Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Deliver Me - Shoot Diary - Day Four

8.15pm We're back outside the hall location. It's absolutely freezing and we've got a whole scene to do out here, but we're having problems with lights. Cooke wants a backlight on MyAnna, but we can't run a cable across the (very busy) road, so he ends up sweet-talking the owner of a house to let us borrow some electricity to run a 150W lamp for an hour or so. (When I say borrow, I mean he promises her twenty quid. Good job we're not out here all night, or we'd have spent all our contingency.)

Earlier we did a couple of shots on a bus, which we managed to get for free from Nottingham City Transport, who were very amenable and were happy to take us round whichever route we wanted. I know that sounds like an advert, but I'm just surprised that they were so accommodating. Maybe it's the spirit of Christmas...

12.00 midnight. We're in the hall, setting up to film the extras for the opening scene. To save time - because we lose MyAnna at 4.30 today - she's catching a plane to see her Mum for Christmas and can't leave any later - I've changed the shot from a track to a pan. By strategically placing the extras, we've managed to make the hall look slightly more full than it is, and thanks to some great lighting by Cooke and some great performances by the extras, the shots look great.

Then it's on to do the most complicated shot of the night - a track back, jib down, zoom out, pull focus from an ECU of a brass crucifix on stage, down past the healer's bowed head (managing to not knock her out with the jib head by having her crouch down out of shot and stand up on cue so that it looks like she's always been there) and down onto a big close up of the man being healed. We do a couple of rehearsals - John Ross jibbing, Cooke zooming and focusing and me tracking back - partially because it's the only way to see the monitor - and then we run four takes. The last two are good, but still a little wobbly, so we do one more. I track back a little faster, managing to (hopefully) merge the speed of the track with the speed of Cooke's zoom out and it looks great - perfect end framing. The whole thing's still a bit wobbly, but I've come to accept with these shots that it's part of the deal. The other way to do them would be with a computer controlled camera, but there's something about doing things 'live' - having to have three operators all in sync - that is really exciting and really reminds me of why I want to make films in the first place.

7.10am Back at home. We wrapped on time - the only fuck-up being that we nearly lost some of Glenn's dialogue due to extremely loud birdsong - and MyAnna left in time to get her plane. We had to stay behind to clear the location and restring all the Christmas decorations in the hall, which took ages (although, to be fair, I wasn't really doing anything, squeezing the last few dregs of Director's Privilege out of the situation before I go back to not having people do things for me anymore). Then it was back to Tina's to drop off the kit before coming home.

I thought I'd feel exhausted, but tonight I actually felt pretty awake - maybe it's my body clock getting in sync with nights, (just in time to switch back round again) - and by the end, I was thinking that I could maybe go on. Obviously, I didn't voice this to the crew or Tina (who has probably had less than 12 hours sleep during the whole shoot), but it makes me feel that maybe doing the feature won't necessarily kill me...

Sleep now. Edit starts tomorrow...

Monday, December 18, 2006

Deliver Me - Shoot Diary - Day Three

7.00 pm...and Cooke's already talking about 'rimming Jesus'. We're in the hall in Bramcote which has been dressed to look like the spiritualist church in the film, and Cooke, John Ross and John Banner are setting the lighting for the night. It's taking a long time, but once it's set, that's pretty much it for the night. Hopefully.

10.00 We've done the first scene. It's the only one with all three lead actors in it, so we cover it quite substantially. All three of them are great - and have been throughout the shoot. One of the directors on this year's DVShorts scheme, Deborah, comes along to have a look at what we're doing, and asks me how much rehearsal time we've had. I tell her we haven't - it would have been great, but in the end there just wasn't enough time to arrange it. She seems surprised - but I think if you cast well and you can get on with the actors, you've got to trust that they know what they're doing generally, and then anything on set is just a tweak. I think the key thing is communicating with the actors - luckily all of these three are really experienced, making my job easier. MyAnna is becoming slightly addicted to tear stick though.

11.00 Setting for a scene in the corridor and having a discussion with Cooke about lighting continuity. Shooting the whole film in reverse order (why we are doing this, I'm not entirely sure...) means that you end up having to do some strangely convoluted thinking - "So we need to set the lights to match with the scene which we are going to have established in the earlier scene which we shoot tomorrow." Eh?

12.30 Feels, bizarrely, both early and late at the same time. Early because we've done the scene we had scheduled, and even managed to bring forward one from tomorrow's schedule (making 1st AD Chris Pheasey very happy), and late because it's gone midnight - which yesterday would have meant we were into the last stretch, but tonight is only halfway there.

We're setting for the first of three very complicated jib and tracking shots. Knowing how long these things take to set up, rehearse and shoot, I'm hoping that five and a half hours is going to be enough. This is a key scene in the film, so I've got to make sure we get everything we need.

5.30 We've wrapped - and the lack of sleep is starting to really catch up with me. I'm feeling too tired for words - my eyes feel like they've been soaked in vinegar and dried with sandpaper. We (hopefully) got all we needed - although we were struggling for clean sound takes at the end because the birds started piping up outside with their dawn chorus. Fucking chripy bastards. Run through the storyboard and script one more time to make sure I haven't missed anything vital - but by now I'm not sure my brain would be able to tell anyway. Need sleep. Will work it out in the edit.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Deliver Me - Shoot Diary - Day Two

11.30 Managed to get a good sleep last night - apart from waking up at half seven, which is kind of the default time that Betsy would normally be waking me - and only spent a couple of hours being mind-prodded by stuff I've got to remember to do today.

2.00 Just got back from the hotel where the actors are staying after doing a costume fitting/check. Sam Loggin, who's playing Erin and Glenn Doherty who's playing Michael were both there and seem excited about starting. Glenn said that he'd read the blog and noted my comment about actors being 'flesh puppets' - but I don't think he was really offended...

Made some decisions about costume and came back just in time to give the place a quick hoover. In a moment of weakness I agreed to use our house for tonight's shoot. This is, obviously, quite stupid, but I've said I'll do it now so there's no backing out. I guess there are some advantages - I don't have to travel to set, I can go to bed straight after we finish - but they might end up being outweighed by the constant anxiety that the crew are wrecking my house. The funny thing about shooting on location is that it only takes about 5 minutes for you to start thinking about the place as 'a set' rather than as somewhere where people live. Maybe my constant nervy presence will stop them doing any major damage.

Another advantage of shooting in the house is that, if I get tired, I can get them to wire up the monitor for me, get my dressing-gown and do it all from bed. I can just borrow a walkie-talkie - "Tell the male flesh-puppet to talk a little faster for me, would you..." I'll be just like this guy.

Maybe not.

18.55 Still shooting the car stuff - just having a break while they rig the bonnet shot. All going well - done all the interior car driving stuff - which is such a pain in the arse for everyone - can't see the camera, can't get a monitor, Grant (sound) is crammed into the boot like a mafia corpse - that I don't think I'll do it again. Think we got some good takes - just need to hope that speed bumps, car vibration and engine noise are all surmountable in the cut. But then, what are editors for?

03.59 Just wrapped. Quite a niggly, frustrating and scratchy night all in all. The car stuff took forfuckingever to finish - we had problems with clamps not clamping and batteries running out at highly inoportune moments, which meant that we got to lunch about an hour behind. Then we had to come in and do the 'bedboy' scene, with Laurie in full make-up. For some reason we had about 10 minutes of not understanding how the lighting was supposed to work, with me and Cooke getting snitty with each other before we came downstairs, talked it through and realised what the hell we were doing. We managed to get everything we needed- both Sam and Laurie were great under duress - or in Laurie's case, under about three inches of make-up - and it was only at the end that things seemed to get niggly again, when one of the lighting kits we'd hired decided to start not working - or working intermittently, which isn't a good thing for when you're trying to suggest a constant light source.

Still, considering we had to deal with cars, prosthetics, electronic glowing hands and contact lenses coming in and out, I think we did well to finish more or less (10 minutes early) on time. Now I really need all these people to get out of my house so I can go to bed...

Deliver Me - Shoot Diary - Day One

4.00 Just got to the location. Have decided to carry the motto ‘WWDD’ with me for the duration of the shoot, inked onto my wrist. It stands for ‘What Would Dario Do?’

4.40 Chris Cooke (DOP), John Ross (Grip and Additional Camera Op) and John Banner (Camera Asst.) are lighting the first scene, the actors are all toasty warm in Donna Bowyer’s new MiniWinnebago and I’ve just forgotten and then remembered a crucial bit of costume detail which I’m hoping won’t slow us down too much. We seem to have about 25 people around at the moment in this tiny flat which is by far the biggest crew for a film I’ve directed (and is in stark contrast to the 2-man crew we had for ‘Awake’). They all seem to know what they’re doing though, so I’m letting them get on with it. We’re aiming to get the first shot done by about six…

9.00 Just had ‘lunch’ – or ‘supper’ I guess – vegan bolognese (for Cooke’s benefit – although later we will have bacon cobs to satisfy the meat-eaters). We’re all on schedule. Got the sex scenes out of the way – the first I’ve ever had to direct (even if they both only involved a bloke on his own each time, pretening to have sex with Cooke’s camera). Apart from a weird moment after the first take of the first shot where the camera decided to stop working (heart-stopping…), everything seems to have gone well. The crew seem happy, the shots look great and apart from regularly glimpsing Mat – who’s doing the ‘behind the scenes’ documentary and keeps filming me when I’m doing things like demonstrating the appropriate ‘fucking rhythm’ on the bed, I’m feeling quite comfortable. Early days yet, though.

10.00 Planning for a very complicated track and jib shot, which requires expert timing from Cooke, Ross and Myanna, who’s playing Heather. Ross decides to improvise and borrow a mop handle to utilise as a vital bit of grip equipment. Maybe he should patent it – the JR MopHandle Extreme.

1.00am Onto the last shot. Cooke is on his back on the sofa filming a ceiling. Yes, a ceiling – how inventive, Sheil. It all got a bit faffy around midnight where we found a shot looking much uglier than we’d anticipated and had to run around trying to find a bit of set dressing to pretty it up a bit. That took up about 20 minutes, until Cooke decided to break every normal rule of filming and place a mirror in the middle of the shot. Still, unless this ceiling shot tuns into a drama, we’re going to wrap early tonight, and get some sleep.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

A graphic illustration of the stresses of being a filmmaker

Everyone keeps asking me if I'm feeling really stressed - what with it being the day before the shoot and all - and the truth is that the mood of fatalistic calm I was talking about the other day seems to still be prevalent. Although, thinking about it, maybe calm isn't the right word - my brain is still running at a hundred miles an hour, zigzaging off into different directions (What should Erin wear? How do I shoot the 'Paul fuck' scene? Have we got a crying man yet?) - it's just that everything seems like it's dealable with - we start shooting at four tomorrow and then that's it - we keep rolling until the film - for better or worse - is done.

I've drawn a terrible graph to illustrate.

Here, red equals stress levels, which steadily climb throughout pre-production until the number of decisions made starts to outweigh the number of decisions yet to make, when it starts to fall again - until the first moment of the shoot when there's a spike of all-encompassing anxiety (usually accompanied by an urge to vomit), which quickly settles once the first shot is in the bag, then gradually diminishes as the shoot progresses.

Green represents adrenalin, which pretty much keeps climbing through the whole process - luckily enough, because if it didn't you'd be too knackered by the shoot to actually do the work. One by-product of this constant climbing adrenalin accompanied by fluctuating levels of stress, seems to be the possible (or even probable) formation of a number of ulcers in the stomach region.

Blue represents the icy dread that you've forgotten something of immense importance (probably the key thing that made you want to make the film in the first place). This climbs and climbs until it's too late to do anything about it. The thing that you've forgotten usually pops into your head about an hour after you've packed everything away and everybody's gone home. Then you have to spend the next few weeks convincing your editor that you actually planned to miss it out and it wasn't that important anyway, so that they don't think you're a bloody idiot.

Today, we checked through the camera kit, I finished off the shotlist (now typed up and ever-so-organised looking) and then I went home and moved all the furniture out of my spare room, because that's where we're shooting on Saturday night. Nothing like spending a couple of hours dusting and hoovering to get you in the mood for a shoot. Tonight, I'm meeting one of the actresses, Myanna Buring. Myanna was in, amongst other things, 'The Descent', which is probably the best British horror film I've seen in years.

I haven't seen Myanna since the casting session, so we're going to talk over the film, in lieu of having a pre-shoot rehearsal. The actors all seem really keen on working on the film, and so far none of them have come up with any questions (I don't know why I was expecting them to have questions - maybe the script's clear enough...). We're going to be shooting the film pretty much in reverse order - all tomorrow's stuff happens at the end of the film and the stuff we shoot on the last night is the opening. I think this is the first time I've had to work this way around (Cry had to be shot chronologically according to the script because of the amount of room destruction that went on). My worry is that the possibilities for continuity fuck-ups exponentially increases the more out-of-sequence you film, but I guess I'll just have to keep my mind on it.

I got some notes today about the rewrite for 'Mum and Dad' and realised (again) that I'm pretty much going to have to go straight onto that after I've done this. In a way though, despite the unrelenting head-fuck of it all, it's good to do the two back-to-back - at least it means that I'll be in some way prepared for all the things I have to do for the feature, having just done them for the short. Anyway, that's weeks away - let's get the short out of the way first...

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

A Fatalistic Calm

We’re into the last few days of pre-production before the shoot starts on Friday and the stress of last week seems to have begun a strange transformation (at least for my part) into a kind of fatalistic calm. Essentially, the closer we get to the shoot, the less possibilities there are, either because a)I’ve done all the work I should have done and made an informed and hopefully wise decision or b)I’ve had to say yes or no to things I’m not sure about because there isn’t enough time left for me to fuck about anymore.

Either way, making decisions is good, because once made they generally don’t have to be made again, so the millions of possibilities that presented themselves at the start of the shoot – encompassing casting, locations, crewing, art-design and storyboarding – have now shrunk down to mere thousands. Whatever decisions we’ve made prior to the shoot will force an outcome during the shoot and the edit, so that’s when we’ll find out if we’ve fucked up or not. In a way, this might be the most exciting bit – when you’ve got all the elements but they’re not assembled yet – because the film starts to exist in your head as a mixture of those possibilities, and the reality of your decisions hasn’t yet had a chance to force itself onto the screen.

When I was writing about making an ‘unperfect’ film last time around, I think what I was trying to get at was this - because I think that films, if they are writer/director led, often present a worldview which is distinctive to the filmmaker, the decisions you make are often informed by subconscious prejudices and fetishes and so the best you can hope for is to make a film which is revealing - not only to an audience but to yourself – an element of what you think about the world – or maybe, more distinctly, what kind of stories you translate the world into. And as such, it's never going to be perfect - because it never could be - but it might be well-translated enough to make the audience feel or think something that you have thought or felt.

Chris thinks ‘Deliver Me’ is a Seventies British horror film – not in a campy, take-the-piss kind of way, but in a way that it evokes a feeling from that era. He might be right – I’ve seen a lot of films from that time and I think it was probably the last moment when British horror had a really distinctive feel. But I hope the film doesn’t feel like a ‘homage’ or some kind of fanboy wank – I want the story to work on its own merits. Maybe he’s just saying that because he somehow pictured the lead character (who is actually now only in her late twenties…) as being played by the incomparable Sheila Keith from Pete Walker’s Frightmare)

I guess in my head it’s always going to be ‘a story’ rather than a slice of ‘real life’, so the script has a stylised feel which I’m hoping to carry through to the shoot. It’ll be interesting to get the actors’ take on it and see how it works. This’ll be the first time for ages I’ve actually directed something that has more than one character in it (or at least the first time for ages where the other characters haven’t been a demon, a corpse or a niggly little tree demon…) so Christ knows how all that’s going to turn out. Ah well, they’re professionals, I guess they do this kind of thing all the time…

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Character is story/Making the unperfect film

Just over a week to go before we start shooting on 'Deliver Me' and I'm feeling tired, crabby and stressed - probably about par for the course as far as working on funded shorts goes (especially those where they neglect to actually give you the funding...). The main concern over the past couple of weeks has been casting. Luckily, we've got a really good casting agent, Ali Fearnley, on board, who is really into the project and has been working hard to get us to see as many possibles as we can. I've said before how I find casting a bit weird, and after thinking about it a bit more, I think I know why. I don't really have people in my head when I start writing a story - that is, of course there are 'people' in it, (rather than just, I dunno, broccoli or something), but the character isn't normally the starting point of my stories. In fact, I'm much more likely to think of a story first and then work backwards from there - creating a character to fit what I need them to do in the story. Back story comes into it as and when I need to think of it - I don't normally create an extensive character bible or anything - a lot of that stuff develops as I work on the project as a whole.

One of the things you hear a lot when you're writing is this idea that 'story is character' - which seems to suggest that in really nailing down who your characters are you will figure out what their story is. And while I think that is totally valid, and makes complete sense, I also think the inverse is true - 'character is story' - you create interesting characters by thinking of stories which require them to act in certain ways, so you mould them to fit the story. Maybe it's just the way my mind works - maybe its tied into my distrust of the idea of 'truth' onscreen - or maybe I just don't have the same interest in people that other writers do. My characters are very rarely based on people I know or have met - they're not people I grew up with or hang around with. Maybe that's why I've veered towards horror - not because you don't get realistic characters, but because it gives you an opportunity to create twisted worldviews - to imagine a person's brain and personality, rather than try to imitate or replicate one.

It was good during the casting sessions to have a chance to direct the actors in certain selected scenes - it started to help me think about how the film's going to work in terms of performance. I think we've got some good people involved and I'm hoping that they're going to enjoy it...

The other thing I've been doing is storyboarding and shotlisting some more, with the aid of Chris Cooke. Chris is great to work with because not only has he got an encyclopeadic knowledge of every horror film ever made (he spent the 80s locked in a room watching video nasties) but he's got great enthusiasm and is willing to take risks and improvise stuff.

I've been trying to remind myself that this is an opportunity to take some risks and not to play it safe just because it's a funded film and it's going to be 'seen by people'. I mean, I'm not planning to make some experimental oddity, but there are certain things that I'm not sure are going to work, and I figure the only way I'll ever find out is if I try. I guess if people watch the film and end up saying 'what the HELL was that?' I won't really mind - I'm not setting out to make a perfect film - as if you ever could - in fact, it'd be closer to the truth to say I'm setting out to make an unperfect film - something with weird edges and strange features that'll hopefully find an audience, but isn't self-consciously trying to make itself seem 'great'.

Or maybe I'm just covering my arse in case the whole thing turns out to be terrible. Who knows? I guess we'll find out soon enough...

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Parenting Issues

After what has seemed like an age - but is only actually about six weeks – Film London have announced the greenlit projects for the Microwave scheme. And ‘Mum and Dad’ is one of them.

Which is great and scary news.

Myself and Lisa have known for a while now, but we were asked to hold off telling anyone until Film London could put out a press release. We’ve started, tentatively, putting out feelers in terms of cast, crew and effects, and I’ve written a whole load of notes for the second draft of the script, which I’m hoping to write over Christmas. Em-media are on board as the co-financiers, which is also really good news, because it means we don’t have to go out and find the rest of the finance.

I’m trying to split my head in two at the moment – half of it is dealing with the mounting number of things to get done for ‘Deliver Me’, while the other half is preparing to think about all the other things I need to get done for ‘Mum and Dad’. At the moment we’ve got the shoot planned for 18 days, hopefully starting in March next year, which means a frightening number of pages of script to do each day, plus a significant amount of effects work to fit in. At the end of it, I’ll hopefully be a better and tighter filmmaker.

Or I’ll be dead. One of the two…