David Baker is a filmmaker, director and actor. I learned about David by reading an interview he gave to producers Joke Fincioen and Biagio Messina. I found him so fascinating I started following him on Twitter and since then have discovered he’s a filmmaker with that rare combination of a strong creative voice coupled with a business savvy that reaches beyond the typical producer’s job description. David wrote, produced, directed, acted and distributed his latest film, Mission X.
Mission X is the story of Grant, a documentary film student who wants to travel to Iraq and document real war. Grant’s only experience with war is his expertise with his military Xbox game. He meets Ryan a mercenary who agrees to have him document him while he recruits a group of mercenaries for a private mission. Thinking he’ll be able to get up close and personal to a ‘foreign’ battle, Grant discovers the war is right at home.
I asked David if he wouldn’t mind answering a few questions about his film and his distribution process.
I’m going to start with a ‘typical’ question, because I am genuinely curious – how did you get the idea for Mission X?
I have had many ideas for films over the years but up until the last couple of years, I was writing screenplays that were too expensive, out my reach. I decided to come up with a concept, that could be told on a micro budget. Just to get me kick started after a long gap. So the germ came from a practical basis first.
I wanted to keep it in more or less the one location, kind of “Clerks”, “Res Dogs” style. A character story, but at the same time having a non linear set up that would cut away to action, cinematic stuff. I didn’t just want guys talking in a room 90 minutes.
I had no interest in the military at all, but I have always been interested in people’s personal battles, which can be harder to win than any war. So I wanted a story with characters that were fine in war, they survived dangerous missions, but their personal wars were harder to win when they came back to dull suburbia. And that’s why they partly do this mission that is almost suicidal. They trained to live on the edge, not to exist, settle. That can kill ya!
I also wanted to show myself as a filmmaker that could do some thrilling stuff, action, but that’s very hard to do well with no money. I had watched a lot of action Iraq videos, and military body cams, so I thought it would work to bring that type of reality action into the film. It suits the story, and it would be cheap to pull off. I also liked the idea where one minute this young gamer filmmaker is playing military games, next minute he’s in the thick of it on a real mission in his city.
You describe your film as a micro budget, self financed feature film. Self-financing a film requires extra attention to every line in the budget. What steps did you take as the producer to ensure the ‘director’ in you didn’t get carried away and spend more than you allocated?
It’s impossible to get carried away when you literally have no money anyway. I started the first day with £30. It was a simple scene with me (I play the Merc leader) and the film student. Once I shot that, I got the website up, pictures, people began to see the vision, and then I got offered lots of stuff that nobody would give me before. People got inspired enough to get on board
I shot another cheap scene, and shortly after that, others saw the concept, and then I got a top armourer on board. So it kind of rolled like that. I saw how Chris Nolan had shot “Following” this way over a year (Dark Knight) filmmaker, so I approached it in this piecemeal way.
I knew it would be gritty, cheap looking, but I felt that would add to the fact that this does look as if a REAL student has followed these guys. So then the budget does not become an issue, hinder the movie. The whole film cost about £4000, including post.
I got a little investment from a worker at the burger bar I worked at, after he saw footage from the gun battle, but most of that was used to buy a new computer, hard drives etc for the post. I would rather have had a producer on board, or even co-producer, as it did hugely affect my creative side, but I will continue to produce my own work until I can find the right person. It’s my future goal to partner with someone who believes in what I am trying to do.
You spoke with producers Joke and Biagio about why you made the decision to distribute your film and not rely on traditional distribution methods. Since that interview what success have you had with self distribution and what would you change if you had to start again today?
To be 100% honest, I did know from day one I wanted to self distribute, but my real goal was simply to make a calling card for private investors, industry to see, because I had such a gap from my first funded feature. I knew I was making a very cheap film, and because of that, I knew I would have the freedom to hold on to it, experiment with it, retain rights. If I had a large investment, I might have had pressure from others to take a more conventional approach. That’s why I think new filmmakers should keep the budget very low.
I attracted investment to do a little tour across the UK, but the guy wanted a bigger cut at the last minute. That would have allowed me to do screenings, and really get the film out there. It would have also paid for the very basics of the cinema release in Scotland, as a top multiplex chain saw it, and wanted to test it on an audience.
I have no regrets, because I never assumed a cinema would want a £4000 movie, so it did give me a boost that I might have a glimmer of talent. I believe I can make films for indie and big audiences, so it has made me focus on getting the bigger budget version into development. So I treat Mission X as my short film, and I am using it to develop the US remake.
MissionX is selling a steady flow of DVD’s. Enough to keep running, but I know I could make 1000 times more if I gave up my ambition, and just focused on sales for another year or two, but then I am a sales person and not a filmmaker. There has to be a balance. I would rather make more films, climb higher, and it will make more sales on a slower burn. I have the Roger Corman attitude, make films! However, in my next film, the global tour, marketing plan is at the forefront of my strategy. I believe in a solid six months marketing, but make the marketing and selling fun, that ways it’s not a drag.
Once I partner with more military sites, get downloads up, cool merchandise, it will roll faster. It’s doing the job I intended. It’s also attracting the investment for this horror movie, and it will give my investor a great return over the next few years. I know in the worst case scenario, the £4000 Mission X will easily make a very healthy profit over the next 18 months. Especially when I can afford cool merchandise.
What would I have done different? I can’t regret anything, because I was 1000% from even calling myself a filmmaker just 18 months ago. I was working in a burger bar, with zero contacts, and pretty down. This little flick is already opening many doors, so even if it did not make a penny, it’s already done its job.
Mission X has a large potential for merchandising opportunities, particularly to males ages 18-35. What types of merchandising have you done or plan to do with the film?
The age range for this version is around 18 to 35. It’s a more introspective, character driven film than it looks. A remake would be for a younger global gamer market. I am not a big believer in just throwing out t-shirts, mugs, and then wondering why people don’t buy them. It needs more effort than that.
Somebody pointed out to me that the hit military game “Modern Warfare 2” has a character that wears a similar mask to what we have in the film. A lot of young males are looking for these masks, so I am on to a few companies to try and get the best deal to manufacture them. I also wanted to put an Xbox live file of the film on to a flash USB drive, that looks like an ak-47 bullet.
If the film gets pirated, it’s easy to find the Mission X name on top of the search engines. Some traffic could go there, see the masks, cool looking flash drives, (That are cool to own even outside the film) so I could then start making sales on these. I also have my eye on dog tags, and several other merch items.
If the film really spreads, and if I get a remake deal, then people also go back to the original film. So this little flick, and all the stuff connected with it, could be a bigger earner for the rest of my life. It could turn into a brand, so that’s why I am patient in this biz. Nothing is overnight. And that’s why I turned down small offers from sales agents and distributors.
I understand you’re working on a larger U.S. remake of Mission X – can you tell me about that?
I am working on a horror at this minute, with a tour, and if I am successful with this, I think that will really give me the clout to get the remake done. I am packaging the MX remake this year to take to the states. Get an agent on board, and finding a producing partner. We know the industry is bumpy at the moment but Hollywood will always want big event style films. My remake version is in that mold.
The £4000 version was never written as a big movie, made with a no budget. It was written to suit the budget. So we see the film student hang out with this Merc leader as he prepares the attack, and then he gets to hang out with the gang before the attack. Mixed with some action in different time frames. So it does not look like a $15m movie that was made on the cheap.
After I saw the film in the edit, I realized this remake has HUGE potential to appeal to a global gamer market. Not a CGI film, but a real gritty “Cloverfield” meets “Black Hawk Down” style film. Some “Saving Private Ryan” style wild action. It came to me in minutes.
The remake would start like a Spielberg film, where an ordinary character lives in dull suburbia. His friends are all gamers, “armchair Adventurers”. They live on the edge, but a dull edge of inactivity, entertainment, booze, drugs. He wants to go to Iraq, but wants to speak to a Merc he met online for his college documentary.
That night he is picked up by a chopper, taken to an airfield hangar, 50 mercs have just landed, and they are all preparing for a revenge attack in a US city. (All shot through his HD camcorder very real. District 9 style)
He gets his interview with the Merc leader, but then gets to go on the attack. The movie then kicks into a rollercoaster, as they attack the city building, then spend the rest of the film trying to escape the 1000 armed contractors who try to kill them all. They chase them all over the city. So it’s much more of a thriller for an international audience.
The movie would also have a transmedia aspect to it, where you don’t see a boot camp scene in the movie, but you do on video diaries, and you see other POVs of the mercs bodycams before the film comes out.
Ninety minute big films have to really move these days, but character stuff can spin off to transmedia, to support promo trailers. Even mini movies from other POVs. This way you get to explore interesting characters on the web, away from the pure thriller movie ride. So it’s the best of both.
It’s also all part of a viral marketing plan, and spin off story telling. I also have a solid sequel, possible game, theme park. The game and theme park is a bit ambitious, but I always think you should aim beyond your reach. If your life ambition is just to make a £4000 movie on your doorstep, than that’s all you will get. I have bigger plans.
David”s very clever when it comes to marketing. He’s created a great website for “Mission X” where you can also purchase the DVD. And he’s got a new site up for his next film “Death Movie”. I know we’ll be hearing a lot more from him in the future. Thanks you David, it was wonderful having you here today.
You can follow David on Twitter @indiemoviemaker or on Facebook