HORSEMAN, THE - RIDING REVENGE TO SUCCESS
HOW AND WHY I DID IT
By Steven Kastrissios
Urban Cinefile asked me to write about making my debut feature, The Horseman.
Although writing essays has never been my specialty (I scored a C+ in final year
English), I thought it would be a unique opportunity to write a detailed
account, as press coverage is usually limited to a few hundred words and trying
to squeeze a five-year journey into a few paragraphs can be tricky.
I have been shooting little genre films since I was fourteen. Growing up in the
bush, my mum helped me source gunpowder and supervised staged explosions. My
dogs were transformed into man-eating zombies and G.I. Joe figurines came to
life, only to tear limbs from one another through the magic of stop-motion
animation. Basically all my nerdy interests were united with the gift/curse of
"the idea for The Horseman hit me"
When I was eighteen, I gathered a few film-school mates to make an action
film called The Park. Shot on miniDV, it was originally almost feature-length,
but was later cut down to 30 minutes (you can only endure amateur student drama
for so long). It was produced with a budget of $600 and filled with wannabe
Desperado gun battles, wannabe Die Hard punch-ups and wannabe Goodfellas
violence. The film picked up three Queensland New Filmmaker awards and the final
result led me to believe that armed with the right script and cast, shooting an
endurable feature length micro-budgeted action thriller wasn’t out of reach.
In 2003, HD was still too expensive for ultra-low budgets and some independent
films shot on miniDV were breaking through to theatrical release. Encouraged by
this, I went about developing various ideas, searching for the right concept
that would compliment a micro budget. But after a couple years of chasing
concepts that were too expensive to realise properly, the idea for The Horseman
hit me. I could clearly see how both the story and the production could work.
Six weeks later I had the first draft, which structurally changed very little in
the final shooting script. The main adjustment was bringing the tone from a
cheesy action approach to something more grounded. One afternoon of script
workshopping with two actor friends helped me refine the story and trim thirty
pages worth of superfluous dialogue from the script.
In a weekend we shot a short film adapted from the opening scene of the feature
script, as a kind of test-run/proof of concept. It turned out well enough,
picking up a Queensland New Filmmaker award and soon after I brought on my
film-school classmate Bec Dakin to produce the feature version with me. Her
fearless approach and practical ‘can-do’ attitude was what I needed in a
producing partner, as she also tackled tasks like towing the generator,
assisting art department and cooking for the entire unit.
This was now 2006 and fortunately digital technology had exploded with HD
becoming much more affordable. Bec Dakin and I assembled a small crew, largely
made up of talented and hardworking film students who worked for deferred fees.
Chris Anderson, a veteran stunt coordinator came on board with his team and the
final and most important pieces fell into place when we found a tremendously
talented cast of Queensland actors, led by Peter Marshall. His performance has
been singled out as nothing short of powerhouse in every single review I’ve read
and his easy nature and enthusiasm lifted the entire crew through the long
"how we financed the film"
I should probably mention how we financed the film, as that was always my
first question to indie filmmakers. We shot The Horseman just before the
wonderful tax incentive 10BA was suspended. It worked by giving a certified
film’s investor an almost 100% deduction in their tax, matching their
investment. Therefore I was comfortable going to my family for the funding,
knowing their investment would be returned almost in full, regardless of the
film’s sales and earnings.
Most of the film was shot in and around one house that we redecorated to pass as
multiple settings. Cinematographer Mark Broadbent wrangled two Panasonic HVX202
HD cameras to capture the unpredictable performances with a somewhat
unconventional approach using a cross-shooting set-up that covered both actors
simultaneously. The action sequences also benefited greatly with the second
camera operated by the sharp eye of Scott Kimber. We wrapped production after
twenty-six days, on time and even under budget.
With a professional background in editing, I was comfortable handling the visual
side of post-production. It took about four months to get to the first rough cut
and then I began a series of screenings at home, grilling whoever was
unfortunate enough to visit me for detailed feedback. This process led to
eighteen more cuts until we locked picture. To save money, I colour graded the
film myself using Color from Final Cut Studio, which brought great results. The
Post Lounge (my ex-employers) helped us with a rough sound mix and with a
semi-finished film, we began to send out screeners.
Our plan all along was the standard indie film route - screen at a prestigious
international film festival, score rave reviews, sell the film in a bidding war
followed by a local release. However, a year later we hadn’t been accepted into
any festivals here or abroad and with no distributor attached the media were not
interested in covering the film.
Rebecca Dakin and I began to lose faith. We believed we had something good, but
maybe it just wasn’t a ‘festival’ film. So we decided to go straight to local
distributors but nobody was interested in theatrically releasing an R-rated
Australian film with a no-star cast. Especially when it hadn’t screened at any
festivals and was unreviewed. So we were in a ‘Catch 22’ situation.
Our last hope was connecting with local industry people who might be compelled
to help. We found that support in Greg Mclean and Matt Hearn, the filmmakers
behind Wolf Creek. They helped brainstorm strategies for the film and put us in
touch with James Hewison from Madman Entertainment who continued this good will.
A small, yet significant gesture came from Seph McKenna from Village Roadshow.
Although the film wasn’t right for their catalogue, he put the film in front of
Melbourne International Film Festival programmer Juliana Chin, who added it to
the festival at the eleventh hour.
After our world premiere in Melbourne, the ball finally started to roll.
Positive buzz began to spread and soon we were invited to South-by-South West
Film Festival in USA. In the lead up to our American premiere, anticipation was
building strongly amongst the online film journals - “looks to be one of the
greatest revenge movies of all time” wrote WeAreMovieGeeks.com.
After the screening, several critics wrote rave reviews including Harry
Knowles who held a viewing at his house for the Ain’t It Cool News’ team of
writers. We entered a bidding war with sales agents from around the world and
signed with LA based sales company, Media 8 Entertainment who sold the film to
USA, UK, Germany, Benelux, Brazil, Scandinavia, Middle-East and other
Screen Australia came on board to help us pay for our delivery requirements
(transferring to 35mm, Dolby Digital license, legal fees etc) and we recently
paid out the deferrals to cast and crew.
It is now 2010, and after five years of working on the film, The Horseman will
be getting a local cinema release through Umbrella Entertainment. If you’d like
to know more, you’ll have to buy the Blu Ray!
The Horseman releases July 8, 2010 in Sydney (Chauvel), Brisbane (Tribal
Theatre) and Melbourne (Cinema Nova).
Published July 8, 2010
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Steven Kastrissios and Bec Dakin
Interview with PETER MARSHALL
Interview with CHRIS ANDERSON (stunt co-ordinator)
Written & directed by Steven Kastrissios
After Christian’s (Peter Marshall) teenage daughter is found dead in an inner
city alley, he receives a porn video featuring his obviously drugged daughter.
Incensed, Christian takes his pest control van on the road to track down those
responsible. Along the way, he picks up a teenage hitchhiker, Alice (Caroline
Mahorasy), and the two strangers find a genuine friendship growing between them.
But the surviving members of the porn gang catch up with them.