Sunday, August 13, 2006


I started digitising the footage from the shoot this week, then putting together a rough assembly of some of it. So far, I’ve covered about 2/3 of the script and the film’s already running at over 8 minutes, which is a bit longer than I’d anticipated. At the moment, I think I’m probably looking at about a 12 minute film – unless, of course, the story doesn’t work and I have to do some radical rewriting in the edit suite (always a possibility).

The assembly looks pretty good – the photography’s great and Matt’s performance is strong, but it’s at this stage that you start to get an idea of what you’re missing and maybe what you should have done differently. One scene is missing some quite essential sound because of the friendly local chainsaw twins who were cutting down trees just down the path from us for the duration of the scene, and there are a couple of close-ups I wish I’d thought of getting. I think the trouble was, because I was having to do sound (and art dept) as well as direct – and because we had so much to do in such a short space of time – that I didn’t really have a time to assess what we’d shot and what we still needed, I just had to rely on a general kind of instinct as to whether we’d got it or not.

Still, some stuff that we took a risk on seems to have panned out okay, and I’m sure I can fix the sound with some wild tracks and foley work (which I quite enjoy anyway). The interesting thing now is whether the story works in the way that I intended – that’s the weird thing about the edit, although it’s a process of gradual assembly, it’s also one of gradual revelation – taking you back to the story, revealing what was on the page.

I think it’s going to take a while before it’s finished – I’m not going to be able to work flat out on the edit, so it’s going to be fitted in amongst other stuff – but I do really need to get it out of the way before I start on ‘Deliver Me’ – although that project has been moving at such a glacial pace that it could be another six months before I have to do anything with it…

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Chainsaws, wires and tree demons

Woke up late – 8-ish – aching all over from having to run up and down the steep steps to the shack for half of yesterday. Today was always planned to be a lighter day – at least in terms of the amount of shots – but it was also always going to be the most technically demanding. We started off with the most difficult shot of the day – the shot with the camera flying through the trees. John had built a flying dolly – the treepod – which would carry the motorised head, underslung support and the camera. We used a ladder to get about twenty feet high up a tree and John attached a couple of lines which we then threaded down to pin into the trunk of one of the trees which had been blown over in the wind.

With a line attached to a portable screen – which I had hung around my neck like some weird learning aid – and one hand holding onto the controller for the remote head, and with John pulling the treepod along by a washing line pole we had numerous goes at getting the shot, eventually having to give up when we saw that the line had rubbed its way through one of the pulley wheels. It’s hard to know if we’ve really got the shot until I get into the edit suite and fiddle about with the speed and stuff, but I think we’ve got something to work with.

By this time, two men had arrived to start chainsawing the trees near the house, which meant that we had to shoot the whole of the next scene mute – a problem I’ll have to worry about in the edit suite.

After lunch, we did a couple of sequences involving jib shots – and had Matt running up and down hills for about two hours. By the time we were done, it was about five o’clock, and we still had the most complicated effects shots to set up.

The last hour of the shoot was the most uncomfortable for Matt – he had to be pinned to the forest floor, unable to move one arm, with blood all over him and midges nipping at any exposed flesh. This was also make or break time for the tree demon – which by this time, was quite battered and bruised from all the transporting around. With the light fading, we got to it and, thanks to some great work by John Ross, I think we got enough to make the sequence work.

By the time we wrapped, I was knackered, bitten to fuck by forest insects (I found one living on my leg in the car home today), covered in dirt and blood and with calf muscles like lead, but watching the footage back last night, it seemed like we really got what we needed. Don’t know when I’m going to start editing. My first priority at the moment is sleep.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Sunshine, weird hands and a cosy little shack

It's just gone 10pm and we've just got back from the first day of the shoot. I say 'we', but we're still waiting for John and Matt ot make it back after they stopped off at a pub on the way back - on the pretext of returning some kitchen foil - and haven't yet managed to navigate back to the house yet.

It was a good first day, but bloody long. I was up at about 6.30, immediately teased the curtains open to see what the sky was doing - and, amazingly, found that it was a beautiful blue sky and gloriously sunny morning.

While everybody else slept, I took the camera out into the forest and got some early-morning-sun-through-the-trees type stuff. It looked good - hope that I can find a place for it all in the film.

When the others were up, we packed the car and headed for the shack.

The morning was good, but a little slow - I managed to make one sequence of a man coming out of a door and greeting the new day necessitate about 14 shots - including one where John Ross had to climb a tree and do wierd things with his hands. I also made Matt take his shoes off and walk about on spiky branches for about 2 hours. They both seemed in farily good spirits though.

After that, we did some jib stuff. I should know by now that that always takes fucking ages, but it seems like I forget that every time, maybe just seduced by the fact it looks so good.

By the time we hit 3 o'clock, we hadn't done any of the interior stuff - which makes up much of the first 5 pages of script. I had to shotlist as we went along, which made my brain ache - but the shack, which at first seemed really grim, by now seemed quite cosy. I called Jeanie a couple of times to put back our pickup time - from 6.30 to 7.30 to 8.30...

We had to really bomb through the last couple of scenes - including the 'revealing the demon' sequence - and I couldn't get to see a monitor for much of it, so I'm trusting to John Ross that it all looks okay. By the time we finished at about 9, I couldn't even risk looking back over the script to see if we'd missed anything - so I guess if there are any story holes I'm just going to have to fix them in the edit. Put some voice-over on or something. Or maybe a caption 'And then, scared shitless, he ran outside...'

Keep trying to tell myself that I'm embracing the daft...

Nightmares, trauma and storm clouds


Matt and John arrived today - I think they were a bit freaked out by the remoteness of the cottage. And the rabbit's face on the wall. And the stuffed swooping owl in the dining room. And having to sleep in the room with dolls in.

Betsy had a nightmare last night - woke up crying about 'red'. Suddenly, 'The Shining' feels like a documentary.

This afternoon, I filmed an interview for Jeanie for one of her new projects, Born Lucky. It was with a man who had survived a plane crash that killed nearly 60 people 20 years ago. He was very matter-of-fact about it (without being flippant - it had obviously been a very traumatic experience) - and the story was fascinating.

This evening, I went out and tried to film a sunset - without much luck - a bit of red sky, but mostly black rolling storm clouds.

Stayed up too late than is good for me, worrying about whether I've thought of everything. First day of the shoot tomorrow.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Bambi, butcher's guts and lycra


Woken up early (6.30 ish) by Betsy. Came downstairs past the enormous stag head in the hallway - Betsy giving it a cheery "'ello Bambi!'" as she passed - and looked out the window. Pissing down. Still. Suddenly got the fear that I'd have to rethink the whole film (or at least the exterior parts of it).

Kept going out and looking at the sky until finally a chink of blue appeared - the first since we arrived. Felt slightly more positive.

We went out to visit the shack today which gave me a chance to try and visualize how some of the sequences might work. It's goint to be a pain to get everything up there, because the approach path is pretty wet and treacherous. The cabin itself is pretty grim (in a good way). I hope that there's enough room once we get all of us + a camera + lighting + sound in there...

On the way back, we stopped in a small village and Jeanie inquired in a butcher's shop about some intestines which we're hoping to use for one of the scenes. The butcher cheerfully went outand brought back a large handful of various foul-looking organs, which he's said he'll save for us. What with the bag of meat I bought the other day before we left (just in case), it looks like we'll have more organs than will actually fit inside a human torso. Still, when it comes to bloody guts, I suppose it's better to be oversupplied than under.

This evening I went out and did some wild tracks in the woods. The trees were again bending terrifically in the strong winds, giving out a creepy creaking sound which I'm hoping the film can exploit. I felt okay in there (after slightly freaking out last night) until in the midst of sound recording a stream - and concentrating hard with my headphones on - I heard a whooshing sound behind me and turned to see a cyclist in full lycra come whistling past me, making me jump out of my skin. I think years and years of overexposure to horror films has made me overly suggestible. I managed to suppress my overactive imagination - not helped by Jeanie ringing me in the middle of recording some tree-creaking deep in the woods to tell me that all the lights in the house had suddenly gone out - long enough to hopefully get some good stuff - stormy winds, creaking trees, general oppressive forest atmos. Still need to shot list, storyboard, prepare props...

Came back with a head full of things to do to find that the electricity had come back on, just as suddenly. Bloody countryside.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Hail, vomit and ominous creaking

Monday 31 July

We drove up to the Lake District today – through hail and torrential rain for much of the way – not a good omen. As we got to the gate that leads up to Karen and Adam’s house, where we are housesitting for the week, Betsy, our daughter, exploded with vomit all over herself, the back seat and the luggage. While we cleaned her off, we discovered that the key to unlock the gate hadn’t been left for us, so Jeanie had to go off and get it while I hiked up the hill with a slightly stinky Betsy in her buggy. Half an hour later, regretting the decision deeply and on the verge of a heart attack, we finally reached the house.

As Betsy chased the cats around the garden, I checked out the views from the house over the lake, which I’m hoping to use to double for the view from the shack. They’re fantastic, really dramatic – hopefully it’ll work okay. Then, I went to have a look at the nearby forest location, which I want to feature in the film.

There are a couple of very tall trees that have been blown over in storms which now lie on the ground, their roots showing and standing vertical, 10ft high. It was quite eerie – with the wind blowing, all you could hear was the creaking of other trees as they moved in the wind, giving the distinct impression that they, too, were about to come crashing down.
Later this evening, after it got dark, I went back out there with a torch, just to see how it looked at night – and managed to terrify myself. In the pitch black, the torchlight makes everything look alive and the darkness is thick with sounds and barely perceptible movements, all of which serve to set your imagination running riot. I don’t think we’re actually going to be able to shoot at night – I’m not sure how we could light it – but it was good to get the feeling that the character in the film experiences – that there is something out there, ‘life in the woods’…