Archive for July, 2010

Meatbath!

Posted in Uncategorized on July 31, 2010 by michaelwoodman

Rory Moles and Ian Baigent did some additional filming for The Bath last weekend.

I was very hungover after a steady diet of Leffe and Dragon Stout the night before,  and so didn’t make it along for fear that I might be ill. Seeing these pictures, I’m very glad I didn’t.

PS: If you don’t fancy the thought of close up photos of calf brains, then you may not want to follow this link to see what they got up to…

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Making ‘Get Well Soon’ – (Pt.4)

Posted in Uncategorized on July 30, 2010 by michaelwoodman

FEB 2010 – Getting the production support,

We received an email in mid Feb from BRAG productions: “Alison and I both read the script yesterday and liked it very much.  We would really like to know your plans to shoot and see if and how we can be of help.”

I’ve become an enormously cynical person over the years, and this holds me back for sure. I’ve invested large amounts of emotional energy in projects that have never even resulted in a finished article, let alone any kind of critical appraisal, so while it was exciting to be taken seriously by an industry professional, it was also fairly anxiety inducing. In order to take the project forward, we’d be moving on with a revised set of rules that we hadn’t anticipated. Whereas before Ian and I were using the project purely to prove something to ourselves, now there were others involved.

Rael, Ian and I sat down with Gregory Rinaldi from BRAG productions at Century in Leicester  Square. I don’t get on with members clubs, perhaps from my brief flirtation with the music industry when I was making pop music in Brand Violet. I saw them as weird, fun-fair offices; places where people came to work and drink. Places where you would end up signing something you shouldn’t have because you got a bit excitable after a few bottles of Duvel.

The reality of the meeting was quite different. Greg seemed very hands off with issues of creative control, although the main issue he had was with the length. Irrespective of the totally unworkable scheduling we were suggesting, (30 pages in one weekend), the issue was raised about the usefiulness of making a 30 minute short. A 30 minute piece was less useful from a festival perspective. If it was 30 minutes long, it might as well be stretched out to a feature. Occupying that odd space between a short and a feature meant that many established festivals wouldn’t have a submission category for it. It needed to ideally be 15 minutes long, (20 at a push).

In any case, as our budget would only just cover catering and expenses, we realistically needed to simplify. In most cases, this is good for the script, because it forces to think about what is absolutely necessary to tell the story.  After the meeting, we ended up losing all the exterior shots, and an additional character. In retrospect, both of these elements were superfluous and confusing.

Meeting with Greg, it was clear how naïve I was. I had never been on a film set at all, and had never even considered the necessity of insurance relating to the shoot, (I had images of a few people floating round a massive airy space with weightless cameras and a few bags of Jaffa cakes). The financial investment remained ours, but Greg was suggesting that he could gather together a crew of top industry professionals who would become interested enough in the project to want to work for expenses only. I didn’t understand at all how our project could be pitched in such a way.

Greg explained – it presented opportunities for people to get valuable experience, and to network with crew members that they might want to work with again on a larger project. The runners we had picked up from The Runner’s Club would get experience and an IMDB credit. The director of photography would get a chance to experiment with different technology, (hence the final decision to shoot the whole thing on a tiny digital SLR camera – the Canon 5D). It would be a relatively safe environment to address the camera’s benefits and limitations. The whole thing became a safe, experimental environment, and elaborate business card at the same time. Most importantly for Ian and I, this would turn a film that would reasonably be budgeted at £50,000 into something which costed significantly less.

This all reinforces the fact that as skilled as you are, you are only likely to be given opportunities if you exploit the networks you are in.

Next: Late Feb /March 2010 – Location, funding, crew and camera

Making ‘Get Well Soon’ – (Pt.3)

Posted in Uncategorized on July 21, 2010 by michaelwoodman

Writing & redrafting: (July 2009).

Ian wanted to edit the piece rather than direct. We originally spent some time working with Ian’s director friend, Jack Burnford in July 2009.

I hammered out first draft of roughly 30 pages. Even with the total lack of pressure at that point, it was very odd coming back to writing after such a long time. Although I felt much more confident in terms of the content than I ever had before, I was very out of practise editing anything longer than a page of song lyrics. Nevertheless, Jack seemed excited with what I’d produced, and drew up a few pages of storyboards based on what I’d written.

 

John Turturro in Nicholas Winding Refn's "Fear X"

John Turturro in Nicholas Winding Refn's "Fear X"

 

Unfortunately this stalled after a few months, and the  project was shelved for a short while. It had became difficult for us to push on with no production backing, or to synchrinise our diaries in a way that was going to keep everyone satisfied.

Eventually, Ian and I decided to push on on our own, (with Ian directing and editing), and in September 2009, I managed to convince an actor friend, Gresby Nash to get on board. Ian and I were still buoyed by our relentless optimism, and suffered under the delusion that we’d be able to fit 30 pages of script into 1 weekend of filming. Gresby had been working in TV for many years, and I remember the expression he’d tried to disguise when we discussed the proposed schedule.

Amusingly to me, although Gresby’s TV credits featured a lot of comedy, a lot of the films in his own collection included brutal new-french extremism and 70’s giallo. Our project seemed to fall roughly on the equator between things Gresby was in (The IT Crowd, The Lenny Henry Show), and things he watched, (fun family entertainment like Martyrs, Irreversible, Suspiria, etc).

Gresby also suggested we approach an actress he’d worked with before; Laura Howard, who had a long standing TV role in ‘Midsomer Murders’.

In order to try and get further interest, Ian and I put together a mood reel. This was basically a few clips from films that Ian and I found to be emotionally and atmospherically resonant with our aims for the project, (including  clips from The Fountain, 2001, Insomnia, Stalker, Youth Without Youth, and in particular for me, Nicholas Winding Refn’s excellent box office disaster, Fear X). The mood reel was basically a tool to try and pitch the proposed atmosphere of the piece to interested parties. We sent this on to people who had expressed interest in the project.

Rael Jones, (my friend and bandmate in Thumpermokey Lives!) had agreed to do the music. After having read an early draft of the script, he sent me an email about a producer that he was working on a project with, and asked if he could forward on the script.

‘Yeah, ok’, I said. I didn’t really think too much about it.

Soon after, I got another email…

Next – part four: Meeting the Producers.

Making ‘Get Well Soon’ – (Pt.2)

Posted in Uncategorized on July 12, 2010 by michaelwoodman

First draft: Spring / Summer 2009.

In the late 90’s, after having half-engaged in what had been advertised as a ‘creative writing degree’, I took a part-time job in a bookshop so I could focus on writing.

I wrote a lot. A novel about a group of university students suffering under the yoke of their ennui, (boo hoo). A screenplay about the Albanian Mafia controlling the flow of heroin through the Balkans. Lots of obnoxious poetry. Journalism that could loosely be described as ‘gonzo’, only because I was too lazy to try and report anything objectively. After a year or so I decided it wasn’t going to work, and I concentrated on music instead. I kept the dodgy poetry, rehashed it as song lyrics, and sang these in high voice over long songs that you can’t dance to. In that sense, the format of Thumpermonkey Lives!, hasn’t changed much in a decade.

So, at the point I met Ian Baigent through various musical connections, (he plays in a band called Montana Pete, and more recently Hag), I hadn’t written anything seriously for many years. Ian had been carving out a career in editing film for few years, and although he’d had a chance to work on some exciting stuff, he was now beginning to get frustrated.

We both decided it would be fun to try and make a short together, to try and realise a wider creative ambition. We talked about beer-bribing some actors we knew into getting involved, shooting the whole thing hand held with minimal lighting and a tiny crew. This would hopefully offer Ian very different material to cut, and would allow me a second stab at writing seriously. A bit of fun, designed purely to get our heads around the practicalities of making something, no matter how shoddy.

We started brainstorming ideas. We knew we wanted to make something dark, although we were both pretty bored with conventional horror films. We found films like Haneke’sCaché‘ and ‘Funny Games’ quite refreshing.

Caché‘ was a film I found especially interesting, albeit because of my potentially incorrect reading of the film which nevertheless stays with me. I had it in my head that the director was stepping into the film and wilfully altering reality in order to present the characters with an emotional conundrum; not in a fantastical way, but in a highly devisive way. In ‘Funny Games‘ a character literally ‘rewinds’ a sequence of violence using a remote control, (difficult to explain out of context if you haven’t seen this film, but it’s an attempt to force the audicence to explore the idea that they become complicit with acts of on-screen violence).

With ‘Cache‘, the way Haneke tortured his characters seemed more mysterious. While I respected the agenda of ‘Funny Games‘, I enjoyed the apparent mystery of ‘Caché‘ more.

This is where the original idea for ‘The Bath’ came from. We wanted to mke a mystery, where reality was wilfully manipulated, (although not in an explicitly fantastical way). The atmosphere was key, and as the drafts of the screenplay progressed we became more an more comfortable with the idea of making the plot open-ended, concentrating on having the audience feel the piece before they processed it.

Ian and I also found Lars Von Trier’s ‘Antichrist’ very resonant. This atmosphere of the film affected us both, and definitely informed the drafting process.While I’m aware of a dialogue about whether the film should have been made at all, (or more specifically, whether its very existence is gratuitous), I don’t agree that the acts of awful violence it depicts are in and of themselves gratuitous. I think it succeeds in being a true horror film, because even after the Daily Mail baiting sequence of self-mutilation, the motivation of Charlotte Gainsbourg’s character is underpinned by a far more profound instance of emotional violence. I find her motivation much more traumatising than what she does. In that sense, Ian and I felt that we should also be able to make something harrowing that had no violence or explicit material in it at all, as long as the emotional weight was there. Additionally, detractors seem to ignore that it is an intensely beautiful film in places, and we admired that too.

We decided we too wanted to make something beautiful and dark.

Making ‘Get Well Soon’ – (Pt.1)

Posted in Uncategorized on July 4, 2010 by michaelwoodman

In the Summer of 2009 I started writing what was projected to be a very low-budget short film with an editor friend. The plan was to make something as quickly and cheaply as possible, roping in favours from a few friends. By early 2010, the script was being realised by a 20 strong, industry experienced crew who had worked on projects as diverse as Midsomer Murders, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Alice in Wonderland, and The Shining

The Bath

I was present the set of what we are currently calling ‘The Bath’. I anticipate that with higher budget projects, producers might hire a crew member specifically to beat the writer with a large stick, and ensure he and his micro-management anxieties stay off set. So, it was a privilege to be there to watch everyone go about their business.

My first experience of being on set involved a lot of standing about, and a lot of worrying. Additionally, it involved learning some good lessons about knowing when to react to stuff, and knowing when things are beyond one’s individual control, (and perhaps more importantly, one’s remit). As I settled in, the experience gradually began to remind me of when I used to play the ‘Final Fight‘ arcade machine in our local newsagent with the older kids who knew all the special moves. It was fun, colourful, chaotic; largely inexplicable to me.

That’s me setting the tone with my level of expertise, by the way.

So, this is the story of a first time writer attempting to turn a script for a 15 minute short in to something that actually looks, sounds and smells like a ‘proper film’. It’s a reflection on practicalities, networking & nepotism, funding, the role of the producer, and on the unhelpful assumptions I held about what would be hard and what would be easy. The two switched places with alarming frequency.

In the summer of 2009, my shooting plans for what is now becoming ‘The Bath’ were limited to wandering round a friend’s flat, filming myself on mini DV lit by a couple of halogen spots from Halfords. Perhaps that’s where you are now, but are perhaps thinking you might like to nudge your production up to the next level? Perhaps you’re as blissfully ignorant as I was several months ago? If so, you are the target audience for this blog. Welcome.

Here’s my first piece of advice.

A few years back, I met up with a friend who had been to film school. While studying, she had worked on a short film. She was enthusiastic about it, and justifiably so. I’d seen it, and it had clearly demanded a lot of hard work and skill.

However, it’s important to note that I hadn’t been involved in making anything at that point. I’m basically one of those intensely jealous people who knows just enough about cinema to be irritating after a few beers, especially when confronted with people who had actually attempted to realise their creative urge. Additionally, the Theakston’s was cheap that night, and I had indulged.

Hugh Mcleod of gapingvoid.com has a great line about ‘good ideas being resisted because they alter the power balance in relationships’. Whereas I had always talked the talk about film, I was totally unbalanced at the point that a friend actually went off and made one. So, I said some flippant, negative things about the project she’d worked on. There were scores of positive things that I could have said about it, but I chose not to. We argued. We ended up wearing each other’s drinks. Although I apologised soon after, it isn’t until recently that I truly got it.

She’d got frustrated, because I had no direct experience of what making a film actually entailed. I had no respect for how exhausting even a small project could be. The logistical nightmares, the hours of planning and negotiating. The setbacks and escalating costs. Things getting lost. Things breaking, behaving differently to how they should, or exploding.

Irrespective of any subjective opinions held about the content of any film, I learned the hard way that the amount of planning and effort it takes to produce 15 minutes of objectively decent looking footage is a lot more than I expected. I was frequently reminded of that exchange as my own  project became more and more complex. I found myself thinking again and again, ‘ok, I get it now’.

So, lesson one: If you are making a low-budget short, expect those 15 minutes of final footage to dominate your life for a long time. It’s hard work.

Next: Part 2. – First Draft (Summer 2009)