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.
*'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.
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 Café 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...
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.
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.