A Horse with No Name

by Tanya Mokdad

Normally, to start shooting a movie, filmmakers begin with an idea, and then they would usually develop it into a script, maybe even just set out a plan. Well- no actually, writer-directors Matthew and Barnaby O'Connor didn’t think so. These spontaneous brothers brought a whole new meaning to the word ‘improvisation’ as they took the making of their independent feature film A Horse with No Name to another level. It can be described as an ‘American-road trip film’, set off by a ‘Lady and the Tramp’ style love story. The O’Connor’s flew from London to New York, bringing their lead actor with them. All right, so everything is going to be made up as they go along, driving from New York to Los Angeles- fine. But the madness did not end there, no; the actors and crew were in for a surprise as they were initially in the dark about this make-as-you-go plan. The only thing they knew for sure is they had $10,000 budget and a five week time frame, at least they had that much.

As was anticipated, the experience of shooting this impromptu movie was extremely hectic. They faced obstacles almost immediately, with the lead actress (who was hired over the internet) walking out on the first day, the task of replacing her happened to be surprisingly difficult considering New York City is filled with struggling actors. The bright side to this tragic beginning is that someone had the brilliant idea of filming a parallel ‘making-of’ type documentary of the movie called 13 States, and as many avid film watchers know, watching what takes place ‘behind the scenes’ of a movie can often prove to be as amusing, if not more so, as the movie itself. More than that however, the ‘making-of’ can be very useful footage for filmmakers to watch and observe what really goes down when the camera is off.  Plenty of drama, plenty of glitches, but at the end of the day, lots of hard work, commitment and creativity as well- not just artistic creativity, problem solving creativity too!

The two films debuted at the Cannes Film Festival in 2010 to quite mixed reviews, but as with anything new and experimental that was to be expected. Will these movies pave the way for a new wave of improv cinema? Is this a glimpse of what’s to come? No one can say for sure, but the increasing accessibility of digital filming (how many of us have video phones?) means that almost anyone can make films.

This is certainly an unconventional approach to filmmaking (especially for a large project like this feature films), and it’s definitely not a technique that we would traditionally recommend, however it can turn out to be a wonderful experiment and the results may end up being unexpectedly good. Filmmakers are usually advised to “plan plan plan” every last detail in advance in order to save time, which in turn can save you money, and most importantly you’d have more people willing to assist with dedication if they had some kind of idea of a schedule and how the course of things will be played out... otherwise they might be scared off. But, if you’ve got really good friends with time on their hands who trust you and are willing to go out on a limb then it just may all come together beautifully.

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