WATERVILLE — You don’t need a fortune to break into the film business — $1,200 will do just fine.

On Wednesday, two local filmmakers will premiere their first feature film “The Eighteenth Hour” during the Maine International Film Festival. The feature-length psychological thriller was made over the course of three years by about 200 unpaid actors and crew.

Writer and director Damian Veilleux, 30, of Fairfield, said the film follows in the footsteps of other shoestring debuts, including the early works of Peter Jackson, Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino.

“You find ways to do it, to make the dream happen,” Veilleux said. “We were told we wouldn’t be able to make this movie for less than $100 grand. We made it for $1,214.74.”

“The Eighteenth Hour” tells the story of Dominic Walker, a boy who escapes his abusive father through vivid daydreams. The daydreams, however, become an alternate reality where an imaginary foe becomes real and threatens to enter the real world.

As filmmakers on a tight budget, Veilleux and director of photography Mike Cole, 26, had to convey elements of fantasy without relying on pricey digital effects. They drew inspiration from classic television shows like Ray Bradbury Theater and Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Veilleux said.

“We did some really simple tricks, but they hold up,” he said.

The crew also shot on the cheap. They used high-definition digital cameras instead of film, and skirted fees for locations. At one point, a railroad company wanted to assess fees to supervise filming on train tracks, but the crew shot the scene in secret.

“It was very much guerrilla filmmaking,” Veilleux said.

Cole, who is a photojournalist for the Waterville bureau of WABI, said the look of the film is professional, despite its price tag.

“Usually in an independent film like this, the camera is shaking too much and the audio just isn’t there,” he said. “It hurts to watch. We knew from day one that we wanted to avoid anything like that. We want this to compete with Hollywood (productions).”

Although the film was made for $1,200, Cole said he spent about $8,000 in preparation for filming. He bought a digital camera, lights and a computer for digital editing.

“But I’ve used that equipment for paying gigs, and I’ll continue to use it,” he said.

Cole said it wasn’t difficult to find actors who would work for free. At a casting call in 2010, almost 100 people showed up, including pros like Dick Sewall, the founder of the Theater at Monmouth and former drama professor at Colby College, and Gary Hauger, a writer and producer for the former Maine Film Studios in Portland. The large number of auditioning actors translated into high-quality performances in the movie.

“We really had our pick of who we wanted for each role,” he said.

Although the movie premieres this week, the story is more than a decade in the making. The script is an adaptation from a short story Veilleux wrote for a contest when he was 16.

“I very promptly received a rejection letter,” he joked.

The story sat on the shelf for another 11 years, then at age 27 Veilleux began tinkering with it again.

“I never lost my love of the concept,” he said. “I think it’s a pretty universal theme. We all have our means for escape — whether it’s daydreaming, or taking vacations or some people drink — we all need an escape out of life,” he said.

Preproduction began in August 2009. Then after a year and a half of filming, several months of editing and production of an original score, the movie was ready.

Ken Eisen, the festival programmer for the film festival, said he was following the production from the sidelines.

“It was a movie we’ve been tracking for a few years and something we’ve been looking forward to showing,” Eisen said. “It was a really easy pick because we certainly like to support Maine filmmaking in general, and the more local the more so. And you can’t get more local than that.”

Eisen said “The Eighteenth Hour” will appeal to a younger, more mainstream audience than some of the other offerings.

“It comes more out of the commercial, contemporary American cinema than a lot of the films in the festival,” he said.

The film, which is envisioned as the first installment in a trilogy, premieres at 9:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Waterville Opera House. Veilleux said he hopes it will attract notice from film producers.

“I hope someone sees our potential,” he said. “I hope someone sees this and says, ‘These guys did this for $1,200. What could they do with $100,000?'”

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