I don't just write for MoviePilot, I'm also a filmmaker and not one who goes around just saying that's my profession with nothing to show either. My first feature film, directed by myself and a partner of mine, is currently available on Amazon and in Walmart. It's been three years in the making since we first picked up a camera and started production. This is the story from American Beast's conception to it's release.
In late 2012 my partner and I wanted to do something besides being a production assistant on some reality show or random commercial; we wanted to create our own story. We set out to write a film that could be made on a small budget, intriguing to the audience and something we could be proud of after it's completion. The only possible way we could make a film on such a small budget was to write something that could be broken up into six parts and film them as if they were all short films, but tied together as one flowing feature.
After months of writing and tweaking the script we decided to move forward in filming the first chapter in a story that would span 75 years. Production began in January 2013, during Minnesota's coldest month. A few days of shooting in the middle of a forest, in temperatures that dipped below zero, we were finally on our way in creating a film that was unique from anything else conceived.
American Beast is about a man who lost his mother, only to find out she held onto a family secret about a mystery that surrounded a piece of property outside of a northern town called Solitude. This secret would soon be explored by the man, discovering that his family and this property have been intertwined since the 1930's. He dives deeper into the past and learns of the decades of death and destruction his family had endured from an evil presence that resides on those lands. What makes American Beast different is how it's not just one story but many small ones, each taking place in a different time period and filmed as if they were shot in that era. The earlier segments are black and white, matching the same look as an old Universal Studios monster film from the thirties. American Beast is a nod to those horror films and many more that have captivated movie audiences over the last 75 years.
After only a few days of filming we waited months for the snow to melt away, giving us a different season for us to film in during the summer. A couple weeks of production in a new setting with a small crew was an adventure to say the least, but what helped us most was waiting for the change of seasons, making the production value rise by the different surroundings and enough time between those periods to save money to continue bank rolling our venture. It was a happy accident we weren't able to film the movir all at once, these unforseen setbacks are generally a blessing in disguise.
After the end of the Summer shoot we waited another few months to shoot a segment in the Fall with a new set of characters, a different camera to pay tribute to the decade we were trying to bring to life and another set of obstacles to hurdle through. The last piece of the puzzle came in the Winter of 2014, the present day part of the film that would bind everything together as one flowing piece. The crew was slightly bigger, production costs were higher and the main cast was now in place to move forward and complete principle photography. It took about ten days more of shooting, more lights and camera equipment and more FX makeup to complete the feature. We finally wrapped the film in March, the last day being close to eighteen hours long. No one had a clue that the end of that journey of getting everything in the can and completed was just the halfway mark of American Beast's road to release.
It took roughly six months of editing, sound design, scoring, visual effects touchups and color correction before we called the film a finished product. No one told us in those months we would watch our creation about one hundred times, always tweaking and making notes with each viewing. What was next? A question that probably haunts every first time filmmaker when completing a project. Film festivals seemed to be the answer. We submitted to the Twin Cities Film Festival, a growing festival that accepted Minnesota films or films with Minnesota ties. To our amazement we were selected to premiere our independent film at a known festival. Our hard work was going to pay off finally.
At the night of the premiere we had our pictures taken, interviewed on a red carpet and were surprised at a sold out screening filled with a mixture of people we knew and strangers off the street. We sat in our seats, the theater grew dark and all I could think was how would the audience react. I found myself looking at the people watching, not paying much attention to what was on the screen. Moments of humor were laughed at while times of horror and graphic mayhem caused gasps. There is no better feeling when an audience enjoys the work you've created. Surprisingly we won the Audience Award for Best Feature Film. We were running on a high to the point where our judgement of the future was clouded by the possibility of our dreams coming true. Being a filmmaker is all we ever wanted, and making it into a career seemed like a very good possibility. We were told that our film could make major profit and get us to places we never thought possible. What they don't tell you is those possibilities rarely come easy.
Not long after the festival we received word that our makeup artist for the film, Darla Edin, was called to be on the show Face/Off. It was another high for our film experience. Someone we knew, who was on our film will get to be on a national television show to show off her skills. To top it all off she actually won the entire competition. Those few months between the festival and watching our makeup artist every week was an exciting time to say the least.
We signed up for more festivals, submitting to everything we could and getting denied in return. Our high from our first outing was fading with each decline until we were accepted to one in Chicago. In early 2015 a few of the actors, my partner and I flew to the windy city to attend this festival. The excitement was building again. To be in a packed theater and watch the faces of the audience while enjoying the show was what I looked forward to most. When we entered into the double doors of an old school we were greeted by an empty hall that lead into a three-hundred seat auditorium. Our film was about to start and only ourselves and a handful of people were there to watch our film on a small screen that stood on top of a stage. It was a heart wrenching, embarrassing moment, but looking back now it's pretty funny that we traveled hundreds of miles to a festival that we built up to be huge in our minds, only to be disappointed by the outcome. To top off the trip a freak snow storm came through and stranded me at the airport for a day, not the best time I've ever had.
We didn't have anymore festivals to attend, a way to get it out there for people to see or anyone to help us. A few months went by as we sent out emails to distribution companies, sales agents and anyone who might be interested in our film. We even submitted query letters of scripts we've written in the hopes that someone might back us. We just wanted to get back behind the camera again and get our film out there. Film school teaches you how to make a movie but they fail miserably in telling us how to get a finished product in front of people who could take it places, but one day we luckily got an email back from a sales agent interested in our film. Contracts were sent over, percentages were discussed and the possibilities were jumping back and forth in our minds. We signed on the dotted line, accepted their terms and crossed our fingers.
In the beginning of 2016 we finally got our first report in from the sales agent telling us our film was acquired for distribution in a few places in South America and Latin America; The downside of this was the fact the money that came from these territories went right into the sales agents pocket to cover costs they put into the films advertising. Every new territory that our film got into was a bittersweet moment. We took one step forward in getting our film out there and two steps back in getting back any money we invested into our project. As the year progressed we were happy to see our film being accepted in different countries, the money slowly chipping away the advertising costs and gradually seeing the possibility of profit in our future.
It's been over three years since we first typed the first words into a script that was once called Solitude, a title that morphed into American Beast through the sales company. American Beast has finally gained domestic distribution and the future is looking brighter. There are now options in our future, more scripts written under our belts and for the first time in a long while I look at an upcoming new year with optimism.
Many people don't make it in the entertainment industry due to the many roadblocks we run into before, during and after the making of a film. For any future filmmaker whose reading this there are times you'll feel depressed and worthless on your journey; if you stick with it and stay focused on your goals, eventually things will work out one way or another.