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...

1 comment:

  1. Great blog, well done on pulling it off despite setbacks! I'd almost gotten over the stress of my shoot but this brought it all back! Looking forward to hearing about the shoot and seeing the finished film.