September, 2002

F minus 14

September 20th, 2002 September 20th, 2002
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This is where you realise you can’t count; there are only two weeks until the first day’s shooting and not 15 days. This is where you try phoning more people to find a sound recordist until some bright spark suggests you put an advert on Shooting People. Okay, they charge a fee to use the list but it’s a good idea.

Filming minus 14 is the day you also think through that (a) you don’t really need a production manager/line producer because you can delegate all that to your assistant director–and you’ve got two assistant directors–and also (b) you don’t need an art director because you’ve already got two. Fiona is resourcing props and wardrobe, Lionel is doing graphics and will be available on set. Problem solved.

So today’s longest phone call is to a guy with a DAT machine who talks for ages and tells you all about microphones and sound and, well he talked. He also talked about all the trains he’s filmed on his clockwork 16mm camera and… woah, back-up. He’s got a clockwork 16mm camera. There’s the fallback position right there.

So you let this chatty person talk about his trains and you remember the soundman you rang last night who is now producing and presenting a series about railways for the Discovery Channel. And you think, Aha! I should put these two in touch with each other. Because they have this train thing going on and this movie thing too. So you give them each other’s phone numbers and they’re happy and you file away in the back of your mind that there is a 16mm camera out there.

Recce and talk to art dept tomorrow. Rehearsal Sunday.

Note #1 to self: remember to write down expectations and responsibilities clearly for 1st AD’s.

Note #2: regardless of all the above, think about the pictures.

What A Distributor Does

September 20th, 2002 September 20th, 2002
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Call up photographer and start arranging stills for use in film scene where car owner pulls out wallet to reveal dozens of pictures of beloved car. Okay, so that’s the director/producer makes that call. The distributor, with an eye on future marketing, suggests that same photographer gets a beautiful shot he can use as a publicity postcard while he’s doing the same.

Photographer makes helpful (not) suggestion that film maker comes to party at old office building on Friday to spend 5 on buffet (crabsticks and potato chips) and listen to mp3s while drinking beer (not supplied in ticket price). How can I say no? Please, I’m serious–I must say no. Mind you, I’ll be practising that word (no) later today when I return the (fifth) phone call from the guilt-tripping producer wannabe.

At the same time–rubbing tummy and patting head–our hero (me) gets a letter informing him that Fate & Fortune has been accepted for the Los Angeles International Short Film Festival, October 15-20.


Marvellous, I hear you say. And so it is. Of course. Yet the reality of this glamorous occasion is that our hero (still me) has to create a parcel to fit the film can using only limited materials.

In a mere twenty minutes, the aforementioned hero successfully cuts up a large cardboard crate to make a small one using only a penknife and a roll of parcel tape. Then he walks down to the Post Office. There, he fills in a big form (in quintuplicate) declaring that the print (cost=200) has a replacement value of nil (0) so that LA Shorts Fest doesn’t have to pay import tax.

Then our hero (let’s call him Muggins) discovers he doesn’t have enough cash to pay the postage (36.40) so he has to take his parcel and walk to the ATM elsewhere, withdraw cash and return to join the suddenly busy Post Office queue again.

Eventually, lunch hour having disappeared in a giddy haze during this tour de force, Muggins manages to buy the stamps and the film print is on its way, uninsured for replacement as it seems to have be without any redeeming value (sic).

Fingers crossed, eh? Ah, what price stardom.

What A Producer Does Even More Of

September 20th, 2002 September 20th, 2002
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Forgot to eat. Proper food, anyways. Found some three week old potatoes and a ready meal. This can’t be good. What *is* good is that I found a continuity person. This is very good. It doesn’t quite offset the complete lack of a sound person but it’s getting somewhere.

For some reason it’s suddenly become the busiest time of year for professional TV and film people. I know this because I’ve now contacted four different soundmen and they are all fully booked until the end of the year. Yes, there will be more and I’ll find one but honestly, if you want to work in moving pictures, become either a gaffer (chief electrician) or a location sound recordist because they are *never* out of work. At least, I can never get hold of one.

What The Executive Producer Does

Thinks: “Hmm. There are various things need financing in the next couple of weeks. Now would be the ideal time to cash in those shares I had a punt on last month at 325.” Hooks thumb under stripey braces and stretches them while leaning back in large leather chair and calling up today’s prices online. Thinks: “Hmm. Now trading at 243. I seem to be learning an expensive lesson about setting stops.” Pours stiff drink, no ice. Ponders: “Wonder if that guy Max would pay to be in a movie?” Executive decision-maker toy says: ‘Don’t even think about it.’

What A Producer Does More Of

September 19th, 2002 September 19th, 2002
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Actress playing Old Lady leaves worried message on answermachine. Producer frets. Does this mean she can’t do the film? With two days to go before rehearsal. Director chills out. No worries.

Mutual friend of Jon calls to make producer feel guilty about not getting her involved in production. Tell her that art department could use some help. She responds with, “Well, my cars not really working… I’m really only able to do production.” Blah blah. Bleugh. It really is just a phone call to make producer feel guilty. It makes him annoyed instead. Especially after third call. He makes wax effigy and sticks pin in it.

Contact Simon to change lighting request from tungsten to HMI and “Can we have some Kinoflo’s please?” etc etc. Try to replace soundman who has suddenly become unavailable. Get hold of back up and find he’s probably busy, “But call me later and I’ll check.”

Call actress playing old lady and discover she is only worried about filming for ten days. Confirm it’s only a three day shoot and confirm dates with her. Director laughs at thought that she might not have appeared. Producer bops director on head. Psychiatrist rubs hands gleefully at thought of treating impending personality disorder.

Note to self: don’t forget to eat.

What A Cinematographer Does

September 19th, 2002 September 19th, 2002
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Fuji come through with forty percent discount on stock. Decide on shooting around 4,000 feet (approx 100 minutes) of daylight stock rated 250 ASA. Cost around 560.

Camera kit decisions made with camera assistant, Jon. Decide on Arri SR2 or SR3 with Canon T2.4 zoom and a set of Zeiss T1.3 Distagon primes. Talking to another camera operator reveals that these actually have quite a shallow depth of focus so opt for not using any 64 ASA film. Too much light? Add ND filters and keep the aperture wide, methinks. Not that too much light is likely in October in the UK.

Other decisions: no dolly and track. This gives nice effects but it’s a heavy piece of kit to transport, takes time to carry and rig and could be improvised with alternatives. Better to concentrate on actors instead and keep kit light. Support will be from tall legs, baby legs, turtle plus gib arm.

Filters: set of Tiffen ND’s, black and white promists. Promists spread contrast which means more options during grading. No colour correction needed as I’ll be shooting on daylight stock and using HMI’s instead of tungsten lighting for keys. Tungsten fills can be gelled.

Various outrageous requests: video assist with miniDV, variable speed unit and intervalometer for doing time-lapse stuff at night. Tell Jon of plan to shoot 16 by 9 (approx 1:1.85) but with a 4:3 (open) gate. He is able to inform me this will mean a ground glass will have to be marked up by hand with the correct proportions on it.

Hire company says: should be okay. But insurance for up to 100k might not be enough. But I’m first in line for freebie (thanks to Jon) but to call back on October 2nd just in case they get a paid booking. That means I won’t know if I have the camera until just two days before filming. Music cue: David Bowie/Queen Under Pressure.

But me no buts.

Swings And Roundabouts

September 18th, 2002 September 18th, 2002
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Source of potential free stock located. Source on holiday
until next week. Naturally. Alternative Fuji contact out
of the office today. But of course.

First choice of soundman is not on holiday but is in
Singapore on assignment and therefore will no longer
be available on shooting dates. Back up soundman has
moved and has his mobile phone switched off today.

First AD has found two possible police station locations,
both free, thanks to Hertfordshire Constabulary, plus a
big stash of police uniforms in various sizes, thanks to
a.n. other film company. No charge for those either.
First AD has also sorted out catering. First AD promoted
to hero status.

Production designer has vanished. Art director promoted
to co-producer and takes over as design head. Contact
list sent to new co-producer to construct schedule.

No suitable DP available so producer/director decides to
take it on himself, under advisement.

And in other news…

A group of film makers wearing free police uniforms (in
various sizes) were seen rounding up the essentials of
movie making and taking them into custody. A spokesman
for the crew said, “It’s a fair cop, Guv. But society is
to blame.” To which an officer replied, “Never mind them
–we’ll be arresting them later.” Allegedly.

Just over two weeks to go…

More news in brief

September 3rd, 2002 September 3rd, 2002
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Double bill

Bewildered by getting identical copies
of the same letter, St Albans leading
film maker (since Stanley Kubrick passed
on) looked again and discovered he had
two short films accepted for a festival
instead of just the one.

Both Last Train and Fate & Fortune
have been accepted for this month’s
Wilmington Independent Film Festival
in Delaware. “Delaware. That’s a type
of pie-dish isn’t it?” quipped a
passerby. Humour Police are still
searching for the author of that joke.

Producer prodded

Gremlins were blamed when it was
discovered that a film director
had completely misheard the email
address for the person he wanted
as co-producer. The problem came
to light when she called to ask
where her script was.

Our hero recovered by cutting and
pasting parts of a message on the
internet where he’d listed things
for her to do. Meanwhile someone
called ‘c_bop’ is thought to be busy
locating identical props and costumes
for a rival comedy being made by
Gremlin Productions.

Actor jilted

Charlie the actor was turned down
for the role of Charlie the driver
in a fairly short undramatic phone
call this afternoon. “That’s okay,”
he said, with the same casual lack
of emphasis which has left so many
film directors unmoved.

What A Director Does

September 2nd, 2002 September 2nd, 2002
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2.45pm: Arrive Elstree studios. Find room Mike has booked for my use. Great. Go back to station to pick up Michael. Get subjected to stop and search policy at gate. Which is laughable because I’m driving a large estate car which is clearly completely empty except for me and my bag. I laugh. The security man laughs. I leave.

3pm: Arrive Elstree station. Check train times. Michael should be on next train. Suddenly remember that Michael is coming at 4pm and Charlie at 3pm, so Charlie will now be at the studios asking for me and they won’t know who I am. Drive back to studios. Charlie has been and they sent him to the film studios because they didn’t know who I was. I call him and get him back.

3.10pm: First audition. Charlie is affable, a nice guy. We get straight into doing a scene with me reading the part of the police sargeant. Charlie is okay. He asks how I want him to play the character. “I’d like to see your interpretation,” I say. Charlie does the scene again, while I watch from the side. He seems pretty good.

We chat for a bit about the film, what other things he’s done and his availability. He asks about the shooting style and whether I’ll edit it in a straightforward way or with different interpretations in different takes. I remember an idea for duelling pens over the police station counter and talk about that. Charlie can’t do Saturday afternoon, which might be a pain.

3.45pm: First audition ends. I drive to the station to pick up Michael, who is waiting on the grass smoking a cigarette when I arrive. Mike gets in the car and we chat about the incongruity of directors turning up at Elstree railway station, finding the first person they see and taking them to the studios. I suggest this is probably how the BBC casts soaps.

4pm: Second audition. I tell Mike the same as Charlie: I want him to do the scene twice, once facing me and once with me watching from the side. In two lines it’s really clear he’s a considerably better actor than Charlie. He has confidence, feels the role and he projects. It’s like I’m suddently talking to a different person. He didn’t ask how to interpret the role or the scene, just got on with it.

When Mike repeats the scene, I pay attention to his hand gestures. They’re identical to the ones he did the first time around and on the same lines. This might be a little thing he’s practised but it works. It’s what I need for shooting a single camera drama. I’m blown away. The contrast between Charlie and Michael is enormous. The former is good but the latter has presence and a good measure of confidence.

Mike and I sit and chat about the film and the role for a bit. We talk about how it’s the story of an out of towner coming into a sleepy village and becoming trapped there. How it becomes a tale of the irresistable force meeting the immovable object. Mike says something about Charlie (the character, not the actor) being a fast-moving person who is forced to slow down by the village and by the policeman. This fits perfectly with my ideas for using slow-motion effects.

We talk about giving Charlie a character arc, the idea of using overlapping but different action for a duel of pens in the police station (an idea inspired by one of the cutting patterns in American Beauty). Lots of really good creative ideas come out of this meeting. We go on to talk about films in general. Mike is totally committed. He’s skipped off work for the afternoon to get here. We talk about some of the films I’ve been discussing recently, Insomnia and the Jack Ryan films.

Mike’s just been doing a horror comedy film, a walk-on part I’m guessing. Maybe it won’t ever see the light of day. Nevertheless, our ideas mesh and I offer him the part. It’s a result. It’s 5.30pm. I leave a couple of videos for Mike (the TV training chap), drop Mike the actor at the station, drive home, ring Fiona Farley and then pass out.

What A Producer Does

September 2nd, 2002 September 2nd, 2002
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10am: phone. Phone phone phone.

Phone cheap film workshop and book camera. Check lenses and find that zoom is not a T1.3 (which did sound too good to be true) but a T3. That means it transmits about a quarter of the amount of light that a T1.3 lens would–ie. you can’t use it in really low light levels unless you use fast (and therefore grainy) film stock. Also the zoom is 10-110mm, not 10-200mm. For 16mm, that’s equivalent to about 18-200mm on a 35mm camera. So, it’s not as long. Book kit anyway.

Phone second hire company which camera assistant has spoken about. Mention camera assistant’s name as person who will look after kit. Wow. Respect. Equipment could be a freebie with only a set-up charge (200) to pay. And equipment would include proper dolly, filters, etc etc. “Get your DP to put together a wish list.” No guarantees, as company may have kit booked out at last minute, but book it anyway too.

Two sets of equipment tentatively booked, phone Fiona (agent). Tell her you’re working on venue for audition. Call Polish Centre in Kensington which is only place you know with function rooms. Last time they charged 20 for a day’s use of their bar. This time, 50 for a conference room. Fifty pounds? You almost fall off your chair. I don’t want bed and breakfast, just use of a freaking room for about an hour. Negotiate them down to 25. Still too much.

Phone Sarah (actress). Confirm rehearsal place and time. Ask if she knows of any rooms possible for audition. She suggests the Actors Centre–“Ask for Rosie.” Call Actors Centre. Rosie is in a meeting, finishes in about twenty minutes. Call back in thirty.

Phone Janos, DP you want to work with. He has been out of country and hasn’t read script yet. Can he chat to you later in the week? No. I’ll be out of the country. Agree to exchange emails with our thoughts.

Phone Whatever Pictures. “Er, well the thing is, we don’t want to use our insurance on projects we’re not actually producing. Because if anything went wrong blah blah blah.” Fine. So it’s an Ascalon Films project. Fine. They give me name of insurance company. I phone and get quote–165 to cover equipment value to 100K with 500 excess. This brings cost of borrowing kit from second place up to 365 plus tax, versus cost of direct hire from first place, 500 plus tax.

Call Actors Centre again. Rosie still in meeting. Explain predicament. Get quote for 25–what the freakk is it with these people? I don’t want to live in it or even sleep in it. I just want it for an hour. “But you can only have that if you’re a member of the Actors Centre.” “Oh, but would you not be able to help out with a one-off favour?” “No. Sorry, no.” Dead end. It’s now twenty past midday.

12:20pm. Pause for a few minutes to stare at contacts book. Remember Mike from TV Training. Ring him up. Miraculously get through. Catch up on what you’ve both been doing in past year since you spoke. He’s just had second kid with Karoline, other really great person and also technical instructor with BBC. Pause to reflect on fairytale wonderfulness of this. Then tell of audition predicament. Mike says give him five minutes, calls back and has booked training room at BBC Elstree studios for me. For free. Yeehah!

Phone Fiona and set audition time for 3pm. Phone Charlie, other actor, and confirm audition also for 3pm. Realise both will arrive at same time, which is daft. Phone Fiona again and she gives you Michael’s phone number. Phone Michael and change his time to 4pm. Arrange to meet him at Elstree station. Charlie is driving.

It’s now about 1pm and there’s two hours before the audition. Elstree is only about 20 minutes drive, so time to sort out other things. Phone actors and check they can make rehearsal on 21st. Jack can’t so change it to 22nd. Phone school where rehearsal will be to check it’s okay, which it is. Phone Doreen, who is playing the Old Lady. Tell her of idea for script change which will involve her driving sports car. “Oh, I don’t drive,” she says, “I don’t have a licence.” Plan to put her in car and push it past camera.

Phone car owner and check how tall he is. Five nine. Same height as Charlie and Michael. Perfect. Check he’s definitely okay with filming dates and he is. Breath sigh of relief and read the morning post.

Hey, morning post contains letter from Wilmington Independent Film Festival. They don’t want the 35mm print which is all ready and sitting on the coffee table in a can. No, no. No no no no no. Far too easy. Let’s complicate it. They want a BetacamSP tape. Which I have. But only in PAL (UK format) not NTSC (American format). Now have 24 hours to arrange to get tape dubbed from one pro format to another.

Phone Simon the editor and exchange anecdotes, stories of films we’ve seen recently and other stuff. Yes, of course he’ll edit The Car, as if I have to ask. Tell him of plan to shoot on 16mm at 25fps and finish on video with possible 16mm print for festivals. He says okay but festivals will run film at 24fps. This means the sound will come out at a slightly lower pitch. Four percent lower to be exact. Simon recommends checking with sound people on ease of doing this.

Phone Pete Hodges, rerecording mixer and sound editor. Tell him of 25fps shooting/24fps projection thing. “Yes, that’s fine,” he says, “we can do that. Although you know that you can only do a mono mix on a 16mm optical soundtrack? So no surround.” No, of course, I didn’t know this. Well, no problem. The Car doesn’t necessarily need surround although stereo is nice. But not essential. And certainly not worth the extra expense.

Good. Sorted.

2.15pm: Print out copies of script for The Car and leave for Elstree TV studios.

Recasting And Recceing

September 1st, 2002 September 1st, 2002
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Recasting and recceing. Those aren’t real words are they? Whatever. There’s now two actors confirmed coming for an audition tomorrow, thanks to Fiona Farley at Acting Associates and my friend Sarah, who’s in the film and has a friend who might fit the now vacant lead role. Fiona may also be sending a third actor too, which would be good.

Now, can anyone spot the obvious extra problems which need to be solved? Anyone… anyone… Bueller? Something ‘v-e-n’ place to audition. Venue for audition. No way to organise that at the weekend so add it to the list of things to do tomorrow morning along with informing the actors of same, actually getting to the place and running the audition. Oh, and booking a camera and booking a DP.

Today there’s only just enough time to go on a recce. Stills photographer Pete takes me for a drive around various villages. The backstreets of Chorleywood are first.

Chorleywood. A village pretending to be a town. A place so pretentious that the village post office has been turned into a house. There are no normal shops. No newsagents. No place to buy groceries, milk, a few necessary items. No. There are three shops selling decorative stencils. There’s a hairdressers, a cafe and a shop selling bricks and tiles. It’s too weird. Earthenware-eating aliens with fabulous hair clearly live here. There’s nowhere to park and no reason to. We drive on.

Chenies. Chenies is a quietly dozing village with a tiny village green and two pubs. The Village Shoppe again appears to be the name of a house (it’s on the gate) and the road is full of Sunday drivers demonstrating their tight formation car-pursuit skills around the narrow single-track lanes while looking for… well, even more isolated pubs is the only reason which springs to mind. Time and traffic have passed by sleepy Chenies and so shall we on our journey to…

Sarratt. Ahh, now this is more like it. Sarratt has a small general store which is also a post office right on the edge of a large village green. There are two decent pubs and a pond. More important, it’s picturesque and logistically possible to film away from the fast-moving traffic which is ubitquitous in home counties villages. There is plenty of space to park outside the shop and the road meanders up to it in graceful arcs, curling around a willow here, an oak tree there, and small pretty fences past the pond. Sarratt wins.

Opening shot

Getting out of the car for a better look and standing on the green, I begin plotting my opening shot. I want to follow the Westfield on a wide shot as it wends its way up the road towards us, moving into a close up as it stops outside the shop. Charlie (the main character) gets out and we follow him in mid-shot into the shop. Then pan down and pull focus to a sign in the foreground–a newspaper hoarding changed to show the film title. Pan up and pull focus back to Charlie exiting the shop.

So far so good but I want to continue, in the same shot, with a whip pan including a change of shooting speed, a la John Woo, to reveal the car has gone. At the end of the pan, change speed again to slow motion for Charlie’s reaction in the wide shot. I estimate that with my part-professional, part-inexperienced crew, this one shot will take the best part of a whole morning to rehearse and film. I’ll get coverage with extra shots but if it can be done all in one take, that would be perfect. Simon the editor doesn’t need to know yet.

There are five or six focus changes for the camera assistant to deal with including a long focus pull up the road to the shop. There are complex time cues and location marks for the actor to hit, which means his speed must be exactly the same each time he does it, and the whole film speed change thing means a second camera assistant to deal with it on specific cues from the operator. Plus we have to get the right lens at the right place on the village green for it all to work. Still, worry about that later, eh?

Pete and I estimate the light will be perfect at around sunrise as it will rise across the road, so the car will start by coming almost out of the sun and then, as we pan around with it, it will become more sidelit. That means an iris pull is needed too, just to add to the fun, unless it’s an overcast day, which wouldn’t be a bad thing. Another thing for the second camera assistant to take care of. The iris pull, not the weather.

[As I write this, I realise that if we end up shooting at midday and it’s not overcast, the camera will be pointing directly into the sun, which will–what’s the phrase?–suck majorly.]

Cracking at dawn

Shooting at sunrise would mean everyone getting to the location around 5am. In their own time. Without being paid. With the actors and a couple of others coming on public transport when the trains cost more than double the fare of off-peak journeys. The actors will want reimbursing for travel. Ugh.

Plus, we’ll need walkie talkies to be able to cue the car from out of shot. We’ll need to block the road, if possible, to prevent a long line of muppets lining up behind the Westfield then following it into shot. And we’ll need the cooperation of the shop owner to block their driveway with the car.

Still, those are problems for the producer, aren’t they? Yes. So that’s okay. Except, hold on a sec. I’m the producer, aren’t I. Uh oh. Time to delegate some more.

Tomorrow’s challenges: get camera and director of photography, arrange audition venue and inform actors, get up to London, hold auditions and select lead, inform lead of decision. Oh, and make sure the print of Fate & Fortune is sent off to Delaware. Plus work long hours in television studios on ‘day’ job.

Shame I’ve given up caffeine.