Wednesday, 20 January 2010

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!

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