Description image

'Ghost of Old Highways' Pulls off an Epic Period Chase Short on Zero Budget

08.3.12 @ 1:55PM Tags : , ,

Although frequent collaborates when it comes to that all important element of score, musicians are rarely perceived as the driving force behind film projects even when it’s created as a promotional tool for their music. Not so with Ben Lovett, who co-wrote, co-edited and stars in the heart pounding, civil war era chase short Ghost of Old Highways:

<embed src="" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" width="400" height="300"></embed>

Ghost of Old Highways is the fourth film in an ongoing project from Lovett called the Highway Collection in which the musician is partnering with different directors to bring the nine tracks of his album to visual life across a variety of filmic styles.

This instalment is the second collaboration between Lovett and director Dan Bush (Lovett scored Bush’s feature The Signal back in 2007). Citing An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge as an initial inspiration, Bush was drawn to the project by the song’s dark theme of ego death. The project goals very quickly expanded from music promo to high production value short encompassing period costumes, stunt doubles, special effects, props — including a particularly impressive six barrelled revolving musket — and a Fitzcarraldo like journey for cast, crew and equipment up the North Carolina Black Balsam Knob mountains for its seven day RED and Canon 5D shoot. This all achieved on a zero budget:

It’s about creating the right kind of motivation for people. If in fact Money is the answer to 99 out of 100 questions, the answer to your question is perhaps the one that’s left. You’d be surprised what people will put themselves through to make art. Our crew was all volunteers, people who get paid to do this sort of thing every day on commercial productions. Those gigs require hard work but not always an end result to write home about. Creative people ultimately require creative satisfaction, and don’t often call up their friends to tell them about a car commercial or reality tv show they worked on.

Sometimes you’re lucky and the right folks come together at the right time with a common goal of making something spectacular in order to realign themselves with why they enjoy doing this sort of work in the first place. “Ghost Of Old Highways” got a heroic effort by a lot of people who could have decided they had better things to do than hike up a mountain for a week to make a piece of art. We owe the success of all this to them entirely.

Once the images were in the can, Lovett went through a lengthy sound design process as no location sound had been recorded, the intention being to “approach it like a cartoon“. Lovett then reunited with members of Ponderosa to record the score mostly live to the picture, based on the original four minute track.

You can see how it all came together in this making of video:

<embed src="" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" width="400" height="300"></embed>

And by means of comparison here are the first three Highway Collection films:

<embed src="" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" width="400" height="300"></embed>

<embed src="" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" width="400" height="300"></embed>

<embed src="" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" width="400" height="300"></embed>

With the Highway Collection producing such a varied and watchable body of films, it’s something we’ll definitely be keeping an eye on and hopefully more musicians will follow in Lovett’s hands on footsteps.

Be sure to share any examples of stunning narrative music videos you’ve made or seen in the comments.


Ghost of Old Highways


We’re all here for the same reason: to better ourselves as writers, directors, cinematographers, producers, photographers... whatever our creative pursuit. Criticism is valuable as long as it is constructive, but personal attacks are grounds for deletion; you don't have to agree with us to learn something. We’re all here to help each other, so thank you for adding to the conversation!

Description image 42 COMMENTS

  • That was great. I love it when Indie projects strive to be a little more ambitious like this.

  • It’s great to hear about people coming together to make amazing shorts. Projects like that keep the passion in people alive.

  • Can you say Rolling shutter?

    • “Look at me, I know what Rolling Shutter is, I’m smart!”

      Get over yourself, watch the short, appreciate the fact that the person that made this is 100x better than you will ever be, and don’t pad yourself on the back because you picked what any moron that owns a T2i could see.

      • agreed. great visuals, production value, music and edit, on no budget mind you. one should have nothing but the greatest of admiration for the ambition of this project. If nothing else, this is one of the best short narrative music videos I’ve watched in a while. It’s up there with Spike Jonze’s arcade fire video from last year.

    • Must be one of those brain-dead lemmings from DVXuser…

  • Gerrick Winston on 08.3.12 @ 6:02PM

    So amazing! I could see this in a theatre EASILY! Very well done, and the fact that it was a no budget short, is nothing short of amazing! @ Luke Neuman: great remarks regarding Roy’s “observation.” I do shoot with a T2i myself, but I wouldn’t consider myself a moron, lol! Cheers!

    • I just meant, anyone and everyone knows what Rolling Shutter is. Probably shouldn’t have said moron but that’s the vibe I got from ol’ Royskie.

    • many great productions have been built on the backs of lowly ML t2i’s – even used it as a b and c cam when shooting with f3. it’s so plucky!

      • Preaching to the choir brother. I used the T2i for a very long time and produced some stuff that I’m still very proud of stuff I shot with it.

  • what was the story ??? the guy was chasing himself ? it was nicely shot and produced… and then the shure hallmark of student film making – the non committal ending. what finally happened after taking 10 min of my life ? no resolution. BAD. no matter how nice the production value and shooting, if the story sucks, then it sucks

    • In response to this I question if you actually understand the story, he’s running away from different facades of his life, go watch Pulp Fiction to understand this ending. If you already have then you’ll understand that the beginning is the end and the end is beginning. It was amazing to say non less

      • I’ve been thru this with first time directors so many times… if the story isn’t on the screen, its not on the screen. I’ve dealt with “directors” who know the story, but are missing pieces because they didn’t get shot, insist on editing a particular sequence because “its their vision” ( crap ) when a different editing order or style would make the story clear. I got that this was a flash back sequence…. life flashing before your eyes BUT… did the main character really die ? did he really escape ? or was that his imagination before the lights went out ? its this sort of mish mash non committal leave it up to the audience stuff that I hate. its amateur 101 directing where the director is afraid to make their statement…

        its sad that so many good people worked on this, produced a very well produced piece that was killed by poor editing. this could easily of been edited so the story was clear. asking someone to view another film, or know another story, to get this is simply failure of this piece to tell its story so the viewer gets it….

        and props to that kick ass steadicam operator who had a well tuned rig and great stamina to handle that shooting. we should know who he was

  • This is good. If, for whatever reason, you can’t tell by watching it that it’s good, you can just look at the number of people making flimsy arguments for why you shouldn’t watch it.

    • Good from a technical standpoint maybe, but as a narrative piece the entire thing felt pretty superficial. String of moments of redundant and corny violence, basically a cheap adrenaline rush. The notion of the “battle of the ego” really doesn’t play in the film without first reading the plot description. Their “Eye of the storm” short was a far more interesting and subtle take on the fragmented narrative and non-committal ending, and it looked amazing.

      • Nailed it Jime. Empty complement is just as useless as empty poke. While all genuine creative endeavors should be commended for the shear initiative, criticism should always have a place. The idea that just because an independent effort has had success, does not, under any circumstance, exempt it from being critiqued. Luke Neumann needs to learn this, because insulting people for their harmless opinion, is pretty pathetic.

        • Goes both ways. I will offer my personal opinions on half assed comments just like people offer half ass comments on good work. Can’t have one without the other. Shame I have to even bring this to light.

          • The point is, by trying to fight the lowest common denominator, in the way you did, you sunk to it yourself. Constructive commentary is what is needed in both complement and critique. Even when some people are assholes, lynching them in text doesn’t solve anything, being an asshole to the assholes in cyberspace is useless. Let each comment stand or fail on its own, more or less everyone in this community is intelligent and can judge themselves. By attacking people, you just discourage critique and create a bad vibe. I think we need more critique in this community, and people shouldn’t have to feel discouraged to do so.

          • Luke Neumann on 08.4.12 @ 4:47AM

            That’s fine, I just deal with it a different way. This guy is always posting utter nonsense and sometimes other users need to combat this stuff since the people that run no film school won’t get into it with them. Don’t want to see this site turn into YouTube. I like the vibe of this page and it’s articles but if enough users start trolling it will slow down growth. Trust me.

        • That’s totally fine with me. I don’t mind getting down to that level.

          This is the same guy that said he wouldn’t buy the Digital Bolex camera because of what they were wearing. The same guy that made jokes about Joe being for gay marriage and the same guy that was saying inappropriate shit on the post for the Colorado shooting. If you don’t think this guy deserves a few online bruises then you just don’t read this site enough.

          The internet is full of assholes that hide behind anonymity, keyboards, and the safety of their parents basement and I have NO problem giving them a taste of their own medicine. That means being rude and mean from time to time. I speak my mind openly with my real name and a link to my website where you can find my personal email address.

          • Which is more than you can say for yourself, so how about you stop trying to tell me how to respond to trolls because in doing so you are stooping to my level anyways.

          • Perhaps I lack the correct context to your dealings with this Roy guy, as I am not aware of the other anecdotes that you mentioned. This isn’t a big deal, I just saw a person with a relatively high profile chewing out some other guy for no apparent good reason, and I thought “hey that’s a little much.” So maybe I don’t have the full story, if that’s true, then maybe he deserves to be chewed out. However, don’t turn a debate into a pissing match, your rejection of anonymity makes you no superior. Just because you have a profile, does not make you cyber sheriff. We can agree to disagree on the proper reaction to trolls. I have little sympathy for true trolls, but IMO fighting negativity the way you do, just isn’t worth it.

      • couldn’t have said it better.

      • The first time I saw it I assumed it was an adaptation of An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge. It had too much in common with that story for it to be otherwise, even before I read that that was an “initial inspiration.” The film was a bit obscure but since I was familiar with the story I didn’t see any reason to try judging the film as an original story; instead I observed that it did an excellent job of capturing the mood, tone, and arc of the story.

        Of course, this is subjective, but I don’t see any objective reasons not to like this, so I’m OK with this. I just think people are too eager to pick on one minor aspect that they don’t like and judge the whole work based on that; it seems much more like insecurity than genuine criticism.

  • First off I want to applaud the filmmakers for this project. To create anything of this magnitude takes a lot of blood sweat and tears and I think it’s a great achievement. However, I don’t think it is fair for this blog to promote this as a “zero budget” project, when this was by no means that. Just because people worked for free it does not mean that the project is zero budget. Just to feed a cast and crew three meals a day for a week gets expensive quick. On a side note I don’t think getting people to work for a week for free when promoting a commercial product (in this case music), is anything to brag about but that’s besides the point. Yes, I understand people want to work for free for connections, experience or just because it’s fun, but I guess that’s just a personal issue because it sets the expectation that not paying people is OK if it’s not a “big budget” project. Back to the budget thing, not only is the food a big factor, but also unless all of those costumes and props were miraculously obtained for free, they either had to be rented or made, both which costs money. Furthermore, just little things like the breakaway glass is not free, it needs to be made or bought. And not the mention the equipment such as the Red camera or the steadycam rig. I get that these volunteers might own this equipment but none the less those are very expensive tools that most people do not have access to and would need to buy or rent. Either way, again big props to the team that made this video, but like I said I don’t think it’s fair for this blog to be promoting it as a zero budget project. I agree that it is a great achievement to be able to make something slick with high production value for a much smaller amount of money, but you should not be setting expectations that this is something you can do “for free.”

    • I was actually about to post the same thought. It can discourage the young filmmakers who are just starting out and don’t have a lot of money. This short is not a zero budget film in any way. Far from it. The actual cost could go up to 20k if we consider all the props, costumes, talent, and cameras in the budget. This is just false advertising to promote their video.

      • You guys nailed it. I’m a college aged student filmmaker and got really excited seeing this post initially and watching the first couple of minutes going into it thinking it was something my friends and I could pull off. Especially after watching the behind the scenes footage, it was easy to see that making something like this is inaccessible to me for now. I guess my point is that the title really set me up for a letdown.

        • Film-making always costs. Before you get on the set, there are expenses like phone calls, stationery, electricity, petrol. When you clean a lens with lens fluid and lens paper, it’s costing you. When you use a battery or turn on a light, you’re depreciating the equipment. If you lose the tiniest thing — a sandbag or a rubber band for a microphone — it will cost a not inconsiderable amount to replace. And all this stuff is not trivial; if you’re running it as a proper business, you have to take every penny into account.

          Then there’s an opportunity cost — time is money — instead of film-making, you could have been earning. Whether you could have shot a commercial for a few thousand, or a wedding for a few hundred, or could have flipped burgers for $8/hour, it’s still money you’re missing out on.

          So even if you’re getting a Red, a Steadicam, a DSLR, lenses, and thousands of dollars worth of grip equipment, lighting, makeup, props, costumes and labour donated for free, there’s no such thing as a truly no budget shoot. The director/producer might be outsourcing the costs, bu they have to be borne by someone.

    • Budget terms are very misleading, what is zero budget for a group of people with gear, connections and experience, is something completely different than it is for most of us starting out. I think a better way to phrase it is ‘value,’ how much stuff in monetary terms was invested. These guys might not have had to spend much in the way of capital, but they did invest a ton of preexisting infrastructure. If you calculate the value of all the equipment they had, or borrowed, I’m sure it would add up way past “zero budget.” With our new class of super-indie film making, a new vocabulary must be adapted to accurately describe it.

  • I really liked this short, salut!! Great camera work, editing, lighting, acting and the music/score, all was really good. I did not really get the story but that’s just me.
    However, I agree with ProgMan, that the term “No Budget” is BS. Aside from gear.
    The budget on any production is mainly paying people for there service. You CAN save up for a year to have something to offer for a service/help. Time away from family or a paid gig should also go into the budget as someone sacrifice something/alot to assist you on a “No Budget”. They may very well do it by their own free will and it doesn’t have to be about money, but none the less, to call something a “No Budget” is sort of disrespectful to those sharing their time.

    I would also like to share a project I released a couple of days ago, that I believe is in the same ballpark as this. You decide.
    Please check it out.

  • nomorezerobudgetbs on 08.4.12 @ 11:14PM

    Here’s a list of just some of the items that makes this not a Zero Budget film by any stretch of the imagination:

    Fully kitted out Red One
    Steadicam actually able to carry Red One with operator
    Backup/B cams also fully kitted out
    Crazy custom Prop Gun plus other props
    Paintball Gun with ammo for water explosions
    Grip Gear
    Costumes (5 alone for the protagonist!)
    Stunt Training along with a Stunt Double
    Gigantic RV/Trailer
    Audio Recording studio time
    House Location

    This list probably doesn’t even begin to address the expenses went into this short film.

    Stop calling people giving away their time, equipment, and money zero budget. This short film had a budget of well exceeding $100k. This money was just donated instead of actually being paid to people deserving of their services.

    I see this nonsense all the time especially on the Red forums of people saying “Zero Budget short/music video/spec shoot/etc.” when shooting a fully kitted out Epic with fucking Zeiss Master Primes. Enough. Stop using this tagline for attention and to further push people into expecting that they should even be able to ask people for such sacrifice for the “Love” or because “They are doing something really special.”

    I like the line “It wasn’t for money or for prestige or any of that. It was just to fucking do it. Because we could. That’s awesome.” This mentality is beyond deplorable. To be able to imagine upfront that you can convince people to make your short film for free especially on such a large scale is wrong.

    Did these people consent to giving away their time and money for free? Yes.
    Is it their decision to do so? Yes.
    Is it helping people make a living directing, acting, designing costumes, doing makeup, etc. Fuck no.

    Seriously why are some people in film constantly in such a love fest for the Zero Budget idea that really just devalues their own skills?

    Also before I watched this for more than 30 seconds I immediately thought of An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge. So basically all of this work to modify an existing well known short film in order to help sell music?

    All of the crew did do an insanely awesome job, and I plead with them to never consent to giving away such massive amounts of freebies again. People are struggling enough already to sustain a living doing what they love. No need to make it even more difficult by giving away everything for free.

    • Glad you mentioned Occurrence at Owl Creek. I was thinking of it also, the original Ambrose Bierce story. Not sure if I’ve ever seen the 2006, 1964 or 1959 versions. Wikipedia entry reminded me that it’s also a Borges story.

    • Not being part of this production none of us can really speak on the specifics of how every role was filled or bit of equipment/production materials were sourced, but what’s clear from this comment thread ‘zero budget’ means very different things to different productions.

      I’ve interviewed over 300 directors, a good 50% for films which could conceivable claim zero budget status. These range from lone animators working in their bedrooms with low spec computers rendering constantly for 6months to achieve their goals, to people like Fede Alvarez (Panic Attack!) who didn’t spend anything outside of catering for his high end, CGI packed short because he had the necessary equipment at his disposal through his day job, and both of these extremes could be said to fall into the ‘zero budget’ category.

      ‘Time’ is indeed a valuable commodity, but just because people are willing to contributed it and/or resources to a project they believe in and want to be part of doesn’t devalue their work on that or any other project. In an ideal world everyone would get paid for everything all the time, but that’s not the world we live in. I don’t feel there’s anything wrong with someone calling on the relationships & goodwill they’ve built through the years to ask “I’ve got this cool idea, wanna help out?”

      • Agreed, people getting together to help each other is great. I just think its lame when you have something of this magnitude that you obviously had to spend lots of money on props, costumes, etc… And then go about bragging how you were basically able to save money by not paying anyone in order to be able to put that money into the production all basically to promote your music. It’s the same principle as when movies with a budget of tens of millions get unpaid interns to slave away 14hr days for ‘experience or connections.’ if you got the money to creat something like that than man up and pay people. At least something

    • Agreed. It’s so very impressive how fast they drove in their Ferrari with donated gas…

  • Very cool film. And all the people here complaining about budgets, no budgets, low budgets, blablabla, even come up with equipment lists, shame on you and get over your self. They made a film, and shared it.

  • I think people really need to get past the idea of money being the sole worthy marker of value. If those involved with this film thought it was worth their while to be involved without monetary payment, no-one gets to climb up on a high horse and tell them that’s not okay. I do worry about the devaluation of work in filmmaking, but by the same token, so many films – narrative ones in particular – never make their money back. They must be labours of love simply to exist. All this “it devalues the work we do” talk raises a good point but misses another: are large-scale (or even medium-scale) films a sustainable business proposition for anyone but the big studios anymore?

  • Only one question.. why are there so many negative assholes on this comment page. Some of you need to get a life.

  • The film was beautiful, so I was surprised not to see any credits at the end for all the people who volunteered their time and did such nice work. I hope that is not a trend.

  • Way cool! Some very valid points! I appreciate you writing this
    post and the rest of the website is really good.