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.
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.
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.