Tuesday 12 June 2018

Creating Cold Soldiers

A bit of context. I met Nick Smith at Vintage Video, a club for fans of film and TV sci-fi, whilst we were undergraduates at Bournemouth University in the early nineties. We became instant friends and shared an affinity for Doctor Who and Star Wars. So much so, we worked on several video projects together. For example Ventolin Catharsis and December Duet, which channelled our mutual fascination for all things gothic.

Whilst our lives have taken distinctly different paths, we've remained in touch, through the power of communication technology, since graduation all those years ago. Heck, I still have ambitions to complete our 'gothic trilogy' one day on the streets of Miami.

When I heard about Nick's movie Cold Soldiers, filmed in Charleston, SC, I was instantly reminded of the Cybermen and watching classic Doctor Who serials together. I may have demonstrated my near-faultless impression of David Banks' Cyberleader sans voice modulation.

Here, Nick shares the highs and lows of getting his film Cold Soldiers made and distributed.

Guest post by Nick Smith

Like I always say, George Lucas, the creator of Star Wars, has a lot to answer for. He encouraged a generation of filmmakers to tell big-screen stories, wearing their influences on their samurai sleeves, becoming part of the sideshows of movie merchandising, publicity and distribution. George’s experimentation with digital video and effects are a reason why digital filmmaking is so prevalent today. In his youth, he had an obvious passion for movies and made lots of dough following it. He made it look easy.

It ain’t.

Moviemaking isn’t all skywalking. It requires long days, sacrifices of time, money and personal life, heavy lifting and uncertainty. Where do the little guys fit into all this hard labour, the ones with the passion but no dough? If they’re like me, they find a way to keep making movies any which way they can.

There’s a lot of chitter chatter in the indie film industry, but many projects never get made. For the feature film Cold Soldiers, my co-producer Trevor Erickson and I were faced with a choice: spend our time looking for investors and distributors, pitching an idea to doctors, lawyers and business angels or make the movie. We went ahead and made the movie, released this month on Amazon. Not exactly the Grauman’s Chinese Theater, but it’s a start.

The mission, which we chose to accept, was to make an action movie with memorable characters, suspense, knock-down drag-out fights, car chases and an involving, surprising plot. We wanted to work with local actors and crew and we didn’t want interference from some executive producer from on high, taking away our creative freedom. The main obstacle was lack of budget and we knew we had one shot at this – no Special Edition.

Cold Soldiers is set in a max security hospital full of spies and military guys who’ve failed their missions. Psychiatrist John Dance interacts with the patients, reporting to the institute’s review board, which includes his wife Rebecca. Meanwhile, a shadow force busts out of the hospital to bump off board members.

When Rebecca is targeted, John has to find out who’s involved before he becomes a widower. In his world no one can be taken at face value, forcing the psychiatrist to analyze everything.

So far, so thrilling. There’s also a love triangle, a sword fight, car chases and gun battles. More importantly, characters that the audience will (hopefully) care about. I learned how important that was as I was filming – and how many nuances the actors could add to their parts.

While we were filming all our action shenanigans, I learned a few more handy facts:

1. Sound is Hella Important!

I thought I had it down, aware that sound quality can make a film amateurish or Hollywood level. There are still a few moments where the sound could be better. Spending as much time as possible on sound, while we were shooting, would have saved a lot of heartache in the edit suite.

2. Ask and you shall receive (sometimes)

We waited for ages before we approached the military vehicle provider Force Protection. We thought they’d turn us away, especially since their vehicles appeared in Transformers. They immediately told us that Michael Bay hadn’t given them a penny and lent us their vehicles gratis.

3. Finding a distributor is no picnic, Booboo!

One potential distributor wanted to sell DVDs in cardboard sleeves; another wanted me to use a pseudonym. We took a long time to find the right fit and really an indie-friendly company who we could have an informal relationship with. We found them in Miami-based Maverick Entertainment.

4. There are many ways to share a film!

DVD, streaming, alternate screening venues… these days there are more ways to show a movie than home video editions of Star Wars: Return of the Jedi. Being flexible and looking beyond a big theatrical release is the key to getting a film in front of as many eyes as possible. Since there are a lot of martial arts antics in Cold Soldiers, we screened a workprint at East West Health Arts, a dojo in Charleston, South Carolina. Didn’t see that one coming!

However you find it or view it, check out this little movie fan’s epic – it’s handmade, heartfelt and a lot of fun. Enjoy the ride and Honor the Code.

You can buy or rent Cold Soldiers on Amazon (affiliate link).

Have you seen Cold Soldiers? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

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