August, 2002

The Car – Finding A Police Station

August 29th, 2002 August 29th, 2002
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This script needs a police station lobby with a counter and ideally wood-panelling to look olde worlde. Back when I was writing for the local newspaper, I visited several schools and a couple of them had entrance halls which, now I think about it, would be absolutely perfect. Forget about the non-phone-call-returning Jane Beddell, I hit the internet and yellow pages for a list of local schools but it’s not quite what I need. What I need is a map.

You see, I seem to have this semi-eidetic recall. I can remember more or less where one of these schools is but without a map showing local schools, I can’t pinpoint it. And it goes without saying that I can’t remember the name. The visuals are in my head but not the words. Frustrated with the limitations of the internet, I get in the car and drive to the place I remember, a few minutes from home. And there it is. Verulam School. Wood panelled entrance lobby, complete with counter and cluttered office behind. Perfect.

It’s the holidays so there’s no one around but a whiteboard is up with the caretaker’s mobile number and a phone is on the counter. I call him and tell him who I am and what I want. Ron Fox comes down and, get this, he says, “No problem. You can do that. Certainly! Pleased to help.” Un-cuffing-believable. Me, a complete stranger wanting to make a low budget film on his premises (I tactfully didn’t mention money). Then would it be okay for us put some ‘wanted’ and ‘missing cat’ posters up? Sure, if we use blue-tack. What about the huge trophy cabinets? Can we dress them? “They’re on wheels. I can roll them out of the way.” Marvellous.

So I push my luck further because I saw, out of the corner of my eye, a very nice sports car parked outside. In fact, it was a beautiful sports car. “That is really perfect. I’m really pleased,” I say to Ron, enthusiastically. “The only thing we need now is a sports car and I’m there.” “My boss has a sports car,” says Ron casually, as if I haven’t seen it. “If you like, I can give him a call.” I like.

Chris Giles, the school finance manager, appears and says, even more unbelievably, yes, sure we can use his Westfield–a green and yellow copy of the Lotus 7–the car which appeared in the cult TV show The Prisoner. [Westfields look like , by the way.]

Separating the men from the boys

Now here’s the real art of producing a film: I ask Chris if I can take a closer look at the car now to think about camera angles and get some ideas for filming. Sure, no problem. We go outside and have a look and I encourage him to talk about it, which he is happy to do. He says the actor would even be insured to drive it. And then he happens to mention something–you have to be fairly small to fit in the driver’s seat and get your legs under the wheel to reach the pedals. “Try it, but I don’t think you’d fit,” says Chris. I do, and I don’t.

Aha.

Blair, the actor who is going to play Charlie, is about as tall as me; just over six foot. My first thought is that this is the perfect car but Blair won’t fit. I need to change actor or just wedge him in so he can’t move. I get home and call Blair. Blair, who doesn’t have his answerphone on (hallelujah!) is indeed four inches bigger in the waist than I am, so no indeed, he won’t be able to drive a Westfield.

However… Blair also has a confession to make. He’s appearing in a play in Southampton, which is several hundred miles away, around the filming dates. Which makes life a bit tricky for him…

It comes to this. Blair recommends a friend of his, who is much shorter but equally talented, to play the part of Charlie and then everyone is happy.

Now imagine if I hadn’t asked questions and got Chris talking about his beloved car some more? There are often times during making a film where you can never have too much information. Plus, half the fun is learning new things. Research is a huge key to film production because it sets up trains of lateral thought which lead to problems being solved.

Oh, the simple insanity of it all. Camera and stock next. And perhaps a better village.

****

It comes to this. Blair recommends a friend of his, who is much shorter but equally talented, to play the part of Charlie and then everyone is happy…

…Of course, it would be too easy if Blair’s friend was actually available on any of the shooting dates or the rehearsal day, wouldn’t it. Far too easy. Much more challenging to suddenly find you have no lead actor and only a few days to cast someone.

Oh, yes. Much more character building (no pun intended but credit taken) to try to win a sandcastle competition by building as close to the water as possible and finding that, as fast as you build up one intricate section, another is getting washed away by the waves.

We thrive on challenge.

The Car Moves Further

August 27th, 2002 August 27th, 2002
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For those interested in the process of zero-budget film production (everyone else should skip this)…

Why production is a nightmare

Today starts with a visit to Trestle Theatre Company’s new premises, a converted church in St Albans. The objective: to get a rehearsal space for Saturday 21st September. Syd meets me and shows me around. It’s a really great space. We discuss things like running a short film festival right there, in the theatre. Ultra cool. Then we come to the price for a rehearsal room: 50. Umm… “I’ll get back to you,” I say.

Next stop: the Royal Mail sorting office to send off another batch of videos for various festivals and competitions. I always go to the sorting office because (a) they stay open late and (b) they sort out all the sticking stamps on my packages for me. Kind of like my private mail room/distribution department.

Packages sent, it’s off to Buckinghamshire, the neighbouring county to Hertfordshire (which is home to St Albans), to explore more villages for potential filming of The Car. An hour later, I arrive and driving around reveals… nothing. Well, a few nice tucked away corners but without a village shop, pub or police station which are all in the script. Scratch Buckinghamshire. I drive back through Tring.

On the way home, I stop to buy a new tyre (with a Y) for the car which eats up 50 immediately. No way that’s going on a rehearsal room, then. Down the road is the Pendley Court Theatre, which I thought had a great foyer area. We could easily dress it to look like a police station lobby. I stop to see if I can get permission to film there. I ask for the elusive facilities coordinator, one Jane Beddell. She remains elusive. No result.

Rehearsal rooms

Back home. Phone bashing, the heart and soul of film production, now eats up what’s left of the day. I call the Quakers who have a library they rent out for 13. Not on Saturday. “We’re cleaning,” they say. I call my friend Jo at the Maltings Arts Theatre. “You can’t go to Trestle,” she says, “They’re our competitors for this sort of thing.” I negotiate Jo down from 40 to 20. One drawback: she can only offer 28th September. Back to the phones.

None of the actors are around to confirm whether they can do the 28th. Of course. Answerphones at home. Answerphones on their mobile lines. Answerphones everywhere. I call Jane Beddell again. It’s an answerphone naturally. I leave a message. She doesn’t return the call but goes home which is incredibly irritating because she only works afternoons a few days a week.

Back to the phones. Ringing around I finally get through to the facilities manager for the school across the road from where I live. He can do me a room for three hours for 17 on the 21st. Result! I call Syd and tell him 50 is beyond my means, sorry, but I’ll work on a programme for a short film festival and get back to him. I also pass on details for the coordinating body for local film clubs and societies as he’s interested in setting one up.

Delegate, delegate, delegate

So far so good. Anela, the prospective production designer, hasn’t been in touch yet but I’ve got in touch with Fiona who did props and wardrobe for me on Fate & Fortune. She’s definitely interested in getting involved so I bump her status up to Co-Producer and send her a script with a short list of five things I really need sorting out:

- get an overview of what props and wardrobe are
needed and where she could get them from (overall
budget around 200-250 max)
 
- think about styles for the above (although I'll
discuss with Anela too)
 
- draft call sheets and location directions (including
maps) and send them out (I'll provide a link to a good
map website, plus money for postage and envelopes)
 
- make a list of who and what are needed on each day
(you won't know this yet, of course).  Shooting dates
will be October 4th, 5th and 6th with a possible pick
up day for extra stuff in the week following.
 
- keep track of any money spent on the above (so she
can get it back off me--please don't spend too much!)

Simon the writer emails to say catering is in hand and to ask what equipment I want him to try borrowing for free from AFL Television. I bash out a list of lights, tracking, sound kit and cables. I hope he remembers to ask them if we can have their van too. Then, a lightbulb moment. A real brainwave–I call sound recordist Rob Miles, whose DAT machine I keep borrowing. Yes, he’s available, as far as he knows. Great. I have a sound man!

The shrinking window

Once you set dates and start telling people what they are, film production becomes like a snowball gathering momentum and you can only steer it a little one way or another by nudging it. It grows and has a life of its own until you get to postproduction where there’s a danger of it melting and disappearing before your eyes if you steered any of it the wrong way.

Windows of opportunity start shrinking because of other people’s schedules. For instance, I know two of the main actors won’t be around on the Saturday (October 5th) and I need them for the police station interior. That totally narrows down which day we can do that scene on and therefore I’m limited to only finding locations available on that day to film in. And more, I’m limited to locations which aren’t going to charge.

Christine, the make-up lady calls to let me know she’s keeping the three filming dates free and will be working (paid) the rest of the week, so my options shrink some more. A make up person is important for two reasons, by the way. One, she makes the actors look great (or dishevelled or whatever you need). And two, she makes the actors feel special, as well as keeping them happy between takes when lights are being reset.

Pull focus

Day over, I fall into the armchair with a selection of junk food and chocolates, toxifying my poor body while watching Man Bites Dog and The Mothman Prophecies. I recommend both, although the former isn’t for the faint hearted. The latter inspires me–obliquely because this isn’t something they use in a similar context–to use smoke for light diffusion and atmosphere in my police station scene.

Another day done. Another day of making it all happen.

World Premiere In Georgia

August 27th, 2002 August 27th, 2002
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…So it will be a Delaware premiere.

Scratch that

Dragon*Con 2002–“America’s largest annual convention for fans of science fiction, fantasy and horror, comics and art, games and computers, animation, science, music, television and films”–will be screening Fate & Fortune this Saturday (August 31st) in their independent short film festival. 7pm, kicking off the Sublime Fantasies section. So it’s an Atlanta, Georgia premiere.

The rest of the convention looks pretty awesome if you’re of a sci-fi/fantasy/comicbook etc mind (which I am).

World Premiere In Delaware

August 26th, 2002 August 26th, 2002
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Fate & Fortune has been accepted for the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival running from October 23 to November 10.

Still accepted, but meanwhile Wilmington’s first independent film festival in Delaware has emailed to say they want it too. So it will be a Delaware premiere. Fort Lauderdale are fine with that, so the film will be at both. I like this being in demand; my grin is even wider now.

Life Goes On

August 21st, 2002 August 21st, 2002
Posted in It's life, Jim...
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Dave was buried this week. Work is full of noise and bustle and the busy busy ohso urgent, oh sour gent noises, musthave rightnow-ness of television. But Dave won’t be coming into work again. His clear blue eyes won’t be holding anyone’s gaze this week nor will he be responding to anyone with his, “Well, that’s just the thing, isn’t it?” That was just the thing. Now… now there’s no Dave.

The church was packed with more than two hundred people on Thursday afternoon as Ed, Dave’s partner for the past 17 years, stoicly stood up and bid farewell to the special person he’d shared his life with. A few friends remarked afterwards how liberated the church in Highgate was to openly acknowledge gay couples and welcome them to the congregation. More friends were simply lost for words. The sudden shock of a healthy man dying without warning, a man who was obviously loved and respected by a lot of people.

Dave was at work last Tuesday. He and Ed had just completed the purchase of a house in Turkey and, aged 41, Dave was planning on retiring in a couple of years, moving out there for most if not all of the year. Tuesday. Dave went home at the end of a typical day, if there is such a thing. He went to bed. And he never got up. A massive brain haemorrhage, they said. Hospital, life support, a heart attack and another haemorrhage. They said he wasn’t ever going to recover so, in a decision that no one would really want to make, they decided to switch the life support off.

A week later, we walked down the steep hill to Highgate Cemetary, sunshine peeking out from light cloud cover. The cemetary is a tangle of plants and headstones, uniquely beautiful, quiet, peaceful. Tucked away in one of London’s nicest villages. Karl Marx, the father of socialism is buried there, as are many many foreign nationals. Dave came from Staffordshire and only the Turkish dreamhouse we saw every day on his computer, his choice of Windows wallpaper, came from abroad. His family wept as the coffin was lowered down between the low hanging trees and the clergyman spoke the words of earth ashes and dust.

I wish I’d had something to say at the time, some words of comfort, a happy memory, perhaps. But the truth is Dave was an amiable colleague who I barely knew yet who always struck me as one of the good people. Perhaps that’s what I’ll write in the book of condolence. Otherwise, for me, death–all death, not just this one–still remains a mystery in many ways, necessary yet inexplicable. Something that on some level I try to comprehend through almost comicbook visualisation. Personification. A hollow spirit in a black clock carrying a sickle in a skeletal hand. Or something like that. The unreal made real.

Going to the funeral made it seem more real, somehow. An acknowledgement of the reality of death, of Dave’s parting from this world, our world. It comes to us all, of course. Yet you don’t expect to walk home one day, fit and young and full of life, and never see another sunrise. So we acknowledged that Dave has gone, not on holiday or on a long vacation, but into the ground, in a place of green tranquility to sleep the longest sleep of all. And if, perchance to dream, to dream peaceful soul resting dreams of a life well lived.

World Premiere In Florida

August 21st, 2002 August 21st, 2002
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Fate & Fortune has been accepted for the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival running from October 23 to November 10.

They said, “The festival director really really liked it.”

If my grin were any wider my jaw would fall off.

Three Days For The Price Of One

August 20th, 2002 August 20th, 2002
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Noticing that the hire company is only open Monday to Thursday, the prudent filmmaker schedules the shoot for Friday, Saturday and Sunday. He then books the camera for Friday only, knowing that he won’t be able to return it until Monday. Thus a saving of largesumsofmoney is achieved (ie. 200 instead of 600).

This in turn helps with hiring a more expensive camera, the Arri 16SRIII, which can vary the film speed while shooting. This means motion can be speeded up or slowed down during a shot. This inspires the filmmaker to consider emulating the John Woo-style revelation technique for a couple of key scenes.

What? Yes. It means following action in a fixed shot size then whip-panning with a speed change while simultaneously widening the shot to reveal more to the audience. It will take a bit of rehearsal to coordinate the action and start/stop panning with the start/stop frame-rate slowdown, but should be doable.

Still no sign of the Porsche, though…

****

09:10am: Out-smugged! The filmmaker finds that he is available on the Friday in question to shoot The Car. What’s more, he’s around on the Thursday to pick the camera. Gleefully, he picks up the phone and calls the hire company–and gets an answer machine. The people with the camera have gone on holiday and closed their offices until September 2nd.

Smug comes before the wump.

News In Brief

August 18th, 2002 August 18th, 2002
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Location location location

Pendley Court Theatre’s box office
looks set to appear as a police
station lobby in short film, The
Car
after producers successfully
contacted the theatre company this
weekend.

Cast of thousands

Four talented and experienced actors
have agreed to appear in The Car
–but it’s not two in the front, two
in the back. That would be elephants
in a Mini.

Stage and screen veteran Blair Plant
will appear as Charlie, a driver who
takes the law into his own hands when
his prized Porsche disappears in a
sleepy village.

Multi-award winning Jack Wood is to
be the policeman who gives me more
grief than help, and they’re supported
by Doreen Steward as The Old Lady
and Sarah Strachan as Young Woman.

Ready for their close ups

Professional television make-up artist
Christine Nicklin will be on hand to
make sure everyone looks their best
in the latest Ascalon Films drama.

“I hope I’ll be able to do any blood
effects this time,” commented an
enthusiastic Christine, who was
disappointed when a last-minute
decision was made to scrap pointed
ears she’d prepared for a car salesperson
in a previous film.

Lights! Camera!

Negotiations are underway with AFL
Television to provide a van load of
shooting kit free of charge for The
Car.
Producers are hopeful to
repeat the pattern of previous films
where AFL have provided both the
electrician and the electrics for
more than just a spark of creativity.
Pun hunters remain on high alert after
that last weak shock.

Who ate all the pies?

Large pie-holes could be shut around free
food if screenwriters from Goober Scripts
follow through on their promise to
provide catering for cast and crew
members during the three day shoot
for The Car. “Yeah, no problem,”
said one Simon, “we can do that.”
Magic eight balls says, “Wait and see.”

The Car – First Recce

August 14th, 2002 August 14th, 2002
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Lionel, the writer, turns up at around midday and we drive into the Hertfordshire countryside seeking the ideal village. The ideal village will have parking for our crew and equipment van, a village shop where a sports car can pull up outside, space in front of the shop for our hero to walk a dozen paces from the car to the entrance and various photogenic qualities.

Eventually we end up in Aldbury. Aldbury is the ubiquitous Hertfordshire village. It has a pond in the middle with some medieval stocks to one side, a couple of pubs, a tea room, a picturesque church and town hall–and a ton of tourists. Yes, Aldbury is one of *the* destinations for day-trippers coming out this way, so it’s always packed. That’s the major drawback.

Apart from that, everything else is a plus, so we stop to drink Badger’s IPA in one of the pubs. The sun shines, birds sing. Life is good. I go through the script with Lionel telling him I’m less interested in shots of the car than in developing the characters with the actors. That means the village, our primary location, is more important than finding picturesque country lanes.

Reading through the script a bit more, I realise we’ll need quite a few graphic design elements. Forms, a poster, a magazine cover, closing credits. Lionel says he can do all of these on the Mac, so that’s sorted and I go to have a look to see if I can frame a shot of the country lane through the old stocks. Perfect. We drive onwards to Tring to look for a nice police station exterior.

On the way, we pass Pendley Court Theatre. “We should stop there,” I suggest. “They probably have a ticket office or something we could dress up as the police station interior. And as they do amateur dramatics they might be sympathetic to us making a film.” Lionel says, “Good idea.” and we resolve to come back that way.

We also pass Tring railway station, which means London based actors and crew can get there really easily. Bonus. But once in Tring, when we eventually locate the police station, the exterior is rather bland and there’s nowhere to park a car. Especially for an overnight period when I want to do a time lapse sequence. No good. So we head back to the theatre.

The theatre is locked but looking through the window we can see the lobby is absolutely ideal for what’s needed. The doors are locked but I can dig out a phone number and contact them later. It also looks like we might be able to dress the outside a bit to make it look like a police station exterior too. If that’s possible, I think we’re in business. Show business.

Back home, I complete casting by phoning an actress friend of many years, Sarah, who jumps at the chance. “It’s funny you should call,” she says, “I’ve been doing loads of film and television recently.” I remind her of the ghost stories we made years ago and we crack up laughing. “Send me a script,” she says, “I’m up for it.”

So far, so good. Next I need to call Anela, the production designer, and try to find some 16mm stock at a ridiculously cheap price. Oh, and a camera. Must have a camera. Pendley Theatre’s contact is away until Friday, which comes as no surprise, does it? Now, where’s my producer?

Smoke And Mirrors

August 12th, 2002 August 12th, 2002
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Here we all are, admiring our own reflections in the shiny bright mirror of cyberspace–“It’s all about me!”–while elsewhere, less smuggy more smoggy asia’s pollution seems to be obscuring a huge chunk of the planet in a filthy cloud the size of a continent (yes, really that big!). And in another place, Robert Mugabe–no doubt inspired by our own greed–calls Tony Blair a terrorist while stealing farm land and giving it to his relatives.

Real life reflects internet discussion boards: “You!” “No, you!”

Sometimes you just have to stop and ask, what’s really important?

I watched Chocolat at the weekend and was warmed by the simple yet charming message of this film: we all live together. We’re all part of the community. In a sense, that includes the global community of humanity everywhere. It’s important not only to embrace our differences but also to work together. Human beings enjoy that sense of belonging which comes from warmth and acceptance. It nurtures and supports us, helps us grow.

****

Side note: on the pollution story, eleven years ago Mount Pinatubo erupted in the Phillipines spewing up a cloud of sulfates and other nasties which have been sitting around in the upper atmosphere all this time. Beware of news agencies claiming the latest haze is totally the result of man-made pollution. Partially, yes, but not exclusively.

It’s the World Summit on Sustainable Development this week and journalists have got to get stories out of it. And politicians have got to generate Big Important stories if they’re going to get themselves re-elected. There’s always someone with an axe to grind.

I love NASA. And the internet.