Friday, December 21, 2007

Ho(rror) Ho(rror) Ho(rror)

Just in time for Christmas, we've finished the sound mix for 'Mum and Dad'. Now, with the visual post scheduled for January, the time when I will actually have a 'finished' version of the film - finished enough at least so that we can have a screening - is rapidly approaching. I really can't wait to get the chance to see the film with an audience - I feel like I've been coccooned up with it for so long on my own that I can't really see it with any fresh eyes anymore, so seeing it with a bunch of people who haven't seen anything of it (or, when we have a cast and crew, a bunch of people who will probably have forgotten what it was that we shot), will be very liberating. And horribly frightening.

At the same time, I've been trying to plough on with 'Empire of Flesh'. With Jeanie in her edit for 'Goth Cruise' almost full-time, I've not been able to work on the script full time, so I've tried to get into the same mode of writing I had with 'Mum and Dad' - ie. not waiting for inspiration to strike every time I sit down with a pen, but just plunging straight ahead, with the attitude that it's better to have something rather than nothing (and if it's shit i can always revise it at a later date when inspiration has belatedly struck). I've done about 40 pages - pretty much the first act of the film. It needs cutting down and revising, but I'm hoping that the structure and characters are at least becoming a little bit nailed down. Over the past couple of days, with the deadline of Christmas, I've probably knocked out about 12 pages, which is fairly good going for me - maybe the deadline is the thing that prompts me to get my arse in gear. (Earlier in the week, when I was finding it harder to get into gear, I wasted about half an hour assigning computer voices to my characters in Final Draft (scriptwriting software) and getting them to read out swear words. It was a bit like staging an all-Stephen-Hawking version of Shameless.)
I'm trying to get a move on with the script so that we can start putting together a plan to get some production funding early next year. The only stumbling block at the moment has been actually getting our script development money from Em-media, which we got told we'd been awarded a couple of months ago, but which has yet to make an appearance, despite me moaning on about it to the point where I'm actively irritating myself. The closer we get to Christmas and the more appeals we make to get the money, the more I feel like Bob fucking Cratchit.

As a final horror-themed precursor to Christmas, we had a special Horror Night screening of Bob Clark's classic 'Black Christmas'. Predating Halloween as a holiday themed horror, 'Black Christmas' is the story of a sorority house being menaced by obscene phone calls (and they are truly, horribly obscene and wrong and creepy) from a stalker-killer (mostly filmed in super wide-angle POV). It features Olivia Hussey, Margot Kidder as a fantastic lush (I don't know if there's a 'Black Christmas' drinking game, but there probably should be) and John Saxon as the head of the most inept police force in Canada (or maybe it's supposed to be set in America - who knows, they sound Canadian anyway). It's a great horror film, despite being almost completely blood-free, with a terrific ending, and might be set to be our annual festive viewing choice.

Back in the New Year.

Oh, and Tiny Tim says "God bless us, every one!"

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

A Proper Family Christmas

After some waiting around (for studio time and music) and some setbacks (namely the person who was going to be doing our mix going down with appendicitis the day before the mix was due to start), we're finally in the studio doing the sound mix for 'Mum & Dad'. We're doing a reel a day - even though we're not delivering on film at the moment, we still have to break things down in that way because of the potential of going there in the future - spread over three weeks - again a result of rescheduling -which is going to take us right up to Christmas. Lisa's also managed to find somewhere to do all of the picture post-production, which we're hoping to get done by the end of January. Christ it feels like it's taken a long time. I guess the thing is, the actual work - cutting, mixing, sound design - hasn't taken that long, it's just that the whole process has been spasmodic - an intense month or two here, followed by a barely-progressing batch of weeks, followed by another intense week or two. But we're nearly there now.

The funny thing is, the closer we get to the end, the more nasty the film becomes - doing the sound mix yesterday, Greg, the sound mixer, was talking about how bleak and horrible a certain bit was - which is obviously the intention, but it's only now as the film gets closer to being whole that it all comes together and starts working properly as a horror film.

As well as doing the mix, I've also been trying to sort out how the music is going to work in the end sequence. After initially claiming not to want any music at all in the film, I ended up soundtracking a Christmas sequence with five songs. Obviously, because we didn't have a composer on board - and also because I wanted the music just to be like a normal British family Christmas - we ended up using a load of Christmas hits. When the cut was okayed, we were already in the process of investigating whether it would be possible to use these tracks and for a while a couple of them seemed hopeful...But then our lack (or rather absence) of budget told and we ended up getting nothing. Which has meant we've spent the past month or so getting new tracks to fit in there. It's weird, having lived with the cut for so long with the original tracks in (which I pretty much always knew we were unlikely to get) now trying to listen to it with a whole bunch of new music, but any audience who sees it won't know what was there, so hopefully, as long as the music fits tonally, it'll be fine.

I never imagined that we'd still be working on the film at this late date (I remember saying to Lisa in about July that there was no way I could afford to still be working on 'Mum & Dad' in January...(and it's true, I can't afford it)), but I guess it's quite apt to be listening to loads of Christmas music at the moment - even if the 'Mum & Dad' version of Christmas isn't exactly the most festive scene, it still somehow gets you in the mood...

Friday, November 16, 2007

Gore, Flesh, Sex Noises and Animal Cruelty

I started off the week with some additional filming for Jeanie's Goth Cruise project, which involved filming a couple of interviews with Goth (or former Goth, or never Goth in their hearts but described as such in the media - it's a tricky definition...) musicians, Andi from the Sex Gang Children and Wayne Hussey from The Mission and The Sisters of Mercy

We shot the interviews in 'The Tudor Room' at a place in South Kensington called The Gore Hotel. (I found a dressing gown in the room's closet which just said 'The Gore' - I was half tempted to pinch it and wear it next time I make a horror film, like some wierd Hefner/Argento hybrid)
The interviews went well, despite the normal problems of shooting dark people against dark backgrounds (especially people who don't ever take off their dark glasses) and we got some great anecdotes off Wayne Hussey about recreational drug use and afternoon quiz shows, which hopefully will make it into the cut.

Back in Nottingham, I started work on the 'Empire of Flesh' script. Having already produced a short (8 page) outline, I'm having a go at moving straight into a script. I did have the option of doing a step outline - basically all of the scenes laid out one by one, usually 20-30 pages - but I'm not sure that it's the best way to go. In my experience - as with 'World of Pain' - step outlines tend to get bounced around for months, with notes from execs going back and forth, and just when it gets okayed, you suddenly realise that you've got to translate a prose document into something with dialogue and action. Going straight into the draft at this point feels right, but might mean that it's a bit of a slower process.

On Thursday, I had to do another change of heads and get back into 'Mum & Dad', because we had our ADR session booked. This involved getting most of the primary cast back to rerecord lines which the sound designers deemed necessary - because of being off-mike or with excessive background noise. It was great to see them again - Perry (Dad), Dido (Mum), Ainsley (Birdie) and Olga (Lena) - although a bit nerve-wracking for me because none of them had seen any of the film, and I'd decided (maybe foolishly) to offer them the opportunity to watch the cut before we went into the session. Perry and Olga were both champing at the bit to see it (not so sure about the other two, though..), so we put it on for them. I totally chickened out of staying in the room with them and went off to listen to some of the (excellent) sound design that Tom and Ben at Spool had been putting together.

When I came back, the film was just finishing. Luckily, they all seemed to like it (although I had said to them beforehand that even if they didn't like it, they had to act like they did so that I could make it through the rest of the day.) - Olga even giving me a big hug. Not sure if it's what they were expecting and I know it's difficult for actors to watch themselves with impartiality, but it was a really good response.

Then it was on to the ADR. There weren't too many lines to have to re-record, and a lot of them weren't sync, but we still had to do a bit of lip-synching, especially on one very noisy breakfast scene. They were all great at it though, matching rhythm and timing perfectly. It was like they'd never been away.

As well as getting the lines redone, I also got some additonal sound effects - breathing, gasping, snoring, being-stabbed-in-the-neck, that kind of thing, as well as making some more 'specialist' requests - 'Could you do some more aggressive wanking for me?' is a phrase that tripped quite comfortably off my lips, before I'd even registered it. Yes, loads of sex noises and cries of pain + one noise from Perry that was a weird mix of the two...

With the ADR in the bag, and the sound design moving on, we're getting ever closer to finishing the film. (Although we still do have to find some cheap, royalty-free porn.
Curse my lazy hide!)

We ended the week with a double-bill of films at home. First up was the Pixies documentary 'loudQUIETloud' - following the band on their reunion tour. I love The Pixies - I went to see them a couple of times in the late Eighties - and to me they were the best band around at the time. The film shows them getting back together and heading out on tour - and basically, from about 3 minutes in, you realise that they are the least communicative four people ever to work together - at least when it comes to talking to each other. It's hard to remember one single meaningful conversation any of them have together throughout the film. But that's one of the things that makes it interesting - everything seems buried and weirdly mysterious - where the songs come from, how they write, how they work together - and the fear that you're going to see a band you love revealed as charlatans or idiots is dispelled. Yeah, they're all dsyfunctional (except Joey Santiago, who looks about 10 years younger and healthier than the rest of them) and unhealthy and uncommunicative, but when you see them on stage it's just like watching them twenty years ago.

We followed up the Pixies fiilm with something a little more hardcore - 'Cannibal Holocaust', which I got for my birthday from my brother. I'd never seen this although Cooke (who, let's not forget, spent the entire Eighties in a small flat watching video nasties) had and was very excited about seeing it again, albeit with the caveat that it was horribly exploitative and wrong.

And, yup, it was.

It was still interesting and well made and worth a watch, and did actually have a 'message' about exploitation. It's just that the film itself is so nasty that it's hard to fully get behind it. Chief among the nasty elements were mutiple brutal rape scenes (which were at least acted) and some real animal slaughter. I counted a muskrat, a snake, a spider and a pig, all slaughtered for real on camera (Cooke tells me that the First AD walked off the film the first time he saw this happen. Which I think would have been my reaction too) - with the most gruesome by far being the beheading and evisceration of a giant turtle which was one of the most disgusting things I've ever seen.

I know the intention was to try and show how savage the so-called civilized Americans are (it's them who do all the animal-killing - as well as burning children to death and raping village girls) - and it works in putting you on the side of the 'savages', but in terms of horror, it takes you out of the film and makes you more aware that the effects when humans get killed, though really well done, are just effects. All in all, though, it was really well made - certainly influential for the likes of The Blair Witch Project - and had a clever structure and interesing 'film-within-a-film' techniques. It was just horrible to watch. Which I guess is the idea.

Still, it had a nice theme tune, an easy-listening-style instrumental which you could almost sing along to - 'We're going....on a Cannibal Holocaust...we're be eaten by cannibals...". I can still hear it now.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Mayhem III: Chucky, ghosts and pig-man freaks

Last night was our third annual Mayhem Horror Film Festival at Broadway in Nottingham. We screened a 100 minute programme of local, national and international shorts, featuring killer clowns, zombies, pig-man freaks and a shot of a small child repeatedly punching an equally tiny Satan in the face. I think we (me, Chris Cooke and Gareth Howell, the co-directors of the festival) put together a really strong programme this year and the audience response seemed to bear that out. We had great numbers for the night as well - nearly sold out (in fact if Arcade Fire hadn't been playing just round the corner on the same night, I'm sure we would have done (selfish bloody French-Canadian alt-rockers and their cinematic, folk-influenced chamber pop)). After a brief intermission, we came back with a special preview screening of 'All The Boys Love Mandy Lane', a new American slasher film. I hadn't seen the film before last night (having been cruising with Goths for a couple of weeks) so I was keen (and slightly apprehensive) to see what it was like. Luckily for us it was great - really well shot with a great soundtrack and a real black heart. It's got twists, but ones that you kind of have an inkling of by the time they come, so there's no moment (unlike in, say, Switchblade Romance) where the film is in danger of alienating its audience by totally pulling some revelation out of left-field. In fact, the actual key moment of turnabout in the film is so brilliantly shot and staged, and the subsequent fall-out so black, bloody and pessimistic, that it doesn't really matter if you've seen it coming. While not exactly a gore-fest, there are a couple of really horrible moments, including one that made me suck air in through my teeth (a reaction I think I last had watching Takashi Miike's 'Imprint') and although it featured a typical bunch of selfish, sex-obsessed American teens, for some reason it didn't have me willing them to die quickly (like in 'Cabin Fever'). All in all, I think it went down well, although I know some people found it too generic and didn't think it pulled off what it was attempting. I think it came close enough.

After the screenings, Broadway bar were having a Halloween party (which we'd organised to have some kind of synchronicity with Mayhem) which featured a lot of fancy dress. Winners of the first prize were Sam Hawker (runner on 'Deliver Me' and "Mum and Dad', and local filmmaker) and his girlfriend Claire who came as Chucky and a very bloody Red Riding Hood. Second prize went to a man in a neck brace and blood all over his head (I think he was in fancy dress, it could have been that a taxi driver was taking the piss and had dropped him off telling him it was A and E) and third prize went to an actual ghost:I don't know if you can make it out, but if you squint you can just about see its outline hovering in the background between me and Cooke...

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

In which a brief moment of happiness on the receipt of some good news is immediately swamped by needless pessimism

Yup, after what feels like months of hanging about (because it HAS been months of hanging about) we've finally * got picture lock on 'Mum & Dad', which means we can move on to the sound mix, dub, conform and grade. Because in my head the film is cut, I keep forgetting that I have to go on and do a load more work on it, but at least it feels like we're in the final run-in and a lot of the variables and possibilities have now been reduced. The finished film still feels quite far away, but it is actually in sight now.

We've also heard that we've got the development money for 'Empire of Flesh' (my next horror feature script) confirmed, so I'm going to start work on that as soon as possible. At the moment I'm hoping (like an uncommonly optimistic idiot) that we'll be able to shoot it next year, but knowing how development works in this country - and how many first time feature-makers struggle to get their next film made - I maybe shouldn't set my heart on that. The good thing about having had such a speedy turnaround on the development. writing and production of 'M+D' makes me feel that I can work quickly when I need to, but I know that as the budgets get higher (not that much higher, mind - I think at the moment we're still looking at around a £750,000 budget, which is ultra-low, rather than micro-budget) the possibilities for full creative freedom get smaller.

The thing is, what I've always wanted is to be able to make a career out of this. I have no problem with working at the lower end of the budget scale (obviously I couldn't afford to make another £100,000 film again, unless I win the lottery or sell a lung or something), and I've got ideas for at least another 3 or 4 features - one set in America, a kind of cross between 'Whatever Happened to Baby Jane' and 'Suspiria', and another one which is tentatively called 'Lifestyles of the Great Dictators' - and my real fear is just to get stuck in development (like the ongoing saga with 'World of Pain'. Don't even ask) for years. I guess the thing to do is just to keep moving on - it's just that because of the nature of the industry, unless you're entirely self-financed, you're always going to be waiting on someone else's say-so.

Christ, I've not even finished one film and I'm already moaning about getting funding for the third or fourth - filmmakers really are a whiny bunch. Or, more likely it's just me.

Happy Halloween..

*'finally' in this respect does not actually mean that anything has strictly been finalised, because we still have to make one or two small adjustments, but we don't have to produce screeners for anyone again, so once we've made those changes we're set.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Things I Learned on Goth Cruise

1) Cruise ships are insane. Or at least the one we were on was. Called ‘The Explorer of the Seas’, it was like someone had taken a shopping centre, a holiday camp and a hotel and put them in that machine that turned Jeff Goldblum into ‘The Fly’,then painted the outside white and the inside with every colour known to man, using hallucinogenic and sedative-laced paints, filled it full of low-paid but hyper-enthusiastic service staff and food and thrown it on the sea. It was 200 feet tall with 14 floors and had a full-size theatre, an ice-rink, a casino, a climbing wall, a basketball court, a spa, a gym, an English pub, a three-storey dining room, a running track and a nightclub. If someone had told me, halfway through the cruise, that there had been an extensive cave system below deck 1, I wouldn’t have blinked an eye.

It was a strange experience in many ways – mostly because we were working while everyone else was on holiday, so we didn’t really get the chance to relax into the whole concept of the cruise, but instead had to keep somewhat of a detached eye. This meant that we were constantly being freaked out by stuff – on day two someone mentioned that they changed the carpets in the lifts every day. What for? Well, there’s a panel in the middle of them that has today’s day on it –‘Monday’, ‘Tuesday’ etc. It’s actually someone’s job to go round every night after midnight and update these carpets, just so that you know what day of the week it is at any given time. On a cruise which lasts five days. That is batshit fucking insane.

2) When you are following a group of Goth men wearing kilts up a steep staircase, using a handheld camera which you are keeping very low, be prepared for what you are letting yourself in for.

3) Goth is a broad church. One of the questions Jeanie was asking was ‘What is Goth?’ and we got a lot of different answers, but one thing that summed it up for me was one night when I walked from the CafĂ© Promenade – the shopping street that ran through the centre of the ship into The Chamber, the nightclub which was holding one of the official Goth dances. The promenade, filled with pensioners and families browsing the shops was playing The Ramones’ ‘I Wanna Be Sedated’, while the Goth night was playing ‘Touch Me’ by Samantha Fox. For a brief moment while I passed from one soundtrack to the other, it was like someone had punched me in the mind.

4) 17 hour working days won’t actually kill me. On Wednesday, I shot my first shot – the ship arriving into port at Bermuda - at 8.45am and my last shot – Goths in a hot tub – at 1.45am. I think that the overall lack of sleep across the shoot was a major contributing factor to all of us feeling gradually more nuts as the cruise went on.

5) The reason why some people are starving in this world is that about half of the food that is in existence is on that cruise ship. Predominantly free of charge – you only really ever had to pay for booze – the cruise seemed to be designed in response to an intense paranoia that going without food for more than an hour at a time might actually kill you. After a while you just get used to it – we’ve all put on a ton of weight during the cruise, despite the fact that I was moving all day long and sweating copiously during intense handheld camerawork sessions – but when you find yourself loading a plate with four desserts and six different cheeses because you’re still a bit peckish after the enormous dinner you’ve just consumed, you know things are starting to go a bit awry. This is compounded to a ridiculous degree when you find yourself at a buffet in the dining room at 12.30 at night, surrounded by ice sculptures, eating sushi and cheesecake.

6) I am not Goth. Yeah, okay, I’ve got a bunch of Sisters of Mercy and Cure records – 12” remixes and everything – and I like horror films, but I’m not a massive vampire fan (although I do really like ‘Near Dark’) and I don’t really like wearing black (although the slimming nature of the colour would probably be an advantage right at this moment). I think I’m more dark on the inside.

7) I am not rock 'n' roll. In New York, we went to film at a shop in Greenwich Village, interviewing a guy called Jimmy. Jimmy was nearly 50 years old but was dressed like he just stepped out of a Billy Idol or Poison video in 1984. He was a massive Stooges fan who was Passionate (with a capital P) about clothes. His trousers were the lowest-cut and tightest I have ever seen. He lived in a basement apartment with no windows painted deep pink and lit by darklight. On his back he had this tattoo: I asked Mark what his tattoo would be. He said 'I've had enough'.

8) Towels can be creepy. Coming back to our cabin one night, I found that the bed had been made and that sitting on the top sheet was a towel folded into the shape of a rabbit wearing Jeanie's sunglasses. I thought this was weird, until I found out that this was a thing that the cabin staff do - look: As the days went on, there were others - including, in Mark's room, a weird monkey hanging from a coat hanger suspended over the foot of his bed. It looked like a pagan curse or something. The strangest one was probably a manta ray. Not that it looked really odd, but just because it made me think - how many animals do you have to go through and try and shape a towel into before you hit on manta ray? I know that the staff on these cruises receive a really low basic wage and have to make up their money in tips, and also that they work insanely long hours, so I don't have any problem with them having a bit of fun, but I do worry about their states of mind. I felt mad after less than a week on that ship - they do it for months.

9) Cruise ship staff are remarkably friendly and laidback. I was expecting problems with trying to film around the ship but in fact it was surprisingly easy. No-one ever said 'no, you can't film here'. We set up a jib in the middle of their dining room on a really busy night and instead of getting pissy and scowly about it, the waiters ducked their heads expertly under the treacherous swinging weights and never said a word, except to give us a smile and ask if they were going to be on tv. Maybe they went back to their cabins afterwards and preyed to their weird animal-towel god to wreak his vengeance on us at a later date, but I'll give them the benefit of the doubt.

10) I don't get seasick. On the way back from Bermuda the ship hit some bad weather and started really moving about on the water - which was quite worrying considering the size of the thing (a few Poseidon Adventure moments flashed through my head) - causing a lot of Goth tottering, but also leading Mark, Victoria and Jeanie to feel really queasy. Myself, Alex and Monika (the rest of the crew) were surprisingly unbothered. Weirdly though, once back on dry land, all of us felt a bit strange walking about - like we kept wanting to try and compensate for the ship's movement even though it wasn't there any more.

11) Filming seven foot tall Goths in seven foot tall cruise cabins gives you a bad back...

Friday, October 12, 2007

Goth works in mysterious ways

On Monday I'm off to New York, as DOP on Jeanie's "Goth Cruise' documentary. We've got a week in the city, then five days on the cruise itself, including a couple of days in Bermuda. I don't know what to expect, but all I know is that there is the potential that I will be sailing through the Bermuda Triangle with a man dressed as Satan, which is both a potentially terrifying omen and a great pitch for a B-movie.


Mayhem, the horror film festival I help to run (alongside Chris Cooke and Gareth Howell) is gearing up for its third appearance at the end of this month. After missing our usual slot of May - basically because we were all too busy to be arsed to do it - we've opted for the traditional night of all things horror-ble - Halloween.

We've got a 90min selection of shorts - some local, some international, all good - plus a preview screening of 'All The Boys Love Mandy Lane'. There is a website here, which has news on the festival as well as hosting a number of horror shorts, including my two films 'Cry' and 'Through A Vulture Eye'. And yes, that is a blatant misuse of my festival co-director power.

There is also a Facebook group for those people who do that. Like I'm pretending I'm not one of them.

An Overdue Update on the State of Mum and Dad

It's been a bit of a frustrating time, the past few months, as far as M+D goes. We did our 'brutal' cut, got some notes back, then had to wait a few weeks for some additional notes from another one of our execs who had been out of the country, then, because of a change in personnel at the Microwave scheme (Mia Bays has taken over as exec in charge of the scheme for Film London), we had to have a meeting with all the Execs and us together, where we presented our notes on the cut, then we had to wait until Leo had some time to fit us in to make the changes, then we finished* our cut, which we are presenting as my Director's Cut, and then there was a postal strike so we couldn't get the discs out to everybody, but now, eventually, the cut has gone to the Execs and hopefully we'll get picture lock and be able to move on the the film, our lives etc.

In the meantime, myself and Lisa, along with the Director (Eran) and Producers (Ben and Rory) of the other greenlit Microwave film 'Shifty' were invited down to take part in a panel as part of this year's Microschool in Shoreditch. (This took place at Shoreditch Town Hall,a venue I used to go to as a young man, where they held a regular club night called Whirl-y-gig. It was very odd to be back there, considering the last time I was in the building was probably New Year's Eve 1990 and I was totally off my head, dancing very badly to the Stone Roses (Christ, this makes me sound like some terrible faux-raver/90s casualty - it was really only a brief period in my life. And I always preferred the Happy Mondays.) It was good to meet up with the other team and get the chance to share experiences. Hopefully the group found it useful (although, judging by this blog I found, I'm not sure that many of them are horror fans...)

It was good to do the panel and realise that it was only a year ago that we were in the same situation, pitching the film to get the money. Even if the past few weeks have seemed to take forever, it's actually quite a quick turnaround, especially seeing as the script had only been first developed a couple of months earlier. Of course, the whole thing could yet drag on like a terrible fucking soap opera plot, but let's hope not...

*NB: 'finished' in this instance may bear little or nor relation to the idea of 'something being at the end', dependent on whether we get approval of the cut or not.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Parker Portland Pneumonia

Well, it turns out that the horrible virus I had a few weeks ago was actually pneumonia - something that didn't actually get properly diagnosed until I'd done a long-haul flight to Canada and spent three days coughing and sweating in a strange bed. Luckily, I got hooked up with some expensive and strong Canadian drugs and started to feel better, but it was a bit of a horrible way to start a holiday.

We were in Canada for Jeanie's brother's wedding, but also used the opportunity to do some filming in Portland, Oregon (just a short flight over the Can/US border) for Jeanie's new documentary 'Goth Cruise'. One of the people she's following for the doc - an 'Elder Goth' called Sean - lives in Portland, so we went over to get an interview and some cutaways with him. I thought Portland was fantastic - largely helped by the fact that we were staying in a great hotel called the Ace, where they played the Ramones in the lobby, everyone who worked there looked like they were in a Jim Jarmusch film, and the rooms had Thoreau quotes and owls painted on the walls (or at least ours did...) Across the road from the hotel was a cinema called the Living Room Theaters, which was a fully digital, six screen arts cinema and bar. After feeling ill and tired, it was great to go somewhere and have a really good night out - we got two for one on tickets, the cinema was all double seats (with tons of legroom) and they served cold draught Guiness (in an actual glass) which you could take into the cinema with you. And Jeanie got some paprika flavoured popcorn which they made fresh and brought into the cinema for us. The difference between the film-going experience there and the usual UK film-going experience was so great, it was unreal.

The film we went to see was Lars von Trier's new comedy 'The Boss of it All', which I think is going to be premiering in this country at the London Film Festival. I hadn't heard anything about the film beforehand - in fact, I thought von Trier had been making a horror film - so I had no real expectations, but it turned out to be the most enjoyable thing I've seen him do since 'The Kingdom'. The film is about the boss of an IT company who has pretended to his staff that he isn't the real boss - and that all the questionable decisions (firing people etc.) in the company have been made by the (fictional) guy above him - 'The boss of it all'. When some grumpy Icelanders want to buy the company, they only want to deal with TBOIA, so the actual boss has to employ a local actor to pretend to be him - a decision which backfires when he accidentally becomes known to the rest of the staff, all of whom now want to voice their displeasure at his years of 'leadership'.

It's a good set-up and a funny film - but it's also typically full of von Trierisms. While watching it I kept thinking, 'Blimey, has he just got rid of having a camera operator now?' because the film is full of odd jump-cuts - the camera moving from one angle to one very slightly different angle and back again - odd framings, jumps in sound and white balance - almost as though no-one were really looking through the camera or controlling it. In fact, von Trier claims that the film was filmed in what he calls 'Automavision' - a process whereby a computer was controlling what the camera was doing. ('Automavision' seems to be a phrase coined only by von Trier - I can't find any description of how the computer works, or what exactly it controls.) There's a good description of the effects of the process by David Bordwell here.

Von Trier also narrates and appears (in a reflection) in a wobbly zooming crane shot talking about the film (which his voiceover describes as 'a comedy, and harmless') and one of the characters talks about life being like 'a Dogma film'. It's very playful, but still engaging and the shooting style and tricks don't actually hinder the enjoyment - it's amazing how robust a narrative can be, even when subjected to a lot of stylistic messing about. Makes you think that a lot of what people think of as being 'cinematic' is just gloss.

Also in Portland they have a great bookstore called Powell's, where I managed to get hold of a second-hand copy of a Parker book called 'Breakout'. For those not familiar with the violent world of Parker, he's the creation of Richard Stark (aka crime writer Donald E. Westlake) and began life in the original novel 'The Hunter' aka 'Point Blank', later made into the classic film with Lee Marvin. Parker is the most hard-boiled of hard-boiled criminals, a serial heister who is like a machine when he's working - hard as nails, terse as sin. Each Parker book (and there's 20+ of them since the 60s - with a break during the late 70s and 80s) is quite formulaic - Parker is working a heist with a crew, one of whom he suspects to be a weak link (but with whom, for one reason or another - like he's the inside man, or he's the money man, or he's the lead guy's brother or something... - he has to carry on working). The heist goes wrong and Parker loses the money and then has to kill some people. And because you know more or less what you're going to get every time you open a Parker book, it's a pure joy to get a new one. And in my still-pneumonic (?) state, heading back on the plane over the mountains to Vancouver it was great to read about Parker breaking out of prison through one library and attempting to heist a jewel wholesaler's by tunneling through another.

Back in Vancouver, I recovered from the infection and managed to have a good time, with only a (thankfully) fitful internet connection to keep me in touch with what was happening (or not happening...) with 'Mum and Dad'. More on that later.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Edgy and dull...

For the past two weeks, pretty much since the minute we finished the latest version of the cut, I've been feeling terrible - some horrible virus/infection that has left me with a horrible barking cough like old man Steptoe as well as aching muscles, constant headaches and a relentless fever. At nights I wake up with the sheets soaking wet and a freight train running through the middle of my head - fuck, I've got Springsteenitis. It's horrible, I've been trying to carry on working, but I feel like an old man, just lying in bed and blah blah bla-blah blah

Yeah, well, enough moaning. Tomorrow I'm off to Vancouver for two weeks for Jeanie's brother's wedding, so work-wise I'm going to be on a bit of a hiatus. As far as 'Mum and Dad' goes, we've had really good feedback from the execs for the last cut, although they do have some fine-cutting notes (which we don't have yet, unfortunately, or we could have got on before I went away...), so we're going to have to wait a couple of weeks to get back into it. It all feels like things have slowed down, but I guess it's still relatively speedy. It's just that people keep asking me how it's going and when they can see something, and I'm even boring myself with saying, 'soon, soon...'. It's just difficult to keep the same level of concentration on the project when you're not actually working on it, it's just running in the background. Hopefully, we'll be done by Halloween...

We found out the other day that 'Deliver Me' has got into the Munich Short Film Festival Bunter Hund, which is great news. I kind of feel like the film's been a bit orphaned - I had to go off to do 'Mum and Dad' as soon as we'd finished (before the grade was even done - Lucas had to bring it over to set so that I could approve it), Tina's been working pretty much constantly as well, and Em-media don't seem to be that behind the film - maybe because it fell between two Development Execs, so no-one really felt ownership of it. It's such a different film to 'Mum and Dad', but in a lot of ways probably more of a development of the other shorts I've done. I"ve had some really good feedback on it - but then I've also had really good friends tell me it's 'not their cup of tea'. I hope it finds an audience somewhere.

When I get back, I'm hoping to start work on the next script 'Empire of Flesh' - we've applied for some development money, and hopefully if that comes through I'll actually be able to afford to do it. If not, store vacancies at Lidl start beckoning again...

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

The Meat loves Dave

After a slightly uncomfortable hiatus in the 'Mum and Dad' edit (we left off midway through our 'brutal' cut of the film, and having it hang around like that has felt like spending the last couple of weeks being followed round by a three-legged animal still sniffiing aorund for its misssing limb (not a pleasant image, really, and one that seems to have jumped into my brain straight out of a scene from Lucy McKee's fantastic May)), I'm on the train back down to London, headin back to the suite and trying to block out the tinny blare of someone's iPod playing a hellish dance version of 'Total Eclipse of the Heart' from somewhere down the carriage.

The past couple of weeks have felt a bit disjointed and random, and I feel like I'm having to reconstruct the state of concentration we had earlier in the edit (as I say that, the train I'm on has just passed a goods train carrying several tons of rocks and graffitied on the side with 'Dave loves the meat') and not get distracted (the iPod is now playing Survivor's 'Eye of the Tiger' at what must be ear-bleedingly loud volume - oh, hang on, now he's switched to Avril Lavigne's 'Girlfriend'. Christ, it's like listening to Trent FM through a sock. Worn by a fucking idiot.)

Anyway, I'm hoping that by the end of tomorrow we'll have a cut that we're happy with and which we can present to the Execs as our cut...

Friday, July 27, 2007

Please, brutality...

It's been a tough couple of weeks in the edit. After canvassing feedback on the last cut and collecting more notes (primarily from Sol and Lizzie, our Execs), we're midway through a 'brutal' version of the cut which has seen us lose almost 10 minutes off the running time - bringing us closer (despite my moaning and bitching to Lisa about having to cut stuff - but then, what do I know?) to my original stated aim of 83mins. (I don't know about anyone else, but when I look for the running time on the back of a DVD box, I'm always hoping that it's somewhere in the 80s - makes you feel like the film's not going to be fucking about too much.)

We've ended up cutting out a lot of dialogue, compressing some time (while, strangely, expanding it at the same time) and, I think, making the film stronger. But now, due to other work commitments for Leo, and childcare commitments for me (Jeanie's off at Britdoc this week), we've had to take a break. This is one of the problems of the budget - if we had more money, we could just book Leo until the end of the edit, but as it is, he has to take on other work for the company. We're still trying to get on with stuff over the phone and email, but it's quite difficult at this point in the edit - it's a time when you really want to be feeling the length of cuts and the edit points, by viewing them in context of the rhythm of the whole piece.

In the meantime, we've also started to get a little more press about the film. There was a recent article in Screen International all about the Microwave scheme -Click to enlarge.

I'm not sure how I feel about the whole 'Film Idol' idea - what does that make 'Mum and Dad' - Will Young? Michelle McManus?

Anyway, the same issue featured the annual Screen International 'Stars of Tomorrow' spread, which counted both Jeanie and Tina Pawlik (my producer on 'Deliver Me') as two of this years SOTs.

Also this week, BBC Film Network put up a short video of a set visit they did, including interviews with me, Lisa, Perry, Dido, Olga and Simon (FX).

It all seems like ages ago, the shoot. It's weird how, after being so long in the edit (not that we've been that long - the whole thing's been relatively quick), you forget about the whole process of filming the thing and just concentrate on the footage. Watching the BBC video back reminded me of how much fun it was to actually shoot the film (fun obviously tempered by intense continuous schedule-pressure) and how much work it had been to actually capture what we've got. Although, having said that, if I never have to visit the room that contained the set for Lena's bedroom (where I'm interviewed) I'll be happy. All I can remember is the heat, mingled with smoke machine and man-musk. Delightful.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Fine cutting

After the rough cut screening of the week before last, and gathering notes from various sources on the cut, we're now moving into fine cut territory - responding to the notes we've had and attempting to tighten, heighten and brighten (actually, more like darken, but that doesn't rhyme) the film. It's a different kind of editing, in a way, where you find yourself revisiting scenes you may have first faced weeks ago and trying to do things you either hadn't ever thought about, or thought about and discarded or thought about and tried and not quite succeeded in doing. Notes here are really helpful (mostly...) - it's good to treat every viewer as just an audience, no matter whether there an exec or a mate - and generally most notes won't just come from one person, they'll have been reiterated (or echoed, or tangentially touched upon) by someone else. So, myself and Leo try and attend to them. But this is quite a complicated process at this stage (especially if the note includes the phrase "I'd like to see more of..." because at this stage we're pretty much using every available portion of the footage, bar the clapperboards. (And if we could digitally remove them, we'd probably end up doing it.))

So, a note might be something like "This scene seems a bit talky, can you try and lose a couple of lines?" -

First off, the director part of me thinks either A) "Yeah, I wonder how that would work" (in that it doesn't immediately feel like a wrong or painful suggestion) or B) "No, that's a terrible idea, what the hell are you thinking?" (in that it does). If it's B, I have to suppress the urge to express the sentiment, and think it through for a while - just because a suggestion sounds wrong and painful on first listen, doesn't mean that it hasn't got something in it...

If it's A, then the next stage is that the writer part of me thinks about it, concurs and then wonders which lines would be best to cut (while at the same time feeling intensely self-critical and self-chastizing - "Idiot, you could have lost those lines from the script before we even shot and saved everybody's time!" Writers are a whiny bunch.) Then myself and Leo have to look at whether it's actually feasible to do in terms of the edit. This encompasses a number of intertwining areas:

1) Performance - in cutting out the lines, we are also artificially truncating an emotional and dramatic line which the actor will have created in the scene - getting from A>B>C in the script as convincingly as possible. If B suddenly goes missing, the jump from A>C may now seem weird (it's a subtle thing, but it can disrupt the whole flow of a scene.)

2)Continuity - cutting can also mean a jump in physical action - again, the real-time movements of the actors in the shot will now be reordered. This can be especially difficult if none of the shots are clean (a clean shot features just one actor in close-up, without any part of the other actor(s) infringing on the shot. If part of another actor (i.e. back of head or shoulder) is fringing the shot, it's known as dirty). If the whole scene is shot in dirty midshots or close-ups, then with 2 actors over maybe 3 or 4 takes of maybe 3 or 4 different set-ups (dirty midshot Mum, dirty midshot Lena, dirty CU Mum, dirty CU Lena, for example) then continuity of action really is critical. If continuity is the same over all takes of all shots (say 4 takes each of 4 shots = 16 different versions of the scene and innumerable (actually it is calculable, but by someone with a better grasp of maths than me (I dunno, 48...?)) opportunities to cut the scene together. If the continuity is off, though, something as simple as someone leaning back at a different time across the different shots and takes can mean that your options get narrowed down considerably, even so far as only a couple of options (which might not encompass the best performances...) or maybe even none at all (which is when you have to bung in a random cutaway and hope that no-one notices. Or reads it as symbolic or something.) Cutting a couple of lines out can be a problem in a scene with good continuity of action (because of the reasons outlined in 1)), but in a scene where the continuity is loose, it can be a nightmare.

3) Pacing - sometimes you can't just cut something out because the timing (which you are artificially altering) feels off. So you have to find something to bridge the gap, or extend (or compress) a moment - a pause, a reaction shot, a random cutaway (again with the cutaways...). This means maybe nicking an earlier or later moment from a take - in effect trying to create the effect that an actor gave a reaction they didn't give (because they didn't know they had to give that reaction at the time because they didn't know that some arse of a director was going to cut some lines which some slacker of a writer should have edited out of the script at an earlier stage...).

Sometimes it all comes out all right, and you can get away with quite substantially re-ordering a scene from the way it was written and shot. And sometimes just cutting two lines can cause a massive headache and loads of work. I blame the writer. (Directors are a cowardly lot.)

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Whitby World of Horror

After a hectic week last week - which included having the first rough cut screening of 'Mum and Dad' for our execs from Film London (which went really well - there's still work to be done, but it seems to be working in the way that we want, which is a relief, especially after spending 15 hours in the edit suite the day before, trying to get it finished in time...) - I needed a break - which was lucky, because I'd already arranged a trip to Whitby, home of Goth, for a weekend of watching horror films along with my friends Chris, Gareth, John and Matt. This was planned as a kind of response to an art project which Jeanie had taken part in earlier in the year - albeit on a much smaller scale, with less talk about art and more watching of horror DVDs.

We hired a cottage near the town centre and basically spent the weekend nights watching films, and the days wandering about lovely (although constantly pissing with rain) Whitby. It was great.

After a five hour drive (including a detour to Yarm to pick up the keys, and torrential downpours for most of the journey) we got there Friday evening, had a few pints and a curry (in the hottest curry house in England - that's hot as in 'sweat dripping off your nose onto your poppadums', as opposed to 'spicy'), then it was back to the cottage (which we had managed to rearrange into a mini cinema, thanks to borrowing Jeanie's projector and rearranging all of the sofas) to start watching.

First up was one of the original Kolchak pilot movies, 'The Night Strangler'. Kolchak is always good fun, especially in his dealings, as I've mentioned before, with his editor Tony. 'The Night Strangler' is a story about a murderer with the face of a corpse draining the blood from young women on the streets of Seattle and it's a great piece of entertainment - obviously filmed on a budget, very quickly - there's one scene, where Kolchak has a great long speech revealing his theory where Darren McGavin half-fluffs a couple of lines but just keeps going - obviously aware that there wasn't going to be the chance to go again.

Next it was the French film 'Ils' (They) which came out earlier in the year. It's a lean, stripped-down atmospheric horror about a middle-class couple in an enormous house in Romania who get menaced by some intruders. It's an effective piece, but as it went on it kind of lost me a bit - I'm not sure there was any more to it than a drawn-out chase sequence, and the only idea seemed to be that kids in hoodies (especially foreign ones) are really scary.

Finally we watched a film I've been wanting to see again for years after seeing it on TV, 'Night of the Eagle'. Starring Peter Wyngarde (who spends much of the film in the highest-waisted trousers I've ever seen, puffing on endless cigarettes and smouldering (with brooding sexuality rather than fag-ash)), it's a great British witchcraft film, with a brilliant sequence set on a beach at night, which is one of the most atmospheric moments in British horror. The film also features a classic case of Husbanddickery from Wyngarde - a devout non-believer in the supernatural, whose entrenched contempt for his wife's belief in witchcraft leads almost to their deaths. The film also features a climactic sequence in a school with some great (though simply acheieved) effects work. All in all, it's terrific.

After a long lie-in, we spent the next day looking round Whitby, before going back in the afternoon to watch the rough cut of "Mum and Dad'. I was obviously very nervous about showing this, but wanted to get people's feedback. After about twenty minutes I had to leave the room (I'd watched the film twice through already in the two days before, and I was feeling too self-conscious), but the feedback I got from everybody was really positive, even with the film in still quite a rough state. There were a few helpful suggestions about things we could add or take away (at this point it's probably worth saying that it's MUCH EASIER to take stuff out than it is to add stuff - we're down to pretty much the bare bones as far as additional usable footage goes), but generally it seemed to go down really well, which was a massive relief.

With that out of the way, we went out for a pint and a walk on the pier and the beach, with John taking some moody photos along the way. Here we are acting like an extremely unathletic song and dance troupe:
And here we are looking like some dodgy Eighties rock band who have reformed for the cash and are now condemned to a life of greatest hits gigs around the north coast of England.

That night, we watched three more films, starting with George Romero's Martin. I don't know why Martin isn't more acclaimed - it's fucking great. Maybe it's because Romero is just seen as the Zombie guy, but the story of Martin is terrific - about a boy who may or may not be a vampire, who is sent to live with his elderly 'cousin' (a bloke who looks like Colonel Sanders and constantly greets Martin with a growl of 'Nosferatu!' while pressing a crucifix at him (that'd get on your nerves after a while, wouldn't it?)). The film plays with the ambiguity of what is the truth about Martin throughout, but it never feels like you're being shortchanged by not getting a definitive answer. Instead, it creates an atmosphere which is all to do with intolerance and lack of communication and the intransigence of religion, creating sympathy for Martin, while at the same time never shying away from the fact that he is murdering people and sucking their blood.

After Martin we watched a section of Dead of Night (in the interim, while stopping for a coffee break, Chris had been reading out his 'Ghost Stories of Whitby' pamplet which included a tale about a ghostly puppeteer...) - the famous ventriloquist's dummy story with Michael Redgrave giving a fantastic performance. Again, as with Martin it's always kept ambiguous as to whether the character is just mad or is in fact being influence by his devilish doll Hugo.

Next up - and putting a final nail in the coffin of the night - was 'The Incredible Melting Man', which both Mat and Chris had described as 'great'. A low-budget tale of space journey gone wrong (basically ripped off wholesale from 'The Quatermass Experiment') with decent effects by Rick Baker, it's one of the worst things I've ever seen. And not in a good way. Obviously struggling to make feature length, the film is padded out with shots of the IMM walking, very slowly, across hills and fields, with random shots, like this one of a nurse fleeing a shockingly understaffed (one nurse, one doctor, no security) military hospital, slowed down to half speed, just to pad out a few more seconds. The acting's rubbish, the script is non-existent and the pacing's appalling. By about half and hour in we were all willing it to end (the idea of actually GETTING UP AND TURNING IT OFF obviously being wholly alien to us), but on it crept, like badly-made slug, leaving a trail of crappy scenes behind it on the carpet.

The next day, we ventured out on a boat trip:
Got drenched, obviously.

Then we went back to the flat for one final film, Jack Clayton's 'The Innocents'. Weirdly, I'd never actually seen this all the way through before, but had obviously heard loads about it. Combining some of the themes of the weekend (Michael Redgrave, Peter Wyngarde, madness and ambiguity, and a variation of Husbanddickery in Redgrave's Uncledickery - 'I want you to take sole responsibility for these children. I do not want to be bothered with any of it while I am whoring my way through London.' (I've paraphrased a little.)), the film is gorgeously shot by Freddie Francis, brilliantly performed, deeply creepy (especially the lad who plays the boy) and truly disturbing. A great end to the weekend.

It was great to get away and watch some films - combining horror with British coastal tourism (chips, rock and pissing rain), and we're already talking about another one, maybe in Gareth's caravan in Wales (Four wheels of horror?). It would be great to do it again - as long as we don't have to watch 'The Incredible Melting Man' again.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Dyson Fly Death

Going upstairs to get some clothes for Betsy (my three year-old) this morning, I noticed an ominous low buzzing sound coming from the spare room. Gingerly pushing open the door, I found the windows covered in lethargic, swollen flies, like some terrible omen of doom. Noticing that they seemed to be coming out from the chimney, I stuck a broomstick up there and down tumbled - amidst a handful of crumpled pages of a decade-old Nottingham Evening Post (and another plaguette of flies) - two pigeon corpses. One was bloated, its head sunken into its puffed-up chest like a steroided bouncer, the other just a skeletal framework of bones and feathers. So, while Betsy watched Lazytown, I was stuck trying to hoover up flies from the windows and ceiling (the windows, I newly realised, had been painted shut when we had the outside of the house painted last year, so there was no other way to get the flies out) like in some extremely poor Ghostbusters roleplay.

The reason I'm at home and not in the edit is that Jeanie is also editing at the moment, a pilot for her new documentary Goth Cruise. She has to have it done by the end of the week, so it's the only way we can really both manage to work at the moment. I'm going to be back in London on Wednesday till Friday to pick up where Leo and I left off last week. At the moment, we're about an hour into the film. We're spending a lot of time just picking out little bits and pieces from the footage to feed into the cut that Leo made. With some scenes, obviously, there is a bit more to do and we more or less start from scratch, but a lot of the time it's just about making small but crucial adjustments. Now we're into the middle part of the film, a lot of what we're working on is about making the family dynamic really work, as well as upping the perversity of it all. And sometimes it's just little things - we inserted a shot - only about a second long - of somebody's foot slipping in some blood during some action, and that really helped add to the texture of the scene it was in - just a little reminder of the presence of horror, even in what is quite a 'normal' scene.

Away from 'Mum and Dad' stuff, I found a Korean webpage this week featuring loads of stills and a review of my short film 'Cry'. Not speaking Korean, I got Google to translate for me, and it came back with this.

"Fragmentary horror film of Steven [swey] one supervision of British native in fragment of psychological thrill [le] it is.
(The body and mind it sleeps weakly but at the minutes when there is a heart disease lonely autumn)
The [li] in the face which knows all blood seven A with one which it is confined in the plan which is isolated.
And after biting from, child voice one demon to release oneself, the [li] Oh situation,
It inflicts a threat sometimes and it creates a fear atmosphere.
The [li] it knows but and it does not shake rarely. The [le] polyvalent demon writes a last means,
The [li] the hazard which gets the freedom of oneself by self-will force it displays the force which is powerful. With the demon which the [li] it knows finally it is faced with and the place…
From first until end the beginning and end consistency with the dark screen there is a possibility of feeling the fear of the power which is powerful
[pul] It is a [le] D one work.
Unique rain [cyu] will freeze with [pul] the horror movie peculiar hand which is used from place [tu] [heyl] [tu] technique, and
The realism of the set which puts around the blood in all wall is living freshly the horror fragmentary public opinion excellent work
It is a work which it calls. Director: Steven Sheil | United Kingdom
[len] [ning] The time is 8 branch families quantity. Once sentiment it tries with joyful mind and it wishes."

I'm guessing it's a postive review. My favorite bit is "The body and mind it sleeps weakly but at the minutes when there is a heart disease lonely autumn". Which doesn't really bear any relation to the film, but sounds pretty.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Melon Smash Meat

I've been trying to spend as much time in the edit suite as possible over the past couple of weeks - in between looking after Betsy (Jeanie's been away filming in America for her upcoming Goth project). We're getting on well, I think - we've gone through the opening twenty minutes and worked them up, and inserted a lot of the second unit plane stuff which we shot, which really helps sell the idea of the airport. The week before last was mostly taken up with working on one long sequence in the film, where Lena wakes up in her room for the first time. The scene relies a lot on sound, and because that sound wasn't there while we were filming - and there wasn't ever really time to schedule it in as a separate bit of sound recording during the shoot - we've had to improvise and try and come up with some of the sounds ourselves - pinching them from other bits of the film and sound effects libraries as well as generating them ourselves. Leo, the editor, cajoled a woman from Speade (where we're editing) to come in and voice some stuff - all of which seems to work really well - and I brought in a bag of stuff from Tescos to experiment with. Because some of the sounds we need are quite violent and fleshy, I bought some heavy fruit - a melon - something that snaps - rhubarb - and a large piece of pork. We tried hitting the pork with a hammer, which gave us some good stuff, but I wanted to try and get something heftier, so then tried hitting the meat with the melon. While part of me was concentrating hard on trying to find the perfect sound of a body being flung against a wall, the more self-conscious part of my brain couldn't help but question the appropriateness of a grown man kneeling on a carpet smashing at a piece of pork on a glass coffee table with a large melon.

At the end of this week, we did a playout and I brought the rough cut of the film back to watch with Jeanie. It was a weird experience - as always - revealing things about the film that you'd either not fully realised or somehow managed to blind your mind to, while at the same time feeling too familiar. It gave me The Fear a little - although Leo's done a fantastic job in getting us to this stage, there is still a long way to go and I do need to start working a bit faster if we're going to get through it - but I think everything is more or less there to allow us to get what we need. It's just such a massive job, and everything takes time - although to be fair, it was only a year ago this week that I was on my way down to have my first meeting with Sol about the Microwave scheme, and it was only really on the train down that I came up with the pitch for 'Mum and Dad', so to go from nothing to rough cut in twelve months is pretty good going. Of course, there's still the cut to finish, the grade, the sound mix, (hopefully) the blow-up and we've got to sell it, so it could be ages yet before it's even Out There, but at least now some kind of end seems to be in sight - eh, Dad?

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Excitement, regret, guilt, terror

I was at a car boot in Bottesford (just off the A52) a few weeks ago. Got a reasonably good haul - some big box 80s horror VHS tapes (more of which to come in a later post...) + a whole pile of Fortean Times magazines for a quid, so that wasn't bad. About halfway down one of the aisles, there was a middle-aged woman with a blanket spread out in front of her, filled with the usual car boot items - clothes, crockery, paperbacks, Simon and Garfunkel's Greatest Hits on vinyl - and, near the front, a row of VHS tapes with handwritten labels. Always on the look out for more obscurities, I took a closer look - and found that they were all labelled 'XXXX Porn' (that's one X-ier than normal porn), with titles that included the deeply evocative 'Dripping Snatches'. At the time I remember thinking, 'who the hell would buy a second-hand VHS tape of possibly homemade porn from a car boot sale?'.

Then, this week, in the edit suite with our editor Leo, we watched a scene from 'Mum and Dad' wherein there is supposed to be some porn playing on a TV. Not having the rights to any actual porn at the time of shooting, we just shot a blank TV screen, deciding that it would be something we would composite into the shot at a later date. 'What we really need' Leo said 'is some kind of dated homemade porn where it doesn't matter about copyright.' At which point I realised (not without a splinter of shame lodging itself forever into the forefinger of my soul) that I am exactly the kind of person who should have been buying 'Dripping Snatches' from a car boot sale in Bottesford.

Ah well, hindsight's a wonderful thing. In the end, Leo got someone from the office to nip out and buy some porn (luckily the editing house is situated in the middle of Soho) which we're going to use in the interim, although it does mean that at some point we're either going to have to licence some proper stuff or come up with our own. (And by 'we' I mean 'anybody else but me').

Leo's got a rough cut of about 90 minutes at the moment. I watched it through on Thursday and had the customary mixed bag of emotions flow through me - excitement, regret, guilt, terror (y'know, the basics). Some bits of the film are already working really well (Leo's been working like a dog over the past few weeks), but some areas really need work and are giving me The Fear about whether we've actually got the footage to sort them out. At certain points I was kicking myself for not getting more coverage (although how that would have been possible on the schedule we had is difficult to imagine) or for not shooting things in a different way.

The beginning of the film was a place which was really rough, so we started with that, and over the next couple of days managed to get it into a much better shape. It's not perfect yet, but it's working a lot better than it was, and hopefully sets us up a bit for the more difficult stuff we've got to get into next week.

Leo's really good to work with - he's really into the film and has got a good handle on the material, so I don't worry too much about the actual editing side - it's more a question at the moment of whether the restrictions that we were working under during the shoot (money, time) have left us with a selection of material that's a little too spartan. We'll see.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Mum and Dad - Bonus Photo Post

In the aftermath of the shoot, things have been pretty quiet - Leo Scott, the editor, is working hard to put together an assembly - I'm going down this week to have a look - and Jeanie is gearing up for her shoot in the States, so I've just been dealing with getting back to relatively normal life. Got a rejection email from Cinema Extreme on Friday (which is practically the dictionary definition of relatively normal) and started working a bit more on the outline for my new project 'Empire of Flesh', which I'm hoping to start writing properly over the summer.

In this lull, I've had the time to get the rest of the images of the shoot off my phone. They're all a bit random (I didn't really have time to fully photo-document the whole thing) but they give a bit of the feel of the making of the film. So, in the entirely random order that Blogger has decided to upload these images...

This is my comically distorted face through a magnifying glass (kind of like those you find in a dentist's surgery) which I found in a deserted room when we were shooting at the University of Nottingham building - formerly Carlton TV. The only other things in the room were giant piles of empty plastic water cooler bottles. What can I say? It was a night shoot, at the end of the shoot, and you take your amusement where you can find it.

A view of the field from the relative comfort of the temporary shelter we had erected in the field. This was the view my parents would have had of events - the only thing missing is me galumphing across the piles of horseshit towards the sun-baked cast and crew to impart another nugger of directorial wisdom like 'that was great, but can you do it again with less hopping.'

This is actually a bit wierd. I found this amongst the props in the cellar set. It's a guide to making cocktails and the reason it's strange is because my Mum and Dad had the exact same book in their house when i was growing up and it really intrigued me. (We had a bar in the living-room - hey, it was the Seventies, everyone had one - and it was kept behind there in amongst the optics.) Seeing it in this setting gave me a bit of a weird feeling. Like when I saw that the T-shirt that Elbie was wearing one day had the number 35 on it - the number of my Mum and Dad's house. Okay, let's not alert the Fortean Times or anything, but little things like that do add up. To what, I don't know...

This is me, standing in a shower cubicle while we shot the bathroom scene (it was the only place I could be and not be in shot) with Jonathan Bloom (D.O.P. , sans his customary beret and scarf) checking a text message or something.

Ah, the old 'photo of the slate just to prove you're making a proper film' shot. We ended up shooting (I think) 445 slates. It was going to be 444, but we had a kitty on who was going to guess the final slate total and I fixed it to allow Ainsley to win, totally stabbing Alex (Sound Recordist) in the back. And he's practically my brother-in-law. I have no shame.

Another shot from the FX bathroom. Where you go when you need some fake teeth.

This is Barry, Focus Puller and Steadicam Op. in a custom-designed T-shirt by Jo from Costume. Shortly after this I think he added to the fake blood on his T-shirt by cracking his head on one of the gruesome hanging tools in the Tool Room.

The FX bloodbath.

The Green Man pub in Bedfont, where we had lunch. Very patriotic round that way.

A horse, non-plussed.

Mum and Dad's bedroom. Not really much horror in there. Unless you count the dolls, which are always pretty freaky.

There are also a couple of publicity photos for the film out - one on this site - which also carries interviews with Olga and me (and, for the record, I do know that George Romero didn't direct 'Night of the Evil Dead') - and this one:which appears, currently, on the Film London site.

Curiously, both sites dub me 'A New Hope for British Horror'. If that's so, it means that my next film will be darker and better, the third one will be ruined by weird little teddy bears and the next three will all be CGI-laden dull-a-thons featuring petulant teenagers and Jar-Jar Binks. Wow, it's like a glimpse into the future...