Wednesday, 17 May 2017

A Lesson Has Been Learned - The Post Production of Pick-Ups

For what I saw as a “simple” film, in terms of cutting and editing opportunities, along with the scale of the film, I presumed an edit of the film would come together pretty sharpish. I can’t remember if I asked Mark to edit, or he offered, but either way for some reason I didn’t feel confident in editing Pick-Ups – I wanted someone “external” who could see the footage objectively and hopefully bring some pizaaz to it which my meat and potatoes editing seemed to sometimes lack.

However, by this time Mark was gearing up for a Kickstarter campaign for his short film School Of 1980, which I’d offered to try and assist on in some capacity, contacting bloggers who had been supportive of my work in the past. This understandably took priority for the time being.

Around this time Nick had produced the photoshopped elements to turn Worthing into the Czech Republic and, if I remember correctly, had worked out some provisional titles for the credits where we knew the roles were already defined, such as casting. However, he was also preparing to leave the country for…well, who knew how long…so he had to get these elements out of the way sharpish. Somewhere along the line the hi-res elements were stuck on an in accessible hard drive somewhere in the UK and we had to go with the lower renders for the film…not the biggest issue and bar one shot I think for the most part they look pretty authentic and seamless. (Nick also put in some graffiti on my request – on a wall is “A chair is a chair” translated into Czech, though I wished it had been huge on the wall like a big tagged slogan.)

So, I wouldn’t actually get my first edit (which was the first 5 minutes of the film) until May – over 4 months since we finished filming. Apparently Mark had problems with the edit as Darren was visible in the lounge footage where Debbie’s large mirror was visible in the background, something we hadn’t spotted at the time. He’d also removed the “magic bead curtain” moment as he said it didn’t fit with the rest of the film…he was also keen to remove the opening sequence of the film with the Czech signage etc for pacing reasons – he felt we needed to get straight to the point, straight to the door of the flat and get in the flat as quickly as possible. My original intention with this sequence was to have some titles appear on it “”Faster Productions presents”, “Terence Drew in” etc but for some reason I decided against that – either I had concerns the titles wouldn’t have been that clear against the backgrounds, or that it was distracting…or perhaps we never really put the titles against it and I got used to how it was.

One issue that had come up as a result of my flopping of the footage (which was unnecessary in the end as we never saw any cars in shot, or at least which have a steering wheel visible on the right hand side of the car) was that Joseph now moved from right to left across the frame, which is what we’d associate more with him leaving somewhere, rather than arriving or travelling to a destination. In a sense this somehow makes it feel like his departure from the end of the film brought to the front – his retreat from Nula – rather than heading towards her. But as the suitcase has those JFL letters emblazoned on the side it was something I couldn’t get around…unless I wanted to cut the whole opening sequence.

Still, by the start of June I had a completed rough edit from Mark – he had cut Terry’s long monologue down to the barest of elements – pretty much the start and the end, with the justification that we didn’t need to hear the whole thing, though it was good to film it for performance…possibly that there was something that he’s got something big to say and we deny him saying it. I really loved Terry’s monologue performance and wasn’t sure about this, but again, one of the reasons for having an external editor was to remove any sentimentality about the edit from me – the “kill your babies” rule which the aforementioned “magic bead curtain” shot was a testament to this – so I let Mark be the guide on this. Yet I did have doubts that somewhere, in an attempt to make the film as lean as possible, we were sacrificing motivation to the detriment of the film. But I decided to bow to Mark’s wisdom, as he has a far greater knowledge of film theory than myself.

Several other elements had been excised – as with the opening sequence, he felt the key was to get Joseph to the flat and IN the flat as quickly as possible. So the opening sequence as Joseph knocks on the door of the flat, shines his shoes, caresses the Nula nameplate all went so after the opening walk we were straight to seeing Nula open the door. He also wanted to remove the final sequence of Joseph sat on the stairs while the credits rolled – he felt it was better to end on the full stop downer image of Joseph walking down the stair forlornly. This in the end was something that I “fought” for – I felt the image of Joseph shuffling down the stairs was quite a downer image, whereas seeing him sat on the stairs, muttering to himself, looking at his phone seemed to add an awkwardly painful albeit sadistically comedic finale to his situation. I didn’t manage to get the copy of Gasoline Alley in as the final image, as the cut of it was really awkward, but I did get Joseph on the stairs.

And then…not much really happened.

Mark was busy over the summer with a tourism film and somehow, somewhere, time just slipped away and we never managed to get together to discuss the edit. So it wasn’t until November when we finally managed to pick it up, talk about it and then very very quickly Mark’s final edit was done. It seemed a long wait for a swift tweak and finish off. I really don’t know why it took us both so long to get together again.

I think Darren was pretty quick on the grade front – though several people had for some reason suggested keeping the film in colour I had always wanted this film to be in black and white, smudgy, grainy black and white, perhaps almost a bit French New Wave looking. It perhaps never got to that level of grain (and one element was we never really got that shallow depth of field I really wanted for the look, especially with Joseph in front of those fairy lights) but it still looked good. Darren added some fake shake to the opening, which is perhaps a tad unconvincing in retrospect (and some people remarked was distracting) and apart from a frame rate issue with Nick’s titles the grade seemed to come together pretty swiftly.

Following our collaboration on Black Spot I asked Mik Holowko if he’d compose the score again, with a possible view to also doing the sound design. I had some specific ideas for the opening – I wanted a cross between the finger clicking, rhythmic sound of…hmmm…the Addams Family theme tune, with a particular track from Ennio Morricone’s score to A Fistful of Dynamite (which sounds like a frog croaking “Juan, Juan, Juan”) as it had a really particular comedic effect. Or it did to my ears. I also wanted a zither sound, probably to give a nod to the Eastern European setting of The Third Man.

So Mik got to work on the soundtrack and by the start of December he’d already got a score for me – much like my original intention for Black Spot, he seemed to have disregarded my ideas and request and given me a completely different score. His first score was VERY dramatic, sounding almost from a Hitchcock film – choral pieces, man on a mission style. A great piece of music, but really hard for me to hear fitting this film. We went back and forth on this with me requesting changes. He’d also put in wall to wall music throughout the whole film, whereas I felt there were parts that really needed silence, or just let the dialogue happen without accompaniment (especially the coughing fit and what remained of the monologue.)

Eventually I think we found a midpoint for us both. Although the final score did remain “man on a mission” I grew warmer to it – it seemed to fit the opening walk very well, the swell of the main piece and the way it pulled back towards the end worked very well. The smaller cues that Mik put in worked a treat and he did an absolute perfect deep rumble and farting brass or bassoon sound for Milo’s strut into the room. It always made me laugh when I watched that moment back.

By now we were a year since the film was shot. With the score out of the way I was hoping Mik would also be able to work on the sound design, but we ran into several issues – one was a technical issue, where he seemed to suggest all the sound was screwed up, in particular due to the burbling sound of Debbie’s fish tank, which made cutting the sound very difficult. I was worried that I had yet another film with difficult sound which may require ADRing and being over a year into post production something I was heavily reluctant to do. But the second issue was Mik had some personal issue and then couldn’t commit the time to the sound design, so he had to bow out.

I did have to do one piece of ADR though – as I was still unhappy with Dick’s delivery of the “Rodddddd Stewart!?” line I contacted him to try and dub that line and his laughter. I went over to his flat one evening where we re-recorded the line, but in retrospect we never nailed that coarsely inflected accent that I really wanted – some people remarked that it sounded more Welsh in the final film, which probably adds to other confusing aspects in the finished film.

With the sound design I luckily I had a slight back up plan – I knew of Kirstie at Elephant Sounds, a Brighton based sound recordist and sound designer whom I had originally contacted via Darren with a view to doing the sound design for Goodnight, Halloween – my fantasy thriller short which was in a stalled production position. I dropped her a line and luckily she was happy to work on the sound design and didn’t seem to have the same issues or concerns over the fish tank noise.

Finally in May – nearly 18 months since shooting the film – I had the finished film. After all this time of making it I didn’t have the desire to keep it locked online, so I put it up available to view for all straight away.  I got a nice response back from some people – one work acquaintance described it as a mixture of Jacques Tati and 60 kitchen sink drama – a comparison I was very happy with. I’ve never seen any Jacques Tati films, but I know both Mark and Terry are huge fans, so I’m sure they were happy with such a complement.

I submitted it to a bunch of festivals.  In June it played two festivals – a Troma related film festival (which being a fan of Troma as a teenage was kinda cool) and then it also played in my home city of Nottingham, at Short Stack, the film making event my film making chum David Lilley runs. I couldn’t make the screening but if I remember correctly I did submit a brief video introducing the film and talking about the difficulties I had making the film…it received a nice write up in a local magazine even if they misinterpreted the original setting for the film with the finished one - "a charming, funny and beautifully shot short film about an English man travelling to Copenhagen to meet a Danish girl"  

In September it was screened at Moviebar in Brighton, the film night that Terry and I ran for two years. I can’t remember anything particular about the screening, I think it was warmly received…I must have gone to the screening and spoke about it afterwards. Then in October it was screened at the Visionaria film festival in Italy…it seemed like there was a nice momentum running on the film and with this positive response so far I had hoped it boded well for the film being accepted into more festivals – especially European festivals and hoped East European film festivals may have responded positively to my attempt to recreate their geography in my back yard.

Unfortunately, the Visionaria film festival was the only other screening it received despite a LOT of submissions to film festivals.

So, my hope that we’d made something fun, light and short which would find a home at more general festival wasn’t to be.

My previous horror films had been easier to promote online through the large network of active horror bloggers, but with this not falling into any particular genre there wasn’t anywhere I could really have a flow of promotional opportunities to help the audience and viewing figures for the film grow.

I received some feedback from Mark (who’s life in Copenhagen was the instigating inspiration for the whole film) who suggested that it was never clear Joseph had gone to another country, possibly compounded by Milo’s almost Welsh accent. With an influx of people from the Eastern Bloc over the last two decades, it could in a sense be easily set in the UK. Mark had suggested I add a couple of shots to the opening – perhaps a plane flying overhead, or landing – something to establish we are somewhere else. I did mull over going to Gatwick and trying to surreptitiously film some footage of Terry walking through arrivals (with some CG signage changing it to an Eastern European airport) but frankly, in my usual pig-headedness, I couldn’t bare to go back and revisit aspects of the film even though these changes perhaps could have helped the film. I sent him a longer, original cut of the film and he felt the cutting of the monologue down to the simple elements did rob us of not only Joseph’s motivation, but also the high stakes he had gambled.

In retrospect, did we sacrifice audience comprehension, understanding and empathy of the story and characters for a running time so as not to bore the audience, to keep the film short and sweet? I was hoping the short running time would have helped with film festivals, but perhaps another minute of running time wouldn’t have been detrimental to selection at a festival. Who can tell?
Did putting the film online immediately hamper chances of it being shown at a film festival? The next films I’m due to finish, despite taking equally painful lengths of time as Pick-Ups are going to be held back from online screening until I’ve given them all a crack at the film festivals – at least then I’ll know that general availability hasn’t been a factor against the film being selected for screening.

Perhaps, quite simply – though it is hard to admit – it just wasn’t good enough to be screened, despite thinking it is.

Overall, I still like what we achieved with Pick-Ups. I think it does have a charm, fun performances, a nice look, a good soundtrack – I think it’s a strong little package of a film. However, I do have misgivings about the disproportionate amount of time spent on basically 3 people in the same room. I look at those teams who participate in those 48 hour sci fi challenges (Anthony and Jenny who I have worked with in the past have been involved in some of these) and see how slick and accomplished they are – perhaps sometimes as equally flawed or half baked as the premise of Pick-Ups can be – yet they have taken a fraction of the amount of time I spent on getting Pick-Ups made. The response online and from festivals doesn’t seem like much of a return on nearly 4 years of struggles to get it made.

It’s perhaps informed me to try and stick with genre films, even though it’s an equally crowded area to work in, but at least there is a market afterwards to where you can push the films if the festivals aren’t interested. The long term experience of trying to get this made, along with the similar lengthy amounts of time the 3 films I’m currently working on are taking, have brought me to a conclusion that my desire to never not finish a film, despite endless tribulations, is perhaps a misguided use of energy. As such it seems to be telling me that I need to create a cut off for a film – if it hasn’t reached a certain stage by a particular time, then I should be prepared to cut it loose, even at the risk of discarding footage that has already been shot, rather than wasting more time and energy on something which is perhaps not meant to be.

So perhaps in a way Pick-Ups didn’t break me. But it has taught me a lesson.

You can watch it HERE

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Words of advice for a young (female) film maker

Through my day job I met a couple who became aware of my film making endeavours and mentioned that their teenage daughter was wanting to become a film maker. They asked if I had any advice for her.

Obvious answer was "DON'T" or "LEARN A PROPER SKILL" but you can't stop the enthusiasm of youth...

In retrospect I think actually her parents were hoping I had contacts to help her get some actual work experience as part of her school module, when obviously I don't move in such circles (can someone get ME some proper work experience? :) )

However, I wrote the below for her...which harkened back to a period several years ago when an acquaintance was head of media at a secondary school and we were always planning on me going in to chat to them, so a lot of what I have to say below is what I think I would have said...or still would say if I was in that situation.

(I never did hear anything back apart from a brief thanks from the parents, so lord knows what their daughter thought of it...)


So, you want to make films?




Because a) you have youth on your side, you wee whippersnapper. But also b) it is SO much easier to get making films than ever before (obviously there is a downside to this, which is c) More people are making films, so you just have to work that bit harder or have more determination to stay the course when others give up!)

You probably hold in your hand a piece of technology which completely pisses over pretty much the first 20 years of me making films.

Look at what you can do on your phone - you can use a free web based scriptwriting piece of software (such as Celtx) to write your script in the industry formatted manner, write collaboratively if you want then once finished you can instantly distribute this script to people.

You can probably get some free art package, use a stylus and draw storyboards on your phone, which you can also distribute, save down or even collate together to create an animatic of the film you want to make.

You can cast your film, looking at actor profiles on line, watch their showreels, contact cast and crew instantaneously and at the same time via email and messaging services.

If you require extras, you could create an event on social media and help people spread the word. If you're looking for props or other things, again you can use social media to get the message out for free.

You can shoot the film on your phone, in HD, in some cases in 4K, with cheaply available app software which also allows you to colour tint and grade the footage afterwards. You can also get lens adaptors for some smart phones opening up the look even further.

There are CG SFX apps which can add some basic templates of effects, but which could be used creatively to look less obviously generic.

There is probably some very basic editing software that you can then edit this footage on.

No doubt there is also some basic sound design software to at least add some simple sound effects and overlay some music.

Once you've got something finished, you can upload to Youtube or Vimeo and distribute it freely and instantly to the whole world, then share and promote your film on social media. You can enter film festivals via your phone.

Quite frankly, this is absolutely remarkable.

Here's my comparison.

Typing scripts out on a type writer and going to the newsagents on the 5p photocopier copying the script, which you then have to arrange to meet people to distribute. Putting adverts up around town in the hope of finding some cast. Spending a night phoning people - some people are home, some people you leave messages on answer machines - after which you're no closer to having a shooting date. Shooting on clunky video tape...your phone probably shoots as high end, if not higher, than my Canon DSLR which I'm currently using. Editing on two video machines, losing quality with each copy...posting heavy video tapes to places to show them....

Oh, I could go on, but basically you have so much in your hands.

So with this, what should you do?

Shoot something.

Shoot anything.

Make something.

Make anything.

And afterwards...

Do the same again.

And keep doing it.

Really, the only way to get better is to keep doing it. I'm probably up to around 20 films now (I'm a bit slow, not because I'm a perfectionist) for over 20 years of making films and I'm still learning.

Have some friends act in something, Write something for them to recite, or if you can't think of anything to write, ask a friend. Think of something that appeals to you, or that your friends would want to be involved in and watch. What speaks to your generation?

Keep it short - asking anyone to watch something longer than 5 minutes is a big ask. Doesn't sound it, but believe me, unless it's 30 seconds of a cat playing a Theremin (search it on Youtube, it's amazing) people don't really want to give much time for your films (sadly speaking from experience) so getting them to watch a 20 minute epic is going to be a hard sell. At this stage, the shorter it is, the quicker it's finished, the quicker you can move on to the next film.

Make each film different - try doing a silent film. Try doing a dance routine. Try doing a chase. A fight. A one take film. A film that goes backwards. A film that skips in time. A documentary. A music video of a band at school/ college. An animation - do it with Playdoh. Then mix all these up - do a Playdoh dance routine music video. Keep trying different things while you have time on your side.

Don't get hung up on one film. Really. I spent 14 years making one film. REALLY. Was it worth it? Perhaps if it had been finished when originally it was planned to be, I may have got some attention for an ambitious no budget drama. Ironically, I got a tiny bit of attention due to the stupid amount of time it took. But the majority of that 14 years was spent waiting on other people to deliver something (sound design, grade) which never happened and with each passing year it was harder to get someone involved in a feature length film shot on dv tape in 1999 with frankly abysmally recorded sound. By the time you're editing you're probably learnt what you can from that film to some degree, so get it finished off and get on with the next idea.

Which kinda leads me to - SOUND. The eye will forgive a lot and watch something on crappy CCTV if it's compelling. But if the sound is bad, it ruins everything. You can get a pretty good Rode mic for about £150 and a Tascam digital recorder for £100 - that's my set up - I don't want my own sound equipment, but unfortunately sound designers are a rarity and much in demand to fix broken films, so I can't rely on getting one every time. If you record bad sound, have a go at dubbing the whole thing (another regret from my feature film.)

CAMERA - you will come across people who can bamboozle you with 4K Magic Red Eye Sony ASLR lowlight blahblahblah horseshit. Yes, a nice camera is great. But basically if you shoot a load of rubbish on a great camera, you just have nice looking rubbish (and I've sat through one from a similar obsessed techwhore.) Your phone is good enough - if the story is good, the direction is good, the sound is consistent (SEE ABOVE) that will be a better, more memorable film that Mr I've upgraded to a new £5000 camera while still paying off my previous £4000 camera which does anyone want to buy? `Most of these people are also male, which probably means they're compensating for something :)

Unfortunately MEN seem to be obsessed with technology and all this stuff - don't let them intimidate you. Brush up on enough basics of technical aspects, but you don't need to know everything, nor are you an idiot for not knowing everything - when you get to the point of having a camera operator they need to know their bit, same with the sound designer, lighting etc - as long as you can convey what you want clearly. Loads of tutorials online - hell, I'm still struggling to get my head around lenses and things like that, but there are some brilliant videos online that explain the difference that the width of a lens makes to a location, creating space or claustrophobia. That's a good one to know.

STORYBOARD - don't worry if you can't draw. STILL STORYBOARD. My style has not come on for 20 years. Look up Scorsese's storyboards for Taxi Driver - they're laughable, but who cares - it's a guide for you to remember what you want to shoot. Put the storyboards together in an animatic - it's very easy now and seeing the flow of shots can suddenly make you realise something important you MUST get on the shoot. But as always, don't be precious - something looks better on the day, go with that...remain fluid, but have your storyboard as a back up plan as well as a roadmap for what you're doing next. (On a shoot people want to know what's next, so know the order you're doing things in and what comes next rather than erring and arring - arring only allowed if you're wearing an eye patch and have a wooden leg.)

PREP PREP PREP - write down a list of everything that you'll need, from crew, actors, clothing, props, where you're shooting, how to get there, what you'll do if you can film there due to weather or pushy security guards who didn't get the memo that you have permission to shoot there but didn't print the email out as proof. Make notes on your script, all over your script - no one has to decipher what CAN FLS GEL HR except you.

ACTORS - don't be intimidated again. I've worked with some much older actors, paranoid that I'm being a complete youthful (well, back then) numpty, but they're there - they believe in the script, want to be part of it and want to make it work. I've worked with younger actors who have been a pain in the arse and delivered terrible performances. Don't be afraid to punch above your weight - if you have access to some older/ mature actors (maybe local drama group) and there are roles for them then I'm sure they'd love to be involved in a film made by a young person. There's a good book called Directing Actors (authoress escapes me) which talks about words which can be used to direct (as opposed to George Lucas' "faster, more intense" piss poor direction on Star Wars) If the actor has a suggestion, let them have their go - it may work. If not, ask them to do it your way too. Democracy and negotiation and appeasement skills required by a director!

SHOOT AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE - you're not paying for tape anymore and you never know when the gold dust is hidden between the takes. Case in point on one of my films - at one point we used footage of the actor waiting for us to shout action, as it was better than his actual performance when we did say action :)

DON'T BE PRECIOUS - made this point above, but if the dialogue ends up sounding bad when spoke out loud, find a way to snip it back there and then. You'll be surprised how much can be conveyed by a look, or gesture...or equally a lack of a look or lack of gesture! I'm guilty of overwriting at the script stage, perhaps wanting to make sure the actors fully get the emotion they're going through, but on camera this can be compressed down to something far more effective. Again, above point - my actor was so bad and delivered the dialogue SO badly that my editor and I took the painful decision to cut as much of his dialogue as possible. As a result we created a far more mysterious, sullen character...and which audiences responded to far better than if I'd left in his frankly laughable delivery.

On the over writing stage - I wrote some howlers in the past, but was so determined that my "VISION" had to be seen through. If you start getting obsessed about vision, prod yourself in the eyes. That vision has made some of the most painful viewing of my humble filmic career because I couldn't imagine the film without them. Again, if it sounds bad on "set", or in the edit, find a way to get rid of it or slim it down.

STORY - many ways to tell a story...tone poems are one arty way, but I'm not a fan. For you at this stage, story needs to be very clearly defined and we need to get it asap. Where possible avoid twist endings - it's all a dream is not acceptable these days. If you think your twist is clever, most people see it coming way off. For the Future Shock stories in the comic 2000ad they used to say show the twist first and how that affects the story and world, as that's far more effective to see the twist this puts on the familiar. Watch a lot of short films - search "Best short films" online - there's a cracking one called Black Hole...also Lights Out got a lot of attention in recent years, even though I think it doesn't make much sense, but it's effective (and kinda pisses over my similar film Creak which came out beforehand and takes twice as long to tell a similar story not as well...)

YOUTH - darn you and your youth. But mega advantage - there are so many schemes/ competitions etc aimed at 16-21 or 16-25 or 18-21 etc that you can participate in. Enter EVERYTHING. Deadline is tomorrow night? Quickly come up with an idea. If it gets rejected, you may find that idea is actually a pretty smart idea that you want to pursue even without the support of the competition. Deadlines can sharpen the skills and mind (yes, sensei) There are quite a few schemes aimed to encourage female film makers too, so look for them - that's a double advantage and there's a big drive to see more female directors telling stories.

TUTORIALS - as above, so many tutorials online. Try and have a basic knowledge of everything, just to have some grounding. Key thing right now - some degree of awareness of After Effects/ digital imaging software - most people who seem to break through now are people doing effects ridden showreel shorts from their bedrooms (look at the Spanish guy who did - I think it was called Panico - and got to direct the remake of Evil Dead) Not suggesting you should do the same, but at this stage when you're most likely going to be doing the majority of things yourself then good to be able to add some polish by yourself.

Though this leads to COLLABORATORS - use the talent pool of your friends, colleagues, family, education establishment to find people to fill roles and give them an incentive for how it will benefit them. Find some fabulous writer on an English class or Drama class that can write a script, find actors in drama groups, find people on fashion courses and ask them to create off the shelf/ charity shop/ freecycled costumes for you, find a music student who will write a soundtrack, or may do your sound recording or sound design, look for artists who may be able to create interesting props or specific elements for you, an illustrator to make you a great poster image that you can share on social media. Help promote them and their own work to help promote your own - things like costumes (just some thought about colour schemes, maybe a quirky hat or something) can add some additional value to a short film, as opposed to some mates wearing their own clothes. You're probably surrounded by a bunch of creative talented people, so use your films as a glue to pull everything together and showcase everyone.

There's probably so much more I could say, but really, the best advice is to get on with it and start making films, There are loads of books you could read, classes you could take, expensive intensive film making courses you could pay an extortionate amount to do...but the best teacher is yourself, doing it, learning to problem solve on a shoot when it all goes wrong (personal case study - previously used actor fails to turn up as down the pub and decides tough luck to me, previous shoot with him included a fantasy element of girl imaging said actor as a Liam Gallagher geezer we recast him as the for no particular reason this group of male friends have a friend who is a puppet, which turned out quite memorable), dealing with the public, dealing with people who don't turn up, people will look to you for direction - decide what's next.

Also, don't be afraid to show your work. I think this is really important. It's REALLY nerve wracking showing your films in a room that you're in. I still get the quickening heartbeat and shakes even now. But it's so rewarding to watch it with people and get a feel for the genuine response. (I have very fond memories of showing my horror short Creak at an event and seeing a girl in the seat in front of me jump at one of the shock moments...very satisfying!) It's far far too easy to stick something up on the internet and hide away from it. Films need to be shown, they need to be seen. There are lots of film nights, amateur film nights in pubs, colleges etc. Get involved, don't be intimidated by your film not being shot on XXXXX and with funding from XXXXX - everyone has to start somewhere. I used to run a film night and it would frustrate me when I'd meet people who said they made films, but when I asked if I could show any of them they'd be like "Aw no, they're not as good as the stuff you've shown tonight" not realising I was bloody desperate as rarely had enough films to show :)

I've got very extensive makings of from some of my films on my blog, ironically which all take much longer to read than watching the damn films, but I think they could give you a good insight into the madness, horror, frustrations but (some) joy of no budget film making....though my experiences are very different, trying to fit it in around work, family etc and the same for many of my other collaborators. But you maybe able to garner some additional advice from them (hopefully)

Some books I'd recommend...

Robert Rodriguez's Rebel Without A Crew - bit out of date in the digital dslr age, but he's still inspiring and encourages you to write and create at a no budget level around things you have access to (like, say a record shop :) )

Judith Weston - Directing Actors - wish I could follow this more, but did find it really good.

Writer's Block - some daft little book but if you're stuck for inspiration at the writing stage have a look at this

Lloyd Kaufman - Make Your Own Damn Movie - ridiculous fun, but again low budget inspiration

Also have a look at websites like Raindance and Shooting People - they're usually trying to flog you membership or a course but at this stage worth following. Plenty of Facebook pages of film making groups (UK Film Network and Filmmakers...Generation Next spring to mind), just do a search for film and movie and see what pops up.

Good luck with it all and don't forget to thank me in your Oscar speech :)

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

You Still Will Not Break Me - Shooting Pick-Ups

Finally, the blessed slate..

The day didn’t start well. If I remember rightly it was a bit of a trek driving out of Brighton to get Toby (sound recorder), into Brighton to get Darren (camera), Nick (assistant, stills amongst other things) and Terry (actor.) It always seems to take longer to get to Peacehaven than I remember…so by the time we got there I think Joanne was already there with Debbie having a coffee and her make up done.

My plan for the interior of the flat was to have a load of my own family photos covering the walls, a wall of fairy lights on one side (for Joseph to stand in front of for his speech) and then I’d also scanned some hi res images of East European sci fi posters which I printed out large(r) scale and put them in frames - turning Nula into a bit of a sci fi buff.  I thought having a poster for Solaris, a film about obsession with the memory of a loved one, was a wink at the audience for the theme of Pick-Ups…not sure if anyone picked up on it or cared. I’d already left Debbie the stack of photos and the fairy lights with the hope that she’d put them before we arrived in the morning, so we’d be all up and at ‘em ready for shooting. Unfortunately this wasn’t the case, so not only were we late to arrive due to my bad estimations of driving times, but now also had to dress the set before we could start shooting.

Between us all we had a slight shuffle of furniture, removed some pictures, blu tacked up the photos of my family (getting my cameo in somehow) and hung the fairy lights. The fairy light effect looked a bit limp really – both in real life and on camera – and wasn’t quite the out of focus spJots of light that I wanted. After shooting I’d see a fairy light net, which was really what I needed for this effect but had no idea they existed…

JFL - on the move in Peacehaven...

With the set dressed we decided to shoot sort of sequentially and go out to shoot Joseph’s opening walk across the streets. I had the letters JFL written in tape on Joseph’s suitcase prop, but taped in reverse as a hangover from my intention of flopping the exterior images in case we passed any parked cars (putting the steering wheel on the left, which would then be augmented with photoshopped registration plates.) In the end I perhaps shouldn’t have worried about this, as it made an issue later…We found a high ground against a bland brick wall which we could film him walking against and that’s where we started. We worked our way back along the street, towards our key location, filming Joseph walking in front of various blocks of flat. Nicely the whole area was still quite misty at this point in the day, which I guess added a bit of a dreamlike quality but in retrospect removed my hope of adding the striking Prague TV tower (which looks like some mad rocket ship) as a signal in the background as to where in the world we were.

We had several handfuls of people observing us while we worked and even had a slow drive by from a police car asking what we were doing. I told them we were doing a short film…it could be my memory playing tricks on me, but I’m sure they advised us to watch the camera…

Despite some nervousness of filming all went without a hitch. We swung round the corner and filmed Terry’s standing outside the block of flats where Nula lives. I can’t remember now if we were just going for some further angles of his entering the block – I know Darren had set his camera up on the grass in front of a ground floor flat but we weren’t filming acing towards the windows of the flats (nor could you make out anything inside from when we were filming facing the block) but suddenly this guy came out from the next block and started shouting out as very aggressively, feeling that we were intruding without permission. Not wanting to have a battle with the unhinged of Peacehaven we agreed to move immediately, which didn’t seem to do anything for his mood – it took Darren a brief moment to unbuckle the tripod to lift it up with the camera attached, but this geezer didn’t even seem willing to give us that time, despite it being obvious a) we were moving and b) had agreed to move.

Slightly shaken we returned back to Debbie’s flat, who told us not to worry and she would go and have a word with him later – I think he had a bit of a reputation. She said she’d spoken to the occupants of the downstairs flat and they were fine with us filming – seemed it was somebody taking “the law” into his own hands without checking beforehand….or even communicating without any civility. Still, not a great way to end the initial exterior shoot without getting all the angles I wanted.

On set catering...sugar rush ahoy!

We continued with shooting Joseph’s walk through the hallway of the flat and getting tangled in the bead curtain – Terry put on such a fun and warm performance of awkwardly getting snared in the beads, perfectly done and how I’d hoped it would be. From there we concentrated on the lounge footage for the rest of the day – Joseph making himself comfortable, taking off his coat and scarf – and then having a look around the room while he awaits Nula’s return with the coffee.

There was a particular shot which followed which sadly never made the final cut and one which took quite a bit of time – I wanted a vision of Nula from Joseph’s skewed view, seeing her as a magical, angelic thing. So the bead curtain was to magically part for her entrance with the hot drinks and she would “glide” into the scene.  Sadly the gliding aspect was out, as I hadn’t been able to source some kind of low bed type trolley or skateboard – something to avoid any walking motion. The parting of the curtains proved problematic – Nick was super boy scout and between himself and Toby they’d got some thread pulling mechanism together which off camera could part the beads. Multiple takes followed, where one side of the beads opened and the other didn’t, or they were slightly out of synch…until we hit on the idea of filming the motion backwards and reversing it in post production – the beads were easier to release back into position than pull into position - so we had Joanne step backwards and then we closed the beads on her. I figured if it looked a bit “off” with the reverse motion that might add the “magic” element I hoped to get.

Terry and Joanne did some nice awkward interchanges as they took the hot drinks (with Terry doing a particularly creepy hand stroke of Joanne, which worked a treat) before Joanne took her place on the settee for the rest of the proceedings to follow.

Tea's up!

I have such fond memories of sitting back and watching Terry’s performance during this sequence. After his coughing fit (which if memory recalls was his suggestion, which was a brilliant awkward comic moment) he had to do the monologue explaining in vague terms why he was there. I suggested I wanted him to do it in several ways – super slow, super fast, super nervous, basically riff on it, then we’d cut and chop them all together in one jump cutting tone shifting uncomfortable piece. He played it so well, affable, nerdish, overcome with puppy love, supremely confident…yet papering over any cracks of doubt he had in his decision. Joanne’s reversal, nervously chewing on toast, was equally wonderful in the contrast to the dialogue we were hearing.

Ready for the coughing fit

From here we prepared for the entrance of Milo, Nula’s…well, “friend” but we can presume more than that. There were always supposed to be clues around the flat of something (or someone else) going on, which sadly weren’t as apparent from the final shoot – I’d had an idea of the lounge looking like it had been abandoned in a fit of passion, perhaps loose items of clothing around, a bottle of wine and TWO wine glasses on a table, a full ashtray…and Nula is supposed to be wearing an oversized man’s shirt, the first thing she threw on to answer the door…I didn’t follow through on the clothes thing and I think the wine glasses were pretty discreetly on a table beside Nula, if I did have that detail covered.

My boyfriend's back and there's gonna be trouble...

Dick was a very very good sport “happy” to play the scene as I requested – in a pair of briefs. Terry’s stuttering, spluttering reaction to Milo’s entrance was played wonderfully and Dick’s strutting entrance and his eying of aloofness at Joseph’s presence was great. I also got the ridiculous through the legs shot that I’d envisaged – from behind Dick’s buttocks, between his thighs and pants, staring at Joseph looking up at this man and realising he’d been outgunned. I should have put a huge pair of socks or something down Dick’s pants to make him stupendously endowed to crush Joseph’s spirit further. I loved Dick’s languid look over the Rod Stewart record. Unfortunately I wasn’t too happy with his delivery of the incredulous “ROD STEWART!?!” line – it seemed to be missing that abrasive, strong East European accent I wanted the character to have…but rather than doing multiple takes, I hoped we could dub it at a later stage.

There were a few shots we didn’t get in the lounge, but we decided to move on to the doorway and hall shots. I think we’d decided to do the landing shots last, being that it would be a similar set up to Joseph waiting at the front door in the beginning to waiting at the door at the end (when we needed Milo to hand him the record back.) We concentrated on the extreme close up of Joseph through the gap in the chained door which was slightly problematic due to light, tight framing and tight focussing…it was also a very tight space for actress, camera, sound and lights. Terry once again gave a fun, albeit slightly creepy and unnerving over friendly performance…like opening the door and finding an overbearing politician at your door.

Cramped conditions

From here we went outside on to the landing – after the morning’s verbal abuse, we were very sensitive to Debbie’s warning about the people across the landing who had a new born baby and might not appreciate us noisily opening and closing the door of the flat repeatedly with take after take…so we had to be careful and it made me conscious not to push it with too many takes on the same things. Being this was a January shoot the daylight had long gone by the time we were doing this and Darren was concerned about the low light on the landing - it was impossible to run a cable for a light from Debbie’s flat without it being visible in the frame for any full shots, so we had to concentrate on the door close ups where a cable would be out of frame (hence why there’s a visible spot reflection in this footage as the door opens and closes in the finished film.)

At this point there wasn’t anything else we could get – it was too dark in the landing to get any other shots, but as the missing shots were silent images I was hoping I could come back and…ahem…pick them up at a later date. So I was missing a few elements, but the key footage was there for now…which after all of this time was a considerable relief.

I think it was several weeks later when Terry and I returned to Peacehaven to shoot the missing shots using his camera. Darren had told us the profile setting to use which would hopefully ensure we at least matched the same settings as his dslr, though I was shooting and had never shot with a dslr. We were supposed to try and get a few of those angles we’d missed outside of the flats, but Terry was nervous about a repeat of the situation with the aggressive neighbour, so I had to scrap those shots. We went to the landing and did the same full shots of him stood at the door – I asked him to do a quick shine of his shoes as he waited for Nula to open the door. We also did his strange “caress” of Nula’s name on the outside of the door – an image which didn’t make it into the film. We also shot the final image for the end credits of Joseph sat on the stairs trying to comprehend the awful cock up he’s made of his life and his internal struggle over whether to phone his wife and beg for her forgiveness. The actual final image of the film was supposed to be the copy of Rod Stewart’s Gasoline Alley left on the stairway – in memoriam, as it were.

This was all shot on a very sunny day, evident from the strong sunlight coming through the small window on the landing, but as we’d only seen the outside misty at the beginning of the film (and hadn’t seen any exterior since entering the flat) this thankfully didn’t cause a continuity error.
We went back inside Debbie’s flat to get a couple of shots I wanted to get – in particular I really wanted an overhead shot of Joseph as he opens the suitcase and rummages in the contents. There may have been one or two other simple shots of Joseph there too, all were got pretty quickly and hoping that natural light would cover it with us having no lighting rig.

From there we headed over to my neck of the woods to go to Worthing and the infamous Teville Gate area of Worthing, This is an area which has been earmarked for development for many years, but which has fallen into further decline. Within that simple block I was able to get a variety of closed up shops, boarded up glass, empty units etc for Joseph to rush pass on his mission to Nula’s. I hoped these would augmented with some simple CGI/ photoshopping to turn Worthing into the Czech Republic.

And with that simple shoot, after all that pain, disruption and struggle to shoot the film it was finally shot.

I may have used the words history repeating before when discussing this moment with my other films – if I haven’t, they are the words to keep in mind, as the post production on this would aptly fit with the pre production struggle I had with making this film…and match the same post production issues I always seem to have.

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

YOU WILL NOT BREAK ME - The Making Of Pick-Ups - Pre Production

I was going to Copenhagen to see one of my best friends and fellow film maker Mark. We had a very definite film making past together, being that the first film either of us ever made was with each other, in his bedroom.

Hang on, that sounds a bit dubious.

Basically our first film was shot on his dad's camcorder that had to be attached to a VCR, so we had to improvise something in his room, which resulted in some strange film following a secret agent (Agent 009.5) and his arch nemesis Fez Head.

We were young(ish)

It was actually the throwaway, daft energy of that first step into film making that I wanted to recapture. I was bogged down with my films The Crunch, Stranded and Goodnight, Halloween all being at various long winded stages of production/ post-production. My stupid feature film from years back was also going nowhere. I just wanted to do something fast, fun and free and it didn't really matter whether it was a work of art or a success or not.

So I came up with two ideas - one was "A Date With Death" which would have been a silly travelogue around Copenhagen while a woman goes on a date with, well, Death - row boat on a lake together, that sort of thing. I can't remember if I'd figured out the ending, perhaps Death didn't want to take her in the end or something.

The other one really was using the Robert Rodriguez approach of writing to what you I figured if I could get Mark to act in it again (though he'd long avoided doing that, being now behind the camera...though I thought he might be up for it) I'd have an English actor abroad in a foreign country...he lived in a flat, so we had access to a flat...then if we could get a female friend involved (perhaps even Mark's girlfriend, even though she wasn't an actress) then perhaps there was something in those aspects that could set something up.

So, possibly inspired by Mark and his girlfriend Sabine's own career roles (director, production designer) I had the idea of a slightly socially awkward film director who has had a relationship with some crew member on a film (perhaps platonic, perhaps a little bit more...or maybe perceived a little bit more) while on a shoot out of the country. In an almost mid life crisis he's ditched his married suburban life, full of over enthusiastic young love and gone off to be with this woman in her home country...but like a teenager not quite in control of his emotions and senses, he never quite picked up on the signs the woman was telling him...and I had the title of Pick-Ups based on the whole filmic idea of going back somewhere to do the pick up shots, or finish off what you didn't get to finish before...I thought it fitted quite well, with an undercurrent of trying to "pick up" the woman...

I figured it was a starting point, enough to do something undemanding and easy to achieve in a day with no expectations of greatness, just something fun to do. I may have written some sort of outline as scant as the one above, I'm not sure, and sent it to Mark...who said that it could do with some developing.

If I remember rightly, this was about a week or so before I was planning to go over to Copenhagen and it was just supposed to be something we just have a go at making, not something that is developed and goes back and forth and...I dunno...I guess I felt deflated by the comment, maybe I explained badly, maybe he didn't want to act in it and I presumptuously thought he'd be okay with it, perhaps he was being a bit cautious over what the point of it was and where it would end up - at the time Mark was involved in various things and perhaps wanted to make sure it didn't damage any reputation or possible work opportunities. I don't know.

The end result was that I went to Copenhagen, but we didn't make either of the films together.

But there was something about Pick-Ups that I liked. Just the simplicity of it appealed massively to me in comparison to my then filmic troubles. While Terry and I struggled through the editing of Stranded (see that separate making of) the Virgin Media Shorts competition came up in conversation - I paraphrased my idea for Pick-Ups to him and Terry laughed at the punchline to the film, thinking it was genuinely a good idea. I thought that I'd be able to get the film in on the 2 minutes 20 seconds then running time limit on the Virgin Media Shorts competition and so spurred on by Terry's enthusiastic response I decided to resurrect the idea. Memory maybe failing me, but I think Terry may have agreed to star in the film there and then.

I also mentioned about Mark's need to develop the idea, which I was resilient to as I felt it was a simple story, a simple idea and I didn't want to over egg it. Terry told me he had a tutor at college who used to say "A chair is a chair" and this no nonsence, is-what-it-is feeling and ethos stuck with me.

As ever with my work, not much happened for some time. Some films got finished, some remained unfinished, other ideas dragged their feet...I must have written a script for the film and I now set it in some unnamed former Eastern bloc country - though in the end I went with the Czech Republic although that was never mentioned in the film - with the male role now named Joseph Francis Little, quite why I don't know, I just wanted him strutting with a suitcase at the start with JFL on written on it in tape, close to JFK but I can't think why now. The female role was Nula Ruzova, which I think meant Rose Flower in Czech. Terry had a film making friend named Mark (Tew)who lived in Worthing in a small block of flats - the interior hallway and landing had a blandness to them and the outside of the flat could possibly pass for an Eastern European nondescript modern block of flats, although the inside of his flat wasn't particularly Eastern bloc, but with his film posters and such like in the flat the filmic backstory aspect could have hopefully been insinuated quickly and he agreed to let us film there.

So around May 2011 I started casting the female role in the film - as the role was for an East European I did receive many requests, some of whom did look the part, but many were in London, which made it difficult to audition and there would always be the additional cost of transport from London too.. The script wasn't the easiest to audition for, being that it was mostly responding to Terry, so it wasn't easy to gauge a performance. Funnily enough an actress named Joanne Gale got in touch for the role - I'd auditioned her for Stranded and it was basically between her and Natasha, but Natasha got the role for I knew Joanne was good and I was keen to work with her, she could also be local with family still in the region so that helped secure her for the role, though I did have concerns at the time that she may have looked just a bit too young...not that Terry looked very old in comparison, but certainly older...

I tried to arrange some dates for filming around the start of September - my daughter was due in November so I knew realistically I couldn't risk filming any later than early October and would be busy with baby preparations during that time. However, in the middle of August I was dealt a bit of a blow - Terry was going to be busy with a play in September, so would be unavailable...I was still keen to have him in the role and said I'd postpone until next year. He replied back suggesting that I recast, as he was "not as jazzed about working on it" as he was when I first told him the story - as he was committing himself to finding worthwhile acting roles he found himself no longer willing to do just any role just for showreel material.

Damn it.

Looking back at some emails I really didn't waste any time - I was determined to shoot something new this year and was still aiming for September. I didn't really mind if the film didn't turn out perfect, I still very much had the relaxed attitude of the film being what it was - the chair was still the chair. I didn't want to stress myself putting casting calls up, auditioning male actors and killing myself, spending a lot of money on something so "light" but I also wanted to try and meet this September/ October deadline.

So that same day (!) I emailed an old friend, Nail, who I used to work with in Nottingham in a record shop. He was always a character and I could always see him in a film, but strangely I never ended up using him in my feature Gettin' Some, strange that pretty much anyone and everyone else rolled up in it out of desperation to fill some roles. We'd seen each other not long ago at a screening in London of The Crunch and he half jokingly lamented when I was going to put him in one of my films. Much that I did genuinely want to work with Nail, I thought he'd put in a fun comedic performance and it'd be fun to be spending a day with him again there was also the hope that he might also be up for doing some soundtrack music for the film, and being (at the time) part of the critically lauded electronic/ chill out duo Bent would hold some kudos when trying to promote the film.

We spoke about it and Nail, though understandably a bit nervous, was up for the role. I'd seen a photo of him recently wearing some old fashioned 60s style glasses which looked really good on him, really helped me visualise the character and so asked him to wear them, though I have a slight feeling he may have told me he'd just broken them! So I was off trying to locate a pair of similar looking glasses with plastic lenses - as I knew Kerry, an optometrist from Nottingham now living in Brighton, I was hoping to borrow some samples from work just for the shoot....

So the role was recast. The other male role, for the sting in the tale, was to be played briefly by Brian, who was the brother of the make up artist Jeanette. But then after myself and Mark (T) had sat and discussed the ending of the film, being that I felt I really needed an absolute beefcake of a man to pull the twist off, Mark suggested I go the other way and have an older man be the twist...which was a brilliant suggestion and really made the film. So I quickly got in touch with local actor Dick Douglass, who I'd met at several film networking nights, and he seemed to be up for the role.

All was looking good for the mid September shoot - there was an issue that Mark (T) was going to be busy on the shoot for his short film House Trafalgar but I was hoping that I'd still be able to have access, being that he'd be elsewhere anyway, but in the end this ended up being an issue as he said he may need the space to stash production equipment and that it maybe a bit too much with two shoots happening at the same time.

Having recast my actor with 4 weeks to go, I now had three weeks to find a new location to film in.

Lady luck shined on me - make up artist Jeanette and my wife's friend Helen had moved in to an amazing basement flat in Kemptown in Brighton - the hallway was fantastic with clouds painted on the ceiling and lovely coving, the lounge had mirrors on the walls and inset behind faux columns - it felt very bohemian, like something from Nic Roeg and Donald Campbell's also seemed to fit the new sting in the tale of the old man, being that the set up is that it's his flat that Nula lives at, not her own. Although the outside was an old fashioned Brighton townhouse it had scaffolding and tarpaulin up completely covering the outside, which with some simple CG could have some Czech builders firm writing put on it. Directly opposite were a bunch of flats which looked far more Eastern bloc than Mark's flat, which meant the opening walk to Nula's flat could simply be shot across the road and around the corner.

Phew, the stars were in alignment!

Except around the 11th of September Nail's ankle was not. After a night out he rode his girlfriend's bike home, fell off and fractured his ankle, which suddenly put any shoot in absolute disarray. Never wanting to give up complete hope on shooting the film in 2011, I had to wait for him to get the all clear 10 days later to see if it would all be okay.

The really great news was that the fracture wasn't too bad and was sorted after a very brief period. The bad news was that the x-ray which confirmed the good news also showed a hairline fracture that they'd missed the first time round, so Nail would be stuck in the cast until mid/ late October at the earliest.

So basically, despite my best efforts, I had to finally admit defeat on filming Pick-Ups in 2011.

2012 got off to a bumpy start - somewhere between October and the end of the year Helen and Jeanette's flat became unavailable - from one email all I can see is a reference to Helen saying "it's not suitable" though I can't remember what the reason was back then...but it seems that shooting was back on at Mark's flat in Worthing.

It looked like everything was heading towards a late February shoot...however, I then had the blow of losing Nail from the film permanently. I won't go into the reasons here, but it was a pretty significant life decision that he undertook and one which has been a positive one in the long term, but it suddenly meant he wasn't able to be in the film. I'm not sure when the change happened, but with the slight change to the ending Terry was now keen to play the role of JFL again, so he came back on I got my first choice actor back in the end after all a month before shooting!

The only current concern was that Darren, my DOP friend, along with all of his kit, had moved back home to Wales around the end of the year - I now had to sort the transport cost, which wasn't excessive, but it was more a concern of him coming so far for the film shoot, although he was local at the start of February to shoot the sequel to Jenny Ringo, another short he'd previously been involved in. I also needed to get hold of a sound recordist - as we were shooting on a week day I wasn't able to use Toby who had previously sound recording on a variety of films - but each avenue I went down seemed to be a dead end...

But then two days before the shoot I was hit with the news that Darren wouldn't be able to do the shoot - after struggling to get hold of him I finally spoke to him on the Sunday night, when I seem to remember him saying "We're shooting on Tuesday, yeah? Yeah, that's not going to happen I'm afraid." I wasn't exactly sure why, but that was that and he asked if we could postpone to mid March at the earliest.

With everything else bar sound recordist sorted I was going to go my damnedest to try and make this 28th of February shoot happen.

Immediately after getting off the phone to Darren I dropped Anthony, who shot Stranded, The Crunch and Goodnight, Halloween, a desperate quick line in the hope that he may be able to help me out. That was a no go. I contacted James, who shot House Trafalgar for Mark...also a no go.

Around the same time Jeanette also told me that she was no longer available to do the make up. And I still didn't have a sound recordist.

I was trying to get a friend to help out possibly do the sound recording and clapper, if push came to shove Mark could use Terry's DSLR and we could still shoot the film...

But then Mark let me know he couldn't really commit to shooting the film - due to work issues his days off were shifting around and he couldn't guarantee being there all day if required to go out to work...

Luckily I managed to convince our friend (and writer of House Trafalgar) Simon to crew for me...

Mark dropped me a line voicing concerns whether doing it in such a scrappy manner, with a scrappy crew, with not much dslr experience was really the best thing to do - from one film maker to another.

I don't know if that convinced me, or what was the final straw, but in the end I had to postpone the 8 hours before I was due to commence filming the next day I was already canvassing replacement shooting dates...

(My description of that painful scrambling somehow make the film was "Arguably less painful banging your head against a brick wall while your nether regions are stuck in a plug socket while being dry humped by a rhino." It's a description I stand by.)

This is how you lose a year in a page...

As I tried to arrange a new shooting date Mark then gave me some bad news - he was committed to getting House Trafalgar completed in time for festival screenings in April and could no longer commit use of his flat to Pick-Ups while he was still in post production on his short film, probably May at the very earliest.

Everyone involved started throwing dates back at me, but I could easily see the film slipping further and further back - if we didn't hit a date in late March, it would then be late April at the earliest we could then reconvene...but that was assuming I could even find another location, when everything seemed to be around Mark's flat for the rest of the shoot which would make it convenient and all in one package.

So I decided to postpone until Mark gave me the nod and filming at his flat was all clear. I had other things to be getting on with (in particular my other horror short Knock Knock, which I was also hoping to shoot this year) so figured I could get my head down and come back up in a few months.

May would rapidly skip June and then head towards July, as Mark's post production sound design woes on House Trafalgar would continue, along with jury service and work late June this shooting date was realistically now mid August at the earliest....but a momentary reprieve suggested a date at the start of August, after which it would then be mid September by the earliest...which Terry sadly wasn't available for...but then YE GODS somehow the stars fell into alignment for the 12th of August - IT WAS ALL GO AGAIN!

(Mark wasn't available due to a double booking of a family BBQ and asked for us to be finished by 6pm, which I of course said we would - ahem - but this wasn't an issue...)

Losing my actress was an issue though.

Joanne dropped me a line to say that something had come up and she could no longer do the 12th...she had also taken on a new teaching job and was planning to go away to India for a month, so she wouldn't be available again until November.


Terry suggested a friend called Hulya for the role, thinking if we could quickly fill the role then we'd be able to film on the 12th. But whoever the actress was she needed to look young, so that there'd be some differentiation between her and Terry and then a further difference between herself and Dick.

I didn't recast in time.

The next scheduled date was early October and I spent September trying to recast Nula...I really can't remember what the outcome of this was. The next note I can see is from the start of November, optimistically trying to get the film shot in December and checking in with Terry and Dick...which with some back and forthing took us to the 20th of December..I'd also dropped Joanne a line asking if her circumstances had changed as I'd failed to recast her and was still superkeen to work with her....which turned out to be a yes - she was still up for the role if we could make the dates work!


But December wasn't to be - Mark had a screening for House Trafalgar and we couldn't make the dates work - so we were then looking at some point in January before Joanne left the country again (!) at the end of the month. But by the end of November we ended on a positive note - the 6th of January was all sewn up and was all good for everyone.

A week later things changed sadly when Mark had some terrible news and understandably it wasn't right to film at his flat, so two days before Christmas I was location hunting again for a shoot two weeks later.

2012 ended with neither Pick-Ups getting shot, nor Knock Knock - a very frustrating year juggling two projects which resulted in nothing.

But on New Year's Eve I contacted everyone to say I'd managed to secure a new location and we'd now be filming in Peacehaven, at Debbie the make up artist's flat.

And in 2013 this time it would actually happen.

Murder In Hi-Viz: The Making Of Black Spot...Part 2 - Production

It's been over two years since the shoot of Black Spot and my memory has probably become a bit hazy, but it would end up being one of the oddest I've ever done. It was all my fault, by just not testing my camera properly beforehand and being presumptuous about certain things.

I picked up Andy and Mark from Worthing and we headed over to Brighton to get Jason, then we pulled up to pick up Alexxa. I nervously waited on the double yellow lines across the road from her flat until she came out. She jumped in the car and seemed very quiet, very shy...I was a bit concerned that it was going to be a bit awkward and that perhaps she would end up giving a subdued, self conscious performance.

I needn't have worried about the latter bit...later Alexxa did explain to me why she felt a bit nervous - she was basically getting in a car with a bunch of men, none of whom she'd ever met, to go off filming in a remote location. It suddenly struck me how naive I can be with presuming everything is cool with everyone getting together filming and never even gave this any regard upfront but once she explained it made absolute sense.

We headed out to the location. I'd ironically wanted a cold, crisp day for the shoot and was disappointed that with a spring/ summertime shoot I was unlikely to get this. Instead, I had a supremely grey, drizzling day with odd flashes of clear skies. It was very temperamental. The layby was thankfully empty so we pulled up and waited for Raine to turn up, hoping he'd spot us and find the correct layby.

He arrived and parked just slightly in front of my car - enough that his car wouldn't be in any profile shots of my car, where most of the action would take place and he'd move his car for the moments where the road ahead had to be clear. We tried to crack on as soon as possible - I had a very very long shot list, which I was optimistic about as there was no sound crew or lighting to wait for, so in theory there wouldn't be any hold ups in that regard. So, leaving the others in the car, myself, Mark and Raine set off down the road to capture footage of Raine's solitary walk and finding the Missing Persons notice (with a photo of myself cunningly placed on it.)

Handily this one stretch of road, with some clever angling, could cover a variety of went along the road and filmed the shots with the missing persons sign, which had some great depth of field of a fence leading up away from the road, horses in the background and the high hills of the South Downs. We got him walking past a roadsign with some aged flowers tied around the sign, another nod of death that I wanted the opening to have. We simply turned around this point to where the road became heavily tree lined and curved around the corner into darkness, which gave a great angle for Raine to emerge from.

But then the first shutdown happened. The battery on the camera ran out already. It probably started drizzling a bit by this point so the three of us quickly retreated back to the cars.

I'd heard the battery on the camera wasn't great and I was aware that there was no way I'd be able to do all the day's filming on a single charge, but my plan was always to plug the camera into my car's USB port so I could charge the camera while filming all of the interior shots in the car. I'd also basically been an ass with charging the camera the night before - as I'd used the camera so little, I presumed I hadn't actually used much of the charge, so when I charged it for filming I didn't think the red charge light ever turned green to indicate the battery was fully charged - it would have done, if I'd left it long enough. So basically I went to the shoot without the battery full charged.

So, damage limitation time - the battery doesn't last as long as I'd hoped, but we could shoot interior shots while it recharges, then once we've got enough charge go back out and shoot more exterior shots. Wrong again. Once the camera was attached to a USB port it presumed it was connected to a PC to upload the footage - it couldn't actually be put into camera mode as soon as it was connected to a USB port, so my plan of filming interiors and charging was, frankly, fucked.

They say that the vast majority of film making is actually waiting. In the case of making Black Spot that holds completely true. We could do nothing but sit in the car and wait for the camera to recharge. Stupidly I also didn't think to keep my car engine running - at one point the car barely started, but thankfully did, which would have been further insult to injury.

The nearest facilities down the road and around the aforementioned dark corner (to the pub, which thankfully did take away coffee) there was a variety of tag teaming and wandering off between spurts of limited battery power.

With the battery slightly charged we continued to shoot in sequence, capturing the rest of Raine's solitary walk (again, two shots conveying passing of time and distance were basically 5 metres apart) with again some nice depth of field - long, waving grass in the foreground, pylons and electricity cables disappearing across the flat greenery - and at one point we had low lying cloud drifting across the tops of the hills in the background. I had no idea how well these moments would come out with the limited quality of the camera, but had to hope for the best.

Once Raine had reached the car and discovered the "dead" body of Mummy McKenzie it was time to prepare for one of my most ridiculous shots. I zipped up my cagoule, pulled the hood up tight, put on some plastic goggles and with Mark's suggestion stuffed some tissue up my nose. The camera was then bound tightly in cling film with the hope that would be enough to keep it water tight, or thereabouts. I laid down on the ground, Raine took a big swig of supermarket own brand chicken soup, then threw it up all over me, splattering the lens in the process (and me)

And here I am afterwards...mission accomplished...

It didn't quite capture it in 3D and Raine didn't quite get it completely on target, but it was a suitably over the top ridiculous shot that I think you expect in 3D films.

There was another "into the camera" shot immediately after this, as Daddy McKenzie first appears, stumbling towards the camera. With this sequence there was definitely a nod to one of my heroes, George Romero and in particular to Night of the Living Dead (a film I appreciate, but don't love in the same way as Dawn or Day of the Dead.) So Daddy's appearance and the struggle between him and Paul was supposed to be similar to Jonny's struggle with the first graveyard zombie in NOTLD, then the push away of Daddy to reveal Junior in the background with the knife was a nod to a celebrated shot from Night, where a zombie is pushed back from the farmhouse porch, but then reveals numerous other zombies approaching the house.

Following a brief stand off with Junior we got the character of Paul into the car, where he would stay for most of the film.

The stop/ start recharging of the battery nature of the shoot added an air of urgency and tension with the shoot - I'd view the run through with the camera in 2D mode (which saved on the battery) then flick it to 3D shooting mode only as soon as we were ready to shoot. But through the course of the day 2 things became apparent - the level of charge in the battery reflected the mode you were using, so we could be rehearsing with half a charge but as soon as we shifted to 3D mode we'd be operating with only a quarter of a charge...and when the battery started to get very low there was no rhyme or reason as to how much longer you would be able to shoot. Sometimes there would be a quarter of the battery left and it would suddenly switch off in the middle of a take, othertimes the battery gauge would flash red and empty and you'd still get some shooting time out of it. It was very frustrating for me to be watching a great performance in camera, watching the battery light flashing and praying that we'd get to the end of the take, but unable to prompt the actors to speed it up or give any direction without distracting them from their performances.

The battery was of course not the only issue - the rain showers continued on and off throughout the shoot, so sometimes we'd all have to dash back into the cars even in the middle of a take, use the opportunity to continue recharging the camera and wait for the rain to stop.

Eventually we were ready to do something with Alexxa apart from her be an inanimate body...and when the time to scream came, jesus, did she scream, A hollering banshee wail that had everyone's eyeballs popping out (she told me she'd been using some memories of giving birth to her kids) It's always the quiet ones....

It's probably during this sequence where we captured one of my favourite images - Junior to the left of the frame on the windscreen, Daddy in the background, coughing and spluttering at the window, Mummy coming into the right of the frame gasping in pain with Paul in the middle with his head in his hands. It looked and sounded horrible, painful, disturbing in an over the top uncomfortable manner.

We got various images of this sequence and Jason threw himself completely in to the role, especially when raging on top of the bonnet, smacking the windscreen with his hand, I think even going so far as to headbutt it at one point, a really deranged performance, completely over the top but perfectly suited ot the pandemonium I wanted. This continued with us getting the footage of the monkeys running wild, with Junior and Daddy running around the car, jumping, hollering, bashing the car, pushing it, kicking it.

I was probably most concerned about this sequence attracting attention from people passing by (perhaps more than Alexxa in her bloody dress, though for the most part she was hidden in the car) In preparation for the shoot in order to look (ahem) more professional and to hopefully avoid any queries regarding what we were doing Mark and I wore hi-viz vests. I also left a tripod stood up in the vicinity of the shoot which would be very easy to see if passing by. I needn't have worried - not one person every slowed down or showed the slightest bit of interest in what we were doing, the only reaction I really recall was a bunch of cyclists grinning at us as they rode by at high speed. If anything, that showed that the best way to get away with murder must be to be ridiculously visible with it...

As I was mostly shooting in sequential order we then did Junior and Daddy looking for the keys, with Daddy giving Junior a pretty good smack round the head for spoiling their fun. Some shots were taken in the car of Paul's viewpoint looking out (sadly with a blatant continuity error of rain spots on the windscreen - I should have probably put the wipers on but then the windscreen may have been smeared.)

We did some additional shots of Paul and his lonely opening walk - one was a particularly lovely looking low angle shot, with the camera almost on the road, the rain had made the road shiny, there was a tree in the distance and the light was beginning to break behind the clouds, back lighting the man walking the road. It looked pretty good, but then as I was shooting this all hand held, with myself holding the camera in my hands very low to the road, the camera slipped from my hand. It seemed okay, but then the buttons weren't responding. Then the screen was all corrupted. Uh oh.

Thankfully the tried and trusted removing of battery/ memory card and switching everything back on solved the issue before I started to panic at being unable to complete the shoot, but it did make me aware that I was shooting on a very cheap camera, which had no guarantee of reliability over a long period of shooting. I just hoped there'd been no permanent damage.

We were into the final stretch now, which involved utilising a different camera we shot the unconscious Paul POV shoots when his body is carried to the boot of the car - for the POV on Daddy I was carried by Raine and Andy as I filmed. For the POV on Junior and Mummy it was Andy, who played Daddy, being carried by myself, Raine, Alexxa and Jason.

For the final car sequence there's a tiny tiny blink and you miss it cameo from Mark. I'd always hoped to show several other bodies in the boot of the car, to suggest the family had been out on the hunt all day, but it would have been impossible to get myself, Mark and Raine all in the boot (much that I was tempted to try.) In the end Mark was squeezed into the boot with Raine next to him, but so tightly that you never really noticed the person behind him, especially as the shot isn't very long in the final film. Oops.

With all the roadside elements shot, we packed up and headed back along the road to the local pub which had been the source of the hot drinks throughout the day. Outside we got the shot of the family walking away from the car and then we all settled down for a quick drink, Alexxa changed into her conservative Mummy clothes and we got the final image of the family having a normal drink, with Mummy admonishing Junior's speed at guzzling his pop.

It was a much longer day than expected, but that's atypical for my films, and I did feel bad as I'd told Alexxa that I expected us to be finished and back in Brighton for around 3pm, instead it would be closer to 6pm by the time we were back.

So a lot of tribulations with the camera and weather, but a fulfilling day. I think the aspect I enjoyed so much about the shoot was that it felt like a real throwback to my college days, when we'd be armed with a video camera and we mostly shot from the hip, no lighting, just get a shot and move on. Obviously I was more prepared with quite an intense storyboard and shot list, but the freedom (battery permitting) of skipping from one shot to the next, without slow downs for focus pulling, tweaks to lighting, problems with sound and all that made it feel like such a liberating shoot. Working with such a miniscule camera was empowering too - being able to but the camera in places a normal camera wouldn't fit, or there'd be issues with the lens not being wide enough - was such a refreshing experience.

The rest of the film would be a piecemeal fashion unbelievably over the rest of the back to business as usual! The first bit I tackled was filming footage for the end titles where we travel the road and see the McKenzies as a family in the car. I went to the area around Devil's Dyke in Brighton and with my new suction cup camera mount put the camera low down around the wheel arch and went driving in a long circle, parked back up and moved the camera to the bonnet. Like a twonk on one such journey I hadn't hit record properly...the footage was far shakier than I'd expected, but I was able to claw a few seconds from here and there.

I then picked up Jason one day and did the same with him, this time filming him being the family dog and putting his head out of the window (thanks to the camera mount I could put the camera on the driver's window to get a good view point on this. Another day I picked up Alexxa and did a similar trip again, this time capturing her as she chatted and adjusted her make up. Andy's footage would take a long time to arrange and was finally captured further into the summer - I needed a quiet road where he could drive the car, as for insurance purposes he probably shouldn't have been, but also needed countryside out of his window. Luckily I'd found a good quiet road near Cissbury Ring in Worthing, which was a quiet residential road with houses on one side, but fields and hills leading up to Cisbury Ring on the other. Unfortunately whereas the days with Alexxa and Jason had continued to be grey and overcast the day I finally got chance to shoot Andy driving it was bright and sunny, with an obvious continuity error. Again, for the small amount of screen time this would be for I didn't feel the point in going back to get this again on another overcast day.

There were two things left to shoot - the argument between Paul and Linda and the titles. We shot the argument at Helen's flat on Brighton seafront. Raine and Helen did a little improv sequence which became more heated, leading to the violent scuffle and Helen running to the bathroom. It was a pretty easy going shoot and fun to try and get some levels of depth for the 3D, including a shot of between Raine's legs as Helen's foot comes into the foreground to kick him in the balls (though this didn't work in 3D unfortunately.)

Unbelievably the titles would end up taking me sodding MONTHS to shoot. My regular collaborator Nick Gripton had created me a set up fantastic road signs for the title sequence and I didn't really want to have them just as graphics (plus I wasn't sure how that would work when mixed with the 3D footage) so I was determined to shoot them on the camera. Much that if I had ANY budget for this film it would have been amazing to have got the titles made on something more heavy duty, but this being a Faster Production I had to use the old standby of paper and cardboard, printing the signs out large at home and putting them on thick card.

Typically the corrugated cardboard kinda seeped through, revealing the ridges of the cardboard underneath. I was also concerned that they were very matte and had the obvious paper edge lines visible, so I decided to cover them with contact paper to give them a gloss look, which worked to some degree but in other places left strange crease marks where it hadn't stuck down as well as hoped - the time between making the signs and actually shooting with them probably also affected this, so by the time I came to shoot them many had plenty of odd glossy blemishes and air bubbles. (Sigh.)

Ridiculously trying to find somewhere to shoot these, on a standard metal post sign post that wasn't on a main road which also didn't have buildings in the background proved to be more difficult than I expected. In the end I returned to where I had shot the footage of Andy driving at the foot of Cisbury Ring and attached them to a metal pole there. The first time I went to do it, duct taping the signs to the post, the wind was blowing the flimsy cardboard signs. Upon viewing the footage, I had to admit it looked awful. So I had to go back again another day when the weather was calm, which was no easy task as we hit the autumn and winter months...and unsurprisingly a resident from the other side of the road came out to ask what I was doing, confused by someone duct taping fake signs to a post and grumbling as the wind continued to move the signs about. From this I sorta had okay...ish shots of the signs, though if I remember rightly one or two were still too wobbly, so rather than go back for a third time I attached it to a post near my house and carefully tried to frame the shot to ensure no houses were in view in the background.

With this arts and crafts silliness over, the film was in the can.