Where the hell do I begin with this month’s film?! There are certain things I can't say, it will ruin the surprise, however a LOT went into making this one so there should be no shortage of interesting stuff to talk about.
The idea for July's film was something that Bruce and I talked about after we shot Compulsion. We were talking about what we would like to do next and the subject of July’s film came up. We never did anything with it but it never really left my mind. I saw these 12 films in a year as a good way to finally make some forgotten ideas.
Thinking about an idea for a few years doesn't necessarily mean you can just shoot it the next day. I had the basic idea but I needed everything else. There was a lack of reason; it was a cool idea but without reason it wouldn't be a convincing story. This month introduces a more traditional style of story telling in a not so traditional setting...
I decided when first thinking how this could be a cool film that the setting could be the thing that would drive it forward. To put the core idea into a setting seemed the best fit. Now it is very hard when shooting on a low budget to take the films you make out of the real world. You end up shooting in the locations you have to hand, like someone’s house, a pub, a park, a car etc. This is mostly unavoidable, but you have to be an opportunist and use what you have. In many of these 12 films I have used exactly those locations, but for this film I wanted to see if I could do something different.
I took possibly a drastic step and decided to set the film in the Old West! Not only that but a Science Fiction version of the Old West! I don't know why, it just felt right. This made me think (really hard) and got me pretty excited. I could pull this off but I would have to keep it contained. Keep the locations simple and work on the costumes, props and dialog to 'sell' the Science Fiction. There was going to be Stetsons, Duster Jackets, Accents and Futuristic Technology!
I really asked a lot of Gemma this month. The main character needed an accessory, something that would stand out and help tell the story. We all have mobile phones, iPads, laptops etc. So what would they be like in an alternate future? So I started thinking about a sleeve that he could wear that was full of electronics. It needed to look practical, well used, but also believable, and then postproduction would take care of the rest. It took a little time to get right and more than a few trips to Maplin (a great source of cool objects for props) but when it started to work it ended up being so cool!
I have always loved Science Fiction; I am the typical kid who saw Star Wars and that was that. Star Wars was going to influence the rest of my life. I do realise (reluctantly) that Star Wars is not for everyone but for those it does influence, it really influences! Star Wars was the thing I wanted to be doing, although I didn't know how. At the time I had no concept that you could become a director so I thought if I wanted to creatively be a part of something like Star Wars I would need to focus on creating things like the ships and Special FX. Turns out I'm actually better qualified to be a director than an effects artist. Those guys are super smart and I'm...well lets just say it wasn't for me. So even before I started making films, Sci Fi had influenced me a hell of a lot. I knew I would make a film in that style some day, I just didn't think it would be so soon and for so little money! But that's what was so great about having to make a film every month; things like this happen.
Scripting a 'high concept' Sci Fi film is an intriguing process. You need to explain to an audience the new ideas you come up with whilst keeping them entertained. This is hard. You create a new world, inhabit it with a new character and a whole new set of rules, and then expect people to understand what’s going on. As a result there ended up being a lot of exposition in this script. This felt necessary as a starting point because as you put the film together you can always take some of it away if you need too. Sometimes when you write a script it’s not until the edit stage that you realise there are bits you just don't need. Certain things become too obvious or are just repetitions. Sometimes a look is all you need to convey story, not a paragraph of lines. It is never an exact science, or at least not without a lot of practice.
Keeping this film contained because of budget and actually being able to get it done resulted in there only being three characters. Each scene had to be thought out carefully as it was important to hint at other characters but never see them. It gives the film an interesting dynamic, a sense that there is more going on in the wider world but allowing us to focus on a more intimate story.
As this film was to be a departure from anything I had done before, I wanted to find and use actors I didn't know. So far I had been able to fill most cast and crew positions with people I knew. For this film I wanted it to be as new for me as it would be for the audience. Casting is a lengthy process when done correctly. It is one of the most important steps in any film. I had neither the time nor money to do it and given that it was a personal project getting actors who don't know me to come and audition was never going to work. I looked at local actor groups, the most useful being the Oxford Actors Network which is a website where you can find local actors. I didn't manage to cast anyone for this project through that site but I would return to it in another month...
that Sam and I got introduced. Chris was originally going to help me out and shoot this one but unfortunately he wasn't able to. However it was when I asked if he knew any actors that might like the part he instantly recommend Sam. I now know why he insisted Sam would be great... because he was. I never thought I would find anyone as perfect as Sam for this role.
Sam was immediately interested in the idea. I sent him the script and to my surprise he didn't turn around and say, 'This is crazy you will never be able to do this!' I think he understood what I was trying to do and regardless of it working out or not it was defiantly an interesting character to play. Sam is another of those Kids that was affected by Star Wars so that put us in the same headspace. It did however make it hard on the days we were shooting to not get side-tracked by talking Star Wars all the time. Sam was on board and even sent me through an audio recording of how he thought the character should sound. You can hear it below.
If you have ever created a character on paper and then had to find someone to personify it (adapted it to appear on screen) you will appreciate getting this sound file. Here was an actor who I had never met, barely even spoken too, getting into a character I had created. Not only that but making it better than I originally imagined. This is why casting is so important and why (when you can't do a full casting) I am incredibly thankful in finding Sam.
For the second character Bruce Windwood introduced me to a very good friend of his, Mark Rodel-Duffy. Once again I was surprised and incredibly thankful that there were people out there that wanted to take part in the film. Mark was really great as he had been out of acting for a while and wanted to start getting back into it. He was not only great but he was exactly right for the part! Similar to when Sam sent me his audio recording, when I first saw Mark I got incredibly excited! We met and talked about the part and I had another actor who didn't instantly think the idea was crazy.
Check them both out below!
That’s all the cast I can mention until the film is finished. I mentioned earlier that Chris Stephens who introduced me to Sam Bariscale was set to shoot this film. He was not able and that was a shame, as I know he wanted to work with Sam again. I also asked Robert Shacklady (who you may remember shot Februarys film) if he could help shoot this film. We were gearing up to shoot; we had discussed the locations and the ideas, but unfortunately Robert had to take another job - one that paid. This is the risk you take when shooting low budget stuff, people are so willing to help you out but they need to keep working. If a job comes up they must do it. I understood and it was a shame but Robert would be back later in the year! At this point I was getting a little nervous and was reminded of what I went through with January’s film...Then something happened that I did not expect.
Robert was unable to shoot the film but he was able to find me a replacement. Replacement is probably not the right word, it was more like Robert pointed me in the direction of Chris Bairstow. Thank F**k for that decision!
It is very important to have a good relationship with the person who is going to shoot your work. You both need to have an understanding of each other before you even start. You need to discuss what the style of the particular film is, how and why you want shoot things. All this just helps when you get on set and things start happening really fast. The relationship comes easier once you have worked with the same person a few times. However, I trusted Robert and so I fully trusted Chris. This trust was not misplaced! Chris was one of the most dedicated people I have ever worked with. Once again here was another stranger confronted with an odd idea and saying, 'There is a way to make this'.
That's Chris above with Andy Coram doing sound. A huge thanks to Andy for helping out with one area of filmmaking I know nothing about (and looking super serious in the process). Also thanks to Tim Watts, Ed Tansey and Graham Stebler for helping out, sorry it was a late one!
I also must mention the considerable work put in by Tim Watts. This film takes place in an alternate reality, it's futuristic but not necessarily set in the future. The world does not look like the world we know today. So I approached Tim and asked if he could create that world. He said yes and after many hours of work this film opens unlike any of the others. The shots don't last that long but what they do in that short time is show you the world these charachters inhabit. They show you just enough to get a sense of it and it's so important that the audience is brought into that world. Take a look at these before and after shots and you will begin to understand.
One final thanks goes to Fraser Lawson who not only helped out but also provided the location and cooked every one BBQ. Film crews like BBQ! Again sorry to Fraser and his girlfriend Clare for it being a late finish, you guys have an awesome dog!
See some more images below...