Peter Mckeirnon is a UK-based horror director and author who also runs his own independent production company, Slumberjack Pictures. His recent short film, The Dog Walker, is a demented dark comedy about an unassuming man who finds a dead body in the park while, you guessed it, walking his dog. The movie is amusing and unsettling all at once, an impressive feat even before you take into account that Mckeirnon wrote and shot it in one day for £45. Mckeirnon specializes in working on films with micro budgets, and recently I took some time to talk about how one goes about making such interesting content for less than most people pay to go out to dinner.
When I asked Mckeirnon about how he came up with the idea for The Dog Walker, he explained that he’d just started wrapping up production on a larger shoot and wanted to see what he could do with a quick turnaround. “We’d been making a short comedy horror film for the best part of 10 months,” explains Mckeirnon. “As that was coming to and end I wanted to do something that we could do in a day, maybe 2 days. Something really quick, something that wouldn’t cost a lot of money.”
An idea came from a friend of Mckeirnon’s who works on his production company. “‘How come it’s always the dog walker who finds the dead body?'” Mckeirnon recalls him asking. “‘They’re never suspected. It’s always a dog walker who finds a dead body in a bush or it’s a jogger or something like that but no one ever suspects, do they?’ So that was a question stayed with me for quite a while.” With that idea in mind, Mckeirnon was able to round up a crew of friends and acquaintances, some of whom he’s been cultivating relationships with going to comic cons and film festivals (including two put on by Slumberjack Productions).
He already had cameras and other equipment invested from previous fundraising campaigns, and he was able to set up a shooting location at an actual park near his house. Mckeirnon thinks that finding a good wooded area is a great way to make a film look more cinematic: “One of the things about filming in a wooded area is if you’ve got a decent camera it adds so much. The trees and the greenery can add so much and make it look like it cost a lot more than it actually did.”
As it turns out, most of the budget went toward costuming, as Mckeirnon explains, “The money actually went on a fake police costume. We got an ex-police jacket, and the hat that the policeman wears from a fancy dress shop. It’s actually a ladies’ fancy dress police hat.”
Of course, the film’s success relies heavily on The Dog Walker himself, Percy Simpkin. For the role, Mckeirnon reached out to long-time collaborator Neil Gallagher, who within ten minutes of being pitched the idea was sending “pictures of him in full dog walker gear with the canvas bag and the mack and the hat and he’d aged himself about 20 years.” Gallagher, a big fan of Hammer horror, was always looking to add his own morbid touches to the character: “One of the creepy lines in the dog walker is when he offers the policeman some butter caramels, some sweets. And he goes, ‘Can I push you to a butter caramel?’ Who says that? [editor’s note: I thought maybe it was an idiom in the UK, but let’s keep that between us]. But that was Neil.”
“We want to, as film makers, push ourselves to change people’s opinions of low budget or micro budget films.”
It’s collaborations like the one with Gallagher that lead Mckeirnon to come up with his next big project, a 15-story short horror anthology called The Micro Killers. The film centers on a society of serial killers that have been around for generations, with the returning Simpkins taking center stage as one of the society’s elders who helps recruiting/training new killers.
Mckeirnon has set a pretty ambitious goal for the film, with each segment allotted a maximum of 10 minutes and a budget of £200 tops. “We want to, as film makers, push ourselves to change people’s opinions of low budget or micro budget films. And to have them look at things and go “Really? You only spent that much money on that?” So that’s the challenge for us as filmmakers and everybody involved with this.”
He’s recruited a number of fellow filmmakers, authors, and even comedians to help put this anthology together. He’s also running an Indiegogo campaign with a goal of reaching £5,000 to cover the budget for each segment, marketing, and festival submissions. He adds, however, that the goal is flexible, and that if they don’t reach the goal he assures readers that the film will still get made (and, of course, donors will still get their perks).
After all, Mckeirnon has a lot of experience in making a lot with a little, and he’s happy to offer advise for those looking to get out there and make something of their own. “If you have an idea and nothing else (you don’t have any equipment, you don’t have any friends in the film making industry, and you don’t know what to do) you need to get out there and speak to people and ask them…When I first started out I got some students in who were doing film studies at a university. They came in and helped and they brought equipment with them. And then once you start doing things and start putting the word out there people come forward.”
Even if you don’t have connections, Mckeirnon says that you can still make something happen. “If you don’t have the equipment look at what’s around you. Can you use your mobile phone? Have you got a good camera on there? Do you have a friend with a better mobile phone that you can get and use that? Look to your own surroundings for inspiration. Look at your house. Is there anything around in your house that you can use?”
And lastly, Mckeirnon advises to know your limits, and don’t expect perfection. “Especially with micro or low-budget film making if you’re just starting out always think about budget. Don’t go expecting to make the next Alien or, even by today’s standards, Halloween. You’re not going to be able to do that on the equipment [you have]. Take inspiration from your own surroundings and don’t be afraid to go out and try something. Even if it turns out that it’s not the greatest thing in the world, you’ve still done it. And then learn and move on to the next one.”
Check out The Dog Walker on Amazon Prime, and if you’re interesting in supporting The Micro Killers you can access the Indiegogo campaign here through April 6th.