Monday, 18 July 2011

Filmmaking and Me: Project Alchemy – Post Production Part One (or Fallout/Aftermath, take your pick)

Filmmaking and Me: Project Alchemy – Post Production Part One (or Fallout/Aftermath, take your pick)

I realized the other day that I hadn’t updated this blog for a while. My life has been getting in the way somewhat over the last couple of months, but that seems (at least for now) to be settling down a little bit. I thought I’d take the opportunity then to jump back in, since there are more of my tales to tell and the first few blogs made a hell of an impact on me. Off the back of them, I wrote my first original screenplay in nearly ten years. So it did the job it was intended to do. No reason then to back off now.

So. Where was I?

Ah yes, Project Alchemy – The Aftermath! No that’s not a sequel, merely what came next after the shoot wrapped. If I thought the drama was to die down a wee bit, I was very, very wrong.

I should have been happy after the film wrapped. I’d achieved what I set out to do and in the process won the heart of one of the most incredible women I’ve ever known, but I just couldn’t get over a sense of loss.
Nadia and I were a couple, yes and I was a smitten kitten to be sure, but at what cost had that come? There was still a film to be edited and tensions were still running very high in the group.

A week or so after the shoot I got a phone call from Clayton. “We’re picking you up this evening and having a meeting in Salisbury.” Riiiight, I asked, a little taken back at his insistent tone. “We need to sort out what’s going to happen to the film and we have a contract we want you to sign. “Contract” I thought, what the devil is all this about. “Okay.” I said, “Pick me up and we’ll talk.”

A few hours past and Clayton, Mark and Darren arrived to pick me up for the meeting. I was on guard though and wouldn’t get into the car until I knew what I was walking into. Foremost on my mind was this ‘contract’. So stood on the pavement outside my house and talking to Clayton through the car window, I was passed a one-page document (I still have it) outlining how the group wanted me to surrender all control and legal claim to ‘Project Alchemy’ so that the film could proceed with all creative decisions made collectively by the group. This was a coup, I thought. I stood there on the pavement reading through the document before handing it back to Clayton. “I’ll come with you and have this meeting”, I said “but I am not signing that contract.” After much tooing and throwing, we all grudgingly got in the car together and continued on to the meeting.

The meeting was frosty, most of it coming from me, since I was the one being ‘overthrown’. Slowly, but surely things started to warm and although I was insistent that I would not sign the contract, other compromises and a ‘roadmap’ was agreed upon. Chief among this was that Clayton would cut together an offline edit and that I would take more of a back seat while the project got back on track, but that I would do the final cut. I poured my heart out at this meeting and for the first time, felt as if we could all come back from the brink and that friendships could also be put back on track. I also mapped out the next project, another short film called ‘The Spider and the Web’, which I offered up to Clayton to direct. This was about two assassins, one male, one female who embark on a passionate and violent love affair – it was an action comedy. It served to clear the air and while I was very wary of the meeting to begin with, I was very glad of it by the end. As we were leaving the meeting, Nadia called me on my mobile and instead of daggers being stared at me by the others; I got the piss ripped out of me for being under the thumb. I was grateful for the banter and it reassured me that things might be ok after all.

So the offline editing started, without much input from me, I called in to see how progress was being made, but I stepped back from the process initially, which turned out to be a positive thing. I was glad of this to be honest, it gave me an opportunity to start earning some money, since I hadn’t done any paid work in about a month again and it also gave me time with Nadia, which I was also very grateful for. I was in a relationship, but I had no idea what that meant, or how to do it and although it was fun finding out, I couldn’t shake the feeling that although I was head over heels, I didn’t deserve it. She was my rock during this time though and she gave me a huge amount of support even if this did mean venting her anger about the way I was being treated by Clayton and Darren in particular in the most colourful language I ever heard from her lips. As far as she was concerned I was the glue that held the group together, I was the ideas man, the guy with all the scripts and the ambition to see those dreams carried through. Most of it was out of loyalty to me and I was never able to make her see the contribution that those guys made to my process, such was her anger toward them. Still it was unbelievable to have someone give me that kind of loyalty and she made me feel like I could do anything.

That aside, I always felt from day one that she was out of my league and that eventually she’d lose interest as soon as someone better came along and she realized what a huge mistake she made with me. I couldn’t shake those anxieties; I couldn’t believe my luck and certainly didn’t think I deserved it. She was everything I ever wanted, so why was it, every time we parted company did I feel a certain amount of relief? It didn’t help that we came from such different places, I was an obsessive, ambitious geek and she was a club bunny and a bit of a party animal. This was further compounded by the fact that she wouldn’t give me any public displays of affection in her hometown just in case her ex-boyfriend (whom she left for me) or any of his family saw to two of us together. I understood her reasons, but I still felt as though she was a little ashamed of me. When it was just us though, away from the eyes of the world or our friends, it was amazing and I never wanted it to end.

A couple of weeks past and Clayton completed the offline edit. Clayton, Darren and I got together and watched the entire thing without speaking a word. Clayton had used everything, so it was quite a bloated edit, as was to be expected. I was concerned about a few things, mainly the climax and whether it made sense and also one flashback scene, which was awful. Above all though, it looked great. It had a run time of 40 minutes, which I wanted to get down to 30, but aside from that, it was all systems go. I was chomping at the bit for my turn at bat.

Clayton had cut together the off-line version on VHS and it had been decided initially that the on-line edit would be cut together on Hi-Band Umatic. Indeed all of the rushes had been telecined to Hi-Band for this purpose. However, because the sound had been recorded separately on DAT and there was no, mag track. All the sound rushes had to be synched manually to the video. It was decided at this point that everything would be digitized and that I would cut everything on the new Non-Linear editing suite that had just been installed.

This is when everything started to go south. As expected, by me at least, the relationship between Nadia and I came to an abrupt end. Not a bad one, just an abrupt one. She said she wanted to take a break and I said, let’s just call it what it is, a break up. In fact, aside from the drama that it created, the relationship, which lasted a mere two months, was an incredibly positive experience, one that I will be forever grateful for. Yes it was passionate and intense, but I got out of it an amazing experience and even better, a longtime friendship that is still going to this day.

So that was it, Nadia was out of the picture. I was reluctant to even tell Clayton and Darren and certainly didn’t feel as if I could confide in them. For the first time in a great many years, I felt truly alone.

Tell them, I eventually did and I could practically hear Darren’s heart skipping with delight. I think they both relished it secretly, but soon after hostilities died down quite considerably and although I knew it would never be the same, it did feel as if things had got back to normal. To the point where we started planning the next project, even going as far as cutting together a teaser trailer for it. At the same time I was getting new pick up shots and scenes for Alchemy, although now we were shooting on MiniDV in the hope we could splice it into the 16mm footage without anyone noticing.

Nadia was also involved with this and while it was a little jarring a first seeing her again after we broke up, it very quickly became evident that we were better as friends than anything else. As I intended to cast her as the female lead in ‘The Spider and the Web’, I even went as far as interviewing her ‘in character’ to help with my writing process.

The problems with the film continued though. I was in charge of the final edit, but I was now working full time and the only time I could get to do any was on a Wednesday. The problem was, every time I arranged to do any; I was turned away as the facility we had paid was now too busy. Months went by and it got ridiculous, if things continued the film would never see the light of day. After a while I made the decision that if the film was going to be finished I had to put my money where my mouth was – literally!

I got a bank loan and bought my very first NLE computer! I could now edit on my terms and I set about cracking on with finishing this thing and finally moving on. Oh if only it were to be that simple…..

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Filmmaking and Me: Project Alchemy – Production

Shooting began in the last days of May in 1997 and would continue for ten days into June. Right from the off, the shoot was defined by extremes.

The first scene to be shot was the hospital flashback scene, which involved 3 of the 5 major cast members and didn’t include me. This was a good scene to start with as it meant I could concentrate on Directing. What wasn’t so great was the location.

After a few weeks of not finding anywhere suitable, Nadia suggested using the fire escape corridor at the back of the Nightclub where she worked. Clayton, Darren and I did a recce of the site and while it wasn’t very hospital like it would certainly work at a push.

Shooting commenced around 11am, but by 11.30am we were pulling our hair out, since that’s when the bowling alley next door opened. All that could be heard from that point on were bowling balls being thrown down aisles, something that wasn’t present during our recce. It was a nightmare for sound and concentration levels and it wasn’t long before the immortal words “we’ll fix it in post” were uttered.

We completed the scene by the skin of our teeth, but were unable to shoot a short scene involving ‘Nameless’’ escape and confrontation with ‘Stephen’ at the same location. It was decided to try and secure another location for that scene, a decision that would later come back and bite me on the ass.

Next up was a night scene a few hours later in a wooded area near our main shooting location and this would be the first example of the extremes I was about to encounter. The scene involved me, half naked and bare foot, running through the wood being chased by armed men. Despite some reports, I assure you this really was the first time this had happened to me.

The initial plan was to lay down carpet where I would run and disguise it in the way it would be shot. However, despite it being the end of May, it was FREEZING! By the time I disrobed, I was chilled to the bone and I couldn’t actually feel my feet. Wanting to get the shooting over as quickly as possible, rather than act, I decided to actually run through the wood half naked and barefoot. Possibly an unwise decision!

Honestly I didn’t care. I was willing to suffer for my art. Being egged on by the (all male) crew didn’t hurt either. The camaraderie, bonding and….. fun for lack of a better word had begun and I was having a ball. It was pretty obvious, at least at this stage, everyone else was having a good time too. The tents were up next to our main location and after much banter and a hearty meal provided by Mark’s mum, who was providing the catering for the shoot, it was time for sleep. Oh did I mention? It was FREEZING. That first night in the tent was cooooold...

I awoke the next morning to…..pain. The run through the wood the night before had taken its toll on my feet. They were covered in minor cuts and nettle stings, mainly on the soles of my feet and it hurt to walk. No matter, I thought, “use it.”

We were shooting much of the film in sequence and the next few days would be taken up with the warehouse scenes, the location where my character was holding Nadia’s character hostage. After the first couple of days, it became apparent how much I’d taken on choosing to act as well as direct this thing.

This was the longest shoot we’d ever done and certainly the most intense. On one hand I was playing a character that was out of control, who had no identity or memory and was desperately scrambling to discover himself and on the other hand I was directing. I had to be in control, know where the shoot had been, where it was and where it was going next. Basically the exact opposite. It was like self-induced schizophrenia and I started to get fatigued far quicker than I expected and sooner than everyone else. Three days into the shoot and I was knackered and was starting to operate on pure adrenaline. This wasn’t hard though, particularly when continuing the night shoots, with fast moving cars and explosions. The main explosion that our Special FX guy created certainly woke anyone up that had been sleeping.

It also didn’t help that the weather had gone to an extreme, from freezing cold to heat wave. The warehouse we were shooting in was actually used to store and dry grain from the farm we were on. The dust of which got everywhere, add heat and sweat to that and it makes for a very uncomfortable position. Great for the character, just not that great for Paul (or anyone else). I couldn’t bring myself to complain too much though. I was still the luckiest guy on earth in my own head. I was doing what I loved and I was having an amazing time doing it. I’d just underestimated the toll it was going to take.

I forget which day it was exactly, I think it was day four of the shoot, but it might have been day five. What I am certain of though are the events of that day and they would be explosive.

It had started in the usual way, shooting around 10am, lots of banter, goodwill and hard work. We were a good way through the warehouse scenes between Nadia and I, when a break was called. While the crew left the sweltering heat of the warehouse interior to enjoy the glorious sunshine outside. Nadia and I stayed. I had gained a second wind and was in high gear again. I wanted to rehearse what we were going to do next while no one else was around. Although she’d been working all morning too, she was happy to stay and go through lines.

I think it’s fair to say, that by this time, I had grown very fond of her. She was quite unlike anyone I’d ever met, charming, sweet, sexy and sassy, but above all, genuine. It’s so rare to meet a truly genuine person. One that says what they mean and mean what they say. Quite simply she was a joy to be around, but until this point I can honestly say that I never had any romantic inclination toward her. We had become very firm friends and I felt a significant bond with her, but nothing really beyond that. If anything did exist beyond that, I had well and truly suppressed it to point of not being conscious of it at all.

So we read through lines, me in a standing position and she sat on some wooden palettes. What came next was a shock and something of a blur. I recall looking up from my script, deep into her eyes and noticing that she had suddenly started looking at me in a very different way. Confused, slightly uncomfortable and a little bit excited, I looked back to my script when I felt her hand on the back of my neck pulling me forward and finally her lips upon mine. It was a kiss, tender, passionate and completely unexpected. I raised my hand to her face, not so much to caress her cheek, but more to make sure that she was actually there and this wasn’t some bizarre waking dream brought on by sleep deprivation.

As quickly as it had happened it was over. I’d heard people coming back into the warehouse and broke away from the embrace. This provoked an “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have done that.” From her and a “we’ll talk about this later” from me. She then left the scene of the event leaving me there wondering “what the fuck just happened.”

A few minutes of pondering and I had to ask myself, had I been falling for this woman all along and just hadn’t let myself realise it? Such was the importance of the film. Now though the floodgates were open and I had to somehow close them in order to function properly. I wasn’t sure bottling it up was such a good idea, so I decided to confide in the man I considered my best friend, Clayton. The response I got was unexpected. Upon telling him of the kiss, his countenance changed. Clayton always was a good natured fella, never short of a laugh, especially if it meant taking the piss out of me. I was half expecting a pat on the back, a “good for you” moment as well as plenty of ribbing.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. He was angry and his response curt. “Leave it until after the shoot. Do not fuck this up!” That was it, end of conversation. His sentiment was of course right and that’s exactly what I intended to do, but the manner in which he presented it astounded me. I thought as my mate he would be pleased for me and as my friend and colleague he would trust that I would not let it interfere with the filmmaking process. Frankly I was now a little bit pissed off with him too.

Things were tense between all three of us for the next couple of hours, but Clayton did seem to ease off the cutting looks to both Nadia and I toward the end of the day and by the evening meal it was business as usual as if nothing had ever happened. I had started to wonder if it ever did.

After eating, we all jumped in various cars and vans and travelled to our next shooting locale, which was a college car park. This would be used as our hospital exterior where Nadia’s character was kidnapped by ‘Nameless’. On the way there, Nadia and I were singing at the top of our voices the works of Harry Connick Jnr, Frank Sinatra and Gershwin. In hindsight, it must have seriously got up Clayton and Mark’s noses since they were in the front seats of the car and had to endure our crooning. We, on the other hand were completely oblivious and they rather graciously never let on if they did feel that way.

Once at the location, shooting went smoothly and quickly and I was getting everything I wanted, possibly in more ways than one. I was high, euphoric, which lead to me doing something very silly.

The shoot finished, Nadia and I were alone in the car and the discussion turned back to the earlier events. When she asked what I thought about it, my response was simple, I told her I wanted to kiss her again. So in the same spirit of spontaneity from earlier that day, I did.

Not a good idea now that I look back on it. Not the kiss or the spontaneity, something I believe is vital in romance. No the lack of judgement came from the timing, since in fact we were not invisible and everyone. Saw. Everything.

I realised my error within seconds of making it and had already started opening the car door, when Mark arrived to help. “I think you should probably get out of the car mate.” Was his reaction, obviously prompted by the thunder that was present in Clayton’s face.  I proceeded to do so and Mark drove Nadia home.

On one hand, I did nothing wrong, I was a young man doing what young men do. On the other hand I was a Director of a film and I was being indiscreet with my lead actress and I wasn’t subtle about it. However, I wish I could say that had I been more discreet it wouldn’t have changed things, but this was more than just about what was happening between Nadia and I. This was a power play starting to develop and this, my only poor judgement through shooting would be used as ammunition again and again.

I went around each member of the crew and apologised. Everyone but Clayton and Darren told me, that as long as the film got finished nothing else was any of their business. It didn’t make me feel any better and that night in the tent was a very, very lonely one.

You could cut the tension the next day with a knife, but as the days shooting progressed everything started to settle down. Clayton still wasn’t talking much and Darren could barely look me in the eyes, let alone talk to me. It helped that Nadia wouldn’t be back on set until that night, but it was still a bloody tough day. I was now pushing myself harder than I ever had before as I now had something to prove. No way in hell was anyone going to tell me that the events of the last couple of days were affecting my performance to act or direct. No way!

We were working well into the night and had got a lot done when it occurred to me that Nadia hadn’t turned up to do her scenes. It was then revealed to me that she’d been here waiting for a couple of hours, but it was considered in my own best interests to keep her away from me while I was working.

I’d finally thought things had started to settle down only to find that I was being treated like a child. I was not pleased, but I bit my tongue for the sake of peace and carried on. The night rolled into the day and I was pushing myself and every one else harder than ever. What started out with me having something to prove was starting to border on overcompensating.

The next day Iain came to me and asked if everyone could have the afternoon off. We were ahead of schedule and after consulting Clayton we agreed that everyone should take some time to rest and we would recommence shooting that night.

Most of the fellas disappeared to their respective tents to sleep. Clayton, Darren and Mark went back to their respective houses and Nadia and I went for a walk. We then found a field where we sat and talked for a couple of hours before she had to leave.

While everyone else was resting I went back into the warehouse to check on equipment, the set etc. General stuff just to keep busy since I wasn’t tired. That was then Clayton arrived. He was still angry and had plenty to say. I can honestly say in the five years I’d known him he’d never been that vitriolic. I was still being accused of underperforming, of my mind being anywhere other than on the shoot and that the whole crew had lost faith in me. I was in no mood for this. I had been working my ass off to prove how focussed I still was. The only thing that mattered to me was finishing the film. I’d spoken to each member of the crew individually and was happy that they were happy that things were on track. So I bit back and let loose.

The proceeding argument actually served to clear the air, but at the time that Clayton stormed off I was furious and pretty bloody upset. Almost immediately my phone rang. It was Nadia, who was also upset at everything that was happening. I told her that I couldn’t handle her right now and that I’d see her during her next shoot. I then hung up and did what every lad that needs someone to turn to does. I called my Mum….

After much needed kind words of encouragement I manned up and we recommenced filming. The days that followed went by without incident and slowly and surely things began to get back to normal. Before I knew it the shoot was coming to an end and while I was generally pleased by what had been achievedand over the moon and everyone's hard work and effort, it was becoming obvious that the relationship between Clayton, Darren and perhaps the rest of the group were never going to be the same again.

Unlike nearly all of the crew members I had spent every night of the past nine in a tent with very little sleep. I’d faced enormous stress and all I wanted to do now was sleep. I had a whole lot of shit to clean up, but that was going to have to wait until tomorrow since I was so tired I couldn’t even think straight any more.

What I did know for absolute certainty though is that my life had changed and there was a very real possibility that there was no going back.

So would begin the fallout.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Filmmaking and Me: Project Alchemy – Pre-Production

Hey did I tell you the time I was invited to the Batman Begins set? When I met Chris Nolan, Christian Bale and Gary Oldman? When I walked around the Gotham City sets and climbed in the Batmobile? No? Really? You must be the only person left ;)

The weird thing is, on the coach driving us back to London afterwards, the other journalists were compiling notes or chatting amongst themselves about the experience. Not I. I was having a major flashback.

I had just been on set of a multi-million pound production and the thing that struck me about it the most was how intimate it was. They only had a few days to shoot, so most of the production had wound down, but it was a very relaxed atmosphere, with only about twenty or so cast and crew there (or so it seemed). Being in this huge warehouse that was home to the Gotham City sets, it seemed more like a small independent movie as opposed to a multi-million pound production.

And it brought back memories.

In the early part of 1996 Clayton and I decided we needed a decent budget if we were ever going to make anything worthwhile. This was about the same time that the National Lottery Art funds were being released, so we applied for a small grant of £5000. Our intention was to make a short film on 16mm film, which I had been using at film school and Clayton had also been experimenting with. We were following the Robert Rodriguez school of filmmaking after being inspired by his work on ‘El Mariachi’.

It was decided that we would once again revisit ‘The Stranger’. Only this time I was doing an adaptation of my own work. I wanted to keep ‘The Stranger’ safe, so I wrote a 30 minute film based on it, but dropped character names and the vampire angle. Instead of ‘The Stranger’ the lead character was dubbed ‘Nameless’ as he had no memory. The film was about the quest to find out who he was something that along the way reveals him to be far more than he or the audience expected. It was a science fiction thriller with a healthy dose of military conspiracy and genetic tinkering. Themes that were very popular in the new TV show ‘The X-files’ that had recently started airing, something of which we were all fans.

I did several drafts of the script, but in all honesty it could have done with a few more and we send the application form off.

To our absolute astonishment, we were awarded the money.

My primary role was that of Writer/Director, but I was also going to play the role of ‘Nameless’, something with the benefit of hindsight, was probably not the best idea.

Clayton was wearing his producing hat on this one as well as being DP. Everyone else had various crew roles, but it was decided that we were all going to muck in and do what was necessary to get the job done. We’d scheduled a ten day shoot at the end of May/Beginning of June, which was only several short weeks away. Lots of discussions were had, but before anything serious started up. It was time to celebrate.

So Clayton, Darren and I went out to a nightclub. Now Darren frequented nightclubs all the time, but Clayton and I would have much rather had gone to the pub. The main reason for going here though was the possibility of meeting someone who Darren had told us he’d got quite friendly with. Clayton and I knew that was Darren speak, for “I fancy her”. We figured he’d want to brag that we were making a movie to score points, so we thought we’d humour him.

In the car on the way there, Darren gave us the run down on this girl. He didn’t go into much detail. Her name was Nadia, she worked there as the lighting techie and she was possibly up for playing the lead in our movie. That description didn’t exactly fill me with faith. I was expecting an attractive blonde, not too bright with an ego the size of her considerable bust, such was Darren’s taste in women, but we proceeded. After all we were humouring him.

The nightclub was loud and dark and Darren scurried off to find her. He returned to tell us that she’d come and find us when she had a break. I couldn’t help but smile at that. “chances are…” I thought “she’s humouring Darren too.

I think a good hour passed and I was doing quite well at getting smashed. I was in a happy mood and the JDs and Cokes were flowing thick and fast and that was when Darren reappeared with a stunningly attractive brunette. Two things immediately struck me about her….ahem…get your minds out of the gutter. Her dazzling smile and her warm and genuine demeanour, which I’m happy to report she still has to this day.

She was funny, charming and above all genuinely interested in being involved with the project. It turned out she’d had quite a few brushes with showbiz. I think it’s probably an understatement to say she was not what I had expected at all.

I must confess, I really don’t remember much else about that night, except for introducing myself to Nadia twice, which she graciously excused with her usual grace and good nature. Somewhere in there though we exchanged telephone numbers and thus began lots of very long telephone calls, mainly about the project, but soon enough about the life universe and everything. She read the script, loved it and before I knew it, we had our very first cast member, well second if you include me. We were off and running.

In order to keep within our tight budget, I wrote the film around one central location and limited the number characters. As well as ‘Nameless’ who would be played by me and ‘Dr. Diane O’Neil’ played by Nadia, there were three main antagonists. The man that headed up the military initiative known as ‘Project Alchemy’ ‘Stephen Murray’, the Chief Scientist in charge of the ‘Prototypes’ ‘Dr. March’ and the Terminator like ‘Tracker’.

Iain would play ‘Stephen’ something I’m not convinced he was happy with. Iain had no previous acting experience, but I was determined to cast people who could act rather than actors. This whole project was about giving people the chance to do something maybe they hadn’t done before and that seemed in keeping with the whole ethos.

Iain put me in mind of Sean Bean when he read for the role and I loved his cold, detached delivery. He required more nurturing than the others as he wasn’t as confident and my lack of directing experience, I felt I let him down a little in his final performance. Had I been more experienced, I’m sure I could have coaxed an even better performance from him.

Mark took on the role of ‘Tracker’. We briefly entertained the idea of Clayton playing this role, but quickly determined that it would be impractical. Mark would be barely recognisable under the heavy prosthetic makeup and costume that I’d designed and with that came a certain amount of confidence, from someone who again had never performed under these circumstances. We would later cast David Williams in the role of ‘Dr. March’. He was the only member of the cast with extensive acting experience, which would really show in the final result.

I had storyboarded the main action sequences, but had left a lot of the ‘talky’ sequences, of which there were many. The plan was to shoot it in much the same way as we shot ‘Hoods’. This pretty much meant that I had the entire movie in my head, shot by shot. We didn’t even bother with things like call sheets etc. since most people would be camping out next to our main location. We would work for as long as we could, whenever we could. Who needs call sheets, bah!

We had several meetings and rehearsals and I was very happy in the direction we were heading. Who am I kidding, I was ecstatic. I was in my element, passionate, enthusiastic with boundless energy. God I must have been annoying ;)

After one such meeting, Darren had ferried Nadia and I back into town. We dropped her off first and then Darren took me to the bus station. Once Nadia left the car, Darren’s tone turned very serious. He noted how well she and I were getting on. I told him frankly I hadn’t noticed, Nadia got on with everyone. “You won’t try anything on with her will you?” Were the next words out of his mouth. I couldn’t help but laugh at the notion. This was the very definition of punching above my weight as far as I was concerned.

“Don’t be daft” I assured him. “She’s way out of my league. I have absolutely no intention of getting involved with her like that.” Besides everything else she had a boyfriend and I had a pretty vile history when it came to that kind of situation (subject for another blog methinks.) “On top of all that I have a film to make.”

I can honestly say that I meant absolutely every word of that conversation, from the very bottom of my heart. Unfortunately, I had no idea at this time how those words would come back to haunt me, since I also hadn’t realised how much of a crush Darren had now developed over her.

So cast and crew were in place. Money was paid, equipment hired we were ready to begin.

To quote Sam Beckett – no not that one, the other one – “Oh boy!”

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Filmmaking and Me Part I – The Formative/College Years

Art School/College was a breath of fresh air to me. After the hell that was school, college offered me something I hadn’t had in quite some time, a chance to be myself.

The two years I spent there, was truly one of the best times of my life and aside from one blip – I fell for a girl I couldn’t have (although years later I did have, but then I found I didn’t want) I look back on it with enormous fondness.

I met there a couple of kindred spirits and developed a strong friendship them. One of these people shared my love – actually by now – obsession with movies. His name was Clayton.

It’s true to say we hit it off straight away, as well as our love of films, we shared the same quirky – if a little dark – sense of humour and boy, did we love to laugh.

Clayton and another friend, Neil, started going to an evening class in our second year on video/filmmaking. Both of them had a keen interest in it, but filmmaking still wasn’t on my radar. At this time, I still wanted to be a comic-book artist.

In truth though, I had become frustrated with drawing comic-books and I couldn’t quite figure out why so I continued with my ambition regardless. Then we were told in the early part of 1994 that we would get the opportunity to create our own design brief for our final assessment. Much like I had done a few years earlier at school.

This was it, I thought. This was my opportunity to finally commit the time to making ‘The Stranger’ comic book a reality. For my brief I’d decided I was going to create ‘The Stranger’ Issue #1, although, I still had that nagging frustration in the back of my mind. I’d made the decision, but I couldn’t help feeling it was the wrong one.

I don’t remember exactly how the next bit happened. Neil, Clayton and I had been talking about our proposed projects. I forget what Neil wanted to do, but I remember that Clayton wanted to do a cell animated piece. After much discussion we collectively came up with the idea of doing a joint project; an animated trailer for a movie about……’The Stranger’!

I suddenly got very excited about this. So much so that I immediately dropped the notion of the comic-book, which was actually quite telling. I was going to come up with the script and the character designs. Clayton and I were going to come up with the storyboards and we were all going to draw the animation, with Neil in charge of the colouring if I remember correctly.

We then took the idea to our tutors, who refused point blank to let us do it. Now I was a brash and arrogant little shit back then and stubborn to boot. Actually I probably still am, but I’d like to think I’ve mellowed a bit ;). I would not take no for an answer and after a few weeks we were given the go ahead, I think more to watch us fall on our collective asses than anything.

So it began and spiralled downhill pretty quickly. I storyboarded it and came up with various designs, but we couldn’t make decisions about anything and couldn’t seem to get our act together, except to choose the music we were going to use, which was an Elliott Goldenthal track from Alien3, something that Neil introduced us to, although this would later change to a Brad Fiedel track from Terminator 2.

I think the magnitude then hit us about what we were trying to achieve and in animation given the timescale we had. To produce a two-minute trailer (which was the aim) was impossible.

We had to admit defeat. It was then that I turned to Clayton and said, “You know, we have the script and the storyboards. I know nothing about video, but is there a possibility of doing this live-action.”

Clayton got that devilish glint in his eye, which he had more often than not. “Yes” was his answer. Now I don’t remember exactly why, but it was here that we parted ways with Neil. I think it was a brief falling out, but I don’t remember the circumstances that surrounded it.

Now Clayton and I approached our tutors to explain the situation and our plan. It was met with ridicule and even more opposition, but again I wouldn’t take no for an answer and eventually we got our way. Now we had even more to prove.

At this stage we enlisted the help of another person, Darren. While Clayton and I concentrated on the film, Darren was to come up with posters and cinema standees as his project, based in my initial designs. Essentially we were going to market it as if it were a real film.

Then it really began. We started shooting and after watching back the first few shots that we’d filmed, I had an epiphany. I suddenly realised why I had become so frustrated with my comic book drawings. They were static and in my head the images were always in motion.

Now I was really hungry for it. Clayton taught me how to use the camera and we’d just shoot anything that was in keeping with the storyline.

It had been decided that I would play the lead – Nathan – and we enlisted the help of our friends Steve, Fleur, Claire and one of tutors, Pete (who would play the villainous General Bamforth) to represent the other characters.

I’d acted in primary school and was very good at drama throughout my school years. Although my drama teachers had encouraged me to be involved in the school plays, my presence was not welcome there by the other students. Besides that, the thought of being on stage terrified me. In truth I was a closet thespian and suddenly I was given a chance to have a go and boy, did I relish it.

I was suddenly discovering a love of filmmaking, not just reading about it, but actually doing it and not just one role, but multiple disciplines. It was an exciting time and on top of it all, Darren was doing a wonderful job on the posters etc. I had no doubt this was going to be awesome.

In addition to all of this Neil was also doing his own film, a silent black and white movie cut to the song, ‘In the Air Tonight’ by Genesis and he asked me to act in it. I went from no acting experience to two jobs in a short space of each other. I was on fire!!!

How the hell we were allowed to make films on what was actually a graphic design course still baffles me to this day.

The trailer for ‘The Stranger’, was shot, edited and completed in the nick of time and I remember feeling an enormous sense of pride in what we had accomplished, but I think the best was yet to come.

We handed the video tape to our tutors, who with a smirk led Clayton and I to a room to play it. A room filled with about twenty first year graphic design students. I realised at this point that we’d been set up. They didn’t believe in this project in the slightest and were going for maximum humiliation.

So what happened next must have come as much of a surprise to them as it did to me. As the trailer ended there was a pregnant pause which ended with a round of applause.

Whether the students actually loved it or were just being polite, I’ll never know and honestly I don’t care. The feeling that I got was euphoric.

I now knew what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

I left college that summer with a graphic design qualification under my belt and the realisation that I didn’t want to be a graphic designer, or a comic-book artist, but instead a filmmaker. Of course I didn’t have a clue how to go about it.

What I did know how to do was write. So that’s what I did. The very first thing I wrote was a feature length script for ‘The Stranger’. Talk about jumping in the deep end. Surprisingly though, it came naturally. So much so that I followed it up with a feature length script about our time at college, ‘A Movie Lover’s Guide, To Life, Love and Insanity’. The title of which is paid homage to with this blog. My collaboration with Clayton grew. He was very supportive, reading everything I wrote and giving me notes and suggestions that for the most part I fully welcomed. To a lesser extent, Darren was also involved with this process. Darren also had aspirations to write, or so he told me. I never actually saw any evidence of that, despite my encouragement.

I was also reading every book I could get my hands on about filmmaking and writing short films in order to film as ‘practice’. The same frustration that I had about my drawing was creeping back though. The problem was, we were limited by budget. Whatever we shot was on video, with crappy lighting and no production design at all. So, once again the images that I had in my head and describing in my scripts weren’t being realised.

I continued to write regardless.

In 1996 I joined a screenwriter’s workshop run by a local community arts initiative mentored by future ‘Harry Potter’ Director, David Yates. This was a great experience for me as not only was it a very nurturing environment, but David who was a professional Director even then, gave me lots of encouragement and advice, all the while treating me as an equal. We’d often go to the Savoy pub after the session and just talk movies. To do so with anyone was fun, but to do it with a professional Director and a bunch of like minded writers was even better.

I’d confided in David that I wanted to pursue Directing as a career and he openly encouraged me, even watching ‘The Stranger’ at one point, which he said showed a great deal of potential, I’m sure he was just being polite.

With this boost, I decided to go back to college, only this time it would be film school, studying photography, film and television to be exact. It turned out to be a less than fulfilling exercise.

The problem was in the years prior to going to film school I’d taught myself everything they were now teaching me, with a few exceptions of course. The best thing about my experience there was the people I was meeting, most notably my friend Iain.

Iain was actually studying photography there, but I tempted him over to the dark side. He had boundless enthusiasm and although no filmmaking experience, he was keen to learn and eventually would go on to be an award winning Director in hi sown right.

Much like with Clayton, it was a meeting of the minds. It wasn’t long before Iain and another friend Richard were joining Clayton, Darren and I and discussing potential film projects. With the addition of Mark, a childhood friend of Clayton’s, we were establishing quite a group.

The first such project was a film called ‘Hoods’ a.k.a ‘derelict’. We decided to shoot this with no sound on Super8. We had a meeting the week before about what the film would be about and then I was given a week to write it. We were due to shoot on Saturday so I finished the script and printed it out for everyone to read on Friday night.

Because there was no dialogue to learn we went straight into shooting. Doing one or two rehearsals then shooting one shot, before another rehearsal and then the next shot and so on and so forth until the film was finished, basically edited in camera. It was one of the most satisfying filmmaking experiences I ever had, the process was a winner, even if the end result left a lot to be desired.

This was down to the limitations of the camera more than anything. Parts of the Super8 film wasn’t exposed properly which meant part of the storyline ended up being cut because we had no footage and was put together in a different manner when it came time to edit it.

Above all, what was cemented was a very professional, enthusiastic relationship with all involved. In was onwards an upwards for this group and the next challenge was right around the corner, little did any of us know that it would be our undoing.

‘Project Alchemy’ here we come…..

Filmmaking and Me Part I – The Formative Years

I may not be currently, actively making films, but in my heart I am still a filmmaker. My love of films and filmmaking began for me, with Batman.

That character has inspired me throughout my life, but that’s for another blog. It’s relevance here is Tim Burton’s 1989 movie ‘Batman’.

As previously mentioned I grew up on a farm in the eighties. The only time I ever saw a movie was on TV. The only exceptions to that was, ‘Superman’ in 1978, which was my first cinematic experience (my Auntie took me, I was three), ‘The Jungle Book’ and ‘Ghostbusters’ in 1984.

When I did see a movie on TV, it barely held my interest. I just didn’t have the attention span. I’d much rather watch, ‘The Incredible Hulk’, ‘The A-Team’, ‘Knight Rider’ or the ’66 Batman TV series.

The Batman TV series was really what made me a Batman fan and subsequently, a comic-book fan. Superheroes were a staple of my childhood. I recall being pushed around a trolley in a supermarket for the fortnightly grocery shop. My reward for behaving myself, if I was lucky, was a trip next door to the newsagents where they sold American comic books and if I was reeeeaaally lucky, I could get one.

More often than not I chose a Batman one, until I reached the age of about eight or nine, when I became a Marvel buff. I was even allowed to get a subscription to the British reprint of ‘Secret Wars’, a massive Marvel crossover.

When I went to comprehensive, the comic books stopped. “That was kid’s stuff” I thought. Then we moved and I had to go to a new school, when that happened, I found myself taking solace in comic books once again. My Marvel days were behind me though, what sparked my interest this time, was Batman. This came from seeing a British reprint ‘Batman Monthly’. This Batman was cool, he was grim and foreboding and he appealed to the dark and lonely thoughts of my (near) teenage mind.

Of course unknown to me at the time was the Batman movie that was shooting a mere eighty or so miles from where I lived. I became aware of it in early 1989. I was thumbing through a glossy tabloid supplement that came with the Sunday newspaper 'The News of the World' when I caught my first glimpse. 'Exclusive Spy Photos of BATMAN' rang the headline. Upon seeing these blurry photos I could feel my jaw getting slacker. The main photos had been taken by a photographer hiding in the rafters of the Pinewood soundstage that was home to the interior belfry set and were of Batman fighting with the Joker's back-flipping Goon. The hype had begun and after seeing these photos, I was hungry for more.

And more is what I got. After those initial spy photos, it seemed like an age before any new news came about, until the fateful day when I first saw the now infamous trailer. It was a weekday afternoon, just after school a children's news programme had aired it. I'd gotten in just in time to see it. I was utterly spellbound, at this point we didn't own a VCR, so I couldn't tape it. It didn't matter anyway, every frame was burnt into my memory.

I was now obsessed with the film, I sought out info wherever I could find it, which by now was plentiful. Bat-mania had hit and you couldn't turn your head without seeing a bat-insignia. I can honestly say that I haven't seen a movie since that has either equalled or surpassed the level of hype that surrounded the film. It really was something to behold.

I was now 12 and this was the first film of my life that I was absolutely desperate to see. Thankfully it was the first film in the UK to carry the ’12’ rating, or seeing it would have been a little more difficult. 

Finally the day came. I saw the movie on a Saturday afternoon in a fleapit of a cinema. The seats creaked, the projector rattled, but as Danny Elfman's now classic theme boomed through the archaic sound system and the first shadow-drenched frames filled the screen, it was if I was hearing and seeing for the first time.
My eyes opened to a different world, not just the world that was presented to me on screen. Now I wanted to know how that world was created and so began my love of films and filmmaking. However, making them myself, was still a far off dream. So much so, that it hadn’t even crossed my young mind that it could be a career choice.

From an early age I was good at drawing, my main subject of choice was superheroes, which naturally lead me to create my own comic-books and original characters. This was going to be my chosen career, that of a comic-book artist.

In 1992 my school life was coming to a close (yay!) and in my Graphic Design class we were given the opportunity to create our own design brief. For me it was obvious, I would come up with a brand new comic book character and that’s exactly what I did. He was Archaeologist, Nathan Bradley, who would later become the half-vampire known as ‘The Stranger’.

I created a back story, an origin, a villain and a whole slew of supporting characters. The story went something like this;

Archaeologist Nathan Bradley and the Pinewood Archaeological Society, discover the perfectly preserved remains of Count Dracula. Taking a blood sample (?) they return to the UK to find upon testing that the blood has restorative powers. The military finds out about this and wants to use the blood to create a super-soldier serum. Nathan, a committed pacifist goes on the run with his fiancé Vannessa after the Military kill the other members of the dig. They are involved in a car crash during a chase that kills Vannessa and badly wounds Nathan. Knowing that the blood sample will heal him, Nathan injects himself with it. It does indeed heal him, in the process giving him super powers, but it comes at a terrible cost, the thirst for blood. Nathan then decides to exact revenge on the faction of the military that caused his trauma and their leader, General Oliver Bamforth.

It was raw, but it was a start and it was a character that I would carry with me to Art College and that’s where everything changed.....

To be continued...

Navel Gazing

I recently wrote on one of my facebook updates, "I need to try and stop looking back and be the person I used to be, one that always looked ahead." while that is still true, I also believe that the key to the future lies in the past.

See, in order to get back to the person I was, I need to understand how and when I lost that person in the first place. Since it's January, I'm having a bit of a detox, a purge if you will. So for the most part these first blogs will be a look back over the character forming events of the last thirty-odd years.

Is it self-indulgent? yes. Do I care? No.

This blog isn't for other people really. If upon reading it, you relate to it or feel inspired by it, then great, but that - initially at least - is not its purpose. Being a single Dad, I don't get out much and my current situation is quite an insular and solitary one. Unfortunately that means I genuinely don't talk to a lot of people and when I do get the opportunity, they don't generally have a chance to get a word in edgeways.

So this blog is supposed to be a catharsis of sorts for me as well as being my own little voyage of rediscovery (good god that sounds pretentious). Its third purpose is to get me writing again, which will hopefully lead to more articles, scripts and opportunities that I'd given up on for a time.

It's not an ego trip, honestly. Nor is it an attention seeking exercise.

This will be no holds barred, particularly when talking about my past and my relationships with people. It's not for the squeamish, especially if you happen to be from my past and still have a place in my present. Just remember, my intention is not to offend, just to be frank and honest.

Let the navel gazing commence......

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Sliding Doors

Yes it was a shitty movie, but I liked the concept. A way of seeing what would happen in a parallel life if you'd made different decisions.

I'm not one for regrets, pointless waste of time and energy if you ask me, but if I ever ask myself the question "what would my life be like if I'd....." I always go back to the same point in time. My childhood. Not my whole childhood you understand, but a specific point.

From my birth up to the point of puberty I had grown up in a sleepy farming village. My Dad was a farm worker so we lived in a bungalow owned by the farm and whilst we were very, very poor, I had a wonderful life. I went to infant, then primary school there and when the time came it was off to Comprehensive about 15 miles away.

Something happened when I got to comprehensive, I really came into my own. I had always been a sensitive kid, but always pretty confident, when I hit this school though, my confidence went into overdrive. I had no fear, no anxieties about anything. I could talk to anyone, of any age about anything - including, gosh, gasp.....girls. I mixed with 1st years all the way to 5 form guys, even playing football with them of a lunch time.

Quite simply, I loved my life. That was all soon to change.

My Dad, quite rightfully seeing no future on the farm and wanting to make life better for his family, decided big changes needed to be made. This meant leaving the farm, the house and my school.

Now as heartbreaking as this was for me, I was a positive and optimistic lad and looked upon it as another great adventure. I was leaving behind childhood friends, memories and hell I'd even managed a girlfriend, that was hard, not the getting the girlfriend part - at this stage in my life that was surprisingly easy, but leaving it all behind, that was hard.

Not as hard as what was to come though.

We moved in spring of 1988 into the council house where I would spend the next 5 years, I had no idea at that time what a stigma that house would be since at this time I had no experience of the class structure in our society. That changed during my first week at my new school.

This was a very middle class area and the school was a microcosm of the class system. Unfortunately that meant if you didn't dress in the right way, have a specific haircut, or you were working class and lived on a council estate, you were the underclass - or the more popular term "gypo".

I'd never been pigeonholed before and I didn't like it. No scratch that, I fucking. hated. it. I grew up in a place where those things didn't seem to be relevant or if they were I never experienced it. I went to a school where I socialised with anyone wanted, not so here. You socialised with your own kind. Only I didn't see it that way and I could not or would not accept it. This lead to quite a bit of social exclusion, psychological bullying and a good many fights, which due to my stubborn nature, I would. not. lose. It was hell.

The consequence of this was an adoloscent that suffered from anxiety attacks, that became introverted, suffered from a massive drop in confidence and whose self esteem hit an all time low. Not that anyone would ever know, because the one thing I excelled at was bottling it all up.

I desperately missed where I came from and despised where I was, but wallowing does no one any good, so I manned up and got on with it. Even if I did hate almost every fucking second. When it came time to leave, I'd never felt such relief. Then it was off to college, which in so many ways was like the first comprehensive I went to. I loved it there, but unfortunately I was not the same person I once was, which meant I never experienced that time to the fullest and those scars that occured while at Marlborough, still to some degree haunt me to this day.

So over the years I have found myself asking "what would have happened if I'd stayed?" and "Where would I be now?"

I think I certainly would have had happier teenage years. My confidence would have continued to grow and I was beginning to develop good leadership skills. I also think I wouldn't have had any problem with the ladies, which was a far cry from where I did end up.

But, I also think I would have settled. I would have probably married young, not had much of a career and probably had been on my second marriage by now.

See as bad as my time at Marlborough school was, I became self sufficient, ambitious and hungry for more. I desperately wanted to break away from that life and do something for me, create my own rules, forge my own identity and I learned to cherish my individuality. All of which, I did. I'm not sure any of that would have happened had I stayed.

Like I said, I don't do regrets.