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.


  1. Awesome production diary! Looking forward to seeing the film, it sounds ace.

  2. Really like the blog, and looking forward to seeing the final flick. Checked out The Crunch on YouTube as well. Good film, really striking visuals. Liked it a lot.