Making ‘Get Well Soon’ – (Pt.1)
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…
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)