Wednesday, 20 January 2010

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.

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