Saturday, 27 November 2010

What's That Noise? - The shooting of Creak

Darren, myself and Toby check out a shot of the Pioneer.

Mood lighting with Sara, myself, Toby and Darren.

The opening gag image of Sara switching on the light.

Heather and Ellen, disturbed at 4am.

We 3 beards of Hovian are...Terry, Darren and myself...the hair bear bunch.

I never find that it’s the greatest start when the director is running late to the location and finds members of the crew waiting for him outside, but that was my auspicious start to shooting Creak. Despite my best efforts of an early start I still ended up leaving home after I’d intended to, picked up one of my cast and headed over to Hove to find Terry and Darren waiting on the steps of Jim’s house.

We quickly unloaded the car then I went to park up at Hove station and walked back to the house thankfully to find everyone chatting in the kitchen and the kettle on. Worried that we had a ridiculously sized shot list and probably nowhere near enough time, we got on with blacking out the windows in the bedroom and clearing various bits of furniture and clothing out, but remembering to leave some clutter so it didn’t look too tidy. I was also able to put up the pictures of the doorways though whether it was debateable whether any would show up on camera.

The rest of the cast and crew arrived and I felt increased pressure to ensure we were finished on time – Sheila arrived dressed up as it turned out she was going out for a meal with her fiancĂ©e after the shoot, Jeanette was also planning to be out at night, Terry had plans and I wanted to get back home as soon as possible. We about had the bedroom ready so we quickly got on with costume and make up – there unfortunately wasn’t a great deal for Jeanette to do with the make up – I wanted Sheila to look very pallid, though she is already pale and in retrospect I probably didn’t make her look as sickly as I would have liked, so losing the gag of her looking like a monster. We also hit a snag with her costume – Sheila astutely spotted that the chequered pattern on the pyjamas I bought would most likely play havoc with the camera. I knew that the new generation of SLRs which were capable of HD footage had trouble with certain patterns in particular and one quick test later Darren confirmed that the pyjamas were going mental on camera.

Unfortunately Darren had also left an aspect of camera equipment at home (might have been the focus ring) which meant we would have to cross Brighton against busy Saturday morning traffic before we could commence shooting. Despite some discussion about going out into Hove to find another pair of pyjamas, Sheila said that she had brought a vest so if we could get some tracksuit bottoms she could wear them…so the trip across town also included calling in at Terry’s flat to get his tracksuit bottoms (bought with best intentions for running, but never used!), which meant we pretty much lost an hour before shooting could even begin.

Once we got back from the sojourn Sheila got in costume, more resembling Sporty Spice from the Spice Girls than I would have liked (which I guess to some could be classed as monsterous in its own right.) After a long period of setting up, we were finally ready to shoot the first shot – worryingly it had already gone midday and I really felt that the shot list might as well go in the bin there and then. It was also decided that due to time we wouldn’t slate everything completely accurately – we were just going to slate scenes and takes, with no differentiation for the shots in a particular scene. As I would be editing, possibly with Terry’s help, this didn’t seem to matter too much as we would be aware of what we had shot on the day.

It did feel like that first shot took much longer than I had hoped – despite rehearsing it several times, I felt Sara kept turning over on her side before her cue to do so, making the shot and sound obsolete. However, she did seem to be throwing herself into the role really well, immediately establishing a touchy feely warmth to her character and between her character and Sheila’s. I really felt the way she played it had some truth to it, especially the way she was flailing an arm out behind her, trying to nudge her lover into action. I chatted with Sara several weeks later and she admitted that she kept jumping the gun, acting before I had called action, as she had never done film work before, only stage, so was unaware of much of the film making process.

There was also some unfortunate truth to Sheila’s reluctance to get out of the bed – it was very chilly in the bedroom and in some shots she’s lying under the covers wearing her coat. Sara also only removed her jeans when absolutely needed for the shot in an effort to retain some body heat.

Ironically, we shot the film on a very bright and sunny day, which didn’t feel that cold outside – it was certainly warm enough to make the binliners on the bedroom windows come unstuck during shooting, which showed that in a sense we may as well needn’t have bothered with blacking out the bedroom windows – we never really saw the bedroom windows and the curtains in the room were very heavy with a separate layer of blackout cloth, resulting in only a tiny amount of light spillage at the edges.

With the loss of cold cream look for Sheila, it also meant I had to abandon the plan to have her lying on her back with arms crossed, looking vampiric. But this also meant that we could immediately drop three shots of shooting directly down on them from above as they lay in the bed on their backs. With the reversal on Sheila, we were able to capture an end shot of the scene at the same time where Sara looks hurtfully at Sheila.

We did have some issues with this reversal shot of Sheila as we decided to use the same set up for a shot at the end of the film where Sara comes back to bed and apologises to Sheila. At the end of the shot Sara switches off the light, putting the room back in darkness which allows the Pioneer to enter the room. But as we were using a separate lamp to light Sheila, precariously hand held by myself (so the lack of crew does become an issue) it resulted in Sara and I having to synchronise the lights going off, which wasn’t as easy as it should have been and resulted in many more takes than probably necessary. I do remember at one point Terry and Jeanette becoming obsessed with my face’s shadow on the bedroom wall, which in its hairy, stubbly state looked positively Neanderthal like.

I was determined to wrap all the shots which didn’t require the Pioneer before breaking and it probably wasn’t until way past 2pm when we were at this stage, possibly closer to 3pm. While the kettle was on we got Toby suited up as the Pioneer for the first time. I was definitely glad that I had gone with the pads idea – perhaps they weren’t as noticeable on the arms and shoulders, but they did seem to accentuate the joints at the knees. For some reason the Pioneer reminded me of some creature from a 70s episode of Dr Who – depending on your take on these things, that’s either a great or god awful thing.

Sara had made a fun request that she didn’t want to see the Pioneer’s mask until we shot the final image of the film, which was her reaction to seeing the Pioneer. I thought if it was possible then this would be a good idea and could help create a genuine reaction in her performance.

After the break we returned back to the bedroom to shoot the Pioneer’s approach. I’d always hoped to shoot Toby walking backwards, then reverse the footage to ensure that any movement of the Pioneer would look a bit off, but after we had trouble with just a simple shot of him crossing the frame it seemed more apparent that his approach would have to be abandoned. I tried with the other two shots of him (his claws outstretched to Sara, her almost POV as he approaches the bed) but the later shots were done in such a way to make this idea impossible to achieve.

So all this time we were shooting the shots of the Pioneer, Sara had been lying in the bed keeping her eyes closed to ensure that she had never seen the Pioneer’s face. As we came to the build up of the final image, it felt that Sara was genuinely building up the fear in her head, especially as several people were voicing out loud how potentially disturbing the mask was. Even with the laughs we were having with the look of the Pioneer, mostly involving Toby being some pan dimensional porno creature come to join in with the lesbians, Sara’s terror was still accumulating.

Unfortunately the terror had perhaps risen a little too much by the time we did the first take, as Sara immediately pulled away from the Pioneer, clawing her way away from him and out of Darren’s framed and focussed frame. So we did several more takes, one where Sara did a fabulous scream, but it’s a shame that the initial reaction of the first take wasn’t captured how I wanted it.

With the bedroom shots done we hotfooted it downstairs and blacked out the lounge, almost having the opposite issue with the curtains downstairs when it seemed that they didn’t completely close, leaving some of the bin liners exposed. With some selective framing we were able to get around this issue. The family pictures went down and the doorway pictures were repeated again on the shelves and hung up in the lounge, again, possibly not to be seen.

The lounge shooting went pretty easily as it was really only 3 or 4 shots – looking over Sara’s shoulder through the doorway at Sheila and following her through, resting over Grace’s shoulder for a reversal, then the reversal of this on Sheila, a shot of Sara emerging sheepishly from behind the curtain and then the final shot, which did involve several takes and run throughs.

Jim’s hallway has a fantastic large mirror in front of the lounge door, which both Darren and I had expressed a wish to use somehow in the film, as it would be foolish not to use such a great visual element! So Sara leaving the room involved following her movements over her shoulder, waiting on her as she switches off the lounge light, then as she moves away she reveals the Pioneer, now stood in the darkness of the lounge, reflected in the mirror. As Toby couldn’t see what the hell was going on with the mask and the light off, I had to basically nudge him into the shot at the right time, while trying to ensure that you didn’t see some pale hand manhandling a trans dimensional being. After several takes which had timing issues we finally got it.

One overriding memory I have of this sequence was Sheila taking it easy in a chair in the lounge while we worked on this last shot, meaning she had a constant, almost a little too close, view of Toby's lycra clad trans dimensional ass.

The original plan was to go into the kitchen next – prioritise all the key scenes with dialogue – but it still wasn’t completely dark enough outside to pass for the middle of the night and as the shots would reveal the patio doors of the kitchen we couldn’t black them out. So instead we moved on to the hallway bits – firstly we did Sheila’s and Sara’s descent up the stairs, which involved Darren and myself squeezed on to the landing two thirds up the stairs, with me on the stair below to pull focus and Sara having to attempt squeezing by us and the camera set up as she reached the top and the Pioneer revealed to have stepped out of the lounge.

I have to admit I wasn’t as focussed as I had hoped for the shoot. I knew my wife was having a bad day with my son and I couldn’t help but be worried about them both. I hadn’t prepared upfront as much as I had hoped for the actors’ direction anyway and so some questions about the style of delivery ended up being given muddled answers. Getting the shoot over and done with on time so I could be home as soon as possible was a definite motivating factor for me. I do like to feel that I still did get footage and performances that I was happy with and wasn’t prepared to accept just any take for the sake of it.

We filmed the shots of Sheila’s search of the upstairs which were 3 very quick shots of her switching lights on and off, followed by the dialogue between her and Sara at the top of the landing. Now it was dark enough we could remove the bin liners from the hallway window and film without any worries about showing the bin liners. While upstairs we also got Sara going back into the bedroom and the Pioneer’s inexplicable descent from the stairs above Sara once she turns off the light (which again required some synching between myself and Sara as I was inside the bedroom, hidden behind the door, switching off the bedroom light as she switched off the hallway light.)

So, all the upstairs shots were done and we returned back downstairs, grabbing some simple pick ups of Sheila and Sara’s feet descending the stairs. Although we never go into the second reception room we quickly got the shot of Sheila checking out the room ensuring we had covered her full exploration of the house.

With these simple pick ups done, we could go into the kitchen for the last shots. We focused looking away from the patio doors filming Sheila’s tired entry to the kitchen where she struggles with the lights not working, then suddenly working, followed by Sara’s tiptoeing into the kitchen for the dialogue. The dialogue here seemed to take some time and quite a few takes and I had to provide a noise to cue Sara jumping at the sound of the fridge, a noise which had the danger of making her laugh rather than flinch, as I initial did a cappuccino coffee machine type noise which is the odd sound our fridge makes at home! Flicking around for the reversal, we got Sheila’s mid shot at the patio doors, then Sara’s reversal into the kitchen, which also doubled up for Sheila’s reversal of hitting the lights and the audience catching split second glimpses of the Pioneer being repelled by the light.

Almost at the finish line now, so everyone else helped clear the house and return it to normal while Darren and I caught the final few shots – two exterior shots from the garden, one where Sheila is seen at the patio doors and the Pioneer’s mask is dirtying the frame and a similar shot looking directly into the kitchen at Sara nervously left alone in the room.

And with that we were done – Darren went outside to capture the opening and closing exterior image of the house – while we packed up. Sheila’s partner Paul arrived on set while we finished off tidying and they were thankfully able to get on their way to their meal, mostly on time. In fact, I was completely gob smacked that we had finished at 9.10, just 10 minutes after I had aimed for us to finish.

The packing up took much longer than I anticipated – Darren’s equipment took quite some time to dismantle but after dropping a car load of people off back at home I finally got back around 10.30. My wife was a wonderful sight to see and I was so happy to see her still awake so I could share with her the experiences of the shoot.

I was determined to get the shoot done in a day to a standard I was happy with and I felt I had achieved that. Despite my worries and knee jerk reaction of having to throw the shot list away we did actually get the majority of the shots I had hoped to capture. The small group of us on the day bonded really well and all pulled together to ensure we got what was needed for the film. I had 16 days to get the film edited and completed for my planned screening of it at the November post Halloween horror special of the film night Terry and I run. 16 days would be enough to quickly edit a 5 minute film, yeah?

As has become depressingly de rigeur with my films, nothing ever seems to go as planned.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Yoko spilts up the band - the birth of Sincerely Psychopath and Creak

Always read the label when using latex paint - your telepathic powers are in danger

Nick's very disturbing test image for the "Sincerely Psychopath" ident

It's been many months since I've written anything for my blog - not that there haven't been any developments, or that I haven't been doing anything film related, just that it always felt like the last thing I had energy for - that any mental faculties left at the end of the day were reserved for creating a new script or something, rather than "just" my blog.

So I have to list some updates on the state of affairs with several projects, but that feels like treading old ground. It's much more interesting to talk about something new, so I'll talk about "Creak."

"Creak" is a short script I wrote back at the start of the year just after the birth of my son. I was pretty pleased at the fact that I managed to crank out a quick 5 minute short over an evening as I often struggle to create such short, punchy scripts. But with the birth of my son, I knew the days of throwing money at productions like I did with "Stranded" and "Goodnight, Halloween" were over for the time being. So any future films would have to be much simpler affairs and preferably shot in a day.

I'd had an idea the other year to try and do a series of horror shorts under the banner title of "Sincerely, Psychopath" - so I'd keep Faster Productions for the more "serious" (ahem) work, while Sincerely, Psychopath was a testing ground for quick shorts which would be aimed more at getting online asap rather than sending to festivals...and most importantly, films which wouldn't get bogged down in endless post production work.

So Creak is the first production to fit into this - I'm reluctant to call it a horror, as there is no blood and gore, so creepy is a level I'm aspiring to...though whether it ends up being creepy is yet to be seen. It's inspired by an event that my wife and I experienced at our last house, where we were awoken in the middle of the night by a very loud creaking sound, which seemed impossibly close to my ear and for which we could find no explanation. We had no neighbours one side and couldn't figure how the sound came from the house next door. But we did a midnight search of the house anyway...

It's not the most original script (one friend said it seemed more like a shooting exercise) though it was never intended to be mind blowingly original, but more an excuse to do a less serious, fun shoot. I really wanted it to be back to how I used to make films at college - a bunch of friends having fun. It wasn't to be entirely like that, though it was by the end.

I was looking to shoot it at a friend's house and it needed to be a house with stairs and several floors, otherwise creeping round a studio flat is a bit too quick. In an ideal world, the most perfect setting for the shoot would have been the house where the inspiration took place, but that wasn't an option anymore...and our current house could have been used at an absolute push, but I just couldn't see it working, even with some fudging of scene locations. So I set my eyes on my friend Jim's house in Hove and as I started planning this at the start of the summer, knowing at some point that he would be going on holiday with his family, leaving the house unoccupied.

With this, I got an inital shooting date of around mid August which I'd managed to get the thumbs up from with my usual crew and my new cast - Sheila and Sara, both of whom I'd known for many years. Sheila makes a living as an actress, whereas Sara used to dabble in a bit of drama and had expressed an interest in being involved (in fact, I think she had found out a touch too late about the role of the witch for Goodnight, Halloween.) Both were local, which would ensure keeping costs down.

Unfortunately the August shooting date didn't happen as I think Jim and I had got our dates mixed up and the actual date they were away wasn't convenient for shooting was postponed. I wasn't too dismayed as I was determined not to get too stressed from trying to organise this film. Whether I did manage to shoot the film was dependent on them going away on holiday again later in the year, but if they didn't and I didn't get to shoot the film this year...well, oh well...

But then he hinted at them being away in October, so with a new date in mind I tried rallying the cast and crew again. Here the wheels started to come off - Anthony was already committed to a feature which would take up all his time, so my cameraman and his equipment were gone. Jenny, production design extraordinaire and generally brilliant person to have around on a shoot was only available after the shoot she was working on, so would get down to the location at around 8pm - the time I was hoping to be winding things up. As I'd cast one of my sound man contacts as the creature (aka The Pioneer) in the film I was hoping that John, who had done the sound mix on The Crunch and two days of Stranded, would be available to do the sound, but he gracefully declined. I'd also made the decision to use a new contact, Jeanette, as the make up artist instead of Debbie, my regular make up artist, as I wanted to help Jeanette build up a new portfolio of work.

Though hopefully Terry and Gus would still be available as my regular crew members, it all felt very strange. We'd all worked together on various shoots in the last few years and I really felt like I'd built up a core, dependable, talented crew. Suddenly the band had split up. But I had realised in the last few months that I had to face facts - that Anthony and Jenny were becoming increasingly in demand, mostly with paid work - and that it would become increasingly difficult to assume that they could continue to work on my films, especially as paying work would always, understandably, take precedent over my unpaid work. They were continuing their career ascent (rightly so, as they are both supremely talented) but I would need to find some new blood to help me with my new horror ventures.

All the same, I did feel like Yoko Ono. Maybe I'm the only one who's actually sentimental about the group that I had working with me.

Luckily, Chris Regan, film maker/ writer and all round lovely bloke and one of the regulars at Son Of Movie Bar, had been making a film called Jenny Ringo and the Monkey's Paw, which had involved quite a few people I knew and from that link I was introduced to Darren, DOP on Jenny Ringo, and, following hearing only positive things from various people, asked him if he was interested in shooting Creak. Luckily he was and he was available.

It wasn't the most ideal situation, but I asked Toby, who was playing The Pioneer, if he could also record sound whilst playing the creature role, especially as most of the creature shots didn't involve any sound recording. Thankfully he was up for this.

Then a new issue reared it's head - the date I was aiming for turned out to be unsuitable for Sara due to commitments with her son, which meant that I had to start looking for a new actress. Then it was also looking shakey from Sheila, again due to her family commitments. From having to almost replace my crew, it now looked like I was going to have to replace my actresses.

I provisionally lined up two replacements if it turned out they were needed but then was hit with another bombshell. Jim and I had got dates mixed up again, meaning the only weekend I could shoot was the one prior to what I was aiming at, leaving me with around 2 weeks to prep for the film. It was either this or nothing.

Fortuitously, this meant that Sara and Sheila were available, so the casting problem was solved immediately and very luckily this change of shooting date didn't affect the crew availability too. It seemed that everything was still go.

There were still some issues I needed to sort - the costume for The Pioneer most pressingly. I'd been thinking about this since the start of the year and all the time I kept thinking about the moment in M.Night Shalamayamayamayamananananan's "Signs" where the alien is caught on the video camera at the kids party. So I was looking for an ominous black figure shape. But I also wanted something else - maybe some giant claws, almost Wolverine-esque. The head I wanted to be elongated, tall and narrow, accentuating the height of the figure. I'd had one idea of green screening the figure in, so it could be stretched in post production to look disturbingly skinny, but I was adamant that I didn't want to do any post production effects on this film - all in camera or not at all.

Of all places, I wasn't expecting Facebook to provide the answer. I manage to detune from the adverts on the sidebars of most websites, but luckily one day I did see one out of the corner of my eye on Facebook, advertising "Morph suits." I checked ou the website and this seemed to provide a brilliant, simple solution - a black spandex costume that gives you a very peculiar looking all black, featureless figure. It would certainly provide a good starting point for the creature.

It's a job that I would have asked Jenny to get involved with had she been available, but as it was I figured I would have to try and do the best I could with my limited talents in creating the creature. Although I'd been planning the film all year, naturally it was only when I had my reduced prep time that I suddenly had to start buying everything in. The morph suit was speedily dispatched and, naturally, I had to try it on and found it really left nothing to the imagination...I hoped Toby wouldn't be too prudish about this! One disappointment with it though was the white lettering of "Morph Suit" emblazoned on the back, which could potentially have been troublesome for any shots behind the creature.

I purchased some halloween monster claw gloves from ebay which were nowhere near some magnificently huge Wolverine talons, but would have to do..however they were lurid shocking pink, so I needed to paint them black sharpish. I had a vague recollection of Jenny once warning me that rubber needed to be painted with silicon based paint (or something like that) as normal spray paint would dry hard and crack when the latex or rubber was moved. She couldn't recall what paint it was that I was supposed to use, so one internet search later pointed me towards an American website who sold it ready made. Unfortunately their minimum despatch was $25 worth of goods (plus shipping) which was too much. Back to the internet which lead me to the first place I should have looked (ebay, what else) and soon I had a bottle of black latex paint winging its way towards me through the post. Upon receiving it, there was a very peculiar warning label on the bottle, telling me of potential "psychic" dangers from using the paint...

Although it looked grey, it dried black and so the claws were sorted. They were a bit loose on the cuffs, but that would have to be sorted on the day.

So now I started thinking that Toby was a skinny fellow - hence me casting him in the role of the creature - but I was worried that was exactly what he would look like - a skinny bloke in a spandex suit - so I wondered if wearing some sort of shoulder and joints padding would help accentuate his joints and bulk him out. Not wanting to spend any money unnecessarily, I initially contacted a local rugby club, asking if they would be willing to lend me some pads for the shoot in return for a credit etc. As of writing this, I've still yet to hear back from them, once again confirming that no one seems to want to have any manners in even sending a polite no thanks back when you're a film maker with no money - much easier to just hit delete and pretend you never received it. So I asked friends on Facebook and my work colleague up in bonny Scotland, who is an outdoors enthusiast, had some knee and elbow pads he could lend me.

As for the shoulder pads, I had my eye on several sets for sale on ebay, but most would finish at around £30 plus postage, much higher than I was prepared to pay. Then one set appeared which would have to be collected as the seller wasn't prepared to post the pads. I realised I could add the journey on to my work day after hours whch would mean a two hour round trip, though this was something I was prepared to do. I won the pads for the princely sum of £5.50, then the seller got in touch to offer me postage for a fiver - realising I would spend this in petrol alone, nevermind the tedious drive, I jumped at the chance.

Then my wife's eagle eyes spotted a set of knee and elbow pads on a carboot for £4, probably about the same it would cost to send the pads back to my colleague in Scotland. One purchase and email later and the pads were mine, with his set staying at home in north of the border.

The final aspect for The Pioneer was the mask - I dropped an email to Nick, who was finally coming to the end of doing the animation effects for Goodnight, Halloween, asking if he had any suggestions. He recommended his friend Thad, who I had met many years ago. Nick put us in touch with each other though contact was worryingly sporadic - Thad had no internet connection at home, I didn't have a phone number and I had no idea he was even working on it until I finally got an email a week later. I'd deliberately given him an earlier deadline than necessary, but then I got all confused and worried that I had told him the original shooting date, not the new one for a week earlier. At the same time I was about to call him he sent me a text, stating that the mask would be ready for Friday and he would come over from Hastings to deliver it (I had no idea he was over there - I thought he still lived in Brighton.) He wasn't able to send any pictures of the mask, stating that I'd just have to cross my fingers and hope I liked it. Part of me wished as a back up plan I'd bought this strange rubber gas mask I'd seen on ebay from the same fetish style shop which had sold me the latex paint...

I went to Brighton to meet Thad - the mask wasn't quite what I was expecting. It definitely had a disturbing quality to it, though he had been more heavily influenced by the African tribal mask pictures I'd sent him than I had been expecting. In a way, I'd realised a little too late after making contact with him was that I really just wanted some strange knobbly super long almond type shape for the creatures head, making it more abstract. He's also painted it in a brown wood colour as I stupidly never told him I needed it black. Considering the less than ideal way and the timelines that Thad had to make the mask, I think it was a great effort and the design and craft (it's simply made from corrugated cardboard) really did grow on me, especially after we'd given it a black make over.

That was the creature but my actresses would, in theory, be easier. With Sheila playing the alpha male of the lesbian relationship I wanted her to be wearing a manly pyjama suit - one which had a suit style collar. As Sheila is extremely small framed I had to try and find a pair that wouldn't swamp her, nor be too low cut on the chest. After many weeks of looking on ebay and various cheap clothing establisments, my wife spotted a pair on ebay just days before the shoot. The snag of only posting them "Second class - 7-10 days delivery" was circumvented - amazingly, the seller offered to post them recorded next day special delivery for the same cost, which is either generous or they are cheeky with the postage anway...nonetheless, this ensured I had them just in time a day before the shoot.

I'd wanted Sheila's character to have gone to bed with a cold cream application on her face and have her lying vampirishly on her back, so she looks like a a monster movie. For Sara's character, I had a similar gag planned - I wanted her to wear a t-shirt with Nick's Godzilla illustration that he created for Son Of Movie Bar, so we'd see her wearing a a monster movie. Nick sent the files over for me to print onto a t-shirt, but after my wife had some doubts over using the image maker liquid that she had, we instead bought some t-shirt transfer paper and printed the design out. Minda, always much better with an iron than me, put the t-shirt together and it looked great. So much so that during the shoot Sheila asked if we did any t-shirts in girl's sizes!

Minda and I also searched ebay for a fun pair of sleep goggles with the eyes open for the opening image of Sara turning on the light - an idea I was going to abandon when Minda reminded me this was very similar to Breakfast At Tiffanys...oh well, if you're going to steal, steal from the best...

The tagline I'd had in my head for this film was "It's 4am and somewhere, something has opened..." -I felt that the Pioneer had come through something - a doorway - to our world and I wanted to add a peculiar visual element to the film. I was also aware that filming in Jim's house would show their pictures on the wall, photos of family members etc which I felt would be intrusive to film and also a touch lazy to leave up. So I wanted to put up photos or illustrations of doorways. Not wanting to just have this looking a bit plain, I asked my friend Rich to do some fancy work on the pictures in Photoshop so some were more illustrative...though when he heard that there was a chance his work wouldn't even be seen on screen, depending on our shooting angles, he decided he'd help me do some effects on any pictures rather than doing it himself.

Unfortunately I just didn't get the time to transform the pictures and in the end used just 4 photos taken by myself and 4 from Nick's Flickr stream - as the film hasn't been edited at the time of writing this I'm still not sure how much they are seen on screen, but I do take some pride in doing this detail when it was only ever important to myself and on a film this miniscule size it's almost an inconsequential detail.

I'd done one of my usual scaborous storyboards of strange looking thumbnail people on a copy of the script, but still needed to type this up into a shot list to pass to Darren. Once I'd done this we arranged a date and time to head to Jim's house, now it was temporarily vacant, so Darren could see the spaces I was looking at for filming in.

Brilliantly organised I arrived slightly early with only enough spare change for half an hours parking, leaving us only 20 minutes to look around the house. I discovered that Jim's bed was opposite the window, not underneath it, and looking at the size of it figured it would be a massive task to shift it around the room. So compromises on how I envisaged the film were already taking place. Generally Darren felt there was a lot of nice depth around the house that we could exploit to make the film look interesting, so the recce was a successful one though I felt a little disappointed that things were already not going to look how I imagined them. A greater success was getting back to my car over 20 minutes after my parking ticket expired and not receiving a fine...

The Friday night before filming began was a hectic rush from Minda and I - we'd take it in turns to paint sides of the mask, using the black latex paint as it was all we had to hand (and at least would match the claws in sheen) then drying it as quickly as possible in front of the fan heater, Minda made up the Son Of Movie Bar t-shirt and we were both cutting out photos to put in the frames. Everything was put together in one large box all ready for the shoot in the morning. So the props were ready, but I felt unprepared and had no time to sit and look at the script with direction pointers. Oh dear.

I'd also lost two crew members that day - Gus was about to go on holiday and hadn't got around to telling me and Nick was unfortunately called away on personal business. Unable to find any replacements at short notice, we'd just have to get on with it.

As always, I was incredibly nervous and had been all day (and most of the week.) It took me a very long time to get to sleep that night as my head was spinning with how I would direct, what we would be doing.

So much for the planned stressless, fun hadn't even started and I was already heavily stressed...

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Baby Steps

It's been several months since I've updated the blog -my last posts were around the 22nd of January. On this day I finally got The Crunch uploaded to Youtube and got the making of posts uploaded here.

The next day was the birth of my first child.

So excellent timing really. In a way, putting The Crunch up on Youtube did feel like some closure in a way with that film - it had no joy at the film festivals I'd entered it to (think probably around 25) and with it being a year old and suddenly past it's sell by date for some festivals, it seemed to make sense to get it online.

Ironically, since then, it has been shown in Brighton at the Future Shorts event where the local organiser looks for local artists to add a local flavour for the screening before the touring programme is shown. Very nicely Stephen, who runs the Brighton event, became a big fan of The Crunch and spoke glowingly about it after its screening. Sadly, it didn't get a round of applause until he said it deserved one...compared to every other film on the bill which got an immediate reaction! He's pushing the film to the guy who sorts out the touring programme, so there is a chance it could get on there in the near future.

It's also been shown at a new film maker's networking night - "Sex, Lies and Videotape" in Cardiff on the opening night. Due to geography and the little matter of a baby it was impossible for me to attend the screening and I've been unable to get any feedback from the organiser, despite requesting it. Still, it's another showing.

In the last few days it's also been confirmed that it's going to be screened in London on the 15th of April, at an event which takes place over two floors in a converted warehouse, with various other arty aspects going on, which I will thankfully be attending (hell, there's no choice as I have to take the dvd in person!)

I'm pleased that the film is finally getting any airing of any kind - there are more film maker's networking nights across the country I'm going to submit it to which hopefully will show it, so the film isn't a complete lost cause.

I'm less pleased that Youtube shows that most people can't be bothered to watch the whole film - due to the annoying Youtube running time restrictions, I had to split the film into 2. With this, I can see that the first 10 minutes has been viewed over twice as much as the concluding part. I accept that 20 minutes is probably a long time to sit through an internet film, but it seems worthless to sit through the first ten minutes and not bother to watch the conclusion of it all - it makes those first 10 minutes completely redundant. Oh well. Hopefully I'll be able to get it up on Vimeo, where it can stay in a complete form for people to discover.

From The Crunch I move to Stranded. We finished the edit a month or so ago, which I have doubts about. The first half seems to have a pleasing, relaxed pace to it...then the second half becomes disjointed and fragmented. I cocked up at the script stage, having a conclusion to a storyline around 8 pages before the other two conclusions had played out, which in filmic terms felt like one storyline ended mid film with two characters leaving the film. Our struggles to work around the potential film destroying performance of one of the actors continued to be an issue and in the end we had to admit defeat - we just didn't have footage to cut around some aspects satisfactorily.

So I had to make the call and say the edit was over and now it's in the hands of the grader, musician and sound designer...but as I've heard from none of them, I'm thinking realistically the film won't be done until June at the earliest, despite my hopes for a May "preview" screening at Son Of Movie Bar. Never say never, but I'll be all that's left for me to do on Stranded at this stage is write the making of, which will be opening a can of worms in my head.

With that film in a sense out of my hair, I've turned my attention back to Goodnight, Halloween, which again seems to be hanging over my head. Nick, who is responsible for all of the desktop animation, is now aiming for an end of April completion date for the footage - even he can't believe it's taken him nearly two years to complete, though the distractions of full time work last year and a heavy workload from Lego this year have scuppered it being complete at most stages. I figured I need to get the final day shot, regardless of whether the desktop footage is complete, so we've got a shooting date of the 8th of May pencilled in. So far everyone can make it, so fingers crossed this will be shot and Teery and I can start the edit of this, which I'm expecting will again be a tough edit.

An aspect which is going to be an issue for the shoot is the lack of a CG artist involved. Having lost the first CG artist to freelance work and masses of paid work, I contacted a CG artist who had been involved in a short shown at Son Of Movie Bar. Before Christmas, he was very much up for it...but several months down the line he is also swamped with paid work, which is great, but leaves me with no CG artist and nervous about how I should shoot the final footage. It probably also means that I lose my tracking shot that I really wanted for the finale of the film. Maybe I will find another before May and be able to pick their brains, if not, well, I'm not's going to have to be all physical effects and make up, which I'm worried will look naff on screen.

Oddly, Terry spotted that one of the actors from Goodnight, Halloween was in a recent pisstake advert for E4 for the "EPad", playing one of the talking heads. This follows the actor who he played opposite also appearing in a previous E4 advert ("Ladies night in kit"), the leader of the right wing Khristian group appearing in a cereal advert and the newsreader appearing in countless adverts and TV programmes. It's almost like I have an "all star" cast in this one!

I've also been thinking of further ahead for the year - it does feel that the scale of the three films above have got me bogged down. The disappointment of The Crunch getting no festival screening, along with doubts regarding Stranded's viability (both due to running time and quality) has resorted in me thinking of much lower scale projects. There's also an issue of time and spare finances now my son is here, which have also contributed to my thoughts.

So I'm trying to create a series of 5 minute type films, all mostly in minimal locations, with minimal cast and a view of casting local actors so no worries and expense with travel etc. They are all, well, I wouldn't go so far to call them horror, but attempting to be deliberately creepy. The two I've written so far, "Creak" and"Knock, Knock" are not particularly stunningly original, but they're supposed to give me a chance to do something short, fun and hopefully not too long term. With reduced running times and the genre link, hopefully I can get them into more festivals too. (And in yet another one of those ironies which appear to pursue me and out smart me at every corner, I watched a film called "Things That Go Bump In The Night" the other day on Shooting People, which was agonisingly close to "Creak" at times, though I felt it was rather flatly made and acted, with an obvious shock which had no build up and failed to shock...whereas I'm hoping my film will have an odd subliminal creeping dread which reveals itself at the climax.)

I'm hoping to put these shorts together under an umbrella name as a series once they're complete as a way of separating them out from the "proper" Faster films.

As always, plenty of plans and not enough hours in the day...and right now, less than there were before!

Back to bouncing on the birthing ball to soothe a fractious little one...

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

The Making of The Crunch Part 3

Jez and Jonathan stand before Richard May's artwork in the main still I used to promote the film
Jonathan as the Kraftwerk quoting Simon

Jez as the downtrodden Victor

The framing of the "coda" sequence, a shot Anthony was very proud of at the time

Here in this final part of my original essay I deal with the protracted period of post production on the film!

As they say, one of the best ways to learn things is just to try them and see how you go. The editing of The Crunch is no exception, though unfortunately I was criminally unaware of so many very simple tools that would have made my life easier, especially when it came to the panel aspect of the film and the synching of the dialogue.

Initially I did do a straight, standard edit of the film which came together really quickly, but in the end I felt that it was boring. In retrospect, there probably was a standard edit of the film which would have worked, but my meat and potatoes editing buried it. I was always concerned that we didn’t get as much coverage as I would have liked, in terms of additional angles rather than additional takes and this lack of choice of angles was something that I felt made the standard edit dull. With what I know now it would be interesting to see what a standard version of the film would look like.

So the work on the comic book version began. It was a long, frustrating process of having to re-render sections even to make the slightest change. I was also concerned about the sound levels, though Dan told me not to worry about that at this stage. It wasn’t all bad though – some aspects came not from the storyboard stage, but instead from looking at the shots themselves. The dynamic slope of the framing when Simon opens and closes the door on Victor was me simply following the angle of the wall in the shot and, similarly, the angle on the kitchenette scene came from matching the angle on the cupboards. Not planned, nor a big deal, but it seems to make it feel more cohesive, almost as if it were planned.

I needed someone to do the animation for the talk about cheese and through Anthony and Jenny I met Phil Cobley. Much like when I met them, when I first met Phil he had the latest issue of Retro Gamer with him – he was really into 2d games and artwork. I knew I’d be able to get on with him fine too! My initial thought for the animation was that it was to be vector based, almost like the original Asteroids game, with the vector peptide bonds and enzymes breaking down and fragmenting much like the asteroids in the game, crossed with the Elekroplankton game on the Nintendo DS. Phil, however, came up with something much more visually interesting and much more fun, which provided a great contrast to the dialogue and also provided a much needed lighter moment in the middle of the film. It reminded me immensely of Shynola’s animation work that they did for the “Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy” and the wonderful work that Rod Lord did on the BBC TV series.

The music came from Kerrie Lock, who worked at a shop I visit as part of my job. In her previous incarnation of “Red Peal”, she donated some tracks to my unfinished feature film. I knew she was a big jazz and electronica fan and wanted something that seemed from the glitchtronica genre, something made of clicks and hums, of disc drives spinning and hard drives whirring. I really love the music that she has written – it has a late night melancholia to it which reminds me of Kraftwerk (though sounding nothing like them) and, to me, fits nicely into Simon’s quoting of Kraftwerk lyrics throughout the film.

My original edit I think took me to about August time and I think had a running time of around 21 minutes.. At that time I was trying to cast “Stranded”, with a view to getting that also in the can so I could edit both films over the winter. I showed this rough comic edit to some people – Dave Lilley in particular felt that he could see a way to cut it down to around 15 minutes, which would help with short film festival entries, but I couldn’t see where 6 minutes could come out. He did say it might result in jump cuts, something I was determined not to do if I could help it, but I was keen to hear his thoughts.

Casting for “Stranded” was complete but then the shooting had to be cancelled due to the availability of the lead actor, so I returned my focus to The Crunch. Dave still hadn’t had chance to send any detailed feedback and in the end had to bow out due to a lack of time. I had another look at the film and managed to hack out some of the running time – a short scene which is in the script went, which would have shown Simon fast asleep on Victor’s desk, almost mechanically snoring away, Victor throwing his fearful glances after the previous scenes’ exchange. In the end I felt it wasn’t needed and it seemed like Victor didn’t seem particular fearful of Simon, nor did the shot of Simon fit in particularly well. I managed to remove around a minute from the phone sex conversation, which admittedly did feel like it went on for an eternity (which was partly the point) but many people felt was just too much.

The problem with trimming the film down with a second here, a couple of seconds here, was that it completely messed up the synch with the other shot. By reducing one shot by a second could potentially create a new two second gap in the timing of the other shot and I would have to find a moment where the footage could be sped up - but not by too much, otherwise it looked bad, though in some places it seemed this was unavoidable. All in all, trying to shed inches of flab here and there was a trying experience. Finally I got a cut together which came in at just over 19 minutes and without radically changing aspects of the edit, I couldn’t see what else could be done, so I decided this was the final edit.

I got back in touch with Dan, as he’d expressed interest in doing the sound mix back when we were shooting, but he knocked back my interest with an email saying he was too busy, doing 60 hour weeks, good luck…and that was that.

I went back to Shooting People and advertised for a sound designer. I had several people get in touch – one guy offered to do it if I’d pay him £200 cash in hand, though I felt it was unfair to pay him when everyone else had worked for expenses only. Then a guy, let’s call him Q, got in touch, who much like Jonathan was just starting out and was keen to show what he could do. Jonathan obviously worked out really well and Q had plenty of experience working in a sound studio, he just wanted to show the world what he could do with sound design on a film. With this enthusiasm, I was easily swept away, especially when he said it was likely I’d have a sound mix for Christmas. To have the film finished before the end of 2007 would have been great.

Unfortunately it wasn’t to be – Q fell ill with the flu before Christmas, which had a knock on effect, so it would be 2008 now. Oh well. Although we communicated back and forth over the first few months of 2008 I had still yet to hear anything of the work he’d done, despite Q saying he would send some rough scenes over for me to hear and give any pointers on. I should have seen the warning signs then, but didn’t. In the middle of March I asked him again how it was going and was told he only had the foley for the keyboard typing to record – he’d understandably been putting it off as it was such a big job. I said I wanted to have the film ready for Movie Bar, the film night I attended, for the 7th of April showing. Q said this was fine - it was good to have a deadline. Good stuff, so I went ahead contacting the local press and putting up posters advertising the film showing.

This is where things started to go badly wrong. Q had got a job working for the BBC in Bristol and had to move over there immediately. He was living in a hotel room and he had no internet access. I had told him I wanted the sound mix at the latest by the 1st of April, to give me plenty of time to export the footage out and get it on to a dvd, as I was foreseeing me having problems with that too. It was also my girlfriend’s birthday at the weekend and I didn’t want to be shackled to the Mac during her birthday weekend. He told me by email he would email the files over to me by then, but ominously said he wasn’t sure that it was even 85% done and that I would want changes. He didn’t send the file. I spoke to him on the Tuesday afternoon and he told me he wanted to post it to me Special Delivery, but couldn’t find a post office in Bristol! I asked him just to send it normal post, but also email the file – normal post would only take 2 days and its better its in the post, rather than lose another day looking for a post office. Wednesday there was still no email waiting for me. I get a text from Q with the two words “Have prob” on it. No explanation. I go chasing him.

Q now tells me that the file that he has with him in Bristol is corrupted and he can’t get it off there. The original file is thankfully safe in London – but – he might have to work this weekend as the BBC are reinstalling their entire system in Bristol at the weekend and he won’t find out if he’s needed or not until 5.30pm on the Friday. I tell him it’s the slimmest sliver of a hope, but its all I have and that I’ll wait to hear from him on Friday.

Friday Minda and I go out with her friend Fiona for the afternoon. Around 5pm we go to a pub for a drink and I have a missed call from Q. I listen to the message. The message I get is “Hi Luther, it’s Q. I have to work this weekend. I’ll leave a message on your other phone.” He didn’t. So that was that. The thing which really annoyed me about all of this was that he didn’t even apologise. I sent him a long text message, stating that I couldn’t believe it had come down to the wire like this, that in over 4 months of him working on the sound mix I’d yet to hear ONE SINGLE THING. I finished my text off asking him “Where do we go from here?”

The answer it seemed was nowhere. I never heard from Q again and its in retrospect that everyone realises he must have been stringing me on all along. Perhaps originally he was keen, but realised somewhere he had bitten off more than he could chew, but didn’t have the courage to admit to me that he needed to leave the project, that he wasn’t working on it, that he just couldn’t actually do what I wanted. Maybe I’m wrong, but if I’d done all of that work, I’d probably want to send it to them, even if it is too late to prove that I wasn’t a complete fraud. But as he didn’t, I only have the conclusion that he did lead me on.

This may all sound churlish from me - after all, Q was offering his services for free - but I've worked before and since with other people for free/ expenses, all who have been much more professional than this, even if they weren't career professionals (as in working paid, full time) in their field.

So, I’d wasted 4 months doing nothing. My edit had been finished for nearly 6 months now and no progress had been made. Once again, I posted on Shooting People but this time made it clear I wanted someone either in Brighton or somewhere in the vicinity that I could meet and keep tabs on much easier than someone in London, preferably with a Spinal Tap style cricket bat. Several people once again got in touch – I had some strange man who’d done some awful chillout type music and had no idea why he was getting in touch. There was a guy called John in Brighton who’d done some good work. There was someone further west who was super keen and then there were two women who had just graduated from a college in Worthing. I watched a piece one of them had done the sound design for and thought it was great, very dense, textured and leftfield. I decided to go with them, much to the annoyance of the guy over to the west, who’d taken it upon himself to source all the sound samples and sound effects I said I required without me ever saying I wanted him to work on the film. He seemed to think I’d been wasting his time when I’d always made it clear that I hadn’t made a decision regarding him working on the film.

I sent Libby and her work partner the files over to have a listen and watch the film, then arranged to meet up for a meeting. I was full of enthusiasm and looking forward to what they were going to bring to the project. We sat down together for a drink then one of them asked “Who recorded the sound?” I explained about Dan. They then oddly asked “What was he doing?” I explained I wasn’t sure, as far as I could see he was doing a decent enough job…why? So the girls dropped the bombshell – the sound is awful, pretty much unusable and they’re not sure if they can use it. They ask if there’s any chance of dubbing the entire film, which I’m very reluctant to do – I really felt there was something in the performances at times which were very much of their moment and would be hard to replicate. They tell me they can try to boost the levels and cut some frequencies to remove the hiss, but by doing this it might change the voices – how do I feel about that? I figured as long as they don’t sound like chipmunks, let’s try it. We part ways, though they give me a clause I must understand – as they’ve just graduated, they understandably only want work on their showreel which is the best possible quality. If they don’t feel The Crunch will scrub up to that, then they will walk. I completely understand and head home, that initial enthusiasm long gone.

I can’t remember how many weeks later it was, or whether it was an email or text. I seem to think it was a text which came in about 10.30 at night. Libby said that they can’t get the sound up to scratch and that they were no longer going to work on the project. That was that. Again. I immediately went straight upstairs and luckily still had the email address for the sound designer in Brighton. I dropped John a line and he was still keen to get involved. Luckily this time around there wasn’t a need to send an advert out on Shooting People.

I met with John in Brighton at Rockola, he was a nice guy who seemed to really know his stuff and made a living from sound design, recording and teaching. It was great that he was in Brighton too as it meant I would be able to work with him on the film and get an idea of what he does. When asked when I needed the film by I didn’t really have an answer, so John asked if August would be okay. After all the shenanigans I’d been though 2 months away sounded absolutely fine. This time, surely this time things will be okay!?

Well, they were and they weren’t. The weren’t is that we had major trouble getting the file from my Mac to be understood in John’s PC – after endless different film types and sizes, Anthony had heard a problem about HD FCP files being deliberately unrecognizable in PC software so suggested a new lot of settings which finally meant John could work with a version which synched up with his PC – up until that point any foley work John had done had been educated guesswork as to whether it was in the right place. Above all, he did manage to save the sound – it isn’t high fidelity sound by any means, but considering I thought I was going to have to dub the film its still a miracle. I was overjoyed the first time I sat in John’s flat and could hear the dialogue for the first time in months, especially after all the trouble I’d been through. No matter how long it took, at last I’d found the man for the job!

Not only that, John came to my aid on some sound recording for Stranded soon after coming on board with The Crunch and he’s become a trusted colleague. Its been interesting working with him on the sound, working through different sound effects together looking for the right effect, both of us suggesting some sound effects with thinking outside the box. It continued to be a long winded process though for both of us and I think at times a bit of a frustrating one for John, as he feels it shouldn’t have taken as long as it has, just something always seems to have been working against us. After all the troubles I’ve had over the making of The Crunch, it just seems par to the course for me.

During this period I showed the film to Terry and he made some suggestions with regard to the editing. As the film running time was locked down (as I’d promised John) it didn’t leave us with much leeway with regard to changing it. Terry’s suggestions though thankfully stayed within the running time – the scene where Victor fails to do more than 8 push ups was changed so it was no longer split screen, which did make a difference. Terry also suggested that instead of the sex line conversation remaining as a 3 piece for the entire conversation, we should instead focus on Victor more. To me this simple change made the scene feel much shorter. Terry also felt an effect was needed for the multiple Victor’s image – he thought it should degrade, or pulse, or shake. After some multiple exporting and importing I was able to add the shake effect that you see, which again added an essential amplification to that scene.

I ran a preview screening of The Crunch at the first Son Of Movie Bar, which was also my first night of running the aforementioned film night I regularly attended and had taken overJ ohn and I were both aware it probably wasn’t quite the final sound mix and it didn’t sound that great over the pub sound system, but then again I’m not sure that the sound is built for that sort of system, or at least couldn’t be built for it without dubbing it and having a much clearer sound recording to start with. Anthony felt that the film needed a grade and kindly offered to take a look at it now it was finally almost complete. He gave it a grade which makes sense from an audience point of view – you can actually see what’s happening now – whereas previously, possibly due to me being fully aware of what was going on, I did a more “hardcore” setting, where everything is deliberately dark and on some shots its almost barely the highlights showing through. My “grade” was much greyer, whereas with Anthony’s tweaking its actually now closer to the original idea of the highlighted figures.

Thankfully I got some kind feedback from the preview screening – despite the sound quality in the pub and the fact you could barely see the screen (not only due to my “grade”, but also due to the heavy streetlight emanating in from outside) I got some positive comments back, it felt that people had picked up on the intensity of it and most people got the whole schizophrenic aspect, though they had to ask me to make sure. I was always worried that people would laugh during the phone sex scene – yes, it is uncomfortable and ludicrous, so I was worried it would be susceptible to school boy sniggers – but wonderfully the audience seemed utterly immersed and breathless during that and the following scene. From the feedback, I’m grateful that the film works – I was worried that the issues with the sound and the comic book panelling, which at times could be criticised for being both distracting and distancing from the drama, don’t seem that much of an issue.

I can’t believe though that it took me over two years since first shooting it and nearly 2 and half years since writing it to get it finished. At times I considered just letting it go at the current state it was at – as Minda often pointed out, it’s a strong effort for my first film in years even in the unfinished states was in – and maybe it would have been best at times to do that. But as with my feature film Gettin’ Some (er…still unfinished) it does come to feel more that once you’ve come so far, why stop there?

I still think the film would have benefited from one more night’s shooting, as I think that would have given us more time to ensure everything was spot on as well as get a little more coverage. I think that would have made a difference to the film. Its odd how close I’ve managed to get some elements to what I storyboarded, others which I had trouble visualising are nowhere near but have turned out interesting all the same. Visually, the film achieves what I set out to do – make something which is hopefully striking, memorable and intriguing. I think the performances from the cast are for the most part very strong and if there are parts where they waver a little, again, that’s where an extra night’s shooting would have benefited. Emotionally I guess I’m too close to it to know if its works completely but the feedback I’ve had suggests it does.

Through this film I met Terry, Anthony and Jenny who not only have become a team of people I have continued to work with and also hope to continue working with, but have also become great friends too. John has also stayed on board as part of the “team” I’m building up around me. Possibly the most important aspects I got out of the film are that it re-energised me as a film maker, gave me more confidence and focused my attention on becoming a film maker again.

Who says it’s all over when you turn 30?

The Making of The Crunch - Part 2

Hard life on set - Terry, Jim and Dan upstairs at STA
The actors prepare - Jonathan and Jez ready to emote

Jus' like that - the director cracking the whip, even at the make up stage

In this second part of my original making of essay I deal with the actual shoot of the film...

I thought I was going to have a nervous break down. It was about 2pm on the day of the first shoot, an hour or two before people were due to arrive at our house before heading into Brighton and I was freaking out, bursting into tears. I hadn’t directed a film in nearly five years. The last one I had was still unfinished. Last time I had my friends working with me and it was all very casual. Here I was, expecting a bunch of people I’d spent around 30 minutes with each tops to convene at our house, not knowing if we could work together, whether they would like me or whether the whole thing wouldn’t just collapse around my ears. Minda told me it would be fine and eventually I calmed down. At the end of the day, they’d all liked the script, they all believed In the script and me enough to work for just expenses, most of them had met me and no one had gone screaming to the hills as a result (yet) so all I could do was just get on with it.

Of course, one of those things which I hadn’t really thought about was that at any point someone could have phoned in sick. As the cast and crew were so tiny, it only needed one cog to fall off to bring the whole film to a grinding halt. There was a bit of a worry when I couldn’t seem to get hold of Daniel – he was apparently on his way from Bristol, but he was running late. Everyone else was at our house, they’d all been served some veg chilli made by my own fair hand and now we were pretty much set to go…once Daniel turned up. I had no back up plan for doing sound – yep, I had my DAT and old microphone as a back up, but that would have been an immediate step back from the “professionalism” I was trying to achieve with this film. Thankfully he did finally arrive and we all headed off into Brighton around 6pm.

It’s weird. The filming seemed to go by in a blur. I don’t think we rolled the camera until at least 8.30, as we couldn’t really start until Debbie had done the make up and being on her own there wasn’t much anyone could do to help. I think we all chipped in with putting the white make up on the hands and faces but in the end we simply had to wait until she was done and the actors were ready. We also had to dress the office – this involved taking down or covering any STA branding. My friend Rich had supplied me with some of his artwork that I’d had blown up (one of the most expensive things for the shoot) which we had to jigsaw piece together and get up on the walls. Ironically, after all that expense, it’s very rarely seen, with one piece only being seen on the stills we did for the film.

I think the first shot we did was of Victor sitting down in the chair with Simon in the background, sat impishly in the windows. That was Anthony’s idea and I thought it looked absolutely wonderful. Straight away from the lighting Anthony and Jenny had set up through the blinds of the mini office, I knew if nothing else I would have a great looking film.

Jim stayed with us until about 10 to make sure we were all okay then left us to it. The management assumed that he would be with us all the time. Thankfully there were no events which warranted getting him back to the shop, though of course when it came to locking up and setting the alarms I was paranoid that in my exhausted state I’d set them wrong.

I think the shooting plan was to shoot as much stuff as possible in the main office space first and do the opening of Victor asleep upstairs in the staff room at the end of the shoot. We probably had some pizzas around 11pm and therefore had hot pizza and leftover pizza for the relevant shots. We probably did the kitchenette scene that night too, which I remember became difficult due to the cramped space in there – once you had two actors who could barely move about, lights, camera, tripod, somewhere for the clapper person to hide, the director to watch, the camera man and had to somewhere fit in the sound recordist it all became one hell of a squeeze.

We left the first night about 3.30am, with several people staying over at our house. I’m pretty sure I couldn’t sleep, despite being exhausted and I didn’t finally drift off until around 6 in the morning. I was up at 10.30 – not the most refreshing of night’s sleep and with a long night’s shoot ahead of us again. That Saturday was spent hanging around the house – Jez and I sat and watched Switchblade Romance, which was okay, but had a twist ending that made no sense. I remember thinking the effects really reminded me of 80s Italian trash horror films, and in the end it turned out they were done buy Gianetto De Rossi, who did the effects for Lucio Fulci’s more famous works.

Around 5pm we were all back at STA again for the second night’s shoot. This time Minda was back to help us out and she took responsibility to help Debbie as much as she could, as once again nothing could start until the actors were ready. As we were setting up, Anthony set the camera rolling and I vacuumed the floor for the end titles – not the sunrise shot I wanted, but a definite contrast to the rest of the film. Plus I got my cameo too!

We shot the phone conversation using a really ridiculous method – as I really wanted Jonathan and Jez to respond to Liz’s performance, I’d put her lines of dialogue on cd. We were going to play the cd over speakers for the actors to respond to. Unfortunately, the only cd player in the building was in a tiny room downstairs, so we had to have a ridiculous fireman’s chain of myself, Terry and Debbie all pointing back and forth to Minda when she should hit play and pause, as she couldn’t see nor hear when Jonathan had said his lines. We had this dialogue on very loud, which seemed to make the situation even more nonsensical. As STA is on the busy road in Brighton, at the time when we were filming we would have had the usual Saturday night reverie outside. I’m not sure if anyone did look in and wonder what the hell we were doing at that time of night, nor whether anyone could hear the line “Your cock is so big” blasting out of the speakers at high volume. In the end I think this ridiculous method was abandoned and we had the equally odd scenario of watching Jez read out the phone sex dialogue to Jonathan, which also seemed hilarious at times.

I only seem to remember odd things from the rest of the night. At this point Minda and Debbie had gone home, leaving us to it. I was feeling pretty exhausted and my concentration span was low. Jez was pretty much gearing himself up to do his pivotal scene – Victor’s response to the phone chat line and his outburst at Simon – but I was giving him increasingly contradictory information regarding the scene, which I could see was frustrating him. I just couldn’t think straight. Thankfully he gave an absolutely time stopping still performance which had us all really impressed.

It would have helped if time could have stopped still – it was 3am and we still had loads to do. Everyone was flagging considerably by this point – I remember Jenny and Anthony almost losing their temper with each other, purely brought on by exhaustion. Both were struggling to understand what the other wanted and I’m pretty sure I had to try and intervene. Once everyone took a step back it was really clear and suddenly they very quickly set up the shot for the conclusive dialogue between Simon and Victor. I loved this shot, with Simon circling Victor, coming in and out of the shadows to taunt and challenge him. Credit where credit is due, I think it was Jenny who suggested the circling motion.

Although we were shooting chronologically we still had the opening where Victor is awake to do along with the new “coda” ending to the film. This was added close to the shooting date for the film. My friend Mark had read the script, loved it, but really felt it needed something bizarre for the ending of the film…but he didn’t know what. He did suggest a woman, a prostitute, or something coming out of one of the side rooms, suggesting that she’d been there all the time. I resisted changing the film for some time – I certainly didn’t want to add another person to the mix as I thought it was important to keep it as just the two of them - but then thought of something which I felt was bizarre and seemed like an almost post script to the action. So I decided that Victor would somehow metaphysically beam himself back from where he is in the future, dishevelled, a burnt out wreck of a man, looking back at this point where Simon won, or Victor let him win, reflecting and indicating to his “new self” that the events we’ve just watched were a pivotal turning point in his life. Simon is furious for this intrusion and tells him “Get out of here, your time is over old man” (a line I paraphrased from 2000ad – it’s Judge Kraken’s sneer to Judge Dredd in the Necropolis storyline.) Victor’s painful response seems to suggest that this is a timeline which has always been and always will be.

Although most of the people involved in the film felt it didn’t need the “coda” – they’d only just had the lines before we started shooting – I was determined to try and get the footage in the bag. In the end there wasn’t time to dishevel Victor’s make up, not when we still had the opening to shoot, nor did we have any sort of overcoat. Jez put on his thick zip up top, which at least covered the shirt and tie and then just remained in shadow. Anthony set up the shot and said it was the best shot he’d ever done.

So we’d reached the end of the script, but we still had that opening left to shoot, which I was prepared to scrap due to time and exhaustion. Thankfully, mostly everyone told me that we had to shoot it – Jez and Jonathan felt it was an important scene in setting up the relationship between their characters. Instead of dismantling downstairs and heading upstairs there was some supreme resourcefulness going on and it was decided we could very easily shoot in the office space. We used the heavy fire door going into the kitchenette as the entrance to this other room and Victor’s “bed” was simply 5 or 6 bench stools pushed together. He is lying beneath the large window where Simon is sat on the first shot we did, but Anthony’s framing ensures we only ever see what we need to see. It wasn’t what I had envisaged, but it ensured we did have the footage and it did end up looking striking.

This spatial disregard was something which was a heavy feature of the shoot. Although my plan was always to do the split screen comic book panelling I wanted the back up of being able to do a standard edit of the film and I was always concerned about the eye lines between Simon and Victor, especially as where they were sat in reality didn’t translate to necessarily where they supposed to be in the film. Although Anthony did try to put my mind at rest that it was all fine I did remain concerned, simply because I couldn’t picture spatially what he was suggesting. However, his approach made sure that the column in the room that always bothered me didn’t disrupt any of the shots.

We finally finished, packed up and vacuumed and we got back to my house at 6.30 am. Minda got up and we stayed up with some of the guys who left at 8am to get the first train to their respective destinations. I went to bed after they left, meaning I’d been up 22 hours. The next few days I was understandably shaky.

Overall, I was really happy with the shoot. I couldn’t wait to get on with the editing. I told everyone the film would probably be done in 3 months. Even by my own ridiculous underestimations and despite the rule I always try to tell myself (times by three!) it would be much much longer than that before the film was finished.

Shirts and Ties and leave your twenties behind - The Making of The Crunch Part 1

Make up test with me for Victor
Make up test with me for Simon

Nope, it's not a still from "Give My Regards To Broad Street", it's a test photo from the initial ultraviolet shooting idea.

After a year of rejections for The Crunch on the festival circuit I've decided to upload the whole film to various internet sites, promote it with Facebook and my Son Of Movie Bar contacts and try submitting it to smaller scale film nights in the same manner as Son Of Movie Bar.

With all of this in mind, I thought I'd upload to the blog a slightly edited version of the making of essay I wrote for myself just after the film was finally completed.

This first part deals with the pre-production of the film, accompanied by stills which I've never shown before.

It started with the no budget sci-fi film “Primer.” I didn’t enjoy the film much (though I really should go back and give it another chance) but I did like the image of the men in shirts and ties, just hanging around and talking. So that was the initial image, a two hander drama with men wearing shirts and ties.

At the time of writing it several of my friends had just turned 30 and I was rapidly heading towards it. I know some people have a big issue with turning 30, as if it means their life is over, or if they haven’t achieved everything they wanted before hitting 30 they were somehow a failure. Luckily, I didn’t feel too bad about it, but it definitely influenced the idea for the script – a man in his late 30s, slightly un-shapely, fatigued by life and career, possibly regretful over decisions he has made contrasting with a younger, antagonistic man in his 20s, his carefree lifestyle and exploitive attitude towards his job naturally rubbing the older man up the wrong way – maybe the younger man’s immaturity dismays the elder man, though there’s probably a bitter jealousy, or wishing to be the young man, carefree and full of spirit.

The first draft was very much a straight drama of a night in the office and the younger man antagonising his colleague. I really don’t remember how that draft ended. But while writing the second draft I decided to change the film – rather than it be just a young vs old argument, it suddenly became about sexual politics, or the older man’s lack of sex life contrasting against the young man’s throwaway conquests. Then from that it seemed fun to push it in a “Fight Club” schizophrenic direction – that Victor, cheating on his wife when away from home, justifies it with the persona of Simon, who is out to disrupt the completion of the job and delay the return home. But the lure of the persona, the life that it unlocks for Victor, is too strong and it becomes an internal struggle played out externally as his rational, sensible, possibly staid side fights it out with the impulsive, irresponsible free spirited side.

Along with a script that was written at the same time (“Stranded”) I decided that these were the two films that I would use to get me back into film making, having stopped after shooting my feature film “Gettin’ Some.” Although I still had a 4 year old mini DV camera, DAT recorder and microphone of my own I wanted to try and make these films as professionally as possible. I finally joined the website Shooting People and at the start of 2007 put an advert out looking for cast and crew.

I’d already decided that I wanted this film to be very comic book nature as a definite contrast to anything I’d done in the past. With this in mind, I decided I wanted the actors to have strange make up design on their faces. In retrospect, I wonder if the cover to Randy Newman’s album “Born Again” (an album I’ve never heard!) might have inspired it – it depicts Newman in a suit and tie but with Kiss inspired make up on his face. It seemed a great contrast of stiffness, formality, serious business crossed with the bizarre. So I got together some mood boards – these featured make up from Kiss, the Baseball Furies from “The Warriors”, Kabuki actors, New Romantic/ New Wave musicians like Steve Strange and Gary Numan, Peter Gabriel when he was in Genesis, in particular his make up around “The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway” – and got in touch with Minda’s friend Debbie Harwood, who had a done a theatrical make up and design course.

There was one false start with the make up – another aspect I wanted for the look of the film was an almost pure two tone black/white look. I’d seen stills from the animation film Renaissance and I was also thinking of the comic book art for Sin City, which is all highlights and shadows. This noir look would also add to the comic book feel I wanted but I wasn’t sure how I would be able to achieve such a pure two tone look with little money. A friend had suggested rotoscoping the entire film, but that would have taken forever, much that I loved the idea. I had an attempt using ultraviolet light, with the thinking that this would bring out the whites of the make up and any other whites in the room. We tried it with normal make up on my face, but the only thing which actually glowed was the white sheet of paper on the table – even the white table didn’t glow. Debbie said we would need special UV make up, which was more like greasepaint and was concerned about how we would use it.

In the end the UV idea was scrapped and we went back to designing the make up for the characters. Over one fun evening Debbie practiced on me, with us gradually building up and changing aspects of the make up until we were both satisfied. Although there is a subtext to the make up of the characters (Simon’s is supposed to be cock strutting, beautiful flames and feathers, stylish, curvaceous, sharp whereas Victor’s is supposed to be constricting, blocky, lacking flair…but also disintegrating, mirroring his mental state) the main reason I wanted to do the make up was I thought it would be visually striking. I wanted to create a short hand for people to remember the film and if they recalled it because of the make up, well, at least they hadn’t forgotten it. Or similarly, if someone wanted to see the film after seeing (what I hoped would be) an iconic still from the production then it would have got the response I wanted.

The subtext did carry over to the clothing to some degree – I did want Victor in pinstripes, signifying his “imprisonment” behind bars but I wasn’t able to find him any matching pin stripe trousers. The pin stripe on his shirt in the end was extremely subtle. Simon was supposed to just look super sharp and stylish.

One key element I needed to get in place for the film was the office location. My friend Jim, who at the time worked at the Student Travel Agency in Brighton, had told me there was some space above the first floor of the shop which was used as a staff room/ store room, which I might be able to utilise. When I went to look at this space unfortunately it was completely inadequate, as it was a series of rooms rather than an open office space. (I would come back to use this space on a later film, “Goodnight, Halloween.”) However, the option to use the first floor of the shop was also available – this was an open space but had an unfortunate column blocking some view points. I decided I would use this as a last resort.

Instead, I emailed over 40 estate agents in Brighton. I’d seen many empty office spaces around Brighton town centre, above shops etc, and near to Hove Park was a brand new office complex which was constantly advertising office space available. In my head, this new complex would have been perfect as it had floor to ceiling glass windows looking out. In my email I explained that I had no money for the shoot, though I was willing to put a deposit up to cover any damage. In the end, only two people had the courtesy to reply to me. One of those ended up fizzling out, the other was for a business unit out of town, but there were issues there regarding minimum contracts (2 weeks) and the use of electric, water etc. Of course, the other issues with using an empty space was that it would require total furnishing of desks, computers, general office paraphernalia which would add more cost to the film, which I was worried could get out of control.

Despite still wanting the use of a new office space, in the end I had to use the STA first floor, but logistically it did make some sense – it was already furnished, electric and water etc weren’t an issue and it had a kitchenette area which could be used for a scene in the film as well as feeding and watering the cast and crew.

With regard to the cast I’d had a variety of people get in touch for the roles and invited them to come to our kitchen to audition for the roles. I wasn’t too sure whether people would see this as low rent, or cosy, but in the end it didn’t seem to worry anyone, nor has it since. I struggle to remember all of the people who came, though oddly some of them have turned up again here and there. Alastair Lock, who was a sound recordist/ designer who was a big sci-fi fan tried out for Victor, though I thought he seemed much more different in real life compared to his photo. Jordan Dorn, who I would see years later in a low budget Sussex film that I’d heard of for many years, tried out for Simon, though he was terribly nervous. Terry Drew tried out for Simon and introduced himself as a film maker from nearby Worthing and offered his services of even crewing on the film if he didn’t get the role. I seem to remember one actor using a bouncy ball as a prop for that scene and spent more time chasing it clattering around our kitchen.

In the end I went with Jonathan Laury for Simon – oddly, Jonathan knew of me already. He walked into our kitchen and declared that he knew me from my day job. Turns out he worked part time at Longplayer, a shop I called on at the time as part of my job. He was in a catch 22 situation – he’d just come out of drama school but had no showreel, but as he couldn’t get the work to build up a showreel as he didn’t have a showreel! It certainly wasn’t a sympathy vote that got him the job, he was genuinely the best applicant. Victor’s role went to Jez Foster, whose showreel I had seen and the image of him as a football manager in a huge over coat seemed to have stuck with me. Jez seemed to really capture the frustration and fear of Victor’s character. In the end, Terry did come back to crew where he was an absolute godsend and has gone on to become a great friend and collaborator.

I contacted an actress in London (Jenny Evans) who I’d recently got back in touch with and asked if she would do the voice of Javinia. As she’d already recently played a similar role she declined, but did recommend a friend of hers for the role. So I drove off to somewhere in suburban London to meet Liz, who was back living with her mum at the time, to get her to record the phone sex dialogue. It was very odd – a quiet, suburban area and home, Liz’s mum in the kitchen next door making cups of tea while her daughter reads these ridiculous filthy lines. Somehow it probably perfectly reflects some of the reality of the phone sex industry. I took some photos of her in the lounge pulling over the top poses to cut and paste onto a page of phone sex adverts from a tabloid paper.

I had a fair few people interested in shooting the film, especially when I said I was looking for a noir/comic book/ two tone look on my advert. Several directors of photography got in touch, some with interesting, very slick showreels but none seemed to jump out as having an eye for what I wanted. As another way of keeping costs down, I was keen to try and find someone who had their own camera and few of them had access to equipment for free or at a reduced rate. I was contacted by Anthony Gurner who worked with his partner Jenny Ray and he sent some links to his work which was kicking around on myspace. It wasn’t on a flashy website nor was it a flashy showreel, but the work was fun and most importantly showed a dynamism which I felt would work when applied to the comic book style of The Crunch. He also had his own camera!

We agreed to meet up in Brighton to discuss the film and while walking up to the pub to arrive early I passed a couple in the street, the girl had red hair, and there was something about the pair but I didn’t know what. Funnily enough, it turned out that they were Anthony and Jenny. Jenny was wearing a Rufus Wainwright – “Want One” t-shirt and Anthony had the latest issue of Edge magazine with him, so I figured it shouldn’t be too hard for me to get on with them! I had some storyboard scribbles that I had with me and explained how I wanted to have multiple panels of frames on the screen at each time. I liked what they had to say, I liked them and I liked their work. Result.

Filling in the final gaps – Daniel Yeoman was a sound recordist/ designer living in Bristol who got in touch and oddly on his CV I spotted that he’d recently worked with my friend Dave Lilley on his horror short “The Hand.” He had his own equipment and he got the job of sound recordist. My girlfriend (now wife) Minda wasn’t going to be around for the first night’s filming but would be there to help out on the second and Jim was potentially free briefly on the first night. Terry would be there all the time too.

We hired the lights and monitor from Nick, a little crumpled face man at Impact Media Services near to Hove station. He’d converted some Hi 8 tapes to DV for me a year ago and he seemed cheaper than most of the places in the centre of Brighton, who were much slicker professional places…and with much slicker professional prices too!

All the pieces seemed to be in place for the shoot!