Getting Into VFX With Nicholas Ashe Bateman

In this week’s episode, Giles Alderson and Dom Lenoir chat with writer-VFX-director Nicholas Ashe Bateman about his debut film, The Wanting Mare. He shares his journey, how he started in VFX, mental health in the film industry and more.

Nicholas’ first filmmaking inspiration was from The Lord of the Rings. “I was completely enamoured and obsessed by the process of The Lord of the Rings. And then moving forward, it became clear that there were things I wanted to do that were visual effects, but I came to it in a way that was bizarre.”

He dropped out of college to make his first short The Circus Animals. “I moved to New York and met someone across the hall, David Ross, the cinematographer of The Wanting Mare and my creative partner – we made the movie together.”

During the editing process, they found a few shots that they wanted to edit. “If we were to widen this shot, we would have to extend the frame somehow but how does one do that? It was a visual effect. I’m really obsessed by Golden Age films, Wizard of Oz and Gone With The Wind – these great matte painting studio films.”

He had met production designer, Cassandra Baker, who is an abstract painter. She created some abstract bricks that Nicholas layered with stock photos of brick walls, using Photoshop. The six visual effects in The Circus Animals took over 6 months to create and “were strange” but were the start of Nicholas’ journey to VFX.

Starting Out

After completing The Circus Animals, Nicholas started writing a version of The Wanting Mare but the film industry didn’t take him seriously after his “weird movie with the matte paintings that weren’t matte paintings”.

But a few people needed editors, and camera operators, which led to the “visual effects stuff. There were already five other people on camera and five other people editing and no one else could do visual effects. I can do visual effects, which is what I did for the better part of a decade.”

Mental Health in Filmmaking

“I kept working on other people’s movies but a few years after I’d had my fill of working for other people for no money. “You’ve got to take care of people and I didn’t really feel that was happening. I felt like I was being taken advantage of.”

The people that he was working with, at the time, had assured him that they would share his work with other filmmakers. During that time, he decided to focus on making his own movies too, during the few hours that he would have off.

“I’d be working on the movies literally 12/13 hours a day. And then a couple of hours a night I would work on The Wanting Mare, making concept designs.”

My hope and intention were that these concept designs were going to be given to these people and it didn’t happen. And then at a certain point, I was like this is never going to happen.”

Escaping Dodgy Producers

Once he realised that he wouldn’t get help from those filmmakers, he focussed on making the film himself. “I used the material (that he had already worked on) and made an Indiegogo campaign and raised $20,000. The producer who I’d been working with for years, but barely talked to, called me about working on this movie.”

After being sent the script, the producer loved it and suggested that he would hire Nicholas to make the film, organise a $2 million budget and get famous people to be involved. But when he finally sent the contract, it was “to option the script. I forget the specifics, but he would have the option that after a year the rights would revert back to him. Basically, he’s the person financing the movie. So he could just sit on it and then own the script.”

Nicholas rejected his offer and continued funding the project bit by bit, while he was still raising funds. He didn’t want someone else to put a bunch of money into him making the film, but then not owning it himself, so he took his $20K and went back to New Jersey – where David and all his friends and network were, and they approached small businesses in the area for support.

“The first third of the movie we shot with six people and $30,000. And then we took a year to try to raise more money and bring more people in.”

His ‘Important Thing’ in Filmmaking

“I did do one thing, which I’ve talked about before, but it is the only reason that the movie happened, it’s the most important part. I’d heard someone say this, on one of the other movies I was working on, that they had a budget cap, they couldn’t raise more than a certain number. 

Nicholas focused his energy on raising the money, and then once he reached the cap, they would stop. Many of the other filmmakers thought the budget cap was a hindrance, but it was brilliant because “otherwise we would just keep raising money for years had the budget cap not existed.”

Another concern for him was that investors’ money would become more ‘diluted’ and less valuable for investors if there wasn’t a budget cap.

Getting It Made

“There’s no version of the movie that would’ve happened unless I was like ‘we’re doing this, at this point, and I’m wagering my life on it’”.

He set a date, packed up his car and set off to the coast with the intention of making the film with whatever means he had available to him.

Staying Motivated

Nicholas “is a deeply obsessive person” who really battles mentally if he isn’t creating something.

“I physically have to, it’s a function of my behaviour. I have to wake up and make stuff. You just keep going. At a certain point, there is security in how much you’ve personally invested in something, which is the end of the process – the beginning is all excitement and opportunity.”

To listen to more brilliant advice and insights into Nicholas’ filmmaking, listen here. 

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