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.

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