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."