Monday, 27 April 2009

Who Are You?

"Who are you?" asked The Who. "Who am I?" shouted Jackie Chan from the top of a cliff top in one of his not so good later period films.

I figured I best go through my filming "career" to date. No doubt I will come back to the films I've made over the period of the posts, but just to bring you up to speed...though with the speed I do things, you best make yourself comfortable...

The first film I made was at the age of 15, entitled "Agent 009.5 and Fez Head." This staggering opus was shot in the bedroom of my best friend Mark Walker on his dad's camcorder during the school holidays. We had to record direct on to his VHS player, not the camcorder, so we couldn't leave the confines of his room. And another factor was that we shouldn't have even been using his dad's camcorder, hence the sneaky filming in the holidays while he was at work.

This piece of high brow entertainment was followed by the unfinished "Silicon Seeds." My dad had purchased a camcorder, so now we shot this in my home. Mark starred once again, this time in a strange film inspired by David Lynch's "The Grandmother" - in Lynch's film a boy grows a grandparent, in our film the man grows a robot spider which goes on a rampage, trying to kill him. Unfortunately this piece of Oscar worthy ingenuity was never finished and the robot spider was only seen for a very brief period of seconds in wonderful jerky camcorder pause/unpause/pause stop motion.

But it was enough to convince me that this was worth pursuing with an education, so off I went to West Notts College of Further Education in Mansfield for a BTEC Media course. I had no interest in sound recording or radio, I just wanted to get my hands on their kit. Of which there wasn't much.

However, two years later and a plethora of short films later (some of which were for the course, some of which were knocked out in my spare time with their equipment) didn't lead to the hallowed door of my chosen university, so I went into the real world and entered full time employment, with the dream of my chosen university still alive.

I continued writing and making films in my spare time from work, which resulted in a bunch of films made on Hi-8, some of which continued to star Mark until he left to Cardiff University. Others starred the new group of friends I'd made, the majority of which were handily performing arts students at Clarendon College in Nottingham.

Two years later I bitterly abandoned my university path but continued with the film making. Admittedly, my track record of actually finishing films wasn't great. I made several films during this period - "Date", "(Mono)(Tone)(Drone)", "Past. Present. Future.", "Bitch", "The Sky Is Empty", "Ansafon" and "The Lonely Death Of A Girl Who Could Live A Lie No Longer" (you'd never guess I was a Manic Street Preachers fan with that title, eh?)

Of those I made only the 2nd, 3rd and 4th were finished at the time. "Date" was missing its final montage and credits until only several years ago, "Bitch" and "Ansafon" were also sans credit until the same time and "Lonely Death" was never completely shot, though again I only edited the footage together several years ago from my original notes at the time.

Still, despite my track record of incomplete work, I decided I was bored of making short films and decided I wanted a bigger challenge. And I certainly got one. I wrote a feature length script entitled "Gettin' Some" which involved countless actors and locations across the city. To sum up the storyline, I used to tell people the film was "A week in the life of two groups of friends who's lives crossover. With relationship based themes." That about sums it up - or, forgive me for getting ideas above my station, imagine a very low rent "Short Cuts" (in terms of cross over and ensemble) and you'd be somewhere close to where my intentions lay, though not necessarily the final outcome.

This film took me a year to write, then a year was spent shooting about a fifth of the film which was all axed and re-shot during the next year after changes of lead actors and personnel behind the camera (Mark came back from Cardiff, himself now heavily bitten with the film making bug, to live on my bedroom floor for however long it took to shoot the film.) We were still filming at the start of the 4th year, by which time Mark had gained a place on the Fiction Directing course at the prestigious National Film and Television School in Beaconsfield.

By this point I'd pretty much had enough. The shoot fizzled out, with some scenes never to be shot. As I'd been financing the whole thing myself, I had a large credit card bill which I was only making the minimum payments on. I had no way of editing it, as I didn't have a computer. So, with a view that one day I'd finish the bloody thing, my girlfriend and I moved away.

With no desire to make films of my own for the time being, I concentrated on writing. I wrote the script "Scorn" for the digi beta project which Mark had to make in his 2nd year at the NFTS. I also did a draft for his graduation film "Sea Monsters", though in the end I was adding elements when he was at the stage he needed to be streamlining the script down. For political reasons I couldn't be credited, even though some lines of my dialogue stayed in the film. The film was nominated for Best Short Film at the BAFTAs, which was an amazing result for Mark, straight out of film school.

Through Mark I also got involved with a production company he knew and I did a treatment for them which fizzled out. In the end they didn't seem particularly interested in what I brought to the table of their idea, only the aspects which they'd suggested in the first part.

I also continued to write some treatments for and with Mark. One was supposed to be a pitch for Channel 4's "Coming Up" series of short films for emerging talent, though I'd written a feature length treatment and felt very strongly that we should try and get some interest in it as a feature. Mark was won over by the treatment and agreed that it should be a feature. Unfortunately, due to time constraints the project ended up on my back burner, but its one we're still both very keen on getting to the screen.

With the move I was able to find higher paying employment, so at last I was able to pay off that credit card bill and save up to buy a Mac. I could finally tackle those 24 hours of dv and 21 hours of audio that we got through making "Gettin' Some." Due to the haphazard nature that we'd made the film (broken timecodes and what not) even getting the footage on the Mac was a demoralizing nightmare. To cut a long story short, "Gettin' Some" is edited but still unfinished. Its currently having a sound mix done by a guy called Nik who lives in Greece (the wonders of the internet!) and my friend and DOP of my latest works is attempting to grade the damn thing...or at least tart it up the best he can with footage that it nearly 10 years old and has had the life rendered out of it.

It was with my Mac that I was finally able to finish off the titles and some editing on those Hi-8 shorts.

I finally returned to making my own films in March 2007 with a short film called "The Crunch." With my typical luck regarding sound, I've had major complications with the sound mix on this film, resulting in 4 different sound designers being involved at some point (or in the case of one of them, its arguable whether he ever did anything on it in 3 months.) However, in the last few weeks its finally been completed and just today I've submitted it to Raindance and the Brief Encounters short film festival in Bristol, the first time I've ever entered film festivals.

The two other films I'm currently working on are "Stranded" and "Goodnight, Halloween." The first was written at the same time as The Crunch and has already proved to be problematic regarding the logistics of filming. Its 3 intertwined storylines and we shot the first 2 last year but didn't have chance to shoot the 3rd, so I'm currently trying to arrange that. "Goodnight, Halloween", by its very nature, has had to have a strange shooting schedule - we've shot two thirds of the film, but these elements need to be placed together for the lead actor to respond to on the final day's shoot. As it stands I'm currently waiting on the animation and design work that's needed to integrate the elements. Its looking amazing so far, so fingers crossed for the animator/ designer's personal end of May deadline.

In amongst these current projects, I'm writing a feature length script which I'm hoping to try and raise some money for. Hopefully my three latest shorts will be strong showreel pieces to help untie some purse strings somewhere.

Finally, in addition to all of this at the start of the year I took over the running of a film maker's networking night. The previous organiser was calling it a day as he wanted to concentrate on his own projects, so rather than see it die off I decided to take it on.

All of my films have been self funded from working full time. I did apply for some lottery funds for "Gettin' Some", but that obviously didn't happen. With this in mind, I like to think I have some experience of no budget film making, even if I'm not the most prolific.

It's ironic of course that I go under the name of Faster Productions, as everything seems to take me a bloody age to complete. But I'm always determined to finish off anything I've started. If I'd had the footage I would have undoubtedly finished off "Lonely Death", even if it was a few years ago and was just for my own satisfaction. Though doing a George Lucas and creating a CGI robot spider to finish off "Silicon Seeds" is pushing it.

So that's who I am, or at least the work I've done and doing, and what I'll be referring to throughout my subsequent posts.

Sunday, 26 April 2009

All aboard...

"Is there anyone out there?" sang Pink Floyd.

That's kinda my feelings about blogs in general - I'm not sure why most people do them.

The only other person I know who has a blog is Chris Regan, a local script writer, who you can follow at

I do follow some blogs myself, I mean, I don't subscribe to them, I just remember to check them out every now and then.

So why start a blog?

Well, it was a recent post on one of the bulletins from Shooting People, which I'm a member of. There was a link to Ted Hope's blog about selling your film. Now, I'm currently in no position to be selling a film, or at least not yet and I have doubts whether I would be actively trying to sell my latest short films when they're complete. This list was saying that there was no point even considering attempting to sell a film unless you've got the following...
A trailer made and up on the web
You do not have clips selected and up on the web
You have not been writing a blog regarding the film for a significant length of time
You do not have a plan on how to keep that blog interesting for a year
You do not have a website for the film up on the web
You do not have a simple way to collect email addresses from fans
You have not set up a way for fans to subscribe to updates about the film
You have not joined multiple social network sites, both as an individual and as the film
You have not created a press kit with press notes for the film
You have not identified the blogs and critics you think will help promote your film
You have not built a study guide for film clubs
You have not mapped out a festival strategy that builds to local releases
You have not made several versions of a poster, and have enough to sell and give away
You have not made promotional items for your film
You have not manufactured the dvd and made great packaging

I know this is geared more towards feature film makers and I see the point that you do need a presence on the web, but sometimes I wonder if all we end up doing is creating a whole bunch of white noise, that means nothing. I mean, in all honesty, my first port of call regarding a film these days is normally iMDB, rather than a film's own website. I also wonder if all that creative energy used in maintaining a presence online could be better applied to the actual film being made, or writing a script, or something...It reminds me of the story of Jim Morrison, who apparently would spend hours in the bar, drinking, waxing lyrically and poetically, but then find himself spent by the time they got to the studio at the exact time they needed that energy.

Anyway, I've sorted myself out a little bit this weekend - I've tarted up my Shooting People profile, getting credits and stills where I can on my work profile. With the advice above, I should be starting a Facebook page for my latest short The Crunch, which was finished a couple of weeks ago following a protracted post production process. And of course, I've started this blog.

Another reason for starting this blog is that I'm currently writing a large essay on the making of my no budget feature film "Gettin' Some" - this film was shot back in 2000 on DV in Nottingham and, fingers crossed, after another protracted post production process, could well be finally completed in the coming months. My main target for the film now is to break it into piecemeal chunks and upload it all to Youtube, but I'd like to have the making of essay somewhere online, to hopefully give some context to the film and an insight into the behind the scenes soap opera which unfolded while trying to get the film made.

As I have several older shorts kicking around on Youtube, I'll probably post my old making of essays regarding them up here too, to provide some context and history of them.

So, why Wars Of Attrition?

I'm sure all film making feels like a battle, whether you've got £100 million or £100, though having the millions I'm sure helps grease the wheels. But where I am, at the bottom of the film making pile looking upwards, it can often feel that every aspect of making a film is a battle and you have to keep chipping away at it bit by bit. Where I am, making my films in my spare time, most of the people involved have jobs and other commitments. Trying to get 7 crew and 3 actors together in a location can often meaning planning months ahead and even then you might have to hope the weather is good, or the actor hasn't been offered a paying role, or that someone isn't ill, or that someone hasn't made plans and completely forgot about committing to your shooting date two months ago.

But still I carry on, chipping away. At the time of writing, I've been struggling to organise the final shoot for a film which was written in August 2006, was cast in September 2007, had a one day shoot in June 2008 and a second day in August 2008. Now I need to film the final day, with an actress who's been cast for nearly two years and yet to do a single scene. With the logistics of things, it looks like I'm going to have to shoot this final piece in a way I don't really want to.

With these wars, it often feels like there are no victors. Only compromises. But I, and I'm sure many other film makers in a similar position, soldier on.