How I Made a Movie with a Credit Card and a Dream

Gary Dourdan as Brad Paxton in the action film REDEMPTION DAY, a Saban Films release. Photo courtesy of Saban FilmsCredit: Saban Films
I got my feature, Redemption Day, from script to screen.

Redemption Day has been a passion project for me. Before making it happen, I was a line producer running production services in Morocco, with some directing experience on short films I did for fun. I’ve always been that guy who delivers, but I wanted more. I wanted to be the creative guy with a vision who tells the stories.

When my high school friend lost his sister in a terrorist attack, I decided to write a story. Not really about what happened to her, but something similar that explains the reality of our region.

What were the odds for me to get produced by a Hollywood producer? Zero. I’m nobody, and nobody would take this kind of risk.

So I risked it all myself. I decided to change my life. I took a flight ticket to Los Angeles, invested all I had into this new journey. I was not rich, so after the script started to take form, I had to convince a bunch of investor friends to follow me in my dream of developing this movie. I was selling them the “Hollywood” business model. For them, I was this successful movie guy who did a lot of shoots in Morocco with some big-level Hollywood celebrities.

Andy Garcia as Ambassador Williams and Martin Donovan as Tom Fitzgerald in the action film REDEMPTION DAY, a Saban Films release. Photo courtesy of Saban Films.Credit: Saban Films

My logline was simple: "Having just returned home, decorated U.S. Marine Captain Brad Paxton's (Gary Dourdan) wife, Kate, is kidnapped by a terrorist group while working in Morocco. He is forced back into action for a daring and deadly operation to save the woman he loves."

But how would I make this into a movie? 

So I could get enough money to continue developing the movie, and at first, I was only producing, and some big TV director was supposed to direct. My investors were excited about this "American director."

After two years of development trying to partner up with well-established companies, I had a really hard time financing the movie. At that time, we were thinking about a $15 million budget, but it was easier to tell than to raise.

When I knew I’d never get that kind of money, I spoke to my director and asked him to adapt and try to make it for around 2 to 3 million dollars, trying to convince him and the vision I had for it would be the same, and there would be no compromises (besides everyone’s salaries), but he couldn’t see it that way. Who’d blame him? He was very nice and ambitious but couldn’t follow… 

Director Hicham Hajji behind the scenes of the action film REDEMPTION DAY, a Saban Films release. Photo courtesy of Saban Films.Credit: Saban Films

Then someone from my team says, "Why don’t you direct it yourself? Nobody knows this project better than you do, and you seem to have a clear vision, you know all the locations in mind, and when you talk about it, it’s like you’ve seen this movie many times!"

This was 100% true. I’ve seen this movie many times before I shot it, and I was sharing my vision with everyone since day one. It became obvious. I’m the one who needs to direct Redemption Day.

The second we made it official, everything went very fast. We started to have a solid script and we started to make offers to the stars. Rapidly, we had all the "yes" answers we needed. I couldn’t believe it. And of course, once you have a big name, everyone else wants to follow: actors, international sales companies, financiers, etc.

We had to lock the shooting dates with the actors, and also calm down my investors who gave the money two years back. They started to become impatient. I was already late, and I had no other option than shooting as soon as possible, even though I had no other money for the shoot.

Director Hicham Hajji behind the scenes of the action film REDEMPTION DAY, a Saban Films release. Photo courtesy of Saban Films.Credit: Saban Films

But that was a detail. I knew I’d raise some more once everyone in my country would see that everything I promised was happening. So I went to Morocco where my company is well established, I locked the crew, and after four weeks of prep, we decided to shoot, even though we had no money.

Everyone who knew the reality of our finances thought I was crazy. But I always paid for everything on the due date, so they couldn’t doubt me. My 15-year experience was talking as well, I’ve always been a man of my word, and when I give my word, for me it is as solid as the best agreement.

I was also fortunate to have an unlimited American Express credit card that helped to pay all the preliminary expenses. For me, all that matters is to start and finish the shoot. I didn’t really care about the details, all I needed was my movie in the box.

Samy Naceri as Jaafar El Hadi in the action film REDEMPTION DAY, a Saban Films release. Photo courtesy of Saban FilmsCredit: Saban Films

I had a great experience as a director, but as a producer, it was a financial nightmare. Every night after we wrapped, my second job was to find more money. And I wasn’t sleeping until I fixed the next day’s problems.

Better than my unlimited AMEX, I had my three superhero investors who financed the development with me. I don’t know what I would have done without them, but they believed in this movie as much as I did. Once all the actors were in Morocco, they organized fundraising parties almost every week, and I was that Moroccan filmmaker that did something that no other filmmaker in our region has done before, which is writing, directing, and producing a Hollywood movie. All the potential investors were witnessing something new and were having drinks with Hollywood actors. So, they were listening carefully to my business plan and were fortunately seduced.

Serinda Swan as Kate Paxton in the action film REDEMPTION DAY, a Saban Films release. Photo courtesy of Saban Films.Credit: Saban Films

You can be sure I won’t do the same on my next movie. Now I know the rules and the tricks. But as a first-time director and a first-time Hollywood producer, I had no other options, and if I had to wait for the movie to be financed to start the shoot, I would still be waiting...

Long story short, we financed the entire movie privately, with pain, but at the end of the day, I believed in it so much that I had no other choice than to make it happen. Because If you believe in something and want to make it happen, you cannot give up.

Then COVID-19 happened, and we had to wait over a year to finally release it... but that’s another story.

REDEMPTION DAY Is now playing in select theaters and is on-demand and digital Jan. 12.     

Hicham Hajji is a film director and producer. 

After graduating from the Montreal Film School and a year working on famous artists' music videos, Hicham decided to go to Morocco where he was called to work on a lot of national and international feature films as a first assistant director. After many productions, he always felt very close to the production side and created his own company in 2008 to help foreign productions shoot in Morocco and develop his own movies. Today Hicham lives in Los Angeles where he opened a branch of his company to develop and produce American feature films. He goes back to Morocco every time a project to be shot there is confirmed.

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5 Comments

Congratulations! Hope to see more from you.

January 8, 2021 at 12:00PM

1
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Javier Diez
Director
659

Congratulations! I'll watch the movie!

January 9, 2021 at 11:39AM

0
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Josip Sunko
Writer and Director
21

So what was the actual budget?

January 12, 2021 at 2:03AM

0
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Jerry Roe
Indie filmmaker
1573

Congratulations!!!

February 8, 2021 at 8:07AM

3
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great

May 25, 2021 at 12:09PM

1
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Joshua Morant
designer
71