Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Day 11 - All Hallows

The biggie: the final scene. The morning was taken up with finishing off the hotel room stuff, and then we had to shoot Adam and Sally driving to the beach, which saw our trusty Manfrotto car clamp being used yet again. Rich hit upon the idea of having the B camera taped to the dashboard for some shots, and then taping it to the boot area, facing the windscreen.

The beach scene itself was incredibly difficult to shoot, mainly due to the howling gale that was blowing. The chill factor was almost unbearable, so much so that Rich, who has often worked in just a T shirt, asked for his coat, declaring that he would die if he didn't get it. Someone fetched it for him, and he promptly put his hood up, and stayed in hoodie mode for the rest of the afternoon. I must say, I can't blame him; I was absolutely freezing my knackers off, and had to go and sit in my car while takes were going on (there not being enough room in Adam's car for more than him, Sally, Rich and Stu). Sally was totally frozen, bless her, given that she was only wearing an evening dress. (You'll understand why when you see the film.)

The scene on paper is now only 2 pages long, but Adam, Sally and co-writer Nick and I all knew that, for it to work, it would have to be a 10 minute scene. The first take was precisely that long, and after I'd called cut, Adam got out of the car looking somewhat ashen (maybe it was just the perishing cold), but all he said to me was, 'That was so sad.' I was greatly encouraged by this, as this is precisely the feeling I've always had about this scene. It is incredibly sad. Bresson once said something like 'your film is beginning when your secret desires pass into your models [actors]' - I feel that, with Adam's comment, the film really is achieving itself. This feeling was borne out by a comment Rich made a night or two ago in the hotel bar (or The Regency - my memory gets a tad hazy the later we get into the p.m.), when he said that at some point - I think it was during the hotel scenes - that the penny dropped as to what the film is actually about, and he said that he felt sickened.

Again, I have had the same feelings reading the research books (things like William Styron's Darkness Visible, and Kay Redfield Jamison's Night Falls Fast). What we are ultimately dealing with here is a sickening and inexplicable subject that makes one question almost all of one's values. It's a story that calls everything into question. And again, I think that Bresson was right: the film has now taken on a life of its own, which will hopefully see it through post, and out the other side into festival land.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Day 10

I forgot to add that yesterday's cafe scenes between Lucas and Ogilvy (Adam and Chris) were rehearsed for the final time in the Queenswood bar late on Saturday night in what has come to be dubbed 'The Glenmorangie Rehearsal', in which the scene somehow got better as more refreshment was taken. Quite extraordinary.

Anyway, this morning Rich decided that we needed more bridging shots, so we spent an hour or so shooting Adam and Sally walking around, either together or on their own. After lunch, we started the hotel room scenes, whereby hangs a tail.

I'd envisioned a large hotel room, with that rarity of rarities, a large bathroom. We were going to shoot at the same hotel where we shot Michaels's mother's scene, but their bathrooms proved to be far too small. Will, our tireless production manager, found an alternative on Friday, which we recce'd during the lunch break. This was a lot better, and I had my heart set on it until last night, when Rich suggested over his nightly Magners that we shoot the scenes in his room (Room 10), as he has a decent shower cubicle. A quick recce proved right, so we started the scenes there. The other hotel were a bit pissed off when I called them to blow them out, but fuck it, the Queenswood is a much nicer hotel, with better WCs! (I would say it's one of the best hotels in the whole of Weston; I stayed there on Thursday night, and it was marvellous! And again on Saturday night, in the fabled Room 1, which has a very New England feel to it.) Because of the unscheduled bridging stuff this morning, we're now a little behind schedule, and wrapped at the ungodly hour of 8pm. Most days we've wrapped at 6. Mind you, as feature shoots go, this has largely been a picnic, especially compared to Cornelius Crow. And we have the nightly blessing of the Queenswood bar...

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Day 9

Today was potentially the most confusing and demanding day of the shoot, in that it's the one day of the film where we have the most hands on deck, mainly in the shape of extras for the cafe scenes. It was also one of the few scenes to not be shot in sequence, as the main cafe scenes - between Lucas and Ogilvy - happen early on in the film. The reason for this is quite simple: the cafe we were using - the Heritage Coffee House in Wadham Street (does great veggie good!) - is only shut on Sundays, and we couldn't shoot during the week as that would have meant recompensing them for a day's lost trade, which we couldn't afford, and we also couldn't shoot it last Sunday, as Chris (Ogilvy) wasn't available.

Things got off to a slightly slow start, with Steve Dineen coming down again to do his final turn as the by now rather sympathetically sad, rather than annoyingly sad, Paul, who is now faced with the prospect that he won't be able to get to the Cravatter's Guild Conference in Torquay (something he boasted about to Cleo in the car just after he picked her up). We then re-made the scene where Ogilvy and Lucas head off for the Dream Roads, the consensus being that the scene was working a lot better (probably due to a miraculous absence of busses, taxis and buzzsaw wielding stonemasons).

The main cafe interiors were all shot with Rich's patent Two Camera TM method, which again speeded things along nicely, although, as we haven't had a shot list for the entire film - a partially deliberate ploy - it was a bit of a headache trying to remember what coverage we actually needed. Again, the reasons for this are due to the nature of the story: when Lucas and Cleo are together, there is a definite 'conspiracy of two' feeling, conveyed by knowing, troubled silences, looking away, minimal dialogue. When they're with other people, however, things are different; they wear masks, play along, try to pretend that all is well. So with Lucas and Ogilvy, we need to have as much 'normal' coverage as possible, and keep the Bogo Tarr stuff on the back burner. One splendid moment occurred during the wild track, when Stu called for general cafe ambience. Suddenly, everyone was a percussionist, moving tables, coughing, clattering knives and forks etc. I even reiterated Ray's words from Wednesday: 'Any chance of another, dear boy?'

The final hour or so of the day saw us shooting the scene in which Sally's character buys a dress for her 3 year old niece. We shot this in my sister Lois's shop Mya Rosa, with Chris's daughter Catherine playing the shop assistant. As the clocks went back last night, we lost the daylight at 1700, meaning that Rich had to frame out the window onto Waterloo Street. Again, 2 cameras were called into play, one on the good legs (my tripod; the hired tripod, which came with the hired camera, turned out to be shit, hence being called the Bad Legs) and the other gaffer taped to a shelf.

I now feel like I'm heading towards a state of relief: we've broken the back of the schedule, but still have two very demanding days to go. Thank God for licensing hours, I say.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Day 8

After the semi-debacle of yesterday afternoon, I was keen that today went better. Thankfully, it did. The main grumbling points were shaky camera (again), due as ever to bumpy ground. We tried another Bogo Tarr tracking shot from a wheelchair, but none of the takes came out smoothly. And on the way back up the lane where we were filming, Rich decided to turn the camera on and shoot Adam and Sally walking up the lane instead of down it. This inevitably meant that our two crew members at the top of the lane - Helen and stills photographer David - were in shot. Helen realised, and ducked into Grove Park. David, on the other hand, didn't realise that our waves to him were meant 'get out of shot!' He thought we were being friendly and waved back. Repeatedly. Such was his enthusiasm, he even started jumping up and down, making him even more visible in shot.

This gaffe was followed by a return to Dog Shit Car Park, where there was a bit more actorly annoyance. This time they were complaining of being rushed. I must say, I agreed with them; I felt rushed and unable to think as well, but what do you expect when you're trying to shoot an entire feature in ten days?

Things went a lot smoother after that, with the Picnic Scene going remarkably well, much to my surprise. (For whatever reason, it was one scene I was sure would be a bitch to shoot.) We ended the day with more semi-improvised Ogilvy/Paul stuff, before we all descended on both the hotel bar and the Regency for much needed refreshment. DRINK! FECK!

Oh, I forgot to add from earlier in the week, that my camera has been bench tested at Visual Impact. Apparently, there's nothing wrong with it. The hiss is simply a design fault. Even Z1s have hiss problems, so they told Stuart. Anyway, good to know my kit is AOK.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Day 7

Today was very much a game of two halves. The morning's work entailed an improvised scene with Martin walking about looking pissed off. I myself was in quite a similar mood: just as we were about to start shooting, I stepped in a veritable Somme of dog shit. Nobody seems to have poop scoops in Weston and, as a result, canine faeces are everywhere, much to my - and Rich's annoyance (dog diarrhoea being one of his pet hates, if you'll pardon the pun). We got some good stuff in the can, and then allowed Martin to get the train back to London (incidentally, he'd found Ray slumped unconscious in the hotel bar yesterday afternoon - we all got a bit worried that he hadn't made his 8pm train due to getting wrecked).

The rest of the morning went pretty well, with more Ogilvy/Lucas scenes, and the scene where Ogilvy encounters Lucas and Cleo. We shot this around Holy Trinity, one of Weston's more prominent landmarks, which can be seen the Grand Pier end of the sea front.

The afternoon, however, was a different matter. Although so far when the actors have been given free reign to change scenes, the scenes in question have improved, today's bit of thespianic re-jigging came a cropper. Nobody was happy with the scene, something they only realised when we were trying to shoot it. The public were a bloody nightmare as well, and to cap it all, a ghastly little woman whose cafe we were shooting in front of came out to complain that we were scaring off her customers (one awful piece of housing estate trash who'd taken offence when she was politely asked to move out of shot a few paces). I could have punched the fucking bitch.

I left the location fuming, vowing to never again try and shoot a scene that hasn't been thoroughly nailed down beforehand. I'm afraid to say, the actors were the main culprits in this fuck-up. But Rich seemed to think we got the scene in the can, and the Queenswood bar has never been so welcoming.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Day 6

Back in Grove Park again this morning, shooting Lucas and Cleo walking about, and then past Priestly, who quotes a bit of Hamlet at them. Ray also had the brilliant idea of quoting from The Winter's Tale in the scene where he's sitting next to Lucas near the start of the film in the Italian Gardens (so-named after Marconi, who made the first ever radio transmission across water from Weston to Cardiff in 1897 - quite why he chose Weston is still something of a mystery; perhaps he was a member of the Order of the Golden Dawn, who had a temple in town). The Shakespeare quote really transformed the scene into something quite strong. In another bit of off the cuff improvising, we shot the scene where Lucas goes to a newsagent to buy cigarettes outside a newsagent we were passing on the way back to Grove Park for more Lucas and Cleo stuff.

Lunchtime saw something of an ecclesiastical emergency in that we realised that Chris Dunne's dog collar looks more like, in Adam's words, 'a bandage'. Much merriment was had by all, but it then meant we had to either find a real vicar and appropriate parts of his clothing, or try and make a new collar of our own. This is what Helen, our brilliant make-up artist, managed to do, so we were able to carry on with Chris's scenes. It's good to have Chris down - he was great to work with in Cornelius Crow, and will no doubt become a regular feature at the Regency (the unit's other watering hole, down the road from the Queenswood).

Another quirk of the film came to light today. We were shooting the Dream Roads scene around the Shrubbery (a strange little part of Weston you can only access by going under a mock Venetian bridge), an area I chose for its charm, and the fact that it's quiet. Well, when I say 'quiet' I meant it's like that provided film crews aren't around. As soon as we showed up, there were cars, vans and busses galore, to say nothing of a stone mason with a circular saw cutting big chunks out of Weston's answer to the Bridge of Sighs (the sighs in question being our own). There must be some obscure branch of physics that could explain why all it takes to turn a quiet street into Piccadilly Circus is about half a dozen people, two actors, and a small HDV camera... Needless to say, we had to set the world to rights in the pub afterwards.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Day 5

Today has been a day of contrasts. First thing on the agenda this morning was Michael's breakdown scene, which we shot in Clarence Park. Apart from Fed Ex vans appearing in the background when we, in all honesty, least needed them, we also had to contend with learner drivers - of both the two wheeled and four wheeled variety - doing three point turns and emergency stops. Joe and Josephine public were not too bad - a few old biddies walking their lap dogs (that looked more like toupees than anything) - but the main problem was the weather. It rained, not to make too fine a point of it. In the 15 or so takes we did (another Bogo Tarr tracking shot), we only had 2 or 3 without rain on the lens.

This was followed by shooting a lengthy single take (6 minutes) of Sally in church. The script specifies that she leaves £500 in the collection plate, but the cash machine would only let me take £300 out, so I gave Sally that, plus the £20 already in my wallet. Yes, you actually see production cash in the film! The scene went well, although we lost the focus momentarily about halfway through, which means we may have to cut away to something. (I think in the script we have another Lucas/Ogilvy scene that bisects the church scene.) My mother, who has been doing the catering, put in a cameo as flower-arranging lady in background (a role she plays in real life).

The logical place to go after church is of course a pub, and the afternoon saw us in the Cooper's Arms in Highbridge (one of my spiritual locals). I'd originally booked the upstairs room, but John, the landlord, kindly let us use the actual back of the pub, which is a lot better. The trouble was, the scene, having been changed quite a lot, now no longer worked as originally envisioned. That, combined with the fact that we ran over time, causing a bit of friction with the locals, meant that the scene was quite stressful to shoot. The scene also marked the debut on the shoot of Ray Callaghan, as the drunken Greek chorus, Priestly. When not shooting, he was drinking and chatting up women a quarter his age.

Perhaps the day has best been summed up by the man who was walking his dog this morning in Clarence Park. He took one look at us in the pouring rain, smiled, and said, 'You must be mad.'
I think I would agree with him.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Day 4

We are trying to shoot in sequence wherever possible, mainly to aid Adam and Sally's growing onscreen relationship. This morning saw us shoot a long, Bela Tarr-style tracking shot in which the two of them reminisce - a bit - and then lapse into silence. This was shot at the end of Weston's High Street, and on into Grove Park (my favourite of Weston's parks). The traffic didn't present too much of a problem. More direct problems were created by the public standing and staring at the camera. They're like animals caught in car headlights. I mean, why are they so stupid? One particularly dense and obese example - a female of the species - started going on loudly from the other side of the stree about how she was now going to be on telly. Continued talk like that will see her on TV; specifically, on the news, in a body bag.

The other problem was the Hague camera stabilizer I bought for the shoot. I tried one out back in February at Video Forum at Earl's Court, where I walked up and down with either a Z1 or a PD170 mounted on it, and it was perfectly smooth. Great, I thought, a Steadicam-like effect, and for only £200! The trouble Rich is now having is that, as we are recording sound directly into the camera via my mixer, any slight tug from the sound cables destabilizes the camera. As Stu is following Rich during the tracking shots, this is unavoidable. Also, wind (as in breeze, not crew flatulence) similarly fucks things up. As Rich said tonight in the Queenswood bar, it's more like Bogo Tarr than Bela Tarr. Still, we hopefully have a few usuable takes in the can.

The PM saw us shoot the Priory scene, which was finalized last night in the bar at the Queenswood. All done in one 4 minute take. A definite nod to Tarkovsky, Nostalgia in particular (the location, Woodspring Priory, would not have looked out of place in that film).

Our final scene was the one in which Michaels - played by the marvellous Martin Trent - goes to visit his ailing mother in a hospice. He'd re-worked the dialogue brilliantly; it's now quite a touching scene. His mother was played by the irrepressible Di from Backwell Drama Group. It's quite ironic that in the scene, she likes inert in bed, but that was about the only time she wasn't talking. She's a great lady, a real character. She informed us all that she was having a great time being in a hotel room with 6 young men! (Nice to be called young! Ah! Youth slipping away.... Sensitive crimes in a punt etc... if I may lapse into Uncle Monty mode for a minute).

Monday, October 23, 2006

Day 3

This morning, we shot the scene where Paul buys Cleo a drink and tries to woo her in his thoroughly inept way. Our location was my (geographical) local, The Red Cow in Brent Knoll. This was the first scene we shot using both cameras, which speeded things up considerably. Stuart, our very able soundman, has detected a hiss on my camera, so we've swapped them over, with the hired camera now being our 'A' camera, and mine being relegated to the Second XI. The scene looked good, with Steve Dineen acting his little socks off while wearing a truly hideous tie. Sally was amazing too: she has an ability to do almost nothing, yet at the same time convey a huge amount of unsaid emotion. Her understanding of the role is spot on.

The afternoon saw us shoot the first meeting between Cleo and Lucas. Like a lot of their scenes together, it's been completely stripped down. There's now only about 5 or 6 lines of dialogue, but the scene lasts around 4 minutes. The final line in the scene, Sally's 'Shall we?' had a big effect on me. Those two words now seem to be the most important in the film. Given the ending of the film, they will hopefully have the same effect on the audience as they did on me today; I was actually quite moved when she uttered those words. Simle is strong, as Bill Douglas used to say.

We used both cameras again for this scene. Stuart has not been able to sort out the hiss on my camera, despite being on the phone to Visual Impact for about half an hour. Still, we got the scene done. The location is wonderfully bleak, up by Weston's Old Pier, the sort of place which would be an ideal location for a seaside remake of Stalker. The Fig Rig has now been rechristened Figgus Riggus, which reminds me of Biggus Dickus from Life of Brian. Perhaps Figgus was Biggus's brother in law? (Which would make him Incontinentia Buttocks's brother... or something.)

Our final scene of the day was another Cleo and Paul scene. Again, Steve was truly ghastly as Paul. And I mean that as a great compliment! He's fantastic.

The actors have rather warmed to the Queenswood. Not surprising, it's a fantastic place. The bar and lounge area have now become our base, and spiritual home.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Day 2

Today was the second day of the shoot. In the morning, we shot Adam Napier driving around Weston. Simple stuff, but actually very difficult to keep the camera steady. We shot the service station scene at Sedgmeoor Services (Northbound, in case any of you are location fetishists!), and then drove onto the M5. Mein Gott! Talk about an urgent neeed to resurface that part of motorway! Rich (our brilliant DOP) had the camera on the Fig Rig, but even so, it was a tad tricky. Once we got into Weston, we drove past the beach bike races, and passed the longest traffic jam I've ever seen in the town (going all the way from the Beach Lawns to the Anchor at Bleadon - a distance of several miles).

The afternoon saw us shooting the first dialogue scene of the film, where Cleo hitches a lift from Paul, the sad and lonely tie salesman. (Come to think of if, ALL the characters are sad and lonely... but I don't want to give away too much of the plot!) We shot it on the A38 just outside Weare, where there's a good layby. Unfortunately, the weather was rather inclement, and there was a lot of traffic (beach race-related?). It was one of those scenes where you really need walkie-talkies - even two yoghurt pots connected by a bit of thread would have helped - but we didn't have any, so I had to do a lot of running back and forth across the road. The car scenes themselves - framed a la Kiarostami's Taste of Cherry - were good, although the mic was in shot for nearly all of Sally's shots. I think we can fix it in post, so no worries.

Tonight was the first night the actors and Rich could stay at the hotel, the rather marvellous Queenswood (www.queenswoodhotel.com). Rich has been on my floor for the last two nights, while Adam has been in Wells, Sally with friends in Redhill. Onwards and upwards!

Day 1

Shooting started yesterday. We did the opening scene first, which was in the rather surreal settings of a local garden centre, complete with life-size Father Christmasses that said Ho Ho Ho! a lot to small children, and a visiting Kenyan choir, who were doing a charity gig. Luckily, we managed to frame both out during the takes. The afternoon saw us filming in the rather restricted confines of my flat. We shot a great sequence on the front stairs, and even had time to fall over during a backwards walking steadicam shot. (A modest homage to Bela Tarr!) More anon.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

As Tough as Bresson

'Martin Scorsese praised Bresson in uniquely American terms: "Elvis Costello said that whenever he's writing a song he asks himself, is it as tough as Hank Williams? Meaning--is it as ruthlessly pared down, as direct as unflinching in its gaze at aspects of life I might feel more comfortable ignoring? Young filmmakers might well ask themselves, 'Is it as tough as Bresson?"'

From Robert Bresson: A Spiritual Style in Film.
By Joseph Cunneen.
Continuum, 224 pp., $29.95.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Rehearsal Diary #1

Just back from London, where we've been rehearsing for the last four days. Things went better than expected, and that's not just my feeling, but everyone else's. Am absolutely shattered, so will write more tomorrow.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Once More Unto the Breach

OK, two weeks to go before we start shooting. Have been down to Holland and Barrett for some Rescue Remedy (as recommended to me by my sister, in whose shop www.myarosa.co.uk we'll be shooting a significant scene) just to keep the blues away. In fact, I have the spray version, which reminds me uncannily of the PKD novel Ubik, in which the titular substance first appears as a spray... We are definitely living in a Phildickian world, what with android presidents etc.

Anyway, talking of Rescue Remedy, I should add that we're in the grips of good old pre-production stress (as if you hadn't sussed!). It's very much a case of, to quote Animal House, 'My advice to you is to start drinking heavily.' Still one of the best lines of dialogue ever. But, stress is part of the job, and it amazes me how it comes and goes (am I quoting Black Sabbath there?!); some days it's awful, quite frankly, and I think any director you'd ask about this would agree. Hence drinking, smoking, and dying in your 50s. (e.g. Tarkovsky, Truffaut, Douglas). (Mind you, I'd rather give up than keel over.)

But on other days, there's no stress at all: things just seem to happen, in a rather tao-like way. Which reminds me of the wisdom of a Buddhist teacher or two whose names have escaped me: the advice being, rather than 'Don't just stand there, do something!', in fact being 'Don't just do something, stand there!' I think this could be a great motto for this film.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Rehearsals Start Next Week

We are now just about to start rehearsing. I've found a great space in Swiss Cottage, which we are sharing with Ken Campbell. (He and his lot are only in there one or two evenings, so we hopefully won't clash.) The owner of the space is a big Tarkovsky fan, and knows my book on him, while the lady downstairs is into the Cathars. Whether she's read my b0ok on them, I don't know. (Perhaps I could offer her a signed copy in exchange for a reduction in the hire charges.) Anyway, it's big, bright and easy to get to.

We're going to be shooting the rehearsals, and hopefully will have something to post online soon, probably at the MySpace page (www.myspace.com/891filmhouse).

We almost have a DOP, too. I've met someone who I think's our man, just waiting for his reel to show up. Or rather, as I'm currently in Edinburgh, the reel is probably lying there just inside the letterbox waiting for me to show up.