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.

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