. Then although I haven’t seen many of their films The Duplass Brothers express that how readily available technology is you really have no excuse not to make a passion project. I’m reading their book Like Brothers At the moment.
I just like making video, just as someone might like drawing or painting. I don’t really have any ambition to make films as a job, I just really enjoy doing it. I just think it’s important to create so if you believe in the project and yourself, it will happen.
What hints can you give people who have limited funds, but really want to get something made?
Just do it. It doesn’t have to please anyone but yourself.
We didn’t have video on phones then but I still managed to start making stuff with my parents old hi-8 camera whether it was with a film, a music video or even stop animation. A good craftsman never blames their tools. I remember being in my early 20’s working in a pub and a local kept on asking me why I wasn’t making films. I was making every excuse. Can’t afford it, haven’t got the time. He kept on pushing me and pushing and it made me realise I was just denying myself.
Also if you want to get it out there there is so much opportunity with film festivals too. I had to post a DVD to Australia for a film festival just 5 years ago. With my previous project II uploaded it to FilmFreeway and sent it to 20 odd festivals 2 years ago. I got a lot of rejection emails and some successes too.
What projects have you got coming up?
I have plenty of ideas and projects that I’d like to make. Also the buzz and excitement I’ve had from making this latest project has really given me the motivation to get the next project out of my head and on the screen as soon as possible.
I’ve got another 15 minute short I’ll do towards the end of the year and in between editing this current project and that I’m making an ultra short which will test me as an editor and sound designer. I like to challenge myself so trying different genres and processes to create is always something I like to do.
You can follow Joel on Instagram: @joelncarr