Case Study: The making of Adam Nelson’s Emotional Motor Unit

Emotional Motor Unit_indieactivity

Candice Palladino as ‘Programmer’ in Emotional Motor Unit

Date: 05 Dec. 2017
Case Study: The Making of Emotional Motor Unit
Filmmaker: Adam Nelson

indieactivity: What is your film about?
filmmaker: Emotional Motor Unit is the story of a lonely writer who learns what it means to be human through his interactions with an emotional motor unit robot. It represents Apple Park Films’ first step outside of self-financed filmmaking and was selected after an open call for scripts we put out at the end of 2015.

indieactivity: Tell us about the festival run, marketing and sales?
filmmaker: Emotional Motor Unit is still wrapping up its festival run, but so far we’ve been lucky enough to play around the world and receive nominations/win awards at a lot of festivals. We’ve received nominations for best screenplay, best actor, best score, best sound design, best editing, and we’ve won Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Sci-fi short film. Since having our festival embargo lifted we’ve released the film on Amazon Prime in the UK and US, where we’re racking up views and streams and have started earning our financier’s investment back.

indieactivity: Dramatic Feature
Director: Adam Nelson
Producers: Adam Nelson and Xènia Puiggrós. Executive Producer – Paul Topley
Budget: £10,000
Financing: Private investment by business owner Paul Topley
Production: 4 day shoot in June of 2016 followed by a long post-production process with final delivery in September 2016
Shooting Format: 4K digital
Screening Format: 1080p Widescreen
World Premiere: San Francisco – October 2016 – Golden Gate International Film Festival
Awards: Best Director, Best Actor and Best Actress – Indie Wise VFF 2016 & Best Science Fiction Film Golden Gate International Film Festival 2016.
Website: Available to stream in the UK and US on Amazon Prime

indieactivity: Give the full official synopsis for your film?
Adam: After satisfying his Agent (Finnian Nainby-Luxmore) with his latest piece of written work, Writer (played by Graham Cawte), is assigned the role of author and ordered to produce fiction work to entertain the country’s work force. Afraid that Writer may not be suitable for this work Agent orders Writer to stop taking his emotion suppressant supplements (antis) and assigns him an emotional motor unit (played by Francesca Burgoyne) to help Writer experience emotions.

The Writer and EMU are both childlike in nature and together they explore the world around them. Writer experiences emotions he’s never felt before and soon realizes what it means to truly be human. After the emotional motor unit is taken away from him Writer refuses to continue taking his antis and allows himself to feel his own emotions, not those assigned to him. After his emotions overwhelm him Writer breaks down, but goes on to produce his best work as an author.

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Finnian Nainby-Luxmore as ‘Agent’ in Emotional Motor Unit

indieactivity: Development & Financing?
Adam: Emotional Motor Unit was purchased from screenwriter Xènia Puiggrós after an open call for short film scripts at Apple Park Films. We received close to 200 log-lines and had to whittle that down to 25 short listed screenplays that we wanted to read. Emotional Motor Unit was the standout script from the shortlist of 25 and I knew it was the one pretty much as soon as I read it.

During this process our debut feature film Little Pieces was nominated for a National Film Award in the UK. The award was a pretty big deal because we were nominated in the same category as The Danish Girl, Macbeth (the Fassbender one), and 45 Years. The nomination for that award sparked the interest of Paul Topley, our financier, who agreed to finance Emotional Motor Unit to the tune of £10,000.

indieactivity: Production?
Adam: We started working on pre-production early in 2016 and planned to make the film for approximately £5000. That was the minimum that I estimated we could make the film for and it still look like a good film. The plan was to go as slowly as possible and reduce costs through patience and careful planning. We cast the film and prepped a crowdfunding campaign using the cast names to promote that. We were all ready to go when Little Pieces was nominated at the National Film Awards and Paul agreed to fund Emotional Motor Unit.

After the funds were transferred and we had secured the money we started to move faster and hired our creative and technical team from a pool of people that Xènia and I had worked with before. I don’t like to rehearse a lot and I’m not a big fan of storyboarding unless the scene is going to be really complicated so my directorial prep work was largely based on discussions with the cast and heads of creative. The D.o.P and I carried out a recce of the locations and planned many of the shots whilst standing in the locations. Just over a week later we were on set and shooting.

We had four days in June to shoot the film, with an agreed delivery date of the first weekend in September. Once the shoot was complete I passed the footage over to Cleo Wilson, our editor, and allowed her to do her job as editor. In early July I saw the first edit, which was very close to my vision of the film and over the following few weeks Cleo and I trimmed the film down and locked picture. I then laid the score and soundtracks before passing it over to Oscar Lo Brutto who completed the final mixes of the film.

Emotional Motor Unit_indieactivity

Graham Cawte as ‘Writer’ in Emotional Motor Unit

indieactivity: Festival Preparation & Strategy?
Adam: MI was researching festivals well in advance of our festival run, looking for ones that our film would appeal to directly. We had a chunk of the budget set aside exclusively for festival entry. I tried to hit as many festivals that I could, aiming for ones that had a sense of prestige or were aimed at science fiction. I also contacted festivals local to Apple Park Films and ones we had worked with before.

As ever festivals are a bit of a crap shoot, you can enter loads and only be selected for a small percentage of those. Festivals are a good way to get people in front of your film, but so far I’ve had more luck with reviews and so for my next film I’m considering bypassing festivals and going straight to release and reviews of the film

indieactivity: The Release?
Adam: We recently released Emotional Motor Unit on Amazon Prime in the UK and US alongside our feature film Little Pieces. Our core audience are in the UK and US so it makes sense to utilise a major platform like Prime. Prime also offers us the opportunity to release the film in Germany and Japan should we choose to. The deal with Amazon is non-exclusive so we’re free to collaborate with other distributors.

indieactivity: Advice from the Filmmaker?
Adam: I don’t feel like I really know what I’m doing and I may not be the best person to give advice. What’s worked for me is not being afraid of messing it up and just getting on with it, especially if you’re working with someone else’s money, then you really do just need to fucking get on with it.