This is me, totally dead

Five Things I Learned Making a Low-Budget Horror Movie

Make sure there’s plenty of coffee


When friend and colleague David Axe asked me to help him make a horror movie, I said yes.

Months later, I was lying in a pool of fake blood wondering how I’d gotten myself into this mess. I was on a rug that was doing nothing to protect me from the cold linoleum underneath and the first lesson of making low-budget horror movies hit me in the face — don’t act if you don’t have to.

Every movie set is a complicated clockwork of conflicting schedules, personalities and needs. Actors get the spotlight but the crew makes it all work and every low-budget set always needs more crew, even if they’re just there to clean up the blood.

I produced AZRAEL, which means I wore a lot of hats, and I foolishly agreed to be a victim in a murder scene.

Here’s a dirty secret of the industry — acting sucks. The hours are long and boring and you’re often stuck repeating the same lines and actions over and over again until the director has finally gotten all the coverage he thinks he needs.

While that’s happening the crew is busy building sets, setting up the next shot or adjusting lights. What they don’t have to do is stay frozen in a pool of freezing fake blood because the director needs to get just one more shot.

Which brings me to my next point — always make sure there’s hot coffee. Shoots can start early in the morning and run late into the night. People need caffeine to keep them going and tempers are longer when no one is wondering when the next cup is coming.

As a producer on a low budget horror film, I spent a lot of time making sure the black stuff never ran dry.

Invest in good financial software. Your books are too important to live in a complicated system of Excel spreadsheets. Spend the money and the time on Quickbooks and, when it comes time to pay the bills and talk to investors, the conversations will go much faster and you’ll look much more professional.

The director is often wrong but only a few people on set can tell them that. The producer is one of those people. But you can’t ever just call them out and never do it in front of the cast and crew. It’s better to point in the direction of the mistake and hope they see it themself.

If your sage advice isn’t heeded, learn to let it go. When you’re right in the end, a decent director will remember. If they don’t, find yourself another director.

Here’s another secret — making movies is a pain in the ass. The hours are long, the job often thankless, and there’s a big chance that you’ll fail and a better chance you won’t make any money.

If you’re in the low-budget horror movie game and you aren’t absolutely in love with the process, then it’s not worth your time and energy. Cynicism will show up on screen just as soon as love will. Lack of craft is easier to cover up than lack of enthusiasm.

Invest in good financial software. Yes, I know I said that twice.

Follow AZRAEL on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, and visit our website. AZRAEL’s soundtrack is on Bandcamp.