Monday, 31 May 2010

Easy Rider...

Easy Rider is a film that has had a huge influence over my life in the years since I first saw it. When I was younger going on holidays to Wales with my parents, my dad would leave his watch behind, just like Peter Fonda does at the beginning of the film. The idea of this always stuck with with me, although I'm not that great at doing it myself - I am a chronic watch-checker. The soundtrack is still one of my favourites, to the point that Andrea and I used I Wasn't Born to Follow by The Byrds to play us out at our wedding. But aside from the personal connection, I think it's an incredibly powerful and complex film that truly deserves its place in cinema history.

When I started to think about it, I realised that Dennis Hopper appeared in a lot of films that are on my favourites list, from Gunfight at the O.K. Corral and Rebel Without a Cause to Blue Velvet and Red Rock West. The last film I saw him in was Elegy in which he played the aging best friend to an aging Sir Ben. For me he was the best thing about the film. His was one of those names always made me smile if I saw it on the opening titles of any film, because it meant that even if the film was bad there would at least be a Dennis Hopper performance to look forward to.

Thursday, 27 May 2010

The no-budget to low-budget gap...

In my limited experience independent short films and features tend to either be made for practically nothing (under £1000 for a short, under £10,000 for a feature) or they tend to be made for an amount that can barely be considered low budget (around £15,000 for a short, £500,000 for a feature). There doesn't seem to be anything in between. I think I'm starting to learn why.

Firstly, to help illustrate my point here's a random university story. At one stage I was briefly affiliated with the university Cult Film Society (although I can't remember what I actually did other than once lending them a copy of City Hunter). I don't want to sound like an old man talking about when all this were fields, but this was in the late nineties and a Cult Film Society was kind of a necessity if you wanted to see the more obscure genre or exploitation films. Films were harder to get hold of, some of them were even banned at that point - I saw A Clockwork Orange at one of their screenings, and to be honest didn't like it that much, but it was still the only way I could see it. I also saw Suspiria for the first time which is still one of my favourite ever horror films, and there were screenings of films I may not have seen otherwise like Welcome to the Dollhouse and Love and a .45.

Anyway, every week we'd use the meagre funds gathered from the £3 membership fees to hire a room and a projector and show some films . Sometimes, for extra special occasions, we'd splash out and print fliers This worked fine, until the tech guy we hired the projectors from pointed out that we were showing the films illegally - that the message at the front of the film prohibiting public screenings applied to us as well as prisons and oil rigs. That to do this legally someone needed paying.

We took this in good spirits. A Halloween screening was arranged in conjunction with another film society so the costs could be shared. It was cripplingly expensive.

Essentially it meant that without charging for entry (and given that our attendance was between 5 and 10 people per screening we would've had to charge a LOT) the Cult Film Society could only really show one film a year. I'm not disputing the legalities here, but the intention of the society was to watch obscure films that were not readily available with a group of like-minded individuals. It was not designed to make a profit and for the most part the films being screened weren't readily available anyway. But on paper it should not have existed. On paper, we probably should've been fined an awful lot of money.

Recently I was reminded of this situation in relation to my short film. Our budget is around £500. That's for everything, and as it's our own money it's not like we can push it up when required - I don't even know if we can afford that much. And remember - this is a short film, there's no profit here.

Anyway, one of the locations I'm thinking of filming in requires us to get permission to film there. No problem, I'd rather do everything legitimately and am happy to get permission first. Except permission costs money, an undisclosed sum of money. Okay, so say we apply for permission and see how much it is. Bit of a risk - feels like when you need to get a day off work but there's a possibility you won't be able to take it as holiday and if you ask anyway and don't get it you can't then pull a sickie cos they now know you want that day off. Not that I'd ever do that.

So say we ask for permission, they say it's £500, we say we're not paying - we can hardly then try and film there anyway.

But there's another problem - in order to apply for permission you need insurance. I don't have insurance. I understand why you would need insurance. I also understand that it would cost most of our budget. Plus say we get insurance, that opens up a whole can of worms in terms of other aspects. We'd need to set up a company for one, and then we're employers and we need contracts and we need to pay minimum wage and suddenly our £500 budget is closer to £10,000. I know people who've spent that on short films, but I don't have £10,000. If I did I doubt I could justify spending it on a short film that is not going to generate any profit. So then you're into looking for funding, and if you're going to that much effort you may as well look into developing a feature instead for all the time and hard work it's going to take to get the money.

I do get it. I understand it's an industry in which peoples' time and good will can be very easily exploited without reward. But as someone who has been exploited many times with no reward I know that people make their own decisions and take their own risks. And it's also an industry which is oversubscribed and I can't help but think certain organisations are profiting from that, but that's another argument for another day.

My point and the thing that concerns me is this - on paper, no-budget film-making should not and cannot exist. On paper the short films I see at events and festivals would never have been made if the filmmakers had paid for everything they were supposed to pay for. It means film making becomes a pursuit of the rich and privileged elite. It makes it the only art form that isn't open to everyone, which goes against the whole reason that art exists. Art should obviously be open to everyone to enjoy, but at the same time it should also be open to everyone who wants to make art.

Obviously short films do exist, but only because people bend or ignore the rules and duck the authorities that want them to pay for certain priveleges. The moment you decide to do things legitimately, to pay the costs that in reality are put there for large-scale commercial productions, it becomes a much more costly undertaking.

Of course I may be over-reacting - we're still looking into the cost of these things and I'll let you know if I'm pleasantly surprised. And it may be that a different analogy could be applied to me - that perhaps I need to learn some lessons from feature film production and accept that I just need to make a more affordable short film; that I'm aiming too high. If you can't afford something, you don't do it. Simple as that. But I'm not ready to accept that just yet.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

A sad time for metal fans...

So in the last six months we've lost James 'The Rev' Sullivan of Avenged Sevenfold, Pete Steele of Type O Negative and Ronnie James Dio. And this week Slipknot bassist Paul Gray died.

I won't go on about what a huge Slipknot fan I used to be (and how I truly believe their first two albums are among the great artworks of our time), because I already blogged about it, back
here. Seeing them live remains one of the defining moments of my youth. It went something like this...

Friday, 21 May 2010

Short film diary - Week 3...

Split this one into two entries as I was having a bit of a panic the night before the auditions:

Friday 21st

So the week isn't technically over at this point but I wanted to write a pre-auditions bit, hoping that my post-audition entry will be overwhelmingly positive in comparison. So out of the fifty or so actors who applied we chose sixteen to audition - roughly four per role, give or take one or two. As of right now at least eight of those people have cancelled, including two who were auditioning for the lead. Most of the cancellations came in over the course of the week and as we were still getting new casting applications in we were able to plug some of the gaps. The thing is, at the start of the week we didn't have enough men. Now we've got loads, but the majority of the women aren't coming.

Also, the Shooting People casting website (which has actually been pretty useful so far) went down due to server problems meaning I couldn't access my casting messages. This wouldn't really have mattered at this stage but I did have a couple of last minute applications that I couldn't access so obviously started to worry that those could be the perfect cast members and I had no way of looking at them.

I'm also wondering if it was a mistake to send people the script before meeting the actors. Two of the roles are pretty small and though I think they're interesting (they're the bad guys - what's not to love about playing bad guys?) I can see that maybe they're not that appealing to aspiring superstars. But perhaps if they didn't like the script it's better to know now rather than to cast people who weren't that into it. And maybe I am just being paranoid and the excuses about suddenly contracting flu or having too much work on are genuine. Also, I think honesty can be over-rated sometimes - I'm not sure that in reality I'd actually prefer a load of e-mails from people not coming to the auditions because they didn't like the script.

Anyway, I'm hoping the people who are coming are awesome. They kind of have to be.

Monday 24th

So one more person dropped out on the day but in the end we still saw ten people in total, instead of the sixteen we had originally arranged to see. One thing I have learnt from the experience is that ten people may be the maximum it's sensible to see in one day. By the end my introductory speech had been reduced to a few sentences and I kept getting confused when people asked questions - 'didn't I already answer that question?' I kept thinking, before realising the previous person had asked the same thing. Maybe all those cancellations weren't necessarily a bad thing.

Everyone we did see was indeed awesome and very enthusiastic about the project, which was a relief! We've got some difficult decisions to make now, although we may try to see some more people for balance.

I don't really want to draw too much attention to my inexperience, but working with the actors in the auditions did make me start to think about rehearsals and character development. I was asking for a few different readings of the lines mostly to test the actors, but it also became clear in doing this that there were quite a few different ways for these characters to be played and that I don't have a definitive version in my head. But it seems like the fact that I'm even concerned about this is a step in the right direction. Every short film I've done before I've been happy for the actors to just turn up and do it their way while I worry about a bunch of other stuff that the director really shouldn't be worrying about. I've got a lot more help on this one and it's made thinking more creatively about the scenes and characters much easier.

Despite the extra help I'm still bouncing between two alternating levels of stress. Half the time it feels like everything is sorting itself out and I'm free to leave it to one side for a while. But then if I don't do anything film-related for more than 24 hours I get really panicked, curse my previous inactivity and start making lists of the billions of things that need doing. Then I do some of the things and phone some people which makes me feel much better and like everything is fine so I go back to stage 1.

So hopefully by the time I next post one of these we'll have made some decisions on the casting front and will also have finally confirmed shooting dates. Let's see how that works out.

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Short Film Diary - Week 2...

Bit late with this one, but it was a busy week. Although mostly it involved waiting for casting applications to come in. We ended up posting on four different casting websites as well as asking local organisations like the Brighton Filmmakers Coalition and Theatre Performers in Sussex for help. In the end posting castings in all those different places proved to be quite necessary as we're auditioning at least one or two actors from each source. We had a pretty mixed response - one of the roles in particular generated a huge amount of applications, and surprisingly it wasn't the lead. Presuming everyone can make it we're auditioning a fair amount of people on Saturday so it looks like it's going to be a pretty busy day.

Scheduling is becoming quite tough, in that I can't actually do it at the moment. I'm a bit reluctant to pin down potential crew members about the project until I've got the dates confirmed, which means I need the actors to confirm first. But in hindsight I probably still would've issued the cast and crew call around the same time - I don't like the idea of casting without knowing how you're going to cover the technical side of things. It just means that until next weekend it still feels a bit up in the air.

Had a meeting with a composer which went really well but more on that as it develops.

I'm still tinkering with the script - spent most of Sunday morning going through it and changing odd bits. It's still getting longer, which isn't good. I'm hoping I'll find some stuff to cut out once we get to a readthrough. Also had to adapt the script into audition scenes, which in the end was quite easy but I spent ages trying to adapt the individual characters dialogue into monologues thinking that would work. It didn't. Now we're just using slightly adapted scenes.

Awesome non-short-film stuff:

Watched In a Lonely Place - a film I've been meaning to see for years.

If you haven't seen it you should check it out. It's perfect and heartbreaking and I think it may be up there among my favourites already. Possibly because it's about a writer.

Also found a band called Little White Rabbits Still Bleed Red doing a bizarre cover version of an already quite weird Hansil Adkins song. Which is awesome:

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

We used to make better films...

First off, if any actors who have replied to the casting notices for the short are reading this - thanks very much for your applications! We've had loads so it's going to take a while to go through them all but we're hoping to get back to everyone over the weekend at the latest.

Anyway, last night I went to see a couple of films screening as part of the Made in Brighton Film Festival. I mostly went to watch Luther Jones' short film The Crunch which was screening with with one of the features and didn't really know what to expect when it came to the features themselves. The first was The Gelignite Gang, a 1950s crime thriller with Brighton doubling for London. The story was classic genre stuff about two private detectives, one British the other American, intent on catching a gang of jewel thieves despite repeatedly being warned to stay off the case by the police and various shady underworld characters. It was clunky in places and a bit slow, but also had some fantastic moments, including clever use of wandering buskers who changed tunes to alert the gang that police were nearby. Some neat twists too.

The second was The Big Switch, a 60s crime thriller directed by Pete Walker about a photographer caught up in a body-switching plot. Brighton featured much more prominently in this film, with several scenes of the characters driving along the seafront and a final shootout on the West Pier. It was very cool and also unintentionally hilarious. But there was something very British about the scenes that now seem funny. The driving, for example, was funny because of its realism - cars would stall, make awkward turns, have to wait for passing traffic and all the time the energetic jazz soundtrack was struggling to make this seem exciting. Another great moment was in the bad guys' 'hideout' where the hero and his girl are being held prisoner. On the day they are to be killed they sit with the head henchman eating breakfast from plates on their laps - it was a bizarrely domestic, pedestrian scene for what should be a high tension moment. And there's something very British about that.

What struck me as interesting was that I'd never heard of or seen either film in connection with Brighton or British filmmaking, and maybe the reasons for that are obvious. But it was further proof that we used capable of producing solid genre films in this country, and that we used to be make genre films outside of London. It was also kind of cool seeing the short films of contemporary Brighton filmmakers next to films that people seem to have forgotten were filmed here.

Monday, 10 May 2010

Why horror films are awesome (by way of ranting about a remake)...

Listened to this today and had to post it here. This is Mark Kermode reviewing the Nightmare on Elm Street remake. Ignoring the stuff about the film (which I haven't seen yet so no comment), this is a brilliant summary of eighties horror films and makes a good case for those films being considered as art rather than trash:

Something else I can recommend is the epic two-and-a-half hour making-of documentary on Rob Zombie's best film, The Devil's Rejects, which Brother Pete has been recommending to me for ages. It starts in a production office and goes right the way through to the end of production, or at least I assume it does but I haven't finished it yet. I've kind of gone off DVD extras and making-ofs in recent years - after you've seen a few they start to all seem the same and few really show you what actually happens. This one does, and is pretty honest about the mistakes they made as well as the things they got right.

Been going through actors for the short today, but more on that at the weekend.

Saturday, 8 May 2010

Short film diary - Week 1...

If I was to say that putting a crew together for a short film was a bit like planning a heist I would sound like an idiot, because I have clearly never planned an actual heist. However, there was a game on the Spectrum called They Stole a Million. You had to carry out a robbery by hiring the crew and working out the timings and who needed to do what using the blueprints of the building. That's what putting a crew together for a short film reminds me of.

Except that's where the analogy ends because after you'd hired everyone and planned the thing you had to play through the heist in real time where it would inevitably go wrong and you'd either go to jail or come away with a fraction of the loot you were aiming for. Yes, this was an excuse for some random reminiscence.

Anyway, Andrea and I had our first production meeting on Monday. This started with Andrea reading the script which made me panic. Part of the point of doing this was to make a film on my own terms, which mostly means filling it with all the bizarre, surreal ideas I know would never make it into an actual feature. But what if everyone hated it? More importantly, what if the very first person to read it hated it? She didn't...panic over. We discussed a few points and I did a quick rewrite that night. I've done another polish since then, but that's the nice thing about short film scripts - they're manageable enough to keep working at. I may have one more attempt at cutting it down before locking it, but generally I'm really happy with it.

So we made a list of all the things we need and booked some provisional dates for holding auditions and filming. I posted the crew/cast call on here that night and then started to contact a few people I know who I wanted to be involved. Then I posted on Shooting People and Talent Circle, where I learnt that for posting crew/cast calls I actually really prefer Talent Circle, and not just because it's free.

I've been a member of Shooting People since it started, and have been an on/off subscriber since they started charging. In terms of getting work and connecting people I think it's awesome - pretty much everything of note that I've done has come through their website. But I think they could learn a few things from Talent Circle when it comes to posting cast/crew calls.

Both websites use online forms for you to type in your requirements. The Shooting People form is awkward, looks a bit messy when it's posted and at one point while filling out the crew request I lost everything and had to start again. In comparison, Talent Circle make it a lot easier - the forms are split over several pages and they have word limits on a lot of the fields which makes you get straight to the point.

But the biggest difference has been the time the postings have taken to go through. I posted the crew call on both sites on Wednesday evening. The Talent Circle one had gone live the following morning, but the Shooting People one wasn't published until Friday. I know that's not really a huge delay (and at least they accepted it), plus there have been other things going on in the world like the small matter of a deciding who's going to run the country, but this did not stop Talent Circle moderating then posting the call a lot quicker than Shooting People. I did the casting call on Thursday evening (after I'd voted obviously - I do have some sense of priorities) on both sites again. The Talent Circle one went live last night. I'm still waiting for the Shooting People one to be posted, if it's even accepted and I've found they are sometimes a bit more pedantic over casting calls. This means it probably won't be posted until after the weekend which isn't the end of the world but just means that if it was just down to efficiency Talent Circle is definitely the better of the two sites.

Anyway, responses have started to trickle in. In terms of crew I'm only looking for a DoP and Sound Recordist at the moment as I think they're the most essential. I knew I wouldn't get many responses for either for an unpaid project and in terms of the DoP I was right, but I was surprised at how many responses I got to the Sound Recordist posting. Applications from actors have started to come in from the Talent Circle post too and I've put the call out on a couple of other websites.

If you are reading this having responded to any of the positions then thanks very much - I will be responding to everyone early next week.

This week I have mostly been listening to Italian folk metal. Which is obviously awsome:

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

New Short Story...

Almost forgot about this. Before the wedding I entered the Campaign for Real Fear competition and wrote a 500 contemporary horror story. I nicked an idea from an old screenplay I wrote a while ago and tried to give it a Lovecraftian sensibility. It didn't win but I think the competition was a really good idea and it's fun trying to tell a story in 500 words. As I'm unlikely to do anything with it for the moment I've posted it on my short story site here.

Monday, 3 May 2010

Short film - various crew/cast required...

So I mentioned about a month ago that I'd written a short film script and I'm now planning on filming it over the next couple of months. At the moment my wife is producing and my two brothers are on board, but I'm going to need a few more people.

The film is a horror comedy about a witch trying to help her flatmate who came across a monkey's paw and now needs to undo some very bad wishes.

It's called Jenny Ringo and the Monkey's Paw.

At the moment I don't have anything, hence the rather long list below. I will be posting a more detailed list of requirements on Shooting People and Talent Circle as well as hopefully calling in some favours, but for the moment I thought I'd post a list here in case anyone is interested in getting involved. There are a couple of smaller parts and there probably will be some more crew positions once I get a bit more organised.

My only real condition at the moment is that in the first instance I'm going to be focusing on looking for a Brighton-based cast and crew.

If you are interested in getting involved with the project, or just want to know a bit more about it please e-mail me at

So here's what I need:


1) Director of Photography

2) Sound Recordist

3) Make-up Artist


1) Jenny - 20-25, goth, funny, casual

2) Gavin - 20-25, stoner, dippy, lovable

3) Jeff - 20-30, handsome, smooth, plastic

4) Candy - 20-30, handsome, smooth, plastic

Provisional dates:

Auditions - 22nd of May (and possibly another date tbc)
First shoot - 19th & 20th June
Second shoot - 3rd & 4th July (and probably another one in between)

I'll be posting updates here as I go along. That way if it all goes horribly wrong it will at least make interesting reading. Here's hoping for a good film and rather dull blog.

Sunday, 2 May 2010

Wedding/Honeymoon highlights...

So this happened...

Then we went to Monkey World...

Spent a couple of days in London and went to Abney Park Cemetery...

Went to the London Death Trap...

Had dinner at Mildreds. Andrea sat next to David Walliams.

Went to see The 39 Steps...

Struggled to book a holiday due to volcanic ash cloud. Finally managed to book a trip to Rome. Ate lots of pizza (the waiter in this restaurant looked like Paul Rudd, but I couldn't get a picture).

Went to Profondo Rosso, which also houses Dario Argento's Museum of Horrors - never has the sight of so many dismembered corpses made me so happy.

Bought some stuff...

Went to the Vatican Museum and saw lots of scary statues.

...and dead things...

...and a statue of the Egyptian baboon god Shakma...

At one point we passed Richard Herring while crossing a road. If you want a more detailed blog about what Rome was like last week, you can check out his diary here.

Saw some dead monks with some artfully arranged dead things at the Capuchin Cemetery...

Went to the Keats-Shelley Memorial House where Keats died. Keats wasn't that interesting though, so there was loads of stuff about Shelley and Byron instead...

Went to loads of crowded touristy places like the Trevi Fountain, then ran away in search of pizza...

Went to a very cool Japanese restaurant, Doozo. It was in a bookshop.

Watched The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires in Italian...

Went to the Colosseum...

Walked around lots of ruins. I'm also pretty sure I got cursed by a witch here but haven't noticed any side-effects just yet...

Ate more pizza...

Saw more dead things...

...and more scary statues...

On the last night we went here...

Their pizzas were shaped like ghosts, which makes them twice as awesome...

Came home. Listened to some of the Italian albums I picked up, including one by Nemesi...