DEVIATION – Low Budget Success Story

Hi Film Folk!

The Film Doctor Team recently talked to Director JK Amalou and Producer Lara Greenway at a preview screening of their new release DEVIATION starring Danny Dyer. We chatted to the pair who were very giving when it came to describing how they made DEVIATION and the business and creative decisions they had to make along the way.

BEGINNINGS

Lara and JK started their quest many years back, but not together.

“I attended the London Film School and worked as a writer” says JK who has quite a few writing, directing and producing credits to his name “most of my work has been conducted over here in the UK. It was mainly writing I worked on.”  His writing credits include work with directors Jean Luis Bunuel and Michel Rodde as well a co-producing credit on Truffaut-penned “LA BELLE EPOQUE.” In ’97 he directed low-budget gangster comedy “HARD MEN” which sold to Fox Searchlight and sold in over 40 countries.

Film Doctor - JK Amalou - Director
Director: JK Amalou

Lara started working in BBC production in her teens before working as an actress in the UK and US for 15 years. She then wrote, directed and produced three shorts under the UK Film Council/Screen East’s Digital Shorts Scheme and  produced crime feature “HARD BOILED SWEETS” before meeting JK and settling into their collaboration that would lead to DEVIATION.

Film Doctor - Lara Greenway

Producer: Lara Greenway



SCRIPT

Starting out in London. the story tracks a kidnapped, young nurse (Anna Walton) and her psychopathic abductor (Danny Dyer) as he drives them further and further away from her family home with evil intentions.

Interestingly JK’s script was not originally written for a UK shoot: “It was originally inspired by ’70s American movies. Firstly it was set in the deserted US landscape. The script was, in fact, optioned in the US. The producers kept wanting to make the scale of the movie bigger and bigger, which was fine by me.” The option eventually expired and JK decided to make the film with Lara in the UK.

The thriller/horror genre is a frequent pit-stop for low-budget filmmakers, but realistically it is the films that stand out that turn the distributors/audience’s heads. JK emphasises the importance of doing something different: “I was trying to avoid the clichés of that genre. The horrible psychopath and a vulnerable young woman. I wanted a strong, in-control woman. The lady is usually crying, shouting and begging for help.” What is also fascinating is Dyer’s portrayal of Frankie (the madman). He is not a one-dimensional killing machine with no purpose but a nuanced individual that we almost feel sorry for at moments. JK says it was all down to the script and the hours he put in analysing the psychology of the character: “I did a lot of research. 90% of psychopaths see themselves as victims. If they kill someone then that person ‘made them do it.’ Psychiatrists say that the best film made about psychopaths is ‘PSYCHO‘ because of this. Psychopaths stop growing emotionally. They don’t have a mature outlook, they have not grown up inside.”






 

FINANCING

The budget for the film was £450, 000, but how did they go about drumming up the cash?

Lara explains “No financing is easy, but we drew up the business plan and tried to make it as water tight and appealing as possible for our investors – who are all private equity investors.” Lara’s model involved sticking stringently to £450, 000. “Few films that cost more than that actually make their money back for their investors, let alone become profitable, so it did not make sense to inflate the budget to £1m or £1.5m. We wanted to make the investors their money back. The toughest part is always making the deal as attractive as possible without being able to hold up any guarantees – as we all know, there is no such thing where money is concerned.”
 
So was it all simply a case of ‘get Danny Dyer’ and get investment? “Finance and Danny all came on board more or less at the same time to be honest; The investors knew the type of actors we were talking to and the positive noises coming back about the script from the talents’ agents. It’s all a bit chicken and egg to be honest!”
Film Doctor - Danny Dyer
CASTING

JK knew that having Danny on board would be good for the film’s publicity but he didn’t want to rush into anything that would grate against his creative ideals: “I didn’t want to make a cynical decision, I just wanted the actor to be right for the part.” Was it Dyer? “I was not keen on Danny at first. I didn’t think of Danny for the part at all. Our casting director, Jeremy Zimmerman, suggested him. I wasn’t sure about Danny but he did have a strong following and Jeremy was insistent so I met him. Danny was very enthusiastic and we just had an immediate connection but I said “If you want to play another cockney geezer and be loud and brash then this isn’t the role for you.” Danny replied “I want to do this. I will do anything you say.”

SHOOT

The production process took a tight 18 days back in Nov/Dec 2010. For a movie set on the road that sounds quite intensive! Lara wasn’t one to disagree: “The schedule was punishing. We got through 4-8 pages a day. It was -12 most nights but we didn’t care. We just did it.”  JK enjoyed the style of production: “Shooting the way we did is similar to the french new wave. It’s very free. But yes it was a case of one shot, done, now next shot, done, now next. We didn’t stop.”

The film was shot on one Canon 5D, which really shows the indie world how far filmmakers like JK and Lara have taken the technology. “It was great for mobility,” says JK  “we didn’t have to worry about the space we needed to put it, it could go anywhere.” As for the style Mr. Amalou used, it was very restrained: “The image staying still creates a tension. The camera is a tool not a toy. It does not have to be moved every second.”

And as for directing the actors did JK always get what he wanted?

“If you write carefully then there’s only one way of the actors performing it. The script is very important. I started as a writer. I always come to a script from a writing point of view. It also helped that we had such a wonderful leading cast. Danny read all the research I did on psychopaths and took it all to the screen.”

Film Doctor - Anna Walton Danny Dyer DEVIATION

DISTRIBUTION

JK emphasised that the actual shooting of a film is very easy and that there really is only one major mountain to climb: “Making films is not difficult, you can buy a 5D and learn to shoot and you can buy editing software and learn to edit, but the REAL challenge is finding distribution.” So what was it (despite their years of experience) that helped guide them both towards a release? JK goes back to the script: “We tried to do something different with the script. To have a strong woman abducted, instead of a weak screaming type. Having Danny was also a help.”

DEVIATION‘s distributor Revolver Entertainment is using a new distribution model that predominantly indies are testing for now: theatrical, DVD and VOD simultaneously. JK explains: “Multiple platforms is how Revolver release. It makes sense if you think about it. If you do your cinema marketing with the DVD marketing then you spend all your advertising money at once instead of spending the same amount twice: once for cinema and then again for DVD.” It seems to be a popular new form of releasing especially after the success of Stealth Media Group who had great success with their similar distribution model for the Oscar nominated MARGIN CALL.

FUTURE

The next few years are looking bright and busy for the team. Lara has hopes to direct her own film, a Rom-Drama PERFECCION” set in Spain but for now she is working with JK on a supernatural thriller shooting in April, “DECEIT”, which will also star Dyer, this time playing a writer. “We have plenty we want to be getting on with,” says Lara.

We hope you have enjoyed reading our case study. DEVIATION is a great lesson to all filmmakers that a great script, sensible budget and a talented (and recognisable cast) are essential ingredients to a successful low-budget film production.

You can see DEVIATION in cinemas from 24th February and it will be released on DVD and VOD on the 27th February.

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Have a great week!
 
The Film Doctor Team
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