Canadian filmmaker Justin McConnell shot The Collapsed for only $40,000 and the movie was picked up for distribution by Anchor Bay Entertainment. The film was released on DVD this week and I caught up with Justin to talk about the making of The Collapsed. I also learned about future projects and he shared advice for independent filmmakers who are looking to attract distributors:
While many independent horror films tend to go the slasher route, The Collapsed takes a slower approach and is a more character driven film. What made you decide to go this route for your first film?
Justin McConnell: We knew going into this that we had a small budget. We shot it for $40,000 and we knew that if we wanted to have a lot of gore and non-stop action that it would not look good with the limited budget and time. From the beginning, we wrote it to rely more on characters and kept in mind the limited locations, while still staying ambitious. This way, when something big happens in the movie, it looks good and people buy into it. Instead of a campy schlock flick, we wanted to go the more serious route and snag more of the older generation audience that remembers the 70’s slow burn movies.
What was your inspiration for the story of The Collapsed?
Justin McConnell: The idea came up when we were trying to get another movie made, called The Eternal. We wrote stories for five other films, and every single one of them ties into the same universe we created. The Eternal didn’t look like it was going to happen, so we grabbed an element from that universe and built a story around it. Chronologically speaking, The Collapsed is the last in the series of films we’ve written, but they are all standalone films.
Do you have plans to revisit The Eternal or any of these other film ideas for a future project?
Justin McConnell: The Eternal is the next project we’re working on. John Fantasia’s character from The Collapsed is in the script for The Eternal for a short period of time and we get more background information on him. We plan to get all of these movies made over the next several years. It’s just a matter of getting the financing together and the right team. It’s a much bigger film and it’s one of those movies that is non-stop gore and action.
With The Eternal taking place within the same universe, will it help explain more of what we saw in The Collapsed?
Justin McConnell: Yes, definitely. We’ve also finished a graphic novel that details the 500-year history of the lead character from The Eternal and it specifically describes what they’re dealing with in The Collapsed.
With such a small budget, what challenges did you face? Was there anything you had to cut?
Justin McConnell: We shot over 14 days in 2010, which was very quick. Although it’s not usually done that way, we shot chronologically, so the family lived the script. We honestly didn’t have a ton of challenges, except for borrowing locations, and getting people to come out for limited money and long hours. Nothing about the shoot was challenging to the point where it looked like we wouldn’t finish it.
How was your experience taking The Collapsed on its festival run?
Justin McConnell: At this point The Collapsed has played 18 festivals worldwide. We actually had a 3-city theatrical run in Canada, and were held over in Toronto, which is pretty good for an indie movie. We also did a bunch of convention runs, like HorrorHound and Crypticon. I think the response was pretty good across the board. It’s not a movie that everyone is going to love because of the slow burn nature and low budget, but the film definitely grew its fanbase and the festivals helped get the distribution we currently have with Anchor Bay.
What advice would you give to independent filmmakers making their first movie and those looking for distribution?
Justin McConnell: Keep your ears open and talk as much as you can. Many of the people you grew up watching and even current filmmakers are open to talking to you and answering your questions. The more you know about how to sell the film and what the market is looking for, the easier it will be to sell your film. The last thing you want to do is not have a clue about what the market is buying and making a movie that no one will buy. It will only make you better in the end and will help your film do better in the marketplace.
I’ve actually set up a page for horror filmmakers at http://www.unstableground.net/horror and if you go there I’ve outlined all kinds of things you’ll need, including the type of insurance, list of festivals, and script/DVD clearances you need to buy. It’s all valuable ammo to help you handle what’s coming. It’s a tough game, but have thick skin, go forward, and make the best film you can.
Thank you for taking the time to talk with me. Ending with a personal question, I wanted to know what some of your favorite horror movies and influences are?
Justin McConnell: One of the earliest I had seen was Monster Squad, which really started it for me. I think my all-time favorite, though, is In the Mouth of Madness. Those that know me well enough know that one film has really influenced me and how I think. I really love everything Frank Henenlotter has done and focus on the more cult and left of center horror. Kind of like The Collapsed, half of the audience may hate it, but the other half loves it and are fans for life.