Tuesday, 25 June 2013

The Song Remains (Mostly) The Same

Sometimes you get a second chance.

As if I hadn’t already used up my store of lucky breaks just getting the film made, we've had one extra little bit of serendipity.

Our talented leading lady is not only a superb actress but a very gifted singer (for evidence have a listen), but because I was caught up in the editing of the film and was leaving the soundtrack to Luke and Joe it didn't occur to me until too late that we should have got Talia to sing one of the songs.

However – shortly after the screening back in April, I discovered that the vocal on one of the songs was simply a holding vocal, put down just so the song could be used for the night. And lo and behold, it was a song about Hazel, in the first person – what could have been more perfect for Talia?

A few quick messages established that Luke and Joe liked the sound of Talia's singing and Talia herself was very keen to do it; we had a deadline of sorts and ended up cutting it fine (not to mention that Google maps was out of date so I ended up wandering in the wrong part of London for an hour!), but as the attached photos show, with Talia at the mic and Joe at the console, it happened!


...in other news, just scraping in two days before the extended deadline...

...so keep your fingers crossed, everyone!

Friday, 5 April 2013

Spring Breakthrough

It has been a while. Not because nothing has been happening, but because too much has been happening. (I have a feeling I’ve said that before...)

Half of a capacity crowd, with four of the interviewees and 'TV presenter' Jenni to the fore, with Megan and Talia visible further back.

Two nights ago All Heart was screened for an audience of cast, crew and friends. I’m happy to say it went down extremely well; we had the inevitable cancellations and the obligatory technical problems (and some uninvited snow!), but the problems weren't disastrous and frankly if anyone else had turned up we’d have had to hang them from the ceiling. The room was rammed. After watching it with small test audiences (including my family who sometimes didn’t laugh because they weren't sure double-entendres about lesbian sexual practices were intentional...) it was gratifying to have 60+ people, enough to ensure that some of them would get each joke and prompt the others to enjoy.

The other half of the crowd; interviewee Lucy far left, musicians Luke and Joe red-eyed at the back.

We had, I admit, disappointingly few of the main cast, due to various hitches and glitches, but crucially the three leads were there, and were very pleased with how the film turned out. I also had compliments from several people I consider quite difficult to please. Which was nice.

Talia, Jess & Megan with an example of my prop-making...

So, a success. And I managed to relax for nearly a whole day afterwards – guilt at not working didn’t kick in until fairly late afternoon…

In the interim between this and the previous post, the film has acquired a Facebook page, and I’ve had a third attempt at a trailer, which still doesn't seem to quite encapsulate the film; I suspect starting right from scratch is the best approach.

So, what next? There are still some grading issues to try to resolve, and some minor tweaks to sound. The soundtrack from Luke and Joe was delivered just in time to slap it on the cut, but that needs a little adjustment, too.

Dunno why this guy doesn't sit down so we can get on with it...

A branch of Britain’s oldest cinema, The Duke of York’s Picturehouse, have expressed an interest in the film as a possible part of their proposed new night, Visions of Brighton, so we’ll see what develops there. There are festivals to consider; I might be able to get the whole thing done and dusted for the final Raindance deadline.

For now, I’m at least, oh...0.0001% more relaxed than I have been for a while. The process of editing has been a long one (unsurprisingly) and I have to admit a very lonely one. (That is of course partly my fault, as I could have involved others, but I really felt I wanted see what I could put together on my own before asking for feedback.) I missed the companionship of filming, and in particular my three leads, all so easy to work with – not to mention indispensable production assistant Sophie. On Wednesday night, awash in waves of goodwill, I felt rather less alone.

And a flashback to the beginning; Jess & Talia during our first visit to the main location.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

The Sweet Smell of Excess

So, hard on the heels of wrapping the shooting, I now have a rough cut of the film. Woop, as the youngsters say. (No, I am pleased, really. And excited.)

Gypsy is also excited

So how long is it, do I hear you ask?

Weather’s turned nice all of a sudden, hasn’t it..?

Traditionally, it’s supposed to time out at a minute per page of script. I had 82 pages of script, but I knew it would turn out longer than 82 minutes, with some lengthy speeches by Isabella and party sequences which were a short paragraph on the page but need comparatively longer on screen to make their point.

Hazel and Jill. To love is not to look at one another, but to look together in the same directi- oh dear

However, I was hoping for a slightly shorter running time than 105 minutes. Better to be over than under, of course...

...providing you can cut. I’ve already excised bits of scenes during the assembly of the edit, cut lines, trimmed shots, and so on. I don’t know how much more can go.


It may not be a problem, of course. I have yet to watch the film through as a complete narrative, and it may be that it will feel exactly the right length. But 105 minutes feels a little too much for a film with no money on screen. There are cars (well, one) but no chases, and explosions (two or three), but only emotional ones, and chatter the likes of which has not been seen on the silver screen since the 30s. Will a modern audience be able to stand it?

Gypsy and Hazel have stopped being excited

I shall, as we oldsters say, keep you posted.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Short Trek to the Light

Whisper it.

It’s a wrap.

No! Sound this barbaric yawp across the rooftops of the world:


Well, ok...I may re-record one of the interviewees (who had four words), and I may take a couple of shots to cover the other end of a short phone call, but these are luxuries. Everything I need for the film is now shot, thanks to the lovely Sarah Gillett, actress, singer and choreographer at Fight or Flight Productions, who stepped into the breach and made an admirable job of her first ever bit of film acting. She was also a good audience for the small segments of the film I showed her as context for her role – her reactions were very encouraging at this stage of the lonely editing process.

Hazel has no idea that Gypsy has plans to divert her

Other than that, I have been working non-stop to cobble together a rough cut to take and play on my brother’s swanky TV set-up in about ten days’ time. Work on the score is progressing, though I haven’t had time to check out too much of what Luke and Joe have been producing. I have encountered horrendous continuity problems, sound problems, coverage problems...there has been much gentle bumping of forehead on desk.

Sabrina has problems...and she's not the only one

But everything has just about hung together, and along the way I have renewed acquaintance with some lovely, all-but-forgotten moments of great acting and comic timing. It is also, um...pleasing... to discover that two actresses playing a romantic scene do seem to have more than a soup├žon of chemistry, something I was far too preoccupied to appreciate when we shot the scene.

Gypsy has something to confess...

Putting together a soundtrack for the party scene it’s also pleasing to report that so far all the musicians I’ve contacted are more than happy to allow their music to be used for the film. (It probably doesn’t hurt that half of them are IN the film...)

The cover star of this mag may also be spotted during the film

So - onward. And today I even have a new photo that isn’t just grabbed from the footage, for a change…

Sarah looking a lot more approachable than her character...

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

The Way We Were

It was January last year that I sat down to write the script for my first feature-length film. After a dozen or so short films and with the prospect of passing the personal half-century mid-year, it seemed time to do something a little more ambitious.

I’d made films as long as 25 minutes, so in theory a 100-minute film should only be about four times as difficult, right? Wrong. There were times I regretted even starting. There were times when it seemed the project was doomed. But somehow, despite delays, mistakes, equipment problems, unavailable performers, injuries, the British weather, repeat injuries, last minute-allergy discoveries…despite all this and more, it somehow got done. (Well, I say 'done'…almost, almost…)

I recently had a chuckle to myself recalling the two weeks I booked off work for July, thinking ‘that’s when I’ll be editing the film’. That was actually when we shot most of it, due to delays in finalising casting. But it’s clear to me now, with the perspective of hindsight, that with ANY other combination of performers in the lead roles, the film would never have been completed at all. After what seemed a calamitous start, we were quite ridiculously fortunate. If Talia had not brought Jess to the first read-through, if another Jess had not had to drop out, necessitating the last minute casting of Megan, if both Megan and Jess had been just a fraction less reliable and considerate, everything would have come unstuck during those two crucial weeks in July.

And now here we are, a year on from the first tentative notes I jotted down – How to break up the filming so I wouldn’t be scheduling loads of people together? How to give as many people as possible an opportunity to appear? How to get a head start before I could afford to buy a DSLR? (all of which questions were answered by the same idea) – and I have just one character still to film. (Ok, I’ve been in that position for nearly 2 months, but I’ve been waiting for an actress to get better. I’m nice like that. (Should vegetarians be film directors, do you think…?))

So now seems a good time to look back and thank everyone involved; too many to name individually (30+ speaking parts, for a start!), but from the top: Talia for her enthusiasm and (mostly!) unflagging energy, as well as for all the people she brought to the project, and for her amazing, almost machine-like ability to perform in the most trying circumstances; Jess, for rescuing the entire production and for being always cheerful and reliable despite giving up two weeks of her life at a time when she was also moving house – and of course for giving a perfect performance in a role I thought I couldn’t re-cast; Megan for stepping into the breach and also rescuing the production, and for being steadfast, thoughtful and adaptable (being far more used to theatre performance) throughout; Caron for agreeing to take part before even finishing the script, and sticking with us through all the subsequent delays; Sharon, for mastering by far the most involved dialogue of any character, and for cheerfully winging it when she hadn’t had time to master it – and for AD’ing one evening and saving me from a breakdown; Miranda for braving unimaginable pain to make sure we got shots of her and Jess together, and for giving a great performance whether in agony or pushed for time; Chloe for her patience with scheduling and for coming all the way from London and helping to make sure Thea’s scene had the right impact; Lana and Lizzie for personifying their characters perfectly and for making the trip up the Devil’s Dyke twice so we could get it right; and Jo Maultby for her amazing musical contribution and her acting debut as the busker.

Others who deserve a mention; Chris Andrew for great stills and other duties, Jenni, for a perfect location and another acting debut; all the interviewees, Literary Ladies and party extras; Hulya for the use of her spacious flat; Joe and Luke for the score, still developing excitingly as I write – and a special last thank you to Sophie Groome, production assistant extraordinaire (script prompter, boom operator, camera operator, and briefly onscreen as ‘begging student’) without whom so many shoots would have been much more difficult.

The film is currently on schedule for a showing around Easter 2013. No doubt there will be more problems to wrestle with along the way, but for now, it doesn’t seem too indulgent to sit back and say – Thank you everyone, and well done.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

The Road Goes Ever On (to give me an excuse to tag this with 'Tolkien')

Lots of interesting thoughts have occurred to me in the last few weeks - but damned if I can remember any of them now...

Editing is a lot less stressful than organising people to get together and shoot.

Sometimes the above statement is true.

Most times it's true. But just occasionally I would cheerfully swap 30 minutes at the computer for six months of production hell.

However, I am not here to complain. Since my last post, 6 or so weeks ago, I have managed to shoot the final two interviewees who had remained uncast (thanks to the unexpected drama backgrounds of supermarket employees!), and am now waiting for one actress to recover from a fairly serious bout of illness in order to shoot the last half page of script. Mayan Calendar notwithstanding, I feel reasonably confident of finishing the film. I've even remembered to back up the the editing project as well as the footage...

Faith (Megan Bay Dorman) in pensive mood

Editing is a curious, absorbing business, and it has one thing in common with filming; with every scene I work on, I find myself losing sight of the rest of the film. The characters who are not in that particular scene leave my mind, and the whole story, the whole film, seems to be what is depicted in those few minutes of screen time.

The scene(s) I'm working on at the moment feature a total of nine characters, but there are four other significant speaking parts that have not entered my mind since I began this sequence (three weeks ago - it's a complex scene).

Louise (Christabel Cossins) and Kimberley (Tessa Cushan)

If you've visited the blog before you may recall me talking about the shoot that nearly went awry at the last minute due to a cast member injuring her back. This is the one. We ended up having to shoot on two different days.

Happily the vastly different light on the two days has turned out to be possible to match using the editing software, and the various I'd-tear-my-hair-out-if-I-had-any problems that have surfaced due to lack of coverage (we shot about six minutes of screen time in about four hours) or continuity blunders seem to have resolved themselves satisfactorily. And I haven't screamed too often.

Bizarrely, in regard to some aspects of the scene the problem has been that I have too much choice - many lovely shots of the cast that I've had to discard. There may still be shots in the edit that I should be cutting. It's not easy to throw away beauty.

Philippa (Philippa Hammond)

The other thing I've done is to put together a second trailer, this time a little more focused on Hazel and her dilemma, as some people felt the first trailer was a little...diffuse, shall we say.

I've also shown some more or less completed scenes to a select audience and had a generally favourable reaction, which is heartening considering the scenes were from the middle of the film and therefore apt to be confusing...

One thought I had gave me pause. I recalled that I booked two weeks off work in July, thinking that was most likely when I'd be editing the film. Well...do I need to tell you how that worked out..? Just as well I booked a lot off time off around Christmas, too...

Saturday, 20 October 2012

(Not So) Short Cuts

Ah, editing. Such sweaty sorrow. It brings new meaning to Paul Valery’s famous remark about poems never being finished, only abandoned.

Picture this; you have managed to knock out the montage sequence the musicians require to get on with their work, you’ve rendered it, you’ve popped it into a Dropbox folder and they’ve acknowledged receipt…and suddenly you have a MUCH better idea how to do it.

So you play with the footage, and yes, it’s looking snappier and pacier and much more fun. So you render it. And then suddenly you see how you could move another bit of footage, and if you do that, then...

Alice helped out last time - now it's her turn on camera

And so it goes on. So what I considered a more-or-less finished sequence of the film ends up taking another whole day. It’s worth it, of course it’s worth it, but when do you stop...? I’m reminded of the sequences in the splendid All That Jazz where Roy Scheider’s character continually tweaks the stand-up footage he’s editing, exasperating his colleagues but finally drawing a groan of: ‘It’s better. Oh God – it is better.’ (I quote from memory, so excuse paraphrasing.)

For those of you who care about such things, here’s the contrast between the original edit (left) and the revised version. The single-take scene is broken up and the end redistributed among the other clips, and as a result the music can come in earlier.

Blue columns at the bottom represent text titles inserted for bits I haven’t shot yet – as you can see those have moved, too. (Click on pic to enlarge)

My tired (three year-)old computer will not handle a 100-minute edit of such complexity (at least not without taking so long to auto-save I could go off and shoot a short film while I’m waiting), so I’ve broken the film down into twelve sections, most of them approximating 7-8 pages of script. This makes the mammoth task ahead seem slightly less terrifying, though there are bound to be moments when I wish all the edits were in the same project so I could more easily cross-check things.

Nina Ross reads in and helps Leah Remfry-Peploe with her eyeline

Elsewhere – well, about three metres away in the same room – filming continues on the final interview sequences. I have just two pages of script remaining, involving five or six actresses, depending on whether I feel I can cut a character.

The enormous looming shadow of this final stage job has daunted me, I admit, and as a result I’ve taken some time to get down to this, but now I’m more or less back in the swing of editing, and looking forward to getting into some more complex scenes.

Nina Ross

The next scene in the story involves characters watching TV, and due to our shooting schedule I didn’t have time to edit the footage they were watching, which meant we had to run different takes of the same scenes on the screen over and over again, in disjointed excerpts until I was sure which takes I’d be using. I may not tackle the scenes in story order.

These two things are in no way connected.