Finally, the blessed slate..
The day didn’t start well. If I remember rightly it was a bit of a trek driving out of Brighton to get Toby (sound recorder), into Brighton to get Darren (camera), Nick (assistant, stills amongst other things) and Terry (actor.) It always seems to take longer to get to Peacehaven than I remember…so by the time we got there I think Joanne was already there with Debbie having a coffee and her make up done.
My plan for the interior of the flat was to have a load of my own family photos covering the walls, a wall of fairy lights on one side (for Joseph to stand in front of for his speech) and then I’d also scanned some hi res images of East European sci fi posters which I printed out large(r) scale and put them in frames - turning Nula into a bit of a sci fi buff. I thought having a poster for Solaris, a film about obsession with the memory of a loved one, was a wink at the audience for the theme of Pick-Ups…not sure if anyone picked up on it or cared. I’d already left Debbie the stack of photos and the fairy lights with the hope that she’d put them before we arrived in the morning, so we’d be all up and at ‘em ready for shooting. Unfortunately this wasn’t the case, so not only were we late to arrive due to my bad estimations of driving times, but now also had to dress the set before we could start shooting.
Between us all we had a slight shuffle of furniture, removed some pictures, blu tacked up the photos of my family (getting my cameo in somehow) and hung the fairy lights. The fairy light effect looked a bit limp really – both in real life and on camera – and wasn’t quite the out of focus spJots of light that I wanted. After shooting I’d see a fairy light net, which was really what I needed for this effect but had no idea they existed…
With the set dressed we decided to shoot sort of sequentially and go out to shoot Joseph’s opening walk across the streets. I had the letters JFL written in tape on Joseph’s suitcase prop, but taped in reverse as a hangover from my intention of flopping the exterior images in case we passed any parked cars (putting the steering wheel on the left, which would then be augmented with photoshopped registration plates.) In the end I perhaps shouldn’t have worried about this, as it made an issue later…We found a high ground against a bland brick wall which we could film him walking against and that’s where we started. We worked our way back along the street, towards our key location, filming Joseph walking in front of various blocks of flat. Nicely the whole area was still quite misty at this point in the day, which I guess added a bit of a dreamlike quality but in retrospect removed my hope of adding the striking Prague TV tower (which looks like some mad rocket ship) as a signal in the background as to where in the world we were.
We had several handfuls of people observing us while we worked and even had a slow drive by from a police car asking what we were doing. I told them we were doing a short film…it could be my memory playing tricks on me, but I’m sure they advised us to watch the camera…
Despite some nervousness of filming all went without a hitch. We swung round the corner and filmed Terry’s standing outside the block of flats where Nula lives. I can’t remember now if we were just going for some further angles of his entering the block – I know Darren had set his camera up on the grass in front of a ground floor flat but we weren’t filming acing towards the windows of the flats (nor could you make out anything inside from when we were filming facing the block) but suddenly this guy came out from the next block and started shouting out as very aggressively, feeling that we were intruding without permission. Not wanting to have a battle with the unhinged of Peacehaven we agreed to move immediately, which didn’t seem to do anything for his mood – it took Darren a brief moment to unbuckle the tripod to lift it up with the camera attached, but this geezer didn’t even seem willing to give us that time, despite it being obvious a) we were moving and b) had agreed to move.
Slightly shaken we returned back to Debbie’s flat, who told us not to worry and she would go and have a word with him later – I think he had a bit of a reputation. She said she’d spoken to the occupants of the downstairs flat and they were fine with us filming – seemed it was somebody taking “the law” into his own hands without checking beforehand….or even communicating without any civility. Still, not a great way to end the initial exterior shoot without getting all the angles I wanted.
On set catering...sugar rush ahoy!
We continued with shooting Joseph’s walk through the hallway of the flat and getting tangled in the bead curtain – Terry put on such a fun and warm performance of awkwardly getting snared in the beads, perfectly done and how I’d hoped it would be. From there we concentrated on the lounge footage for the rest of the day – Joseph making himself comfortable, taking off his coat and scarf – and then having a look around the room while he awaits Nula’s return with the coffee.
There was a particular shot which followed which sadly never made the final cut and one which took quite a bit of time – I wanted a vision of Nula from Joseph’s skewed view, seeing her as a magical, angelic thing. So the bead curtain was to magically part for her entrance with the hot drinks and she would “glide” into the scene. Sadly the gliding aspect was out, as I hadn’t been able to source some kind of low bed type trolley or skateboard – something to avoid any walking motion. The parting of the curtains proved problematic – Nick was super boy scout and between himself and Toby they’d got some thread pulling mechanism together which off camera could part the beads. Multiple takes followed, where one side of the beads opened and the other didn’t, or they were slightly out of synch…until we hit on the idea of filming the motion backwards and reversing it in post production – the beads were easier to release back into position than pull into position - so we had Joanne step backwards and then we closed the beads on her. I figured if it looked a bit “off” with the reverse motion that might add the “magic” element I hoped to get.
Terry and Joanne did some nice awkward interchanges as they took the hot drinks (with Terry doing a particularly creepy hand stroke of Joanne, which worked a treat) before Joanne took her place on the settee for the rest of the proceedings to follow.
I have such fond memories of sitting back and watching Terry’s performance during this sequence. After his coughing fit (which if memory recalls was his suggestion, which was a brilliant awkward comic moment) he had to do the monologue explaining in vague terms why he was there. I suggested I wanted him to do it in several ways – super slow, super fast, super nervous, basically riff on it, then we’d cut and chop them all together in one jump cutting tone shifting uncomfortable piece. He played it so well, affable, nerdish, overcome with puppy love, supremely confident…yet papering over any cracks of doubt he had in his decision. Joanne’s reversal, nervously chewing on toast, was equally wonderful in the contrast to the dialogue we were hearing.
Ready for the coughing fit
From here we prepared for the entrance of Milo, Nula’s…well, “friend” but we can presume more than that. There were always supposed to be clues around the flat of something (or someone else) going on, which sadly weren’t as apparent from the final shoot – I’d had an idea of the lounge looking like it had been abandoned in a fit of passion, perhaps loose items of clothing around, a bottle of wine and TWO wine glasses on a table, a full ashtray…and Nula is supposed to be wearing an oversized man’s shirt, the first thing she threw on to answer the door…I didn’t follow through on the clothes thing and I think the wine glasses were pretty discreetly on a table beside Nula, if I did have that detail covered.
My boyfriend's back and there's gonna be trouble...
Dick was a very very good sport “happy” to play the scene as I requested – in a pair of briefs. Terry’s stuttering, spluttering reaction to Milo’s entrance was played wonderfully and Dick’s strutting entrance and his eying of aloofness at Joseph’s presence was great. I also got the ridiculous through the legs shot that I’d envisaged – from behind Dick’s buttocks, between his thighs and pants, staring at Joseph looking up at this man and realising he’d been outgunned. I should have put a huge pair of socks or something down Dick’s pants to make him stupendously endowed to crush Joseph’s spirit further. I loved Dick’s languid look over the Rod Stewart record. Unfortunately I wasn’t too happy with his delivery of the incredulous “ROD STEWART!?!” line – it seemed to be missing that abrasive, strong East European accent I wanted the character to have…but rather than doing multiple takes, I hoped we could dub it at a later stage.
There were a few shots we didn’t get in the lounge, but we decided to move on to the doorway and hall shots. I think we’d decided to do the landing shots last, being that it would be a similar set up to Joseph waiting at the front door in the beginning to waiting at the door at the end (when we needed Milo to hand him the record back.) We concentrated on the extreme close up of Joseph through the gap in the chained door which was slightly problematic due to light, tight framing and tight focussing…it was also a very tight space for actress, camera, sound and lights. Terry once again gave a fun, albeit slightly creepy and unnerving over friendly performance…like opening the door and finding an overbearing politician at your door.
From here we went outside on to the landing – after the morning’s verbal abuse, we were very sensitive to Debbie’s warning about the people across the landing who had a new born baby and might not appreciate us noisily opening and closing the door of the flat repeatedly with take after take…so we had to be careful and it made me conscious not to push it with too many takes on the same things. Being this was a January shoot the daylight had long gone by the time we were doing this and Darren was concerned about the low light on the landing - it was impossible to run a cable for a light from Debbie’s flat without it being visible in the frame for any full shots, so we had to concentrate on the door close ups where a cable would be out of frame (hence why there’s a visible spot reflection in this footage as the door opens and closes in the finished film.)
At this point there wasn’t anything else we could get – it was too dark in the landing to get any other shots, but as the missing shots were silent images I was hoping I could come back and…ahem…pick them up at a later date. So I was missing a few elements, but the key footage was there for now…which after all of this time was a considerable relief.
I think it was several weeks later when Terry and I returned to Peacehaven to shoot the missing shots using his camera. Darren had told us the profile setting to use which would hopefully ensure we at least matched the same settings as his dslr, though I was shooting and had never shot with a dslr. We were supposed to try and get a few of those angles we’d missed outside of the flats, but Terry was nervous about a repeat of the situation with the aggressive neighbour, so I had to scrap those shots. We went to the landing and did the same full shots of him stood at the door – I asked him to do a quick shine of his shoes as he waited for Nula to open the door. We also did his strange “caress” of Nula’s name on the outside of the door – an image which didn’t make it into the film. We also shot the final image for the end credits of Joseph sat on the stairs trying to comprehend the awful cock up he’s made of his life and his internal struggle over whether to phone his wife and beg for her forgiveness. The actual final image of the film was supposed to be the copy of Rod Stewart’s Gasoline Alley left on the stairway – in memoriam, as it were.
This was all shot on a very sunny day, evident from the strong sunlight coming through the small window on the landing, but as we’d only seen the outside misty at the beginning of the film (and hadn’t seen any exterior since entering the flat) this thankfully didn’t cause a continuity error.
We went back inside Debbie’s flat to get a couple of shots I wanted to get – in particular I really wanted an overhead shot of Joseph as he opens the suitcase and rummages in the contents. There may have been one or two other simple shots of Joseph there too, all were got pretty quickly and hoping that natural light would cover it with us having no lighting rig.
From there we headed over to my neck of the woods to go to Worthing and the infamous Teville Gate area of Worthing, This is an area which has been earmarked for development for many years, but which has fallen into further decline. Within that simple block I was able to get a variety of closed up shops, boarded up glass, empty units etc for Joseph to rush pass on his mission to Nula’s. I hoped these would augmented with some simple CGI/ photoshopping to turn Worthing into the Czech Republic.
And with that simple shoot, after all that pain, disruption and struggle to shoot the film it was finally shot.
I may have used the words history repeating before when discussing this moment with my other films – if I haven’t, they are the words to keep in mind, as the post production on this would aptly fit with the pre production struggle I had with making this film…and match the same post production issues I always seem to have.