Filmmaking is at a stage where it is widely accessible and anyone can get involved. DSLRs and mobile phones are providing great quality footage at low cost. More accessible editing software, such as Final Cut Pro X, is allowing people who have never thought of video editing to become a skilled editor in a matter of months.
There is still one genre however that is out of reach of the small budget, which is Sci-Fi. The elaborate out-of-this-world sets and unconventional monsters make Sci-Fi a costly genre to undertake. The 2016 feature Passengers had an estimated budget of $110 million and Star Trek Beyond had an estimated budget of $185 million. This unfortunately makes filmmakers with no backing or funding think Sci-Fi is out of their reach.
This was not Will Heynen’s outlook when he decided he wanted to make his Sci-Fi short One Trippers. Adapted from the short story The Hated written by Frederic Pohl, it is a short story set within a bar where an ex-astronaut talks about an old mission to Mars and his hatred for the rest of the crew. Heynen acquired the rights to adapt the story for screen with help from his girlfriend and he went on to write the script. He then realized that producing the entire script may be out of his reach. Heynen was not ready to let a low budget stop him from creating his passion project. He decided to pull a section of the story that had the essence of the inner story and was also possible to create on his small budget. He explained “the other sets are so fantastic, I wouldn’t be able to build them. I would love to make the whole film but I think I would need ten grand.”
The section he decided to make revolved around one location: the spaceship. This was cost-effective and time-effective. Not having to move the crew, cast and equipment to different locations saves on what could possibly be huge travel costs and time. This also goes for building sets. Only having to spend your budget on building one set, you can make sure it looks out of this world for sure. Heynen built the set for his film with his own hands and a £500 budget, all inside his parents’ garage. He said “it took about 3 months to build the set. It was just me and I had never built anything before and I’m terrible at DIY. It was two steps forward, one step back.”
With help from his friends he managed to create the crisp, clean, Kubric look he intended for the inside of the spaceship. This was made with hand-painted keyboards, multiple LEDs and slick white walls. Due to this being a first-time build for Heynen there were naturally a few flaws in the set, things that could have broken the immersion of the film. Heynen spoke about how he got around this issue. “The idea was to film it as dark as possible so that it would hide a lot.” This clever trick covered the blemishes but it also added to the cramped, closed-off, claustrophobic feel of the film.
Heynen stressed the importance of using skilled close friends as a way to pull a crew together and also as a way to reconnect with friends. He explained “I rely on the talent of all my other friends. The main actor, a guy called Chris Fallen, he is fantastic. Matt Shelbourne, a really good camera guy, he also lit the set. The guy who wrote the score is also a good friend (Draper) and the costumes were made by an old school friend (Sophie Packer).”
Shot in a weekend, the cast and crew were bundled up for these long tiring days together. Just like the film examples, spending a long period of time with the same people in a small environment raises tensions. Heynen stated “The most crucial lesson I learnt was to keep everyone well-fed. Because it was actually quite painful being stuck in that garage all day.”
Heynen intended One Trippers to be a teaser: “I thought why don’t I try and make a section of this script? Then with that, try and get funding. It almost acts as a trailer for the full 20-minute story.” This is a common, clever trick for no-budget filmmakers. It allows the filmmaker to give viewers and possible investors a taste of the film and show what the filmmaker can do. A recent example of this is Damien Chazelles with Whiplash. The short film was just one scene from an early draft of the feature and it generated a buzz at Cannes Film Festival. The feature film then went on to win three Oscars. For Heynen, he realized shortly after finishing the film that his short was good enough to be a standalone film. It didn’t need to be any more than that. When asked what he would do if he found the money to produce the whole script, his answer was brief. “I’d quit my job and I’d work full-time on it. Yep, absolutely. That would be the first thing I’d do.”