Monday, 23 July 2012

The Lives of Others

Want to hear about more hassles? No?

Thought not.


How about the rehearsal for a crucial and complex scene for which I could not possibly procure all the cast involved so I had to make a choice between two dates and as soon as I did and told everyone, two of the people who could make that date suddenly couldn’t? How about…

But no.

I have been reminded lately how remarkably precious life is, not least by the extraordinary blog entry of Jessica Ghawi (writing as Jessica Redfield), killed at the Dark Knight Rises shooting in Aurora. I urge you to read it; if it doesn’t make you acutely aware of the life in you right this moment and how fragile it is, then I can only assume that you are some kind of alien. Or that I am.

It is too easy to forget how lucky we are, simply being comparatively free and not lacking for warmth or nourishment. And those of us who have the opportunity to breathe life into a new creation - whether paid for it or not – are thrice blest. I must remember to be grateful.

Although… I do wonder how many filmmakers are pondering their vocation at the moment, and suddenly feeling doubts about it. Not because entertainment may deprave or corrupt or send signals to a sick mind, but simply because something like the Aurora shooting, and in particular the intensely personal angle on it provided by Jessica Ghawi's writing would surely make anyone wonder about what they’re doing with their life.

Martin Amis said that the writing of fiction seemed redundant – trivial - after 9-11. He recovered his perspective, but now, with this, with this indelible link between a film and an atrocity, the contrast between the absolute preciousness of life and the utter triviality of a blockbuster film could not be starker. In a world where such things can happen, what are we doing – what am I doing – to make them less likely?

Regret calamities, Emerson wrote, if thereby you can help the sufferer. If not, attend your own work and already the evil begins to be repaired. I can spend time asking unanswerable questions or I can get on.

Perhaps the best a film (or a book, or a play) can hope to achieve is to open the heart of one or more members of its audience (or, indeed, one or more of its makers). If, by presenting fictional people, a story can facilitate understanding of some aspect of real behaviour or make a previously misunderstood or unappreciated state of mind more real and more graspable to someone, then perhaps it is not quite a waste of time. If it can make other people more real to us, then in some ways it is not fiction at all, but something truer than reality. That would seem to be reason enough for it to exist.

I make no such grand claims for my own film. I merely hope it looks at life and human beings compassionately, without judgement. There are no villains in this film. There are only misunderstandings and fears. And I hope that every character in the story ends with greater understanding and little less fear. That seems a passage worth charting.

Sorry - this was not what I intended to write. Have a little production diary to wash away the seriousness. Some of Chris Andrew’s pictures of our party shoot:

Friday, 13 July 2012

Nine Days In July

'Some people are in charge of pens that shouldn't be in charge of brooms.' Graham Parker

And some people are in charge of cameras...

I know every creative industry today is about selling yourself, about persuading everyone (including yourself) that you have the greatest product since human beings started to dream...but I prefer to try to be honest. Which is no doubt one of the reasons I'm still doing things with no money.

Leading ladies in every sense: Jess, Talia and Megan

It is not hype, however, to say that I've been blessed with three gifts in the leading roles. Jess and Megan were not even part of this project three weeks ago, but in the last two weeks of intensive shooting they have been everything a producer/director could desire in terms of commitment and attention to detail. And Talia (quite apart from bringing Jess on board) has battled with the loss of her phone and her home internet and bouts of illness to complete the vital Gypsy scenes before Jess escapes to Dubai. And I would be most remiss not to mention Miranda, who injured her back quite seriously but still struggled up several flights of stairs to film some vital wide shots with Jess.

Miranda Morris as 'Emily' - accessories not the actress' own

A filmmaking friend, Dan Harding of 23 1/2 Films was adamant that a large project needed a producer. It wasn't that I thought he was wrong, but where would I find anyone who was able to give the time and energy that was required? So, I've done it all myself. And inevitably I've made mistakes, the most serious of which was a moment of tech-blindness that led to me mis-setting the mic for two days' worth of filming. I have yet to finally confirm whether the sound recordings are usable or whether I will have to resort to my personal bête noire, ADR. (I have never done it except for one carefully planned shot, and swore I never would). I made the same mistake weeks back but it was caught by another member of the crew, and in this case too I was put on the scent by Sophie, who insisted that the sound in her headphones was different. And I had so much on my mind that even after I checked the mic settings I didn't actually see the problem.

I've never had a fortnight like this. It will quite literally be a case of 'going back to work for a rest'. (And on that subject, it was pleasant to hear Megan saying today that her work has seemed decidedly uninviting compared to the time she's spent on set)

Braving the British summer - picture by Crystal Rodrigues

Of course there were times when we all wished we were elsewhere - dodging the rain and being buffetted by the wind in the Devil's Dyke area, for example. We may even have to reshoot a small portion of the film due to the conditions, and I have prepared a line about the British summer to cover the difference in the weath- oh, except that no one will require an explanation...

Lizzie Cornall ('Jill'). Could that be faint sunlight behind her? In July? Surely not!

A word, too, in praise of Sharon Salazar, actress and filmmaker, who became my ever first assistant director, organising the guests for the party scene and enabling me to concentrate on getting the shots I needed. This was on the same day we went out into the wilds, and I had two hours in the afternoon to recharge batteries (my own and the cameras') before launching into a crucial dialogue scene while Sharon and others created the necessary party atmosphere (photos to follow).

Sharon Salazar

We have done good work in the last fortnight, and have some lovely moments captured. It's too early to tell yet whether the whole film will hang together as it should (and of course with the right editing it may yet hang together as it shouldn't), but all the cast have a right to feel proud of themselves. There are continuity issues, and I take sole responsibility for those, with the small caveat that I never dreamed I would have to shoot so much in such a short time. I will know better, and plan better, next time.

Which is an encouraging thing to find myself thinking, because there have been too many times in the last month or so when I felt like giving up filmmaking altogether. If I am in a more optimistic place now, it is because of the support and dedication of others in helping me to realise this story - and collaboration is what this work is all about.

Talia, Jess, Megan, Sophie, Sharon, Miranda, Jenni, Hülya, Robert, Jo, Michael, Lana, Lizzie, Crystal, Gemma, Chloe (and not forgetting Caron when she gets to do a scene!) - thank you all.

Talia and Lana have not yet mastered the first lesson in Monty Python's 'How Not To Be Seen' (picture by Crystal)