THE SHOOT: Weekend one – 24-25 April
Finally, the first weekend shoot had arrived. I had worked out a prop list at the last minute, but then BRAG informed us that they had found a production designer – Sophie Wyatt. This was on the 19th, just five days before the first weekend of shooting.
With all the other worries we’d been dealing with, we’d barely had enough space to really think about the trials posed by production design, props and continuity. Luckily, the environment we were filming in had a lot of character and didn’t need much dressing. It fitted nicely into our vision for the sort of space Theo and Janet would inhabit. However, by default, I was going to be looking after props and continuity (beyond costume continuity), because we hadn’t found somebody to help us here.
It soon became clear that it was very important we had found somebody; I was totally green to this, and there were lots of things I hadn’t thought about. Any props that required close-ups for more than a few seconds would have to have fake labels made for them; wine labels, cigarette packets, medication labels etc. ‘Get Well’ cards would have to be made from scratch. Part of the script also included repeated glugging of wine. To avoid very drunk actors, Sophie was able to manufacture a non-alcoholic alternative that didn’t just look like grape juice.
By the 21st of April, we had located the last remaining bits of equipment, (vastly reduced in price due to the influence of BRAG and the calibre of the crew on-board). Everything seemed to be coming together.
While I was reasonably calm when I arrived at the first weekend of shooting (24th), I was soon overwhelmed by the bustle, and the sheer volume of equipment. We spend the first hour or so unloading kit from the garage and moving it into the house.
If I recall, the first shots featured about an hour or so of Laura running to the toilet, pretending to vomit. I didn’t have much that I could reasonably do, so I camped out in the kitchen, listening to the noises from the shoot upstairs. I’ll never forget the first time somebody yelled ‘action’ Hearing actors actually deliver lines was one of the scariest things. I had an immediate flood of self doubt. In those moments, it seemed that maybe all this effort had been put in place for dialogue and plot that sounded awkward, uncomfortable. At this point, I couldn’t see how it would translate into something totally different in the edit.
These periods of waiting, (of which there were many) were interrupted by brief periods of intense activity. It may seem like a minor consideration, but If you are making a film on a low budget make sure you bring a printer that you are familiar with to the set. Otherwise, when you find yourself needing to print out call sheets, scripts, shot lists and other planning info, you’ll end up swearing a lot.
Additionally, I wish we’d found the time to do a reconnoitre of local food vendors in advance of the shoot. We ended up looking for places to feed a crew of 20+ on the day, haggling with local cafes, trying to get everyone fed to a level that would make them feel valued. We also did a big shopping run in the morning, and although the foodstuffs appeared to be go down well, I’d place less emphasis on nik-naks, wagon wheels and Red Bull if I was doing this again, (unless the shoot insurance specifically indemnified against diabetes).
The Canon 5d appeared to be performing well. It got hot, but didn’t overheat after a day’s filming, (a criticism often levelled at it). It provided a lot of versatility – but undoubtedly some frustration as well, especially with the pressure of time. While the crew were working very hard to try and move things forward, there seemed too much to cover.
Ian was keen to get coverage. Not having the shots he needed to comfortably tell the story was something that had frustrated him as an editor. He’d hoped that we’d have the time to experiment, to shoot scenes in a few different ways. The storyboard identified some specific setups, but we wanted to keep it loose so that we would be free to try things out. In that sense it didn’t map out shots and scenes in a minute level of detail. Perhaps if we’d had a lot more time, we could have afforded this luxury – this was a valuable learning experience for Ian and I. By about 1.00pm we were very behind schedule.
Not having the storyboard mapped onto a distinct list of necessary shots, (including how the camera should be mounted – dolly, bazooka, fig rig, etc), meant that we couldn’t consolidate all the shots together to save on setup time. Rather than shooting scenes out of sequence, we realistically needed to be shooting individual shots within scenes totally out of sequence. It became apparent that makeup and costume changes were much faster to achieve than de-rigging a camera and laying down dolly track, for instance. We realised that even if we had ended up deviating hugely from an agreed shot list, it would still have been very helpful to have this as a starting point.
We ploughed through as much as we could on the Saturday, and then spent the first evening working out a shot list for the following day. As the weekend progressed, the pressure began mounting, and then there was a subtle change in atmosphere. At first, we thought Ian was just very stressed by the shoot, but it soon became apparent something was really wrong. I talked to him briefly in the garden – his young son, Henry, had a fever that wouldn’t subside. Ian’s partner had taken Henry into hospital. Eventually Ian managed to ascertain that everything was ok, and that Henry had been discharged.
The end of this first moment of intense stress coincided nicely with having the space to have proper look at the rushes at the end of the second day. The stuff we shot using the 5D was beautiful; far better than I had anticipated. This gave us the energy boost we needed and we headed home in better spirits, despite the fact that we had a lot of shooting to catch up on the following weekend.
I got a call midweek. Ian’s son was back in hospital, critically ill. The doctors couldn’t identify what was wrong with him, and as they tried to stabilise him, his organs had begun failing one by one. The prognosis was not good.
That was a strange week. I can’t imagine what it must have been like for Ian – he was now camped out at the hospital with his son in intensive care. All we could do was begin to strategise around Ian’s absence during the second week of filming, It was very lucky that we had Jack on board – somebody who understood the project and had directorial experience who could completely take over.