Saturday, 30 June 2012

Thunderbirds are go!

The last post was rather gloomy and introspective, written as a kind of mild catharsis, so I didn't publicise it (but feel free to scroll down/click on the right). And I haven't posted since as rather a lot has been going on. In true Thunderbirds style, it has been unbelievably tense, but total disaster has been narrowly avoided.

No, we haven't yet actually shot a scene with two characters, both on camera, talking to each other. We have, however, shot one side of the final telephone conversation between our heroine and one of the other characters. The plan was to shoot both sides that night, but as usual events led to us starting late...

But no dwelling on that. Onward. Also this week, Talia's exterior scenes leading to the conclusion...

Also sorted this week, two more of the interviewees, despite the best efforts of power-toolin', lawn-mowin' neighbours (who, I shit you not, started up the MOMENT we had the camera ready...) As well as the return of the multi-talented Victoria Smith, 'Cromwell Road Studios' were graced by the presence of singer-songwriter Eliza Jaye, who like so many music performers also has a background in drama, and brought a certain grace to her tiny part.

But the main battle of the week was a casting-centred conflict. With two out of the three main characters suddenly very doubtful, there were a lot of messages and texts flying back and forth for the first half of the week. One part was recast, but that meant we definitely had to recast the other, as it completely changed the shooting schedule. Fingers HEAVILY crossed, we now seem to have a workable team - with just two weeks to shoot the bulk of the scenes in the main location.

And as if all that scrambling around wasn't stressful enough, last night I discovered that a shoot I'd been telling everyone was set actually wasn't, because I'd been too distracted to get back to the actress and finally confirm it! Cue more frantic messages, a bad night's sleep and a rapid exploration of the recasting possibilities as this actress was heading to Italy for a fortnight in just four days, and her co-star in the scene would be in Dubai by the time she got back...

The upshot of it was that thanks to the patience and co-operation of Chloe Hooton, we are still on schedule to shoot on Monday.

And finally...

That's right, I was actually on the principal set with two of the cast! We had no crew, so we couldn't actually film anything, but we blocked, rehearsed, and tested sound and's a start!

Another readthrough with the new Faith tomorrow, then...can it be?...actual filming on Monday!


Monday, 25 June 2012

The Never-Ending Story

So...just over twenty four hours ago one of my cast told me she couldn't commit to shooting any time before the 20th July. She was the first person to come on board, the only person I had in mind for the part, but her life is just too complicated at the moment.

She had wrestled with the decision but knew she had to tell me before we actually shot her first scene this Wednesday. (Hey - we were going to shoot a REAL scene - people in the same room, both on camera, talking to each other. Should have known THAT wasn't going to happen.)

I could wait, I suppose, but from what I've seen it's quite possible her life won't get any simpler after July 20th, and any number of other complications could arise if we wait that long. So I've recast, with the girl who read the part for our initial readthrough (and who did it very well). Her availability is excellent, but - and there had to be a catch - only until July 15th or so.

So suddenly it's both feet on the accelerator, and I start to look at the other possible complications; one of my cast is transferring to a job in London that won't tell her what her shifts are, another can get time off but needs some warning - and I have to get both of them together with others before the middle of July - at least twice in one case, and four or more times in the other.

So I look at ideas for cheating - shooting them on different days in the same location if necessary, using doubles at the edge of frame, carefully composed shots, all the little tricks of film. It still seems feasible.

But I sit here on Monday night, having a shoot scheduled for Wednesday morning, and I have no idea if one actress has even seen the messages telling her that there's been a cast change and therefore we're shooting different scenes (because my replacement isn't available until Friday), no word from the person vital to accessing a location on Thursday so I can't confirm with the actress who is speedily learning a big scene because we had to move it forward, no word from the person providing me with a key to the location for nearly all of Wednesday's shoot...

I have phoned these people and left messages. I have sent texts. I have communicated on facebook.

I have also clearly done something to anger the universe, because it is taking some delight in reducing my nerves to shreds.

I want to be the guy who forges on, who gets it done despite everything, who shows people it pays not to give up.

But, a lot of the time, I wonder if I'd be better off being the guy who knows when enough is enough.

Hey, wouldn't it be amazing to have a picture of a scene actually being filmed..?

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Getting Closer...?

Caron, who plays Sabrina

So, how to start this post without seeming to whinge again? I can't tell you about the one cast member who couldn't make the date for a very important scene, which resulted in it having to be postponed for a full month because there was a different problem every subsequent week. I can't tell you about the second readthrough that was all over the place because we didn't have enough people. I can't tell you about the two-week silence from the provider of our most important location, despite my repeated entreaties for info. I can't possibly even mention that the one night I was supposed to skip down the block to check out another location was the night the occupant managed to get herself locked in, with a lock so badly damaged that help had to be sent to get her out...

No, I won't mention any of that. I won't even say that we had a decent amount of work lined up to do today, recording voiceover and interviewees, and that it virtually all got shelved because of a sore throat. I won't even speculate about the possibility of considering mentioning the fact that my original target for completing the filming is less than two weeks hence and we've shot about five minutes' worth...

No, I am here to celebrate. A friend said: 'Write about the wonder of filmmaking'. I'm assuming by wonder he meant wondering whether the thing will ever get into gear...

Talia with Lana, who plays Peanut

No, enough of that. Good things. We have a Faith! Ok, I stupidly forgot to take any photos because of aforementioned shambolic nature of the readthrough, but we have excellent actress Jessica Laity-Jones on board, fresh from triumph in Doctor Faustus in the Brighton fringe. In the meantime, content yourselves with the picture of Talia with Lana Harper, conveniently showing the upper and lower extremes of height among the main cast. Lana's readthrough went extremely well; despite having been busy moving she obviously grasped Peanut's character at once. I only await news of her availability on 29th June to see if we can go frolicking in the country for a few hours... (Er, that's the whole crew, not me and Lana...)

Anyway, the sole single solitary bit of filming we managed today was the short interview sequence with Kelsey Cameron, a pint-sized veritable embodiment of pure frolicksomeness. Despite not having acted for over a year and feeling nervous, she was just fine.

Kelsey, uncharacteristically still

And what awaits us in the week ahead? Actually, not very much. More interviewees on Thursday, but nothing else confirmed as yet. A location visit with the cast, I hope! Perhaps one end of a few phone conversations; perhaps even the other end, too. Hard to plan when your leading lady is ill!

I was supposed to write about wonder. But what can you say? It slips through your fingers - it defies definition. Kelsey will appear to interact with Talia even though she was looking at nothing, and somehow, with editing, in that and other scenes the shots, sound and acting will coalesce into some representation of a human experience, something that will perhaps make people laugh, or at least smile, and maybe even shed a tear. And they may finish the film having glimpsed corners of the human heart that they don't often visit.

That's where the wonder resides, for me - not specifically in filmmaking, but in storytelling; in bringing to life human beings who have no reality and making people care for them and want to see how their life will turn out. As Stephen King put it - telling us the truth about ourselves by telling lies about people who never existed. That's what it's all about, in the end - not budget or production values or even ideas. It's about people, and about empathy and compassion. It's about getting closer - to others and to aspects of ourselves.

Note: The title of this blog is in tribute to Paul McCartney, who reaches 70 in just five hours, and whose song of the same name I used to shape a tribute to him.

p.s. One utterly invaluable lesson I have learned from this post; don't try to write while cooking, or you may end up with soggy pasta...

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Inherit the Wind

When asked what he looked for in a script, Spencer Tracy, star of the film referenced in the title, simply said: 'Days off.' I understand how he felt.

It has been a busy and tiring week. We still have no one for the part of Faith, but another readthrough, although slightly shambolic because everyone was coming at different times, did manage to secure us an Isabella. We filmed another couple of the interviewees, with an excellent performance from Kim Head, who prepared by herself and needed scarcely a note from me at all. There were hiccoughs, of course, the main one being the discovery by one actress that she needed to be somewhere an hour earlier than she'd thought, and a chance meeting resulting in another actress being late, which eventually meant that something for which I'd originally allowed a leisurely three hours had to be shot in 45 minutes. Quelle surprise. Such is filmmaking.

Talia gives Kim her cues and eyeline

And in between all this I had been trying to find a Faith, trying to schedule future shoots, thinking about tidying up the two films I want to submit to Glimmer 2012, worrying about whether to fully charge part-used batteries and risk shortening their life (I decided no), trying to keep track of what information I had sent to which cast members (and typing this has reminded me of something I'd forgotten), and trying avoid the thousand unnatural crocks that filmmaking is heir to.

But Friday (yesterday) was supposed to be the big one. We had scheduled the whole day to capture a number of transitional scenes (protagonist Hazel travelling back and forth from her interviewing and in the process revealing more of her character) and then the evening for the climactic scene of the film, a real watershed moment for Hazel involving the busker she passes at various points during the story.

The daytime scenes should have been simple. No dialogue, two or three shots each at the most, all day to do it. The weather forecast was actually promising inasmuch as it promised changeable conditions, useful when you're shooting scenes that are supposed to take place on different days.

What I hadn't noticed about the forecast was the prediction of wind.

None of us could remember such a windy day in central Brighton. In one or two cases it enhanced the effect of a scene, but in others...due to previously touched-on financial woes, a decent tripod was beyond my budget, so at some stages I was reduced to holding it as firmly as I could to prevent it shuddering in the wind. And the first outside sequence we filmed was a textbook example of how many things can hold up a simple shot.

People come by. That's fine, we were shooting at a University, that's expected. The placement of dropped books is not quite right; either too far forward, too far back. That's corrected. Heroine's feet not visible when she walks off. Sorted. Battery in one (sound recording) camera, being run down, runs out. Replaced. Heroine's tripod (carried because she is filming interviews) not visible when she drops books. Sorted. Dropped books skid into bottom of filming tripod, causing judder. Heroine's tripod visible but feet not. Feet visible but tripod not. Everything perfect, except books skid into filming tripod again. Battery in other camera, also being run down, dies. Replaced. Sound assistant unfortunately unfamiliar with eccentricities of sound recording camera. Further delays. Sunlight appears, disappears, reappears. And so on...

Talia and production assistant Sophie take a break

Why do we do it?

Because, I suppose, despite it all, it was still fun. You're making an entire alternative world come to life when you shoot a film, in a way that's not possible in any other medium, and what could be more exciting than that? It's the most comprehensive form of creation I know (and not being a musician or having written for theatre, the only collaborative one I've experienced).

I hate sound men (and they are, nearly always, men). You just want to get on with it and shoot something - but no, they insist on that ridiculous, overrated, elusive thing called 'quality'. After the fourth or fifth aborted take you want to say 'Who cares if no one can hear? At this rate there won't anything for them to see, either!' But of course, they're always right, and we were hoping to shoot a scene with some absolutely crucial dialogue. And as you can imagine, if the wind was not our friend for most of the day, it was our deadly foe for the final part of the shoot. We had a tiny earlier scene featuring the busker, Jo Maultby, which we needed to get out of the way first - and even that proved impossible. The wind gusted and crept around all means of protection we devised, and eventually we had to simply postpone for another day.

Talia and sound assistant Leon await Jo's return

Truthfully, it was hard to feel it as too much of a defeat, as the dialogue scene was so important and we clearly had less than ideal conditions. But there was another small thing that happened that made me wonder about what I was doing.

My greatest fear had been that, it being a Friday night, we would be subjected to harrassment by passing young men (face it - wherever you are and whatever you're doing, packs of young men are THE ENEMY), but in fact the only person who approached us was a woman whom I can only describe as not quite in possession of a full deck. She stood a little way away and watched us, and made a remark, but because of the wind it was difficult to communicate without leaving the camera, and the pressure of time was mounting. She moved around and stood to one side, but kept speaking intermittently, and I had no confidence she would respond to a request to be quiet, so although I barely looked at her, trying to concentrate on working out where I wanted the focus of the scene and where Talia should stop, etc, I was no doubt emanating 'fuck off' vibes in waves. After a bit she moved away, saying she only wanted to watch but she didn't feel welcome. I tried to tell her then that she could stay if she was able to keep quiet, but of course it was too late.

It's said one of the true tests of character is how you treat people who can be of no possible use to you. I feel that in a small way I failed that test yesterday - and I wonder if that isn't one of the hidden costs of filmmaking...that we become so focussed on what we have to get done that we forget that none of it is real. That woman was real, and if the film caused me to treat her with less than total respect, then I had better make damn sure the finished result is worth it.

If anything can be worth that.

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Crisis of Faith

"The cost of a thing is the amount of what I call life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run." Henry David Thoreau.

I am slightly depressed tonight; making the film was getting slightly easier, and it just got difficult again. I have just had a very good actress turn down a part, after initially accepting it, saying that following the readthrough she was 'not comfortable' with the character. Of course it's her right to make that decision, particularly as I'm not paying. But - perhaps I should have asked, but one is afraid of what one will hear - I do wonder what was behind that choice, that discomfort. She is the second person to turn it down, and although the first did not give a reason I felt, reading between the lines, there was something about the character that troubled her. The discomfort is clearly not a universal feeling; one (sadly unsuitably young) actress actively went after the part.

The character, Faith, is a promiscuous lesbian who is revealed over the course of the story to have a reason for her actions, and is ultimately offered a sort of way back from the place to which she has taken herself. There is no suggestion in the story that her actions lead to any suffering on the part of others, and she is shown to be concerned for her flatmates when appropriate. She is witty, intelligent, self-possessed, and in many ways the voice of sanity compared to her two eccentric flatmates. Yet clearly, there is something about the character that disturbs. (To be clear, there is no nudity involved - not even a kiss.)

Perhaps the script is too sympathetic to Faith - ultimately too kind to her? For comparison - the first actress who turned the part down was content to play a psychotic hired killer in a previous short of mine. Admittedly I am only speculating about why she might not have wished to play Faith, but I do wonder if there is a kind of almost unconscious puritanism operating. Playing a killer is 'safe' in the sense that it is generally accepted that the actions of the character are not in any way condoned - but when it comes to sexual misbehaviour things are a lot less clear (there was no room for doubt in our preliminary discussion about Faith's sexual orientation, so I'm certain that was not the issue). Perhaps both actresses feared to be seen condoning a lifestyle they considered undesirable - but not so undesirable that it might not be seen as enticing to some?

I was mildly shocked to hear a lesbian friend some years ago describe a particular film (I believe it was Desert Hearts) as "the first film where [the lesbians] don't die". Of course it was a rule in old Hollywood that transgressors must be punished, that even repentant 'sinners' had to die in some act of sacrifice to fully redeem themselves. I am constantly surprised at how universally this applies - sometimes unconsciously, I have no doubt.

Does some hint of it still permeate our thinking? Or is there a fear of being confused with the part? If Faith had been a promiscuous straight woman, or a chaste lesbian, would I still have an actress? Would I have got my original choice for the part? The part is a good one, but something about it is 'wrong', clearly. I'm not criticising either of the people who turned it down, but I would like to understand why.

I have offered it to a further two actresses, so perhaps I'll find out.

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Words and Music

Louise, Talia and Miranda

So, we had our readthrough. Do I really need to tell anyone that it didn't go according to plan - that I had two cancellations, one of them only ten minutes before the time we were due to start? And that the same actress (through no fault of her own) had to cancel again the very next day when I tried to organise a follow up? That, in addition, the local hardware shop was unable despite numerous attempts to offer me any solution to my sound equipment problems? That the alternative equipment I borrowed to see whether I might purchase it played up in the same inexplicable fashion?

Didn't think so.

But I come to bury seizures, not to raise them. On the whole, overall, taking everything into consideration, comparatively speaking, looking at the whole picture, things have gone quite well the last three days.

Talia paces out the 'action' - the word should not be taken to mean anything particularly physical is going to occur...

With in fact only three of my principal cast, and one willing stand-in, I had no initial hope that we could work through the whole script, but with a little encouragement from the performers, that's what we did.

Every screenwriter/director probably knows how this feels, the first time around; you're lucky if you hear 35% of the lines in the way you think they should be said. Of course you know it's only the first time, you know it's just to hear the whole thing through, but with one of the performers reading the script completely cold and using this occasion to decide whether she wants to take part, you slowly crumple inside...

However, performers are obviously used to seeing beyond the fumbles of a first reading, since Miranda was happy to sign up once we'd finished. I was also reassured to see that the others were obviously aware of their missteps along the way (which is NOT to imply that my reading of the lines is the only viable one!). Having felt that the script clunked and clanked instead of skipping nimbly along, it was more than a relief to hear Miranda declare that it seemed good, and natural, and not forced.

Due to the unavailability of Amy - playing one of the three principals - for the first half of June, it turned out the easiest thing to shoot first was almost the very end of the film. The climactic scene, in fact; the turning point. So for two consecutive (but not whole) days, I've worked with Talia on the dialogue. Delivery here will be absolutely crucial, especially as her co-star in the scene, the busker played by the extraordinarily talented Jo Maultby doesn't speak a word in reply.
Jo Maultby provides musical counterpoint to Talia's speech

There seemed endless little niggles about the inflection of certain lines, but Talia was patient with my inability to explain precisely what I meant, and we made a lot of progress. For a brief period it seemed the curse of clashing schedules was rearing its head again as we found it impossible to settle on a day for the actual shoot, but eventually we found a day worth trying. Both Jo and Talia are very flexible, so if we fail, all is not lost.

The joy to be derived from having more footage in the can, however, would be a most welcome sensation...

As would a complete cast. I still await a reply from one actress regarding a crucial role, and there have been ominous silences from two others I've recently contacted.

And I still have to line up about twenty female interviewees.

Oh, did I mention that everyone in the film is a woman?