Wednesday, 7 September 2016

YOU WILL NOT BREAK ME - The Making Of Pick-Ups - Pre Production

I was going to Copenhagen to see one of my best friends and fellow film maker Mark. We had a very definite film making past together, being that the first film either of us ever made was with each other, in his bedroom.

Hang on, that sounds a bit dubious.

Basically our first film was shot on his dad's camcorder that had to be attached to a VCR, so we had to improvise something in his room, which resulted in some strange film following a secret agent (Agent 009.5) and his arch nemesis Fez Head.

We were young(ish)

It was actually the throwaway, daft energy of that first step into film making that I wanted to recapture. I was bogged down with my films The Crunch, Stranded and Goodnight, Halloween all being at various long winded stages of production/ post-production. My stupid feature film from years back was also going nowhere. I just wanted to do something fast, fun and free and it didn't really matter whether it was a work of art or a success or not.

So I came up with two ideas - one was "A Date With Death" which would have been a silly travelogue around Copenhagen while a woman goes on a date with, well, Death - row boat on a lake together, that sort of thing. I can't remember if I'd figured out the ending, perhaps Death didn't want to take her in the end or something.

The other one really was using the Robert Rodriguez approach of writing to what you I figured if I could get Mark to act in it again (though he'd long avoided doing that, being now behind the camera...though I thought he might be up for it) I'd have an English actor abroad in a foreign country...he lived in a flat, so we had access to a flat...then if we could get a female friend involved (perhaps even Mark's girlfriend, even though she wasn't an actress) then perhaps there was something in those aspects that could set something up.

So, possibly inspired by Mark and his girlfriend Sabine's own career roles (director, production designer) I had the idea of a slightly socially awkward film director who has had a relationship with some crew member on a film (perhaps platonic, perhaps a little bit more...or maybe perceived a little bit more) while on a shoot out of the country. In an almost mid life crisis he's ditched his married suburban life, full of over enthusiastic young love and gone off to be with this woman in her home country...but like a teenager not quite in control of his emotions and senses, he never quite picked up on the signs the woman was telling him...and I had the title of Pick-Ups based on the whole filmic idea of going back somewhere to do the pick up shots, or finish off what you didn't get to finish before...I thought it fitted quite well, with an undercurrent of trying to "pick up" the woman...

I figured it was a starting point, enough to do something undemanding and easy to achieve in a day with no expectations of greatness, just something fun to do. I may have written some sort of outline as scant as the one above, I'm not sure, and sent it to Mark...who said that it could do with some developing.

If I remember rightly, this was about a week or so before I was planning to go over to Copenhagen and it was just supposed to be something we just have a go at making, not something that is developed and goes back and forth and...I dunno...I guess I felt deflated by the comment, maybe I explained badly, maybe he didn't want to act in it and I presumptuously thought he'd be okay with it, perhaps he was being a bit cautious over what the point of it was and where it would end up - at the time Mark was involved in various things and perhaps wanted to make sure it didn't damage any reputation or possible work opportunities. I don't know.

The end result was that I went to Copenhagen, but we didn't make either of the films together.

But there was something about Pick-Ups that I liked. Just the simplicity of it appealed massively to me in comparison to my then filmic troubles. While Terry and I struggled through the editing of Stranded (see that separate making of) the Virgin Media Shorts competition came up in conversation - I paraphrased my idea for Pick-Ups to him and Terry laughed at the punchline to the film, thinking it was genuinely a good idea. I thought that I'd be able to get the film in on the 2 minutes 20 seconds then running time limit on the Virgin Media Shorts competition and so spurred on by Terry's enthusiastic response I decided to resurrect the idea. Memory maybe failing me, but I think Terry may have agreed to star in the film there and then.

I also mentioned about Mark's need to develop the idea, which I was resilient to as I felt it was a simple story, a simple idea and I didn't want to over egg it. Terry told me he had a tutor at college who used to say "A chair is a chair" and this no nonsence, is-what-it-is feeling and ethos stuck with me.

As ever with my work, not much happened for some time. Some films got finished, some remained unfinished, other ideas dragged their feet...I must have written a script for the film and I now set it in some unnamed former Eastern bloc country - though in the end I went with the Czech Republic although that was never mentioned in the film - with the male role now named Joseph Francis Little, quite why I don't know, I just wanted him strutting with a suitcase at the start with JFL on written on it in tape, close to JFK but I can't think why now. The female role was Nula Ruzova, which I think meant Rose Flower in Czech. Terry had a film making friend named Mark (Tew)who lived in Worthing in a small block of flats - the interior hallway and landing had a blandness to them and the outside of the flat could possibly pass for an Eastern European nondescript modern block of flats, although the inside of his flat wasn't particularly Eastern bloc, but with his film posters and such like in the flat the filmic backstory aspect could have hopefully been insinuated quickly and he agreed to let us film there.

So around May 2011 I started casting the female role in the film - as the role was for an East European I did receive many requests, some of whom did look the part, but many were in London, which made it difficult to audition and there would always be the additional cost of transport from London too.. The script wasn't the easiest to audition for, being that it was mostly responding to Terry, so it wasn't easy to gauge a performance. Funnily enough an actress named Joanne Gale got in touch for the role - I'd auditioned her for Stranded and it was basically between her and Natasha, but Natasha got the role for I knew Joanne was good and I was keen to work with her, she could also be local with family still in the region so that helped secure her for the role, though I did have concerns at the time that she may have looked just a bit too young...not that Terry looked very old in comparison, but certainly older...

I tried to arrange some dates for filming around the start of September - my daughter was due in November so I knew realistically I couldn't risk filming any later than early October and would be busy with baby preparations during that time. However, in the middle of August I was dealt a bit of a blow - Terry was going to be busy with a play in September, so would be unavailable...I was still keen to have him in the role and said I'd postpone until next year. He replied back suggesting that I recast, as he was "not as jazzed about working on it" as he was when I first told him the story - as he was committing himself to finding worthwhile acting roles he found himself no longer willing to do just any role just for showreel material.

Damn it.

Looking back at some emails I really didn't waste any time - I was determined to shoot something new this year and was still aiming for September. I didn't really mind if the film didn't turn out perfect, I still very much had the relaxed attitude of the film being what it was - the chair was still the chair. I didn't want to stress myself putting casting calls up, auditioning male actors and killing myself, spending a lot of money on something so "light" but I also wanted to try and meet this September/ October deadline.

So that same day (!) I emailed an old friend, Nail, who I used to work with in Nottingham in a record shop. He was always a character and I could always see him in a film, but strangely I never ended up using him in my feature Gettin' Some, strange that pretty much anyone and everyone else rolled up in it out of desperation to fill some roles. We'd seen each other not long ago at a screening in London of The Crunch and he half jokingly lamented when I was going to put him in one of my films. Much that I did genuinely want to work with Nail, I thought he'd put in a fun comedic performance and it'd be fun to be spending a day with him again there was also the hope that he might also be up for doing some soundtrack music for the film, and being (at the time) part of the critically lauded electronic/ chill out duo Bent would hold some kudos when trying to promote the film.

We spoke about it and Nail, though understandably a bit nervous, was up for the role. I'd seen a photo of him recently wearing some old fashioned 60s style glasses which looked really good on him, really helped me visualise the character and so asked him to wear them, though I have a slight feeling he may have told me he'd just broken them! So I was off trying to locate a pair of similar looking glasses with plastic lenses - as I knew Kerry, an optometrist from Nottingham now living in Brighton, I was hoping to borrow some samples from work just for the shoot....

So the role was recast. The other male role, for the sting in the tale, was to be played briefly by Brian, who was the brother of the make up artist Jeanette. But then after myself and Mark (T) had sat and discussed the ending of the film, being that I felt I really needed an absolute beefcake of a man to pull the twist off, Mark suggested I go the other way and have an older man be the twist...which was a brilliant suggestion and really made the film. So I quickly got in touch with local actor Dick Douglass, who I'd met at several film networking nights, and he seemed to be up for the role.

All was looking good for the mid September shoot - there was an issue that Mark (T) was going to be busy on the shoot for his short film House Trafalgar but I was hoping that I'd still be able to have access, being that he'd be elsewhere anyway, but in the end this ended up being an issue as he said he may need the space to stash production equipment and that it maybe a bit too much with two shoots happening at the same time.

Having recast my actor with 4 weeks to go, I now had three weeks to find a new location to film in.

Lady luck shined on me - make up artist Jeanette and my wife's friend Helen had moved in to an amazing basement flat in Kemptown in Brighton - the hallway was fantastic with clouds painted on the ceiling and lovely coving, the lounge had mirrors on the walls and inset behind faux columns - it felt very bohemian, like something from Nic Roeg and Donald Campbell's also seemed to fit the new sting in the tale of the old man, being that the set up is that it's his flat that Nula lives at, not her own. Although the outside was an old fashioned Brighton townhouse it had scaffolding and tarpaulin up completely covering the outside, which with some simple CG could have some Czech builders firm writing put on it. Directly opposite were a bunch of flats which looked far more Eastern bloc than Mark's flat, which meant the opening walk to Nula's flat could simply be shot across the road and around the corner.

Phew, the stars were in alignment!

Except around the 11th of September Nail's ankle was not. After a night out he rode his girlfriend's bike home, fell off and fractured his ankle, which suddenly put any shoot in absolute disarray. Never wanting to give up complete hope on shooting the film in 2011, I had to wait for him to get the all clear 10 days later to see if it would all be okay.

The really great news was that the fracture wasn't too bad and was sorted after a very brief period. The bad news was that the x-ray which confirmed the good news also showed a hairline fracture that they'd missed the first time round, so Nail would be stuck in the cast until mid/ late October at the earliest.

So basically, despite my best efforts, I had to finally admit defeat on filming Pick-Ups in 2011.

2012 got off to a bumpy start - somewhere between October and the end of the year Helen and Jeanette's flat became unavailable - from one email all I can see is a reference to Helen saying "it's not suitable" though I can't remember what the reason was back then...but it seems that shooting was back on at Mark's flat in Worthing.

It looked like everything was heading towards a late February shoot...however, I then had the blow of losing Nail from the film permanently. I won't go into the reasons here, but it was a pretty significant life decision that he undertook and one which has been a positive one in the long term, but it suddenly meant he wasn't able to be in the film. I'm not sure when the change happened, but with the slight change to the ending Terry was now keen to play the role of JFL again, so he came back on I got my first choice actor back in the end after all a month before shooting!

The only current concern was that Darren, my DOP friend, along with all of his kit, had moved back home to Wales around the end of the year - I now had to sort the transport cost, which wasn't excessive, but it was more a concern of him coming so far for the film shoot, although he was local at the start of February to shoot the sequel to Jenny Ringo, another short he'd previously been involved in. I also needed to get hold of a sound recordist - as we were shooting on a week day I wasn't able to use Toby who had previously sound recording on a variety of films - but each avenue I went down seemed to be a dead end...

But then two days before the shoot I was hit with the news that Darren wouldn't be able to do the shoot - after struggling to get hold of him I finally spoke to him on the Sunday night, when I seem to remember him saying "We're shooting on Tuesday, yeah? Yeah, that's not going to happen I'm afraid." I wasn't exactly sure why, but that was that and he asked if we could postpone to mid March at the earliest.

With everything else bar sound recordist sorted I was going to go my damnedest to try and make this 28th of February shoot happen.

Immediately after getting off the phone to Darren I dropped Anthony, who shot Stranded, The Crunch and Goodnight, Halloween, a desperate quick line in the hope that he may be able to help me out. That was a no go. I contacted James, who shot House Trafalgar for Mark...also a no go.

Around the same time Jeanette also told me that she was no longer available to do the make up. And I still didn't have a sound recordist.

I was trying to get a friend to help out possibly do the sound recording and clapper, if push came to shove Mark could use Terry's DSLR and we could still shoot the film...

But then Mark let me know he couldn't really commit to shooting the film - due to work issues his days off were shifting around and he couldn't guarantee being there all day if required to go out to work...

Luckily I managed to convince our friend (and writer of House Trafalgar) Simon to crew for me...

Mark dropped me a line voicing concerns whether doing it in such a scrappy manner, with a scrappy crew, with not much dslr experience was really the best thing to do - from one film maker to another.

I don't know if that convinced me, or what was the final straw, but in the end I had to postpone the 8 hours before I was due to commence filming the next day I was already canvassing replacement shooting dates...

(My description of that painful scrambling somehow make the film was "Arguably less painful banging your head against a brick wall while your nether regions are stuck in a plug socket while being dry humped by a rhino." It's a description I stand by.)

This is how you lose a year in a page...

As I tried to arrange a new shooting date Mark then gave me some bad news - he was committed to getting House Trafalgar completed in time for festival screenings in April and could no longer commit use of his flat to Pick-Ups while he was still in post production on his short film, probably May at the very earliest.

Everyone involved started throwing dates back at me, but I could easily see the film slipping further and further back - if we didn't hit a date in late March, it would then be late April at the earliest we could then reconvene...but that was assuming I could even find another location, when everything seemed to be around Mark's flat for the rest of the shoot which would make it convenient and all in one package.

So I decided to postpone until Mark gave me the nod and filming at his flat was all clear. I had other things to be getting on with (in particular my other horror short Knock Knock, which I was also hoping to shoot this year) so figured I could get my head down and come back up in a few months.

May would rapidly skip June and then head towards July, as Mark's post production sound design woes on House Trafalgar would continue, along with jury service and work late June this shooting date was realistically now mid August at the earliest....but a momentary reprieve suggested a date at the start of August, after which it would then be mid September by the earliest...which Terry sadly wasn't available for...but then YE GODS somehow the stars fell into alignment for the 12th of August - IT WAS ALL GO AGAIN!

(Mark wasn't available due to a double booking of a family BBQ and asked for us to be finished by 6pm, which I of course said we would - ahem - but this wasn't an issue...)

Losing my actress was an issue though.

Joanne dropped me a line to say that something had come up and she could no longer do the 12th...she had also taken on a new teaching job and was planning to go away to India for a month, so she wouldn't be available again until November.


Terry suggested a friend called Hulya for the role, thinking if we could quickly fill the role then we'd be able to film on the 12th. But whoever the actress was she needed to look young, so that there'd be some differentiation between her and Terry and then a further difference between herself and Dick.

I didn't recast in time.

The next scheduled date was early October and I spent September trying to recast Nula...I really can't remember what the outcome of this was. The next note I can see is from the start of November, optimistically trying to get the film shot in December and checking in with Terry and Dick...which with some back and forthing took us to the 20th of December..I'd also dropped Joanne a line asking if her circumstances had changed as I'd failed to recast her and was still superkeen to work with her....which turned out to be a yes - she was still up for the role if we could make the dates work!


But December wasn't to be - Mark had a screening for House Trafalgar and we couldn't make the dates work - so we were then looking at some point in January before Joanne left the country again (!) at the end of the month. But by the end of November we ended on a positive note - the 6th of January was all sewn up and was all good for everyone.

A week later things changed sadly when Mark had some terrible news and understandably it wasn't right to film at his flat, so two days before Christmas I was location hunting again for a shoot two weeks later.

2012 ended with neither Pick-Ups getting shot, nor Knock Knock - a very frustrating year juggling two projects which resulted in nothing.

But on New Year's Eve I contacted everyone to say I'd managed to secure a new location and we'd now be filming in Peacehaven, at Debbie the make up artist's flat.

And in 2013 this time it would actually happen.

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