After selling out all three theaters for the Shriekfest film festival on the Raleigh Studios lot, Graham Denman’s debut feature Greenlight was assured of distribution, arriving for viewers this week on iTunes, Vudu, and DirecTV for rent. “It’s the first time that that’s happened in the history of Shriekfest,” Denman said.
For Denman, the project was a double-edged sword. “For so long, I had dreamed about how I wanted to make [a feature film],” he revealed. “My first movie wound up being an incredibly personal love letter and hate letter to Hollywood.
In coming up with the core idea for the film, Denman wondered what would happen if a nascent director did everything he had to do to make his first movie. Enter Patrick Young, who wrote the script based on Denman’s original story. Their fictional filmmaker, director Jack Archer, played by Chase Williamson, is hired to shoot a film entitled Sleep Experiment for a suspicious producer, Bob Moseby, played by Chris Browning, who gives the young director an immutable ultimatum: someone working on Sleep Experiment must meet his demise at the conclusion of production. “The movie within the movie offered me an extraordinary palette of colors,” Denman noted, adding that Greenlight is “based very much in reality off of my personal life but turned up to 11.”
A year prior to making Greenlight, Denman worked as a production assistant on various sets, but he valued the work. “The worst day on set is always better than the best day in the office,” Denman described.
Unbelievably, Denman shot Greenlight in 15 days on a shooting budget of $55,000 dollars. Industry friends cautioned Denman that he would be unable make a movie about making a movie for that budget, warning him, “You can’t do it well,” but Denman was undeterred. “Watch me—I’m going to go for it. I made sure to put the money where it needed to be onscreen.”
Save a desert sequence filmed on the last day of production with a skeleton crew, Denman shot Greenlight in and around Los Angeles, including 11 days at Dual Vision soundstages in Canoga Park and scenes at a mansion in Moorpark. “It was an incredible experience,” Denman stated. “Because the script has to do with the making of another movie, the fake movie had to look as if the fake movie has a budget. As Jack makes his movie, Greenlight starts to look more like a real movie and not an independent. I wanted the viewing experience to feel the way Jack feels—he has these hopes and dreams; as he makes his movie, it becomes far more cinematic.”
Undoubtedly, Denman felt fortunate to find his actors, including Williamson, Browning, and Caroline Williams who played an actress, Nancy, who is married to Moseby. “You hire someone to do the job that they are capable of doing,” said Denman, letting his actors bring their own approaches to the material. “If I need adjustments, we’ll go after it. We all lost our minds together and did was indie filmmaking is about. It doesn’t get any more indie than this. This was our opportunity to get together and show people what we’re capable of with no money—imagine what they could do with a budget!”