...the story behind the story...
A blog - Part 2
After just 4 weeks in pre-production (generally this could be anything from 8 weeks to 6 months) actors not quite in place, money almost raised, crew still being booked, we were just two days away from what was the start of principle photography, the start of a film’s shooting period, in this case, just 3 short weeks. Myself and producer Mike Capon, stood in the centre of our makeshift studio we had hired in the North West London’s Cricklewood, which was as close to Hollywood as I could get at that point, at least they both had ‘wood’ in the title, close enough for me. Mike smiled, I pretended to.
The set had been designed and built by my talented production designer Myles Grimsdale (which had it’s pitfalls, not a sound stage, so we had to basically soundproof the windows doors and roof, you just cant take a chance with bad sound, and something our BAFTA award winning sound recordist Paul Paragon just wouldn’t accept. A stickler for great sound. During the shoot he once clamped all the toilet cistern’s off because somewhere in the building and adjoining buildings his acute and well trained lug-holes could hear a drip drip drip, well, he fixed that Ok, we couldn’t flush, but we had great sound!) So we had turned what was essentially a large 1st floor storage space into an ultra stylised 40’s inspired film producer’s office, strangely in garish un-matching colours which looked odd to the eye but beautiful in glorious black & white, my choice for the film’s aesthetic.
Federico Alfonzo, cinematographer’s movie lights had arrived a few days before and been set up (originally just a few lights was the idea but Fede as he is known, a true artist and film-maker had thoughts of his own which became clear when two massive trucks of lighting turned up. He in the background tip-toeing sheepishly away). I went home that night to get a good night’s rest before we kicked-off. As it turned out, I spent the night obsessing and worrying about what I had started and managed drag about 30 or so other people into too. What had I done?!
Naturally there was lots to worry about, not only did I need to tell an engaging story, a thriller set in one room but had to attempt to shoot all the other character’s on separate video calls, live! This was a film 1st, many would have chosen to shoot everything separately and use digital technology to plonk our shots into the computer screens later but I felt strongly that in order to allow the actors to bounce off each-other and get a more natural performance, we had to do it live. If it wasn’t for our digital effects and DTI genius Adam Shell, and our sound man Paul Paragon this may not have been possible. (Paul had all the actors wearing earpieces to be able to hear the other actors - the earpieces kindly donated by sound man Simon Hayes which he had made specially for the movie version of 'Les Mis' of which he was to win an Oscar for) So, I had a main set, our producer character Kurt Lovell’s office and five other smaller sets in the studio next door (another large make shift room that was originally used to house movie props and sets, including massive swans, a stuffed bear and Dr Who’s Tardis). Was it going to work? It had to!
My leading man, actor Mark Dymond, turned up first that morning, straight into hair & make-up and was transformed into Kurt Lovell, our philandering and slightly dodgy film producer. Other actor’s followed for that day and thankfully it had become clear that they all transitioned beautifully into the very character’s I had written, thankfully, casting director Carolyn McLeod & I had casted well. Whew! Another anxiety that could wash away and one less thing to worry about.
The next eighteen days seemed to go well, not devoid of issues of course, filming is about putting out fires, solving problems having choices and thanks to a brilliant & professional crew and cast, we managed to find a way out of all of those uninvited complications. The drip drip of the toilets, earpieces picking up various sounds and unwanted radio stations in the air around us. Mobile loos that already looked like they had done 3 days at Glastonbury when they arrived. Computers going down and the fact that we were on top of a forecourt used for large delivery trucks beep beeping into parking spaces. And a prosthetic head that had come all the way from L.A from a company called ‘Dapper Cadaver’ (the ones who supplied gory body parts for the hit show ‘The Walking Dead’) of which I gleefully walked into a meeting knowing it had arrived, to what I observed to be a room of slightly worried faces. Doesn’t it look real, I thought? Did it not look like the actress it was meant to portray? How bad could it be? I asked. Is it black? I joked. It was shakily extracted from it’s box by our co-ordinator Romy-Jo, who almost had a tear in her eye, it was indeed, black!
Whilst everyone had their role and bustled around me, servicing me with what I needed to tell this story, I listened to my dialogue, my story, my dream come to life. In between shots, my brilliant editor Emma Collins would be assembling shots in a space sectioned off by curtains in the room below me. The 1st scene assembled (we had to shoot in sequence) took my breath away. I was making a film that actually looked like a film! I held back my emotions and nonchalantly gave a ‘of-course-it-does’ smile, whilst inside I was punching the air and crying with relief and exhaustion all at the same time.
As time wore on and we crossed off pages of the script and shots were being put together downstairs, what also occurred to me was that I wasn’t only telling the story I had made up, I was bringing to life my own struggle, and it made me think, am I Kurt, the movie producer and his endeavours to ‘get-one-out-of-the-gate’ or Timothy the twisted and bitter screenwriter just trying to get his scripts read? As it turned out, I was all of them, from the producer, to screenwriter, the agent, the lawyer and everyone in between. A writer director’s film has a little piece of the auteur that realises it, in every little part of it.
As the shoot came to an end and we cracked open bottles of cheap sparkling wine, instead of the relief I should have felt that the film was ‘in-the-can’, instead I was sad that that part of it was over, as I couldn't help feeling that I was just getting started. Little did I know that what I thought was the hardest part (I thought that of the writing, then the financing, then the casting, the designing) the next phase, editing, special effects, sound design, music orchestration, test screenings and a true Hollywood roasting (a story for the next part of this blog) was to throw challenges at me that were unimaginable…