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High Technology Helps Low Budget Filmmakers


Thanks to the revolution in digital technology, aspiring filmmakers with few resources - like Johnathan Tucker and Robert McCorkle -- have the wherewithal to pursue their dreams. The men, both in their mid-30s, met on the job at an investment-banking firm in Manhattan. The two share a passion for filmmaking so they resolved to make a movie together. Mr. Tucker, who had already made a number of forays into acting, went home and informed his wife of the new collaboration. "I came in and [said], 'Yeah, yeah, I met this guy at my job, you know. We're going to make a movie,'" he recalls with a laugh. "She looked at me … 'OK, the next endeavor.'"

It would be a yearlong endeavor on a miniscule budget: $5000, a tenth of what even a low-budget independent film would cost. While Johnathan Tucker starred in front of the camera, Robert McCorkle served not only as director and editor, but also as make-up man, caterer and general laborer. He used consumer-grade video cameras to shoot the film and edited it on his personal computer.

Mr. McCorkle wasn't put off by people who told him he couldn't shoot a movie. "I don't believe in the word 'can't,'" he says, "so I started doing a lot of research and I got a lot of books and read tutorials and stuff like that and I just said, 'You know what? I can do this.'"

And he did. The result is Dead Roses, an hour-long zombie flick shot mostly in a low-income public housing project… an environment that few in Hollywood would be eager to work in. It's the story of a woman who conjures up a group of zombies to avenge the murder of her fiancé by drug dealers. The zombies pursue gang members through the streets of Brooklyn. Once they catch up with them, they tear out various internal organs.

The DVD case for Dead Roses gives no indication that the movie is filled with dirty words but it does warn of "horror violence and gore." And, of course, there's plenty of gunplay. One magazine called Dead Roses "the best zombie rampage that $5,000 can buy."

None of that $5,000 went to salaries. But the film's producer and director say there were other expenses. "Food, gas, props. Some equipment," says Johnathan Tucker after thinking for a moment. "Permits," Robert McCorkle adds. "And we had to pay people little tips for doing favors for us at the film office."

The filmmakers initially started shooting without a permit. Mr. McCorkle says that proved to be problematic one day while they worked on a scene that involved gunplay. "This lady looked out the window and saw this person on the ground with these people with guns in their hands (that were actually) rubber props," he says. "So she called the cops. And we hear someone [yell], 'Don't move!' It was the captain with the white shirt and all the other cops, and they just had their guns out and they [were asking], 'Who's in charge? Don't move!' I [said], 'I am. This is a school project. Please!'"

After that encounter the filmmakers decided it would be a good idea to get a permit from the city.

When it came time to distribute the finished film, Johnathan Tucker suggested they sell the DVDs themselves. "I figured, let's take it straight to the people," he says. "Go to the street. Let people see us. Plaster up the van. Put on some make-up. Rob likes dressing up. I said, 'OK, Rob. You wanna dress up like a zombie? Go ahead.' . . . And we think a lot of people who bought the movie supported us just because they saw what we were doing."

To the roar of traffic, the filmmakers welcomed buyers to the back of their truck, parked along a street in Manhattan, encouraging their audience to "e-mail me and tell me what you think." They have sold 2,000 DVD's so far, at $10 each, more than making back their $5,000 investment.

Robert McCorkle says he hopes to be an inspiration for other aspiring filmmakers. "They can look at us and say, 'Yo, these guys did it for under 5 grand. Maybe we can do it if we have money from our parents or whatever.' I mean, just go out and do it, man, just put it down on paper, get your cast, do what you gotta do!" Johnathan Tucker says they plan to do it again. There'll be another horror movie, but first, they'll do The Situation, a drama about a philandering husband.