August, 2002

The Car Pre-Production

August 12th, 2002 August 12th, 2002
Posted in Film making
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The saga continues for this new production, The Car. I placed an advert in the New Producer’s Alliance newsletter last week to try to get someone else to do the production work–basically making sure everything cast, crew, props, equipment, etc is in the right place at the right time for filming. The newsletter doesn’t come out until September, though, and I’ll actually be away when it does so that’s not very helpful.

I call around to cast actors I want rather than trying the writers’ suggestion, “Let’s get big names!” Yeah, right guys. And who is going to do this? You? You are actually going to make the calls and find the people? Let me guess. Hmmm. I’m thinking perchance no. They mean well and I love them to bits but I just don’t think it will happen.

So I brush that aside, ask them pretty please if they could sort out some kind of catering and call an actor who I think is really great, Blair Plant, formerly of Hull Truck Theatre Co and who regularly appears on TV. I ask him if he’d like to play the lead role of Charlie. He sounds interested so I email him a script. Then I call Jack Wood who was Fate in Fate & Fortune. He also sounds interested so a script is posted to him.

That leaves me two actors to find and I start realising that some of these people are going to want expenses. That means that I need to keep their days down to a minimum in order to keep my non-existent budget down. I call Lyn Fernee who appeared as a clubber in Last Train and would have been the lead actress but for her height. Answering machine. I leave a message.

Finally I dig around and come up with the name ‘Dorrie’ for the sweet old lady character. She was in a commercial I shot about six years ago appearing as a sweet old lady. Typecasting, I know. The commercial was never shown because the two proprietors of the computer company, which operated from a cubby hole in a cubicle farm, vanished into thin air with a lot of their clients’ money.

After some enquiries, Dorrie turns out to be Doreen Steward and I find I have her phone number so I ring. She’s there. I remind her who I am and she remembers, which is good, so I tell her what I’m planning. “Let me guess,” she says, “you’d like me to play the part of a little old lady.” I admit that, yes, it is something like that. “Well, I haven’t acted for a long time, you know,” she warns me. “I’ve been directing theatre for the past thirty years and I don’t really appear. I’m not sure I can learn lines.”

Having assured Dorrie that she won’t actually have any lines, I feel like this is a winner and I put a script in an envelope for her. I remember something in the back of my mind about Andy, the DoP, hating the Company of Ten–the theatre group Dorrie is part of–and make a mental note to tell him to keep his big mouth shut. If I use him. Which I’m not sure I will.

Finally, I get hold of Sandhya, the clapper-loader, and she good-humouredly agrees to join the crew, “As long as I’m not doing anything else.” Like paid work. This isn’t totally helpful as it’s not a total commitment, but it’s a start and another script is dispatched. Pete, my photographer buddy, promises to ask his cousin–who works at a Porsche dealership–for a flash car for us to use and I feel like I’m making progress.

Next thing I need: location location location. Wednesday is pencilled in for recce’s. More soon.

Plus a change…

August 10th, 2002 August 10th, 2002
Posted in Making the News
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Press cutting attached to a letter to the Watford Observer, December 12th 1993

The Piano (15) - Take away 
the ebony, ivory, strings, Holly Hunter, 
Harvey Keitel and Sam Neill, and you're 
left with a big wooden box (more or less).
 
The Secret Garden (U) - Someone 
forgot the golden rule: never act with 
children or plants.
 
The Snapper (15) - Alternatively 
described as (a) a fish, (b) a photographer, 
or (c) based on a Booker-prize winning novel.  
Take your pick.

****

Letter to the Watford Observer, December 12th 1993

Dear Mrs White [Go section editor],

I enclose 3 typical entries from this week’s Film Notes written by Keith Jefferies. None of them gives any information about the films; Mr Jefferies prefers instead to indulge in jokes of indescribable feebleness.

Do you think this matchless rubbish serves any useful purpose? It is baffling to those not interested in films and irritating to those who are. The annoying thing is that a proper guide, also indicating where the film in question is showing, would be genuinely useful.

Yours sincerely,

Peter Found

ps. The Snapper is not, as Mr Jefferies appears to believe, a booker-prize winning novel. Its author recently won the prize for another book.

****

Watford Observer ‘Go’ section, dateline Friday December 17th, 1993

Addams Family Values (PG) - Disturbing, 
amusing and politically incorrect.  The 
dead guys win.
 
Aladdin (U) - Arabian adventure animated 
by Walt Disney.  The hero wins.
 
Demolition Man (15) - Frozen and defrosted 
into a politically correct future, Sylvestor 
Stallone shoots Wesley Snipes.
 
Dirty Weekend (18) - Michael Winner rhymes 
with TV dinner and directs some passion and 
violence at the seaside.
 
Hard Target (18) - Jean Claude Van Damme 
does what he does in another violent film.
 
Hocus Pocus (PG) - A witch (Bette Midler) 
is brought back from the dea in Salem.  
The good guys win.
 
Indochine (12) - Catherine Deneuve, Vincent 
Perez, exotic melodrama, Vietnam setting
--I'll pass.
 
Jurassic Park (PG) - Genetically-engineered 
dinosaurs run amok.  The marketing men win.
 
Letter To Go (U) - Peter Found's moving 
literary classic had this reviewer in tears 
(of laughter).
 
Reservoir Dogs (18) - Matchless rubbish 
(much like these reviews) directed by 
Quentin Tarantino, a man with obvious 
talent (much like this reviewer) but 
some serious problems (which is where 
the similarity ends).
 
Robin Hood--Men in Tights (PG) - 
Mel Brooks lampoons the merry men.
 
So I Married An Axe Murderer (12) - 
Mike Myers is the gullible groom who must 
decide whether his beautiful bride is a 
psychotic loon.
 
Sommersby (12) - Jodie Foster is the 
baffled bride who must decide whether her 
handsome husband (Richard Gere) is really 
her husband (?).
 
Surf Ninjas (PG) - Indescribable 
feebleness prompts me to say this is an 
in-depth documentary into sun, sea and 
assassins.
 
The Fugitive (12) - Harrison Ford 
runs away from the law.  Tommy Lee Jones 
chases him.
 
The Man Without A Face (12) - Mel 
Gibson directs a drama starring Mel Gibson 
as a horrifically scarred teacher.
 
The Piano (15) - Surreal images 
struggle in vain to cover up the fact that 
this is a stupid film about the sexual 
frolics of a dumb pianist.  Stars Holly 
Hunter, Sam Neill and Harvey Keitel.
 
The Secret Garden (PG) - Fairy tale-type 
balderdash about an orphan girl who discovers 
the makings of an enchanted compost heap.
 
UFO--The Movie (18) - The Snapper was 
alternately described as (a) a fish, (b) a 
photographer, or (c) based on a novel whose 
author won the Booker Prize for another book 
(thanks to P. Found of Oxhey for this useful 
information).  UFO is a film with Roy 
'Chubby' Brown.

The Car

August 4th, 2002 August 4th, 2002
Posted in Film making
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Ascalon Films’ next project, The Car, a ten minute comedy, is now officially out of development and into preproduction. Shooting will be three days in the first week of October. Format will probably be 16mm although I might try digital video if I can get hold of a camera at a reasonable rate (free would be nice).

So far, the writers, the editor and the production designer have been informed, with the latest draft of the script in the hands of each. Next up will be finding a DoP, then casting, crewing and location hunting. Oh, and finding a yellow convertable Porsche which we’ll also need for some pre-production shots in various locations.

Most important person to find, however, is a reliable producer who can organise everything and everyone to get the right places at the right times while I concentrate on the artistic side. That’s going to be tricky.

The madness continues. Everyone who’s read the new script so far likes it, so that’s a good start. Maybe I should have done that with the first two films. You live and learn.

Meanwhile, I wait for my friend and collaborator, Jaffa, to send me a French translation of Fate & Fortune for submitting to the Clermont-Ferrand festival. I wait. And I wait…

Black And White And Red All Over

August 3rd, 2002 August 3rd, 2002
Posted in Making the News
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Watford Observer was always a nasty place to work. It was the building as much as anything, although the penny-pinching and need to fight for everything from a secondhand Apple Mac and colour scanner–“Won’t monochrome be okay?”–to a direct phone line into editorial didn’t help morale. Don’t get me wrong. When the job was good, it was terrific. Varied and creative and a great opportunity to try all kinds of things. But the salary, ugh. The salary didn’t cover living expenses and my debts had offspring.

Now, at last, Watford Observer is moving out of the one-time perfume factory, a grimy shell that has housed it since the sixties when the printers moved there and the seventies when editorial joined them. Yesterday I received a call inviting me to an impromptu barbeque in the car park to mark the last day of work on that site. I arrived as dusk was falling expecting to find throngs of former employees warming their hands over the embers of the demolished buildings and dancing with glee. It wasn’t quite like that.

Twenty people were gathered on the grass off to one side. A few pieces of office furniture provided the creature comforts and somewhere to rest our beers while music came from a CD full of pirated mp3’s blaring out of old computer speakers rigged up in the old artdesk window. A filing cabinet was tipped on its side and a photographer was cooking sausages over hot coals in one of the drawers. The whole scene spoke in quiet tones. It whispered, “Urban surreal, low budget.”

I took a wander through the old buildings, around empty offices that once housed printing equipment and had now been refurbished for a new generation. An inspirational plaque on the wall purported to show who was the month’s highest achiever and a space was reserved for their photograph. I wondered how inspirational it really felt given that there were no windows in the place. Daylight is clearly a dirty word if you want to get ahead in advertising. If one of the sales staff had grown an extra head I doubt anyone would have noticed.

Memories. Some good, some bad. Like seeing the Autocon, a four foot long, four foot high machine which they used to scan photographs for printing on to bromide as part of the offset litho process. A man named Steve operated it jealously for years and refused to teach anyone else how it worked for fear he’d lose his job. Eventually Steve and his false fixed smile were replaced along with the machine.

Then there was the space on the wall where a timeclock used to be. When I started as a trainee compositor and typesetter, we had to punch a card whenever we came or went. They’d dock us about twenty pence when we were 15 minutes late back from lunch, which I always thought was too sad given that the union could call a go-slow and get overtime at the drop of a hat. That was in the days when smoking wasn’t just allowed in the composing room, it seemed to be compulsory with an ashtray on every flat surface and a haze hanging over the whole place. The old editorial office in the centre of the building was even worse.

At the front of the building was the original managing director’s office, a hallowed sanctum with windows on two walls. He had his own bathroom which was actually smaller than that found in a boarding house with en-suite facilities. A tiny cubby hole, the greasy old miser would wait in there to be ceremonially brought out when the newspaper’s former owner, The Duke of Atholl, came to visit. It would be laughable if it wasn’t for the fact that he actually believed this little show impressed anyone. No. On reflection, it is laughable.

****

Looking about, I generally felt glad I’d gotten out of that place all those years ago yet there was still something, a touch of nostalgia, some essence of having been part of something. A paper of record. That was the editor’s aim when I worked there. To record every birth, marriage, death, every occurance of interest, every council meeting, every fete, every nuance of local life in a paid for broadsheet. The impressive thing is that he managed to achieve it. He even fought a new managing director once in a fierce battle with our own free sheet to do it. It was a close thing with job-losses hanging over everyone’s head for years until the owners eventually sold up and the MD was replaced.

Despite the feeble budgets and some truly dire journalists–“Hey, the building outside is on fire!” “Oh, I’ll phone the fire brigade and see if they know anything.” “But they’re there right now, just outside…” “Well, I’m not walking out of the office when there’s a phone here.”–a core of ever-changing talent still made it breathe somehow, year in year out, just as they had since January 15th 1863.

Last night some of the latest of those people had fun. At one point we raced aging office chairs around the newly resurfaced parking lot and then rammed them, back to back into each other like fairground dodgems. Those things have amazing wheels on them. Then it grew cool and a palette was ceremonially ignited. Then another and another. We drew around the flames to keep warm and regaled each other with tales of beating the system, occasionally tossing a cigarette lighter into the pyre and getting a frisson of excitement from the small pyrotechnic display when it burst.

I think the building itself is actually going to be demolished in September to make way for a housing development. At that point I’m told they’ll invite everyone who ever worked for them to join them for a party. Celebrating what, I wonder? Perhaps the sheer determination of so many to escape and build successful careers for themselves on the back of the training and experience they gained there. Kind of like survivors of Colditz poking around the old castle.

Watford Observer is moving to modern offices, taking with them the ten year old Apple Mac’s that seemed to appear only after a long hard fight to replace the decrepid Apple IIe’s. I’m sure there’s some newer equipment too. The photographers use the latest digital cameras now, the ones which cost the price of a house in Scotland, a resounding restatement of the phrase that a picture is worth a thousand words. The photographic department’s reprint service actually turns a nice profit, so it’s an investment. And, hey, they’ve finally got a decent website.

Other than that, from what I hear, the new offices are too small for all the staff because of the way they’ve split the space between management (lots of space) and workers (what’s left), and there’s only 70 parking spaces for 200 people. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. I slink away, into the dark, and count my blessings.