Thursday, 19 November 2009

Mixed Bizness

It has been a while since I've written anything for this blog which has really been down to chaotic things in my personal life - a move of house, the first for 5 years, is one such looming aspect. I've yet to tackle my giant amount of vinyl albums, so let's ignore that for a while (like I have been!)

Since my last posts in September (and the post I wrote below, but never uploaded) there's been various developments, some good, some bad...

Firstly, The Crunch has been rejected from every festival I'd entered it to, which I think was around 16 in total. I was hoping to have entered some more but I just don't have the time right now and I guess the constant rejections are starting to hit home now. I was hoping the European festivals would have been a little more welcoming, but that doesn't seem to be the case. I was also hoping Cinecity in Brighton might have supported it, but in the end I didn't even get a rejection email from them - I guess I knew I'd been rejected when Terry informed me his short had been selected for screening yet I'd heard nothing. Considering pretty much every other festival has emailed a standard rejection email, it's seems a bit poor that Cinecity couldn't at least do the same courtesy. (My friend Nick is attending a screening night and told me he'd seen a couple of the films they're showing already - apparently they are of extremely high quality, so the competition must have been extremely tough.)

These rejections are simply re-enforcing my thoughts about The Crunch - it's simply not good enough. For a festival to commit 20 minutes of their programme time to a film, it better be a lean, impressive 20 minutes and The Crunch obviously doesn't fit that bill. I know there continues to be issues with the sound, which was one reason I was hoping a subtitled version would have worked better in Europe, and I do concede that the running time is too long - perhaps if it was 15 minutes long it would be better for the viewer. But as my first film in years, it felt like I should let the film be the length that I wanted it to be, rather than what would fit a festival criteria better. So I've only myself to blame for that.

Terry did make a suggestion regarding the poor sound - distort the dialogue to buggery and make the whole soundtrack completely nuts, then have the film subtitled anyway as a stylistic decision. It's not a bad idea, but we no longer have the individual sound elements, so it would involved distorting the music too. Part of me also doesn't want to carry on tweaking on this film any longer - it's over 2 and a half years since I shot it and my film life is likely to end up being a collection of never complete pieces of work if I don't draw a line somewhere.

So, I'll try and submit it to some more festivals, but I think realistically it's just not going to happen with the film and, of course, there will come a certain time where it's completion date will have it regarded as old hat and no festival will touch it anyway. I think the way forward will be to have it screened at the film nights in pubs etc up and down the country (assuming they'll take it too) much like the night I co-run. At least it might get a public airing that way.

From bad to good - Terry and I have completed the assemble edit of Stranded, which towards the end was a headache and a half as a result of the way the final shooting scene was shot 4 months apart. But out of all the films I've made, this is the first one where I haven't felt utterly disheartened by the assemble edit - there's a definite slickness to the film, which I put down to Anthony's cinematography and Terry's eye for editing, which has for the most part resulted in a smooth film. My wife praised the film even at this stage, saying it looks great and it does have a certain undeniable atmosphere to it, even without the music and sound mix.

This is all encouraging - time pending we're hoping to have a final edit locked down before the end of the year and we both have ideas where we can shave minutes from the film and perhaps even play with the running order to some extent, all of which is exciting to me as I've usually slavishly followed the running order of the script, usually to the detriment of the final film.

Assuming we can get this final edit to the necessary people for the next stage, I'm hoping I might have a finished film for March/ April time, which would be wonderful.

Positively, I've also heard back from Nick regarding the animation effects for Goodnight, Halloween - he's hoping to finally crack on with it and get all of his work done and dusted before Christmas, which will leave the final day's shoot still to do (hopefully again around March time.)

And on another positive note, John the sound designer finally got the first few parts of Gettin Some and we went through it together. He hadn't realised the film was a feature film - oops - but doesn't seem too put off by it. Fingers crossed that I can finally lay that film to rest next year.

Best to even this out before it gets all too happy clappy from this blog - my proposal to Screen South was turned down flat, as was Terry's. Oddly, what with the rejections to The Crunch, it didn't seem to bother me that much - water off a duck's back now I guess. My proposal is still a film which I could make on my own if I wanted - possibly not to the same level as it would be with some decent funding - but it's not completely beyond my means, so hopefully I may look into making it next year if possible.

There were aspects from the Screen South open day which bugged me at the time though - one in particular, which I keep boring people with, was the feeling that sometimes the last people they want to support with film funding is the people who already make films. At the opening to the day they asked for a show of hands for writers, directors, writer/ directors, producers...then asked for people from other media - painters, photographers, video games designers. A few hands went up and there seemed to be a satisfied reaction to this from Screen South, giving the impression that perhaps they were more interested in supporting people from other disciplines over those who already make films. This is fine in theory, but the question I keep asking if this is the case, is where's the funding opportunity for me as a film maker to go and make a video game? Oh, there isn't one. Dandy.

Now I'm not suggesting for a minute that a video game designer's submission would be approved over mine just because of my background - I'd like to have enough faith in the funding scheme that it does in the end come down to supporting the best idea, regardless of background, but I will be looking out for who and what films Screen South do end up supporting on this year's scheme.

Another aspect of the day which has stuck with me was Ben Blaine's contribution to the discussion panel. Ben is Shooting People's official blogger, who on the Shooting People website encouragingly states that if you've made a film, he wants to see it, which gives an impression of a desire to support film makers at all levels of ability.

I had some communication with Ben as a result of this request, when I contacted him with a view to sending a copy of The Crunch. His reply wasn't massively encouraging - he didn't like the teaser trailer for the film much, stating that the idea of watching 19 minutes of that film chilled his blood. Undeterred I popped the film in the post to him and just when I assumed that was that he sent a reply. He stated he would be honest, as most people wouldn't, and although the feedback initially seemed destructive over time I have accepted what really are his personal criticisms and some, such as his negative comment regarding the sound, I'm all in agreement with.

They asked Ben a question regarding short films, which I'm pretty sure was basically "What things don't you like in short films?" His blunt answer was simply "Short films." He explained that the majority of short films are utterly awful and a complete waste of his time - by example, he stated that standing on a train platform for ten minutes was a better use of his time than some films he's seen.

I just found this attitude really sad and destructive. Running Son Of Movie Bar I get sent films, some of which I don't personally like, some of which I do, but I knew this was always going to be the case. Back when I used to attend the Bang and Trampoline film events in Nottingham, there would always be films which you felt were a waste of time, but it still felt important to support the night. With Son Of Movie Bar, I do like to justify every screening in my head by finding at least one element that I can say I genuinely like - it may just be one shot, or one line of dialogue, or the music, or locations, but usually I can find something which I could hold up and say "That's what I like in it and why we're showing it." I've always said this attitude comes from Alex Cox and his much missed Moviedrome series on BBC2, where he openly admitted that not all of the films they showed were great, but there was always some element of them which made them worth seeing.

Every film maker has to start somewhere - the majority of material we show at Son Of Movie Bar is usually very high and I'd actually rather be showing films with lower production values, as the night is supposed to be aimed at non professionals and amateur film makers, some of which I worry are scared off by the quality of some of the films we show. But I really want to encourage anyone making films to keep at it - there was something depressing about Ben's attitude, I could imagine him saying that some people shouldn't be allowed to make films.

Maybe my attitude is too primary school teacher-ish - everyone should be encouraged to have a go, whether they're any good or not - and perhaps this leads to encouraging bad film makers to continue making bad films...Perhaps I just don't know if I'm a particularly good film maker myself so don't feel in a position where I feel I can judge anyone else's work. Perhaps Ben feels he is already in that position from his short film work, who knows?

Its not where you've been, it's where you're going

This is a post I originally wrote on the 13th of October, but never got around to uploading...there's some bits regarding the below I'll be posting about and updating on next...

I really shouldn’t be writing this. I should be working on a film proposal.

The deadline for the Screen South Digital Shorts scheme closes in a week and a half. I’d always planned to have something ready well in advance and have time to get feedback from some people, rework it, hone it…but that hasn’t happened.

Perhaps in a way, my momentum has been lost after going to a Screen South open day. There was a very good lecture from a script editor, who talked about scripts (obviously.) She reiterated some points I’ve come across before, mostly in Blake Snyder’s “Saves The Cat” – the idea of the obvious “conscious” desires of the characters, and the underlying “subconscious” desires, which is what the characters need to attain by the end of the film (or equally not, perhaps…)

It made me realise that the idea I’d had gestating in my head for several months was totally half baked – it had a beginning (I think), it had an ending (I think) but the middle really was a series of repetitious events which I realise now didn’t help to move the story along. This realisation was difficult, as it means I need to go back and figure out the story again.

This is one of the hardest parts of writing, that the story which may come out of the tweaks and frustration may not be the one you actually set out to write, or even wanted to write. I worry I may be in that territory with this film.

In the last few days I’ve tried to create a stronger backstory for the characters and the relationship between the father and daughter and somewhere along the way the film has changed, from a melancholic character piece of a lonely old man, to a morality play. How do I feel about this? I’m not sure…

In the last few months The Crunch has been dismissed from most of the film festivals I’ve entered it to. There’s still a couple I’m waiting to hear from, but as my mate Terry has already heard back from one of those festivals successfully with his film (which is brilliant news) I’m assuming The Crunch hasn’t made the bill. Which has made me worry that The Crunch could possibly get the same response from most festivals and that the old issues still remain, that it’s too long and it possibly doesn’t work. As a flashy piece of film making, with the lighting, make up and editing, it’s possibly got an initial wow factor, but after that it’s perhaps unsatisfying.
Perhaps it’s this at the back of my mind which is forcing me to make this Screen South proposal work, even if it’s at the detriment of the story I wanted to tell, as I can’t see how that story would fit into Screen South’s parameters. Maybe there is a way, but I just don’t have the time now to figure it out. Whenever I’ve given the film more and more thought, the daughter has become an increasingly important character, reducing the film from being a character piece focussed mostly on her father.

Still, I think this process can only be beneficial in the long run – I have to accept changes, I have to accept that nothing in film making is ever concrete. Maybe it’s more a plate of mashed potato, it’s solid enough, but can be constantly shifted in to many shapes.

This seems to fit my feelings towards Stranded, which Terry and I have finally started editing the final storyline. With the first scene (or the 3rd scene in the film) edited, I’m already looking at the film differently, that perhaps the current opening isn’t the strongest, either visually, performance wise or scripting. Once we’ve got the film assembled in the script running order, I think we will need to take a look at it and perhaps break some scenes down in to two. I’m reluctant to reduce this film to 30 second sound bite scenes, as that seems to make it a touch soap opera-esque, but at the end of the day that’s probably what audiences feel more comfortable with these days.

Similarly, should I get to shoot the Screen South proposal, in my head I plan to shoot it as a very modern film. What do I mean by this? The best example I can think of would be “Quantum Of Solace” – I found the film interesting, not a complete success, but I didn’t dislike it. There seems to be many many different camera angles, with very rapid cuts – I felt like it had been made for people with attention deficit disorder, which is probably reflective of modern film audiences. It’s not my style as such, but I think it would be good for me to attempt a film in this style.

Okay, I best get back on with that proposal. All I seem to have right now since abandoning my original 1 and a half page story outline (which needs to be 1 page) is a series of snippet lines about the characters. Not only have I got to get this done, but also a director’s statement and a showreel, where they want to see that I can direct a narrative. Unfortunately the only modern film I have to show for that is The Crunch. Yikes.

Monday, 28 September 2009

My mind floats free (for a short while)

I've usually found that when I go on holiday I suddenly have a fair few ideas for films. Maybe it's being away from work and not having my brain daily boiling away in my kettle head. But last week's holiday to Sardinia with my wife didn't result in the flash of ideas I expected. Not in the usual way.

I'm in the process of submitting a short film idea to the Screen South Digital Shorts scheme - its the first time I've applied for funding since the sorry fiasco of applying to the misleadingly named National Lottery "Awards For All" scheme nearly 10 years ago. So I think I have a short which I hope is moving and artistically valid and falls within the budget parameters. Figuring I have to raise my head above the parapet and actually get myself known at the arts funding organisations I've decided to go ahead and submit it, and if it doesn't work, its one which in theory I would be able to make myself no budget styley. (On an aside, the idea that I'd really love to do - a comic book shoot out - just wouldn't get past them...and probably would cost too much at the minimum industry pay rates they require for the production.)

So I spent an afternoon battling with the application thought process during one of the few sunny hours we got on the beach. I fought with the 25 word synopsis, initially trying to create a logline, then decided it should be the story in 25 words that they're asking for then was left hoping that Screen South know exactly what they mean by asking for such a short synopsis and really aren't looking for some snappy logline. With this battle called a truce (though kinda happy with my summation) I moved onto the one page story outline...a page and a half later, it was still missing my notes about the film and what I wanted it to achieve. Then with imminent rain clouds and a depleted battery that was the end of this writing stint...and as I'd brought the wrong travel adaptor, the end of any writing stint on the laptop.

This resulted in the majority of the holiday being spent working my way through a batch of sci-fi books and most of our time being stuck in our hotel room as late summer thunderstorms pounded Bosa. Neither of us were sleeping too well - very uncomfortable beds, an air conditioning unit which sounded like a jet engine taking off (naturally the room was too warm without it, but not much colder with it...) and the endless interruption from a git of a mosquito who over several nights must have increased its body mass 20 times from feeding out of me. All of this resulted in me having several short, sharp of particular striking note had me dreaming that my grandma had died, which resulted in a swift text to check she was okay.

Somewhere in my end this element of rain, of endless water pounding away outside, can't have been too far from the forefront of my mind during the night., which resulted in me having a dream about a J-horror film. I can't remember if I was watching the opening sequence, or a trailer, but I thought it was really creepy. Then suddenly there was a very loud CRACK in the room. Both my wife and I woke up immediately and a check of the room revealed nothing apparently wrong, so we went back to an even more uneasy night's sleep.*

The next morning the explanation of the noise appeared to be a panel from the hotel's summer "stage" being blown over by the high winds. (This stage seemed to particularly sum up the melancholic atmosphere of Bosa at the end of the summer season - it had "Summer 2009" painted upon, reminding my wife of Dirty Dancing - it felt like a sad relic of a summer passed. I really wanted to get a photo of it, empty and finished with for the year, but with the wind working its power I didn't get my photo in time.) So simple enough...but the J-horror idea stayed with me and although not fully fleshed out, I managed to figure out the premise and the amount of characters involved. Hopefully (here's the rub) I'll get chance to write it down some day.

Oddly, I also got a title from the dream - I'm pretty sure it was Giyarbushin, which doesn't seem to mean anything according the internet, so it's some East Asian-ish word my brain obviously thought up. But as the days have gone by, I can't forget the ludicrous title, nor the creepiness of the film.

So I've come back, not with the usual handful of ideas courtesy of my un-tethered brain, but just the one. But hopefully one which could really work. If only I had the time.

*On yet another of my tiresome asides, this scenario was also reminiscent of something which happened one night at home when we were both awakened by a sound which just didn't belong in our house - another scenario which I'm hoping I could make into a quick 3 minute creepy short film.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Two Sides Of The Same Coin

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, 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

First Step

My film making friend Paul Macauley wrote an interesting blog on his website regarding first drafts. You can read it here...

Paul makes the point that first drafts seem to be always regarded as a bit rubbish, but why should that be? Why can't the first draft of a script be something super?

Part of this reminds me of the philosophy which Julian Cope documents in his amazing book "Repossessed" (even if you have no interest in Julian Cope and his music, you should still read his books Head On and Repossessed - they are very funny, very entertaining and just such good fun.) By the late 80s, Copey had become a bit sick of spending weeks in studios recording his albums. He started to believe there was something pure and unconscious which comes out of the first take of a recording and so more often that not went with this approach with his subsequent albums.

Now, I'm not saying that this is probably a good philosophy to go with for a film script - there's many logistics and artistic issues which really should be sorted out before the hell of organising a shoot goes ahead - but I can see how it can tie into what Paul is suggesting.

Just this weekend I've finally finished the first draft of "The Reprise", a feature film which myself and film making friend Gus are hopefully planning on raising financing for. I wasn't planning on letting several people read this first draft, as when I was writing it I was convinced it was pretty awful. Most of the dialogue (of which there was a lot) I felt was placeholder dialogue. But I read through the first draft and I didn't think it was that bad...I figured it would be worth getting feedback on it at this stage.

Now, I didn't set out to write an awful first draft - just a feature length script is a very large beast and its often difficult to see two points at one time, nevermind from start to beginning. So I thought the best thing to do would be to just start the damn thing, get past that first page stumbling block and get on with it, knowing full well that there will be much wrong with it. This isn't a case of writing and fixing later, perhaps it's a more of "come out in the wash" approach - many aspects came to me in the middle of writing a particular scene, or after knocking the writing on the head for the night. None of this would have happened if I hadn't just made a start. If I'd got completely hung up on every aspect of this first draft there's a very good chance I'd never have finished it.

There is much wrong with this first draft - I picked up on several points, my wife picked up on several more, some so facepalmingly obvious its embarrassing. I'm still awaiting on feedback from the others.

Surprisingly though I'm really keen to get on with the next draft now, whereas I was telling myself I would need to take a break, do some research, watch comparative films and read their scripts. I still want to do this stuff, but I am honestly surprised how keen I am to throw myself back into another draft, especially as this first draft has felt like one of the most difficult things I've ever written. Usually my writing does seem to come pretty effortlessly, that I can see ahead of where I'm going (and usually too far ahead for me to type quick enough!) But with this script, it wasn't easy at all. It's still something which gives me some doubts about the project, that perhaps my brain is trying to tell me I'm barking for barking up that particular tree.

I'll also admit I've been very lazy with some aspects of this first draft - definitely a Polyfilla attitude of slapping stuff in to plug gaps. But it's got me to the end, where I can stand back and finally see from start to finish and all the bits inbetween and start to make preparations for fixing the script up properly.

So, I think that regardless of whether the first draft is there or not, the act of just finishing that first draft, of getting past not just that frightening ghostly blank first page, but also that terrifying psychological fear of never completing a first draft is something to celebrate. Don't worry about the mistakes, laugh and face palm yourself at that stupid omission, at that inconsistent behaviour. Because you can't fix something which isn't there.

I'm looking forward to getting my hands dirty and fixing my first step with "The Reprise." And I'm happy to have a bad draft to show me where to go next.

Objects In The Rear View Mirror Appear Closer Than They Are

I joined Facebook over two years ago now. Despite getting several requests from friends, there was one reason alone that I joined, which was a curiosity case...

My unfinished feature film, "Gettin' Some" was actually shot twice. Well, that's an exaggeration - I thought we shot about a fifth of the film before everything went a big wrong with a variety of things and it all ground to a halt. When the dust settled and we picked up the pieces it was with a new cameraman (one of my best friends Mark, who had already starred in "Past. Present. Future." listed below) and in some cases some of the roles were recast.

After I'd finished, or abandoned shooting on the v2 of the film, I moved to Brighton with my girlfriend. It must have been in the first six months of us living here when I got a call from a guy called Matt Mugridge (also known as Matt Herbert, one of them was his stage name...I think the latter.) Matt had originally played the role of Vince in the film, but been recast when he followed the original cameraman on to some proposed projects which never happened, and the full sorry story of what he went through with that business and creative partner can't really be repeated here, though I believe it did end up with going to the small claims court...

Anyway, Matt contacted me asking if I still had the original footage as he was keen to edit it together - at the time, he was still undecided whether to continue pursuing acting as a career, or concentrate on music and teaching guitar. He really wanted to get a showreel together and use the footage we shot.

At the time I had no use for the footage and was happy to send it to him - in fact, I thought it would be good opportunity to see the footage properly edited together, as I had no access to editing equipment. Unfortunately the DAT sound tapes from this period were long gone - I'm not even sure if I ever got them back from my original sound crew (but that is also another story, for another time.)

So I sent him the tapes...and never heard from him again.

Skip forwards several years later - my edit, for what it's worth, of "Gettin' Some v2" is done, but it's still stuck in grading/ sound mix/ sound design hell, which is the state it unfortunately still resides in. Around this time I begin thinking about the package I want to put together for the dvd for the people involved in the film - apart from the obvious stills and deleted scenes, I really wanted to include the original footage, because it's part of the big story of making the film.

So, I joined Facebook and did a search for Matt and there was a picture which resembled him, sat with a guitar in his lap. After contacting him it turned out it was indeed him and that he'd come across some dv tapes in his garage just the other day, which he assumed must be the footage.

Without going into details, it's been a laborious process of getting the tapes back from Matt, but last Monday we met up, as he was down in the south visiting and I finally got some tapes back. I say some, because I assumed we did shoot across at least 6 tapes, but he only had 4, or at least 4 that he had come across, to give me. I can't believe that I've finally got them back.

Out of all the films I've made or been involved in, there's a handful which I don't have. Really it was college group work along with the very first film myself and Mark made messing around in his bedroom during the school holidays ("The Adventures of Agent 009.5 and Fez Head" - amazing, eh?) There was one college project where we drove out into a village in Derbyshire and were told to film footage of the village and area, with a view of combining it with some studio footage to be filmed the following week at the studio set up in Ilkeston College (my course was run in conjunction with that college.) During the field trip I started to get some ideas of what we could do, so wrote a pisstake travel show, a bit like "Wish You Were Here", with one of the presenters visiting the area. As no one else had any ideas what to do, we all went with my script and I sorrowfully had my acting talents on display again as the camp, over the top presenter who had visited the village. I'm sure its awful now, but even so, I wish I had a copy of it.

It's going to be very strange viewing this footage from "Gettin' Some" after all this time - I think the last time I viewed it was at the beginning of v2, when Mark watched the footage with me, declared that he didn't like it, considering it lazy, and wanted to reshoot the whole lot. At the time I was hoping we could have used some of it, just to save redoing it all. I'm not sure if Mark primarily didn't want to share a credit, that the original inferior stuff could be seen as being credited to him, but we did indeed reshoot it all. Ironically, one of the scenes I was keen to keep as it had no issues with regard to casting continuity was actually reshot by myself after he'd left the project to go to the National Film and Television School. There was one scene in particular which followed the script accurately, but for the reshoot the scene had to be rewritten to remove 3 characters from the scene, due to the actors either no longer being available or just to make the logistics easier.

Another reason that I wanted the tapes was that I've written a huge making of document about the making of the film, from it's origins to the endless post production nightmare that it continues to be in to this day (as you can imagine, the tail end of the story isn't particularly riveting.) I don't have a tape log of what we shot originally, nor can I remember exactly what we did and didn't shoot. I'm hoping these tapes will jog my memory...failing that, there is a possibility that I would still have the VHS to VHS edited footage that I showed Mark still on a tape somewhere...I'm really not sure. But hopefully these tapes will finally fill in the blanks of the making of, I can at last edit the footage to include on the dvd and help bang another nail in the coffin of "Gettin' Some."

Monday, 20 July 2009

You Say It Best When You Saying Nothing At All

Titling a post after a song covered by Ronan Keating isn't the best start to a blog...bare with me!

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

The Delays

"Forever Delayed" was always one of my favourite lines from a Manic Street Preachers' song. Strangely, the way it was sang at the end of "Roses In The Hospital" seemed almost celebratory, when really the words alone seem almost melancholic, carrying an air of perpetual disappointment...that the elusive thing you're waiting for is just never going to happen.


Well, the filming of Stranded has been delayed again. I made a decision on the replacement of the actress for Gwyneth, which was a positive step and I'm excited about working with the actress, but then the availability of crew means the earliest we can now film is September. That will then be two years since I cast the original cast for the film when I was hoping to shoot the film in October 2007. Damn, that seems pretty crushing.

I can only cross my fingers and hope that no one gets offered any paid work in the interim, resulting in the first weekend of September being cancelled. Normally the weather is pretty reliable in September, but I can't really take it for granted.

So I was maybe thinking I could hopefully get things moving on Goodnight, Halloween in the interim...but Ryan is having trouble with the footage he's been supplied with, meaning the digital blood effects have been delayed...realistically, my hope of having even a rough cut of the film to show at Son Of Movie Bar at my Halloween special is unlikely to happen, which I am really gutted by.

Endless delays where it feels like I can't get anything moving, much that I'm desperate to. Writing of The Reprise has been sticky too, mostly down to being so tired by the time it gets to late at night. I blame the summer heat, hayfever and early sunrises - I always seem to sleep badly in the summer.

Sunday, 28 June 2009

The Soft Places

It really seems I'm neither here nor there right now with my projects. Maybe I just need a really good block of time to try and get some bits done and dusted as much as possible.

The good news front is that I went to see one of the actresses for the recast role in Stranded on Friday night - she was very good and really nice too. I'm hopefully seeing the other woman who's up for the role this week, which means I should be able to have made a decision by the end of the week and try to finalise a shooting day in August. I really cannot wait to have this film all shot.

Other projects seem up in the air - a few weeks ago I threw myself into doing some grading and effects work on my feature film, Gettin' Some. The main thing I was doing was fudging a depth of field look to some of the footage to try and make it look a touch more cinematic as opposed to nasty video. I've had some degree of success and it doesn't look too bad. With my sound designer friend up for doing the sound mix, it seemed there was a good reason to focus on getting this done especially as I'm going to focus on releasing the film in monthly episodes.

However, this depth of field effect was quickly becoming a massive amount of work for not particularly accurate results. Ryan, who is doing the digital squibs etc on Goodnight, Halloween suggested I should use the program Combustion to do the depth of field effects. So I ordered a book from Amazon, which looks potentially pretty daunting, with a view to doing the effects with this software. But now I need to find the time to go through the book and learn the package...maybe doing that instead of writing this blog would be a help,,,

But the other project which has reared its head is The Reprise. This is the next feature length project that I want to make and I'm hoping to try and raise some cash to help make it. My friend and fellow film maker Gus is keen to help make it and raise the money, but of course everything is waiting on me finishing the script...which I hadn't worked on since February, despite me originally telling him that a first draft would be done by the end of March.

So I've gone back to that in the last week and it's been a real struggle. Usually my scripts flow pretty effortlessly, but this one seems to be a real struggle. Maybe that's a good sign. Maybe it's also a very bad sign. I'm really not too happy with what I'm writing, but persevering as I know it's the first draft and just have to get past the psychological block of this first draft to really start honing it. I know some changes I want to make for the second draft, it's just getting to that stage.

I'm currently at around 50 pages, so potentially only another 40 to go. Not sure its a good idea that I'm counting down the pages. That can't be a good sign, can it?

So I'm stuck in these soft places, with nothing much concrete happening on anything, a bit of this and a bit of that. Not great, really...

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Giant Steps

Well, maybe not, but some positive news today - went to meet Ryan, who is doing the digital effects on Goodnight, Halloween and he thinks it should only take him a day or two to do the digital blood effects and other little things that I need for the news cast footage. For the final sequence we still need to shoot, he's advising getting the actor to where a green skull cap with motion capture crosses on it, as Ryan is thinking of doing a full CGI malformed pumpkin head for Conal, which sounds amazing and far beyond anything I thought we would have for the film.

And John, who salvaged the sound from The Crunch and has been a great sound recordist on the Stranded shoot, has agreed to do some work on Gettin' Some, which is just such great news - he's local and I trust him to get the job done.

Who knows, maybe the feature film will be complete this year after all!

Monday, 15 June 2009

Mistakes have to be made: The making of Past. Present. Future.

Past. Present. Future. was the third film I made after leaving college. It isn't available to see online, for reasons outlined below...

Unsurprisingly, casting on 5 Times For was still not moving on so that project remained stillborn...and the night footage for Date was still nowhere on the horizon. Perhaps I should have taken the hint, but at this stage I was determined not to let all that work go to waste.

Instead, I continued to keep myself busy, and wrote Past. Present. Future. a very (too?) personal rumination of where I was in my “tortured” 19 year old life. This time, Juliet saw sense and turned down the chance to play the female lead of Connie. As I recall her reason at the time was that she felt it was too similar to the other films. I thought this was a ridiculous
excuse as I couldn’t see any similarities. Of course, its only now in hindsight that I see what Juliet was probably really thinking - she’s been in two of my films and still yet to see a bloody frame, so I’m obviously pissing her about...Christ, I think I would have even turned myself down!

I think Mark loved the script, although by now me could have easily been doing them just the time he was partial to the dark side and lived in “the horror house” with 3 goths in Sneinton. Cat was inexpicably the girlfriend of the donkey dicked dipshit stink bag self
proclaimed leader of the house and Mark suggested that she would be ideal to play Connie, plus, as they were already quite good friends, that warmth would easily show on camera. Er....

It seems absurd now, but I’m pretty sure we shot the entire film in a day. An early start from me ensured I was sat in my car outside the horror house waiting for Mark to be inevitably late, then round to pick Cat up who was still late despite us already running behind.

When we picked Cat up I couldn’t help but keep glancing at her in the rear view mirror as she did her make up (late and still not bloody ready!) There was something odd about her when she got in the car that I couldn’t quite put my finger on, and now as she sat on the back seat I
was trying to figure it out - then the penny dropped ...

She really did have no, or very little eyebrow hair and really had to paint them on. This was a real shock to myself and Mark, as we’d only ever seen her in full Goth style make up.

First port of call was yet again Sutton-in-Ashfield, home town of myself and Mark, to film on the park where I used to play as a kid. Filming seemed to be running smoothly enough and with the addition of a specific piece of tailored graffiti on the climbing frame platform we
were away. I’d wanted to get an early start on the day, in particular for this scene so what happened wouldn’t happen, but as we were late, it inevitably did happen. Two kids on bikes (why weren’t they at bloody school?) showed up and disrupted the shoot, creating noise and mayhem. They wanted to know what we were doing and I realised the only way to deal with little shits like this was some good old fashioned bribery.

We told the kids we were shooting the new Star Wars film and that Cat was playing Princess Leia. The climbing frame/slide construction we were filming on and all the background would be turned into a spaceship with computer graphics. (OH GEORGE, THE IRONY!)

We told the kids that if they let us film and then came back in two hours we would put them in the film. They left us alone to quickly wrap in this location and bog off before they came back. I sometimes wonder if they got beat up by other kids at school when they told them they’d just seen people making the new Star Wars film...

Naturally, the next location would have its own problems. We went to the cemetery in Sutton adjacent to St Mary’s Church, the location we used in Date. In my typical naive way I didn’t get permission to film there, we just rolled up and started filming. I didn’t mean any disrespect and it’s not as if we were pissing and fornicating on gravestones, but now I can see how us being there could be seen as contentious. The cross we filmed in front of was an actual cross, though there was no name on or around the marker (maybe it was for someone who had no money or family for a burial, or perhaps it was a temporary marker.)

As we were shooting the scene in front of the cross this huge woman straight out of Tom and Jerry (”THOMAASSSSSSS!”) came over and started shouting at us for being disrespectful (not that the marker was anything to do with this woman.)

Cat suddenly whipped out a feisty firey side to herself which we’d never seen and gave as good as she got - the woman had said not only were we being disrespectful, but so was the way that Cat was dressed (implying she looked like a whore or something.) Cat took one look at
this woman in her huge bright yellow shell suit bottoms and bright purple top and suggested that it was SHE who was dressed disrespectfully. I can’t remember what happened next - I think the woman went to report us to someone or something - so we quickly finished the
scene, scuttled back to the trusty Luth Mobile and drove over to Bulwell, where we finished the next scene undisturbed in a church yard there. (This must have been the point in the day where our friend Jim joined us to help with the shoot, as there are stills of all three of us which he must have taken...though he can’t remember being there, and Mark and I can't remember him being there, but he is on one of the production stills, looking through the camera.)

The rest of the film was shot back at the house on Commercial Road in Bulwell where I was stil living - this would prove to be a very frustrating afternoon.

Cat had already been struggling to remember some of the undigestable lines of dialogue in the previous scenes, but during the lounge scene she hit a brick wall. The sequence had to be broken down into a series of piecemeal shots - I think at one point I may have even fed her the lines to repeat back. Some shots where the camera is looking at Mark the audio is Cat simply reading aloud directly from the script...and it shows. I’m pretty sure this approach continued into the evening, where we shot the bedroom sequence in my housemate/landlord/friend’s bedroom (stand up Paul Harrison) and then the final scene in his little study/office. We
must have wrapped around midnight, maybe around 1 in the morning, I really can’t remember.

Bar the scenes where Cat’s dialogue and performance had to be constructed line by line the editing of the film was relatively smooth - I’m guessing a day again, but it might have been two days, with some additional bits added during half a day to (Mono)(Tone)(Drone) - the
extra pub ambience, the titles etc. Once again the film was edited at the remarkably friendly and welcoming Intermedia (I never tire of being sarcastic of that place and its staff.)

Titles were once again created courtesy of my dodgy titling disc and filming the television, although I went with white at the end for a change.

Although I knew using copyrighted music would scupper my chances of showing the film at any of the short film nights around Nottingham, I wanted to use music from the Manic Street Preachers, as they meant so much to me at the time, and the film was so personal to me. The
repetiton of the line “More and more junk” was achieved through the wonderful lo fi use of two tape decks...

Out of all the films I made after leaving college, this is the biggest turkey and the one I like
least. I usually end up shouting SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP at the screen when I’m watching it. As with Date, boy did I need an editor or someone to slap me down and tell me to stop labouring a point past all need. At the time the sentiments were ones I was genuinely feeling (I had tried to get in touch with some childhood friends and was wondering if these scripts
were repeating themselves...damn, maybe Juliet WAS being honest!) but I’m not sure if catharsis through cinema was the best approach for exorcising these demons.

Plus, and possibly the most staggering stumbling block to this whole sorry farago, is that I can’t believe I was having some sort of mid life and artistic crisis at the age of 19, for god’s sake...

This film, like (Mono)(Tone)(Drone), was reviewed in the same issue of A Bag Of Sand and received a scathing review, in particular the dialogue. Steve Lawson noticed some dialogue lift from Goldeneye, which I hadn’t even realised at the time, and reads into the film far too much,
seeing the opening as a passage from the book Mark is writing - I wish this interpretation were true!

For me, there are a few redeeming features = that is my grandma (dad’s mum) in the pre-titles sequence actually describing photos of my family to Mark (hence Mark saying “Brown eyed Murle”, our Van Morrison inspired nickname for my dad, well, his name is Murle, so its barely a nickname...) I’m just glad I’ve got her captured on film, but not in a horrible family video camera way. I also think there’s some great shots in this film, some really nice compositions...the stills in the stills section seem to look really good.

So maybe that’s the answer - turn down the sound and treat the film as a series of stills. It should play a whole lot better.

Funnily enough, in an odd post script, I'd been thinking about the film recently and wondered if I could re-edit the film just enough to remove some of the more excruciating lines of dialogue and performance aspects...maybe a project for a rainy day (as if I don't have enough to do!)

In the meantime: The making of (Mono)(Tone)(Drone)

(Mono)(Tone)(Drone) is the second film I made after leaving college. You can watch it here

Despite “Date” grinding to an inglorious halt until I managed to film the final sequence I stil held high hopes for continuing work on the other storylines in the “5 Times For” anthology. However, casting was still proving to be elusive which ensured I couldn’t continue...this problem was hampered no end by Tim’s decision not to play Martin In I was really bac k to square one (okay, one and a bit - I still had Mark raring to go in Fall Out.)

Determined to keep going with any project, I quickly wrote (Mono)(Tone)(Drone) which was blatantly inspired by Mark’s then often blase attitude towards in a piece of brilliant casting, he pretty much got to play himself (I still can’t tell how much he is acting!)

Juliet came on board to play the lead the female role , which seems incredible in retrospect. She hadn’t seen a frame of “Date” and here I was asking her to star in another film!

I wanted to try and create a world within these films where characters and lives crossed over, despite being in different films. In (Mono)(Tone) (Drone), Mark’s character Tony is and Juliet’s character is confusingly supposed to be the same Alison as in the 5 Times For episodes Bitch and Fall Out. I think this world I wanted to create was a direct influence from Quentin Tarantino and comics I loved at the time.

We quickly shot the film in one morning, again in the Newmarket Inn pub before and just after they opened, hence the very realistic looking patrons drinking in the background. Once again the sound was awful as I was still only using the camera microphone. This really shoudn’t
have been any surprise to me - the opening shot of Juliet was filmed at the far end of the pub, so its no wonder I had to dub this line with audio from a later shot taken much closer. Background noise was also a problem - jump cuts in the background sound meant I had to add an extra layer of pub ambience to cover the joins, muddying the sound to the mess you hear today.

The internal dialogue shots were all done on Super 8 which at least added a different look to the film.

We recorded the over dub dialogue for these Super 8 moments directly into the camera as we sat in my (t)rusty Fiat Uno in the Newmarket car park.

The crapy titles were made using a piece of video titling software I’d pirated from Ilkeston College when I was on my course at West Notts College. As I couldn’t output directly from my knackered Amiga computer to video I had to film the titles running on my shitty little TV,
hence the monterous blur and shimmy you get, pretty much making them unreadable.

Out of all the films on this disc, (Mono)(Tone)(Drone) is still one I like the most. Despite its technical shortcomings, it has a certain charm and some ridiculous rule book out the window camera shots (Point of view from inside a cigarette packet!?!) Juliet’s “apocalyptic rant from
left to right” (as I called it) wasn’t quite as furious as I had hoped but the film was shot and edited as I intended. (Again, it was edited at Intermedia and I probably had it done and dusted in a day easily)

It’s one of the few films of mine that ever got a showing beyond my lounge - (Mono)(Tone)(Drone) was shown at one of the Trampolene film and arts nights at The Maze.
It also got a favourable review in “A Bag Of Sand”, a fanzine dedicated to no budget film making which I contributed to.

(Mono)(Tone)(Drone) has the auspicious prize of being one of the few of my films that I can watch without at some point wanting to shout at the television, which is high praise indeed!

Actors must be like buses...

Within the space of 24 hours last week, I'd been in touch with two actresses for the recasting I need to do in Stranded, which was a great surprise.

Neither of them had come from any advertisements I'd posted - the first came via Debbie (my friend and make up artist on Stranded) and her friend, the second came from my actor Courtney.

Its going to be a couple of weeks or so before I've had chance to meet them both and get them to read for me, but fingers crossed this means I can get the last bit of the shooting done in July.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

5 Times For A Beginning: The Making Of "Date"

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."

This is the essay I wrote about "Date", the first film I made since leaving college which you can watch HERE

The summer of 1995 was a big change for me - in the space of a few months I’d failed to get into university to do a degree in film making, left college and gone on to work full time at Selectadisc and moved out for the first time in my life. I was thrust bitterly in to the real world (I still moan about not getting into uni, though half of it is down to me being a picky bugger) and as a depressive 18 year old had to endure the recognised “Selectadisc school of hard knocks” (it made me the man I am today etc) All of these life changing events helped shape my first project since leaving college - “Five Times For.”

“5 Times For” was planned to be an anthology film of 5 different stories “Bitch” would introduce the 3 main characters Martin, Steven and Alison as they sit around the dinner table and bitch about their working lives in general. Then each of these characters would star in their individual story - “Date” followed Martin’s agonised preparations for a date with a girl, “Party” showed Steven at a house party, “Fall Out” followed Alison as she recalls the abrasive argument she has had with her boyfriend and where she could have taken control and lead the debate. Finally “...” was a Goddard inspired play with film conventions which also took
inspiration from a dream like story entitled “To Kill A...” from the Love And Rockets comic books.

Around this time I was spending a ridiculous amount of time in the Broadway cinema’s cafe bar. A typical day off in the week would have been spent in the cafe bar writing and taking advantage of their unlimited coffee refill offer. My friend Mark would join me (usually
turning up late), drink plenty of coffee too then we’d both go off around the city centre zinging from the caffeine and laughing uncontrollably. (And dying to pee.)

There seemed to be a real buzz in the Broadway cafe bar back then, no doubt thanks to the creative people who were working for Intermedia, the production resource house behind the cinema. I don’t really remember how I became friends with them, but I was taken under the wing of several of these regulars - Chris Cooke, Tim Cunningham, Steven Schiel, Louise the projectionist and Matthew (erm...who’s surname I’ve forgotten, and terribly I always used to get him and Steven mixed up.)

When I look back on this it seems remarkable that they gave me the time of day - I’m sure they were all at least 5 years older than me - but apparently didn’t seem to mind this naive 19 year
old hanging out with them, talking film ideas and dreams.

I finished the 5 scripts for “5 Times For” but actors were proving elusive. I’m sure I put some posters up around town (definitely sure there was one up in the Old Angel pub and the sandwich bar where I went every dinner) but it was hardly the greatest high profile campaign.

Mark had agreed to play the boyfriend in “Fall Out” (a role he is still waiting to play apparently - he’d soon change his mind if he read the script now) and Tim came on board to play Martin,
but as I couldn’t find players for Steven and Alison I decided to get the ball rolling and film Date. I just had to find an actress. At the time Juliet Brain was a barmaid at the Broadway cafe bar. In an ironic twist, she was actually my inspiration for the girl that Martin was infatuated with, as I was at the time. So in an art imitating life aspect I asked Juliet if she would be interested in acting in a film (what a line!) I’m pretty sure it became her debut film role, but after that she ended up appearing in several other films made by those cafe bar regulars.

I recall a particular meeting with her to discuss the film which ironically was as painful as some of the scenes from the film - Juliet seemed more interested in doing a crossword...

Its difficult to remember the order we shot the film in - I’m sure we concentrated on the first half of the film, which featured just Tim. In a ridiculously stupid illogical way of making a film, we shot in a variety of locations many miles apart. The bedroom scenes and the shot of Tim underneath the hanging plant were all shot in the house in Bulwell I was living at. However, the shot in a lounge was shot in my parents house all the way back in Sutton-In-Ashfield (about 15 miles away), as was some of the final montage footage and the tape smashing. The florist scene
was also shot in Sutton, as were the church scenes.

Although you can barely see him, Mark appeared in the background of the main church shot with blood on his hands and dripping from behind his sunglasses. Chris, who was also helping
to crew the film quickly distracted an eye patch wearing church clerk so she wouldn’t spot the potentially offensive stigmata. I still can’t remember how we got permission to film in there.

The scene with Tim reading the paper was shot on the top of some stone stairs on the Forest recreation ground. In a further act of stupidity, the video shop exterior was on Commercial
Road in Bulwell, but I’m sure we shot the interiors in a different video shop on Mansfield Road around Carrington - again, about ten miles away from the exterior!

Mark had recently worked on a large mural and logo designs for That Cafe Bar (previously known as Truffles, now known as Bar De Nada) on Broad Street and had become friends with the owners. Through this connection we found our location for the first part of the date.
We must have filmed the scenes on a bank holiday Monday, as That Cafe Bar didn’t open Sundays, and insanely we filmed as they were open for business. Due to my lack of confidence and the fact they were trading I didn’t ask to have the music turned off or at least turned down, which would plague the dialogue shot here. (All the sound was recorded using the camera microphone on my Hi-8 camera)

Mark and Chris appeared as grinning members of the public who were supposed to be smirking at him as it looked like he had been stood up.

On a different day (you can see its wet) we went across the road to the Newmarket Inn (at the time a major after work haunt for the Selectadisc crowd.) Once again the dialogue was plagued by background noise, plus my insistence that the 5 main parts of dialogue would only be shot as 5 individual tracking shots, perfectly timed so that we would track past Tim and Juliet for the
same amount of time it took to deliver the lines. This created no end of hassle, not helped by the fact we were filming in the way of the entrance to the gents (as, like the previous scene, the pub was naturally open for business)

The final street scene was shot after this out on Broad Street. Tim and Juliet were understandably frazzled by this point and you can see where they both have to look over to the right of frame, where I’m holding the lines up for them to glance at.

And then following this...a big nothing. I still needed to get some night time footage for the final montage and it wouldn’t be until a year or so later that I would actually film it. My friend
Jim and I went out at 4 in the morning to film the empty city. A police car intrigued by our strange behaviour never seemed to be far behind.

I did edit the rest of the film together up to the final street scene but the film has remained frustratingly unfinished until now.

I did try to come up with different ways to tackle the bad sound in the scenes with Tim and Juliet - at one point I had their dialogue translated in to French, with a view of dubbing the cafe bar scene into French and subtitling it! The dialogue in the pub would have been reduced down to a quick montage of aspects of the tracking shots, with some text joyfully ecplaining what they talked about. None of this was ever implemented.

And now here I am, ten years later, finally finishing the film.

Luckily I still had my original script with all my shooting notes, along with tape logs and paper edits of how I envisaged the final montage. With these notes I’ve been able to finally edit
the concluding montage. Due to some corruption of my S-VHS master tape I’ve had to re-edit part of the farewell street scene.

I’m pleased that this is as close to what it would have been ten years ago, pretentious Joseph Conrad quote included.

My main problem with the film in retrospect is that it desperately needed an editor and script editor to cut the whaffle from the film. I was so precious about every word at the time that everything HAD to go in the film, and the opening half drags as a result of this. I feel a bit sheepish about how strongly it wears its heart on its sleeve too...Sequences such as the montage in the cafe bar and the video shop don’t seem to work and Juliet’s cooling off
towards Tim once they reach the pub seems to make no sense.

I still think the performances seem pretty strong - Tim seems to play the part very well and Juliet worked well too (so much so that I would ask her to work on countless other films after
this, even when I was over my infatuation with her!)

I’m also a big fan of the variety of shots and locations in the film - watch the film on fast forward and it seems to have a real life, energy and movement to it.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Don't Enjoy The Silence


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

A Brief Visit To The Trenches

Last week was a strange one and typical of the struggles I seem to have making films.

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.

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

What Is It And What Is It To You?

Why do you do it? That seems to be a question occasionally asked about my film making. As to why, I'll do my best to answer later, but first it may be worth asking, as did Talking Heads, "How did I get here?"

I'd have to say via Stephen King. He was the author who I became obsessed with around the age of 13 or 14. Although the name was already familiar to me, via articles on him and the film adaptations of his work in the computer magazines I read as a child, it was a random book which pointed me to him and set me off on this path. I was in Nottingham town centre with my dad and we were in one of those overstocks book stores, much like "The Works" (the nationwide chain of overstocks books and stationery in the UK.)

For some odd reason I picked up a book on horror films. I wasn't a particular fan of horror films. I wasn't a particular fan of any particular genre of films, I could pretty much enjoy any type of film. I was flicking through the pages and stopped on a double page spread - on one side was a close up of a pair of eyes from Brian De Palma's "The Fury" and on the other was the grotesque decaying corpse of Alice Krige from "Ghost Story" (a film I've still never seen.)

There was some old man walking behind me who looked over and saw what I was looking at and made some comment along the lines of "That will rot your brain/ That's disgusting/ etc" Perhaps it was an act of teenage rebellion, of confirmation that getting this book would set me apart from them, those who were so outraged by a "disgusting" photo from a film. I really have no idea why, but I bought the book, read it hungrily, took it on holiday with me, read it some more, even copied the film stills from Carrie into a became pretty much my bible and I did my best to try and see as many films that were featured in the book as possible.

So from this it naturally lead to Stephen King and Carrie was the first book I picked up. It blew my mind. Maybe to a teenager who already had feelings of alienation and not quite belonging it struck a cord. I lent it to my friends who all loved it instantly too. From this I started to read as much King as I could, with Night Shift probably being the collection I returned to again and again, and The Stand er...standing out as possibly the most impressive book of his I'd read.

This would all lead to reading lots of James Herbert, which lead into a dabbling of Shaun Hutson. One of my favourite lessons at school was English and from reading these books I'd have daydreams of being a writer of some kind. But for some reason, probably the usual doubts that some teenagers have, I suddenly came to the conclusion that I had no style or flair to my writing. Of course, it didn't occur to me that most people at the age of 15 don't...but it was enough to put me of at that time attempting to be an author. What an ass.

So if I wanted to tell stories, what was the next medium I could do it with? Comics seemed to be the answer, so my friend and I decided to make a comic together. I would write and illustrate "Armour Geddon", the story of a narcissistic misanthropist cyborg law enforcer, which was supposed evoke the anarchist humour of "Marshall Law" comics. The fact I couldn't draw very well didn't stop me, until my friend's comment about my drawing ability got back to me second hand...and that seemed to kill that idea.

With that in tatters (and our proposed fanzine comic "Bad Apples" of course never materialising) I figured film making would be the next logical way to tell a story. Here it wouldn't matter that I couldn't draw - I would "paint" with the camera! Hurrah, I thought...which lead to the debut opus of "Agent 008.5 and Fez Head", as mentioned in my first post. From there it lead to a college course where my main reason for going was just to get my hands on their equipment.

So really, this whole wannabe career and aspiring madness came from a simple desire to tell stories.

As to why, I don't know where my desire to tell stories comes from. I was thinking about this a while ago, recalling musicians being interviewed and they'd say portentous things about "living and breathing making music." I don't think I have that same drive. I know some people who seemingly dedicate every spare minute to films and film making, but that's not me - I like to have other interests too, which some could say are a distraction. Maybe I won't "make it" because I'm not one of those using every spare moment to work on their film making career. Maybe.

But what I have realised is that when I'm not expressing myself in someway, either by writing a script or making a film, I get grouchy and miserable. The irony being that the fighting with production logistics, or tedious post production periods where I'm convinced I'm an appalling film maker makes me pretty miserable at times too.

So I can either be miserable and grouchy doing nothing, or potentially miserable and grouchy with something hopefully half decent to show for it at the end.

Its not a great reason, but it makes sense to me.