Saturday, 9 June 2012

Inherit the Wind

When asked what he looked for in a script, Spencer Tracy, star of the film referenced in the title, simply said: 'Days off.' I understand how he felt.

It has been a busy and tiring week. We still have no one for the part of Faith, but another readthrough, although slightly shambolic because everyone was coming at different times, did manage to secure us an Isabella. We filmed another couple of the interviewees, with an excellent performance from Kim Head, who prepared by herself and needed scarcely a note from me at all. There were hiccoughs, of course, the main one being the discovery by one actress that she needed to be somewhere an hour earlier than she'd thought, and a chance meeting resulting in another actress being late, which eventually meant that something for which I'd originally allowed a leisurely three hours had to be shot in 45 minutes. Quelle surprise. Such is filmmaking.

Talia gives Kim her cues and eyeline

And in between all this I had been trying to find a Faith, trying to schedule future shoots, thinking about tidying up the two films I want to submit to Glimmer 2012, worrying about whether to fully charge part-used batteries and risk shortening their life (I decided no), trying to keep track of what information I had sent to which cast members (and typing this has reminded me of something I'd forgotten), and trying avoid the thousand unnatural crocks that filmmaking is heir to.

But Friday (yesterday) was supposed to be the big one. We had scheduled the whole day to capture a number of transitional scenes (protagonist Hazel travelling back and forth from her interviewing and in the process revealing more of her character) and then the evening for the climactic scene of the film, a real watershed moment for Hazel involving the busker she passes at various points during the story.

The daytime scenes should have been simple. No dialogue, two or three shots each at the most, all day to do it. The weather forecast was actually promising inasmuch as it promised changeable conditions, useful when you're shooting scenes that are supposed to take place on different days.

What I hadn't noticed about the forecast was the prediction of wind.

None of us could remember such a windy day in central Brighton. In one or two cases it enhanced the effect of a scene, but in others...due to previously touched-on financial woes, a decent tripod was beyond my budget, so at some stages I was reduced to holding it as firmly as I could to prevent it shuddering in the wind. And the first outside sequence we filmed was a textbook example of how many things can hold up a simple shot.

People come by. That's fine, we were shooting at a University, that's expected. The placement of dropped books is not quite right; either too far forward, too far back. That's corrected. Heroine's feet not visible when she walks off. Sorted. Battery in one (sound recording) camera, being run down, runs out. Replaced. Heroine's tripod (carried because she is filming interviews) not visible when she drops books. Sorted. Dropped books skid into bottom of filming tripod, causing judder. Heroine's tripod visible but feet not. Feet visible but tripod not. Everything perfect, except books skid into filming tripod again. Battery in other camera, also being run down, dies. Replaced. Sound assistant unfortunately unfamiliar with eccentricities of sound recording camera. Further delays. Sunlight appears, disappears, reappears. And so on...

Talia and production assistant Sophie take a break

Why do we do it?

Because, I suppose, despite it all, it was still fun. You're making an entire alternative world come to life when you shoot a film, in a way that's not possible in any other medium, and what could be more exciting than that? It's the most comprehensive form of creation I know (and not being a musician or having written for theatre, the only collaborative one I've experienced).

I hate sound men (and they are, nearly always, men). You just want to get on with it and shoot something - but no, they insist on that ridiculous, overrated, elusive thing called 'quality'. After the fourth or fifth aborted take you want to say 'Who cares if no one can hear? At this rate there won't anything for them to see, either!' But of course, they're always right, and we were hoping to shoot a scene with some absolutely crucial dialogue. And as you can imagine, if the wind was not our friend for most of the day, it was our deadly foe for the final part of the shoot. We had a tiny earlier scene featuring the busker, Jo Maultby, which we needed to get out of the way first - and even that proved impossible. The wind gusted and crept around all means of protection we devised, and eventually we had to simply postpone for another day.

Talia and sound assistant Leon await Jo's return

Truthfully, it was hard to feel it as too much of a defeat, as the dialogue scene was so important and we clearly had less than ideal conditions. But there was another small thing that happened that made me wonder about what I was doing.

My greatest fear had been that, it being a Friday night, we would be subjected to harrassment by passing young men (face it - wherever you are and whatever you're doing, packs of young men are THE ENEMY), but in fact the only person who approached us was a woman whom I can only describe as not quite in possession of a full deck. She stood a little way away and watched us, and made a remark, but because of the wind it was difficult to communicate without leaving the camera, and the pressure of time was mounting. She moved around and stood to one side, but kept speaking intermittently, and I had no confidence she would respond to a request to be quiet, so although I barely looked at her, trying to concentrate on working out where I wanted the focus of the scene and where Talia should stop, etc, I was no doubt emanating 'fuck off' vibes in waves. After a bit she moved away, saying she only wanted to watch but she didn't feel welcome. I tried to tell her then that she could stay if she was able to keep quiet, but of course it was too late.

It's said one of the true tests of character is how you treat people who can be of no possible use to you. I feel that in a small way I failed that test yesterday - and I wonder if that isn't one of the hidden costs of filmmaking...that we become so focussed on what we have to get done that we forget that none of it is real. That woman was real, and if the film caused me to treat her with less than total respect, then I had better make damn sure the finished result is worth it.

If anything can be worth that.


  1. "It's said one of the true tests of character is how you treat people who can be of no possible use to you." - True!! but the women should have been respectful and thought about what she was doing. I think you are ok on this one Tim

  2. Thanks, Lillian - but I could have taken 30 seconds to try to explain to her! And she wasn't perhaps as fully conscious of the situation as most people would have been.