This post was written by Adam Ethan Crow.
My name is Adam Ethan Crow, and Lair was my first time in the feature film director's chair, Shelley's first time producing, and Stuart's debut as a co-producer.
Our tale is very similar to many filmmakers. I wrote a script that I shopped around for about four years meeting producers who, in actuality, the only thing they'd ever produced was a business card.
The Studio Experience
Then it happened. The lightning bolt.
20th Century Fox was going to put up millions of dollars and make my film. The dream arrived; I had a studio exec in my corner. We talked about camera packages, crew, locations, and then the second lightning bolt struck—and it was very different.
Fox was picked up by Disney, and my film was dropped by the studio. Five years of progress went up in smoke.
My mom had sayings for everything, "Clean your ears before potatoes begin to grow," "Shut the door, you weren't born in a barn,” and, "If you fall in the river, when you get out, check your pockets for fish."
I'd just taken a bath on my movie, and there were no fish in my pockets, but I did have some great friends and a girlfriend who believed in me and the project. So that night, Shelley, my girlfriend (and producer), helped me talk my buddy Stuart White (DOP/co-producer) into making Lair—we all put our savings together and set out to make our film.
We needed a few more bucks. So we hit the phones, and a few weeks later, 17 of our friends had donated to the pot. We'd gone from a couple of million dollars to the cost of a high-budget short film, but it was enough. Just.
Most filmmakers work on projects for free at some time or another, it's common in the film industry, but this was to be a commercial project so everyone—even trainees and work experience people—would be paid. However, on our meager budget, it was going to be difficult. Shelley, Stu, and I accepted that we would not take a fee but decided everybody else, from runners to the HODs, would all be offered the same flat daily rate.
We shot Lair on a RED Dragon camera using Leica Summicron lenses (donated to the project for free by our DP) in 21 days. We begged and borrowed kits and on occasion, we built our own sliders and dollies using plastic pipes and skateboard wheels. Some of our crew had to swap out when better-paying jobs came their way, but we made the shoot work.
The Casting Process
Corey Johnson had been in movies such as X-Men, The Bourne Ultimatum, and Morbius. Oded Fehr worked on The Mummy, Resident Evil, and was currently starring in Star Trek: Discovery. And we wanted them for our film.
We bypassed their agents, explained our micro-budget project, and were astonished and pleased when these fantastic actors agreed to join the cast for fees way below their typical rates—almost embarrassingly so. For which we will forever be grateful.
Emboldened by this, we called agents for our next round of casting and quickly realized we'd made, in some cases, a mistake as some agents accepted roles for their clients and then attempted to throw their weight around. With only a few days to go, Shelley received calls from two separate agents asking for more money, a car service, a private dressing room, and more; both agents threatened to pull their clients. The following day, both agents called again to renegotiate, only to find their clients had been replaced.
Early on, we’d decided that when roles were not reliant on gender or color, we would cast without stipulation; we had characters named Carly, that could also be Carl. Joey could also be Josephine, and ethnicity was never a factor. As such some casting agencies turned down working with us—this was back in 2019 when the dialogue about the lack of diversity and opportunity in filmmaking was still in its infancy.
It was then we called on our buddy John Love, who was in the process of setting up a new forward-thinking agency called Inside Trak. Working with him we managed to fill the rest of the cast, giving roles to the best people in the audition regardless of how they identified.
Inclusion and Diversity
As a result, our core cast included people of color, performers from the LGBTQ+ community, first-time actors, as well as one actor fighting to regain their place back in society after stepping outside of the law. We are crazy proud that in front of and behind the camera could be found people from all nations—Egypt, Eastern Europe, Africa, America, India, Greece, New Zealand, Australia, England, and Ireland, all of which became part of the DITTO family.
Yet this mix of amazing folks didn't come together because we were actively searching for diverse backgrounds; we instead made it our mission that different communities knew these opportunities were available and if they were the best person on the day, they would get the role or the job.
Lair is not an issues movie. It is a fun horror flick that just happens to have an LGBTQ+ couple at the center of the drama. The only intentional decision to work with any specific group was when we recreated the Pride scene. For this, we used a full LGBTQ+ extras agency. However, even this scene is depicted purely as an everyday family on holiday stumbling into a parade; it could have been any parade.
When it came to the crew, we were blown away by the response we had from talented filmmakers wanting to work with us—and with our recruitment ideology in place, the natural diversity process supplied us with 40% of the HODs identifying as female.
We had great food on set supplied by Borderless Catering, run by Olive, a remarkable Muslim woman new to film catering that we took a gamble on, and wow. Did it pay off! She is amazing.
I've made my share of short films and worked with people that back then were still finding their way in the business—they've since blossomed.
Tristan Versluis was the DIT operator on my short film Warhol, he had since moved on to work in SFX, and we needed a monster so he pitched in. As Tris was finishing his time on set, he mentioned heading out to LA after the shoot. He'd been nominated for an Oscar for his previous movie, which he'd made with Sam Mendes (1917).
This is one of many stories like this from our cast and crew. Filmmakers, with whom we had no right to have the privilege of working with at our budget level, came on board because they liked our philosophy and the way we work—it was humbling and empowering.
Like all productions, there were problems, but we pulled together and we wrapped the movie in 21 days, with one camera and a budget less than some high-level short films. Finally, the footage was in the can, and we were ready for post-production.
Then COVID struck.
With hard drives full of 6K footage, most post-production houses closed, and none of my friends with edit bandwidth at home for 6K, all we could do was wait.
In 2021 the UK began to open up, and along with it, the facilities we needed to finish our movie—Eikon and The Ark, both top-level post-production facilities, offered to help us out. In addition, composer Mario Grigorov, who composed for the film Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Glass, and the Oscar-winning movie, Precious, offered to provide us with an original score. VFX creator George Petkov whose credits include Star Wars, The Martian, and The Jungle Book also pitched in to help us get over the finish line.
We were warmly received at many film festivals, like Frightfest, Macabro, the European Cinematography Awards, to name a few. To date, our micro-budget film has picked up five best picture awards.
Getting It Out There
During the Cannes Film Festival, our friend and sales agent, Elisabeth Costa de Beauregard of Storyboard Media, found homes for our film with incredible distributors such as Studiocanal and 1091 Pictures, with Sony Entertainment and Universal handling home entertainment. We’ve been blown away by the way our micro-budget film has been received, although one of the biggest compliments our team has received was from screenwriter Michael Grais who emailed, “This movie scared the sh*t out of me!! Great filmmaking. I’m a fan.”
Michael wrote the movie Poltergeist which was produced by Stephen Spielberg.
Lair was described as a "socially conscious horror movie" by Variety, and on reflection, it does have a message, yet not the one you'd think.
The message is, if you put faith in yourself, your friends, and your family and take a chance, not just in the film business, but in anything, you'll be surprised how much you can achieve.
My short films always began with the title "An Adam Ethan Crow Film." Lair opens with, "A Film by a Family of Filmmakers," because that is what we became during the process of making Lair. Moving forward, all of my films will say the same, “A Film by a Family of Filmmakers.”
I was recently asked about the auteur theory. I’m not sure I believe in it. Yes, there needs to be a single vision, but no one makes a movie alone. From the runners to the producers, we all play our part. Someone once said that in a band the attention is always on the frontman, and maybe as the director, I’m the frontman? But without the band there’s no tour, there’s no album.
It's said, "It takes a village to raise a child.” When it comes to filmmaking, I believe it takes a family and a vineyard to make a movie, which is probably why Francis Ford Coppola opened a winery.
Distributed in the U.S. by 1091 Pictures, Lair is available on all platforms now.