Production: Day One; Part Two

Catch up on Part One here.

Knowing that Markus had the kind of giggles that makes everything hilariously funny, I took him out of the room, off set and calmed him down away from the rest of the cast and crew. He managed to regain enough composure to continue on with the scene – he admitted later that he stood in a spot where he couldn’t see Danny before he walked in for every take after that.

We started to power through the scene. Victoria, who was due to shoot her scene at around 3.30pm, showed up at 3pm, as we’d asked, but as we were running a little behind schedule it gave her time to tweak her costume and make-up. So we continued, moving onto close ups of the boys to give us coverage for the scene.

It was during Danny’s close up that a sudden burst of voices ruined the take. I poked my head out the door, expecting the voices to be walking in and out of the theatre opposite – but there were two singers who had parked themselves right outside the door to the room we were in (so close that I actually hit their chair with the door when I opened it). I asked them to move whilst we were shooting and they, thankfully, did so.

About five minutes later, the band started up.

We had two shots left to shoot in that location, so we decided that the best way to get around it was to just go for it and cross our fingers that we got a few clean versions. Amazingly enough, we did, so we wrapped our first location and moved downstairs to set up for the next one. The next was going to be quick – it was only three shots – but as it was late in the day, it meant that we had to shoot night for day because England is annoying and loses daylight astonishingly quickly in November (it was around 5pm and it was nearly pitch black outside already).

Jamie and Jim managed to set up the lights so that the inside looked fine and Jamie framed out the windows and we were ready to rock and roll. We shot that scene very quickly and without too many hold ups and we were going to move on when we realised our next location was right under the theatre where the r’n’b band were rehearsing.

In a blindly hopeful moment, I asked Jack (the soundie) to have a listen and see if we might be able to get away with shooting something. He walked away and I apologised to Victoria for keeping her waiting for so long. Jack reappeared and said it was impossible. We had no choice but to wrap early, so I made the decision to start at 9am the next morning instead of 11am to get the scene we couldn’t shoot then done in the morning.

Unfortunately that meant that Victoria had come up to High Barnet for no reason which I felt awful about, but she was wonderful about it and once we packed up and got out of there for the day.

We’d had a few setbacks on day one and even more to shoot the next day, so I knew we had to be focused to get through everything we needed to and get everything shot. But day one was done and for now, I could let myself relax for a little while until reviewing scenes and shot lists for day two.

Production: Day One; Part One

Day one of With A Little Help From Our Friends was a late start.

Because the location we’d managed to get was a theatre school, they had students in there until 1pm. So we scheduled the call time to be at 1pm on Saturday and we planned to wrap at 5pm and shoot two (and a bit) scenes.

However, Jack had been told on Friday afternoon that they’d hired out the theatre to a (wait for it) r’n’b hip hop band from 1pm -6pm who needed to rehearse, after assuring us that we’d have the place to ourselves for the weekend. They figured because we weren’t actually shooting in the theatre that day, that it would be fine.

The issue here, of course, was that we weren’t shooting a silent movie. As the location was on a main road, traffic noise was bad enough as it was, so the added DOOF DOOF DOOF of bass and drums wasn’t exactly a welcome addition to the soundscape.

There wasn’t much that we could do. We decided that we’d shoot as much as we could and if we had to, shuffle Sunday’s schedule around slightly to shoot a little bit more if we had to.

I headed up to High Barnet at about 11am. I wanted to be there early just in case things went entirely pear shaped and as it got closer to the call time, the more I just wanted to be on set. On the tube ride up, I went over shot lists and schedules and wished that I had reception on the Tube in case anything went horribly wrong. Nothing did. I caught up with Jack and we went and got some lunch (I had an idea for another short in the meantime) and by the time we got back to the location, we could go in.

But we couldn’t start doing anything until the kids were out. And the kids weren’t out until around 1.30pm-ish.

Everyone else was on time though, so we set the actors up in a room with the unit and drinks and I took Jim and Jamie around to show them where we were going to be shooting. After being unable to find a lightswitch for the room (hey, it was behind the desk at reception and nowhere near the room, okay?!), we decided the room was too echo-y for sound, so we changed our minds and chose the room we’d set the actors up in (the ‘green room’, if you will).

After dressing the set, I left Jamie and Jim to light the space and I took Danny and Markus (Des and Max) into the theatre to refresh the scene in their heads. We were going to shoot the entire scene in one go in a wideshot/two shot first, then punch in for close ups and then pick up any other sections that needed a little more coverage.

The boys ran the scene on the stage (which I told them was the girls’ set for the next day. Cue violent jealousy). Because we’d had the opportunity to rehearse, it was a matter of running the scene and only slightly tweaking their performances, as well as taking the chance to discuss alternate options in the week since the final rehearsal. Both Markus and Danny are fantastic actors (I always have to bury my face in my script when they run it to keep from laughing aloud) so it was a matter of them finding the rhythm and beats again. I didn’t want to run it too many times without the camera rolling as the scene can become too rehearsed and stiff, so we headed back onto set.

It was already 2pm by now, we’re already running an hour late. There was the added pressure of the fact that the r’n’b band who were going to ruin our sound hadn’t turned up yet so it became a little bit of a race to see how much we could get shot before they showed up.

But we were ready to go, so we started rolling.

The trouble with shooting a comedy is that the script is funny.

Luckily, I had crew who were focused enough on their individual roles that no-one burst out laughing on set.

However, that didn’t stop Markus from getting the giggles.

We’d done about three takes of the first shot when halfway through, Danny stopped, confused as Markus completely lost it laughing.

We’re running an hour and a half late, my lead can’t stop laughing at my script and the band have finally showed up.

And we’re only two hours in!

Swapping, Changing, Compromising – Locations

Taking a break from talking about auditions and casting (although we’re nearly done there, I promise!), I thought I’d let you guys know what’s been happening with organising locations. About a month ago, I blogged about how we had managed to find a location but were still locking in dates. After casting, one of the actors told me that he’d just been cast in a play and the weekend we were hoping to shoot – the last weekend in October – so we decided to see if we could get the location for the first weekend of November instead, otherwise we would have to consider re-casting him, depending on his availability.

We could.

With the first weekend of November ready and locked in, I started to look at schedules and how I’d run the shoot. As the film is essentially three conversations intercut, I’m going to figure out the best ways to shoot it when we get on location.

But then Jack got a call from the theatre we’re using as a location. A dance company wanted to hire the theatre for both days on the first week of November and there was no way we’d be able to shoot around them. The last weekend of October was still available though or we could look at the second week of November instead. I decided that it was going to be best if we went for the last weekend in October and I had a chat with Danny, the actor who I’d cast as Des to find out what times he’d be available and if he’d be happy to jump from shooting WALHFOF straight into his play.

He said that he was really excited to be on board and was happy to go straight from one to the other and gave me a rough idea of the times he’d be available. They allowed for a much larger scope than I’d thought, so I didn’t have to recast, which was a relief. I told Jack to lock in shooting for the final weekend in October with the theatre and now we’re really ready to steam roll ahead.

Now we just have to hope that no-one else comes along and wants to hire the theatre for that weekend as well.

Fingers crossed.

Pre-Production: Organising Auditions; A Cautionary Tale

Operation: Playstation

This week has been entirely flat out for me. Not only did we lose a day to a three day weekend (trust me, I am not complaining about that in the slightest!), but my ‘normal’ nine-to-five job has kicked up a notch in the past two weeks and it’s all go go go at work as well as go go go with the film.

Mind you, that’s just how I like it.

As you know if you read my post earlier this week, we’ve started organising auditions for actors to find our perfect Abby, Max, Des and Lucy. Finding actors to work for free is a hard task but I completely love casting. I think it’s something about knowing that when someone walks into a room, they could be the person who is going to BE the Max I created in my head nearly a year ago. Or they could totally transform Lucy into someone who I hadn’t even thought that she was. Not to mention the kinds of people you meet in auditions – I don’t know if you know this, but people are fascinating. Especially actors. Actors have a kind of zing about them. They always seem to get along quite well with my imagination and I end up writing a film for them to be in.

Which is kind of exactly what happened on the last short film I wrote and directed. ‘Operation: Playstation’. I had met an actor through auditioning him for a role the year before. Dylan was amazing and I fought really hard to get him cast in the film, but in the end he looked too young for the part (casting is all about the right LOOK as well as good acting!). But the two of us stayed friends and one particular time, a year later, we met up for a hot chocolate and I asked him if he’d read a script I’d been working on. He read it right there in front of me (always a risky move for both parties) and I couldn’t stop smiling when he started laughing at different points – it was a comedy so that was the right reaction. He said he thought it was great and I told him that I wanted him to play the lead because I’d written the script with him in mind as the main role.

His eyes lit up and he immediately agreed. Thankfully.

With Dylan on board, I was confident that we’d be able to get the other roles fairly easily. After all, the main role of Jack was the character that the whole film hung on. As we moved forward in pre-production, I put the call out for actors. Admittedly, it was technically a ‘student’ film, but it was my graduate film and barely anyone else working in the crew was a student – I pulled favours with crew I’d professionally worked with to help me out. Deliberately downplaying the ‘student’ side of it (I was treating it as a professional short film, after all), the ad was up for ten minutes before I had my first application. Over the next 24 hours, I probably had around 50 actors apply for the various roles.

I sorted through the headshots, viewed showreels and read cover letters to see who I thought would be good to see. There were people with a lot of experience, people with not so much, but I wasn’t too bothered by the lack of experience – if they can do a good job then it doesn’t matter.

I replied to about 30 of those 50, asking them to come in for an audition.

Of those 30, 15 booked in times.

Of those 15, 4 showed up on the day.

Sobering, right? I don’t even remember anyone ringing to cancel their time – people just didn’t show up. I’d asked Dylan to come along to the auditions, so the majority of the day the two of us ended up watching videos on YouTube.

But of those 4, 2 were great.

So I offered them the roles.

After specifying the shooting dates on the casting call, on the audition information and confirming they were still available, one of them declined the role because she was in the middle of a three week holiday.

The other actor didn’t show up to rehearsals and never returned my calls or texts.

CRISIS. We have no cast, besides Dylan. I talk to Dylan about it, who is very aware of how close this is to turning into a car crash, when he says he can talk his mate into taking a role. He’s an actor too. Plus, Dyl’s girlfriend is an actress. Then I realised that I knew a group of people from high school who I’d done drama with who might be interested as well.

Between the two of us talking to people we knew, we found the cast we needed.

And you know what? The acting is the strongest part of the entire film. In every single role.

Before you ask, the film still needs to be graded (sorry guys!) and it’s currently at home in Australia feeling lonely and abandoned, so no, you can’t watch it online anywhere. But what this did do was LOWER MY EXPECTATIONS. Not in a bad way, in a realistic way.

‘With A Little Help From Our Friends’ has had about 90 applications for cast. Amazing. Because we’re restricted by time in the space, I whittled that down to 18 (which was incredibly difficult because there were so many who were dancing on the maybe line). Of that 18, 16 have booked in for auditions and an extra 1 has apologised because the time clashes with another project she’s rehearsing for.

I’m really happy with that hit rate so far. But I’m being realistic.

I’ll post a blog on Monday and let you know how it goes. And I’ll break down how I went about organising the auditions. I just wanted to post about how catastrophically wrong they can go – and you guys can say that it happened to a friend of a friend of yours and mean it.

Location, location, lo – what?

Hi all!

Sorry for the radio silence over the past few weeks. I’ve been busy gallavanting around the world with precious little time to post to the blog. However, all is not lost and you guys get a post today!

Whilst I’ve been away, Jack and Craig have been chasing up various bits and pieces. Craig is being very brave and attacking the budget and Jack has been politely accosting universities asking about permission to use their buildings for filming.

Locations are crucial to low budget films and short films particularly. I can always tell instantly that it’s someone’s bedroom dressed to look like an office or it’s a bathroom in a pokey flat that’s doubling for a school toilet block. The key to low budget filmmaking is production value. Just because you have no money, that doesn’t mean it has to look like you have no money. You can cheat so much on film. You just have to think laterally.

The other key thing I’ve found about locations and low budget filmmaking is that you want them close together. Ideally, you only want one location change for the entire shoot. Even better, no changes at all. It costs less money, it saves time and it creates much less stress on shoot day and there will be more than enough of that as it is. So be willing to compromise if you have to.

I’m not going to lie to you, blogosphere. This has been pretty tough. Jack is doing a superb job. Our locations are pretty simple – two classrooms, a library and something that looks like a main entrance to a university. We started brainstorming fairly widely – the script is set at a college, but we thought that we might be able to cheat a high school as one as we had access to one. We listed universities that had a film course that might be a tad more lenient when it came to requests to shoot. We had a list of about six or seven (helped immensely by Jack and Craig’s insider knowledge because I know nothing about London universities) and Jack started from that.

We’ve hit two main problems so far.

The first is money. Most places want to charge us a location fee that is generally over £500. One university wanted over £1,000! In a perfect world, we’d get a location for free. At the moment, both those figures are out of our price range. But, again, we will look at compromise. We haven’t done a recce on any locations yet. If there’s one that’s particularly perfect, we’ll figure out a way to meet the figure if we need to.

The second is that a lot of universities won’t allow us to shoot in their libraries. I don’t particularly understand why. At any rate, we were thinking about looking at a second location for the library but a location move on a shoot where we (in theory) don’t really need to move, I’m not entirely enthused about the idea of it. I’m confident we can find somewhere that will meet all our criteria. It’s simply a matter of digging deep enough to find the location gold or working out a compromise that will work for both shoot and script.

Wish us luck!

Any suggestions on how you handle location hunting? I’d love to hear what you guys think!

Moving Forward

Sorry the post is a little later than usual this week, I’ve been otherwise distracted with very good things that have very little to do with filmmaking (i.e. my family flying halfway across the world to see me). As a result, today’s post will be a short update on what’s going on with the film.

A little bit of the backstory, for those not quite up to date.

I wrote a film for a competition last year. It got shortlisted in that competition and a producer friend of mine had a read of the script, loved it and wanted to make it. We developed the script on and off for a few months, moving toward pre-production when, due to various reasons, he had to pull out. That’s about where we’re at with it at the moment.

As you may also be aware, if you’re regular readers of the blog, I went to Chris Jones’ Guerilla Filmmakers’ Masterclass earlier this month. It was a cornucopia of low/micro/no-budget filmmaking tips and tricks with some great examples from filmmakers who made their own way from making no budget shorts to multi-million dollar feature films. It was also a mecca for people who got inspired to make projects over the course of the weekend, many of whom I had the great fortune to meet. Because ‘With A Little Help From Our Friends’ was in limbo, whenever anyone asked me what I was working on, I’d mention it and where I was at with it. As a result, I’ve had a few people put their hands up to help out.

So in a few weeks, a couple of us are getting together for a production meeting to discuss roles, how to tackle pre-production and where we go from here. I’m looking forward to it – it’s a pretty enthusiastic team of people which makes up for any particular lack of experience and I reckon once we start moving forward, the ball won’t stop rolling until the final film is locked.

I’m pretty excited that we’re still going ahead and I’ll have some pretty nice filmmaking posts for you guys on the horizon. It’ll also be really good to get another short under my belt because I haven’t made one in a couple of years.

Watch this space!

The Changing of the Guard

How lucky are you guys? You get TWO blog posts this week!

This one is a bit of a sad post, really. After chatting to Oli, my producer as to whether or not Friends would actually be able to go ahead in July/August with me at the helm and him keeping me on track, he told me that, for various reasons, he’s going to have to take himself off the project. I totally understand why he’s done it and I appreciate the fact that he told me about it (as I’ve been burnt in the past by producers simply cutting off all forms of contact and leaving me to figure out that the lack of response to calls or emails means that the project is no longer going ahead).

So now, I have to move back a step. I have to figure out where I go from here. Ideally, I’m looking for another producer who won’t mind me stealing a co-producing credit alongside the writer/director ones. People have suggested that I produce it myself, but I have a feeling that I’d end up writing/directing/producing/editing the entire thing and it’d all fall to pieces because it lacks perspective or that flash of something new that fresh eyes bring to projects.

In a way, it’s perfect timing. The Guerilla Filmmakers’ Masterclass starts tomorrow night (I think there’s still a handful of tickets available and you can use my discount code: PARKER) and I’m confident that I’ll meet a few people around the place who are eager to get things kicked off and started. Here I am with a film that pre-production can be jumped into straight away.

I’m hoping to have a chat to the DoP Oli tracked down for me about what might happen next, which is something else to add to the list of things to follow up on. There’s still a lot of work to be done, but if I can hunt out some like-minded people who are hungry to get something made, pre-production might be kicked up a gear and we could be off and racing!

For the moment, I’m focusing on writing a synopsis of a new project for a competition – submission next week – and starting to work on character overhauls of my rom-com feature. I had this great moment the other day when one of the characters I’ve been grappling with to try to develop started playing in my mind’s eye. Curious, I watched her and she showed me this magnificent character moment which helped to re-establish herself as who she was supposed to be in the next draft instead of who she had been. I’m restraining myself from writing it because I need to focus on the synopsis first, but I’ll be excited to get back into the rom-com – as well as (hopefully) pre-production on Friends!

Hope you’re having a sparkly Thursday!

A Bit of a Speed Bump

It’s been a bit quiet on the blogging front for the past week or so due to lack of internet access and other various bits and pieces that are bubbling away in the real world which keep getting in the way of my virtual world. I hope that you’re all having wonderful fun whichever world you live in.

I, however, have hit a bit of a speed bump.

Things have been happening behind the scenes that I haven’t yet been blogging about. We were in talks with a Director of Photography (DOP) to come on board for the project and I had been daydreaming about locations and soundies (although I always daydream about locations and soundies). But as nothing was really concreted in as yet, I thought I’d stick with blogging about writing for the moment and as things got rolling closer and closer to production, I’d have more production-like issues, excitements and let downs to tell you all about.

Last week I got an email from Oli, my producer. He told me that, as all good producers do, he’d filled his plate entirely for the next few months. With various other things going on, it meant that he couldn’t get around to seriously concentrating on ‘With A Little Help From Our Friends’ until July. He wanted to give me the option of taking it to another producer as he understood I would want to get the film made and it wasn’t fair on me to be waiting on him.

So now I have a bit of a dilemma.

I wrote ‘With A Little Help From Our Friends’ nearly a year ago. In the space of a year, I cannot even begin to describe how much I’ve learnt about writing and how much I feel that I’ve improved. I read the current draft of ‘Friends’ last night, having felt in February that it was as tight as it could possibly be, and found myself cutting scenes, tightening dialogue and making it stronger again.

However, I do want to make something. But I kind of feel that myself, as a writer, can write something better. That’s not to say I don’t love my ‘Friends’ script any less, I simply feel that if we were going to wait until July to shoot, in the interim I could write something new, fresh and sparkly to create a new excitement to run with. I don’t know if I’d be able to find another producer to come on board and really kick things into gear over the next month.

So I’m torn between plugging away at ‘Friends’ or writing something new.

Watch this space.

Do you remember that Guerilla Filmmakers’ Masterclass I mentioned a couple of weeks ago? Well, I managed to nick a discount code! The price is £119 for the weekend, but if you submit PARKER as the discount code as payment, you’ll get it knocked back to £65!

The things I do for you guys.

Seriously though, it’ll be a fantastic weekend and with the discount it’s an absolute steal. All the details are here. Go and get a ticket!