Of Dust and Bones

Santa Monica, California | Film Feature


Diane Bell

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Clio lives a reclusive life in the desert, alone with ghosts and memories. One day a visitor arrives: her dead husband’s best friend, who has come with an agenda. Her husband, a war photographer, was killed in Syria, and Alex wants the rights to his last work - rights that Clio will not give up.

About The Project

  • The Story
  • Wishlist
  • Updates
  • The Team
  • Community

The Story

Last year I felt overwhelmed by the amount of horror and suffering in the world.   The unspeakable beheadings of journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff struck a deep raw nerve.  I could only imagine the pain that their families and loved ones were going through, are still going through.  How do you live in a world where if you google the name of your loved one, you’ll be confronted with the image (replicated a million times), of your brother, lover, son kneeling in a desert with a knife at his throat, moments from death? 

How do you continue to live in a world that is so cruel, so violent, so barbaric, so wrong?

Of course, this last question applies to us all: at last count 210,000 civilians have been killed in Syria.  And yet the world does nothing.  We do nothing.  We sip our lattes, we take pictures of sunsets, we tweet about the lives of celebrities: it’s life as usual.  We choose not to look. The suffering is their problem, not ours.

This film is my response to that. 

It’s also a response to the experience I had making my first two films.  The experience of making my first one was creatively very pure.  The experience making my second film was more challenging.  I felt like I made a thousand compromises, and although I’m proud of the final work, the process which gave birth to it is one I’d never choose to repeat.  With both films, the shooting schedules were so tight that often I felt we were just making our days rather than making a film.

So I started to conceive of a different way to make my third film, OF DUST AND BONES, a way that will give me real creative freedom as well as time to work with my actors on set in a different way, time to go deep, to shoot when the light is right, to explore the scenes in the moment of filming in a penetrating, profound way.   To truly make the best film that we are capable of.

We will mostly be shooting at one location, a desert home near Joshua Tree that belongs to Matt Medlin, our producer (and producer of my first film).  This will free us up considerably.  In essence, there are only three actors in the film, two of whom I also worked with on my first film, Gaynor Howe and Michael Piccirilli.  I wrote these parts with them in mind, and have been developing the characters with them ever since.  I am also thrilled to be working with actor David Zaugh for the first time, who is already proving to be a dream collaborator.

Much of the crew are people I’ve already worked with.  This will be my third film with Zak Mulligan, the exceptionally talented DP who won the award for best cinematographer at Sundance for Obselidia.  It will also be my third collaboration with the composer Liam Howe, and with my brilliant editor John-Michael Powell.  Julia Van Vliet, the production designer of my second film, will take that role again and make everything look amazing. I couldn’t be happier to be working with them all again.  We have learnt so much together already, I feel we are ready to raise the bar on each other and ourselves in every way. 

The idea of this film is to go deep.  To explore fully the cinematic possibilities of each scene and moment, to seek truth and beauty in every frame.   I imagine “slow filmmaking”, steady, rich, uncompromising, brave.  Despite the small number of locations and cast, this is without doubt the most ambitious film I’ve attempted.  I’ve been rewatching films by Bergman (Winter Light), Kiarostami (Taste of Cherry), Kieslowski (Three Colors - Blue) and Tarkovsky (Nostalghia) for inspiration – I want to make a film that is quiet, pure, unhurried, philosophical, profound, true.  It feels terrifying to me in many ways, but I also know that it’s when we take these frightening creative risks that we have the greatest chance to make something truly special.

We know this film is not a mainstream offering: that’s why we want to make it on a very small budget, so that we can be free from commercial constraints and really push ourselves to make something powerful, unique and creatively risky, something that will appeal deeply to a very particular niche audience of cinema lovers and poetic, philosophical thinkers, but probably not to everyone.

I’ve had a huge paradigm shift in my approach to filmmaking since making my second film.  With Chris Byrne, we launched the Rebel Heart Film Workshop, where we share step by step how to make a stand out indie film.  We are making OF DUST AND BONES 100% according to the principles that we teach.  Please check out our website, www.rebelheartfilm.com where I have already been  blogging about making this film, and will continue to.

This is my first time crowdfunding for a film.  Unlike making my last two films, I feel passionately that I want to attempt a more community driven approach to filmmaking.  To involve you, the audience early, and for you to be participants in the making of this film.  For this to be your film.  For it to be ours.

Please be in touch if you have any thoughts you’d like to share, I would love to hear from you.  And if you don’t have the budget to contribute financially right now, but would like to be a part of this project, get in touch!  There are many ways to help.  We welcome all support and participation, and would love for you to be a part of this.

Also, if you know anyone that you think would appreciate this film, please let them know about it.

We hope to make an exceptionally powerful, unique film, and we hope that you will join us.


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Our creative engine, bringing this story to life.


Costs $2,000

Our principal and supporting actors.

Production Staff, Producers

Costs $3,000

First Assistant Director, Second Assistant Director, and PAs.

Property Department

Costs $3,000

Property master, property purchase/rental.

Camera Department

Costs $10,000

DP, 1st Asst Camera, Data Wrangler, RED Dragon Camera Pkg Rental, Camera Expendables.

Set Operations / Electric Department

Costs $1,000

Gaffer, Grip, Best Boy Electric, Electric Package Rental

Production Sound Mixer

Costs $3,000

Production sound mixer, sound equipment rental, sound expendables.

Makeup & Hair Department

Costs $1,000

Head makeup artist, hair/makeup supplies

Wardrobe package

Costs $1,000

Costume designer, wardrobe purchase/rental.


Costs $3,000

Craft services, catering meals.

Location fees

Costs $2,000

Site rental fees, heating/air conditioning, tent/shelter, location rentals, cleanup services

Transportation Department

Costs $2,000

Production vehicles, additional rentals

BTL Travel & Living

Costs $6,000

Crew hotel, crew per diem

G-Technology® Hard Drive ($1000)

Costs $1,000

G-Technology® is the gold standard for storage solutions specifically designed for content creators. We’ll get a storage grant from them when we get the Green Light!

About This Team

Most of our team have worked together on one (or both) of Diane's first two films, and we're a filmmaking family.  This includes producers Matt Medlin and Chris Byrne, DP Zak Mulligan, composer Liam Howe, production designer Julia Van Vliet, editor John-Michael Powell, gaffer Brant Beland as well as the actors Michael Piccririlli and Gaynor Howe.  We feel this gives us an incredible opportunity to raise the bar creatively on each other and do exceptional work together.

Here's some background on each of our team members:


DIANE BELL BYRNE, writer/director

Diane's second feature as writer/director, BLEEDING HEART, a feminist thriller starring Jessica Biel and Zosia Mamet is premiering at the Tribeca Film Festival, April 2015.

Her first feature, OBSELIDIA, premiered in the US Dramatic Competition at the Sundance Film Festival 2010, where it won the Alfred P. Sloan Award and the award for Excellence in Cinematography.  It was nominated for two Independent Spirit Awards 2011, including one for Best First Screenplay.  It won acclaim at festivals around the world, including being named as Best of Fest at the Edinburgh Film Festival, Best Narrative Feature at Ashland Indpendent Film Festival, and winning the Youth Jury Prize for Best Film at the Valladolid Festival, Spain.

Her screenplay, STEM, was selected for the Sundance Screenwriter's Lab in January 2011, where it was awarded the Sloan Fellowship.  She was selected for the inaugural Women in Film/Sundance Mentorship program in 2012.

With her husband and producing partner, Chris Byrne, she recently launched the Rebel Heart Film Workshop, teaching 2 day intensives on how to make a stand out indie film.  She is passionate about sharing her experiences making films to empower other filmmakers and strengthen our indie film community.


CHRIS BYRNE,  Producer 

Chris has clocked up decades of filmmaking experience as an actor (credits include Titanic and Mad City),  a stunt man, a military tech advisor (to John McTiernan, the director of Die Hard and Predator) and a Camera Assistant,  learning all the nuts and bolts of physical production on literally dozens of sets. 

He produced the Sundance award winning feature, OBSELIDIA, and was subsequently selected for the Film Independent Producer's Lab 2011 and as a participant in the Sundance Institute Producer's Summit 2012.  He has directed commercials, and produced and directed an acclaimed short film, THE TABLE, which played at festivals around the world.

In 2014, together with Diane Bell, he launched the Rebel Heart Film Workshop, teaching step by step how to make a stand out indie film.  



After producing OBSELIDIA, Matt has gone from one production to another working as a Line Producer, Unit Production Manager and Producer on movies as diverse as CALIFORNIA SOLO, THE SPECTACULAR NOW (dir. James Ponsoldt), SUNLIGHT JR. (dir. Laurie Collyer) THE D TRAIN, and many more.  Most recently he worked as UPM on the Netflix series WET HOT AMERICAN SUMMER.  OF DUST AND BONES will be his second collaboration with Diane Bell Byrne.  


BONNIE CAO,  Producer of Marketing and Distribution

Bonnie currently works in Sony Pictures Entertainment's Strategic Sourcing group. She is a graduate of Harvard University with a degree in Government and Computer Science, with a background in business analytics and management, having worked at McKinsey & Company, and will be heading back east to Harvard Business School in fall.  She has previously volunteered with the International Documentary Association and Tribeca Film Festival.  Bonnie has recently joined the OF DUST AND BONES team and is excited to break barriers in film distribution with the rest of the Rebel Heart Family.


ZAK MULLIGAN, Director of Photography

Cinematographer Zak Mulligan started his career in New York after studying art and photography at Arizona State University. His first collaboration with Diane Bell, Obselidia garnered him the prize for Excellence in Cinematography at the Sundance Film Festival 2010.  Their second collaboration, Bleeding Heart, will premier at Tribeca 2015.  

Mulligan's documentary Open Heart about Rheumatic heart disease in Africa was nominated for an Academy Award in 2013. Open Heart went on to premier on HBO and select theaters throughout the world.  Other feature film work includes The Sisterhood of Night (Kal Penn, Kara Hayward, Georgie Henley and Laura Fraser, dir Caryn Waechter), Future Weather (dir. Jenny Deller) which premiered at Tribeca, Blumenthal (dir. Seth Fisher) and I'm Not Me.  His extensive commercial client list includes Google, Reebok, Samsung, and American Express.  His work on the General Electric funded short doc Always a Fire was featured on Vimeo's top 12 of 2012 staff picks.  


JULIA VAN VLIET, Production Designer

Julia was the production designer on Diane Bell Byrne's second film, Bleeding Heart, and they immediately struck up a deep creative rapport.  Julia has worked in films for years, both in the costume department, clocking up credits on THE NOTORIOUS BETTIE PAGE, EMPIRE FALLS, and RUSH HOUR 2, credits as costume designer on TABLOID (the TV series), THE STEAM ROOM and HEIST as well as many more and lately as production designer on LOADED, PLAYDATE, and MEMPHIS RISING.   



In addition to his two features with writer/director Diane Bell and DP Zak Mulligan, Brant's exceptional lighting work has been seen on movies as diverse as The Vicious Kind (wiht Adam Scott and JK Simmons), God Bless America (dir: Bobcat Goldthwait), Hit and Run (with Bradly Cooper, Dax Shepard and Kristen Bell), Sunlight Jr (dir: Laurie Collier, with Naomi Watts and Matt Dillon) and Life at these Speeds (with Billy Crudup).

Brant is indispensable part of our team, working closely with Zak to create incredible worlds of light.


LIAM HOWE, Composer

Liam is an incredibly accomplished musician and music producer.  He asked for this statement to be included:

“As young as 13 years old I knew I wanted to compose music for film. The question was - how would I get there? As it happened a degree in Fine Art and a surprisingly successful pop career (with Sneaker Pimps) paved the way for my aspirations. I now work as a producer and writer in the music industry (Lana Del Rey, Ellie Goulding, FKA Twigs) and when I am not penning hits I am scoring films. ‘Of Dust and Bones’ is my third score with Diane. I cannot enthuse enough about the way she makes her films and her passion for the sonic aspect of the art. This new script is simply bursting with compositional potential. We are already hatching plans: to record an old saloon piano in the desert, to manipulate the already spooky atmospherics of the locations, to explore the metaphysical sounds of the scripts’ dream sequences, and so on. In this rather predictable and restrained industry it is most unusual to be allowed to be so creative, and, quite radically, to be able to influence the creation of the film by writing music before and alongside the making of it. I can’t wait to begin the journey.”



Besides from John-Michael's two collaborations with Diane Bell on Obselidia and Bleeding Heart, he has worked as editor on The Brass Teapot, starring Michael Angarano and Juno Temple (TlFF 2012 Official Selection), purchased by Magnolia Pictures, and All the Wilderness (Official Selection SXSW 2014), starring Kodi Smit-McPhee, Danny DeVito and Virginia Madsen. Some of his documentary credits include In Organic We Trust, distributed by Warner Brothers and No Cameras Allowed starring Mumford & Sons, distributed by MTV. As a writer, John-Michael wrote the feature length southern thriller The Killing Kind, which garnered him literary representation. This led to him being approached by Starthrower Entertainment (Jamesy Boy) about writing the feature length thriller Through Darkness, a thriller chronicling a high profile kidnapping case in a small rural American town.


The film was developed by Diane with these actors in mind, and the roles were created specifically for them, playing to their strengths:



Gaynor, who resides in London, played the lead in OBSELIDIA, for which she received unanimous critical praise.  Other roles have included ongoing parts in the UK TV series Waterloo Road and Bad Girls, as well as parts in  numerous theatrical productions.



Michael, an Australian actor, played the lead in OBSELIDIA. Prior to that, he was a star of the Aussie soap Home and Away, and has subsequently been in films as diverse as Gabriel, The Gates of Hell and Perfection.  He most recently starred in upcoming feature, PRESCIENT, and the critically acclaimed short, AFTER WE REST. 



As well as being a gifted actor who recently starred opposite Christopher Walken and David Spade (in JOE DIRT), David is an award winning photographer.  Born in the midwest, he studied theatre at Indiana University.  He is currently prepping his debut feature as writer/director, THE MONARCH OF CRYSTAL FALLS which will star Allison Janney.

Current Team