Hidden Light: From Concept to Screen

“It was almost as if no one cared about the films, what they meant, what they were about.”

Written by Aaron Kamp

The journey of making Hidden Light began back in 2013, while I was on my way to Los Angeles for the world premiere of my debut short film, Never Too Late. With plenty of time think on the long flight, I started tossing around ideas for my next short film. And the idea that stuck, was one about a grieving widower plotting revenge against his wife’s killer, and whose best friend – a priest – tries to turn him away from that destructive path. I pitched the concept to Jack Jovcic, who also had a role in Never Too Late and was in LA with me. He loved the idea and also suggested to make the priest Serbian Orthodox, since he had always wanted to play a Serbian Priest in a film. And so that’s what I did.

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I initially wrote Hidden Light as a 15-minute short, but I went on to make a different short film in 2014. It was at the premiere of that short film, Stuck, that I was introduced to some potential investors and so I pitched them Hidden Light – but as a feature. They loved the idea and expressed interest in helping to fund the project. So now I had my work cut out for me. I needed to turn my short script into a feature as quick as possible, as I didn’t want them to lose interest, but I needed to have a solid script and business plan together before they would commit any money.

For the next 12 months the painstaking task of writing and re-writing almost led me to abandon the project. But finally, I had a script that I was happy with. I was able to take that to several investors and another six months later (and a couple more drafts later) I had enough money to go into production. It was now July of 2016.

Of course, when I say I had enough money to go into production, I didn’t really. As with any micro-budget feature, the key to getting it made is through the generous support of those working on the film. While all of my main cast and crew were paid for their involvement, it was far less than they deserved, with most crew taking a small up-front payment and a back-end percentage. And I am forever grateful to everyone involved in the film for being so generous in helping to get it off the ground and completed on very small budget.

Production was scheduled to begin in early November 2016 and run for 4 weeks, though we did schedule it as 2 x 2 week blocks, with a week break in the middle. The reason for this is that we had a couple of key team member who also ran their own businesses. So breaking up the shoot like this enabled them to focus totally on the film, while still having time in the middle of the shoot to stay on top of their business needs. While this seemed like a good decision at the time, I think next time I would do it differently and just shoot the film in one long stretch. Momentum can be lost when you take time off from a shoot & getting people back up to speed can ultimately add to the shoot time.

In the end, due to a couple of unforeseen events, we ran a couple of days over schedule. But what we had looked amazing and thankfully the crew were more than happy to work a couple of extra days to get what we needed.

Post-production ran from January to September of 2017 and we also grabbed some pickup shots in February. I did the editing myself, since I couldn’t afford to pay anyone else to do it, and for this reason it probably ran a bit longer than I would have liked (since I did still have to do other work to pay the bills). But once it was all locked off and we had a screening print in September – it was all worth it!

We premiered the film to an audience of 400 (including the cast & crew) at Luna Cinemas in Leederville, WA on October 15, 2017. It was a resounding success, with many people stating it was the best micro-budget West Australian feature that they have seen. This of course, is wonderful to hear. Especially since, as the director of the film, I constantly see things that I could have improved on given more time and money!

Following the premiere is when the business side of things kicked up a notch – I have investors that want to see a return. So, I planned on attending the American Film Market in November. In the lead-up to this, I approached several distributors and sales agents with the film, and ended up with a couple of deals on the table. I was able to take these deal memos to ScreenWest and secure a small travel grant to head to Los Angeles for the AFM. What an eye-opening experience that was!

At the market it was all business. It was almost as if no one cared about the films, what they meant, what they were about and so on. It was, “Who’s in it?”, “What does the poster look like?”, “What genre?”, “Is the trailer good?”, and ultimately – “Can I sell it?”. I quickly learned that micro-budget films like mine – particularly low-budget dramas – don’t ‘sell’ as such. They are more likely to be acquired on a revenue-share basis.

And with a few deals on the table, it wasn’t too difficult to see which deal would be most beneficial. Some of the deals have terrible clauses that would ultimately lead to my investors not seeing a cent of their investment returned. While some are much more filmmaker friendly. But that said, this is my first feature, so it remains to be seen how much of a return I will get.

I ended up signing on with a US-distributor, who released the film in the USA in February. It played in 1-cinema in LA for a week and was released day and date on VOD. The theatrical run wasn’t to make money, but was simply to build a little publicity for the film – which helped us garner reviews in the LA Times and The Hollywood Reporter. I was also fortunate to have the film’s script placed in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences library!

My US-distributor is also the international sales agent for the film, and at the Cannes Film Market last month they successfully sold the film to China.

I was also fortunate to sit down with Jeff from Umbrella Entertainment while in LA. Based in Melbourne, Umbrella is growing Australian distributor that shows great support for the local industry. They signed Hidden Light and have just released this film in the Australian and New Zealand markets. It is available on Google Play, Youtube, Fetch TV and Umbrella on Demand. My own company, Small Voice Films, is has also produced a small run of DVDs & Blurays that are available at http://www.hiddenlightmovie.com

So, it remains to be seen how much revenue the film will generate – I’m due to get my first report from the USA next month. But regardless of how well it performs, I am proud of what we managed to achieve for such a low-budget film. It is of a very high standard, in terms of the production values, we have been selected for several small film festivals and have secured distribution, both at home in Australia and in a couple of the biggest markets in the world!

While I am still involved with the film, selling DVDs and marketing the release, I’m now beginning to shift my focus to the next project. I have a few things in development and I’m looking forward to getting back behind the camera and creating another piece of cinema.

Hidden Light is now available via VoD. Details at www.hiddenlightmovie.com

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