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.

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Murder In Hi-Viz: The Making Of Black Spot...Part 1 - Pre-production

I'm a sucker for 3D films. I love the iconic image of people wearing the classic red/ cyan glasses in 50s cinemas. I know it's gimmicky, but I find them playful, silly but they can be immersive and thrilling.

As a kid I remember when a big deal was made about ITV showing a film in 3D for the first time. The only way to watch it was to buy the TV Times to get a pair of the red/ cyan glasses, but as we didn't get the magazine I wasn't able to appreciate it. I did of course watch a bit of the film in the hope that maybe I would be able to see something, but naturally it was just headache inducing and in all honesty to my 10 year old self it looked like a pretty boring period drama.

My next encounter with 3D was with the computer magazine Crash, which focused on my beloved ZX Spectrum. They ran a special 3D issue which meant the magazine was full of the usual fabulous Oliver Frey drawings but all printed with a 3D effect. I remember looking at one particular action packed space scene, of a spacecraft flying past leaving a trail with planetoids colliding and exploding. It had so many layers of depth and I would stare transfixed at this incredible optical illusion.

It wouldn't be until I was in my teens that I finally saw 3D in motion when on a family holiday to Florida we went to Universal Studios to the Alfred Hitchcock experience. Here I saw a scene from Dial M For Murder in 3D and again it was a spellbinding image - it felt like the bottle in the foreground was within my grasp. Then the film shifted, as the "screen" was pecked from behind, before the screen was ripped apart by a flock of birds causing chaos behind the scenes and an old style lamp on a rope swung towards the audience. Great fun.

So from these early experiences I've always held a fondness for the format and I would always be disappointed at being unable to see Flesh For Frankenstein, or Friday the 13th Part 3(D) in their original shooting format, though thankfully in the age of dvd and blu ray some of these have become available again in that format.

Then around October 2012 I was on a video games forum I frequent when I spotted a post listing a 3D camcorder for 28 pounds. As it was the run up to Christmas and my brother is always looking for suggestions for Christmas presents for myself, I suggested that as an ideal gift. The device did not have the best reviews - some dismissed it as being not much better than a toy - but as someone with dreams of owning a Fisher Price Pixelvision camcorder comparing it to a toy wasn't a bad thing! I decided to write a short narrative purely to be used as an exercise to check out the abilities of the camera.

I don't know where the idea for Black Spot came from - with the positive response to my previous horror short Creak I knew I wanted to make a 3D horror film, as that also tied in with the 50s horror/ sci fi iconography that I have such a love for. I'm not sure if I already had some shots in mind where I wanted layers of depth so was thinking of places where the landscape could feature as a backdrop, maybe I was thinking of people sat in a car. As I'd filmed in a layby around Fulking/ Poynings for my short film Stranded it's possible I had that in the back of my mind. In some ways it shares some similar compositions. Budgetary constraints were probably a massive factor in the script - I didn't want to, nor could I afford to spend much money on this film and as I was regarding it from the start as an experiment I didn't want to invest too much money in something which may simply not work in the end. I liked the idea that I may have a fun film that could stand out from other horror shorts simply by the format difference, but if it didn't wouldn't be such a big issue.

The draft for the script came together very quickly and although it wasn't high art it wasn't something that I felt like I wanted to keep tinkering with and rewriting, as the point was to crack on with production as soon as possible to test the camera out. It must have come together quite quickly as I started writing it around mid December before I even had the camera and then started to try and cast the film immediately in the period between Christmas and New Year.

With one eye on budgetary concerns I knew I'd have to cast actors within the local vicinity to keep expenses costs down, so I posted on a variety of Facebook pages looking for cast. I had a good response back, but I made the peculiar decision not to cast or audition in person - again, worried that it would become a failed experiment I didn't want to invest lots of time juggling diaries to meet people which would drag the casting process out more than I wanted to - so I was looking at casting purely from showreel or portfolio photos. Certainly not a very good way of casting and I'll hold my hand up and say I was being pretty lazy, but I also know how difficult and the longwinded the casting process can be when fitting it around my work and family commitments.

I was very straight with all of the actors upfront and sent them a link of the camera that I would be shooting on and fully explained that I had no idea if the film would work or not, so there was a level of risk (or at least a potential waste of their time if they had nothing to show for it for showreel etc after it was made) I had one bewildering exchange with an actor who only wanted to know 2 things - what was I shooting on (er, already explained that and sent the link clearly) and would the film be on seemed the script wasn't his main concern at this stage, whereas I thought that would have been the first question from any actor...

From the people on Facebook I was able to cast the lead of Paul with Raine McCormack, the role of Mummy McKenzie from Alexxa Charles, Jason Rhodes would play Junior McKenzie and after not really seeing anyone that suitable I was lucky to get Andrew Calverley, who I'd met on the set of local film House Trafalgar, to play Daddy McKenzie. Paul's wife Linda would be played by my wife's friend Helen Ball.

With the camera in my hand during the festive season I began to have a little play with it, but shooting some moving footage of my kids running around, or taking 3D photos didn't really seem to show me what (if anything) it was really capable of. Seeing the 3D capability on the tiny screen of the camera didn't give the best impression either - sometimes I could see the 3D effect, other times not.

I don't remember why, but the film just didn't come together at the start of the year - costumes and props weren't ready for starters - and I was trying to juggle also shooting another short Pick-Ups, which was proving difficult to line up with cast and crew, so it was probably as a result of that more than anything that it was more towards May when the shoot started to come together. I was planning a weekday shoot, which meant that Andy was only available to film during school holidays which also limited when I could shoot it. Disappointingly as I'd missed my winter shooting date the cold, windy, overcast day I was hoping to shoot on would most likely not happen as we went further towards summer.

There were several props I needed for the film, which with the no budget were an issue - there was a sequence where Paul comes across an old style roadside SOS phone, with a missing persons poster blowing in the wind taped to the back. Paul would have opened the box and found the phone line cut, replaced the phone and continued on his journey looking for help. However, you just didn't find the SOS boxes on  many B roads as they were all found on A roads and many of the old style orange boxes that envisaged had been replaced by modern concrete pillars. Even if I had filmed at one of them, it would have been unlikely that I would be lucky enough to have the road quiet and no doubt would draw attention to myself by attempting to film at one.

I looked into prop houses, but the nearest one which had SOS boxes were outrageously expensive and nowhere nearby. I was hoping there may have been some sort of highways agency scrapyard where I'd be able to get one, but all enquiries led nowhere. My friend and prop maker Jenny Ray suggested I try and make one - I was hoping to get hold of an old metal box with hinged lid, maybe something from a scrap merchants or army surplus, but had no joy. I was conscious that I had to place this heavy box on something that could support such a weight - a thick metal pole or something - and find a way to secure it to the ground so it looked right on camera.

All of this led nowhere, to the point where I used cardboard box as a starting point and built around it, with two thick tubes as the planned pillar for it to stand on. I stupidly spent a comparative amount of money on orange spray paint and tried to distress it with dirty water and brown paint, hoping that it would mostly be seen either from a distance, or out of focus close up (with the missing person's poster also covering one face of it) then I may get away with it being cardboard. I bought a metal handle to put on the box, picked up an old plastic phone from a charity shop and also spray painted that received orange. But my cackhanded prop making bodged the telephone receiver symbol and SOS lettering and numbers on the side, with the white spray paint running on the outside, or looking splodgy and badly defined. It didn't look good and when precariously balanced on the tubing pillar (also spray painted orange) it looked ropey and I also had no base to put the thing on.

Even though I was going into this completely no budget, I thought this looked a bit shameful and in the end decided not to use it, even though I was working on it very close up to the shooting date - I think I decided pretty much a couple of days before not to bother with it. In the end this unused prop ended up almost using the biggest chunk of the entire cost of making the film...

There was another prop which I was unable to make in time either - as I had the characters Paul and Linda I was hoping to put in a specific music reference to Paul McCartney, based on the conspiracy of him being killed and replaced by a I wanted the car that Paul walks away from at the start to have a nod to the LMW 28IF registration plate on the front of Abbey Road - but again I couldn't mock up a registration plate that would have looked plastic and flat enough to pass for the real thing, so this little inconsequential aspect didn't make it in either.

For the costumes it was a case of asking the cast what they had to suit the look I was going for - Paul was always supposed to be semi smart, but with a big of a 5 o'clock shadow implying he's slept over in his car, dressed in black shirt and trousers for that Hitchcock subtext of his moralistic side - as Raine wasn't married I was hoping to get a ring for him, or some make up to leave a pale band on his wedding finger for a reveal at the end of the film. However Raine didn't have any black trousers of his own, nor a black in the end we ended up with his own grey trousers and I wasn't able to source a cheap black shirt for the role (plus I couldn't see a black shirt/ grey trousers looking right) so in the end had to get him in a white shirt. As he had a paid role coming up he couldn't guarantee the look of his facial hair either - it was a case of I had to accept how he came...

I envisaged Junior McKenzie as wearing red braces, which Jason was able to provide, but also a tight fitted black t-shirt and trousers  Daddy McKenzie would be a bit more respectable as head of the family, in suit jacket and trousers, but with a bloodied stomach area of his white shirt - as Andy was able to supply the suit all I had to supply for his costume was another white shirt which I could get covered in blood.

For Mummy McKenzie I really wanted some sort of evening gown, something quite classy looking, which would have looked quite out of place in the daytime, but then something dressy for afterwards for the finale but I no dress stood out when my wife and I searched the charity shops. We did however come across a dress which wasn't what I had pictured, but suddenly added a great subtext - it was a short sleeved and short length dress, but with black and white almost zebra like stripes. As Mummy McKenzie was supposed to be gutted open in this dress I loved the implication of a hunted and slaughtered animal that it gave, so that's what I went with. Alexxa's additional attire that she would bring on the day for the end titles wasn't what I had hoped for, but actually worked well - it was much more conservative and plain and provided a good contrast to the look in the rest of the film. I'm pretty sure I always saw Mummy McKenzie as being blonde, so I'm not sure how I ended up having Alexxa with her hair dyed red - perhaps she was blonde when I cast her - I vaguely recall her mentioning upfront that she'd dyed it for a specific purpose but it had faded somewhat since then and whether that would be an issue, but beggar that I was I couldn't be choosy so it was a case of she came as she came.

The zebra dress needed augmenting with the gaping wounds that her body was supposed to have, so I bought a handful of a variety of latex scar wounds from ebay, not really being able to tell upfront how big the scars were. When they arrived they were a bit smaller than I had hoped and putting a few of them together in a line didn't really give the impression of a thickness of flesh cut apart. I precut holes in the dress and stuck the wounds behind the dress material, hoping that it would look like it was cut and opening to reveal the wounds. A blood mixture that I made up which turned out to be very sticky from being overcooked so poured on the wounds and also on Daddy McKenzie's shirt - hopefully Alexxa would be able to just slip on the prebloodied dress, add a touch more blood to her hands and face and we would be ready to shoot with her.

Our washing line looked a bit peculiar one day...

As I was concerned with shooting on a lonely road but with a knife wielding maniac running around a car I figured it prudent to try and draw some hilarious "official" looking aspect to the film making for the sake of the general public, so I bought some hi-viz vests from the internet for myself and any crew to wear.

I knew that I was going to shoot this film and being what it was there really wasn't much point asking Darren, who had shot Creak and was due to be the cameraman on several other shorts in pre-production, to shoot the film on a camera which had no manual controls as such. I also knew that if I had a general assistant/ stills crew member then I wouldn't be able to get anyone else in the car bar all the cast except basically I decided that the limited dialogue could easily be dubbed afterwards and removing a sound recordist would help speed up the shoot - I'd storyboarded a lot of shots and then we had to be moving as fast as possible, so not having a sound recordist was a gamble I was prepared to take.

Luckily my local film making friend Mark was up for helping out on the shoot filling in the assistant and stills photographer role, as well as a tiny acting role he'd discover on the day...

With the help of my friend Terry I was able to shoot some ridiculous test footage of myself brandishing a banana at him and running around the outside of my car parked near to our house. I'm sure the neighbours never batted an eyelid at such a sight.It still didn't give a complete insight into the capabilities of the camera and I wished I'd done more testing, in particular to see how close you could get to the camera before the 3D aspect becomes a blur, or whether zooming into the shot would allow close ups that would remain in 3D. I should have also had a look at editing this footage to give me some familiarity with the software which seemed to have come bundled in the camera as this would have saved some issues later.

With the usual cobs made the night before and a boot full of snacks and drinks for cast and crew we were ready on the 30th of May to commence shooting!

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

March / April

A failure to update each month again!  April has quickly flowed away so here I am two months later with an update on various things.

March was looking like a bit of a disappointing month – the fast food advertorial did not materialise and to date still hasn’t – my friend who owns the business has been too busy to script it and the person he had in mind to present the video is now unavailable, so he’s needing to find someone else.
I did chase another lead with the hope of doing a promotional video for a friend who runs a Volkswagon restoration firm but he felt a video wasn’t for him at this stage. I’ve also attended two Worthing based networking nights – one aimed at local businesses, one aimed at people who work from home, perhaps run their own business from home so are kinda isolated as a result – to try and drum up some business and make people aware of me. It’s still very early days on that front but it’s good to get out and meet these people in case they can help further down the line with the narrative film work.

My plan to have one sideline video a month is unfortunately not coming to fruition, but considering how busy I’ve been with other things it’s probably for the best.

On some of the films March continued to be a frustrating month – Knock Knock has still had no further filming done due to paid work commitments from my camera man – he can be offered a job the night before, or equally can have a job cancelled the night before – which has made any long term planning with respect to the tenants of the location pretty much impossible. Still, as the weather is now a bit better I’m hoping we can at least get the forest sequence shot…

(For some reason my updates remind me of a recurring line in Spike Milligan’s Transports Of Delight book that my dad had when I was a kid – “Meanwhile, in Ireland, nothing was happening.”)

Goodnight, Halloween has also had no new developments as such – I saw my make up/ FX guy around early April and he said that the costume should be ready for the end of April, so as I write this during the last week of April I’m hoping for some news on that front. Frustratingly I’ve seen some horror sites sharing a film which seems to use Skype as the basis for a horror film…I haven’t looked completely into it, but a bit gutted that Goodnight, Halloween could look a bit copycat by the time it is finished – annoying as it’s been 7 years in the making. Ironically I recently saw the third Hunger Games film and the dvd menu with the Pan Am/ Capital logo and the President addressing the viewer felt very close to a KRONA broadcast from the film…again, a shame if it’s perceived as copying what’s already out there.

I’ve also had a look at the footage as it was hoped we could cut the KRONA speech from the middle of the film and place it at the beginning to set the mood and to also avoid a sequence where the film grinds to a halt, but due to the layering of elements on the desktop footage this isn’t going to be possible. The elements are now somewhere on Nick’s (my animator/ designer) archived hard drives in Derby and as he is in South America it’s going to be impossible to reconstruct this properly, so it looks like the speech will have to remain in the middle of the film.

Funnily enough at a meeting regarding another project I’m involved in I did get talking about Goodnight, Halloween and explained the storyline etc and it was great to see a reaction from people who knew nothing about it – they seemed to find the story and the world really exciting, which has given me a new boost of confidence for when the piece is finally finished. I still very much believe in the potential of the world as a feature film and possible franchise in many media aspects….if only I could get the short done!

Following Mik’s departure from Pick-Ups I was luckily able to get the same sound designer on board who agreed to work on Goodnight, Halloween about 3 years ago back when I was hoping it was close to completion (wonder if the same can be said for the musician I was hoping to commission for Goodnight, Halloween who now seems to be getting a bit of Hollywood work so doubtful that avenue is still open to me, sadly) We seemed to have some confusion over some things in Dropbox folders, missing files and me completely and utterly misunderstanding how she wants a complete OMF file to start working from, nevermind issues with my Mac and it’s excruciatingly slow and temperamental internet connection when it comes to uploads and downloads. We lost some time on that but she sent me an initial version which still seemed to be using the camera sound as opposed to the sound recorded separately. I also had trouble getting back over to my cameraman to grade the film.

I have a bit of a ticking deadline as there’s a local film competition – South Shorts – which closes on the 1st of May. Last year I submitted Stranded to the festival and got knocked back but this year I really think Pcik-Ups would play well being that a) it’s short  and b) it’s kinda funny. The sound designer thinks she can get a version of the sound to submit, even if it’s not THE final sound so it looks like it’s dependent on my cameraman’s workload this week. Eeek, it all seems very close to the wire as usual. There are also more festival deadlines popping up and there’s part of me that still wants to give this a chance at the festivals before unlocking it on the internet.

The “piece” for the cult actor has taken longer than expected but as I write this I have a dvd to post to him which is hopefully the final version.  When I last got back in touch with him he said he wanted to add a new voice over to the opening of the film to set the scene. As I now had my own sound recording equipment I offered to go back to his flat to record this. He seemed in fine spirits, grateful for my time and very kindly gave me a bottle of wine (his favourite) for all my work on this piece for him (it’s been waiting at home and will be opened as soon as he agrees the piece is complete.) We recorded the opening. I “fixed” his netbook (don’t ask) then got on my way for another arrangement…several hours later I get a text saying that he’s missed a line and is there any chance I can come back and do it? Luckily I was still in the vicinity but when I got there I realised that he’d already said it! While I was seeing him I did also mention an idea for a script I had for him in mind…I briefly mentioned the premise but couldn’t really tell how he felt about it…

With the additional narration I was able to send him another version with all other amendments he’d requested before Easter, but then I heard nothing again. Several weeks went by and still nothing. I chased up my contact for him who said he was apparently having issues with his Blackberry sending texts and would get in touch with me. Still nothing. Finally I called him and we went through the final final changes – one thing he wanted removing was the Faster Productions credit, as he was afraid it made it look as if some professional outfit were involved in it so that had to go. Some changes I could make, some due  to the way it was shot I couldn’t. I did the final amendments, realised there were some I still couldn’t make, waited for his response and finally exported out a hi-res version which took all night…but fingers crossed that’s the end of this project.

(As an aside to all of this, I was also slightly privy to some internet madness involving his Facebook page, the woman who runs it, political affiliation accusations, loss of earnings and as a result the involvement of police and lawyers – all very worrying and following the strange legal email I had  back in November with regard to working with him and the nature of the piece it has shifted my outlook on the internet.)

Well, it’s the end of this project, but the idea for the feature film still stayed with me. I also got this thought it my head that it seemed sad he wasn’t getting any work anymore, when similar actors of his era (Christopher Lee for example) have had a complete renaissance in their “twilight” years – for Lee, from the terrible Funny Man in the mid 90s to two of the biggest film franchises of all time – quite a comeback. But I knew I didn’t have the knowledge of the world, or the time, to write this script…

So I got in touch with Calie, a writer friend of my wife who we hadn’t seen for a few years – she’s also local, which is a good thing, and pitched the film to her – for some reason I thought she’d be the person for the job – she writes for a living in a press department and having read some of her blog pieces in the past she has a definite way with words. With the idea only ever existing in my head it seemed really good to get it written down and once it was out I was surprised how many aspects seemed to be there already.

Luckily Calie loved the idea and jumped straight in – within a few days I had a 35 page version of the film already. As I’d always planned it to be a feature I was worried that perhaps there wasn’t enough meat to justify a longer running time, but a few weeks later Calie came back with another draft, this time around 75 pages which felt very strong. It’s been strange being on the other side of the fence from a writing point of view, looking at issues, clarifications, suggestions so much so that I had 6 pages of notes for this draft, but it helped spark off other ideas and solutions and so far it’s been a really rewarding collaboration.

I was always worried a bit about the premise and any accusations which could befall the script, especially if being written by a man, so having Calie on board has legitimised certain aspects and she also came up with a brilliant solution to the ending, which in my typical fashion ended up being a bit of a dark finale (only way out – THEY ALL DIE) but she managed to turn something negative into a positive. I don’t know if it’s a shift too far, we’ll have to see when we offer it out to people to read.
She’s also written this absolutely amazing monologue piece that the actor tries to deliver in the opening – it was there in her 35 page draft and I was holding back the tears at how bloody fantastic it was – I could hear the cult actor saying it and most of all I really wanted to  capture him saying it. In the 75 page draft  there’s the full length monologue at the end and it’s just wonderful, I’m so desperate to make this film sharpish for him to deliver these lines, almost as a fuck you to the world at this fantastic talent that we’ve been missing out on for all these years. It feels like a swansong – I don’t want it to be his swansong but with his age and health I feel an urgency to get it made as soon as possible.

So assuming he does want to play the role, I’m mulling over crowdfunding – he’s got a fair few fans around the world and quite a lot on Facebook who seem particularly enthusiastic, who would hopefully support it and spread the word….including an odd celebrity fan….but when discussing the project with my cameraman he suggested I try and go the BFI/ Lottery funding route as it’s very much an art house drama – it’s a tempting route which assuming I can put a package together I will look at, but also worry their system could be very slow to work through, whereas crowdfunding could provide a much quicker route to screen.

So that’s all very exciting, but just as March was drawing to a close and it seemed that nothing much was happening on some things, I got an email. Ironically I’d just been thinking about the funding application that day, wondering when I would hear back and being realistic about the chances of a splatstick Muppet-esque  horror short being funded.

Amazingly. Adur and Worthing Trust to do want to fund the short, so I have got the £500 to cover the material costs for the puppets!

My first funded film!


So it’s been action stations as I’m already aware of the end of year deadline, as well as my personal deadline to try and have it finished for the end of October for Halloween (I keep worrying I’ve bitten off more than I can chew with this and it’s most likely I will need those extra months to make it work)

Snore is off to a positive start already – I’ve got a few Worthing creative on board with the film, or if they aren’t they’re all keen to help out in whatever way they can. I’ve got Charlotte, a fantastic puppet maker who is on the prop making course at Northbrook College who is working on the designs and construction of the puppets and also has been a good sounding board to talk through the proposed way of making the film. I’ve also got Garry, a local illustrator from the Jumpstart Initiative, who has also been working on the designs for the puppets  - they’re already almost finalised and look fantastic, I can’t wait to see them “in the (foam) flesh” and bring them to life. Garry’s design for the landlord is so great (and sadly he’s so barely seen in the film) it’s set off ideas of a side film involving just the landlord and his lonely life…

We’re also ambitiously looking at shooting two different versions – the bloody, messy version that I hope will work at horror festivals, but we’ve also decided to see if we can do a family friendly version, as the violence isn’t really anything worse than a Tom and Jerry cartoon so it will be amazing if we manage to achieve that and broaden the audience.

I also had a plan of seeing if we can get a local(ish) Hammer scream queen on board to voice the female lead role – Garry has been designing the puppet with her look in mind in the hope that it will sway her to get involved – if she does that would be another strong element for approaching the horror crowd.

I’ve admittedly been procrastinationg about storyboarding the rest of the film – probably because the prospect of storyboarding all of this action seems so immense – but I finally made a start on it again the other night. It did make me wonder if I’d bitten off more than I can chew with this film, but as my wife hopefully pointed out, one change in a storyboard can take just a moment to actually film. Once the storyboard is complete I’ll be creating an animatic and using that as a bit of a pitch to the actress )oddly, as I started the storyboard prior to the designs being done the storyboard characters don’t resemble the film at all, there are even costume differences from the designs that I’m keen to write into the script)

(Admittedly my procrastinating didn’t help by avoiding storyboarding it by quickly creating an animatic for a martial arts trailer to be potentially shot on Worthing sea front for another project I’m sorta involved in…maybe shooting that one evening in May which might be a fun showreel piece too…also gives me chance to try out some new kit I’ve bought which includes a metre long slider.)

It looks like we may need to build a set to film in, which is worrying as we probably won’t have the material costs to cover that and I’ve no idea where we can get a central space for free where we can build this set, leave it standing and come back to shoot in it. That’s something I still need to look into. On the design front I also need to get the creature sorted quickly too – I had some great designs from the co-writer’s husband and my friend for the application process, but nothing else since, and despite pitching it out to Worthing creatives I’ve heard nothing back.

I do worry this is a stupidly ambitious film, with puppets, creatures, green screen, possible stop motion but I’m also really excited about seeing it come together on the screen and the collaboration process with Garry and Charlotte so far has been really fun. If only I could be paid to do something like this all day!

Funnily enough, even though there’s not been much in the way of shooting, looking back at these two months it looks like I’ve been massively busy after all.

Monday, 2 March 2015

January/ February

As ever, plans to keep this blog updated never seem to happen.

I was hoping to try and do a monthly update at the end of each month this year, but that obviously didn't happen at the end of January, so here I am at the start of March looking back on the first two months of the year.

The first two months of 2015 have been equally rewarding and frustrating - in January I shot a commission for Worthing artist Jessica Gill - I randomly met her before Christmas in the fabulous pop up bar "Bar Zaar" on Worthing seafront above Coast cafe and near to the East Beach Studios where Jess has her workshop and sells her creations.

She needed a video making for her crowdfunding campaign, which was to raise money to create an interactive art installation on Worthing seabed - in effect a circular table and bench which would be covered up by and revealed by the shifting tide. I loved the idea of something in the sea slowly revealing itself, the air of mystery it would give to anyone who wasn't aware what it was and why it was there....there are also some incredible bronze heads in Worthing town centre near the Laura Ashley shop, which I had heard were originally intended to be placed on the seabed and would have been revealed by the tide. As these bald heads are imposing and enigmatic it would have been incredible to see the tide slowly reveal the top of the head, then the brow, the eyes then the rest of the face...

So I offered to make this video for her at a reduced initial rate, as I wanted to do it to help get the ball rolling on doing promo/ corporate videos but especially for local businesses, artists etc. Luckily over Christmas thanks to my wife, family and friends putting some money in a pot (along with selling some vinyl on Discogs) I was able to buy a Canon 70D, a digital recorder, microphone and some other small bells and whistles with which to start this video.

After some discussions with other people, Jess decided that she wanted the video to be in the style of a news feature, like something you'd get on the local news - a bit of q and a, talking head, some manufacturing footage, shots of the seafront, maybe some artist impressions or CG mockups of what it would look like - which I was happy with, as it's a pretty formulaic template and so easy to follow - being my first production of this style and knowing I'd be the cameraman etc I wanted it to be as simple and clear as possible.

There was some back and forth over who was going to be asking her the questions and she wanted to shoot it at low tide, which meant we were restricted on when we could shoot. Eventually we shot on the Lido boardwalk above the beach, firstly shooting with David Sumner from the Worthing Society, who was to appear as a talking head offering the society's support, then we did Jess' answers, even though we had no official interviewer, so the plan was to shoot these at a later point.

Following this there was an hour spent at the manufacturing plant in Lymington, which felt quite fraught - I had no idea what to expect but there was some pouring of metal happening that I had to race to try and capture, which involved me fighting back and forth with aperture and ISO to get the footage, very run and gun and handheld...made me realise I needed a monopod for such circumstances! Nonetheless, I managed to get a good overview of aspects of the manufacturing process and towards the end I also got some footage of molten white hot metal being poured, which looked good, especially the fierce red glow when they first opened the small furnace. There was an interview with one of the heads of the company who Jess had been dealing with and then we were done.

Jess decided she wanted to reshoot her interview footage as she felt she'd missed some important details, so we attempted a rescheduled reshoot which again was difficult due to weather and tidal conditions. One particular day was scrapped but I still used the time to get some b-roll footage of the seafront with the tide out - even if it didn't all get used it felt like good footage to have, possibly for another short which I'd written over Christmas ("Early Birds") which I thought would have been my first test with the camera.

We then managed to do the interview on a very windy day, which had me concerned about the sound - it was also bitterly cold and uncomfortable by the end of the shoot, with my shaking fingers barely able to press the touch screen of the camera. Afterwards we scuttled off to the Lido cafe for a coffee before Alan Presencer, a local art expert, came to do a small talking head piece.

Plans for further talking heads of random members of the public were scrapped for the time being and I got to work editing it. The sound was an issue but with the help of Audacity I managed to remove some of the noise without it sounding too weird (noise removal software seems to create a strange autotune/ mechanical underwater effect if not fine tuned, which was beyond my ability but seemed to do the trick enough.)

I'd hoped to have used some of the 3D pdf which showed the cad drawings of the installation which were rotatable and zoomable - I'd hoped to use some of the seafront footage I'd got to show the installation from various viewpoints of the beach, but in the end I wasn't able to do that. I was able to crudely add the artist's impression of the table over a shot of the beach and I was pleased that the pier in the background of my shot pretty much lined up with the same angle of the pier in the artist's impression.

I used some royalty free music from which seemed to fit well. Jess had written "Decide Before The Tide' in the sand at the end of the last shoot - unplanned and I filmed this and it seemed to fit as the ending for the piece as a nice coda.

Jess was happy with the finished video and within a week it had received over 300 views on Youtube, so fingers crossed it helps her achieve her fundraising target. Myself and film making friend Mark Tew, who helped with the video, pitched to Jess a documentary covering the making of the installation should it go ahead, so if she gets the money that's another project for the future.

All in all, as my first commission as such (although I guess I did do a video for the RSPCA but that was over 8 years ago) I'm pleased with how it came out and Jess' positive response is a real confidence boost. The previous weekend I was back in the bar where I met Jess before Christmas, where Tom (another local artist and who runs the bar) gave his approval to the video, where he said there was a real art and eye to some of the footage, especially the manufacturing sequence, which again is a boost and suggests I have got the skills to do this! Phew!

Here's the finished video...

I was hoping to try and have such a project every month so by the end of the year I've built up a good showreel of a variety of work, but unsurprisingly February has come and gone swiftly with no such project. However, I have hopefully got a project lined up for March which is for a Brighton fast food company who want something bright, positive and very fast - their reference points are Man Vs Food and the Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives so it should be a definite contrast to the Decide Before The Tide video. There are a few other leads I need to instigate, but off of the back of the February Worthing Creative Entertainment Movement meeting there's a chance I maybe involved in something for the council in the middle of the year, which would be a fantastic opportunity to cover for this aspect of my film making.

Back on the usual film shenanigans, things have been slower. The post production on Pick-Ups hit several bumps - I'd been very very keen to try and get the film finished for the end of January, then that became apparent there wasn't much chance of it happening. I signed off on the score, but sadly Mik, the sound designer and composer, told me he had an issue with the dialogue we'd recorded and that there was a strange knocking sound across the files, as well as an issue with the fish tank in the background of the sound. I'd also re-recorded the sound for one small but important line of dialogue for the film (in fact THE last line of the film) but he said my recording sounded weird...guess it was in a different flat, different microphone and I don't have the skills to match it up.

As a result of all of this Mik bowed out as the sound designer (an ever recurring problem for me - hmm, perhaps I should look into that) so I quickly did my best to try and find a replacement. After a few dead ends of some composers getting in touch despite me clearly stating that the score was spoken for I've hopefully got a replacement on board, ironically a sound designer who I asked to be involved with Goodnight, Halloween about 3 years ago, but as that's never come to be finished we never got to work together. Fingers crossed with her now on board the film can get moving and, who knows, could be finished for the end of the month...

Goodnight, Halloween is still....somewhere....luckily my make up/ SFX artist is now up and running again after a car accident though it's taken some time for us to get together to discuss the project, but having now had that meeting I'm hoping he will be able to get together the full pumpkin head latex mask and costume for a mid April date ready for filming in hopefully May.

Knock Knock...well, I knew that January into February was a bit of a no go as my lead actress has fantastically been in a West End play in London (bizarrely with Katie Price's ex-husband in an X-Factor piss take) and I'm hoping to be getting back on with it next week, though worryingly news of access from the location has been a bit difficult to confirm...and after a blip with communication at the end of last year I'm very worried I'm running out of favour with the flatmates, despite my best efforts to keep them happy.

Lastly, I've submitted a film for a small grant - it's only £500, but with it I can pay for some much needed props and costumes that without would mean I couldn't do the short film as intended. It's a short splatstick horror called Snore, one which I've had rolling around my head for a few years and which I'd hoped local writer/ actor friend Simon Messingham was going to have a go at, but due to his own massive commitments it never happened. Luckily I met a local horror author and fanatic Gaby Robinson-Wright at a Worthing creatives exhibition in September, so she has come on board to co-write this and hopefully another short. At the very last minute I managed to get the submission form, a 2nd draft of the script, some creature concept art courtesy of Gaby's husband and my good friend Richard May and my ever rudimentary storyboard as a PDF which covers up to the appearance of the creature. I was hoping to submit a small animatic of the same sequence, but as I couldn't find anyone at short notice to do the voices of the characters I instead tried using some free speech synthesizer software which, unsurprisingly, sounded flat and very odd...and in all honesty the lack of time crashed the animatic idea too, but I will look at completing the storyboard and animatic ready for if the funding does come through and if it doesn't, well, the film is prepped and ready to go, I'd just need to find the cash to cover the sorta unique approach I've got for the film.

So the next month is potentially busy with hopefully more filming on Knock Knock and maybe the fast food video shoot towards the end of the month...and as I write this I've been waiting on footage rendering from my shoot with a cult actor from last August, a project which ground to a halt around November time and which I haven't been allowed to speak about...I wasn't entirely sure if the project was dead in the water but after re-communicating with the actor I'm hopefully having this project boxed off and finished in the coming weeks. Somewhere amongst this I want to also start writing the other short for myself and Gaby to work on - another horror/ comedy-ish film set in a barbers which I think could have some League Of Gentlemen type peculiarity to it.

Thursday, 12 February 2015

RIP Steve Strange...soundtracking my childhood and forever more

I wouldn't normally post something like this on here. I'm barely posting anything as it is. But I am very sad about the news about Steve Strange, the singer and frontman for the band Visage. I have such scattered but fond memories of the music of Visage across my life and I've ended up in a bit of a reminisce.
I remember seeing Fade To Grey performed on a Saturday morning kids show, either performed or some part of the video shown....then my mum's hairdresser taped us the album which I remember listening to so much at a very young age. My brother got The Anvil on vinyl but I never really remembered that much about it.
I have a particular memory of listening to that first album so much especially in 1985 when I was in my 2nd year of juniors at primary school...lying on the lounge floor in the early winter dark, small lamp on top of the TV on, doing a topic book on COMPUTERS and recreating pictures of ZX Spectrum games (for some reason doing a wobbly hand drawn picture of the isometic game Fairlight comes to mind)
About a year later, in my odd little Cubs/ Scouts diary that I got the previous Christmas there was one entry which went on about making a compilation tape of singles and tracks and I was particularly buzzing from Night Train.
Probably around 86/ 87 my parents got me a Visage VHS video comp (think it was the Woolworths own brand of retail VHS, Channel 5 - I had Escape From New York on the same label) which I absolutely watched to death - The Steps felt like some strange abstract apocalyptic mix of the end of the world meets a fashion show...then there were tracks we'd never come across, the Pleasure Boys with The Wild One/ borderline gay bikers black and white video but such a fabulous pompous driving track...then basically a jolly for Steve Strange going to Egypt, dancing on top of pyramids and polishing a bald man's head in an airport (not a euphemism) before swanning off to Africa. Record companies in the 80s, eh? Money to burn...I must have watched this VHS endlessly - oddly, the opening of the video was all a bit mangled, so it was about 20 years later when Universal re-released the comp on DVD that I was able to see the opening 20 seconds clearly.
The band always remained a mystery - who was Rusty Egan? Was it the strange peroxide blonde woman in some of the early videos? It would only be after the rise of the internet that I would finally get the answers.
I finally got a proper vinyl copy of the debut album around this time and found the front cover, almost nostalgic 30s/ 40s with a cold modernism baffling and wondered whether it was the correct album. I also got a singles comp, which has the Pleasure Boys on it and the first time I heard In The Year 2525. Visage's version unsurprisingly is better than Ian Brown's.
With no idea of how many records they'd done, I'd ask my parents to get me any albums when they were in Nottingham and they got me Beat Boy from Selectadisc (where I would end up working nearly 10 years later) at a very knocked down price apparently. I listened to it so much.
By this time the band was gone and Steve Strange had started Strangelove - I regret missing out getting this on an ebay auction several years ago, as I think it was quite hard to get at the time....recall my dad tracked it down in Tower Records in London for my brother.
Then I guess it went quiet after that peak, I would go back to them over the years, aware that sometimes they sounded a bit naff and a bit dated, but strangely some aspects and tracks and have gone full circle and sound better now than they did in the 90s.
Around the time I was at Selectadisc I realised that the first album was pretty much a supergroup, with Barry Adamson and John McGeoch involved in it, which seemed to give it a bit more credibility to my mind.
After I really got into LCD Soundsystem I genuinely felt that Visage's debut album was the equivalent of that album but 20 years earlier. I still sorta stand by that, but I probably couldn't explain why. I still adore the bizarre Moon Over Moscow and Visa-Age is an abrasive cold electronic classic full of the romance of travel.
A couple of years ago I watched the online spat between Steve Strange and Rusty Egan (who was definitely not a peroxide blonde woman) over the ownership of the name, which all seemed very sad.
I'm so glad I got to see Visage play two years ago - they weren't amazing (ironically I thought the instrumentals were some of the best bits they did) but I was so glad I got to see them. I got to meet Steve briefly during one of the instrumentals when he ran over to the signing table and I got my records signed - some chap near to me said that Beat Boy was apparently rare now, ironic that it was bargain bin at Selectadisc. I gave Steve a copy of my short film The Crunch, as I'd had his Fade To Grey make up on a mood board for my friend and make up artist Debbie (also a big Visage fan) when we were designing the look of the film - Steve looked at it, puzzled, then sort of threw it back at me, until I told him it was a gift, at which point he seemed enamored and grateful for it, hugging it and being over the top grateful. I got some pictures with him, he ran back on stage with my film sticking out of his pocket for a completely knackered version of Fade To Grey - he was so under the weather the audience basically had to sing the song for him. It doesn't sound like a great show, but for me it was.
And if nothing else, Steve Strange definitely remains cool for pissing Midge Ure off for wanting to ride a camel through New York's 5th avenue to promote The Anvil...which ironically inspired the lyrics to a breathy tranny disco-go-go meets Spagna song my friend Jim and I recorded one night on my Mac.
RIP Steve.
Here's the photo of me, him and The Crunch dvd...