Friday, July 30, 2010

The Battle for Burgledorf

Richard Olak has accomplished something most would say is impossible. Writing, directing and acting in an epic fantasy film. The Battle of Burgledorf. The film was made on a budget that probability wouldn't cover the catering cost on most Hollywood fantasy films. But watch the teaser trailer and you'd be hard pressed to not think that the budget was quite a bit more then is usually spent on a low budget film. I recently was afforded the opportunity to ask Richard some questions about his epic fantasy film and it's creation.

How did you get started in the industry?

Richard: My film industry relationship started when I was about 19. I enjoyed performing so I started doing auditions for film and TV. Throughout this 4 year venture I was also doing some camera and production assisting. I decided to go to film school and learn some basics so I could make my own films and since have found a lot more enjoyment in telling stories that way.

Can you fill in our readers on your new film The Battle of Burgledorf?

Richard: The Battle of Burgledorf is the greatest epic of OUR time. It's a really funny modern day fantasy adventure about a guy who works at a gas station who discovers a hidden war disguised as Live Action Role Playing and realizes that he is the ONE who has to put an end to the war and save the world from evil.
It's a completely independent production with a shooting budget of about 10K Canadian.

You just wrapped filming. How many days was the shoot? And how did it go?

Richard: The shoot was absolutely amazing! I've never worked so hard in my life and have never had so much fun! It was like summer camp with all my friends dressing up and hanging out and making a movie.
It was really neat to get my feet wet and just make a feature film and I definitely learned a lot. Our main shoot was about 30 days in total with another 20+ partial days for pick up shots and B-Roll. To give you a hint of production, the script was only 84 pages, but with 123 scenes at 50 locations (from coastal sand dunes to the rocky mountains), 40 characters and, 3 battle scenes. Epic.

What was the production schedule like?

Richard: A cluster bomb, but somehow it worked out really well! Over the course of 3 months we essentially shot every other weekend for 2-4 days.
Everyone was a volunteer so we tried to make the days relatively short (10 hours) and easy but when it came to some large battle days things went into 16 + hour, at least for me :). When my co-producer Rachelle Jones went back to school in the fall we were finished about 95% of the shooting, but while she was gone it took about a year to pick those shots up due to scheduling difficulties.

What sort of equipment do you use to shoot the film?

Richard: We shot it on a Canon XHA1 with some B CAM work on an HVX200. We shot this before DSLR's were taking over so the Canon was an economic choice and the footage looks amazing.

What was the genesis of the ideas behind the film?

Richard: I was walking through the woods near my house one day and was thinking "If I came across a village of dwarves right now, what would it be called?" Burgledorf. (remember Burglecut from Willow?) This was about 10 years ago right after highschool. From there I kept building on this neat story and it evolved from a highschool oriented story to a mid-twenties gas station employee based on my experience working at one. And since I started out as an actor I always wanted to play the role of this guy who goes on this crazy fantastic adventure but I knew that the chances of someone making this movie, let alone casting me in it, were nil, so I decided to take matter into my own hands. And here we are....many years later with the greatest Epic of our time.

What influence did Sam Raimi and the Evil Dead trilogy have on you?

Richard: When I was a kid my friend Matt Kirby and I would rent Army of Darkness and eat like $15 worth of penny candies. We had no idea it was a trilogy until we watched Evil Dead 2 and thought it was a ripoff of the character. We were wrong. I think the juxtaposition of a modern day hero in a fantasy world really stuck on me and after getting into how they started out it made me think practically of what I wanted to do and how I may be able to do it.

Before The Battle of Burgledorf you wrote and directed It Haunts Me. Can you tell us a little the film and what it was like making it?

Richard: It Haunts Me was the first short film I made and was my final project in my 14 week film course. It's based loosely on a poem I wrote about a man trying to find the answers as to why his girlfriend ended her own life. Its kind of dark but hopeful. The film contains no dialogue so I really mapped out the story in images which I think is why it did so well on the student film circuit. It was also a project where I essentially did everything myself, all the way to scoring it.

You had an acting role in Sleepover Nightmare. How did you come to be in the film? And what did you learned from being in it?

Richard: Sleepover nightmare was my first acting job ever. It was being shot on Vancouver Island where I lived and they were looking for relatively local actors. I auditioned and did a good job and boom! I'm in a horror film. As it was my first time in a film I learned about the long hours, how various stunts work and the importance of making sure you treat it as a job and be professional no matter how much fun it is.
I also inadvertently learned how important networking is as Guy Judge and Mike Antonakos, both of whom worked on Sleepover Nightmare, are now Associate Producers on Burgledorf.

What lessons did you learn from making a low budget epic film?

Richard: There are two things that stick out in my mind that I think would be of some value to people reading. One is to be prepared to do everything yourself. I was lucky to have a lot of good people helping me out, but it's really easy to rely on people who may not be as enthusiastic as you are about getting the project finished and you need to make sure you aren't waiting for other people to make your film happen. You may be director, but you may also have to pick up all the crews garbage after dinner as no one else is there to help you, but it NEEDS to be done.

The other thing is that it's much more important to have a film, than not have one. I say this because early on in the process I realized due to budget and crew restrictions that there was going to be no way that I could do what I first envisioned and if I kept trying to make things "perfect" that I would perhaps only make 20% of my film and run out of money, steam, and help. So I needed to be flexible with my vision which actually ended up working to my benefit because I was more open to what other talented people on my production had to say. This is especially true with a film like Burgledorf because it is so ambitious with the amount of content and locations. As an example, instead of a huge fantasy battle to open the film, we will start with some simple but evocative images to draw people in. It's not what I wanted, but I have it, it exists, and I know for certain if I had tried to shoot that fantasy sequence I would still be talking about it, still finding money for it and still sitting on an unfinished film.

There is one more lesson that I learned before Burgledorf: There is a difference between volunteering and subsidizing. After volunteering on a number of sets I realized that I was paying all my expenses, travel etc. Its not a huge deal but after a week or two you realize you are out a couple hundred bucks and it sucks, so essentially you are subsidizing that project not only with your time and labor but with your money as well. On Burgledorf I paid everyone's expenses, made sure everyone was extra fed and taken care of to the best of my ability. This did cost production some money, but it was a small price to pay as I believe those people didn't have to worry about spending their own money and will help me again on the next project. Also, a couple hundred bucks worth of Beer and a couple bottles of Vodka can go a long way into showing people how much you appreciate their help.

I think if it wasn't for these three lessons I couldn't have pulled off an epic fantasy adventure for the cost of a small, decently equipped Toyota.

What's next after The Battle of Burgledorf?

Richard: Right now we are finishing Post which will be followed by marketing and distribution and getting Burgledorf out to as many people as possible which I'm expecting to be a long process. While this is happening though I have about 10 feature scripts in draft or treatment form (another 4-6 with friends as well), and am working on alternate ways of financing these projects in spite of traditional opportunities.
I'm really excited to see where Burgledorf goes though, and to see how it's received. But the time is coming where I'll have to put down the broad sword, take off the armor and do something different. Zombie film? War drama? We will see.

Join the battle here, here and here. And check out another trailer here.


Dan said...

Great interview! This sounds like a cool film!!

Jamie said...

Cool write up Olak. Looking forward to seeing this completed!

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