Packaging For SAG Ultra Low Budget - Can It Be Done?

In the last few case studies in our Myth Busters series, we've looked at films in the $1-$5 million range. But what about films in the ultra low budget range ($250K or less)? Most people argue with me 'til the cows come home that at these low budget levels, name cast are impossible. 

OK sure, BIG name cast are not likely to attach themselves to an ultra low budget film (why would they?), but you can still get recognizable talent at these low budget ranges that will infinitely increase your chances of getting some kind of distribution later.

So my question then is why wouldn't you try and package your ultra low budget film with name talent? Thats right no excuses!

Enter producer David Stever who did just that with his film Coffin. He first wrote to me and wanted me to instill confidence in my readers that YES, packaging an ultra low budget film really is possible! So I suggested we do a case study so you could hear it from the horse's mouth and here it is below.

What is the name and log line of your film?


Businessman, Jack Samms, comes home late one night only to find a menacing stranger in his home. The stranger, known only as Trick, tells Jack that his wife and her lover trapped inside an air-tight wooden box. Trick gives Jack an ultimatum; get him a large sum of money within 75 minutes, or else the couple suffocates inside the box. A dangerous battle of wits ensues as Jack races against the clock to get the money and save his wife, while avoiding the detectives now on his trail. Will he make it in time?

The movie stars Kevin Sorbo, Bruce Davison, Sunny Doench, and Johnny Alonso. Released through Artist View Entertainment.

What is the website for your film (if you have one)?

What is the budget (or budget range) of your film?

Let's just say we fell into the SAG Ultra-Low Budget category!

What is your current financing plan?

We were fortunate to received a commitment from our Executive Producer, Spencer Johnson, of Skyrocket Productions, to finance the film. I approached him at the end of 2009 about shooting a low budget horror/thriller and he made the committment. However, the relationship with Skyrocket was almost ten years in the making. The moral is, dont burn any bridges! Relationships you make now can pay off years in the future.

What is the packaging strategy for your film and what have you done so far?

For packaging the film, even though we had an equity investor committed, we knew we needed at least two name actors for the movie to have a chance at recouping our money and seeing a profit. Also, having names attached was a mandate from our sales agent, Artist View Entertainment. We worked with Artist View on a previous film. On their recommendation, we hired casting director Ricki Maslar to cast our two name actors. She was amazing and within a few days she came back with suggestions and ultimately we made offers to actors through her. We didn't have much money to pay her, but she was willing to work with us and we were able to tap into her years of experience. Her contribution was worth way more than what we could pay. We'll make it up to her by using her on many more projects. I hope!

But, what made it all work was that we shot in Los Angeles. Our actors didn't have to travel and we only needed them for two days each. So even though many states offer tax credits, if you are real low budget, there is an advantage to shooting in LA. Make it easy for the actors to work and youll have success in finding a name or two to work on your movie. For future projects, our strategy will be if nothing else to find the money to hire a casting director.

What are some of the obstacles (if any) that youve encountered and how have you overcome them (or not!)?

Obstacles we were very low budget so that is an obstacle in itself. What we didn't do was have enough pre-production. The lower the budget, the more pre-production you need. We shot for two weeks and during the first week I was still securing some locations for week two. So, do as much pre-production as possible. Your life will be much less stressful during the shoot!

What have been some of your biggest mistakes or wastes of time/money so far?

Mistakes not doing marketing at the beginning of the project. We didn't do a web site until we were finished. Even though we had a sales agent attached early on, we should have been promoting the movie from the start. We just recently launched our web site and started a Facebook fan page. Although I dont think it hurt us, we should have created a marketing buzz early on to help enhance our domestic sales opportunities.

What resources or tools have you found most helpful during this process?

Definitely the Film Specific website with its wealth of information. Become a member if you haven't already! Reading the trades, Hollywood Reporter and Variety, and attending AFM for sure. Plus I think I've read every book on producing and screenwriting that's on the market.

If you had to do it all over again, what would you do differently?

As I already mentioned, definitely much more preproduction, and planning and implementing our marketing strategy early in the process.

What are your next steps from here?

Next steps- having a premiere, entering the movie into some festivals for exposure, and looking for domestic opportunities.
Also using this project to springboard us into our next projects. We have three in development that well be shopping/promoting at AFM. Two supernatural horror films, NIGHTWATCHERS, with a script by award winning writer David Saymyster, UNIT 315, script by Mark Garbett (Midnight Movie ) plus a thriller, BLOOD LAKE, from my original script. All of these projects are possible because of the credibility we received from getting COFFIN made.

So, in the context of this interview, my advice is to do everything you can to get your first film made. Make sure its a genre film with a couple of name actors. You can get names on a low budget film. They might not be A-list, but you have to give the sales agent something to sell. Sales agents and casting directors are very accessible. Be genuine, take the nice guy approach, and people will want to work with you.

About Stacey Parks: Stacey Parks is the Founder of Film Specific and an expert in the area of Film & TV distribution, with over 15 years experience working with independent film producers. As a Foreign Sales Agent since 2001 she has secured distribution for hundreds of independent features and programs worldwide. She has sold films and programs to NHK (Japan), RTL (Germany), Canal Plus (France), BBC, SkyTV, HBO, Showtime, Starz, PBS, A&E, History Channel, Travel Channel and countless others.