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.

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