We recently had the chance to talk to filmmaker Richard Lowry. We had a great time having coffee and talking about his upcoming film After The Pandemic, filming on a budget and a lot more …
Hello Richard. Thank you for taking the time to chat with us.
How did you do it during the pandemic?
I’m usually LA based, but I’ve been to St. George, UT, hanging out with my brother Tor when the pandemic broke out. It was safer to stay in St. George as the infection rates were low. My next film, THE REINCARNATION OF EMILY TODD, was supposed to be shot in Oklahoma, but when that project was postponed I decided to take on the Robert Rodriguez challenge and make a $ 10,000 feature film with zero crew in locations in Utah, Arizona, Turn, and Nevada. After 57 days of main photography and filming in over 50 locations, we were unharmed. During the year we worked on the film, the Covid cases were low here so we could easily dodge the virus.
We have Robert Rodriguez to thank for inspiring you to make this film.
Can you tell us a bit about your background and how you got into filmmaking?
I started making Super 8 films as a kid, and when I was 21, I made my first feature film, HAWK JONES, which has recently become a cult novelty film as the film consists of a cast that is all kids exists and adults play. Childish Gambino even made a song called HAWK JONES in homage to the film. I’ve done over a dozen indie features over the years, and some have received critical acclaim from critics like Harry Knowles and Leonard Maltin.
Impressive! That’s great. It just goes to show that you don’t know who’s out there watching your movies.
Has the pandemic restricted your filmmaking?
The pandemic has in no way prevented us from filming AFTER THE PANDEMIC. Our locations were outdoors, mostly in desert areas and in remote regions of southern Utah and Arizona. My actors and I were perhaps the safest people during the pandemic!
How did you find the filming during the pandemic?
Since we didn’t have scenes with large groups of people, we were all comfortable working together while filming. We took all the necessary precautions and had no problems.
You made “After The Pandemic” with zero crew! How challenging was that?
I made a film with a crew of 60 on a tight schedule of 17 days and it’s pretty stressful. 12-14 hour days of desperate trying to figure out the daily number of pages was a daunting challenge. On the other hand, shooting with zero crew was very leisurely as we didn’t have any. I filmed with the actors for an average of 3-4 hours a day and we took our time, had lots of breaks, playing time, so it was a pleasant experience. When the weather was bad or the actors got tired, we stopped shooting and continued for another day. That way my actors were always fresh when we started a new day, they didn’t burn out.
That must have been a great change for you. Have you come up with any challenges?
The constant challenge was knowing my $ 10,000 budget and finding shortcuts to avoid going over budget. The biggest hurdle and effort was finding the vehicles needed to make the film, as St. George is a relatively small town. In certain cases I had to go to Las Vegas to rent the big stalker vans that were used in the film. My producer Francesca Zappitelli, who was working on the film from her Burbank home, was a lifesaver in that department.
With the amazing features of the Sony A7SII camera, I was able to film without a camera crew. The camera is extremely sensitive to light, so I was able to film 90% of the film in natural ambient light. One scene was shot entirely with moonlight. My only tools for this production were a $ 60 tripod, dollar bounce card, headphones, Tram lavalier microphone, and $ 500 gimbal. I wore a utility belt that kept all my accessories close at hand. The only downside to being a lonely filmmaker is the manual labor – removing debris from the scene or, in one case, emptying a dump of trash from a dumpster for filming and replacing the trash. There was nothing glamorous about it, but the compromise was worth it.
Empty the dumpster? This is real commitment.
How did the casting take place during the pandemic?
The casting for PANDEMIC was very unconventional. I worked with Eve James and Kannon Smith on my previous film, SAVAGE CREATURES, and I liked what they did, even though neither of them had a speaking role. When I was writing the script for PANDEMIC, I pre-cast them without them knowing. I wrote their characters to fit their actual personalities exactly, which would make the role-play challenge easier as neither of them were officially trained. I met with the actors and announced that they would be in my new film – they had no idea but were very excited. Fortunately, they agreed to take on the roles.
Having someone in mind as you write the part definitely helps shape the character.
If you watch the trailer you wouldn’t believe this was done on such a tight budget. How did you overcome these budget constraints?
Southern Utah is very cinematic. I spent a couple of weeks exploring places from Utah to Arizona and found exactly what I needed to give the film its epic feel. Since I owned all of the production equipment, there were no rental fees. 90% of our locations were free with the exception of three which cost a total of $ 300. Even when I stole places, no one gave us a second look. You only saw one man with a small camera and two actors. No actual film was made. Quite a few local friends of my brother’s offered their homes for free to film. Since St. George is mostly a wealthy city, we had access to beautiful homes. As for post-production, I did almost everything, including the music score. I replaced almost all of the sound from scratch and spent weeks recording folks, sound effects, vehicles, and background noise. We outsourced a dozen shots to a visual effects group in Ukraine that is very reasonably priced. My producer Francesca Zappitelli also worked wonders for this production and kept costs down. Francesca produced my last two films PRESIDENT EVIL and SAVAGE CREATURES very efficiently.
You and Francesca did a fantastic job.
Were there any scenes that you had thought of that your budget was preventing you from recording?
In a dramatic scene, our two main characters are trapped in the desert at night while three helicopters with searchlights hover. I envisioned using CG helicopters in combination with a handy headlight that I used on site. Concerned that the CG might not play, I instead used b-roll footage of a helicopter that I shot a year earlier in Glendale, CA. I think the scene works better because we’re looking at a real helicopter.
You managed to get some great shots of abandoned cities. How did you manage to capture these seemingly empty cities?
With cities evacuating due to the pandemic, it was easy to find new shots of abandoned cities around the world. It was a perfect opportunity to use this footage as this event may no longer occur in our lives.
It’s pretty clear that you have been influenced by this global pandemic, but what other influences have you had?
I’ve been a long-time fan of sci-fi movies. The original ANDROMEDA STRAIN was a huge influence including its musical score. I decided to compose a retro electronic score that goes back to the synth soundtracks of the 70s. The score is very John Carpenter-esque, I’ve always liked his pulsating style of music. Carpenter and Sergio Leone are also great influences when it comes to directing style.
We’re big John Carpenter fans so get a thumbs up from us!
How did you like doing After The Pandemic?
PANDEMIC was one of the nicest experiences I’ve had while making films. My actors and I had a great time even though it was a very physical production. We climbed mountains, great rocky hills, hiked over rough terrain, endured stifling heat and cold weather. Even so, we had an adventure like no other and it was an unforgettable experience.
That’s good to hear.
Obviously, doing everything yourself will have been a challenge. Do you feel that you have learned a lot from this experience?
I’ve been making features for over 20 years and I’m always learning new things. I wrote the script carefully and knew exactly how to perform each scene, and for the most part I managed to capture my original vision. This can only be learned through years of mistakes. The main reward for me as a filmmaker was the luxury of time. For weeks after filming was finished, I kept returning to places with my actors to do new insert shots that I needed for a working scene or to re-shoot a take that I knew could be better. With a typical $ 1-2 million film, the filmmaker doesn’t have that luxury. What you film in 17 days is what you get, with maybe an extra day of shooting. I was able to shape PANDEMIC to be the best film I could make with very few compromises.
Is there anything you would do differently if you had to go through it all over again?
At the moment I am satisfied that I got my vision clearly and I am grateful that Eve James and Kannon Smith have exceeded my expectations with their performances. I am sure that later on I will look at the film more objectively and take it apart.
We think you did a great job.
We heard that you are a Star Wars fan. What do you think Disney did with the franchise?
I’m not a fan of the new Star Wars films, they feel very manufactured and not the work of a unique, organic vision. In all honesty, they feel like big budget TV movies, they lack the heart and spectacle of the original trilogy. I think I liked the prequels a hair better, although I’m not a fan of those either.
You can’t beat the originals.
Any advice for someone looking to get into the industry?
This is the best time for filmmakers ever – we finally have the tools to make high quality feature films for the cost of a used car. 20 years ago AFTER THE PANDEMIC would certainly have needed 1-2 million US dollars to produce. My guess is that an Oscar for best picture will soon turn into a feature film for $ 100,000 or less. It’s a very exciting time for us.
Are there any upcoming projects that you can tell us about?
Besides being a filmmaker, I also write action scripts. SEIZED was released last year and plays Scott Adkins and Mario Van Peebles. BOUNTY is due to be filmed later this year with Michael J. White and Steven Segal. HELLFIRE is currently under development and should start preproduction later this year, which will be led by Isaac Florentine.
My next film as a writer / director is THE REINCARNATION OF EMILY TODD, a paranormal thriller we’re shooting in Oklahoma. This is the movie I was supposed to be doing when the pandemic hit. AFTER THE PANDEMIC there would have been nothing else, so I’m sickly grateful.
You are certainly busy.
What does the future hold for Richard Lowry?
At some point I want to get interested in big budget films. I have some scripts waiting to be produced. I’m a fan of the 80s escapist movies and these types of films I would love to make are going to fill theaters.
We love 80s movies so we’ll definitely take care of them, hopefully in the near future.
Thank you very much for talking to us, Richard. We really appreciate it. Good luck with After The Pandemic. I have a feeling that it will go very well.
You can find more information about After the Pandemic here.
You can find more interviews HERE.