I finished writing my making of Stranded essay several months ago but never put it up on line...partly due to some worries over my very honest depiction of working with someone on the film. Having had some feedback from people, I've decided to put this up on the blog now, though much like with the making of Creak with a name change to mask any potential comeback...
Take a deep breath, it's another epic...
I had a tutor at college called Trevor Ellis, who was very much in to European art house cinema.I had no idea who the directors were who he used to talk about and it all sounded very alien to me, being a teenage horror fan. I do remember him showing us the beginning of one of his favourite films, which I think had a montage which featured a woman freewheeling on a bike, perhaps intercut with a blender going off…I’m sure there were other things, but it was the image of the bike wheel spinning round which for some reason stuck with me...and the tick tick ticking of the bike chain as the bike freewheeled along a road...
Stranded began life in the summer of 2006 – along with The Crunch, which was written at the same time, I hoped that these two simple-ish scripts would get me back into film making. And it was that image of the bicycle wheel which came back to me which started me thinking about wheels spinning round as the opening to a film, but a series of different wheels, all travelling in the same direction and all of them eventually come to a halt. But what wheels..?
I’m guessing I chose the main wheel of a wheelchair as my late granddad was invalid and would use a wheelchair on day trips and when he needed to. His wheelchair was often borrowed for various periods to help me shoot tracking shots on my post college films. Then I thought of a wheel on an old lady’s shopping trolley bag – again, perhaps recalling my grandma and her endless trips to the shops (probably instigated to get away from my granddad for a few more hours!) A car wheel seemed pretty obvious, but I had a definite feeling that it had to come to a halt on gravel, giving a crunching grinding sound.
So, I had an opening, but then who did the wheels belong to? It’s the unfathomable writing process, so I have no concrete idea where the characters came from. It’s possible I already had the title at this stage – Stranded was taken from the Roxy Music album, with the line “You might be stranded if you stick around” belonging to the album’s lead track Street Life. So I had some wheels…which became stranded. Who became stranded and why?
I don’t know why I decided on 6 characters and 3 story lines, it’s just the way it fell. There are some personal aspects to the characters of this film which I suppose I only saw later from a distance – the “playful” violence of Chad was possibly inspired by some of the antagonism from my own brother when he was a teenager. We didn’t have a violent relationship, but there were a couple of memories that I could say inspired Chad’s volatile attitude towards his brother. Both Chad and Algy were inspired by a desire to show a pair of people who seemed to have fallen between the cracks of society and existed in their own world. I wanted Chad in particular to be one of those people who was a nobody who thought he was a somebody within his own limited life circle – someone who frequented the rougher pubs, came from an abusive background, a chancer, a thug, a bully…though someone who more often than not became a victim at the hands of those tougher than himself , and continued this circle of violence down the pecking order against those he saw as below himself – his brother included. Someone who was constantly angry at the world at the cards life had dealt him, despite some of those cards being those that he had chose for himself. The brothers’ dialogue about “The Kingfisher” chip shop did refer back to my home town – the Kingfisher was a chip shop known to us…and Chad’s complaints about the chip shop owners being Greek did unfortunately refer to my dad, who seemed to be always moaning about the chip shops not being as good since being run by Greeks.
Algy definitely borrowed some aspects from my granddad – those which show Algy as having accepted his physical status in life and finding some joy in simple things. Perhaps the reality was he was actually frustrated, but the impression I had was that my granddad seemed happy enough sat in his chair in the backgarden, or even sat in the lounge window he could watch people going by. Although Algy was supposed to be mentally retarded to some degree by his accident, he wasn’t stupid – his ability to complete puzzles showed he had the mental capacity for some things. There was also an intention that Algy was actually much more knowledgeable than Chad, but Chad could not or would not listen to Algy, unwilling to accept that his brother, who in his eyes was physically less than him and therefore lesser in all aspects, could actually be more intelligent that Chad. Algy’s puzzle books seem to be a throwback to my childhood – I really used to enjoy doing wordsearches and found them really easy. I have a childhood memory of being on Sutton market with my mum and while she was looking at a clothes stall I looked down at a wordsearch and spotted the one word the owner of the stall hadn’t found – she was really chuffed, she said she’d been looking for it for ages…so Algy’s joy at finding one last missing word was probably inspired by this event.
Writing this I realise that there may have been another influence on the two characters – at the top of the street where I grew up lived two brothers with their parents – Richard and Anthony Robinson. I couldn’t say for sure whether they were actually poor, but their parents seemingly showed little affection for them. The garden of the house was always overgrown, with the back garden having a burnt out Volkswagen Beetle in the tall grass, if my memory serves me correctly. Their mother was usually seen over tarted up and heading off to the pub at night. Generally the brothers were left to their own devices to make their own entertainment with each other. Anthony suffered an accident when the fair was in town – as the story goes, someone told him to pick up a pound very close to a moving ride. He did and was hit by the Speedway ride, which resulted in him becoming epileptic. How much truth there is in this story I couldn’t say. But I do wonder what happened to them both. They seemed the perfect example of people who could easily fall through the cracks.
Gwyneth was definitely inspired by my grandma, as her mental health had been deteriorating over the years to the point where she didn’t know I was her grandson and would usually mistake me for my dad (her son!) Although my auntie had told me there was a very ugly, nasty side to my grandma’s dementia, where she would swear and shout, I had never seen it…and the way she would lapse into old songs from her youth seemed to give her a brightness, a joy of life. This aspect influenced Gwyneth’s paddling and splashing by the shore, though this was changed during the shoot.
There hadn’t been any particular conflict over my auntie’s decision to put my grandma in a home – it was sad, but was definitely for the best both for her and my grandma, so the conflict that Dugald faces was a complete work of fiction. The “twist” at the end where it is revealed that he is her son was never meant to be a really dramatic rug pulled from under your feet moment, but something which hopefully made an audience re-apply a new meaning to the scenes with Dugald and Gwyneth.
There were some personal aspects to Gwyneth’s dialogue – her exclamation regarding “Star Trek” lollies did refer back to the lollies which I remember being on sale during caravan holidays I had with these grandparents when I was a child (I think the one with Spock on the wrapper was just an orange lolly, not particularly sci-fi or exciting.) Her repeated mention of her husband not being here now was a definite line I’d witnessed my own grandma say following the death of my grandad. The reminisces at the shoreline of going out at the weekend were also based on my grandma enjoying remembering working at the John Players factory in Nottingham. One of her lines which was not inspired by my family, but by one of my heroes was the line about “You always know what you’re getting with vanilla” – this philosophy was apparently the inspiration for the title of “There’s always vanilla”, George A Romero’s 2nd feature film which I’ve never seen and still can’t be seen anywhere.
With Lorna and Amelia, the initial starting point was that the car breaks down and I guess I must have been partly inspired by Debbie, who did the make up for Stranded and The Crunch, who always seemed to be having car trouble and had a teenage daughter…so using that as a starting point, I developed it into becoming an issue of a distant mother and daughter relationship (which is as far from Debbie’s relationship with her daughter as you can get!) I guess the car breaking down also could have harked back to my first car, which was always breaking down in its later life. I had to carry a wooden mallet in the car to tap the starting motor in case it got stuck and Debbie always seemed to be having car trouble.
As with The Crunch, I’d got the names for the characters from the two Pan books of names that I’d picked up from a car boot several years before. As they were printed in the 60s, they have very out of fashion names in them. I like the meaning of the names to have some relevance to the film, so I’m sure most of them apply to some degree, possibly with the exception of Algy – I’d never heard of the rhyme about “Algy met a bear” until I saw it in the name book and thought it was an unusual element to add, a comfort song which Algy’s late mum used to sing to him.
I did make a mistake with the script structure, which would come back and bite me at the editing stage. I approached the whole thing quite mechanically and had a table of scenes and wanted to make sure that each story element had the same amount of scenes devoted to it. I also wanted to try and keep a repetitive pattern, so the film would always go from Chad/Algy to Lorna/ Amelia to Dugald/ Gwyneth. This approach didn’t seem an issue at the script stage.
After writing the first draft, I was concerned that nothing much really happened to Algy after he was left – in a fit of enthusiasm at finding a missing word in his wordsearch, he accidentally knocked his ruler to the ground - so I decided to write in a dramatic rock fall, where a huge chunk of rock would have crashed down off of the cliff and smashed into the beach in front of Algy, just missing him. I guess I was a little drunk on the semi-professionalism that I felt I’d achieved with The Crunch and thought I would be able to find a CGI artist who could achieve this effect. For myself, I thought it would be good to have a film which involved an effect and get some grounding on how to achieve such an effect.
However, my good friend Mark felt that a) it felt really needless in the script and b) if the effect was bad, it would be detrimental to the whole film…and after some time mulling it over, it did feel like an over ambitious element which could easily go wrong and delay the post production of the film…and if I couldn’t find a CG artist, it would make the scenes shot a bit useless. There was also a worry to me that we would have to actually film very close to the cliffs, which have signs up saying danger of falling rocks. I didn’t want art to imitate life…and filming so close to the cliffs would have removed seeing the wonderful backdrop of the cliffs. So in the end I went back to script and changed it so Algy knocks the ruler off when he is spooked by the sound of stones crumbling down the cliff face. Not particularly dramatic, but much less goofy and patronising than the first draft’s “simpleton gets over excited.”
The script wouldn’t be completely locked down until the beginning of 2008 – in the meantime I contacted a paraplegic society who very kindly supplied me with information regarding what mobility and functions Algy would actually have, though I still used some dramatic license where I had to.
Since writing it I’d also gone out looking for locations and decided on Newhaven beach – from the car park you could walk along and be under some dramatic white cliffs, which were perfect for Chad and Algy…then steps from the car park lead down to a sandy beach enclosed by a sea wall. Access to the sea wall was unfortunately closed off due to health and safety, which would have denied us getting some striking long shots, but both locations seemed pretty apt.
Finding an ideal layby for the car was not so easy. In an ideal world I would have loved to have filmed up at Beachy Head and exploited the bizarre barrenness of the area, but there wasn’t anywhere off the beaten track enough where no cars would go by. There was also a concern that the location would be an hour or so drive away. So I looked closer to home and explored the Poynings/ Fulking area beneath Devil’s Dyke in Brighton and found a layby which had enough space to work around with a camera crew and had some good backdrops of the sweeping hills and a vista beyond of fields and pylons. It wasn’t as utterly remote as I’d always hoped and there was an issue of passing traffic every so often, but it seemed like the most ideal location.
After having a successful shoot with Terry as assistant director on The Crunch, I asked him to get more heavily involved with Stranded as more of a producer role, just so I had someone else who I could rely on to help get things together for it. So once he was on board, I took him out to the location I had found.
For a start, I had never really thought about the tide affecting Newhaven beach and when we went there on a location recce I couldn’t believe that the whole “basin” of the beach was full to the brim with seawater. Oops. So that was something we had to consider. Until we saw the second obstacle – since writing the script and discovering the location, the beach had been closed on health and safety grounds, as the concrete wall was crumbling due to sea erosion. So we lost our sandy beach basin location all in one fell swoop. Looking further down the pebble beach, we decided that the Dugald and Gwyneth scenes could be shot there, with Chad and Algy still further down. In all honesty, I had had concerns about shooting on the sandy beach as there would have undoubtedly been other people there during the shoot which would have tampered with the feeling of isolation that I wanted the film to have.
After shooting The Crunch in March of 2007 I was determined to get Stranded in the can before the year was out, leaving me the winter months to edit and finish both films. I needed to bust a gut to get the film cast, so I began the casting calls in August, posting the film up on the usual suspects of Shooting People, Casting Call Pro, Mandy etc and got a strong response back. Unsurprisingly, there were many people interested in the role of the teenage daughter, which showed how many girls there were straight out of drama school looking to get show reel material.
As with The Crunch, I did some casting sessions in our kitchen but as there were several actors and actresses who were based in London I felt I had to go to London to do a casting session. Not knowing anywhere in London that I could use for free, or that I could direct people to easily enough, I “brilliantly” decided on the Wetherspoons pub in Victoria train station, which was far from ideal, but I did the best with the situation and the people who came down to meet me seemed gracious enough, despite the circumstances.
I took the week of my birthday off work as holiday, which was mostly spent desperately trying to finalise the casting. There hadn’t been a massive response to the Gwyneth casting call – I drove round to a woman’s house in the New Forest to audition her, tried out my friend’s dad’s partner, in Brighton I went to see a retired woman who’d decided to take up acting. For the role of Dugald I’m sure I went to a house in Horsham to see a man, who mostly was a magician and did an audition in his garage/office. I also recall some random enquiries – one woman in particular was neither young enough to play down to the teenager, nor play up in age for the mother, which had me querying which role she thought she was actually suitable for…and whether she’d read the character descriptions in the first place!
In the end the casting of Dugald and Gwyneth was easy – both who I chose for the roles seemed very well suited, with Andrew MacDonald and Barbara Long receiving those roles. Amelia was a tough call to make as I was torn between two actresses, but I went with Natasha as her performance piece on dvd showed that she could easily play up in age to a woman in her mid to late 20’s, as well as play down from her early 20’s to a teen and bring that acting maturity to the role. Tina Tracey seemed very well suited to play the role of Lorna.
The hardest decision was with the casting of the two brothers – I had several actors, all who had given great auditions, but none of who I could see as a pair. I was concerned that with the time constraints of a short film that I needed to use some quick visual shorthand to establish the relationship between the two characters and felt they had to have some sort of similarity, rather than having to rely on exposition. My worry was that if they looked too utterly unalike then it would be assumed they were carer and patient, rather than siblings, bringing to mind Lou and Andy from the then hit comedy series Little Britain. I realise now that this was a mistake – I should have simply gone with performance and worried about the visual difference later…after all, not all brothers do look alike. But at the time I chose Jamie Alderson, who was an actor from Brighton, with Robertp Aldredi who I auditioned in the Wetherspoons pub in the role of Chad, as together they did look as though there could be some sort of sibling connection. This would unfortunately be a decision I would later regret many times over.
With the casting finalised it was probably very late September. I was still desperate to get the film in the can and figured the last weekend in October fell on the end of British Summer Time when the clocks would be going back for winter. I was concerned about the weather at the end of October and the potential loss of light as winter encroached but decided to still go ahead, otherwise the whole film would have to be postponed until the spring of the following year. So the plan was to shoot Saturday and Sunday, then the following Saturday, after which the clocks went back overnight.
All the actors were available. Or so I thought. Then Roberto told me that he wasn’t available at the end of October, despite always stating my intentions to shoot the film then.
So that was that. See you in 2008.
I wrote “Goodnight, Halloween” immediately after the postponement of Stranded and shot the first two thirds of the film in March 2008 as it was prepped and ready to go…and the postponement of Stranded had created trouble in locking down dates with the actors. Finally I managed to get dates sorted but these weren’t until June. This gave me more time to work on the look of the characters.
I’d always separated the characters out into two loose sets – I always saw Algy, Amelia and Gwyneth as full of life in their own ways – Algy had not been destroyed by the accident which left him paralysed and still found a joy in solving puzzles and being out on the beach, Amelia, despite her snide and spoilt demeanour, at least speaks her mind and feels alive, especially in comparison to her mother who seems to be shrinking away from life…and Gwyneth has found energy and joy in the reverie of her past memories. So with this in mind, I wanted them to be bold and stand out from the others and chose them all to have the colour red in their outfits. I wanted Algy to also wear a checked shirt as a symbolism of his bodily “imprisonment.” Amelia was difficult, in that I wanted her to look as if she was where teenage fashion could be several years from when we were shooting – it had to be slightly risqué enough to feel it was winding up her parents as well has having a teenage tribalism to it. She also had to look super groomed as you’d expect from someone who feels money is no object. I had no particular vision for Gwyneth, apart from the red, and wanting her to have red elements to her make up – rouge, eyeshadow etc.
So I wanted the other characters to feel bland, wiped out by life, disappearing into shadows…though I accept that Chad’s character doesn’t live up to this. You could argue that if Amelia is full of her life in her own spoilt way, then so is Chad in his kicking against the world way. But I always felt that Chad was a man who was consumed by the actions in his past and lived a horrid, repetitive dead existence. So his colour were meant to be dark. I also had the idea of having his appearance show him with black eyes and a bust nose, so we immediately feel he’s potentially a nasty piece of work, though I always felt in a backstory sense that Chad had bitten off more than he could chew, possibly being boastful and come a cropper as a result. Lorna was deliberately dressed in shapeless beiges and it was intended for Dugald to look stiff and dull in browns, possibly slightly smart as if he’d dressed up to take his mum to the beach.
So a smattering of ebay, some visits to charity shops and car boots and a raiding of Minda’s wardrobe and we seemed pretty sorted for most of the characters – it was only Gwyneth’s costume which was proving elusive, as Barbara was very small framed and I was struggling to find an old dress suit which would fit her. But as the first block of shooting was to be Algy/Chad and Gwyneth/ Lorna, I could worry about that later.
Debbie did some make up tests – she practiced Chad’s black eyes on Terry at our house and we had a session at her flat where we practiced on Natasha and Tina. We took reference photos so
Debbie would know what to recreate on the shooting days.
The week of the shoot Terry and I visited an equipment hire place in Brighton as I needed to hire some radio mics – I knew that I wanted to get some very long shots of the actors, which meant that if I wanted to capture that performance at the time I would need some radio mics. This was a decision with best intentions, but one which would come back to bite me on the eventual shoot.
Compared to the stress and worry I had before shooting The Crunch I felt a little more relaxed about Stranded – I was mostly working with the same crew again and we’d all become good friends since shooting The Crunch and the Goodnight, Halloween shoot had cemented our working relationship into a solid unit. I also had a new crew member to add to the mix – Gus Kerswell – who I had met at Movie Bar, the film night in Brighton. Wisely I hadn’t worried myself too much about the weather upfront, although the forecast was not good for the Sunday…but like Van Morrison used to say, it’s too late to stop now!
The first day did not begin as smoothly as I’d hoped. Crew all descended on our house early as planned but both my actors were massively late. When I’d cast Jamie he was living in Brighton, but had moved to London since the postponement of the film, which meant I had two actors both who were having issues with trains, blaming cancellations and other reasons. This unfortunately meant I had a bottleneck when Debbie came to do the make up, as the intention was to stagger the arrival of the actors to avoid such a scenario. Roberto immediately got our back up while we were preparing the food for everyone – while we were making cobs for everyone he now told us that he had an aversion to gluten, this despite me asking all members of the cast and crew for any dietary requirements way upfront.
Quick as a shot, Minda took it in her stride and told him it was no worries as we had a friend who was a celiac. Minda started cooking up some gluten free pasta for him – he watched her put in the pan and on the boil, and THEN asked if it was gluten free pasta as he didn’t like that. Right. Several deep breaths later, we asked him if a salad was okay and he said it was fine. Realising he was fussy I started running every frigging ingredient past him until he cut me off saying “LOOK. It’s just wheat, and eggs. OKAY?” And so it began…
By the time the make up was done, drove to the location, unpacked and headed over to the area under the cliffs it was already hitting midday. I heard Roberto already grumbling about stopping for food, which hacked me off – he was one of the reasons we were behind and he already wanted to stop. It wasn’t to be a good omen.
We shot chronologically following the script, which was important to me, as it was supposed to reflect the passing of time across the day, ideally with the sun moving across the sky. So the opening image, of Chad pushing Algy over the hill was the opening shot. We hooked up the actors to the radio mics, so we could get this tremendous long shot and capture the authentic performance, but began having issues with one of the radio mics. Aware that time was passing and we were already behind, we had to attempt to record the dialogue with just one mic strategically positioned on Jamie and hope for the best.
Of course, for this particular shot, it’s so damn far away you can’t see the actors’ mouths anyway, so it could have easily been dubbed. But I was still very resistant to this idea at this stage – it was something which had at the time been suggested to me to save the diabolical sound recording of The Crunch, but was always concerned that a performance is much harder to recreate afterwards.
We finally managed to get the cameras rolling and watched Roberto struggle over the hill with Jamie and down the other side of the hill and out of the shot. I suggested we get another take – Roberto complained to me, hoping that we wouldn’t be doing much of this. Hadn’t he read the script?
CHAD, a man in his late 30’s, pushes his brother ALGY in his wheelchair across the dips and mounds of the dirt path
Okay, it never says hill, but it was never likely to be easy pushing a wheelchair along a dirt path, was it? Once again, Roberto had my back up.
I’d shot The Crunch with split screen elements, then Goodnight, Halloween was envisaged to show a desktop of webcams and news windows, creating an image of split screen against a backdrop…so drunk on this split screen obsession I had initially approached Stranded in a similar fashion. It would have been much more subdued compared to The Crunch, but I thought it would be really great to have made a “split screen” trilogy. However, it soon became apparent that this really wasn’t feasible – the late start seemed to have knocked everything in to hat and I was struggling to explain to Anthony, the DOP, quite what I wanted and why. So I tossed this vision in the bin – realistically it was for the best and I did agree with Anthony that I would actually have a stronger diverse showreel – a bizarre split screen drama, a horror thriller and a straight drama told conventionally. But it felt sad that we were already running late and my vision was forceably scrapped.
The next few shots seemed to go without too many memorable issues – the radio mics were continuing to be an issue, which wasn’t an issue on the close ups but for the full shots it was difficult to find a place where Toby could get the boom close enough. I was also concerned about Roberto’s accent for Chad. It was very gruff, almost to the point of being cartoonish and also seemed inconsistent between takes and shots. I did try to direct him to a consistent accent but nothing seemed to be sinking in. He already seemed to be showing a short attention span and as I was already running behind schedule doing take after take just wasn’t an option if we were to get everything done in a day.
We were at the mercy of the public and several times people came walking by, some walking dogs…luckily we had Jenny, who can convince anyone to do anything, so went on the charm offensive and simply asked them to walk behind us so they wouldn’t get in our shots. Brilliantly everyone obliged and seemed full of encouraging smiles to us.
It was possibly around this point where Divagate reared its ugly head. Roberto had told - not asked – Terry to “Get me some juice.” Already it felt like Roberto had made a bad impression on the crew – he gave an air of being above us, instead of with us. No one was being paid for the film, we were all in it together for our own reasons, so it seemed ridiculous for anyone to throw their weight around. Terry told me afterwards that he was ready to punch Roberto and to hell with if he walked off of the film. It felt like Roberto would continue to drive this wedge between everyone and him as the day progressed.
Jamie understandably had concerns with Roberto’s aim throwing the stones at his legs – I’d always intended to pick up some football shin guards, but never got around to it. In the end Jamie was out of focus in the background when Roberto was throwing stones, then framed tighter so his legs weren’t showing in the shot (and didn’t actually need Roberto to throw anything.)
We reached the point in the script where Chad walks off, leaving Algy for the day. The tide was annoyingly in over at the location where Chad goes back to the scene of Algy’s “accident” which left him paralysed, so we concentrated on doing the majority of the Algy scenes. This was also a bit of a godsend – Jamie had shown himself to be focussed and dedicated to the film and I hoped that his scenes would be quick to do and help us catch up on the schedule. Roberto in the meantime propped himself across two chairs and slept.
Time was already of the essence, though there was a situation which occurred here which annoyed me. Jamie accidentally rubbed his face with his hand, smudging the make up. Pretty much all of us turned to inform Debbie and get her to come and touch it up. She was sat down on the beach where Roberto was sleeping and had watched Jamie smudge the make up. When we confirmed this, she didn’t seem to exactly spring out of her chair to fix the make up so we could carry on. I love Debbie to bits, but her speed with the make up and the fact she can get easily distracted was increasingly becoming an issue after the make up for Goodnight, Halloween had taken so long. Finally she got up and sorted the make up and we could continue.
Jamie was a good sport with the falling out of the wheelchair scene – we did several takes where Terry literally tipped him out of the chair, sending him sprawling onto the ground. We got some really good looking shots here too – the one where Algy is in the foreground, with the wheelchair (admittedly improbably very far) behind him looked dynamic. There always has to be a however though…and Anthony’s lack of a monitor, filming in blazing sunlight and the peculiarity of sometimes looking at an upside down image on the camera screen would cause issues later at the editing stage.
With Algy out on the floor and the tide out it was the best time to go and do the scene with Chad on the rocks. If I was to keep the chronology of the day, I also needed some time to pass before going back to Algy again.
Unbelievably Roberto seemed very slow to respond when asked to get up to film this scene. I regarded this scene as his scene, one where it’s only him on screen, possibly could show some pathos and poignancy and really give a performance. Surely that’s motivating to an actor? But no, it was with frustrating slowness that Roberto finally focussed on what we were doing and several of us left the beach base camp to go further up the shore under the cliffs.
As we approached the rocks Roberto could see that it was a wonderfully cinematic location which looked great in the light. He put his arm round me and congratulated me on such a great location. From anyone else I may have taken this as a compliment, but by now I regarded it as almost patronising from Roberto. I wanted to throw his arm off my shoulder and tell him to fuck off.
Having no sound on this sequence sped up the shoot and the full shot of Chad approaching the rocks looked magnificent. Getting the close ups of Chad and his feet was more hazardous than I expected, involving myself and Anthony straddling slippery seaweed covered rocks. Quite why we didn’t just get the close up of Chad on stable ground I don’t know.
We returned back to the base camp to do the sequence of Algy alone on the beach, singing the nursery rhyme which had inspired the naming of the character. Both shots were simple to do, Jamie was once again focused and so were able to get on to the final scenes.
By now we were losing the light so we had to really crack on with the final sequence, but Roberto was continuing to drag his feet. He’d never heard Roxy Music’s “Street Life” and I didn’t have an iPod with me to play it him, so him laughing and singing the line “You might be stranded if you stick around” sounded forced. A shame, it was something I really wanted in the film. I could see that Jamie was getting agitated with Roberto’s slowness and lack of attention – he had plans for a meal with his girlfriend and the later we were, the later he got back to London. While setting up the close up of Roberto’s dialogue Roberto turned around and walked off while Anthony was trying to get the focus right. Jamie asked he under his breath where Roberto was going and I had to admit I had no idea. Anthony and I shouted to Roberto to come back as we were trying to pull focus and only after grabbing some snacks Roberto came back. Ironic that he complained about his gluten issue but that didn’t affect him eating cookies and biscuits all day – even he was joking about how he was eating them. It really was like dealing with a child and I really wondered how accurate his cv was – how did anyone put up with this lazy attitude on a professional, paid shoot?
When Jamie was no longer on camera he’d understandably decided there wasn’t a great deal of point in putting energy into his acting – as long as he simply delivered the lines as written, then there couldn’t be any re-takes due to him messing up. Anthony was extremely concerned by the light now and the sun did eventually fall behind the cliffs just as we were getting to the last images.
All that was left to do on the location was the sound recording of the last lines of dialogue – by this point Jamie seemed to have given up, delivering the dialogue is such an utterly flat manner as if he’d lost the will to live. In yet another display of bone idleness, after shooting the final image of Roberto pushing Jamie away in the wheelchair, Roberto had crashed out on the grass and seemed to make no effort to get his arse off the grass and come to us to do the sound recording.
In Roger Corman’s book “How I Made A Million Dollars In Hollywood And Never Lost A Dime” there’s a moment where at the end of shooting the climax to his film “Gas-s-s-s-s-s” he quietly said “Let’s go home.” There’s something in that downtrodden sentiment that I couldn’t help but relate to. We packed up, we went home.
On the drive back Jamie mentioned that he would be interested in going out to LA and Roberto told him he should do it, especially with the women out there...even when Jamie reminded Roberto that he was in a relationship, Roberto seemed to be still encouraging Jamie to go out there to play around...for some reason Roberto also seemed to mock Jamie for saying he was going to stay in with his girlfriend with a bottle of wine, as if a bottle of wine was something for lar-de-dar fancy folk. Very odd behaviour, especially as Roberto seemed more lar-de-dar than any of us.
Unfortunately, we had the prospect of Roberto staying with us for the night. As usual after filming, we invited everyone back to ours to have a drink and wind down after a long day shooting and this night in particular we were desperate for people not to leave us alone with HIM. Everyone else had picked up on this vibe and Toby was the last to leave, albeit very reluctantly and already at a late hour. We still hadn’t eaten so ordered a Chinese, which Roberto again seemed to abandon his dietary requirements and took advantage of our generosity. It was a difficult, uncomfortable meal and Roberto had asked/ demanded to watch Wimbledon – it turned out his friend had a spare ticket for Roberto for today’s games and Roberto seemed to relish informing us that he had chosen my film over his day out to Wimbledon, insinuating that I should be grateful.
Much that we were desperate to go to bed, Melody our rascal cat had decided that tonight, of all nights, would be the one when she would go walkabout. Maybe she was trying to stay away from Roberto too, it wouldn’t surprise me. We had no cat flap so we had to stay up until she finally came back around 1am. Not a great ending to the day.
As I lay in bed that night, I couldn’t help but feel that I had monumentally fucked up. I had cast this cretin not only in my film, but in the major role which links all three storylines. He acting was worryingly inconsistent and his accent was all over the place, flailing aimlessly between an almost comedic gruff voice and some camp anger.
Naturally, it took me a very long time to get to sleep that night. Tomorrow’s shoot was already giving me the fear.
Fear can be one hell of a motivator and so the second day began with a desperate eagerness to get the second day’s shoot complete as soon as possible. As with the day before, our house was the meeting point before the shoot. Tina was one of the first to arrive – I remember her turning her nose up at vegetarian bacon and finding the idea of it hilarious, a depressingly typical response from meat eaters which has the habit of getting our backs up. Despite this initial bad impression Tina turned out to be very friendly and fun to work with.
Already in the morning there was a definite division between members of the cast and crew, or should I say a member. While everyone else hung out in the kitchen getting their make up done, drinking tea and bonding Roberto sat alone in the lounge, more interested in watching Wimbledon than getting to know today’s cast and the crew better. Again, it felt like he was very much aloof and above us all with this attitude.
Eventually we headed down to the location at the bottom of Devil’s Dyke with an ominously grey sky. After setting up we managed to get two shots – Roberto walking down a country lane and his reaction to seeing Natasha leaning into the car bonnet – before the heavens opened. We all fled back to our convoy of cars to shelter from the rain. After a while it looked like the rain just wasn’t going to stop. Jenny, being very pragmatic, suggested we drive back home, eat the food so it hasn’t all gone to waste, then if the weather clears up we can return to the location and shoot as much as possible.
It was a plan, but only the food eating took place. By mid afternoon it was obvious that we wouldn’t have time to shoot everything even if it did stop raining. Roberto eventually leaved to go back to London, cheekily grabbing some more snacks and fruit for his train journey, pushing our hospitality again. After dropping him off at the station I got back home where a few of the team where still hanging out. Looking out the patio doors I saw it had not only stopped raining but there was now a gloriously clear blue sky. Bad timing.
The reschedule of this shoot couldn’t take place for another 2 months or so due to availability of cast and crew, so we finally reconvened around late August. Having already been made fully aware of the way Roberto “worked” we decided on a plan to shoot all of the shots without him, including reaction shots, before he arrived on location. This suited Roberto, as he would only be there for the afternoon.
The morning of the shoot didn’t start too well – somewhere we’d mislaid the tights that Natasha wore and in hunting for them Minda got very upset with me, unhappy about me bringing on this additional stress when our wedding was less than two months away. I felt awful and selfish, but there was nothing I could do now everyone was here at the house and the wheels were in motion. Still, my lack of consideration and my attempts to put things right would have to have an impact on the production in the future.
We returned to the location and it had to be said we were like a well oiled machine – instead of Toby doing the sound, we now had John Thursfield, who had saved and done the sound mix on my previous film The Crunch, so he was new to the team but we all worked effortlessly well together. Both actresses put in great performances and amazingly there’s nothing which sticks in my mind as going wrong with this part of the shoot at all, which is evidence of how well we had worked together.
After racking my brains to think of something, the only thing which comes to mind was when we almost caused a slight car accident – Debbie, not only doing the make up, was asked to perform a drive by in her car for when Natasha informs her mum that a car is coming. Debbie was parked around the bend, just out of shot, but almost collided with a car when she pulled out on the call of action. Luckily nothing happened and in the end this shot didn’t make the final cut – as too many cars were going by us when filming this day it seemed stupid to highlight a particular car approaching them when it wasn’t a rarity, so it became an aspect of the script which was unfortunately dropped, making this pair not quite as stranded as I would have liked.
Avoiding this potential accident, we were working so well that we had finished all of the shots without Roberto way upfront and had to kick back while we waited for him.
I can’t explain why, as it is utterly inexplicable, but as soon as he came on the set suddenly the wheels of our well oiled machine fell off. Suddenly we just all weren’t communicating as well and confusion seemed to be setting in. We kicked off with doing the reshoots of the two shots we’d managed last time – Roberto walking down the lane and his close up as he spots Natasha, both of which went okay, though Roberto had a bizarre tendency to walk so far up the lane that we ended up with a ridiculously long shot as he approached, kicking stones, stopping to pick up things to throw, mooching around…and several takes of this seemed to take much longer than necessary.
I think my one breaking point, which I internalised on the day, was the 3rd shot of Roberto that we shot, which completely baffled me and cemented that I couldn’t possibly direct this person and expect him to listen to me. It was a close up of him as he approaches the car and required several simple steps – step into frame at your mark, say your line, listen to Tina, say your next line, step out of frame. Take 1 – steps into frame saying his line, steps out of frame saying his line. Take 2 a similar story. I didn’t know how to simplify it anymore. Possibly the worst aspect of this shot was also Roberto’s performance – his end line of “Lucky I came along, isn’t it?” was somehow turned into some supercamp query that felt more akin to Dr Evil putting his little finger to his lip than some gruff chancer who is attempting to put on the charm.
I know Anthony and I were struggling with some of the shots in trying to find a way to compose them and it felt like we were both failing at times to communicate as effectively as we had done in the past. We had a three shot of Natasha, Tina and Roberto all looking into the bonnet, where Chad almost manhandles Amelia shunting her closer to the bonnet. The look of annoyance on Natasha’s face as we shot this suggested that Roberto had suddenly taken a bit more of an interest in his role and put his hands much lower than she would have liked. Unfortunately for Natasha, after struggling with this shot in the edit we removed it, meaning she went though that for nothing.
Another performance faux pas came from Roberto as he got into the broken down car – before sidling back into the driver’s side, Roberto had to deliver the line “Just keep an eye on the amps and acutes, okay?” (another odd line, taken from the Roxy Music lyrics.) Roberto’s delivery was once again a mixture of am dram anger and high camp. I remember my eyes flicking over to see the expression on Terry’s face – a poker face expression, but his eyes couldn’t hide the horror at Roberto’s performance.
With two thirds of the film shot, everything was put back while I shifted my focus to our wedding and with us then in October after that the final third of filming would have to wait until spring 2009. But things would change before then.
As I'd said previously, I'd cast Andrew McDonald in the role of Dugald. However, I was massively determined to shoot all the film as much as possible in one block, and when I got in touch with him after the first weekend's filming he told me that he was booked for a touring play or something, so would not be able to do the filming date I had pencilled in. As a result, I had to let him go...the irony being that no doubt he would have been available by the time we got around to filming his scenes.
So this meant I had to find a new Dugald and luckily I found a great actor named Courtney Spence - we met at the Starbucks in Purley just off the A23 and he'd gone to the effort of dressing in a way he thought the character would. I liked Courtney immediately and liked his performance - the interpretation of Dugald was different to Andrew's – Andrew’s I felt was always with gravitas, a weathered man who had been eventually run down by his life, whereas Courtney's felt very much like a weak character, henpecked and bossed around by his wife, or his mum, or whoever. I think both interpretations were equally valid for the character. So Courtney was in, but of course I didn't end up filming with him for quite some time.
So at the beginning of 2009 I started making plans to lock down a filming date for the final section of the film and immediately ran into trouble with Roberto. I'd asked everyone when they were free and Courtney had immediately replied stating that May was completely out for him due to a prior commitment. What followed afterwards was an endless back and forth of trying to get an answer out of Roberto, as it turned out he was not available for most of April nor June, but could we do May? This despite constantly telling him that May was definitely out...
Due to the non availability of everyone, it seemed the only option was to shoot Roberto's shots separately with Dugald and Gwyneth shemps, then have a Chad shemp when we shot the other stuff. It was definitely not the way I wanted to do it, but there just was no other way. Roberto was resistant to this, even when I told him it was the only way (and would usually ask if we could film in May FOR THE UMPTEENTH TIME.) We had a certain date in mind to shoot Roberto's shots but he was very flakey getting back to me, resulting in him sending me an email which had this lovely bit to it...
"may i remind you that this project was supposed to be shot in 2007 and it is now mid 09 and we are still trying to wrap things up with one days filming..bearimng in mind that i am not local and live in another city not to mention that i have other things on at the moment and coming up."
Grrr...and his failure to commit to a date wasn't helping to wrap things up.
Out of desperation and anger at his snooty attitude, I drafted an email where I pretty much laid into him where I had been straight with communication all the way through and where he had been unhelpful and delayed the project. After reading it, Minda highly suggested that I rethink my approach, so I edited it down to a more "just the facts of where we are" email. Unfortunately it still had the threat of removing him from the film...I'd been thinking of how I could rid myself of him and his crappy performance and had the brainwave of animating over the top of him, so we could still use the precious footage I had but dub Roberto's dialogue performance out of the film. In my head, I saw it as Murdoc from Gorillaz, crossed with the animated Johnny Rotten from the Great Rock and Roll Swindle. A downside to all of this was of course finding an animator wanting to get involved for free and the amount of time it would take, delaying the final film by probably another two years. I know stylistically it would be jarring, but there was something I found quite strikingly interesting about the idea.
Terry also wondered if the film could exist with just the two other stories and without the Chad character, but I felt that would have not worked - the Amelia and Lorna storyline would have been strange without Chad "fixing" the car...and what would have caused the climax at the end of the Dugald/ Gwyneth storyline?
I can't remember what exactly happened next - looking at my email box, I did send several emails fighting my case and for why the organisation was difficult and I did send him an email stating that if we didn't hear from him we'd assume he wasn't interested in finishing the film...what happened after I don't know, as the next email I have from Roberto is him confirming a date and asking for the script again. Thank god.
So, it looks like after all of this we filmed on the final weekend of May - we decided to get together early afternoon and even though we only had 10 shots to do, with the usual Cassini delays expected to make it a longer shoot than necessary. It was an odd shoot, as we had Jenny filling in for the lines of dialogue from Gwyneth and Terry wearing the same jacket for Dugald and filling in those lines. I finally got to use my friend Paul's deckchairs, which I'd "borrowed" from him early the previous year, denying him them all across the summer!
To be fair, the delays we suffered weren't only down to Roberto - being such a glorious day meant that everyone and their dog was down Newhaven beach. We'd decided to film by the seawall, which I hoped would provide something visually dense but also would mean there would be less chance of people wandering past that way. Unfortunately we had to sit and wait while people left the frame in the background and someone had put a ladder down so people could get up on to the seawall, so we had a constant stream of people going up there...and the usual noise disruptions you would expect from this. I was nervous that none of this footage would fit together, especially the ice cream scuffle - trying to fudge a fight between two people when only one of them is there wasn't easy.
I tried to remain as upbeat as I could, indulging Roberto with some of his ludicrous suggestions - he wanted to walk away from Dugald and Gwyneth and raise his arms outstretched in some kind of messianic pose. I had no idea what the fuck he was thinking with that, but let him do it his way and my way for the sake of a quiet life.
Once we'd got the actual footage, we then had the job of getting Roberto to dub A LOT of his dialogue from the previous days - the issues we'd had with the microphones meant a lot had to be redone, including the end lines which Roberto had delivered with such disinterest the previous year. So we all camped out by the sea wall, Roberto with my iPod playing his lines of dialogue and John doing his best to record them while various background noise dragged out what should have been a simple task longer than I had hoped.
By the time we'd finished and packed up we were still hitting early evening - much later than I had wanted the shoot to go on for (but predicted accurately as always by Minda - she knows my shoots ALWAYS last longer than I hope.) I had massive doubts about what we had got, especially for the fight scene. But importantly Roberto's involvement with Stranded was finally over. Good riddance to bad rubbish.
So, the plan was to film two weeks later and at last the entire film would be in the can. But there was still plenty of space for another fly in the ointment...
I'd contacted everyone at the start of the year regarding the filming dates but conspicuously Barbara, who was cast to play Gwyneth, had not got back to me. As I'd been so busy with the shepherding of Roberto I hadn't given it much thought. But with Roberto out of the way I was now concerned that she had still not replied to any emails or texts regarding the film, so finally phoned her up. I think she was in the middle of cooking when I phoned...she told me that it was looking unlikely that she could do the filming as she was due to be cast in a play...a touring play...so she would be tied up for quite some time. After pressing her on this further, she started telling me things like "I think my creative juices for Stranded have dried up", dredging up a similar feeling to Roberto - Barbara had been cast way back in September 2007, had been privy to the organisational chaos from the group emails as I struggled to sort filming dates and I think she'd decided to wash her hands of the whole thing.
What bugs me so much about this is that she never got in touch with me to tell me she was bowing out, which she could have done at anytime, and the touring play was most likely made up to try and let me down gently...after all, why would you give reasons you can't do it, then give reasons you don't want to do it?
So, that was that - I'd now lost my actress. Greeeeeeeat.
Luckily, Courtney recommended his friend Jan Hargreaves to me so I got in touch with her and went up to audition her at her lovely flat in London. She was very proper, very friendly, very sweet and very dedicated to her craft. She played the part brilliantly and she was obviously suitable for the role. On a nice aside, she had never played opposite Courtney despite them being friends for many years, so it felt pleasing to put two friends together on screen.
Schedules and availability meant everything went back and back again, leaving me panicking that we wouldn't get it shot that summer...and the idea of the film dragging on ANOTHER year was too frightening to contemplate. I went back up to London where Jan and I helped sort out her costume - she had loads of clothes up in her attic so after a bit of back and forth we had a great costume which nicely cost nothing! It perfectly fitted the red theme that I wanted and she looked great.
After the pain of the year with Roberto and then having to recast Barbara, we thankfully commenced the final day of shooting Stranded on Saturday the 5th of September. After a bit of a late start I'm pretty sure we got down to the location to find Courtney and Jan had been there ahead of us...not very professional and I was worried about making a bad impression with them both. But it seemed like after all the misery I'd had arranging this film today everything was on our side - the beach was very quiet for the most part, the weather was glorious and the footage was looking great. Jan and Courtney were both fantastic and the shoot was going really well.
Debbie had a friend who ran an ice cream van and managed to come into the car park for us to film the scene with Courtney buying the ice creams, with the crew making up the extras queuing for ice cream. This was a pretty easy shoot, although it always seemed difficult to make ourselves heard over the noise of the ice cream van's engine. As I recall Gus and Terry busied themselves by eating lots of spare ice creams from each take...
We were pretty much ahead of ourselves and had a pretty lazy dinner for once. Anthony kept nudging me, telling me that we should really get a move on while the weather was good. With no clouds in the sky, I couldn't see what his problem was.
Half an hour later I was cursing myself for having not listened to Anthony. Suddenly the glorious blue skies had disappeared, replaced by an endless thick greyness which the sun could barely shine through. It also went cold, VERY COLD. It was such an unbelievable shift from just an hour before - we were all now wrapped up as best we could as a bitter wind took hold. Jan was already suffering from a chest infection and this sudden drop in temperature meant that we had to change the scene where we see her barefoot paddling in the sea, as she understandably wasn't prepared to do it. So we shot it more as if she was dancing on the edge of the shore. Anthony had a plan to shoot the scene as best he could and attempt to create a less greyed out image, creating a more brown sepia image...but it was still a staggering contrast to what we had shot earlier and worryingly nothing like the footage we had of Roberto. Anthony had a specific way in mind of shooting this scene, which meant fudging where the actors actually were and where they were looking in relation to the sea, which I remember caused confusion with all of us. I'd be in a similar situation with Anthony before when shooting The Crunch, but that had worked out fine, so I had faith in what he was proposing, even though the actors were struggling to grasp what he meant and tempers were fraying as the temperature dropped.
As Jan's coughing fits became more and more horrid to witness I found myself confused over whether to abandon the shoot - I didn't want to put her health at risk and put her in hospital with pneumonia. I remember having a discussion with Gus, Terry, Jenny and Anthony over what to do, as I knew the decision was mine, but I almost wished it wasn't. In the end Gus seemed to make the clearest point - if we did abandon the shoot, when would we reconvene? The answer to which was depressingly “Who knows?” and would have inevitably been the following year. Jenny also suggested that it should be up to Jan whether she wants to carry on and when asked she fantastically agreed to carry on, as long as we tried to hurry the shoot along as best we could.
With everyone focussed intensely on shooting the final scenes and a flurry of activity to make sure Jan was as comfortable as possible we cracked on, shooting the return to the deckchairs then finally reaching the ice cream scuffle. We saved the shot of the ice cream crushed in Courtney's face until last to save on redoing the make up, so did all the shots around that and then the final lines of dialogue between Dugald and Gwyneth. We filmed them leaving the beach, Courtney carrying the deckchairs under his arms. Jan went and sat inside a car to warm up while we shot the final shot of Courtney getting splattered with ice cream, (or more the fake ice creams – the ones Courtney carries are more tissue paper covered in squirty cream...with the one in his face being more just cream.) A messy final image to a messy, sticky production.
Despite the issues of the day I felt the shoot was a success and I was really happy with the way we all pulled together and worked together. Once again I was very proud of the crew that I'd built up around myself. I'm not sure, but I think I slept well that night.
Terry and I had been working on the edit during all this time - conveniently he worked up the road from where we were living at the time, so would pop down on his dinner hour when I was working from home and do a little bit each time. We wouldn't get that much done, by the time we'd taken off his walk there and back, quick cup of tea and natter etc but bit by bit we chipped away at scenes. This piecemeal approach was also bolstered by a few evenings dedicated to getting the edit done.
The edit had always been tough as viewing Roberto's performance back in the colder light of day made it seem even worse than it had felt during the shoot. Between takes his accent and approach would lurch dramatically. To keep our spirits up we would end up creasing up laughing and shouting at the screen at particular bad performance gems. So we took the decision to remove as much of his dialogue as possible, which in effect created a better performance by turning him into this mostly mute ignorant brute. It wasn't what I had set out to have and I was dismayed at losing some of the dialogue that I liked in the script, but I had to admit it was all for the improvement of the film.
It also became apparent that there was an issue with the first day's shoot - on the opening shot Anthony hadn't switched on the ground glass filter (which helped give the footage a filmic look) so this shot looked odd...and it later transpired that there was a smudge on the right of the lens, which resulted in some strange blooming and softening of the image whenever anyone was in focus in the right of the frame.
Cutting the dialogue and trying to get something which worked was a real challenge - we struggled with the final scene of Chad and Algy where Algy is placed back in the wheelchair as we found we were missing some movement, so in the end this was solved by going for a jump cut when Chad kicks the wheelchair back over.
There was one serendipitous moment during the scene where Chad is throwing stones - I dropped the footage down roughly without checking where the dialogue was for the scene and remarkably it seemed to fit really well, especially where Algy asks Chad if he loves it at the beach, which Chad now responds to with a disbelieving look. Much better than Roberto's original caveman NOAAA!
Editing Algy falling out of the wheelchair was difficult too - out of all the shots we had where Jamie falls towards the camera, Gus was visible on the left of frame in all but one of them. We also had a front shot of the wheelchair falling where Terry tipped Jamie up out of the chair, with a view to zoom cropping Terry out, but it was still obvious that someone was pushing him over. I think in retrospect the problem with this sequence is that the chair is never tipping in the full shots of Jamie reaching for the ruler, so the close ups of the wheel coming off the ground looking a bit odd.
The Amelia and Lorna footage was mostly easier to edit as we had consistent performances though in one wide shot which had to be used we saw that John's boom mic and shadow were in the frame. Looking back at the footage of this scene there perhaps wasn't as much coverage as I would have liked - the physicality’s of the location didn't give us that much room for manoeuvre and I think at times it can feel very static. As mentioned above, Debbie's almost crash was cut out of the film in the end anyway - it didn't make sense highlighting a particular car coming when other cars were passing them by and we really needed a couple more shots to make the sequence work - I think it really needed a shot from within the car, passing Lorna and seeing her look hopefully at the car. In the end we used a shot of Natasha that I think would have been before the sequence, but seemed to convey some restrained seething about the situation she was in.
Editing the Chad/ Amelia/ Lorna scenes was again a challenge - after putting up with being felt up by Roberto, the shot where he shunts her forward didn't make the cut - it felt awkward and was difficult to cut to the next shot. Roberto's performance when he sits in the car was as awful as it was on location, so we decided to cut to start the scene with them looking into the bonnet and Chad already in the car. Unfortunately we had to keep some dialogue, so Chad's line of "happy to help" had to stay, even though he sounded like a different person. We justified it to ourselves pretending that he was acting all different and "charming" around other people.
So we came to putting in the Dugald and Gwyneth pieces which was something to look forward to - up to this point the film felt like a frustrating sticker book where you have so many gaps and you can't get a feel of what it should actually be like. As with the Amelia and Lorna footage, editing these scenes were mostly straight forward though our concerns with the footage from when the weather turned were still prevalent. All we could do was edit it as it was and hope for the best when put together. There is an unintentional gag during the sandwich scene - Courtney ate his cheese and piccalli sandwich too quick and like a cheapskate ass I hadn't made any other spares, so he had to eat cheese and beetroot which is easy to spot on screen. But I justify it to myself thinking it could be interpreted as how ditzy Gwyneth is - she gives him the wrong sandwich and he's too polite to say anything.
The ice cream scuffle did of course give us headaches - looking back at the footage we realised again we were missing two or three shots of movement to get Chad out of the deckchair, approaching Dugald and make him fall over. I was also hoping that the shot of Chad approaching the Dugald shemp would have just been dirtied with a slight bit of Dugald’s shoulder, but Anthony had got all of Terry’s head and shoulders in...and zoom cropping didn’t solve this issue. We tried to ignore the shifting colour cast for now.
I don't know how many different versions of this we tried but none of them felt satisfactory. In the end again it fell to a jump cut as I tried to make a gag out of it - Dugald threatens, next instant he's got an ice cream shoved in his face. Thankfully I've come across other people who find this moment blackly funny. But even with this the scene felt like an absolute mess - I did want it to have some confused aspect to it, of Dugald lying on the floor spluttering, Gwyneth shouting out, Chad stomping off...but I don't think it comes across intentionally confused, it feels like an amateurish patchwork making the best of a bad job. (Which it was, in all fairness.) On an aside again to Roberto's performance and Terry's approach of watching everything, the first shot of Roberto in this scene where he rubs his nose, looking bored was actually before we shouted action, but felt much better than when he was actually acting...
There was also an issue with Courtney's accent in his final scene - suddenly he's going on about "not putting her in an 'ome" which seems weird after he's been so properly spoken. So let's pretend it's because he's dropping his guard (and his aitches) now he's being straight with his mum. Yeah? Anyone?
We put it all together and had a 24 minute cut of the film - considering the script was 23 pages I thought this wasn't too bad, but knew we had to cut more down. We'd also initially followed the structure of the script for the edit and now that was causing problems. My main issue was that Amelia and Lorna's storyline seemed to finish halfway through the film, which felt a bit odd. There were other issues with how some of the other scenes juxtaposed with each other...so we cut the final dialogue between Lorna and Amelia and for the gag factor placed it after the ice cream scene, so you have Chad being a thug followed by Lorna's "We can be grateful he came along." We also chopped Lorna's dialogue around when Chad is looking in the rear view mirror...which does sound odd, but seemed to help.
With some more snipping here and there we managed to get it down to the final cut of around 21 minutes. We locked this off in January 2010, which I can't remember if it was just after my first child Logan had been born or just in time before.
What followed was a much longer period than I expected - John was doing the sound mix, but inbetween work, teaching, jury service, World Cup, PC failures and learning ProTools (of which Stranded was going to be the test subject guinea pig.) It took much longer than I had hoped, especially as we weren't dealing with sound as bad as John had had to salvage when doing the sound mix for The Crunch. I was hoping he could have done the majority of it without me there and although he did a lot he did want me there a lot to go through stuff, which was difficult to arrange due to work and family commitments, so this would drag things out even longer.
We did have to get Jamie back in to ADR some of the beach dialogue as it was unusable - so he went into John's spare room with my iPod and went through the lines over and over. It took a bit longer than I had anticipated, but that was down to there being more dialogue that needed dubbing than I first thought. We also had to get Natasha back to dub just one line, which we didn't have the iPod for (it had broke in the meantime) so she had to watch the dialogue on John's PC then we dashed outside his front door and waited for a break in the traffic for Natasha to deliver her line. Typically the traffic didn't seem to want to stop but eventually we had the one line which John felt would fit. It didn't and he painstakingly broke the line down into individual word components to get the line to fit, but it was well worth it as suddenly a scene which felt jarring had true resonance.
Despite John's best efforts there were still sound effects alluding him, in particular he needed proper recordings of the wheel chair. Kevin, who had hired us the wheelchair for the shoot originally, seemed to have disappeared and so we racked our brains trying to think of a cheap way of getting hold of one. My old work colleague Peter Ward-Edwards suggested we try the Red Cross and luckily the Red Cross in Worthing had wheelchairs that they hired out. So, a quick drive to Worthing, drive to John's, push him up a mud track near his allotment, flick the brakes on and off, kick it over a few times, drive it back to Worthing, drop a fiver in the charity box and the job was a good 'un.
It was probably around October time when I went to John's and heard what was an "almost" complete sound mix. I sat there, listening intently to it all and was almost in tears by the end. At the start of the year when we'd finished the edit I was very disheartened about the film - frankly I felt it was a turkey, an absolute folly on par with a film I'd made many years ago and that I was finishing it just for those involved...but hearing John's sound mix, suddenly it felt like most of the seams were covered, that the film flowed rather than jarred and that it now had an audio atmosphere to match the wonderful visuals. Getting this sound mix coincided with some bad news from John regarding other projects, but I felt that John had in a sense saved one of my films again.
With the sound mix in theory in the final straight I now went looking for a musician. I hadn't wanted to start this process until I had the film in a state which showed it off in the best possible light and with this sound mix I felt it was ready. So I advertised on Shooting People, asking for links to melancholic, atmospheric music and was contacted by about 30 people. Due to other commitments it took me several weeks before I finally sat down, headphones on and listened to what people had to offer...some people certainly seemed to talk the talk, showing them stood in front of giant mixing desks, other people confused the issue by sending me links to Hollywood blockbusters which they had re-scored - I understand the theory but I found it a bit irritating. In typical fashion I had people send me a basic email with a link to their website, with no effort to highlight particular tracks which they felt were melancholic and might be of interest, leaving me to trawl through websites looking for something which might be relevant. There was also an awful lot of keyboard strings on tracks - it seemed that for a lot of people the idea of melancholic was to have these awful sounding synth strings. Piano was also unsurprisingly ubiquitous, but I was adamant that I wanted to avoid piano as the lead instrument as that felt like an obvious choice.
What probably wasn't an obvious choice was choosing a musician who only had two tracks on his showreel and which were both for animation. But there was something about Billy Payne's work that I liked immediately, with one of the main qualities was that it all felt like it was organic, with real instrumentation rather than based around synths, something which I felt was important for Stranded. So I got in touch, sent him the film and he was overjoyed to be asked as he was keen to have more than animation on his showreel. Brilliantly, we both seemed to be on the wavelength when it came to suggestions about the score - my comparisons to Bjork's Anchor Song, the work of Talk Talk and Mark Hollis and something that felt "coastal" all seemed to find a home with Billy. I gave him a deadline of late November to have the score to me as I wanted to have the film to show at the last Son Of Movie Bar, the film night I ran in Brighton with Terry. Billy assured me this deadline wouldn't be an issue as he was about to quit his job and concentrate full time on composing.
Over the coming weeks Billy would send me sketches and drafts of tracks to be used, stings for the end of scenes - he said he'd been watching Mike Leigh films to see how they were scored, which felt positive - and each time I'd badly synch up a quicktime file with iTunes on my laptop (as my Mac was bust at the time) to get a feel for the music he'd written. Billy eventually delivered the score on time and think he did a wonderful job - the opening theme, with the clarinet, felt perfectly melancholic and downtrodden for the film.
So the score was in the bag, John was still tidying up the sound mix...and only other aspect which had been a difficulty throughout the year was the grading of the film. I had always hoped Anthony would grade it - he is always keen to grade work he has shot and had even done a grading test of footage from the second shoot over two years previously. But when I initially started chasing up the grade with him at the start of the year he was suddenly very busy. Annoyingly there was one period where he admitted he could have got it done, but had completely forgotten about the grade. He was then booked up with work which meant the very earliest he would have been able to do it was at the end of the year. I did want him to grade the film, but I was clear that this film HAD to be finished in 2010 as I couldn't face it going on into another year (ah, wait for the irony again.)
So I asked Terry if he would be up for doing the grade and he was. Terry was already keen to have a go at correcting the overcast shots from the final shoot - he felt he'd be able to keyframe the sky back in as well as sorting out the sky on some other shots and removing John's boom mic and shadow. Unfortunately we had real trouble getting the footage from my Mac to his PC - no matter which way we tried it nothing would work, which seems to be a symptom of HD footage on Final Cut Pro. This kept delaying this work throughout the year as no one could provide a solution, and Terry didn't want to rip the footage from a dvd movie as there would be a loss of quality. My Mac breaking towards the end of the year didn't help matters.
Terry had been involved in a film where he met a DOP called Darren Berry, who I got to meet at Son Of Movie Bar one night. We got on well and he said he could probably find a solution to our problem with this footage. Eventually I was able to get my Mac repaired and tried to follow Darren's advice until it seemed my Final Cut 5 didn't have a particular output which his did, so I took him the Stranded file to help extract the footage for Terry. In the end Darren's solution had to be to export an uncompressed file of the film, which was over 100gb, onto an external drive for Terry. With both their other commitments it took several weeks before Terry had the footage...and by this point we were in the final quarter of the year.
Terry admitted he was working in unknown territory for himself as he'd never attempted anything like this before. He did some test footage which he sent to me and although there were some issues I think on the whole it was an improvement over the footage we had - as it stood the footage looked brown, sepia tinted...but Terry managed to put a hint of blue back into it which made it feel at least a touch more consistent with the rest of the film, even though the scenes still stuck out as looking differently.
However, it became apparent that Terry wouldn't have his footage ready for the December screening, which I was determined to do even if it was just a preview screening of an almost complete film. The run up to the screening was fraught - I'd been struggling to get my external hard drive back from an editor who was involved in another film I'd just shot (that's a whole different kettle of fish) as I couldn't do the titles for Stranded without it and I felt that any showing needed to have the titles at the beginning and end. I managed to get it back but upon receiving my repaired Mac I had issues with the software I had lost, which impacted on getting the titles done. Luckily they were sorted in time for the screening.
John sent me his near to finished sound mix with Billy's score - John said he still wanted to add some wheelchair squeaks and do some panning split, but apart from that it was done. However, John had done this without me being there and had decided to remove the vast majority of Billy's score, leaving only the beginning and end and the ice cream scuffle with any music, apart from some stings at the end of the scenes. I had admitted to John that it was a lack of confidence in myself that pushes me to put more music in a film than is maybe necessary, but I felt John had gone too far the other way. I really felt the score helped the film to work emotionally. So for the screening I put Billy's score back into the film, layered on top of John's sound mix, which did cause some skewed moments where the stings and music rubbed against each other, but it was the best I could do in the time frame.
After all of this typical last minute work it looked like the screening wasn't going to happen anyway - no matter how much I tried, the film would not export out of FCP for me to burn to a dvd. It took around 8 hours for the film to export, only to find an error message at the very end of that time and despite my best efforts over the weekend, trying different settings, attempting to run a low quality versions out nothing seemed to be working. After doing some research it seemed that the error message I was getting was quite possibly due to a corrupt render file and one possible solution was to copy the whole project into a new project and re-render it, then export it...but doing this 16 hour job, with time also needed to burn the film to dvd meant that even if it did work I would probably miss the screening anyway. It was very stressful and dismaying that after all this work I wouldn't get it shown.
Anthony turned out to be the saviour as he was coming along to the final Son Of Movie Bar and he suggested that he would bring his Mac book and we could run it off the hard drive. I had to hope and pray that there would be no issues with the output to the video projector and luckily there weren't. Unfortunately there were many issues with the screening - as the hard drive was missing render files it meant that Anthony had to run it in safe mode, which meant the film juttered and stopped completely on more than 3 occasions, causing us to faff around to get the film going again. Most galling, after all that effort, was that Billy's sound file was sat on my desktop and was never saved to my external drive, so the whole score was never there for this screening anyway.
Despite the haphazard nature of the screening, the film got a very fine round of applause and I got some very positive feedback afterwards, some people saying it was the best thing I'd done and that this could be the one which could help secure me funding for films in the future (a sentiment that Terry had expressed several months previously once John's sound mix was in place.)
(Several weeks later I would see Gus and he told me he thought the screening was brilliantly apt - a bit of a disaster with best intentions only just kept together and seemed to be a perfect summation of trying to make this film.)
With Christmas heading towards us everything went quiet on the film until the New Year...John's work commitments meant that it became increasingly difficult to get hold of him to do the final bit of work that needed doing, nor did he want to do it without me being there. With Anthony once again booked up with work until late May I had to look elsewhere again for the grade - Terry was unsure of what exactly I wanted with the grade, so expressed a view of only doing the colour correction work. Darren had shot a recent short for me and was going to be grading that, so I asked him if he'd be willing to have a ganders at Stranded just to help bolster the image that we had.
It took until around March when John and I were finally able to get together and sort out the final mix, which in itself felt a momentous occasion. In the meantime Darren had received the film footage and had started work on the grade but Terry was still struggling with the colour correction. He was also working on the shot to remove John’s boom mic and shadow but even once that was done he had trouble getting the footage exported out to Darren – more issues of PCs and Macs not talking. Eventually Darren received it all, but told me he wasn’t too sure how well it worked and would have a go himself...
With various work commitments, the grade continued to drag its feet until I saw a couple of film competitions I wanted to enter Stranded into, in particular the Aesthetica competition – with a mid June deadline, I managed to push Darren to complete the film just in time for this date.
Unfortunately Darren was unable to perform miracles on the colour correction footage – he had removed the brown, sepia tinge to the footage but there was nothing he could do about the lack of sky. His attempts with the ice scuffle scene were a bit more successful – never quite creating a complete colour match, but at least felt a bit richer compared to the original image. Another issue he had discovered was that the smudge on the lens from the first day’s shoot turned out to be more like a flaw on the lens as it was on all the other footage to, but to a lesser degree, and as a result worked really hard on trying to balance as best he could the left and right sides of the frame. On a more positive note, the boom and shadow shot was completely sorted – I couldn’t tell for the life of me where it had been.
Darren also uploaded the film to the Faster Productions Vimeo page while I awaited the hard drive back to burn the dvds and once this was done I sent an email out to everyone involved so they could finally see what they had worked on.
And that was that. Almost 5 years since it was written, almost 4 years since I started casting it...the second film to get me back into film making was enough stress at times to put me off film making again for another 5 years.
I’m writing this just several hours after it being uploaded to Vimeo – Minda and I sat and watched it together, enjoyably we’d reached the point with this film where we could mock aspects of the film and the characters, which felt fun.
It’s probably too soon to really evaluate the successes and failures of the film, There are technical issues which grate – the lens smudge/ flaw which tinkers with the image and there’s quite a bit of lip flap in the last scene where the sound wasn’t fitted properly, I still really don’t like the sound effect for the car starting (or failing to start) – it sounds very much straight from a cd, compared to the other foley work that John did. The shift in colour temperature in the shots towards the end with Gwyneth and Dugald are really unfortunate, but were beyond my control unless I’d had the conviction to attempt yet another day’s shoot. I wished we’d had more coverage of certain scenes, I wished Courtney didn’t say “Put you in that ‘ome” at the end, as that dropped H really bugs me...as does his line fluff with the photograph. Above all else I guess I’m still annoyed with Roberto’s performance – I think the performance we created in the edit was massively beneficial, but I wish we could have removed even more dialogue from his dreadfully camp accent. The fight scene at the end is still an uncomfortable mess which makes me wince. Also, it struck me tonight where some shots and scenes could have easily been tightened up and shaved of a few seconds – something which has only come to me nearly 18 months after locking down the edit. Ah well.
But on the positive sides, I genuinely feel like it has a real mood and atmosphere to it. Billy’s score is great for the most part (not so when Algy falls out of the chair, where it doesn’t have any tension building, I really don’t know how I missed that at the time) and really sets the film up. Apart from those shots on the beach, I think the film generally looks very special – the colours of the clothes look vibrant, the sky is a glorious deep blue in places and the locations and backdrops have a life of their own too, which was a really important element to me. I think generally, despite Roberto’s dreadful moments, that the acting is pretty good and in the case of Jan I think exceptional. It was a very difficult edit, but I really feel I learnt a lot editing with Terry and it was fun coming up with creative solutions to the issues we were having. I’m still hoping it will be the one which will take my filmic career even up a tiny notch and looking at it now I really think it has that potential.
And now, in keeping with the end of the film, I’ll put on my most campest flim flam voice I’ll end this making of by telling myself to shut the fuck up.