'Operation Avalanche' Director/Star Matt Johnson’s Tips to Making An Independent Movie

Operation Avalanche movie

OPERATION AVALANCHE is an ambitious film for a low-budget independent project set in the 60s around the conspiracy of the moon landing. Director, writer and star of OPERATION AVALANCHE MATT Johnson talks to CineMovie about the film’s challenges, tips to making an independent movie, and why OPERATION AVALANCHE was a labor of love among his friends.

The conspiracy thriller, OPERATION AVALANCHE takes place in 1967 at the height of the Cold War with Russia.  OPERATION AVALANCHE is told in found footage fashion and shot in 16MM by director/writer Matt Johnson, and co-written by Josh Boles. Johnson and Owen Williams star as CIA agents who infiltrate NASA to expose a potential mole, only to become embroiled in a conspiracy to fake the 1969  Apollo 11 Moon landing.

To simulate the vintage 16MM look of the late 60s, Johnson and his team achieved the look in camera using 16MM film stock on very old film cameras, SR cameras with angenieux lenses. They also converted footage shot on digital cameras (RED) in post production.

Johnson tells CineMovie, like his other films (THE DIRTIES, 2013, HOW HEAVY THIS HAMMER, 2015), he made the film with 10 friends in Toronto, and they took the production to additional locations in London, Houston, Washington, D.C., and at NASA with their cooperation. Mimicking a scene from the film, NASA allowed them into the government agency by posing as student documentarians.  

Johnson picked the United States’ moon landing in 1969 as the focus of their faux documentary. The conspiracy theory surrounding the televised moon landing wasn’t the only reason for choosing that time period.

“We were trying to figure out how to make a fake documentary in a time period where people weren’t doing that kind of thing. And we wanted to make a movie about ambitious people who are willing to do anything to get ahead. It seemed like there was a lot of overlap with the type of person who would fake a moon landing.”

Johnson admits he didn’t know much about the moon landing conspiracy and whether the controversy surrounding man’s first landing on the moon was a hoax or not. What he did learn was that iconic director Stanley Kubrick was rumored to have staged the landing while he was shooting 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. Those theories were worked into OPERATION AVALANCHE.  While footage of NASA and the moon landing did exist for production to use in the film, any footage of Kubrick from that time period was unavailable so Johnson says they recreated scenes from the classic movie.

Other challenges in their latest low-budget project now playing in movie theaters, was the car chases and the vintage cars themselves which kept breaking down, according to the writer/director.  Car chases are difficult action scenes to shoot especially on a low-budget,  

Music from the time period really sets the mood in OPERATION AVALANCHE, but it came at a price. Johnson tells CineMovie a third of the budget went to licensing classic tunes from the 60s.

OPERATION AVALANCHE marks Johnson and his friends third film. So what would be his advice to others looking to make a low-budget film? He’s offers three important tips.

    1.    “Work with your friends and figure out what your strengths are and play to those.

    2.    One thing that goes wrong with independent films is that they are trying to be what they see Hollywood movies doing. That is very difficult to recreate        unless you’re working on that level. 

    3.    The successful indies I’ve seen embrace the smallness and the low budget constraints and really use them to their advantage.” 

Now that Matt Johnson has mastered the low-budget genre, he’s expanding his horizons.

“As I get older, I’m probably going to move away from much more independent-feeling movies and start making more studio pictures.”  

OPERATION AVALANCHE, distributed by Lionsgate, is now playing in movie theaters.

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