Another great example of low-budget filmmaking which embraces concept to deliver something truly terrifying. Joey Greene’s Polaroid sees a young man rediscover an old camera which reveals to him an ominous presence from within the very room he’s sitting in. It’s a haunting short which will keep you on your toes, and you absolutely won’t be able to look away. Twelve Cabins spoke with Greene about the journey he’s been on with Polaroid, the lessons he learnt in making it, and the approach he took to creature design to make a terrifying monster on a limited budget.
What inspired the idea for Polaroid?
A lot of times I’ll go into a film with a technical goal. Sometimes that jumping off point is something as simple as “I want to do a scene with more dialogue.” With Polaroid I just wanted to make a short film that was tightly crafted, while writing with the constraints of what we had around us. In 2017, I was broke and I had never made a short film that worked. So Polaroid was primarily born out of “let’s make something so simple we can’t fuck it up,” but part of it was also an exercise of writing with limitations.
It’s the simple concept which makes it all work so well too. How long did it take to execute from start to finish, and how challenging was production in general?
This is by far the quickest and easiest production I’ve ever been a part of. In the first week of October 2017, I had the idea to do something that could be released in time for Halloween. My roommate, Paul Houston (the DP on the project) and I were sitting on the couch watching Ponysmasher BTS videos in nearly the exact same living room set up you see in Polaroid. If you don’t know Ponysmasher (David F. Sandberg), he was a Swedish filmmaker that made a bunch of no budget short films, then got picked up by James Wan to do a feature with absolutely no industry experience. In a span of like five years he went from an unemployed animator making no budget short films to directing DC films. So he’s our hero. His whole philosophy was that you don’t need to spend money to make a short if you’re creative with what you have. We didn’t have any money, so I just started looking around the apartment at stuff that we could use.
Paul had some old polaroid cameras on display, so when he said that the cameras still worked, the film was written verbally in a kind of explosive brainstorm. The whole process probably took less than 5 minutes. A week later we had our actors, a week after that we shot it, and a week after that we locked on the final edit. The only hiccup was on the shoot day. We couldn’t afford one of the actors for more than a couple hours, so we ran out of time and had to tear the script in half. That was probably the best thing that could have happened though. Polaroid would have been six minutes of a guy creeping around his apartment.
Some of the shots are so tense, particularly those POV wide shots, how did you come up with a shot list that you knew would be unsettling when it came to editing?
I never went to film school, but I love movies. Learning the medium has been a very intuitive experience. There are some shots that affect me more than others, so I tend to gravitate towards those types of shots when storyboarding. Those techniques usually come from an attempt to ground the film in reality and the characters’ perspective as much as possible. It also helps to have a great DP though. Paul created a really grounded and creepy look for the film.
How did you approach creature design for Polaroid? The monster is so creepy!
Thanks! Our SFX Makeup Artist Morgan Falschlehner and I went to a Halloween shop and found some cheap rubber monster finger extensions, then ‘splurged’ on some cheap paint, some small ear/eye prosthetics, and a bald cap. The only wide shot that you see of the monster is maybe two or three frames and he’s hardly moving, so it was easy to manipulate his body in post to make him look less human. People couldn’t figure out how we could make a monster look that good with no money. The actor is really skinny in real life, so after Paul did some minor tweaks on his neck, the length of his fingers, and his torso in photoshop, those couple of frames looked a lot more expensive than it was in reality.
What would you say is the biggest filmmaking lesson you learned in making this film?
This film’s total budget was maybe $500 and it has put me in the room with feature film producers, studio executives, management, lawyers, paid director positions, and many other opportunities. I think the lesson is that you don’t need money to make a film that can move your career forward. Just keep making stuff, you never know what’s going to happen with it.
That said, one thing I’ve learned in the years since is that this isn’t a race, it’s a marathon. In 2017, when Polaroid caught traction I felt like I was on a circuit. I was taking meetings with some huge studios, believe it or not, so I kind of assumed that I was going to be a feature film director overnight. Then you finally start meeting other working directors and you realise that they’ve been doing this same thing for years and some still haven’t seen much success beyond that. I had just finally got in line. There are a lot of milestones in a career like this. Polaroid was a big one for me personally, because it showed me that I was capable of making a short film, but I had really only done the bare minimum. The real work that goes into this job had just started.
What have you been working on since you made Polaroid?
Things have been busy. I feel like I’ve been playing catch up ever since I moved to LA, but all of that ramped up after Polaroid. There is a lot to learn about making movies that extends beyond knowing how to shoot a short film, so it’s been one information dump after another. Old challenges become easy and new challenges become the next milestone.
I’ve written/directed a couple shorts since. One of them is being turned into a series that’s going to be on a major streaming platform. I can’t say more than that, but that’s been an exciting development. Aside from that, I’ve been writing and developing a couple feature films and gearing up for a festival run for my latest short film The Lake. I have a feature script written and attached to that, so I’m excited for what’s to come when it starts making the rounds.