Digging in Your Heels: The Story of My Low-Budget Mythological Horror Film

Digging in Your Heels: The Story of My Low-Budget Mythological Horror Film

Filmmaker Stories are crowdsourced articles directly from The Filmmaker's Process community. To learn more about writing and submitting your own Filmmaker Story, click here.


FILMMAKER: Davo Hardy

STORY:  The Making of Hunting for Shadows, My Low-Budget Adventure/Horror Feature

From the dawn of time, man has turned to the pictorial image for entertainment and education. Before cinema and illustration, we had rock and cave paintings.

While touring the Wurrumbungles National Park, I got quite the education from my then-partner about Indigenous mythology and, being reminded of the Bunyip sequence from Dot and The Kangaroo which scared me half to death as a kid, I delved deep into research about the mythology surrounding the various incarnations of the Bunyip and arrived at the stories of the Quinkins.

Quinkins are creatures from the Dreamtime, notable for their slender-man-like appearance and morality-complex; they only mean to be pranksters, but often take their tricks too far. People get hurt, go missing and all sorts of shenanigans follow.

My first feature film "The Lives We Lead", was a coming-of-age drama about the ways in which people of varying backgrounds and circumstance grow up (or don't) depending on the decisions they make. This next project was drawing on Indigenous mythology and taking a decidedly horror-movie form in the process. A very worthy challenge for a ballsy filmmaker like myself.

In the development stages, I read a lot of creepy-pastas and folklore about camping-related horror stories. I spent a few weeks at an off-the-grid camping ground and plotted out the journey one would take, should a campground be attacked by a bunip in the manner that the Dreamtime stories explained.

Quinkins are creatures from the Dreamtime, notable for their slender-man-like appearance and morality-complex; they only mean to be pranksters, but often take their tricks too far. People get hurt, go missing and all sorts of shenanigans follow.

Then, as both homage to "Dot" and to add extra layers of danger, helplessness and dramatic stakes, I gave the film the perspective of a lone survivor; an 11-year-old girl.
And so, "Hunting for Shadows" was created. An adventure horror, concerning a little girl who is overlooked during a quinkin attack in the middle of the night at an isolated family camping area and how she escapes, comes to realize whatever has happened is aware of her and how she must defeat it.

By the time it was done, of course, a little licence had to be taken to simplify and condense the mythology, so I would never intend for this film to be an authority reference on Aboriginal studies or Dreamtime stories. It is my cross-cultural interpretation, parlayed into a fictitious story.

The real challenge for making the film was not from the writing or financing standpoint. For reasons unbeknownst to me, while writing it, I would get unreasonably teary-eyed. I took this as subconscious truth about what I was writing, or I was inadvertently scaring my inner child. One of the two.

Funds to make the film were raised primarily off the residuals of "The Lives We Lead", so one film fed into another. It was not written to be an expensive film to make. I knew a kooky pair of hippies who had a rural property we could film in and a lot of the roles were written with actors I already knew in mind.

So what a game-changer it was when I put the script out to casting agents and got a interest back from Paul Mercurio for one of the support roles.

During our first phone conversation, I got to really pitch this film with a sense of purpose, rather than mere explanation. I knew he would suss me out, to see if it was worth his time flying interstate to do an indie horror flick about a girl encountering ghoulish nightmares in the wilderness.

Tracey Batenburg, Sage Amethyst Matchett, Davo Hardy, Paul Mercurio and Will Luckman.

Tracey Batenburg, Sage Amethyst Matchett, Davo Hardy, Paul Mercurio and Will Luckman.

I made sure I was as honest and transparent as possible, especially when he asked why I wanted him involved. Even when we arranged his travel and I picked him up from the airport, I was far too focused on the impending shoot to fathom that I was spending the day with Paul Mercurio.

Working with such a seasoned professional, the day of script breakdown and rehearsal was the easiest it could have been. And what a trooper! There's a scene where Paul suffers a head wound. By his own suggestion, he slugged himself with a chunk of raw steak and smeared it with the syrupy fake-blood that nearly everybody (and everything) would be covered in by the end of the shoot.

Further challenge lay ahead with the rural property, which ran off solar power. Not enough juice to charge our batteries and light our night shoots, evidently.

It wasn't so much that we were roughing it, it was that people are generally not used to that basic way of life when making a film. Between scenes, most of us go on our phones and post pictures or bragging phrases to our followers. Most of the time, we had to... (shudders)... talk to each other!

Also weather and a minor brush with drone-laws kept us on our toes.

Currently, "Hunting for Shadows" is on the brink of wrapping. We have one more day of principal photography (May 15th) and then a day of 2nd Unit coverage to follow that. Due to our protagonist being a mere 11-years-old, we have flexed the entire shoot around school terms and the changing seasons. Accentuated by the harsh reality that a lot of children lose their baby teeth at that age.

The greatest lesson that I have taken from producing "Hunting For Shadows" is that people will go out of their way to screw independent filmmakers. They will stir trouble, they will make complaints to the authorities and they will interfere with the need for quiet, continuity and access, simply because they can... But..!

The greatest lesson that I have taken from producing “Hunting for Shadows” is that ... through it all, the right people will dig their heels in and suffer through it with you.

Through it all (and this is the glue that held the whole thing together), the right people will dig their heels in and suffer through it with you. From the dazzled extra who drives three hours for a three-shot appearance, to the veteran actor who got his big break when I was barely talking. There were some I had to fire and some who walked out, but those who gave 100% share the accomplishment of having brought this film back from the brink several times over.

When I wrapped "The Lives We Lead", I took a long break before I started editing, just to recalibrate myself after the experience. This time, being two months delayed, post-production will be on a much tighter schedule.

I think this time, I will collapse on my bed when I wrap this film and, as usual, somebody will lean over and ask me worriedly "Davo, if you are so drained after making a film, why do you continue to put yourself through such agony?"

I'll struggle to draw breath, aching from head to toe, if just having given birth. At which point I will respond with "Because it is the most fulfilling agony I have ever known."


You can find out more about Hunting for Shadows and stay up to date with the film's journey through post production on its Facebook page.



Filmmaker's Process is ad-free and always will be because of readers like you. If you find this content useful and want to see it continue for years to come, consider becoming a patron today. Plus there are some pretty cool rewards!


If you enjoyed this article, you'll love the Filmmaker's Process newsletter. Each week, we share our latest posts, a weekly filmmaking resource, curated stories from around the web, a short film that we love, and a healthy dose of filmmaking inspiration.

Are you ready to take your filmmaking to the next level?