October 20, 2020

How I made my first feature film, ‘The Dinner Date’, for just £700 by Win Edson

So there I was, my film camera in one hand, aiming the boom mic with the other, attempting to nudge a light stand with my foot to better light my actors. This is when I realized that to write, produce, direct, camera operate, and edit a feature film on my own, may have been a bit ludicrous. This thought came to me on day two of a seven day shoot. On the third day, I came to another realization, trying to shoot a feature film in just seven days was equally as ludicrous.

 

So how did I get to this point? After all, I started out so organized. Before writing my screenplay, I made a list of my strategies.

 

1. Write a screenplay with only four main characters, based around a single location. My idea: two characters, unlucky in love but absolutely perfect for each other, refuse to be ‘set up’ by their mutual friend. So covert ‘dinner dates’ are set into action.

2. No explosions, car chases or prehistoric beasts.

3. Find actors willing to work for free.

4. I needed to write, produce, shoot, direct and edit the film myself, as I couldn’t afford to pay for a crew. And I had to do all this in my free time as I also have a full time job.

5. Use my HDV camcorder to shoot it, my Mac and the software Final Cut Pro to edit.

 

Perhaps it wasn’t a great decision to try and shoot the film in seven days. But it had to be a quick production. I wasn’t paying my actors, and they were using precious vacation days from work. Plus, one of the main expenses was feeding my actors, so each day added up.

 

The shoot didn’t start well. An abrupt security guard stopped us shooting on London’s South Bank. Now, coming from Los Angeles, I’m only too aware of the existence of filming permits. I was happy to be filming in London, where the business of film permits seemed a lot more relaxed, with the exception it seemed, of the South Bank! We were able to re-shoot the scene on the river bank of the Thames inches away from where the South Bank border started. I think it was actually a better location in the end.

 

During the shoot I had the constant feeling we were way behind schedule, and getting further behind with every passing hour. This didn’t bode well with trying to make the best film possible. Our quirky romantic comedy, which relied heavily on timing and delivery, deserved the time to get the best take. But this was a luxury we couldn’t afford. To put it in perspective, most Hollywood films shoot 1-2 pages of screenplay per day. We were attempting 17 pages a day! So how did we do it? By shooting only two takes of everything, then moving on to the next scene. When I look at the finished film, I’m really proud of my actors for delivering such excellent performances under those circumstances.

 

Once the principle photography was finished, which was absolutely exhausting, then came the hard part; editing. Now editing is usually one of my favourite aspects of a project, it’s when you see it come together.

 

But editing can be very problematic, even painful, if at every turn you need to problem solve. For example, if you have a scene that needs the pace to be quicker you need to utilize various angles, called cutaways. In a perfect world, you shoot each scene from a variety of angles so you have choices in the edit bay. We didn’t have time to do this, not even close. So each scene was like a puzzle I needed to solve. Some scenes took days of contemplating to figure out solutions. In the end, I was able to somehow make it all work. I look back on it and it’s easy to forget some of the real challenges I overcame because it flows so well.

 

Believe it or not, the editing was easy compared to the sound design. Having to put in every footstep, door slam and glass clink takes forever. And when that painstaking task was done, I had to start thinking about the music.

 

Now the soundtrack was something I couldn’t do myself. I’m not the least bit musically inclined. I’m tone deaf, at least that’s what people who’ve heard me sing tell me. I made the decision to spend some money on royalty free music, and in the end I was quite happy I did. The music really sets the mood for particular scenes, and I was amazed at how much difference the right piece of music married to the right scene makes.

 

I’m not going to divulge how long the post production took to finally finish ‘The Dinner Date’. I don’t want to discourage anyone out there who wants to attempt a no budget feature. But in the end, I stopped predicting when it would be done, as I was only deluding myself.

 

Believe it or not, I did finally finish the film. That was reward in and of it self. Yes, I am now seeking a distributor for it. The film deserves an audience. But regardless of what happens now, finishing this project is one of the achievements I’m most proud of in my life. So was it so ludicrous to attempt to do so many jobs on my feature film? Yes and no. It was the only way I could make it for less than a grand. And I learned so much. But be warned, if you try this for yourself, be prepared for the challenge of your life!

 

To watch the trailer for The Dinner Date along with more info, please visit

www.thedinnerdatemovie.com.

 

An American living in London, filmmaker Winfield Edson set out to make a very British comedy.  The Dinner Date was a project that saw Win taking on the duties of writer, producer, director, cameraman and editor. The film was shot in 7 days with 7 actors for £700

 

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