'ZERO BUDGET MOVIE-MAKING' COSMOS was made by a core crew of just three and a main cast of three, over a period of 5 years with no financial backing. All gear and locations were pre-owned or borrowed. COSMOS was made to demonstrate our potential as directors and the talent involved... and well, we're incredibly proud of it. Find out how we went from a friend's garage in Birmingham, UK to a Premiere in the heart of Hollywood... it was quite the journey.
WHY MAKE COSMOS?
Cosmos came into existence because my brother, Elliot, and I wanted to take back control over our filmmaking career. All filmmakers need to make their first feature and we’d spent between 2010 and 2013 in development on a 120 minute sci-fi-thriller called Encounter. We’d written the script, attached a list of industry talent and developed an investment strategy with a corporate finance company.
But despite the strength of the story, the team and the plan, we were then just 22 and 24 seeking a seven-figure budget with no feature experience and, understandably, we faced skepticism from potential investors.
Our growing frustration with this impasse was the feeling that our deep emotional need to tell stories and express ourselves through film was being held up by the financial business of the industry.
So in 2013, after almost three years in development, we decided that instead of pushing ahead trying to secure an unrealistic level of finance for two young untested directors, we’d detour and make a new film at the opposite end of the indie spectrum.
This “no-budget” feature, although much smaller in scale, would be no less ambitious in story or creativity and with it, we could prove to the industry we had the talent, drive and vision as feature directors. We could then leverage this smaller film to secure funding for more ambitious projects.
ZERO BUDGET: HOW & WHY?
Having spent so long trying to secure finance for Encounter, the last place Elliot and I wanted to find ourselves was with yet another project needing the support of other parties for a budget. This time we would follow the golden rules of indie filmmaking; Cosmos would be a simple contemporary story, set in a single location over one night with minimal characters, under 100 pages long and utilise resources we had to hand.
To self-produce this film completely independently, not needing any production or financial support, we’d have to be savvy and meticulous, but if we could pull it off, it would give us the complete creative control to express our storytelling tastes and sensibilities.
Technology has democratised filmmaking like never before and inspired by the independent spirit of filmmakers like Robert Rodriguez and Gareth Edwards, we’d undertake every crew role throughout production except composing the soundtrack.
Ell and I scripted 100 pages, storyboarded 1055 cells, cast 4 actors, location scouted, prop designed and built, costumed, production managed, set dressed, directed, shot, focus pulled, blocked and lit, sound recorded, coordinated practical effects and car to car filming, edited, graded, sound designed, re recorded and mixed, created and designed all visual effects and heavily collaborated with the composer on the writing of 90+ minutes of orchestral score.
We used the equipment we had; gear that other filmmakers might dismiss as below the minimum requirement to make a polished feature film, but we knew when used shrewdly and to its fullest potential, we could give Cosmos the shine of a modestly budgeted independent feature.
We lit entire night shoots with 3 battery powered LED panel lights and a gas powered smoke machine. We used iPads as light sources. Our matte box was made from cardboard. Our wind machine was a leaf blower. Our camera dolly was a wheelchair.
Our BMPCC rig was handmade from copper piping and used ankle weights for handheld counterbalance. Whichever of us was on camera would also focus pull (close to wide open as we had limited light). The other of us would be watching performance while boom swinging and recording sound. Our actors slated the shots. Our camera slider was often propped in the middle by paintpots. We shot entire car chase sequences inside a triple garage. Our mom monitored continuity, hair and make-up and would often slate, focus pull and operate lights. It was the most basic, ad hoc, guerilla filmmaking imaginable and it was seriously hard work.
But when, despite the cold and the tiredness and the endless tinkering, you managed to roll on a setup and bag it exactly how you imagined, the feeling of pride and comradery and achievement was palpable.
We did anything and everything that needed to be done to see the film made. It took dedication and focus, we called upon every trick and technique we’d ever learnt or needed to learn - the only thing it cost us was time. We wanted to direct Cosmos from end to end, to have our fingerprints all over it and showcase our talent and abilities as directors and storytellers. We want to demonstrate that there’s no link between the strength and depth of a human story and the size of a production budget.
And after almost exactly 5 years since deciding to make Cosmos, a core team of just 3 actors, ourselves, our Mom and our composer have delivered an ambitious and entertaining sci-fi film of a production standard that few would dare demand on such minimal resources and zero financial support. We’ve never work as hard before in our lives.
We hope the way in which we’ve made Cosmos and the incredibly high standard to which it has been made will demonstrate our creativity, competence, commitment, passion and potential as directors and assist us in obtaining support for our next, larger scale productions.
We didn’t make Cosmos on our own because we wanted to show off that we could. We made Cosmos on our own because we didn’t want to wait any longer to pursue our passion and wanted to prove to the industry that we could direct films and direct them well and show the lengths we would go to in order to make that happen.
We wanted this film to be transparent, we wanted to strip away the usual support directors receive from heads of department and producers to show our abilities in their most stripped back nature.
We wanted to show what we could do with nothing.
COSMOS celebrated its World Premiere in our hometown of Birmingham, July 2019. We then had the thrill of flying over to LA to host the US Premiere at the Laemmle Fine Arts in Hollywood, November 2019.
The film was released in theatres across the US and Worldwide on Demand Nov 8, 2019 and is now available on DVD and BluRay.
We went from filming in a friend's garage, freezing our fingers off over cold night shoots and 28 months of two man post production, to screening our film to a paying audience in the very heart of the movie industry.
We spent 10 days pinching ourselves; soaking up the excitement, making new friends and realising we'd fulfilled a dream. Cosmos was intended to be a tool to open doors and build support for future projects, but we fell in love with it and the people we made it with.
Back when we were struggling to raise funds for Encounter it seemed like turning away to make a no budget movie was a failure; but what followed is about as far from failure as you can imagine. COSMOS has strengthened our abilities, given us a broad understanding of the craft behind each discipline involved in film production, it has tested our passion for cinema and proved that it's part of who we are and it took us to Hollywood and back - but more than that it introduced us to a group of individuals that we will forever consider family.
One memory from filming sticks in my mind for its poignancy. It was a cold night shoot in a forest, our torch batteries died, and filming stopped. It was about 3am. A little deflated and with numb fingers, we began to de-rig our gear, but as the four of us stepped out from under the forest canopy, we were greeted by a glorious night sky: crisp, deep, sparkling and striking; we literally stopped in our tracks. There was audible gasping at the sight and then, perfectly timed, across the inky black, drifted a satellite. We couldn’t stop talking about it for the whole 45-minute drive home.
That single moment summed up our entire Cosmos journey: things go wrong, it happens, sometimes your batteries go flat, sometimes you don’t get the budget you need, but walking out from under that canopy can reveal something beautiful, something you would have missed had you not been looking.
Cosmos was designed for a purpose, it was going to get us over the ‘first feature wall’. But now, looking back, I wouldn’t have had it any other way. I love our film and I love the team we made it with – I’m glad people didn’t trust us with their money.
In our official spiel for the film, there’s a line that reads “Cosmos offers thrills and adventure but reminds us success is nothing without people to share it with”, and I think it’s fitting that this sums up both the film and the story of those who made it.