How Filmmakers Dealt With the Pressures of Making a Movie on a Micro Budget
By Elia Esparza
30 Days With My Brother a feature film written, produced and starring Omar Mora, and directed by Michael May, was filmed in and around Los Angeles. This micro-budget movie, shot in 13 days using Red Scarlet and Red Epic Dragon cameras, premieres on Wednesday, April 6th at the American Cinematheque’s historic Egyptian Theatre located at 6712 Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles. This cinema event is collaboration between LatinoMediaVisions, American Cinematheque, Moras Productions and M&F Entertainment.
A poignant drama, 30 Days With My Brother is about two estranged brothers, starring Mora and Adrián Núñez (Spiral, Threshold), who reunite after a 17-year separation, but struggle to get beyond the tragedy that tore them apart. Tickets are free of charge and by invitation only. To request an invitation email to LHMediaInstitute@latinheat.com
How Mora has come to excel in two challenging careers—he’s a medical doctor who also studied acting and filmmaking after America’s worse terrorist attack in 2001—is told in an inspiring LATINHEAT interview.
Like most filmmakers working on their first feature, Mora ventured into his cinematic journey knowing full well that the only way to get his movie made would be on a micro-budget. What must have felt difficult and maybe even impossible at times, somehow, May and Mora pulled it off.
“Filmmaking is a delicate balance,” said Mora. Both director and writer had to clearly define and unite their movie vision, “because filmmaking is a collaborative art form,” he added. Yes, but how is it done armed only with a micro-budget? We recently sat down with the filmmakers just to ask them about how they overcame the challenges and still be able to produce a gem of a film.
LatinHeat: Can you tell us how you managed to keep your costs down working on a micro-budget film?
Michael May: The story of 30 Days With My Brother is an intimate one, and the script dictated a lot of our micro-budget needs because of that intimacy. I wanted the filming environment to be relaxed and calm so our actors felt comfortable to explore and play. That kept our crew small and our equipment minimal. On top of those things, it’s a lot of preparation to stay on budget. We couldn’t afford to go overtime, shoot extra days, or add shots so everything had to be planned out accordingly. Which is how I prefer to work anyway. Even if we had a larger budget I believe the process would have stayed the same because the environment we created really helped tell the story.
LH: Any secrets you discovered about working with a micro-budget?
MM: Be prepared. Know what you want and how to get it. Expect everything to go wrong. The better prepared you are the easier it is to problem solve quickly which is integral to staying on budget.
LH: It’s amazing to me how feature films can be made in days. Only 13 days? Any obstacles that popped up you hadn’t anticipated?
MM: Yes. Thirteen days. All of our problems were normal production issues like something may happen to a piece of equipment, a loud noise we don’t have control over ruins a scene, things like that. It’s a terribly simple answer but you just deal with them as best you can.
LH: What is required to make a micro-budget feature film look like a quality film made for millions?
MM: We carefully worked it all out in advance: the camera, blocking, acting and lighting. A good plan and always good to have your AD build a shooting schedule around your shot list.
LH: Is this your first feature film to direct? If so, how has this experience changed you as a director?
MM: It is my first feature. I’ve directed segments in two anthology films but that was working with many other directors. This experience has taught me a lot, and some things that I may not even be aware of yet. I did learn that I could trust my creative instincts, my judgment, and myself. The confidence is important and that’s a lesson I learned, for sure. Also, I never saw myself making a film in this genre. I’ve done a lot of work in comedy, horror, and documentaries. Hollywood likes to pigeonhole people, which is unfortunate because creative artists aren’t literally boxed into genres like Hollywood thinks. I want to tell good stories regardless of the genre or medium, and it was gratifying to see it all come together.
LH: Omar, you’re a natural born storyteller. 30 Days is a simple story with commercial appeal; why not just pitch it to see if you could sell it versus going the indie route?
Omar Mora: Because I wanted to do it myself. I want to create my own content and produce my own scripts/films—have total creative and executive control over my own projects. I have my own production company Moras Productions. And the only way that my company can grow is doing it by myself, and this required me to jump right in and learn. It’s my first film as a producer and I made a lot of mistakes, but that’s the only way to grow. I’m so proud of my movie and the most proud part is that I created it and produced under my company. I own it!
OM: We feel fortunate to have received this great opportunity from AMC Independent. We have now opened a door that leads to a new world of possibilities, for the other filmmakers from our island as well. In Puerto Rico we also signed a distribution agreement with Caribbean Cinemas.
[AMC Independent dedicates over 20% of their theatres to showing independent films throughout the year, including AMC-exclusive releases. Their goal is to engage and inspire audiences and at the same time, give distribution to independent filmmakers.]
LH: Are you working on a new project? What’s next for you?
OM: I have six other scripts that I’m developing. Three of them consist of a three-part saga. One of them is an original superhero story with Latino leads. What’s next for me is to keep working on my scripts to make them happen. www.OmarMora.com
LH: Best advice to give to first time filmmakers?
MM: Make your micro-budget film personal – your commitment has to come from something incredibly personal – something you’re willing to give all your energy and willing to endure whatever hardship may come with it.
OM: Start with a well-written, tight script – it has to be something you deeply care about – the genre doesn’t matter so long as your story connects emotionally to your audience. Have a business film plan and just go for it!
30 Days With My Brother also stars Stefy Garcia, Evelyn Michelle, Amy Schloerb and Enrique Fosse. The film was written by Omar Mora and produced by Moras Productions and M&F entertainment.
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About Director-Actor Michael May:
From the orange groves of Central Florida, Michael May was born with a deep passion for movies and acting. He began performing in theater as a child and by the time he was a teenager, May had studied at the famous Interlochen Arts Academy Arts Camp and had performed in dozens of Equity plays around the East Coast. At 18, he moved to Los Angeles to study film and directing. Here, he would produce the feature film Killing Zelda Sparks with Mad Men’s Vincent Kartheiser, Falling Skies’ Sarah Carter, and the brilliant Colm Feore. He went on to produce and direct a series of commercials and brand marketing films for clients: Balance Bars, and Le May: America’s Car Museum. Recently, May has performed in and directed segments of the film Fun Size Horror: Volume One, which was released in May 2015. He 2015, directed his first feature, 30 Days With My Brother, which premieres April 6, 2016 in Hollywood, CA. Film hits nationally at selected AMC theaters on April 8th.
About Omar Mora:
Omar is a medical doctor and an actor, writer, producer who currently stars in 30 Days With My Brother, an indie feature film he also wrote. Born and raised in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, Omar studied medicine and moved to New York City for his residency at St. Vincent’s Hospital. After witnessing the horrors of September 11th, he decided life is too short not to fulfill all of your dreams. He promptly enrolled at the New York Conservatory for Dramatic Arts to study acting. Once finishing both his residency and two-year performing arts training, Omar moved to Los Angeles where he continues working in both of his professions. He has written six feature film scripts and in 2013, he wrote his first literary novel Ancient Explorers: The Lost City of Peru, based on one of his film scripts. Under his Moras Productions Company, Omar shot his first short film, A Busy Mind, which was distributed in 2014 by PBS. Whether it’s helping people with medical treatments or touching them emotionally through his film projects, Omar has a passion for reaching out to people. And, since 2009, he has been the spokesperson and a medical volunteer of Selva In Action, a non-profit organization that works in the Amazon jungle in Peru.