Improvisationising.

Being a writer or filmmaker means that you can do this really awesome thing. I don’t mean making a profound movie that touches people’s hearts – although that is really ace. I don’t mean getting to work with amazing cast and crew and all working together to make something beautiful – although that rocks.

I mean being able to sit around and watch loads of movies and call it research.

It is seriously one of the best things ever. What’s even better, for me, is that a few projects that I’m working on at the moment are romantic comedies. So I get to watch a lot of good ones that I can learn what to do right and a lot of terrible ones which are almost better to watch because it’s easier to figure out what they’ve done that you’d do much much differently.

I’m working on a feature film concept at the moment with the effervescent Anton and we meandered out to the cinema last week to see ‘Like Crazy‘ as research for the film. This actually was a film for research, as we’d heard that the ‘falling in love’ section worked really really well. If we’d been going to see something like ‘The Artist‘, it might’ve been less research and more ‘research’ – although, a silent rom-com, anyone?

The cinema was completely empty which was great for us as it meant that we could easily talk through the film and pull it apart and figure out as we went what we liked and what we didn’t. But about ten seconds in to the first scene where the leads have any proper screen time together, I tilted my head to one side, paused thoughtfully for a second and said ‘This is improvised.’

And it was. As was most of the film.

I don’t know if it did it any favours. There were definitely three massive story beats missing so it seemed to skip over huge spaces of time in the story. It also meant that some scenes felt like they were over really quickly or too long or hitting the same beat again and again. There’s a scene where they’re arguing and Anna keeps repeating the same line of dialogue over and over again in different ways. The scene stalled and it didn’t really make sense in the context of the story, either.

This scene really sticks in my mind because it doesn’t work. There was no build up to the height of the argument, the pair of them just kind of jump to the main point of the scene – where she accuses him of having feelings for someone else.

I think that this can often happen when all the actors improvising are thinking about is the core plot point of the scene and not the build up. Arguments can often be fantastic scenes to write, to act and to film when they are done dynamically. One way that I like to do this is before the argument explodes, one of the characters is trying NOT to get into the argument, even though it’s brimming under the surface. They contain themselves for as long as they possibly can and the other character is completely unaware, until the argument bursts into being at the smallest thing.

This is a really great way to tackle improvising arguments with actors and you can get some wonderful character moments in them. If you tell both actors what the core plot point of the scene is – she accuses him about having feelings for someone else – then take each actor aside privately and give them direction that the other doesn’t know about. For example, tell her that she wants to confront him about it but doesn’t want to make a scene. Tell him that he wants to go out for pizza because he’s organised a surprise dinner for their anniversary. Then you create a moment that is driven by the actors surprising each other – she surprises him with the argument and he surprises her by insisting that they should go out and get pizza. The more he blocks the argument with dinner, the more she’ll attack him and the more she’ll attack him, the more he’ll block until eventually, one of them will break and you’ll hit the high point of the scene – even if you don’t know what that high point will reveal.

You don’t need actors to do this. You can do this as a writing exercise too. Place restrictions on your characters a scene to see how they react under pressure. It doesn’t even need to be an argument, although it is often a surprising and fast way to get character and exposition across. Try writing a scene like the one above with your two main characters and see what you get out of it.

I think the key with improvising is that it should be done in the rehearsal/development stages. We played with improvisation during the rehearsals of ‘With A Little Help From Our Friends’ and the film is definitely the better for it – some moments became even bigger and more hilarious and the improvised moments became a part of the film, a part I wrote into the script which we shot on the day. I had to tweak it a little to make it work, but adding those improvised moments to the structure of the main film definitely gave it a little more sparkle.

It’s very gutsy to improvise a whole film, mostly just because that actors are often not writers. They can craft amazing characters and create wonderful moments, but the doesn’t make a story. However, if they’ve got the skeleton of a fantastic script underneath them, the improvised pieces become beautiful flourishes on a fantastic film and not a film that had so much potential but didn’t quite get there.

The Countdown: Five Days Until We Shoot

It’s Monday already? Gosh, where did last week go? We’ve been busy in the ‘With A Little Help From Our Friends’ production office (and by that, I mean we’re all working out of our respective bedrooms) and suddenly we’re five days out from shooting.

This week is out last chance to get everything in place before Saturday morning. The list isn’t too formidable, but that’s ignoring anything that will go horribly wrong in the next few days. We’ve had a few hiccups but nothing disastrous as yet (touch wood) and we’ve managed to bounce back from that and keep the train moving.

So, where are we at?

We’ve currently raised $1771 toward our budget which is completely amazing considering we thought we’d struggle to hit $1000. Our budget is $2000, so if you’re still interested in helping us out, go and check out the campaign (it’s running for another two and a half weeks). We’re so stunned by the support so thank you so much to everyone who has helped out so far!

We had our second and final rehearsal yesterday which was pretty exciting. It was great to see how much the story and characters have developed since the first rehearsal a few weeks ago and the script is really starting to come into its own. The cast seemed to be having great fun, judging by the explosions of laughter that erupted after the end of each run through and I must admit that I lost it a few times during a scene and had to compose myself so that I could actually focus on the performances (see below for some ace photos!).

Now we’re all about the shoot. Craig is in charge of call sheets and schedules, Jack’s liasing with the locations and I’ve got to finalise shot lists as well as make sure we’ve got all the props and costume we need. This is the week to be organised, definitely, as this is the time when things’ll start to go wrong. But as I told Craig when he called me to tell me that the harddrives we were going to buy for the shoot had leapt up £200 in price because of the floods in Thailand – if nothing goes wrong, then you’ve forgotten something.

Bring on the shoot!

Lucy (Carolina Main) tells Abby (Victoria Smith) why dating Max is a bad idea.

Max (Markus Copeland) tells Des about how he met Abby.

Des (Danny Mahoney) tries to convince Max (Markus Copeland) he’s wrong.

Alli Parker (director) chats to Markus and Danny.

Abby (Victoria Smith), Lucy (Carolina Main), Max (Markus Copeland) and Des (Danny Mahoney).

Of Learning Lines and an Abundance of Laughter: First Rehearsal

Sunday morning dawned chilly and frosty but it didn’t deter me – it was our first rehearsal day for With A Little Help From Our Friends.

First rehearsals are pretty special things. You get the cast coming together for the first time. You often get the main heads of department showing up as well to stick their noses in and say G’Day. You get to see how well everyone gets along with each other. How well the lovers are going to be lovers, how well the villains are going to be villains. The first rehearsal is the first time you can really start to feel the weight of a film and judge exactly how much fun it’s going to be to make.

With A Little Help From Our Friends is going to be ridiculous fun.

In between everyone (except Markus) showing up on time, the immediate laughter once we all sat down in a group to say hello to each other to the roaring laughter as we rehearsed various scenes, WALHFOF is coming along really really well. I’ve been completely spoiled with an amazing cast and I’m already looking forward to the next set of rehearsals to really dive into the characters and explore the relationships between the four characters.

We’ve got a few weeks in between rehearsals now, so we’re thinking about various things separately – character, costumes, hair and make up etc – and I’ll be chatting to the actors via email to see what we can come up with individually before bringing it forward at the next rehearsal – which is the weekend before the shoot.

The other thing we’re considering doing is crowd-funding a section of the budget. The key is finding a model that works – some of the campaigns that are presented badly are 200% funded, some that are beautifully presented are struggling to get the full amount pledged. Something else to think about, at any rate.

I leave you with a few snaps of the rehearsal, courtesy of Craig. Enjoy!

Alli chats to the actors at the beginning of the rehearsal.

From left to right: Carolina Main (Lucy), Victoria Smith (Abby), Markus Copeland (Max), Danny Mahoney (Des) and the back of Alli’s head.

Markus and Danny

Carolina and Victoria

Markus exercises his angst face.

Abby and Max skipping into the sunset (improvised).

Markus and Danny take a break.

Lucy gets up in Abby’s face.

Updates!

Sorry for the radio silence over the past two weeks, but I’m back and ready to go!

A quick update on where we’re at with the film:

We’ve had to shift the shoot date by two weeks, due to a couple of little things popping up, so we are now not shooting until November. This is both a good thing and a bad thing – I’d love to get the shoot over and done with already but an extra two weeks in pre-production probably won’t hurt. The danger with having a long pre-production is that you lose enthusiasm because it feels like nothing is getting done. I definitely don’t want to shift the shoot dates again, so cross your fingers that it all comes off all right.

Our first rehearsal is coming up next Sunday which should be exciting because the cast get to meet each other for the first time and we can have a serious play around with the script and see if we can make it even stronger. It’ll also be really interesting to workshop the characters with the actors as well as see how they all bounce off each other to test the chemistry between them all. I’m looking forward to getting all our creative heads into the one room and seeing what we come up with together.

We’re also looking into potentially crowd-funding a portion of the budget to help us get it over the line. The film is a pretty cheap short film as it stands and a little extra money would be great (as always), so that’s an avenue that we’re thinking about exploring as well.

We also need to consider where we can access lights fairly inexpensively and am starting to think about post-production too (yes, it’s always better to consider everything, including post, during pre-production).

I’m off to enjoy my Sunday, but I’ll continue with the Audition Saga this week and round that off, just in time to start talking about rehearsals! Yay!