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Feb 28, 2019

Jim Ojala is a special effects makeup artist, director, and co-host of my new favorite Shudder show, The Core, which is half horror talk show/half practical effects how-to with amazing guests such as Leigh Whannell, The Soska Sisters, and the lord of darkness himself, Glenn Danzig!

Additionally, Jim Ojala is a Troma alum. His latest creature feature, Strange Nature, fairly bursts at the seams with this schlocky pedigree. Strange Nature seamlessly integrates Troma’s no-holds-barred insanity with enough of a grounded storyline and authentic characters for audiences to stay engaged and take the film seriously. Overall, the movie is a great deal of fun and hits you with a very strong, timely message about the dangerous biological implications of industrialism.

Here are Jim Ojala’s three keys for aspiring indie filmmakers:

  • Show progress – as he was raising funds for Strange Nature, Jim was already building the creatures. Investors and producers were excited to see something real and tangible to indicate that the film was really happening. More often than not, filmmakers have nothing but a script or an idea; but to have something—anything--that shows that you are already working on your film is super helpful when it comes to pitching producers.
  • Use your own skills as much as you can. Jim and his creature effects company, Ojala Productions, made all of the mutant animals (except for the deformed frogs, which were real!). This enabled his low-budget movie to look and feel way more expensive.  If Jim had tried to hire a company to make all of his creatures, he would still be trying to raise money. (Damien Leone did a similar thing when he made all the effects for Terrifier). Low-budget filmmaking requires you to wear many hats. Figure out which of your personal skills will contribute best to the film’s production value.
  • Take a hard look at your script. Jim recounts that there were many scenes and sequences from Strange Nature that he had to cut from the final film because they didn’t work. This was super painful, since those sequences were costly and time consuming.  He recommends that you edit your script mercilessly before you start shooting and shoot only what you need when working on a limited budget.
  • Get a strong AD. Jim’s first AD (Assistant Director) cracked under pressure and bailed on him four days into production, which set him back significantly. Indie filmmaking requires a different breed of AD: specifically, people with the flexibility, resilience, and resourcefulness to handle the ups and downs that come with low-budget filmmaking. It is imperative for indie directors to find proven indie ADs who can weather the storm with them. This is huge.
  • BONUS: Work at Troma. Jim went so far as to state that Troma is where all aspiring filmmakers should start, because it’s incredibly grueling and forces you to toughen up in all the ways directors need to be tough. It’s also an exciting, fun and highly collaborative environment. Jim’s description of his time at Troma is comparable to a military hell week, but it’s the kind of experience that gives your indie filmmaking spirit the resolve of a Navy Seal.