Thursday, 30 July 2009

Been busy...

...doing lots of fun CrimeFightery things, from rehearsals and costumes to theme music! Once I've edited it there'll be a mega-vlog on here soon.

Saw 'Wendy and Lucy' today... beautiful, just beautiful.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Putting the Lights in Lights, Camera, Action

Another day of planning, another day of realising just how much we have to do. But in a truly good way.

Paul and I spent yesterday afternoon in some of the film locations working out lighting techniques so that when we go into each of the locations we know where the lights are going to go, what effect they'll create, what they do to skin tone and walls, and so forth. Absolutely fascinating, because I've never done lighting to this extent before and I'm learning so much.

For example, how you can take a location you walk past every day and turn it into something that looks like a film set, or rather, a dramatic location. Just with a few well-chosen lights and a clever angle and a nice lens, something boring transforms into something amazing.

Having a Director of Photography on board the production; one who composes each shot, chooses the best lights and lens and angle for each shot, means you have to do twice (or more) as much work, but the results are ten times as good. That's not a proven equation, in case anyone tries to work it out. We are shooting this film somewhat guerilla style, but that doesn't mean it has to look like it.

The resulting film, rather than being just good, should look great, cinematic, and be worth all the extra planning. As Paul said, everything is in place and the only way the film can be bad now is if he and I fuck it up!

So, no pressure at all...

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

It's All Coming Together...

Yes indeed. In a most satisfying way. Actors learning lines (sort of, ha), camera angles looking nice, logistics becoming more... well, logical, funny little moments worked out and a sense of a complete production for about the first time all year.

It's weird, this pre-production lark. The more you plan, the more of a favour you're doing yourself when it comes to shooting. But there comes a point where you start thinking, 'When are we gonna shoot the damn thing?' and that time is... soon. Don't get me wrong, I'm really glad we have three more weeks of prep to get many, many things sorted properly, like a few location decisions, costumes, props, those darn logistics again, etc.

But now we really are at that stage where it's becoming less about a general plan and more of a list of specifics; dates, times, people, props, angles, lighting, so forth. Not to mention our musicians Hayley and Sam beginning to work on the music, Charlotte and Debbie getting the costumes and props together, Paul and I working out who's going to capture and rough cut the footage as we shoot (Tony), mix the sound, all that quite important stuff.

For the first time I think, since writing the script, I can see the whole picture. And though I shall keep the gushy 'I'd like to thank...' Oscar speechery to a minimum, it's all down to the uber-talented cast and crew working on the film. I'm now looking forward to us all having a fun yet exhausting time in August and, one day, sitting back to enjoy all our hard work.

Not least to enjoy Debbie's hand-knitted CrimeFighters masks (cute) ...

Sunday, 19 July 2009

'It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live'

I really should listen to such wisdom sometimes. Or perhaps to my closest friends and not fictional wizards, but you get the point.

Those are the words spoken by Dumbledore when he catches Harry looking into the mirror of Erised, where all your dreams appear to come true, but in fact you're just staring gormlessly into a mirror, dreaming your life away. Making films isn't entirely unlike that concept; a lot of planning and dreaming to create something fictional and entertaining. And sometimes you get lost looking in the mirror and forget it's just a reflection.

Where reality comes in though - and reality is ironically very important for a filmmaker - is phone calls, emails, schedules, meetings with people, insurance, praticalities such as camera and light positioning, power sources, promoting the film, managing your very talented team of filmmakers and so forth. Lots of hard and rewarding stuff. And it's not necessarily something I'm comfortable doing because of the way my brain works. I suffer from burnout - if you want to label that social disorder that means you can only spend a small portion of each day in the company of people - which means that I spend a lot of time alone, when I choose to. Great for the writer side of me, not so healthy for the brain sometimes. People are social creatures and a lack of social interaction can do you considerable harm, especially when I'm someone who relies and thrives on the energy of people. Oh, delicious irony.

I made myself become a filmmaker because, apart from needing to have more interaction with people (although as Bruce Campbell says, filmmaking is in fact often a lonely experience that shuns socialising for work), I started feeling that I was going to have a very disappointing life if I didn't. It was my childhood dream and adolescent obsession but until you can prove it a worthwhile pursuit through trial and error, it's very frustrating and you tend to ask yourself if you're really cut out for it. I've reached the point where I can answer that with 'I have to be' or perhaps 'What else am I going to do?' I wonder if that's how many filmmakers feel.

I was distracted at school, I hate authority, I don't particularly enjoy regular jobs which is why I tend to pick an easy one and stay a few years (with the resulting inevitable frustrations), I'm not that great at most other things and I'm lazy and stubborn. Maybe these are an odd combination of things, but they seem to drive me to be ultra-hardworking and ambitious with my films, weirdly enough.

Filmmaking is a blessing and a curse because you end up thinking about it every day and occasionally it causes total brain melt. And at times like that you have to regroup, do some yoga, read a good book, have a coffee, write a blog, whatever works. So now I have to get on with what I was getting on with. Thanks for indulging me a little soul-searching.

I'll end with the words of another wise wizard: 'All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us'. See, they do know what they're talking about, those old beardies. I'd better get on with it.

Friday, 17 July 2009

Not Listening to Fear

I've reached that stage in a big project where you've been planning for months and months and suddenly the deadline, which seemed like a mirage on the horizon that you'd never get to, is within walking distance.

Well, it's just over 3 weeks away, but it's coming. Suddenly there are ten times more jobs to do in that short space of time than you thought there would be. All these little things that pop up and say 'Oh, sorry, did I not say I would be waiting for you at the end?'

It's all do-able, but in between the various other distractions of work, brain matters and preparing to move house, the next few weeks have piled up with jobs that, to say the least, have made me feel stressed and anxious and DAMN EXCITED! This is good, it just means it's one of my life's big (self-imposed) challenges that I now have to face up to. And I have admittedly woken up on some days and not wanted to get out of bed, but I know what that is, just fear trying to get in, and you have to brush it aside and get on with your day. Every day.

Those are the bad days, anyway. And I don't have that many of those. The good days, where I feel like a filmmaker and that all this is worthwhile, are magic. I get little glimpses of the rewards of following your dreams, in amongst the fear that I'm just a silly dreamer with someone else's camcorder. Although, I have my own now ;-)

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

CrimeFighters Test Shoots

Last night and today we went to some of the locations around York where we'll be filming CrimeFighters, to rough out some scenes, rehearse with the actors and test the shots for lighting and practicality. This is an invaluable process because it's the last stop before actually making the film; you go to the places you'll be revisiting a few weeks later, and work out shots, come up with some new ones, test your ideas and get creative with the environment.

Getting Paul Richardson (Tall Paul) on board has brought it home how much work there is to do, and how much fun it's going to be doing it. Paul is NOT a graduate from the school of 'Ah well, that'll do' where I was schooled, he wants to get every shot as good as it can be, yet within the time constraints of a tight shoot and a tighter budget. Thankfully, Paul and I are on the same wavelength regarding how much to analyse each scene, when to try and push for better shots and sequences, and, perhaps most importantly, when to move on.

Last night we were in an alley that felt like it could have been a film set from a Burton Batman movie, a not entirely unintentional or undesired aesthetic! Today we were shooting around the Minster, which offers a cornucopia of fascinating filming possibilities. As much as possible, when shooting by the Minster, you have to get the Minster in shot. It's just too beautiful.

Over these next 4 weeks until production begins, our aim is to shoot all or nearly all the film in a rough yet helpful draft version, so that we know exactly what shots we'll be going for each day.

This dedication to detail is that 'next level' I've talked about getting to as a filmmaker, and CrimeFighters is already shaping up to be a brilliantly challenging experience as a director. We also took some cheesy pictures of ourselves for the Press article that's coming soon. Check em out.

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Filming Zomblog Episode 10

10! TEN! Can't believe we're into double figures. Can't believe we're nearly at the end of season/series 2.

Today was another awesome shoot with Ian and Darren of 2 Baldies FX and their box of tricks, this time including a bag of guts, a pull-apart body and... well, wouldn't want to spoil it, so I'll shush.

Here's a sneaky peek though. Okay, it doesn't give anything away, but check the apocalypsey vibe:

It's so much fun working with a cast and crew so dedicated to hard work and fun, and Episode 10 really is going to be something special. After that, a slightly less gory Episode 11 filming in August and then the big finale, filming in September and launching at City Screen on Hallowe'en, 1 year since the whole thing began.

I've said this before and I'll say it again; I frickin love filmmaking, and days like this only make me more certain of it. It's backyard filming (literally, today) with your mates and a bunch of film nuts, and not only getting lots of amazing footage but having a genuinely fun and memorable day.

So thanks to Darren, Ian, Steve, Josh, Paul 1, Phil, Rory, Tony, Tree and Paul 2. You made it the best filming day ever. I always say this as we wrap every episode, but I can't WAIT to see this one...

Saturday, 11 July 2009

The Cat Factor & Other Tales of CrimeFighters

When I wrote the script for CrimeFighters I wrote that one of the characters, Daisy, who owns a boutique, has an ever-present cat who sits in the shop and watches people come and go. I didn't really think much about it until it came time to make the scenes pratical for shooting, and wondered whether we were actually going to get a cat or not.

So today I was in a nice shop browsing around when a beautiful grey cat wandered in and started saying hello to the customers. Upon enquiring I was told the cat belonged to a cafe down the road, and I went there to ask if they fancied letting the cat be in the shop scenes, as the shop we're filming in is practically next door to the cafe. The owners were lovely and said that the cat - who's called Drobo and is not even a year old - was already a bit of a local star and would love to be in the film as long as he could have his own trailer.

No, they didn't say that but I'm so glad we can actually have a cat in the shop scenes because it's one of those nice little touches that adds so much to scenes like that. Daisy's shop, which in reality is called Purple Haze, is absolutely beautiful and unique as it is, and is going to go well with the character of Daisy. And the cat is a part of that.

Just reminds me of how in 12 Monkeys, Terry Gilliam was so obsessed with making sure the hamster in the wheel looked right that he made Bruce Willis wonder why they were doing so many takes. It's that attention to detail - or in this case character - that adds so many little layers to the film and makes the universe we've created a delight to live in. I think Drobo may steal the show. Or at least make Debbie (Daisy) sneeze a lot since she's allergic to cats.

But then pain is temporary, film is forever.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

The 'To Do List' Syndrome and Facebook Shame

Everything's a syndrome these days isn't it. My take is that everyone's utterly mental in their own way, so suck it up, as they like to say in the Scott Pilgrim comics.

I, and several of my friends, swear by To Do lists, and this is a subject of fascination to me. I always made To Do lists when I was younger and trying to be a writer - a SERIOUS writer, mind you, not the frantic screenplay hack I've become - and had no sooner got through one than another popped out of nowhere.

These days I absolutely have to keep To Do lists handy, as filmmaking always requires reams of paper and the methodical crossing out of things I'm supposed to have done. The great thing about these lists is that as long as you always do them, you're doing ok, and you feel like you're progressing. The goal though is not to get through everything to the point where there's nothing left on the list, but to keep adding to and evolving it so that you're getting a load of stuff done. Otherwise life tends to drift by.

That's also the great thing about filmmaking; you have a lot to show for your time. Considerably less to show for your time, i.e. a year of work, or more, may yield a 90 minute feature film, so ratio-wise, you've slogged your guts out obsessively on one project for an hour and half of someone else's entertainment or horror. But at least film lasts forever. Ah, immortality.

One or two of my friends have told me that I need to occasionally ditch the To Do list and go out and live life, which I do intend to do, right after I've finished making this feature! I think it could be a panic about drifting through my 30s the way I drifted through my 20s, and a way to make sure I do all the things I think I've been put on this stupid planet to do.

One day I won't have a To Do list, but that day I'll probably be old and wrinkley and about to die. I should put 'Die' at the end of my last To Do list, or I'll feel I did something off the scheduled plan.

Now then, Facebook. There seem to be an awful lot of people who use Facebook to update fifteen times a day with posts like 'I am bored', and 'I am watching TV', 'Why does no-one reply to my posts' and 'I hate everyone' and then disappear for a while, only to return with a newfound love for posting updates fifteen times a day.

The thing about Facebook is, it's Faceless. Yes it's people that make it run, but in a kind of filtered, second hand way that often bears little relation to the way people really interact. Now this may sound hypocritical from someone who constantly promotes my films and projects online, and I have fallen victim to the 'Is anyone out there? Why doesn't anyone care?' thing, but people are selfish. I am selfish, everyone is selfish and everyone is dealing with their own daily problems, so don't feel personally slighted if they can't comment on every little detail of your life at the same rate you can post them. That's what friends are for; actual, real world friends. The dozen or so people you really give a shit about and who love you and would happily drop what they were doing and come give you a hug. And not a *poke*, either. An actual hug. With real arms. Thank the stars for those precious few, because they're the ones whose opinions matter, not the 326 people on your 'friends' list, out there in the dark somewhere.

It's the same with a blog. If you want to spout your theories and news and nonsense, as I'm doing, in public, go for it. But this isn't a diary. You can pour your heart out but in a very general, cry for help kind of way to the wailing wall, but everyone's busy living their lives, or perhaps not since they're all on Facebook. You can't take it personally when no-one replies to your fifteen posts a day, and when they do it's to say something like 'You need to get a life outside Facebook' as I noticed one of my friends comment on another friend's wall the other day. You need actual help, ask an actual person. IN person.

There is a certain honesty that can come of blogging and Facebooking though. I for one am someone who gets on very well with most people - unless they're obnoxious wankers - but I have a certain shy, social awkwardness that sometimes means I'm better online than in person - only sometimes, I hope - but I have struck up some damn fine friendships that started online with the odd comment and sharing of music or film clips and developed into something nicer and more personal. And no, I'm not talking about online dating.

I do enjoy to ramble. Time to go, I've only done half my To Do list.

Character Chatting

What a stupid title, sounds like a pretentious article on Radio 4 presented by Alan Partridge.

But that's what I did the other day; chatted (in Starbucks, cos I'm a sucker for the occasional caramel macchiato) with Harry and Curt who are playing the characters of Ethan and Curt respectively in my film CrimeFighters. Their roles are smallish but key in that they drive much of the plot and the emotions of the main character; Ella. Ethan is her ex and Curt is her boss and present the two sides of Ella's dilemma. I like it! Ella's Dilemma.


Always fun to develop characters with the actors playing them; we came up with lots of little character tics and nuances (I sound like Woody Allen) that will help the actors play the characters and also add much to the scenes they have with Emma, who's playing Ella. Is this a really badly worded blog? Ah well.

Next week we'll be delving deep into the characters of the main trio. There are 4 weeks of pre-production left which is exciting and scary but the time is coming to stop planning this film and make it. And one of the things you can really get into during filming is the performances and directing actors. I think too much rehearsal can sap the energy and fun of film acting. It's going to be quite an adventure.

I've realised I can't end a blog without a film trailer-type statement. In a time... of filmmaking...

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Self Help and Scaredy Cat Filmmakers

What ho, folks.

Stephen Fry tweeted this the other week:

"I bloody knew it! I knew that titty-arsed self-help wank was all hooey. Bow down before empiricism, quacks & mountebanks"

in response to this article about self-help books.

He was being ironic of course. Mr. Fry is someone who has suffered what Churchill called his 'Black Dog' all his life, and as someone who has known well this cagey canine, i.e. depression, I cast my mind back to the various ways of dealing with it that I've come across, one being a self-help book called Feel The Fear and Do It Anyway.

The book was recommended to me by a friend who also suffers depression, and was quite a revelation. Of the several books I've read about the subject, this one really made some good points about what your life could be like with and without depression and that if - IF - you have the choice to gradually think yourself out of it, you can do it. Not for everyone, but then what is? It worked by highlighting the fact that fear drives most of what we do, and if it can be controlled it can be mastered. And my particular brand of depression is based very much around fear. So, feel the fear, and do it anyway. Sure, some self-help books may come across as preachy or happy-clappy and there are a LOT out there, but this one worked. For me, I hasten to add. But then I'm rather suggestible.

The main points I got from the book were:

- Your life has many facets to it and they can't possibly ALL suck at the same time. Your mind tells you EVERYTHING is rubbish quite often when it isn't. You have to look for things to be happy about, grateful for, and you have to do this every day for the rest of your life. Happy people, it says, are seeking happiness. Makes sense.
- Listen to your friends! One of the first questions my counsellor at the time asked me is 'What is your opinion of yourself?' and then 'Honestly, what are your best friends' opinions of you?'. Two very interesting questions.

When your brain starts going 'You and everything around you is shit' it's time to find something else to occupy your thoughts. My various ways include putting on a good DVD, seeing a matinee, meeting someone for coffee, going for a bike ride, taking a U-turn from whatever it was you were doing that was making you feel crappy.

The other interesting site I found today was this one.

Quite a good little article, but this is what caught my eye:

"This world needs more Gilliams, more Gondrys and more films from the ones we’ve already got and less scaredy cat crap from under the thumb of wuss producers."

I couldn't have put it better myself. As an indie filmmaker the great joy is that I'm able to work with some really wonderful people who all have the same interest as me; to create films and tell stories the way we want them, and - since we have no choice - unencumbered by vast sums of money and huge egos. The smaller and more controllable the film, the more personal the process, the closer to the original idea you can stay.

One day I hope to be making 'bigger' films but I hope I never forget to stay true to my roots and original reasons to become a filmmaker; to feel that sense of joy and love for cinema I felt when I was a child, and to work with my friends and fellow filmmakers to thoroughly enjoy not only the final result, but the process. Because it's all about the process innit. You know, like LIFE. Ok ok, enough of that.

Bye now.

The Zomblogalypse Guide to Zombie Apocalypse Survival

I had fun making this. We're always thinking of ways to advertise the series, so decided to get in on the whole zombie survival genre that people seem to love. I just read Max Brooks' double bill of zombie books, The Zombie Survival Guide and World War Z, and it really got me thinking about how I'd survive.

I would last about 2 days, based on this.

Episode IV: A New Blog.

Geeky enough title for ya?

On the advice of a good friend I've decided to blog on a proper blog site rather than Myspace, which I don't think gets many hits really. This might not either, but the layout makes more sense. If you'd like to catch up on this year's blogging, head to my Myspace site.

Here's the last written blog I did, just to start us off:

Riding the Waves

I don't know what else to call it; the waves that happen when you're prepping a film project, or probably any large project that relies on a lot of work and a lot of people, and eventually boils down to one day or a small amount of time where it's all supposed to come together.

Even if you keep the vision close to you and keep going, doing all the little jobs that are necessary, week in week out, there are going to be times when you wonder if you can do it, or when you have dips in the enthusiasm and energy. At times like that the only thing to do is back off, watch something or listen to something or talk to someone inspirational, or perhaps nothing to do with filmmaking at all, then wait for the next wave to hit you and go with it.

The wave can come in the form of a person, a thought or a sound or smell, but whatever the spark of inspiration is, it ignites the passion for the project again and you're off and running. This week my energies are really focused elsewhere, worries and life things that are draining energy from making CrimeFighters. But thankfully this week's inspiration came in the form of Tall Paul and his commitment to the film.

Paul is on board and we have a plan for the next month and a bit which includes going round all the locations with cameras and lights and planning shots, screening them on the big screen and developing the visual style of the film. This way we can see what works and what doesn't and not get any nasty shocks when we're shooting and watching back the footage. Also, we get to play around making the film out of the pressured environment of the actual shoot. In other words, we get to make the film before we make the film.

Paul said that he feels that we're 'primed' the make this film, in terms of where we are and what we've done before. It's a big deal, but we want it to be a big fun deal, something to get engrossed in. Yay. I love filmmaking, I do.

CrimeFighters Fight Training Vlog