Who Killed Nelson Nutmeg?: from microbudget moviemaking to world premiere in a year

Co-writer and director Danny Stack most recently worked on Thunderbirds Are Go! But he's been rather busy over the last year...

Danny Stack was a man on a mission. He wanted to make a British family movie, aimed at the big screen, on a tight budget. As news breaks that it’s set to premiere at the London Film Festival next month, we asked him to tell us about the project. Without further ado, over to Danny…

Who Killed Nelson Nutmeg? (WKNN) is a unique British family film in today’s modern market for two main reasons: it’s got children in the lead roles, and the film was made on a microbudget – 100% indie moviemaking style. A year after wrap, the film is set to have its world premiere at the London Film Festival. As the co-writer/director of the project, I could never have imagined such an outcome, so how did all of this happen? And how could you do something similar?

Starting from scratch

Indulge me for a moment, as we dip into a bit of background. I’ve been a freelance screenwriter since 2000, working my way into the industry with some TV work, and the occasional frisson of feature film development. My TV work came about via some classic BBC opportunities (Doctors, EastEnders), and I also stepped into the director’s chair with my own short film projects. But over the last few years, I’ve been working in children’s TV, most recently/notably writing for the new Thunderbirds Are Go! for CITV.

I’ve been charting my career progress and sharing what I’ve learnt over on my blog, Scriptwriting In The UK. It was through the blog I met Tim Clague, the other co-writer/director on WKNN. We started the UK Scriptwriters podcast in 2010, basically a fun but proactive way to procrastinate. However, we’re very much ‘practise what you preach’ type of guys, so late in 2013, Tim suggested we make our debut feature film together, and it should be a family film. This took me aback as Tim is more of a filmmaker than me. Surely he’d want his debut feature to be all his own directing work? No. Tim was fed up of his near misses of getting feature films off the ground so he thought low-budget collaboration was the key – ‘who cares about the credit? Just get the film made!’ It was a refreshing attitude, and one I couldn’t resist. So we agreed to make a family film together, Coen brothers style.

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Our first point of action was to gather a small team of ‘heads of department’ in order to get the film going. At this stage, we didn’t have a script, and we certainly didn’t have any money. But we weren’t going to let that stop us.

We applied all the filmmaking advice that we knew (or had given to others!), and started breaking down the production into common sense chunks. Number one on the list was to find the film’s main location. However, in order to do this, we needed to know what the film was going to be about! We spent an afternoon brainstorming the idea and story. We settled on the concept of a murder mystery at a summer caravan park, so we then set out to find the location. Freshwater Beach in Bridport (where they had just filmed Broadchurch for ITV) became prime candidate, and we did a deal to shoot the film there.

Next on our list: set a date for the film.

Setting a date gives a project a neat hit of reality, and provides necessary focus to get the job done. Tim and I (finally) wrote the script, as well as attended a couple of networking events at BAFTA regarding children/family films. This bit is important. We deliberately chose not to go to the industry asking for funding or support (as first-time filmmakers wanting to make a live-action kids’ film, we thought our chances would be slim). But we didn’t want to exclude them, so we ensured we told the relevant industry folk about what we were doing, and why.

The fact that we weren’t asking for their help (at this point anyway) made it easier to connect, and they were all keen for us to make our nutty kids’ film. I think a few of them never expected to see us again – ‘there goes another low budget dreamer!’ We also started the casting process around this period, as we knew it was going to take some time to find the local child actors that would be ideal for the roles.

Money money money

Now the hard part: money. For us, this meant crowd funding via Kickstarter or IndieGoGo, and the like.

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We chose Kickstarter, as it’s ‘all or nothing’, and more tailored towards filmmakers. We set a modest target to cover key production costs (location, transport, insurance), and we would cover the rest ourselves (catering, general production expenditure). A successful Kickstarter campaign is a microbudget movie in itself: you’ve got to plan, shoot and edit your promos, and then spread the word like a crazy social media loon. But over the course of three intensive months, we hit our Kickstarter target. Our cast was also in place (two of the main cast were found during an open casting day where 300 kids turned up!). At this stage, we knew we had enough resources to at least get the film in the can, and the filming date rolled around sharply, no turning back now.

Aaaand action!

Filming commenced in the last week of August in 2014. And then we shot over the next ten weekends (as we couldn’t afford to take the children out of school), bookended with another full week of filming during October half-term. Bonnie Wright (Ginny Weasley from Harry Potter) also joined us during this final week. We secured Bonnie via a fairly straightforward route: we sent the script to her agent, explained it was a microbudget family film, Bonnie read the script, spoke to us over Skype, and then agreed to do it!

Over the last year, we’ve been getting the post-production together (the edit, the sound design, the original music, the grade/colouring), but we also fanned as much publicity as we could along the way, too. Something must have hit because soon we were getting enquiries about the film, and interest from industry insiders. And then, with only a rough cut available to view, we got invited to this year’s London Film Festival! Incredi-mazing!

That’s a wrap!

If some of this is inspiring you to consider making your own (family) film, I’d heartily recommend it just for the enjoyment factor alone. It was such a fun process, especially on set with our mischievous and cheeky cast! As we wrapped in October 2014, we knew that that the film was a worthwhile experience, even if it never saw the light of day. And now, as we emerge blinking from the darkness of the edit suite, there’s one passionate mantra we hold aloft: let’s make more live-action UK family films!

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