The Insider: Aaron Moorhead Takes Us Behind the Scenes of Resolution
Here’s the conventional wisdom you read all the time for getting an indie film made:
- Never invest your own money
- Get name talent attached
- Set aside x% of your budget for marketing/publicity
- Find a connection at a film festival
- Make sure your film fits in a genre
- Blah Blah Blah
- Et cetera
Man, if Justin and I had followed any of those guidelines we would be enjoying a very comfortable lifestyles somewhere in the banking sector because we would have quit the industry never having made anything, but instead we are now [broke but existentially satisfied] filmmaker hobos that have a couple real live features under our belt. We don’t pretend to not understand why those royal commandments exist, but our films are proof that the only thing that really matters is that you’re just actually making a movie.
When we met as interns in 2009, we’d both been making DIY movies for about a decade. I was new to Hollywood and wanted to be a director/DP, Justin was a writer/director, and our childish enthusiasm for high-brow Stephen King-ish stuff was identical. One day, Justin threw a script in my inbox and asked for my thoughts. At that time it had a title page that read “Chronicle,” but then that other movie came around and ruined that pipe dream so after a bunch of other stupid title ideas, it’s now called RESOLUTION.
RESOLUTION is about a young man who imprisons his estranged, junkie best friend in an unfinished cabin in the middle of the boonies of San Diego in order to get his friend sober for one week, but the events of that week are manipulated by…well, that’s the mystery. It’s a purposefully enigmatic film, but not quite in a Lynchian way; there’s only one real answer to what the hell’s going on and it can be discovered through watching the movie. If you had to, you could call it a horror movie (and we do, proudly), but it’s also a mystery, with twinges of sci-fi and some buddy comedy/drama. A smorgasbord of genres. It premiered at Tribeca in 2012, and is available now on Amazon Prime/iTunes/nearly everywhere if you wanna pause your reading and do a little investigating. Here’s some more info about it Rotten Tomatoes.
When Justin told me about it, he also said “I think I know how to make it…starting right now, without having to try to cast a famous actor or wait around for financing.” It was written for a location his parents owned, he’d been saving money and living like a monk for years to finance it, we’d worked with the two lead actors we wanted to cast a couple times before, the budget was low enough that it’s possible to recoup it without a star in it, and I had a lot of crew that I’d been working with as a cinematographer who would probably be down to get their hands dirty. You only really get one or two of those favors, the “hey, this won’t be a lot of money but we’re aiming for the stars, will you come with us on this journey?” kinds of things, and we cashed those bitches in.
Justin had been working as a PA for a commercial producer named David Lawson to save up the money to make it. He sheepishly asked one day if Dave would read the script and maybe, pretty please, consider….producing it? When Dave came on, we questioned his sanity but were grateful because it basically guaranteed our shoot would be smooth, or at least well-planned.
The script was, in my opinion, fresher than some new Nike trainers. I won’t spoil it for those people who haven’t seen it, but there’s an idea in the movie that hasn’t been done before (as far as we’re aware). That’s what was so exciting about it — it has a Brand New Idea in it. Without having to spend any extra money and just by tickling the brain, we are able to evoke some very visceral, cosmic sort of horror. Not the kind that triggers fight-or-flight, but rather that it works on your mind and makes you wonder as you’re trying to fall asleep at night that just maybe…..
So we did it, we greenlit ourselves because no one could stop us from making this thing. Not that anyone was trying to, but just that there’s a bit of a feeling at that time that we were supposed to get permission from someone, that someone needed to vet it and say “yes, this will be good and you should do it.” All we had was a weird, possibly polarizing script that some people didn’t understand (because of the nature of the film itself) and our own neophyte instincts that we weren’t yet sure if we should trust.
You know that phrase that goes “Fast, cheap, and good: pick two”? Cheap was a given because we were broke as hell, and we didn’t really wanna lose the “good” part, so we decided to have a TON of prep. We gathered our little indie film army that would come out and make the film with us for way below their pay grade, rehearsed the shit out of it (and in doing so streamlined our own co-directing process that was going through its own baby steps), did right by our cast and crew as best as we knew how, and planned as much as we could down to a T.
We’d also made our jobs easy by casting the two best actors we knew. Peter Cilella and Vinny Curran delivered the movie to us on a silver platter, and at a certain point our job simply became making sure we didn’t miss it when they gave us their best take.
It wasn’t one big money-saving thing that made it possible to make a movie with the money in Justin’s checking account. It was tons of little things (being naturally cheap helps). Maybe the biggest thing is that, as sado-masochists and control freaks, we did the writing, directing, cinematography, editing, coloring, vfx and some of the producing ourselves — that was all free as hell. Also, our insanely talented crew members worked their asses off for roughly the cost of their rent money and a cut of the profits in the film. And the small stuff: Justin’s dad catered the film from Costco. We paid a children’s Christian summer camp a couple grand to put us all up there while we shot. Almost all our coverage was two medium shots and a wide, so our shooting schedule could be compressed (this isn’t a lack of creativity — there’s actually a story reason for it, believe it or not). Our post-production sound mixer “borrowed” nights and weekends at his facility sneaking us in the back door to get the audio right. We’re pretty sure he’s like that farmer in the arctic circle who literally doesn’t need to sleep.
The shoot was, in a word, charmed. You know how they say that pregnant women seem to be “glowing?” That was how we two dweebs probably looked when we came back home to start postproduction. At that point we were going on one month without working on anything that paid us money, and staring another unemployed month or two (at least) in the face, but we realized that this was just more important than any gig we could be taking. So we soldiered on, worked 16 hour days editing, tweaking with our mixer, getting great notes from bewildered but supportive friends, and trying to make sure that all this wasn’t a massive waste for a bizarre experiment.
Then something magic happened when we went to submit to film festivals. We decided to submit to every top-tier festival we could, blindly, before trying out regional and local fests. We didn’t know anyone at a festival (had never even been to one, had no idea what they were like), we just paid the submission fee and sent in a DVD with RESOLUTION written on it in sharpie. And one day, we got a call from this guy named Billy Goldberg, asking if our premiere was still available. He said he worked for the Tribeca Film Festival, he was a low man on the totem pole but he wanted to go to bat for it.
Simultaneously and unbeknownst to us, a man named Mitch Davis over at the Fantasia Film Festival (the largest genre film festival in North America) was putting our scratched-up disc into his DVD player, and discovered and programmed it there independently.
We cracked open a bottle of scotch and celebrated the possible victory. Even getting that far was worthy of a little bit of back-patting, but then…months passed. We were sweating bullets. Didn’t want to nag Billy, but god, we really wanted to nag Billy. And finally, we got the call, and we finished that scotch bottle.
Going into our first fest at Tribeca was the closest thing to a “big break” as I can think of having had. We got a sales agent (XYZ), who found us a publicist, and we had been prepared to have the film be polarizing. We knew this — it was a weird film, tough to categorize. Didn’t matter to us, at the time: we were in an amazing festival, who cares if people like it or not, we were already there. Like how dogs couldn’t give a shit if they were in a dirty Mojave trailer park, just that they’re outside and can run around was enough.
And through a little further magic, it wasn’t really polarizing. It got picked up for theatrical distribution the night of its premiere. Critics and audiences really, really dug it. And the best vindication, they dug it because it was weird.
And we realized: whoa, the state of indie film is actually in its most exciting place in a long time. There’s room for commercial and critical potential of a movie that wasn’t made by committee or made to make money, but made because we thought it should be made and were able to do so. There’s an audience for this and way to get it to them.
Being filmmakers, we then decided to make another movie called SPRING, but that’s a story for another day, and a story I’ll let Justin tell.