Being Poor and Making Rich Films



Independent filmmakers working with little to no budget have to be extremely flexible, adaptable, and patient. Taking your time, sticking to it, and going with your instincts are your most valuable assets.

Hello Film Courage freaks. We are Soren Johnstone and Mike Babiarz. We are independent filmmakers from Canada.

Canadian filmmakers Soren Johnstone and Mike Babiarz of Hicks on Sticks

Soren is a talented writer, director, editor, and award winning cinematographer. He is also the biggest film geek I know and basically put me through film school without either of us ever having entered a classroom. We have been working on film & video projects for over 8 years together.

I’m Mike and I am an independent film producer and media artist. I’m a jack-of-all-trades and I have an attitude that yes, we can do anything.

When we started shooting our first feature film, Play With Fire, in 2007 our resources were extremely limited. We had a passion for the script (which Soren wrote) and a hunger to create but no cash to make a film. There was no funding available for us at the time. Crowdfunding sites like Indiegogo and Kickstarter had not yet been conceived and the grants we applied for never materialized. We prepared to fight the big fight with no budget. What we thought would be a 2 month project expanded into a wild three and a half year journey that continually tested our commitment to the film.

One time it literally kept us out of jail.

During the epic 13 month shoot I worked days at the local lead smelter to help fund the film and get by.  Producing our film with no funding was difficult but also turned out to be our saving grace. Without a deadline, or anyone to answer to, we had complete control and could take all the time that we needed to craft our film.

We lived and shot in a small, industrial, mountain town in the interior of British Columbia. We were able to shoot outside, on location and without much disturbance. We shot in a very guerilla style and presented the film as a “student film” whenever we ran into trouble. We used this tactic on numerous occasions as our get out of jail free card. One time it literally kept us out of jail.

Since we had no budget, our actors were mostly friends who were not actors at all. Our main criteria for casting was to find people who were not shy in front of the camera, were open to direction, and could easily relate to the characters they played. This helped give the film a very authentic, visceral feel. It was also a major pain in the ass. Throughout production one of our key actors continually sabotaged our efforts with his erratic behavior. At one point, on a whim, he decided to shave his head after sporting medium length hair for the entire shoot up until then. Thankfully we were creative enough with camera angles (and hats) that it’s hardly noticeable in the final cut. Another key actor decided to skip town completely after almost a year of shooting. We were still missing an important scene with him and had to adjust the story to fix it. Shooting with non-actors was interesting. Out of necessity we created an accommodating environment and were open and able to adapt. It would not have worked otherwise.

After all 4 seasons passed (another continuity nightmare) we finally had all of our shots in the can. In an attempt to assimilate back into reality, and in search of some much needed money, we packed up shop and moved to the big city: Vancouver, Canada. Soren started compiling the film in the edit suite, while I worked on learning how to be an independent film producer after the production stage.

18 months of post-production resulted in our final cut. We spent a large part of that time searching out artists whose music complimented the film and who were willing to let us use it for free. This was a daunting task but well worth the effort. Using many different artists resulted in an interesting, eclectic score. Some of them grew up in small towns, like us, some are from the city. They all saw something in our passion project that they could express their art through.

In 2009 Play With Fire was accepted in to the ReelHeART International Film Festival in Toronto, where it received the award for best cinematography and was hailed as “capturing the true spirit of independent film”. We were thrilled. The response we received validated our efforts. It was also very refreshing to finally pop out of our bubble and meet other like-minded filmmakers.

After returning to the West coast, we pressed a run of limited edition Play With Fire DVDs and executed our own 8 city theatrical release tour. We are selling the DVDs via the film’s website ( and also sold them at the screenings. The release tour went pretty well with some dates doing better than others but it was an endless amount of work to set up and promote. In the end we broke even financially, gained some good press, and expanded our audience.

After nearly four years of work on Play With Fire we have come full circle and are once again putting all of our time and efforts into an new project. This time it’s a documentary: Hicks on Sticks. It is a road trip film that follows a small town skateboard/music tour put on by PM Skateboards in the Summer of 1999 and the ensuing aftermath. It’s a true story of chasing your dream, skateboarding, brotherhood, and passion. Soren shot all of the original tour footage himself when he was 18. See the teaser here –

Going back to Hicks now is the perfect step for us. It is more relevant now than when we created the first cut five years ago. We are in a much better place to finish it after coming off of Play With Fire. The timing is right.

With hundreds of hours of footage from the tour and updated interviews to go through this is a massive undertaking. We decided to take our first crack at crowdfunding to raise money to finish the film. With a week left in our campaign, we have found crowdfunding fascinating and inspiring. The support we have received from the fanbase we built on our first film shows that our fans want us to continue making films. This drives us in a big way.
Check out our crowdfunding campaign at We are giving 5% of all contributions back to other campaigns because we believe that crowdfunding can be a financing revolution for indie films if we all pay it forward.

Hicks on Sticks — Crowdfunding Video from Warren Lane Pictures on Vimeo.

If you believe in something and commit your passion so strongly that you can persevere when even your best friends and family are telling you you’re crazy, it will always work out. It probably won’t work out the way you expected it to, but it will always work out, money or no money.
Indie Filmmaker Looking for backers for my new film, HICKS ON STICKS, a doc about chasing your dream, skateboarding, and passion.

Mike Babiarz is a Canadian  media artist and indie filmmaker of the new film, HICKS ON STICKS, a doc about chasing your dream, skateboarding, and passion, as well as the film PLAY WITH FIRE.

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