Thursday, 19 November 2009
Monday, 28 September 2009
Sunday, 6 September 2009
It's been a hectic few weeks of film stuff and various things in my personal life, the midpoint of which seemed to be this weekend, when we finally shot the final footage for my short film Stranded, closing a chapter on a very difficult film to shoot, one which at times I was tempted to abandon.
The run up to this weekend was as always spent checking the weather courtesy of www.metcheck.com, which is a godsend as it allows you to check pretty far in advance, though in all honesty no weatherman would have probably been able to predict the weather in the last week - from the window I look out on as I write this I've seen blazing sun during the middle of the heaviest downpour, grey derelict skies which belong more in late November than early September and howling winds. All in the space of an hour.
So it was with some trepidation that I approached this weekend, but as long as the weather wasn't raining, that was a green light to me.
I don't know what to say about the shoot - half of it was a great joy, the other half was difficult, stressful and pretty miserable for me.
The shoot started really well despite some minor issues - Anthony, the DOP, had forgotten his clapper so we had to use a quick makeshift chalk one which he had with him. He'd also accidentally left the tapes at home, but luckily had one with 40 minutes of running time left on it which we could use to make a start while Jenny, his partner, quickly whizzed back to the house in the car.
It was taking longer than I'd realised, which wasn't down to the usual technical fluffs, actors' fluffs or general problems in the background, as before I knew it we'd passed midday. In some ways, it was one of the easiest shoots I'd done - the actors were absolutely brilliant - they knew their lines inside out and consistently delivered good performances, which made my life much easier. At times, I felt like a bit of a fifth wheel as there wasn't that much direction I felt I needed to add. The actress, Jan Hargreaves, paid me a nice complement, saying that it doesn't need much direction because the dialogue was written so well and it flowed in its own way.
As a crew, we were all comfortable with each other now, being that this was the for some people the 7th day shoot we'd done together and we were working well together as always, which again Jan observed, expressing that we were a good unit together.
There was a scene in the script which called for the character of Dugald to go and buy ice creams from an ice cream van. I had no idea if we'd be able to find an ice cream van, or how we'd be able to get one for the shoot, and was expecting to strangely never actually show the van. Luckily, Debbie, my friend and make up artist, knows anyone and everyone and anything...she's connected to so many people and had a friend who owned an ice cream van. Sharon pulled up at 1pm, while we were in the middle of shooting the second scene, but had to leave at 2pm, which left us 25 minutes to get 4 shots at the van.
Luckily we managed to get them and then at 2pm broke for dinner. While eating our dinner, Anthony made the point that we should shoot the last scene next, while it was still bright and sunny. His main reason for raising this was we'd already shot some of the last scene back in late May, where Dugald scuffles with the character Chad, resulting in ice cream being shoved in Dugald's face. I was convinced we'd be okay.
I was wrong. We started back to work, shooting the end of the next scene first, as we'd have to move down to the shore for the beginning of the scene. Already clouds were rolling in, killing the bright blazing sunlight we'd been shooting in up until this point - a light which matched the majority of the rest of the entire film. Not only did the lack of sunlight create lighting issues, but the temperature dropped on the beach and the wind picked up speed, creating difficult and uncomfortable shooting conditions. The wind created not only problems for sound, but also in making ourselves heard, which did not help to keep the lines of communication open when people are getting cold, tired and irritable.
We then had to change the script around, as it called for Gwyneth (played by Jan) to kick around in the shoreline of the sea, splashing water around. The sea was extremely choppy and far too violent to attempt to do this and down on the shoreline the wind was ten times stronger than where we were further up the beach. I was also concerned for Jan's health throughout the whole shoot - she'd recently been suffering from a chest infection, which at one point had also put doubt on the viability of shooting and still would suffer from a coughing fit. We all did our best to ensure that she was comfortable and kept as warm as possible, removing her coat only when we were ready to roll and the shot called for it. Asking her to splash around in the water in her condition was a complete no-no.
Instead, the actor's made the suggestion of Gwyneth simply revelling in the sea air and dancing on the spot, which seemed a fine idea though as I write this, I realise it doesn't make any sense as she previously stated her intentions to go for a paddle...but as she's playing a woman suffering from dementia, maybe that gives me an artistic get out of jail card! The two shots of this sequence seemed especially difficult with the conditions and as we were pretending that we were stood at the sea's edge, it required some fudging of eyeline and positions, which Jan struggled to grasp (as did I - whenever Anthony does things like that, I have faith in him that he knows it will cut together in a logical geography.)
This left the final sequence to shoot and a tough call to make. Anthony felt it was pretty much worthless to carry on shooting, as any footage we shot just would not match the Chad footage shot several months ago. Gus, one of the assistants on the production and a fellow film making friend, felt that we should carry on regardless. I was concerned for Jan, worried that she was having an attitude of not wanting to let the side down, even though she may have been in a worse way than we thought. Someone pointed out that if she said was up for continuing filming, then it was her who had made that decision.
Anthony suggested some camera angles we could attempt to shoot from in an attempt to mask the weather change, but it would mostly have to be close ups. I didn't know what to do - I really wished someone else could have made a decision for me. The other thoughts which were at the forefront of my mind were when or if I'd be able to reschedule for, if at all. The prospect of still not having this film in the can this year was demoralising and, frankly, upsetting, as I'd found the organisation of the film to be a logistical nightmare.
In the end, we decided to go for it. We struggled through with the remaining dialogue, including the climatic dialogue between Dugald and Gwyneth, which was touchingly performed by both of the actors, and another difficult tense moment where we were all struggling to make ourselves heard on how best to do a shot to match the previous Chad footage, but we finished Jan's shots and filmed the last shot of this storyline as she walked back to the car to get warm.
Which left us to do "the money shot", where Dugald has an ice cream shoved in his face in a scuffle with Chad. Two shots were done here, a mid to close up and then the final close up of Dugald's face as the ice cream is shoved in. I think we were all surprised by how much the ice cream splattered on Courtney's face and gave unfortunate concerns to yet more continuity errors for the climatic dialogue already shot. In retrospect, I'm also concerned we've shot the mid to close up on the wrong side of the Chad shemp's shoulders. Continuity errors on continuity errors.
But it was done. In a way, the final shot of the shoot summed up most of the making of this film - a mess. This morning I had a terrible post shoot comedown, not knowing if any of the last scene would work. I've got absolute faith in the footage before the weather turned, but who knows how the overcast footage will look when slotted in between the sunnier footage of the other already edited sequences. As the sort of climax to events, I'm not sure if it will work.
The shoot for Stranded seemed to match the title of the film - at times it felt completely stuck. I wrote the film around August 2006, always with a view that alongside The Crunch it would be my return to film making. After shooting The Crunch in March 2007, I intended to get Stranded in the can before the end of the year. Casting took place frenetically over August and into September, in the hope of shooting in October before British summertime ended. This idea was quashed when the actor playing Chad informed me he wasn't available for that week in October, so that resulted in the production shutting up shop until the following spring.
Around June last year we shot the first day, which was the storyline covering Chad and his brother on the beach. The next day we were scheduled to shoot the Lorna and Amelia storyline, but we got to the location, managed one shot of Chad before the heavens opened and the shoot was abandoned. Ironically around this time my original Dugald informed he was unavailable for some time, which resorted in me taking the decision to recast him with Courtney, who we shot with this weekend, meaning in the end the recast hadn't been necessary (though in a way, I'm glad events did turn out this way, as Courtney was a much better match for the role.) We didn't manage to get together again until early August, when we finally got the Lorna and Amelia storyline in the can, but with my wedding approaching I had to take the decision to abandon shooting for the rest of the year, putting the film back yet again to the following spring.
This year logistical problems reared their head, making it impossible for all 3 actors to be available on the same date, resorting in us taking the unfortunate decision to shoot the Chad elements of the final storyline on their own, crossing our fingers tightly that it would cut together. Following this, with the final shoot set to be just two weeks away, my original Gwyneth told me that she had a role in a potential long term play...and that her "creative juices" for my film had long run dry - galling, but understandable as she'd been cast in the film for over 18 months and had yet to shoot her scenes, but damning with just two weeks notice before shooting.
Efforts to recast Gwyneth in the two week timeframe were fruitless and realistically would have been impossible. Luckily Jan came on board thanks to Courtney's recommendation. But then the availability of crew put the film back to early September.
Not only this, but we've had issues with bad sound on the initial shooting day due to issues with mics. We've also had to use creative editing to get around some problems with a performance, which feels like it has compromised the film, taking it further away from what it was intended to be.
I hope Terry and I can make the film work in the edit. I'm aware that music will play a key factor in signposting our emotions when watching a film like this, so that really will be pivotal. It may have to fill in some of the blanks in the way I've been forced to tell the story. After the struggle it feels like I've been through to finish this film, I just hope it's worth it and something that actually moves an audience comes out of it all.
Wednesday, 12 August 2009
Monday, 20 July 2009
I met up with a film making friend last week, who as ever is bashing his head against a brick wall with frustration at how slow things move. He's made a big effort to try and make links with actors groups in his area, from colleges with performing arts courses to amateur dramatics groups, but doesn't seem to be getting much of a response back.
He made the joke about using Lego men or something else instead, as they won't let him down or have a busy schedule that he would have to film around, which led us on to the use of puppets.
I used a puppet in my feature film, Gettin' Some, which does sound out of place in a slice of life/ grounded in reality film. The puppet was originally made for a scene where Alex, the female lead, goes on a date with a guy called Jason, who saw himself as a real Liam Gallagher geezer. Throughout the date Alex would imagine Jason literally as a muppet, spouting his geezer speak.
The character of Jason was set to reappear later in the film in a few scenes, where it's revealed he's a friend of the second group of friends the film follows. But the actor who played Jason let us down - he failed to turn up for a big shoot and when I spoke to him he didn't seem too concerned about leaving us in the shit. It was the equivalent of getting a don'tgiveafuck shrug down a telephone line...oddly in keeping with the character he played.
We thought of some ideas, I even considered doing the role then reshooting his footage from the date, before we struck on the brilliant idea of recasting the actor with the muppet - we already had the date footage, nothing else had yet been shot that involved the character and we could easily redub the muppet dialogue, removing the actor who let us down from the entire production.
The muppet was a hit during the shoot - everyone thought it was hilarious and the actors brilliantly played it completely straight. I find this odd stroke of misfortune, or luck (depending on your perspective) one of the best aspects of the final film.
Which led me on to telling my friend about a film I saw at Movie Bar, before I took over the running of the night. The Mathematician is a film by Nathan Gregg and, as far as I remember, seemed to follow a scholar who is struggling with a math's problem and his life goes off the rails.
I thought it was amazing. And its online here:
The first half of the film was told entirely with cuddly toys and puppets and as a result, I thought it was much more emotive. It would have taken a really good acting performance to create the same kind of empathy and pathos towards the lead character, but having a cuddly toy, who you're more likely to find "cute", in a way creates a shortcut to empathy...the "arrrrrr" factor.
Funnily enough, comparing the first half (with the cuddly toy) to the second half (with the human actor) it feels the 2nd half isn't as successful to me. I think we suddenly bring our own baggage to the table. Do I like the look of the actor? Does he look irritating? Do I believe his pain and struggle? Does he look like he needs a slap in the face? Compare this to using the cuddly toy, close up of its face, bit of sad music - hey presto, I'm on the cuddly toy's side!
Remembering this film ties in nicely with my first viewing of Daft Punk's Electroma, which I finally got to see this weekend. Several friends had raved about it and I'd finally got around to picking up a copy of it this week - the dvd package is very swish, though I wished I hadn't looked at the pictures in the book before viewing the film.
I'm a big Daft Punk fan, though as their music isn't featured in the film, you don't need to be.
There isn't much to the film in terms of storyline, but the way I interpreted it was of two robots who don't want to be just robots and be like the mass majority - they find a way to make themselves stand out, which horrifically backfires and then finally lose their desire to continue existing.
I can understand criticisms of the film being boring, of long pieces where nothing much happens. The opening, where the robots drive through the desert seems to go on for a very long time - nothing much happens until they overtake a tractor, driven by a robot, which reveals we're in a world of robots. There's also the walk in the desert, and a particularly long tracking shot behind the two robots walking and walking and walking...and walking some more and walking some more...
In a way the film reminded me of some kind of 60s/70s art film - yep, it could be called indulgent, but it seems to revel in its indulgence, that this is the film they wanted to make and tough luck if you don't like it. Or perhaps the Daft Punk guys are goading the audience, seeing if they will sit through the more tedious parts of the film. I don't know why, but I kept thinking of Zabriskie Point - maybe it was the desert locale and there's also a repeated explosion in Electroma, though not the scale of Zabriskie Point's stunning finale.
But it could also be seen as a celebration of films that maybe the film making duo love - the opening in the desert, in their swish black Ferrarri, brings to mind the desert and car of Mad Max and its sequel. The look of the robots, decked in sharp leathers, recalls the robot police men from THX 1138. When the robots reach the white picket fence picture perfect postcard American town, it feels as if we're in something like the town in The Wild One, or Blue Velvet's mocking small town America. The robots have human faces crafted on to them at a clinic which is bathed in blinding white light which reminds me of 2001: A Space Odyssey, from the machinery to the white dining room where the aging Dave Bowman is dining at the end. Then maybe we're in to Walkabout territory, with the hike in the desert.
I could be wrong, but I might have spotted a reference to Street Trash in there, of all the things to wink towards...
Strangely, another film it recalls to me is Easy Rider - perhaps its the travelogue element to the film, and two friends going on a journey which we assume from the outset isn't going to end happily. As the robots face a kind of "rascist smalltown backlash" against their look, as do the bikers in Easy Rider, perhaps this isn't so ridiculous as it sounds.
With no dialogue in the film, only music and many passages of nothing really happening, you do find yourself projecting more on to the characters on the screen. There's two sequences in particular which I thought were really powerful - the first is after the robots face grafting has gone horrifically wrong - their faces have melted in the harsh sunlight of the desert and, pursued by a mob of the townsfolk, have taken refuge in a toilet. One of the robots, seemingly furious, tears off his face and clothes and cleans himself up, returning to his Daft Punk robot look. His partner, however, is much more reluctant to give up their human identity dream - he stares at his face in the mirror, the top of his head covered with a wig, his forehead covered with the still melting latex skin and his chrome head framed on either side by a pair of latex ears. Its an equally laughable but pitiful sight, but one which I found deeply moving. And he just continues to stare and stare and stare at himself, at the dream which has gone sour.
Later, after hiking in the desert for what seems an age (both to the robots and the audience) the same robot halts. His companion, eventually noticing that he's alone, goes back to him. There's no dialogue spoken, nor body language such as hand gestures to express what they discussing, if anything. But in that series of reversal shots between the two, you get the impression of a heated debate, of a friend who cannot go on anymore and perhaps doesn't want to go on, of asking a friend to do the unthinkable. I thought it was a remarkable sequence to say we're staring at nothing apart from two metal faces which do not move or express anything.
Perhaps its a film which could have been edited down to half its running time, but nevertheless I think Electroma is an amazing achievement - its has an incredible aesthetic, the film looks gorgeous and I think its one of the most moving pieces of cinema I've ever seen, despite no word of dialogue being spoken or shown on screen.
I'm going to be suggesting my friend views Electroma and The Mathematician - perhaps it may offer some inspiration away from his troubles with finding actors.
Monday, 6 July 2009
Sunday, 28 June 2009
Wednesday, 17 June 2009
Monday, 15 June 2009
Past. Present. Future. was the third film I made after leaving college. It isn't available to see online, for reasons outlined below...
Thursday, 11 June 2009
I put a compilation dvd together a year or so ago of all the films I made after leaving college but before I embarked on making my no budget feature "Gettin' Some."
Wednesday, 10 June 2009
Despite my best efforts to recast in time for filming this weekend, it just hasn't happened.
I blitzed the free casting websites, Shooting People and emailed most of the amateur dramatics societies around the south coast. And the amazing response I had back from all of this?
One person spamming me regarding equipment hire and one actress spamming me, knowing she isn't suitable for the role, but would I keep her CV on file for future productions?
Its probably not surprising - I guess most actresses would have looked at it and realised a week or so isn't enough time to learn the lines properly and get the character sorted, so I'm guessing the urgency has put people off. I do also think there's a bit of a vanity thing when it comes to actors and actresses though - perhaps they think their playing age is wildly off, that they can still pass for early 30s when they're easily looking late 40s. With this in mind, its probable that most don't want to think they're at an age where they can easily play a pensioner.
I did have this a little bit when originally casting "Stranded" - there are 3 female roles, a teenager, her late 30s/ early 40s mother and the pensioner. I had a lot of people contact me for the film, though several never stated which role they thought they were suitable for, or would like to be considered for and I'd have an awful lot of women in their late 20s/ early 30s which just didn't fit any role. Perhaps they were spamming me in a way and hoping for the best, but going through CVs and collating the information can be a time consuming process.
A slight bit of good news though - Debbie, my friend and regular make up artist, has found a pensioner who does am dram, named Pat. I spoke to her last night and she seems very keen. She's out of action for a few weeks, so we'll get together afterwards and see if she's suitable. I'll re-advetise the role in the meantime as I'd rather have too much than too little choice.
Judging by the weather and reports in the news yesterday that the Glastonbury festival is going to be "hit by a monsoon" its probably for the best that I won't be filming in June though!
Monday, 1 June 2009
We filmed on Saturday, though a few weeks previously I had no idea what was happening with the film. One of my actors seemed unable, or unwilling to commit to a filming date, which was leaving me stressed and confused. Communication with the actor seemed temperamental, which didn't help and I was worrying whether the actor had a commitment issue.
In fact, I was convinced the actor had a commitment issue and decided to try and call the actor's bluff. Several days later the actor got in touch, which was weird, as I really thought the actor wouldn't and in my head I'd already been trying to figure out a plan of how I could still use the footage that had been shot with the actor.
Ironically, following this I chased up another actor for the shoot which has been scheduled for mid June for over 6 weeks, but who was worryingly not responding to my emails, my texts nor to my phone calls. I managed to collar the actor, who told me that they would no longer be able to do the proposed filming date in June due to paid work they were being offered, which was fair enough, that it was hopefully long term work with the play touring, which was disappointing but couldn't be helped, and as such they were pulling out of the film. I was fine with this reasoning, but then the actor had to go and say "I think my juices have ran dry for your film anyway."
It didn't come as a surprise, in a way. The actor had been cast since September 2007 and we'd yet to shoot a single thing with the actor. The actor had been privy to the scheduling nightmare that I'd had with this film, which part of me feels is necessary, as I think its only polite to keep people in the loop with what's going on, but at the same time it was probably detrimental to the actor's confidence and enthusiasm for the film. I guess there's a fine line between too little and too much information and I've yet to grasp it.
So, thinking I'd lost one actor, I'd in fact lost another. I've got less than two weeks to recast the role, sort out the costume and hope the actor can learn the lines in time - realistically, I've got about a week. I've posted a bulletin on the usual suspects websites and emailed as many amateur dramatics societies as I could around the region. Fingers crossed it gets sorted.
The shoot on Saturday was a touch worrying and stressful - the usual transport issues with people getting to the location, which suggests even more that I shouldn't work with people beyond the region unless they have their own transport and then, as we were filming in a public place during a wonderful day, we had to constantly stop for people to go by, or for their noise to quieten down. I was expecting some disruption, but not as much as we had to put up with. What shouldn't have taken that long naturally did. I really should reconsider changing that ironic Faster Productions mantle.
Its always good to see my regular crew all catching up every time we get together to film. I can see I'm working with a really good bunch of people who I can trust.
I woke Sunday morning aching all over. Not from a particularly physically gruelling shoot, but probably more from an accumulation of tension that has finally dissipated now this shoot is over with. Anthony, the d.o.p, contacted me to say the footage looked great. What I could see from the viewfinder looked really lush.
So in less than two weeks this film will either be completely in the can, or I'll be chasing another filming date. The next shoot will be odd as we're having to "shemp" the actor we've just shot with this weekend - hopefully my good friend Mark may be free to fill the role - and the shots I've figured out in my head should mean we can get away with the shemp. I hope.