Saturday, 19 May 2012

Raindrops Keep Fallin' (except when the shoot is cancelled)

As this entry will be something of a catalogue of setbacks, I thought I should start with some good news.

I have some footage in the can. True, it will amount to about five seconds of screen time once edited, and true, there is a slight imperfection in the shot, but the latter can be put down to it being POV of an amateur's camera (in the context of the film), and I'm going to celebrate the former anyway...

Vicky (Victoria Smith) in relaxed pose during the otherwise tense and exhausting 15-minute shoot

This was supposed to happen over a month ago. I needed a new camera for the bulk of the film, but a chunk of it consists of interviews filmed by the protagonist in the service of her academic work, and I reasoned that it would fine for those shots come from the kind of camera she would actually use. This was another of my cunning ploys to spread out the workload and get ahead of the game while I was waiting to accumulate enough cash for my Canon DSLR.

Except in the middle of March I got a letter telling me there'd be extensive work going on around the building for 5 weeks. (I am using my flat for these shots as they all have to be in the same place and I have around 30 'interviewees' to shoot - and nowhere else would be readily available at short notice) So - scaffolding blocking the light and men conversing loudly about football a mere five feet from my desk. Not ideal. Scratch getting ahead of the game.

So, as well as working towards shooting a short that had already been postponed once and was due to act as a warm-up/dry run with the DSLR, I pursued the main casting for the feature. The casting had been done while I was writing the screenplay; that is to say, I knew exactly who I wanted and I wrote with those actors in mind. Obviously there was the strong possibility I wouldn't get everyone, but I had lots of good second choices.

My first choice for the lead was an excellent actress who had a background in stand-up comedy, who thought when I first (very vaguely) mooted the idea that she would be pretty much free after the Brighton fringe. As this is my first feature film, it seemed somehow inappropriate to offer the lead to someone via an email or a phone call, so I tried to set up a meeting.

And tried. And tried.

It wasn't anyone's fault. She just got suddenly very busy with comedy bookings, and did try to keep in touch and make it to the appointments we arranged, but...anyway, I lost three weeks with this running around before it became clear she was just going to be too busy until at least the end of August.

So I approached another actress, who turned out to be embroiled in theatre work for the summer, and spoke to another, and emailed another (and another), and found one on Casting Call Pro who was very excited about the project and all ready to go when she got some call-backs and some regular corporate work (it's very unfair having to compete with people who can offer money).

I could go on. The upshot of it is that as of today I still don't have a leading lady, although (not crossing my fingers because then I couldn't type) I feel confident that I will have one by next week, based on the events of the past few days.

Why not take full advantage of Casting Call Pro and other sites (even Gumtree) I hear you ask? Well - my first priority in casting this film was to give back something to those who had worked with me before, a chance (however slim) for the extra exposure a feature-length film can bring. And the second factor that influenced me was the matter of trust - it's no easy thing to approach a stranger who may have professional credits behind them with the line 'Look, I've got no money...'. (You may take it for granted that, except for the cameo interviewees, I wasn't approaching anyone whose acting hadn't already impressed me).

Well...among the performers of my acquaintance, an unfeasibly large number seemed to have work in the Brighton Fringe, which was another delaying factor. One actress whom I was desperate to get for a key role couldn't find time to read the script for 5 weeks - then turned it down. (And this on the same afternoon that my Casting Call Pro find said she couldn't do the lead.)

Add to this that it was becoming clear that £500 I was owed for a video job (that was going to pay for the body of the DSLR) wasn't going to materialise, and that the short film, after much buttock-clenching over the unreliable weather, was called off 16 hours before shooting because of cast illness. I had already express-ordered memory cards and batteries and borrowed money from friends to make sure I had the DSLR fully kitted up in time. I had been wrestling with the complexities of shooting 14 pages out on the Downs in just two days, and was confident I'd worked out a realistic schedule. After all the setbacks in getting the feature film up and running, I was raring to go. When it didn't happen, I comforted myself with the fact that weather forecast was terrible for the weekend, anyway.

It rained twice, on the Saturday. Lightly, for about 15 minutes each time.

It probably doesn't sound like much, told like this. But then there was the very talented actress who expressed an interest in the project and loved the script, but then said she wasn't sure she could commit to the time, being in London, despite her previous avowal that her work was very flexible. I'm not blaming anyone; at every stage people have been concerned that they might let me down, which is commendable; I just wish it hadn't kept coming after such enthusiasm and assurances that they'd be available.

And then there was the excellent, previously always-available actress who just a month ago had to get full-time corporate training work to cover her mortgage...

But enough.

Two of the most important people I wanted said yes immediately, one without even finishing the script, I have lots of free music from local musicians as well as a talented duo up for composing a score, feedback for the script has been overwhelmingly could all be a lot worse.

Except my sound equipment has started to play up. So (until I got an incredibly generous offer from a work colleague) I was facing a stark choice between getting new gear or eating for the next month...

I can only imagine how low my stress levels might have been the last three months if I hadn't been engaged on this project. This is what I mean about the cost of this work; for me, the most important thing is that people are happy, and while I'm struggling to cast the remaining roles I'm aware that some people have been waiting for weeks for something to happen, that I need the best possible performer for the lead but I also need someone who's got a lot of time, that one of the roles is such that there appear to be no candidates left to fill it...

I brought it all upon myself. Fair enough. But, for a project conceived as a reason to celebrate, to make me feel I wasn't just wasting my time, I do feel the universe could have been a little kinder...

To finish, a shot of lovely Lucy Shaw, in the initial test for the interviewees, which will have to be reshot due to the ureliable sound equipment, in order to match the way I'm going to have to shoot everything from now on.

Moan over. Next time; sets, locations...and a shorter post, I promise.

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