Inventive indie thriller doesn’t go below the radar

The Film

• Genre: Crime / Thriller
• Writers / Director / Producer: Marcus Mizelle
• Executive Producers: Jillian Longnecker, Paula Marcus, Dustin Taylor
• Budget: Micro Budget – $6,800
• World premiere: Dances With Films Festival at the TCL Chinese Theater in Hollywood, June 2019


Chameleon is the third full-length, feature film from Marcus Mizelle and marks a major leap forward in ambition and exposure. The film is represented by Random Media and is being distributed in several countries around the world. While Marcus prepares for his next project, Bunker 15 got to spend a few minutes with the talented director reminiscing on how Chameleon came to be.


Development and Financing
Chameleon is the most recent of Marcus’ features, released in 2019 – financed by small deposits over four investors (one being Marcus). It is currently selling in foreign markets now and its success shows that Marcus’ approach is improving. The film was done on a budget of only $36K after their initial investor pulled out at the last minute.


Despite the financial setback, the production team decided to still make the film with only $7K needed for production! The rough breakdown: $3K for locations, $2K on food and travel, and around $2K on props and miscellaneous rentals.


But building Chameleon was more than just the financing. The idea and process itself proved rewarding for Marcus with many lessons learned.


“The original script was very non-linear but it wasn’t until I was in post did I realize it simply didn’t work off the page… it lacked a proper heroes journey, which I felt was needed more than ever when you’re rooting for a criminal. Yes, restructuring the narrative back into a more chronological order did make the film much simpler, but in turn also clearer and provided a stronger clothesline for our protagonist, played by Joel Hogan. As for casting, Joel was always the guy.” – Marcus M…


Production / Post-Production
One of the keys to success was to not execute pre-production on all days of the shoot up-front. The schedules of the production team were always in flux due to numerous other prior commitments. Scheduling was difficult and could only be scheduled a few days at a time. This meant the calendar time of the filming stretched out since a compressed scheduled with contiguous days weren’t going to happen. Since the shooting would stretch out for so long, it was impossible to predict pre-production far into the future. Marcus found success by doing pre-production a week or two at a time for a two to four day shooting block, then allowing the team to catch their collective breaths before executing another block of pre- production, which involved scheduling the shoot, wrangling props and wardrobe, locking locations, etc.


This method was repeated until the film was completed. Marcus also financed the camera on his own dime which provided flexibility while shooting on a non-consecutive schedule, and once photography was completed, sold the camera for nearly the original purchase amount.


Marcus also stressed the costs and efforts to complete and release a film that come into play only after the production is finished. These are the hidden film costs that a filmmaker might not consider at first.
“As I’ve stressed before, filmmaking still costs real money. Even if you have a film finished and did it all for free, you might get sticker shock when you realize how much it’s going to cost to put your baby on iTunes! Most first- time filmmakers think pre- production and production will be the bulk of the costs, but that’s not usually the case, in my experience. In fact, when you’re doing micro-budget filmmaking, it’s the post-production expenses such as sound mixing, legal/delivery costs, marketing materials such as artwork/ trailer and festival submissions that are the biggest expenses. Because those expenses, often, can only be scaled down so much. Lawyers can only be so cheap and if you need a legal review to obtain E&O Insurance for your film for your distributor or sales agent, that’s going to be thousands of dollars right there,” says Marcus


Post-production was budgeted at $14K (which included a big “friends and family discount” on sound mixing/designing and color timing the film). Also marketing elements such as the trailer and artwork are crucial yet often overlooked elements when selling and exhibiting the film.


“I have to show love to my truly badass composer Jeremy Tisser who created a quality score, and sound wizard Jamie Hardt who always cleans up my dreadful dialogue and makes the sound design and mix work oh so nice.”


Roughly $10K for delivery fees such as E&O Insurance, legal/ clearance reports, Continuity Reports, DCPs and Captions; $3K in festival applications; and $2K to hire a publicist to place a single Screen Daily ad for the film prior to the Berlin Film Festival.


The Sale
Domestic and foreign sales have already been achieved, and with more offers and interest emerging every film market. Chameleon is well on its way to making its investment back – so Marcus is improving his approach incrementally as he moves forward. If you can keep expenses low enough and make a marketable film, you can likely make the money back and advance the careers of the people involved.


When it comes to the sale itself, Marcus went with Freestyle based on a friend’s recommendation:
“I reached out to a mutual friend: Caleb Ward, who had just become head of acquisitions at Freestyle. So I connected my sales company with Caleb and they began hashing it out. I chose them because, quite frankly, they were known for being an effective machine with numerous release outlets. As for Foreign sales, my sales company has so far sold Vietnam, Croatia, Bosnia, Macedonia, Serbia, Montenegro and Slovenia. We’ve frustratingly had a few “almosts” that didn’t go through, particularly China and India.”


Festival Strategy & Premiere, Release
The film played at the TCL Chinese Theater for its festival premiere at the Dances with Films on June 22, 2019. During the festival run, the film also took home the Best Cinematography award at the Orlando Film Festival. Both were very positive signs that good things were happening.


“We premiered at Dances With Films in Hollywood which I love because it’s a well-run festival with one of the best venues and screens in town. They support and encourage films without a big cast – the best festival out there that doesn’t care about status quo IMO. Always a solid premiere (I premiered 2 other films there previously). We then got invited to screen at Twin Cities in Minneapolis and followed that with The Valley Film Festival in Burbank and Orlando Film Festival where we were nominated for best director, picture, actor and awarded Best Cinematography. This particular festival run was a mix of cold invites and reaching out to festival directors that have supported me in the past. We didn’t make too much fuss about some huge festival run with this one, just wanted to have some nice big screen moments before moving into release.” – Marcus M…


Launch, Promotion, Publicity
This small budget, inventive film is a gem that was set to fly below the radar of journalists despite premiering at Dances with Films Festival (at the TCL theater in Hollywood) and winning awards at the Orlando Film Festival. When it came to the launch and promotion, Chameleon and Bunker 15 strategized on the best ways to get journalist attention for a true independent production filmed with a tiny budget and a loose guerrilla-style production schedule. With the right film, Chameleon is proving you don’t need a big studio release in 100+ cities to get film critics to watch your movie, like it and write about it.


Marcus is a multi-faceted LA-based film director/dp and producer of commercials, music videos and feature films including feature film, crime thriller “Chameleon.” “Chameleon” followed on the success of festival hit/Hollywood satire “Actor For Hire.” He’s directed videos for Interscope artist Aloe Blacc, Atlantic artists G-Eazy and Kevin Gates, Kreayshawn, Dag Savage and over 30 short films including “My Marilyn” which premiered at the 32nd Santa Barbara International Film Festival and award-winning comedies “The Reliever” and “The Buck Johnson Story.”
Marcus Mizelle


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