This post was written by Michael Cooke.

How do you build a huge world on an indie scale? It’s a question I get asked a lot. My short film/pilot presentation, FREEMAN HOSPITALITY, is about a family of African-American gunslingers in a post-apocalyptic dystopian America.

I began working on this script in 2018. From the beginning, the idea was to leave the viewer with the idea that this is a world worth exploring further. The simple truth is that I didn’t realize the scale of it until I stopped and looked back at the project’s journey.

The Resources

'Freeman Hospitality'

The Freemans live in Georgia in 2055 amid the chaos of a failed state. America is crumbling, vast swathes of the South have turned into full-on warzones. In these warzones pop up warlords.

What if an ambitious foreign journalist wanted to land the interview of a lifetime? That journalist would need to hire the best protection in the land–the Freemans.

Before any mission, you need to plan it. Where could the Freemans plan their mission? At the center, the heartbeat of most family homes, the kitchen. Except on their table isn’t a big Sunday meal, it’s military-grade weapons and holographic maps for survival.

My grandparents have a large ranch-style home on five acres of land. They built it themselves in the small town of Albany, Georgia. Exactly ten minutes away, my uncle has an open field of about 20 acres of land. Those two locations were my settings.

I had meaningful and accessible locations, a story with conflict built around those places, and a universal location to subvert audience expectations. Now how to actually film the project so that it looked like a film I’d want to see.

Film Resources

'Freeman Hospitality'

I'm fortunate enough to own my own camera package, a RED Epic Dragon 6K, so that's what we shot on. Not having to pay for a camera package was a huge chunk out of our budget. This meant that I didn’t have to worry about getting rentals, or extra transport.

We used 100 percent practical lights and natural light which allowed us to move quickly through the Freeman’s house and create a stoic mood for the family.

For our exteriors, we shot in late winter and the southern gods were kind to us. Our exteriors were shot on two consecutive cloudy days, using just some bounce and negative fill.


'Freeman Hospitality'

A large part of the budget was devoted to making sure that I could translate visual history and danger using VFX, firearm training, and good old-fashioned dialogue. Whether it was solar panels on the old family home or war-torn cotton fields on fire, I wanted to accentuate the Freeman’s world.

All of the bullet effects were done in post. As an extra level of safety and on-screen technical proficiency, I hired a tactical trainer and technical advisor Matt Clanton to the team. He taught our actors how to move with firearms, and helped plan our fire and exit scene.

Back to the Core

Black people are not monoliths, but large parts of the Black experience are shared, and so I wanted to speak to that in the context of growing up Black in South Georgia but with a science fiction edge.

Freeman Hospitality is meant to be a jumping-off point to this vision.

If you want to get in touch with me, please feel free to drop me a line at @mikecooketv

This post was written by Michael Cooke.

Michael Cooke is a multi-hyphenate director, DP, writer, editor, and producer. He has been building a body of work that’s calling on all of these skills to tell complex stories on an indie budget.