I grew up in Texas with no real Hollywood network and little money. When I knew I wanted to get into filmmaking, one of the first questions that I asked myself, and probably many of you do too, is, "How am I ever going to get a feature made?" If you had asked me growing up how it would happen, I would never have guessed that my first movie would materialize in the way that it did.
My movie was self-financed for several thousand dollars, and I ended up doing a lot of the work myself along with a small crew. Here's what I learned from the experience and how I got a distribution deal for my feature, At Night Comes Wolves.
Development and Writing
The film is actually three short films, which I then tied together to make one seamless narrative about an abused housewife that leaves her husband and joins a cult that is obsessed with transcendence, only to realize the husband she left is the same man who used to be the cult’s leader. That storyline is what gave me the arc to tie my unrelated short films into one narrative feature.
I contacted the actors from my three shorts and wrote new arcs for the ones interested to reprise their roles over the course of about 10 weeks until I had a storyline that felt like one complete, elevated horror film.
In 2018, I took baby steps to make sure I was producing the film in a way that was economical while not compromising my vision. This included figuring out my budget, getting film permits, location scouting, building props, renting props, making shot lists, and everything else.
I had about $15K saved, and additionally, I took out a small bank loan and also had a credit card I was willing to max out. At that point, everything had pretty much been set, and production was ready to go.
'At Night Comes Wolves'
The biggest hardship was that the film didn’t have a producer. To the people who will venture out on their own no-budget films in the future, I caution against doing it without some form of producing partner. The production went smoothly, but it certainly could have been less stressful.
If you're having trouble finding a producer with experience, try a film student who is hungry to learn, or someone whom you can trust to take production notes or troubleshoot ideas with. Anyone that will help you focus on the creative side.
Editing the film was done over evenings and weekends. Once I had a decent rough cut, I did some outreach and got about a dozen companies interested in talking distribution, but nothing materialized. The film just wasn’t complete yet. Then COVID hit.
Ironically, COVID gave me the bandwidth that the film really needed. It still needed sound design, original music, color correction, etc. With the help of some very talented people, I was able to get post-production fully wrapped.
If you don’t know someone who you can hire, contact film schools—they all have talented students who are hungry for experience. Also, don’t fear finding people on Craigslist. Take time to vet them, but I have only good things to say about folks I ended up working with.
'At Night Comes Wolves'
How I Got Distribution
By September 2020, I started sending screeners to the same distributors that showed interest the year earlier. It took some time, but I received a video-on-demand distribution deal from Gravitas Ventures. It may sound simple, but it's putting in the work to make the movie, emailing screeners to different distributors, and then being patient until someone shows interest.
I remember my first day of film school, the dean made a comment I’ll never forget: “It’s one thing to have ideas. It’s another thing to do something about them.”
If I could sum everything up into one digestible lesson for aspiring directors and writers and producers to think about, it’s that if you truly want to make movies, you will find a way.