Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Deliver Mum?... Dadliver Me?...

I'm on a bit of a double-header at the moment - still finishing off 'Deliver Me' while going into pre-production on 'Mum and Dad'. Lisa came up today and we spent the morning being driven round by Dan from Em-media, who is helping us to try and sort out the main location for the film. It was just a preliminary scout round, really - we checked out certain areas in Nottingham - The Park, Arboretum, Mapperley Park, Lenton, Sherwood - where we might find a big empty house. We need somewhere that is usually described by estate agents as 'an investment opportunity' - i.e. somewhere that needs work doing. Ideally, somewhere that a property developer bought cheaply because it was in a state, then didn't get the chance to redevelop before the bottom fell out of the buy-to-let market and now it's like an albatross around their neck because they can't sell it, can't develop it and would be happy to let a film crew have it for a month for a nominal fee, just to make SOME money out of it....(Lisa suggested that we put a ad in the paper with words to that effect. Not sure if she was joking or not...). We found a couple of potentially interesting looking places - and even, purely by chance, got the chance to have a look round a place as the owner was there just as we drove past - it was mad - a former residential home in Mapperley with about 8 bedrooms and a layout like an Escher drawing. It was a really interesting place, but not ideal for us. Still, it was quite reassuring to think that there are at least potential places out there.

This afternoon we met up with Tina, who is going to work on the production side as well. Going through the list of what we need to do was both a little scary and quite reassuring - it's back to that thing of decision-making - the schedule requires us to have certain things in place at certain times, so we're forced to make decisions - for good or ill...But, like I've said before - once a decision's made, it's like a weight comes off, because you then don't have to (hopefully) make it again.

Time spent Not Knowing is the weight that settles most heavily on filmmakers, I think. For 'Deliver Me' we've been waiting to hear back from the execs over the past couple of weeks. We've had all our feedback now, but it felt like it took ages. (It sometimes feels like Exec Time is like dog years - for every week that passes in normal time, it's only an hour or so for them. Or something...) I know it's because they've got a lot of other things to do (mainly getting pissed on expense accounts at film festivals, I think...)(If any of my execs are reading this, I don't mean you) - but it's a really frustrating and anxious time because it means the film stops moving - and instead of you feeling like you're pushing it up a hill, it feels like you're just holding it in place, straining like a spindly-legged Sisyphus (yeah, that's right, highbrow Greek myth references now) or Wile E. Coyote (with an Acme Boulder-O-Matic 9000...).

Anyway, the feedback on 'Deliver Me' was mostly good - there's not a massive amount of re-editing to do, and a lot of it can be helped with the sound mix and edit - so hopefully, once a few changes are made, we should get the okay to go forward. I really want it all finished now, just so I can have that bit of brain back...

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Feeling grubby can be a good thing...


The above still is taken from the opening sequence of Dario Argento’s ‘Terror at the Opera’, and it wasn’t until I watched it again (for the first time in about 3 years) on Saturday’s Horror Night that I remembered it. However, that clearly didn’t stop me from ripping it off for ‘Through A Vulture Eye” (Through a Raven’s Eye…?). Honestly, I’ve got no imagination…

We started with the Argento because Cooke had recently re-watched it to check out some lighting stuff for 'Deliver Me' and because none of the rest of us had watched it for a while. On the projector screen, in full 2.35:1 it looked great – it’s got some of the best sequences in all Argento, great photography and astounding shots – the best shot-through-the-eye scene ever, the phenomenal sweeping raven-cam shot in the opera house, the iconic pins-under-the-eyes scenes...

It's also got an ending which, even for hardened Argento fans like myself, is very hard to describe as anywhere near good. Cooke says the production was beset by problems and had to make up stuff as they were going along, but not sure even that excuses a line like "I love butterflies!".

Still, the film is both a joy and an inspiration. The opera house setting seems really fitting for Argento’s style – everything’s big and roomy and ornate – and it’s got an interesting role for Ian Charleson (looking strangely like Eighties Christopher Lambert ) as an Argento like film director. There’s brilliant use of steadicam all the way through – in fact the camera hardly ever stops moving – and a real sense of daring in the staging.

Next up, we had an episode of Kolchak called “Horror in the Heights”. Guest-starring a (slightly shaky) Phil Silvers, it’s a story about an Indian demon stalking a Jewish neighbourhood. It’s great genre TV – an interesting central idea, fluid execution and solid character work. It was especially good to see Simon Oakland as Kolchak’s constantly growling editor (if they were to list ingredients on the side of actors, his would read ‘99 percent irascible’.)

He is one of those great jobbing actors – his IMDB entry reads like a cult TV encyclopedia: Qunicy, Lou Grant, ChiPs, Charlie’s Angels, Vega$, The Rockford Files, Police Story, Kojal, Hawaii Five-O, Ironside, Bonanza, Mission Impossible, Gunsmoke, Rawhide, The Outer Limits, The Twilight Zone…

He also featured in Psycho – in the bit that nobody remembers – as a psychologist at the end giving an extremely lengthy explanation for Norman Bates’ mental state. Kills the film stone dead for about four minutes. Maybe it’s a ploy to make Norman’s grinning face in the end scene even more horrible.

Next was a film that Cooke’s been trying to get us to watch for ages, ‘Last House on Dead End Street’ – a notorious, ultra-low-budget grindhouse shocker from the 70s. It was about 40 shades of wrong – one of those films that makes you feel grubby while watching it. Which isn’t necessarily a criticism. It’s bloody, twisted, sometimes pretentious (in an art-school kind of way), with terrible dubbing (which somehow always adds to a film’s Wrongness Quotient) and the print was so degraded that in the dark bits it was like watching a fifth generation VHS through the bottom of a marmite jar. It was also one of those films where they seem to have decided that some of the key plot information is in fact superfluous, so that reading the DVD box afterwards is a big step in understanding what the hell’s been going on.

It has got some truly memorable sequences though – a suburban housewife in her underwear and blackface been whipped by a hunchback in front of a living room for the swinging neighbours (and her own child – who leads her in on a rope…) while her husband moans about how bored he is by it all – a gruesome surgery scene, the fakery of the effects only enhancing the horribleness – and a sleazy film producer forced to fellate a severed pigs’s trotter poking through the flies of a topless girl.

Again it’s kind of oddly inspirational – so low-budget, so non mainstream, so full of wrong but still around thirty years later – with commentaries and bonus features – it’s like there’s a twisted purity about it.

Last up, I got them all to watch Nigel Kneale’s ‘Baby’, which, while establishing Simon Mackorkindale firmly as the prime exponent of HusbandDickery, still managed to creep everyone out and end the evening on a bleak and depressing note. Three cheers for Seventies genre telly…

Friday, January 19, 2007

Building a new Empire

MyAnna Buring as Heather in 'Deliver Me'. Photo by Dan Hodgett.

It’s been a week since we delivered the edit of ‘Deliver Me’ and we’re still waiting for any official feedback – I did get a line in an email about it, but it’s hardly enough to go on for a fine cut. So, while that film floats about in Exec Viewing Limbo, I’ve had my head down finishing the first redraft of “Mum and Dad”. The script’s up to 90 pages now, with a handful of extra scenes added and some substantial revisions to existing sequences – although the basic structure and characters of the piece have remained the same. We had a really good chat with our script editor the last time we saw him, and he worked with me to bring out a lot of the relationships and back history of the family, a lot of which I’ve tried to get into this draft.

I finished the redraft on Tuesday and sent it off to ‘Mum and Dad”’s producer, Lisa Trnovski, who has been off on a commercial shoot for the past couple of weeks. We’re still waiting on contracts and money and stuff like that, so we can’t really get on with pre-production properly at the moment, although I’m hoping that’s all going to be resolved soon. I couldn’t take another situation like we had with ‘Deliver Me’ – waiting months and months for the whole thing to actually be confirmed.

As soon as I’d finished ‘Mum and Dad’ I went back to working on a new feature idea for a horror provisionally titled ‘Empire of Flesh’ (I know, it sounds a bit like one of those Japanese erotic art movies, or a Doris Wishman film…). On Wednesday, I met up with Caroline from Warp X and pitched it to her. It seemed to go well, and she’s interested in seeing an outline for it, so for the rest of this week I’ve been writing that up.

It’s weird, going from project to project to project like this – I always moan about it doing my head in, but in some ways I think it helps. Although you have to switch from one set of things – stories, characters, plots – to another, you’re still in the same space creatively – that is to say, the creative muscles that you employ for each of them are the same, so in a way it makes it easier to get up to speed quicker.

Also, it’s good to get this kind of work done when you’re in a kind of groove with it*, because there’s always that fear at the back of your mind that there’ll be other times where you won’t be able to come up with a single new idea. Strike while the iron’s hot, as they say.**

We’re going to aim to have another horror night tomorrow. Cooke got a good amount of horror-themed presents for Christmas – Kolchak and Masters of Horror box sets – so we’ll probably start in on some of those. He’s trying to persuade me to show the rough cut of ‘Deliver Me’ as well, but I’m not sure – horror nights are supposed to be enjoyable and relaxing and watching unfinished versions of your own work, even in front of your friends, isn’t exactly in that category. I think he just wants to check out his lighting on the big screen…

*No, I don’t know why I’ve started speaking like some 70s hipster, either
**Or a middle-aged dad.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Yar Har, Fiddle De Dee

It feels weirdly soon to be saying this, but we’ve reached the end of the first stage of post-production. Barbara went back to London today (she’s got other work on, which we always knew about), so we had yesterday and this morning to get everything done.

We worked really hard yesterday tightening up the parts of the film that needed work and trying to really build up the atmosphere. We had another screening with Paul Welsh, which I wasn’t really looking forward to, but which turned out to be all right in the end. He had some specific notes about the cut, mainly hinging around lengthening or changing specific shots, but it seemed to help being in the edit suite to have the discussion – with the film there in front of us – rather than in the cinema where we were the other day. I think the history we’ve had over this project – and probably (and slightly unfairly on him) the history we’ve had with Em-media over this project – means that every time we go into a disussion there’s an edge, but I do really want to feel like we’re working together rather than being at odds. For one thing, it’s just fucking knackering using up energy arguing when you’re tired enough from working on the film.

I’m pretty happy with how the edit stands. It feels like the pace of it is working and it’s building up the requisite horror. The healing scenes – which were the hardest part to get to work – feel like they’ve got some power now, and the music – at the moment just a basic set of tracks that Steve Blackman, the composer, let us have – really adds to the mood. Integrating the diy cock/vagina shot was quite tricky, but I think we’ve found a way to make it work. There’s a bit of a worry that it overbalances the film (and it’ll be interesting to see how it works really big on a cinema screen…) but I think thematically and texturally it kind of fits.

Today we played out a couple of DVD viewing copies, one for Paul to have a look at and another one for our other exec, Becky Mark-Lawson from the Film Council (who – approprately incestuously enough – used to have Paul’s job and was the person in charge when ‘Deliver Me’ was first commissioned a year ago…). Now we just have to wait to get feedback and see what – and how much – we might be asked to change.

I’m going to get back on with working on ‘Mum and Dad’ tomorrow, with the aim of trying to get the second draft done by the end of next week. I’ve also got to write up some notes on some other feature ideas for a meeting I’ve got with Caroline Cooper-Charles from Warp X next week. I’ve got one full-on horror film, one more sci-fi based horror and one ill-defined genre piece (let’s face it, it’s most likely going to be horror), each of which are at varying stages of story development, so I’m going to try to find a day or so from somewhere to get that done. Or maybe I’ll just have to wing it a bit – I’m not sure I’ve really got the space in my head at the moment to juggle another bunch of ideas, (not without dumping something else out first, like maybe the bit that knows all the words to the Lazytown pirate song...)

It seems mad when I’m so busy to be thinking about developing new ideas, but I suppose I’m a bit paranoid about having something to move onto after ‘Mum and Dad’ (presuming, of course, that all goes to plan…) – I hate the idea of finishing a project and then having to start from scratch, especially when, as with World Of Pain, development can easily eat up years of your life.

I’ve already got another project to another stage of development – my script ‘Damaged’ has been selected for the workshop stage of Cinema Extreme. Given my past experience with the scheme, I’m taking absolutely nothing for granted, but, at the very least it gives me reassurance that, along with ‘Deliver Me’ and ‘Mum and Dad’ I’m maybe getting a bit better at pitching ideas. (Or maybe it’s just the constant drip, drip, drip of applying eventually wears people down like water torture.)

That’s not for weeks yet, though, and ‘Deliver Me’ isn’t really near finished yet – we’ve got additional sound and music to add, the dub and grade to do – so I really have to try and keep at least some reasonably substantial portion of my mind concentrated on it. But at least for the next few days I can kind of relax – if you think documenting the horrific misadventues of a family of brutal perverts is relaxing. Which I have to admit, I suppose I do…

Tuesday, January 09, 2007


Had to take an enforced break from the edit suite today after the computer decided last thing last night to stop recognising the external drive, where we had all of our footage stored. For a brief half hour it seemed like we had lost the whole project - which would have meant starting again from scratch - but then Barbara managed to retrieve it. So, that meant that we had to spend today redigitising all of the footage back into the computer - basically losing a day out of the edit.

This came at the end of quite a difficult day anyway. We had our screening of the rough cut for our exec from Em-media Paul Welsh. He watched it twice through, then gave us some notes on where he thought the story wasn't working. Most of the points he identified were points we'd also talked about changing - but when we got into a discussion about the opening - with Paul insisting that it should do something which I'd never intended it to do - it felt like we were back into a morass of mutual miscommunication. I felt pissed off because he didn't seem to saying anything positive about the film, so I was in a crabby mood anyway, but trying to get my head round exactly what he was asking us to do just made it worse. By the end it just felt like we were a million miles apart in terms of how we're looking at the film. Which isn't good, really - you want people you're working with on a film to have a belief in what you're doing - and when you're editing it's quite a crucial time to get feedback that helps the project develop. It's just difficult if you feel - like I do - that what you're trying to make and what your expected to deliver are two different things.

Anyway, after all that it was almost a relief (albeit a relief thickly lined with intense stress) to have to take some time out today.

For a break, I started in again on 'Mum and Dad'. Up to now, I've been making notes for the redraft without actually getting back into the script again, but with this time available today I forced myself to sit down and give it a go. And, after a short period of mentally kicking myself up the arse, I found myself quickly getting back into it. By the end of the day I'd added about 7 or 8 new pages to the script, which was about the speed I was at when I writing the first draft. Of course, I'll have to go back and revise everything, and there's still a way to go, but all the way along with 'Mum and Dad', it's felt like it's flowed quite naturally. Maybe I've just been less precious about it because I've not had the time to think about it too much, or maybe it's because I can see the characters a bit more clearly than I usually can - whatever the reason, I hope it carries on that way.

Back in the edit suite tomorrow, so I'll have to switch my brain back to 'Deliver Me' again. We've got another viewing in the afternoon, so I'm going to try and get my head into a happy place in preparation. (Not to be confused with this. )

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Just plain wrongness

Had some time off over Christmas and New Year - but then have also had to get straight back into it because of 'Mum and Dad' bearing down hard on me like a enormous vulture of stress.

We actually started the edit before Christmas, our editor Barbara Zosel (who edited Jeanie's doc Teenland) came and did three days just after the shoot, and we picked up again on Tuesday this week. I haven't been in the edit suite all that much so far - I've let Barbara get on with putting together a rough edit. We've got a version now which is about 17 minutes long - it still needs a lot of work and some of the scenes - especially the healing scenes - aren't really working as well as I'd like, but it all seems to be going together okay. Cooke watched it the other day and said he was surprised at how bleak and miserable it was (in a good way).

Cooke was round the other night to help with the last outstanding shot of the film. This involved creating an internal shot featuring a penis and a vagina. I know, it's all wrong. I don't even know if it's going to fit into the film at all, but I wanted to try it out anyway.

Not knowing exactly how to go about it, me and Cooke drew some diagrams and did some research (hence the recent visit to a local sex shop). I also managed to download a startling bit of footage from a recent Channel Five documentary - The 21st Century Girl's Guide to Sex - which gave us a rough idea of what we were aiming for (if a little too explicit). Then I cobbled together some stuff from the house...

...and we gave it a go. It was a very tricky thing to attempt, not least because I needed to have about six hands to be able to do it properly - and it felt like a very strange thing to be doing of an evening - especially when I had to grease both the dildo and the dough-filled Pringles tube with hair gel (even Cooke - whose brain is mostly made up of wrong - had to look away).

Still, it's done now. God knows if it'll ever see the light of day...

We're supposed to have a viewing of the rough cut on Monday, and then it'll be back in for the fine cut. In the meantime I've got to get back on with the redraft of 'Mum and Dad'. Maybe it's good to have set some wrongness in my brain in preparation...