Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Short Film Diary on hold for now...

So last week I did nothing except smile about the picture edit being locked (and worked really hard on a script I said would be finished by the end of the month). This week I'm in Stoke-on-Trent visiting parents (and still working on the script I said would be finished by the end of the month) so I'm putting the diary on hold until I get back.

If you are in need of behind-the-scenes short film making insights in the meantime I suggest you check out Luther Bhogal-Jones' latest blog entry
here. You may recognise some of the names and faces from my production diary...

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

The Amazon Studios Experiment: Submission...

So I uploaded the script written by 18-year-old me. It's called Identity Crisis. I had to download it from Trigger Street in the end, and whilst searching for it came across around a dozen more with the same title. Someone once tried to tell me it was a bad title, but that was in the days when I didn't listen. Anyway, it's on there, look:

As you can see from the bar at the top there have been 1069 projects uploaded, making mine lucky number 1068.

I think this experiment may be rather short-lived.

I had a brief flick through the other pages of projects until I got bored. None of the scripts uploaded over the last few days have been downloaded yet. And why would they be? Why would anyone want to download mine? Obviously I don't intend to review any other scripts because I have better things to do and better scripts to read from actual people I know in real life. So this is where it falls down. Where's the incentive for anyone to read my script?

Trigger Street worked because in order to get people to read your scripts you had to read other peoples' scripts. That made sense. If you weren't going to make the effort, why should anyone else? I never really did make the effort and only got a handful of reviews in the end, but I knew that in order to get more reviews I'd have to read more scripts. Here the only things that could possibly entice potential readers are my logline and the lazy cover art.

The cover art is meaningless. I could work up a superb photo-shopped dream poster for my film but it wouldn't mean anything. All it can really do is help set a mood and a tone, but generally you would never see an image on the cover of a real-life screenplay so I don't see why you need them here.

The logline is pretty useful and maybe this is a good test of loglines - perhaps it would be worth checking out the loglines that got more downloads. In fact, let's do that - here's a screen print of the three most popular scripts at this present time:

I'm not going to pick on any of them. They all sound fine. None of them sound particularly interesting or exciting. I'm not compelled to read any of them. So why do they have so many hits? My first guess was because they were uploaded first, but that turned out to not be true. They were all uploaded on the 17th, a few days after the site went live on the 13th. I don't see anything particularly special about the writers' profiles - I don't mean that in a cruel way, it just scraps my theory that maybe they already have some kind of fan base.

So I wonder if people have started to get organised. There is a test movie (I haven't even gone into the test movie idea, but seriously - who's got that much time on their hands?) on there called Little White Lies that was uploaded on the 17th and has already been played 98 times. From those 98 plays it has garnered a number of 5-star reviews. 112 to be exact. 98 plays, 112 reviews. Something's wrong there.

This throws up a problem. If the development team is the whole of the internet, then surely there's nothing stopping me gathering a proportion of that team, say all my Facebook friends for example, and getting them to write 5-star reviews. All they have to do is download the script and write 'Awesome, 5 stars' or something to that effect. Don't worry, I'm not going to actually do this. But the implications are clear - this is a popularity contest. The person with the most friends could get the prize money, and could even get their movie made.

What I'm also getting from this is a stark picture of the depressing reality of the wannabe film business. There are too many of us and there are too many scripts! Some of us need to stop! You first.

But let's look at this objectively for a moment. Amazon Studios just optioned my script! Awesome! Yes, they didn't pay me anything, but it's an option from an actual studio/production company/development company. The problem is they optioned over a thousand other scripts at the same time and show no sign of slowing down. Okay, fine, I'll make the best out of this. I'll go and work for them as part of their development team (which also has over a thousand people working for it). I'll read some of these scripts they've optioned and maybe do some rewriting. Then maybe one of the thousands of scripts will get made and however many of us worked on that draft will get some money/recognition!

This scenario is actually not at all dissimilar to the way I got involved with the production company I'm currently working with. They optioned my script and they have a handful of others in development, some of which I'm now working on. I'm doing a lot of work for free on the basis that one of these projects will get off the ground and I'll a) get paid and b) get a credit. It's not an ideal situation, but the odds are certainly a lot better than they are with my Amazon Studios script.

Obviously the money is there so at some point I'm guessing one of these scripts will be produced. I'm guessing it will be the person who had the best online campaign to get as many people to vote for his script as possible. I also predict that the final script will have thousands of rewrites. I mean, say my script gets some buzz around it, I get 112 5-star reviews from my Facebook campaign or whatever. Anyone could pick up that script, tweak a few lines and say 'Look, I totally made it better. It's now 17% more awesome.' If they were convincing enough, that draft will be the newest version, and then someone else could come along and rewrite that. By the time the super-popular script that was already going to get produced actually gets produced there could be a hundred writers working on it. Maybe more. This cannot be a good thing.

So we'll see. I've planted the seed, the script is on there, it's going to be there for 18 months. I'll check in every now and again to see what happens and post updates here. I don't think they will be very regular updates. I can see it staying at zero downloads for a very long time.

Then again, maybe I'm being too cynical. Maybe there are 112 genuine and very positive reviewers working their way through every script on the site and one day they'll get to mine...

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Short Film Diary - Week 27...

The picture edit is totally finished! We finished last night at about 11.30 and at the time I was way too tired to actually get excited about this. Today I am excited.

It's been an odd couple of months. I feel like time has slipped away from me since we finished the ADR and there were moments where I seriously wondered whether we would ever reach this stage. Now we have it seems ridiculous that I got so worried about it, although I know if we hadn't finished last night I'd still have concerns about finishing at all. I've started to appreciate what a massive undertaking something like this is, and that the ambitiousness of the shoot has a proportionate effect on the edit. I've also been rather busy with other writing projects and real life stuff like moving flats, which hasn't helped. But this film has always been my priority; has always sat there at the back of my mind nagging me to get it finished.

Here's a recap of what we've done and what there is still left to do:

So after we finished the rough cut we decided that there was no way to fine tune the edit with the sound recorded in camera. My sound editor then edited the ADR dialogue along with some of the cleaner location dialogue to produce a rough sound edit that meant we could polish the picture edit and make sure the pacing worked. This was particularly relevant with the opening of the film which is mostly voice-over - there's a scene in the kitchen narrated by one of the characters that turned out to be about three times too long once we put the actual voice-over on top. There were also a couple scenes that were flagged up as not really working when we got feedback on the rough cut, particularly the theatre scene. This has been completely re-edited and runs a lot smoother now. Then it was just a matter of tweaking the rest of it. I think in the end we probably only cut about a minute out of the film, but it's definitely made a difference.

I need to take a moment to thank Darren Berry who edited the film. He was also Director of Photography. He will also be grading the film and doing the effects shots. That's one person doing the work of several departments. He's put a lot of hours into this project and despite having to stop a few times to work for people who actually pay him he has never given up on it. Asking him to edit the film was not part of the original plan, but based on the fact that he physically had the footage, he didn't live too far away and the first few shots of the film he had edited together looked awesome it was a logical decision. Darren still maintains he's not really an editor, but that's not true anymore. He edited my film and he edited it very well.

So now we've got a picture edit I can pass this onto the sound editor and composer to work on while the picture is graded and effects are added. All of this is a lot of work and depending on the availability of the people working on it this could still take a long time to get through, but we are at least on the last stretch and I can see the end in sight. For now I'm not going to worry about it. The film I started in April that a lot of people gave up their summer weekends to work on is now sitting on my computer. It has no music, no sound effects and the dialogue is out of sync in places, but it at least looks like a film now and I'm really happy with it.

Monday, 22 November 2010

The Amazon Studios Experiment...

So I'm kind of enjoying this whole Amazon Studios debate that's sprung up over the last few days. It's nice to have something that the majority of screenwriters seem united on - it's rare for us to have a common enemy and especially one with such a public face. So for anyone who doesn't know what I'm talking about, Amazon Studios are essentially running a screenwriting competition - you upload a script and every month they pick the best one and it wins a prize and then they pick the overall best one at the end of the year, or something like that. Simple enough?

They're also a production company/film studio - they will not only 'award' you with the prize money, they will also make your film. This is a bit dubious but okay, we'll go along with it - a lot of production companies do seem to be sourcing projects through competitions these days.

The problems arise with their third role. They are also working as a development company. So you submit a script into their contest and they develop it until it's better and then make it into a film! Great, except they have employed the whole of the internet to do this for them. Anyone can read your script and leave feedback. Fine, Trigger Street did that and it kind of worked, although I never had time to read enough other peoples' scripts making it a bit redundant. The difference is anyone can also rewrite it. I could upload a script right now, tomorrow you could rewrite it, the day after that someone else could rewrite the whole thing again. Should that script get further into the process, the reward money and credit would get split between the three of us, along with anyone else who happened to rewrite it along the way.

Oh, and the other issue is that once you upload a script they automatically option it for free - they basically own it. So let's say I don't care about winning the prize money, I just want to get some independent feedback on my script. And say I get that feedback and rewrite the script to send elsewhere. Technically I wouldn't be able to, because it would still belong to Amazon Studios. There are no other screenwriting contests that claim the rights to your script from the moment you enter. Considering the odds of actually winning, it doesn't really seem worth the risk.

The implications of this have been discussed much more thoughtfully and from more informed points of view by
John August, David Lemon, Robin Kelly, Piers Beckley, Michelle Lipton and James Moran among others.

I was going to add my thoughts on the bigger picture - how they're exploiting the fact that there are too many of us and we all think we're awesome, and how this is further proof that no one really knows how the internet is going to change films and filmmaking yet but they'll try all kinds of crazy ideas just in case. And I probably would've pondered over who actually has the time and inclination to rewrite a stranger's script with no guarantee they'll get anything from it. In the end I would probably come to the same conclusion as everyone else - that Amazon Studios is fine for beginners and enthusiastic amateurs, but anyone serious about screenwriting should steer clear.

Except most of that has already been said, and it's worse coming from me because I can't even really be bothered to study the website in detail and have based all my conclusions on what other people have been saying.

So I thought I'd try something different. I thought I'd give it a go.

This is going to involve a bit of time travel. I don't want to sacrifice any of my recent scripts (and I do see this as a sacrifice), and even some of the older ones use characters that I either want to hold onto or have used again in subsequent scripts (and yes, Amazon Studios will apparently own your characters too). So I've chosen a really old script, one I wrote when I was 18. It's a bit like going back in time to the moment where I was a beginner and could have benefited from something like this. Because that's the point really. I'm not doing this to make a success out of an old script, I genuinely want to find out whether it would be worthwhile for 18-year-old me to take part. Will 18-year-old me get some awesome feedback that will really help the script, or will it be the equivalent of those generally awful Amazon.com user reviews? I'm also genuinely interested to see if anyone will take the time to rewrite someone else's work.

I suspect this will come to nothing. I predict 18-year-old me will be disappointed. But that's okay - I've seen his future and things actually start to work out pretty well once he gives up on this particular script.

So I've signed up for an account, now I just need to find the actual script I want to upload. I'm sure it's on my hard drive somewhere...

Friday, 19 November 2010

In defence of the first draft...

'The first draft will always be rubbish'

'Finished your first draft? Now comes the hard part'

'Writing is all about rewriting'

These are things I read again and again from other writers on blogs and in interviews and just about anywhere they let writers talk about writing and stuff. I'll be honest, I'm sick of hearing it. I'm not taking issue with the sentiment, but it's the kind of advice that's not particularly helpful when you're actually writing a first draft.

I'm writing a first draft at the moment. It's a tricky one - lots of characters, lots of exposition, lots of things that need to happen by certain points in the narrative. I've been doing a lot of editing as I go along, particularly on the first 30 pages which I must've gone back over and rewritten five or six times now. I've spent the last few evenings working on it pretty solidly, but my progress in terms of page count has been minimal - I think I was on 39 pages on Friday and by the end of last night I was on 42. It's been tough, but it feels like I'm making good progress and saving myself a lot of hassle further down the line. The last thing I want to hear right now is that the first draft is rubbish.

I'm going to try to put this in perspective. The fact is that script you're working on right now probably won't get made into a film. Even if the work is through a production company, even if it seems almost guaranteed, it's not guaranteed until you get on the set and even then...I'm sure you've heard all this before. The point is it probably won't happen. But you can't think that when you're writing. You have to be able to see it as a film and you have to believe it's going to be a film one day otherwise there's just no reason to do it. I've worked on things that I really haven't believed were going to be films and those jobs have always ended up going horribly wrong (ironically one of those is now in production, which shows what I know). And maybe this is something that only really relates to those of us writing unpaid in our spare time, because the sacrifice is greater. If I'm going to give up my free time outside the day job to sit at a computer then I have to believe it's worthwhile.

I think the same applies to the first draft. I know it will end up being rewritten. From my track record it's usually at least ten drafts before the thing is finished. Often it's more than ten. I'm not naively suggesting that this time, this one time, my first draft will be absolutely perfect. But right now, I need to believe that it is, because I can't put the hours in on something I know is ultimately going to be scrapped. And the fact is, the work you do in the first draft is some of the most important work you do. Contrary to popular belief, it's not all about rewriting. Some of it is about building a solid enough base so that when you do start to tear some of it down and rebuild your structure is still standing. That's why the first draft is important, and that's why I'm tired of people telling me it's inevitably going to be horrible.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Short film diary - Guest post: Andrea Regan

There were obvious advantages to my wife being the producer on my short film. For starters, it meant that it became something we did together rather than something I was doing on my own. It meant that there was always someone I could count on for support throughout every stage of the process. And perhaps most importantly, I got hugs whenever needed them. Filmmaking requires lots of hugs.

But there are another couple of reasons, perhaps less obvious. The first is that she knew Jenny Ringo already. We got together not long after I'd started putting the character into short stories and she's been the first to read all incarnations of the character since then. She is one of two people who knows the character almost as well as I do (the other is Geraint who did my creature effects, but that's another story for another blog). Plus she understood why this character and this film were so important to me.

Mostly I asked her to it because I knew she'd be really good at it. I'd seen her stage manage plays before and she was one-half of a two-person theatre company back when we first moved to Brighton. I needed someone to organise everyone and keep them up to date with what was happening. I needed someone to arrange locations, sort out permissions, book rehearsal space. I needed someone to make sure I had everything I needed when it came to filming so I could actually concentrate on directing rather than the many other issues that come up during a shoot. She did all this and she did it very well. Because she is awesome.

Here is Andrea's experience of making the film:

Rationing the Haribo

I’d wanted a project for months when Chris said he wanted to make a film after our wedding, so I think I volunteered myself as a producer, although he said he was going to ask me if I would do it anyway. I was completely unqualified; I’ve never produced a film before, I had very little cash to invest in it, and I have very little idea what I was actually going to need to do. And to be fair, there are many ‘producer’ tasks which I didn’t do. I did, on the other hand, do the work of some of the wardrobe team, the entire catering department, most of the runner’s tasks, make-up assistant, and some other things besides.

I had so much fun and learnt so much along the way, I wasn’t sure where to start writing about it, and my experience ran parallel to Chris’s so you’ve probably heard it all before anyway. So here are my top 5 moments, and top 5 things I learned along the way...

Favourite moment 1: Reading the script.

I basically got the job on this film without having read the script, but as soon as I knew it was a Jenny Ringo story, I was on board (Chris has previously blogged about the history of Jenny which he will cleverly link to here). I’ve loved Jenny, and been a little bit jealous of her, since I first read a story about her almost ten years ago. The thought of bringing her off the page was really exciting. And then I read the script and I was utterly enchanted. I don’t always love Chris’s work indiscriminately (I think he’d sometimes prefer it if I did) but honestly, there wasn’t a word out of place. I thought I would have notes, that we might develop it a little, but we basically picked it up and shot it.

Favourite moment 2: Seeing the dance routine for the first time. Tim and the dancers did such an awesome job and it was such a lovely moment, putting that together with the actors and doing something so ambitious for a little, unfunded film. Plus we got some priceless looks from passers-by.

Favourite moment 3: Some of the special effects that involved prosthetics and slime. I don’t want to give anything away but I really enjoyed the problem solving aspect of figuring out how to do it. And getting covered in black slime.

Favourite moment 4: Filming on the seafront- most summers I don’t spend as much time outside as I’d like so it was great to be out in glorious sunshine, and with a job to do. We were so very lucky with the weather and I loved watching the residents of Hove out for their Sunday jog/bike ride/ dog walk/swim, and watching them watch us back (especially when filming the musical number). The early morning walks down there were a great time to chat with the cast and get to know people better, and during takes was an excellent time to eat all the cake.

Favourite moment 5: The final evening I met Chris, Darren and the two leads as they finished filming. It felt in some way like the essence of the film, just the five of us wrapping it up. It was probably the most relaxed part of the shoot and though I hadn’t been able to be there for the whole day’s shoot, it was really good to make it for the final hour. Going out with a bang might have been exciting, but bidding it a quiet farewell between us felt more fitting. Plus we had the wrap party a couple of weeks later for the ‘bang’ bit.

Thing I learnt 1: Have someone watching continuity! Don’t give them anything else to do but watch the monkey/giant banana/pocketwatch/sardine sandwich. You can read about what happens when you don’t here (if Chris has done his linky thing again). If you have a prop heavy piece, or even a medium heavy piece, spend some time the day before shooting going over the journey of the props – who has it when, where they put it, and get someone to drill the actors on prop handling while you set up so they are clued up and it never appears in a shot it shouldn’t. Also general continuity – which hand did you use to brush back your hair? A pair of eyes on this will save so much time when editing!

Thing I learnt 2: boys will always have ham and cheese sandwiches. You don’t need to ask, you can just make them. Put some salad in too, when they are filming for long hours their 5-a-day will go out the window.

Thing I learnt 3: The second weekend I couldn’t film on the Saturday as I was doing my day job. I came home at half six to find our two leads in a giggling heap on the floor and my husband and the crew looking somewhat frazzled. It turned out they’d cracked open the Haribo that afternoon and now our actors couldn’t look at each other without laughing. Which was a pain, because in most of the scenes they were filming they were supposed to be pissed off with each other. So from that point on I rationed the Haribo. By the last weekend, when I passed around the sweets, the actors were asking me how many they were allowed before I’d said anything. I felt really mean. And we never did quite cure them of their giggling fits.

Thing learnt 4: Keep a shot log (I think there might be a proper term for this), and write not only what scene you are doing but which line you start and finish that take with. This is one of those things you are supposed to do and we fully intended to do but it kind of went out of the window early on. If we’d have done this, I think we’d have realised sooner how few clean takes of many scene endings we have, and again it would have helped us when it came to the edit.

Thing I learnt 5: Cast early, and test out people’s commitment with rehearsals and other meetings. It felt like we had no time at all and we were just really lucky to work with five fab actors, but it could have been much harder, and we did have a hair-raising couple of weeks without a Jeff Awesome. The right people will be genuinely interested and committed despite having to give their time for free and if you have any doubts, deal with them quickly.

I learned a bunch more about the technical side of film-making, and the practical side of things, but most of you probably know them already. I also learned a lot about one of my favourite writer/directors, and I just hope he’ll think to give me a call when he starts his next project...


Andrea is currently Production Manager on Simon Messingham's play Disco which I mentioned briefly here.

Short Film Diary - Week 26...

Last week I had a bad dream. We were having the cast and crew screening I'd been promising everyone for months. And we get to the end of the film and everyone seems happy, some people tell me it was better than they were expecting. But I'm not listening, because something is bugging me. There was something missing. Then it hits me. We forgot about the second musical sequence!!!

So we're at the six month mark (slightly over if you take into account the odd week I didn't post a diary) and we're still not finished, the picture edit still isn't locked. I'm not sure if I've ever gone into detail about the reason for the delays but essentially it's this - if you're working with professionals and you're not paying them, then they will inevitably have to put your project on hold until they have time to do it. And this is fine and not something any reasonable person can take issue with. The part that's frustrating is the fact that on a number of occasions I've had reason to believe we were nearly there. It was September when the rough cut was finished. At the time it felt like we were no more than a week away from locking the picture. Not two months. The other frustrating element is how close we are to actually being finished. The time required is a fraction of that we spent on the actual edit, but it's time that just isn't available at the moment.

I've made some rather bold statements in previous entries about the films I've worked on or known of that have dragged on for years, to the point that everyone involved has moved on to other things and lost any enthusiasm they had for the project in the first place. I was determined not to let that happen here. But what I've come to realise is there comes a certain point where you lose control over when things get done. I've seen people attempt to retain that control by switching personnel every time there's a delay. In the end this only causes more delays and it's not something I would ever consider. I started out on this project with a team of very talented people whom I have a lot of respect for and I want that same team of people standing with me when it's finished.

So all I can do for now is keep checking in and hope that posts like this one do not become a regular occurrence.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Why writers should direct #147

At one point I considered doing a series of short posts all about my reasons for making the short film and why writers should consider having a go at directing. I then decided against it due to the fact that most of the reasons I wanted to talk about (and there were a lot) were centred around the more negative aspects of being a writer in my position (i.e. unpaid, unrepresented and probably a little desperate). I didn't want to turn this into an ongoing rant so decided instead to focus on the positive reasons for doing it, which I hope have come across in the diary. If you want a really good summary of reasons writers should try directing, Danny Stack and Tim Clague cover it quite extensively in their most recent podcast.

However, something came up recently which I had to talk about as it kind of sums up my a lot of my biggest concerns. So I decided to go ahead and rant anyway. You have been warned.

The background to this is that a production company I'm working with on a couple of projects right now occasionally ask for my opinion on scripts they're looking to develop. So I read them, send back some notes and will occasionally get involved in a rewrite (although the only time this actually happened it ended badly). If the scripts are good I'll say so, if the scripts are bad I'll write pages of notes that generally come to nothing as the writers don't want to hear it. And that's okay - you can learn a lot from reading bad scripts so it's all useful experience. But recently I was sent a script that was so bad I wasn't quite sure what to say about it.

Here's an example, not from the actual script itself but of me writing in the style of that script. It's only exaggerated in that I've grouped all the biggest problems together in one scene. I say 'scene' but the script didn't have scene headings and that was the least of the format problems. So here's the scene:

Jack walks to the door. He turns to Jill and says "I'm going to open this door".

I'm going to open this door.

Yes, I think you should do that.

A man walks out of the door. Jack fights the man and kills him.

This place is dangerous.

Yes, I agree that it is dangerous. Let's go through the door.

Jack looks at Jill romantically. They go through the door.

End scene (this is me writing 'end scene' - in the actual script there was no way of telling).

I don't like being mean about other people's work. For the most part I'm not and obviously it's not helpful to anyone. I would hate to think that someone was parodying my worst efforts on a blog somewhere. But there's a bigger point to make here.

Somehow this script got into the hands of a production company who appear to be taking it seriously. And yet I know for a fact there are so many better scripts out there; so many writers who can do better than this. All the writers could do better than this. Never before have I read a script and had nothing good to say about it. Normally I can at least pick out some element of promise, however small, that I can suggest working on. Not with this one.

So how did it get to the point where it's with an actual production company? There are two possible reasons -

1) Money - Someone somewhere has already invested in this project for whatever reason meaning people will continue to take it seriously and it will probably get made regardless, possibly even as it is. I have seen this happen.

2) Connections. Someone was at the right party at the right time and passed it to the right person.

Or both.

Should this film get made I can guarantee it will be of no value to anyone - not the people working on it (although I suppose they'll get paid so maybe they'll do okay), not the filmmakers, and certainly not the people who watch it. The script is so bad you couldn't possibly pull a decent film out of it. And yet it may still happen. This is the problem with an industry that is now funded primarily through private investment. And this makes me depressed.

These projects are being championed by directors, producers and sometimes even actors who are operating outside the system. This is fine, good on them for getting their projects made. But what sickens me time and time again (and yes this may be the worst but it's not the first time I've come across a project like this) is the constant lack of good writing. More than that, there's a lack of understanding of what good writing is and why it's important. There's this attitude of 'well money's in the bank, the script is written insomuch as it has some pages with writing on, so let's go make a film!'

No, don't go make a film. Use some of that money to pay a decent writer. That way you may just avoid wasting
everybodys' time.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Short film diary - Week 25...

Progress! Kind of. We finally finished editing the musical sequence this weekend. Well, nearly - I still need to source 2 seconds of time-lapse storm cloud footage from somewhere but otherwise it's done. It's perhaps not the perfect sequence I imagined when I decided to do it, but it's certainly looking a lot better than it did. Plus I've managed to use 50% of the footage from both shooting days which has no importance in the grand scheme of things but makes me feel better about making everyone work so hard on that second day.

In hindsight it was a ridiculously ambitious thing to attempt and I think I'm lucky to have any kind of sequence there at all. It's probably not the best move for an inexperienced director to start with something this complicated, but when I think about it a lot of the problems weren't specifically to do with my lack of experience (although I'm sure that didn't help). Ultimately it was the weather, the location and the fact that we only had one camera battery that made the sequence so tough to shoot. And even if I'd known how difficult it was going to be I still would have done it. I'm working on the assumption that I may never do anything like this again, or certainly not the same way (i.e. with no money and making people work stupidly long hours for free). So it was never going to be 'I'll shoot this one with all dialogue scenes in a kitchen and build up to a musical number in the next one'. It had to be in there, and whether it works or not I'm glad I did it.

It's a huge relief not to have the musical sequence hanging over me anymore. The next stage is to tighten up the picture edit so we can finally lock picture. I am already practicing my locked picture dance for when that happens. It seems like it's been a very long time since we finished the rough cut at which point I optimistically suggested it would only be a couple of weeks until we locked picture. I suppose it's only been a month or so since then but it feels like forever, perhaps in part because I keep writing diary posts like this one.

My main concern is being able to pass the film on to the composer to whom I am forever sending optimistic e-mails along the lines of 'nearly done, should be with you next week'. But I also feel bad about not having the cast and crew screening that I promised everyone we'd do when the rough cut was finished. Due to the mixed reactions we were getting from people we did show the rough cut to I decided that it would make more sense to show the people who worked on it a more polished version. I still think that makes sense, but at the same time I made a promise to keep everyone involved with the post-production process and I haven't really managed to keep that promise. Hopefully it won't be long now.

I spent most of Friday evening figuring out which scenes need music and sound effects, then I put some temporary music on, mostly using the soundtrack from Mirrormask which kind of matches the tone I want (and was also filmed in Brighton). I also used a cd of random circus music - I believe everyone should have a cd of random circus music although this is the first time I've ever put it to good use (well, second time - I once unintentionally used it to freak out the guy who came to check the gas meter). This is again to help get the film as close to finished as possible before locking the picture. It was kind of fun too, although I rushed it a bit on purpose so as not to spend too much time on it. I like music and I have lots of it, so could easily have spent a week creating the perfect temporary soundtrack which we would never use. That said, it was cool to see scenes like the montage and the chase set to music finally as they don't really work in silence.

Saturday was mostly spent adapting the script for the film into the pilot episode of a TV series, which I've been meaning to do for ages. A lot of people working on the film mentioned that it felt like TV pilot except for the beginning and ending, so I added a new beginning and ending, messed around with some of the dialogue and now it's a script for a TV pilot. This was a lot easier than adapting it into a feature which I'm also still trying to do but is a lot more time-consuming. I've got a few people helping me come up with ideas for other episodes and I hope that by the time the film is finished I'll have something approaching a decent pitch. Then I have to actually do something with it, but I'll worry about that later.

That's it for now, but if you happen to be anywhere near Eastbourne this Thursday or Friday you should check out
What I've Done Right, a one person show written and performed by Lukas Habberton who played Gavin in my film (and is awesome). Further details here or here or you can buy tickets here.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Short film diary - Guest post: Peter Regan

Pete Regan is my brother and therefore contractually obliged to help me on any project I need him for. Luckily for me, he also happens to be one of the most creative people I know and has awesome animation powers, as seen here:

Pete wanted to get more involved with the film and when his girlfriend Charlotte (who has mad art skills) offered to help as well I decided to make them my Art Department. This meant all the set design, costumes and props were down to them. Anytime I had some daft idea about something else I wanted to include I'd speak to them, they'd figure it out and it would turn up on set, as if by magic. They also spent a lot of time buying strange things from ebay. Without them my flat would've still looked like my flat and the whole thing would've been pretty lifeless, plus I would've had many sleepless nights worrying about where to find monkeys, top hats and brains at short notice.

Here is Pete's account of making the film...


So there I was minding my own business when Brother Chris suddenly announced it, “I’m making a short film and I need you to do some animation.”

With nothing better to do I jumped at the chance...

...Ok so it didn’t really go exactly like this. Well actually, pretty much. This was before the exact details had all been worked out. You see it started as me filming 20 seconds of Animation, tops. Then it stretched to me becoming half of the art department. This naturally led me onto the Prop handler/wrangler and finally settling on general dogsbody, including a bit of Fake Shempery.

But I still jumped at the chance. If Chris could pull it off, this film would be mental, and prove that all short films didn’t need to be about two people arguing in the director’s living room.
Here be my experience on Jenny Ringo and the Monkey’s Paw.

I’ll split this into 3 separate sections due to the different jobs I worked on.


So my initial task was to use my animation skills to animate (obviously). There were two short sections. Now I don’t want to give too much away with any of this so I’ll be brief. I needed to animate a Monkey, which I can say, as monkeys clearly play a large part in the story. This was just a ten second clip to visualise a monkey doing stuff. (I’m good at hiding the spoilers).

For this I used my tried and tested technique:-storyboard the clip, film it to get timing right, start drawing on paper, frame by frame. I then scanned the pictures and composited the whole thing together on the PC. This sounds simple, and relatively is, but takes time. I think the drawing, scanning and compositing only took about three days max. After an evening of tweaking, the first scene was complete.

The next scene once again needed to visualise some stuff. I had a chance to elaborate a little with this though and managed to come up with a cool little scenario for a famed Russian playwright/Star ship navigator. Somehow this one didn’t take as long. Well, I say that, but when I finished this one it was the early hours of the morning. This scene ended up being about 15 seconds long.

There’s nothing too complicated with these scenes. But hopefully they help to take the film that extra level to show what can be done with low budget independent shorts.

Art Department/Props

None of this is chronological by the way. I didn’t animate until after principal photography had finished. Before that I was given the task of Art Department along with Charlotte my girlfriend, and we dived straight in. There were 4 major areas. The living room, kitchen, hallway and one bedroom.

We basically had to make Brother Chris’ flat not look like his flat but like someone else’s flat. With the living room we needed to make it look as though we hadn’t just added a load of cool looking things on the shelves but that someone actually lived there. This was fun to go round and collect what we already owned and buy a few odd looking objects to fill the spaces. Here are some of my favourites:

The Creepy Doll – Strangely I felt safer with this after I bloodied it up.

The Brain – You always need a brain.

With the Kitchen, we were tasked to mess it up. Not just mess it up, it needed to look like it had never been cleaned. As if no one had ever even thought of cleaning it. As if no one would dare clean it. The trick for this is canned goods. Beans, macaroni and cheese and the slightly worrying meal in a can. I think we chose the all day breakfast as we couldn’t find the one with the omelette in.

Messing up a kitchen is easy. Lay a few unwashed dishes around, leftovers from lunch, add more dishes for effect and cover with beans and so on. Please note this will create an unpleasant smell and a sight you hope never to witness in the real world.

Once the scene was complete we got to tidy the Kitchen up. Lucky Us.

The hallway and bedroom was simply a case of dressing doors or walls with stuff that the characters might have decorated with, whilst subtly revealing a bit of their character in the decoration. Jenny was always going to be spooky, gothy and halloweeny. Gavin was never really explored deeply. Just a slacker type so we opted for an assortment of posters torn from music magazines.

Fake Shemp and Everything Else

I also appear in the film in a couple of Fake Shemp roles. 1 looking terribly like the ghost from Carnival of Souls and another, well let’s just say I got the role because apparently I look smarter in a suit.

Further to all the above, I was generally there for most of the filming. Helping out where I could. Whether this was as a drinks wrangler, monkey wrangler, sound wrangler or safety pin wrangler; I was always happy to help out.

Yes the days were long, and there were a couple of occasions where I had to sit in a room on my own until snacks/drinks were needed; but this is all part of the fun; because at the end of the day, I was part of something truly original.

I just hope the curse never catches up with me when I cut of the monkey’s paw in the first place.


You can see more of Pete's awesome animations on his YouTube channel here and keep up to date with what he's working on next at his blog here (which you should follow to encourage him to update it more often!).

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Halloween and zombies...

So I did the zombie walk and it was ace.

I didn't need to worry that no one would turn up - there were apparently around 2500 zombies there in the end and bringing Brighton to an apocalyptic standstill for a good couple of hours.

Andrea was an awesome zombie and seemed to enjoy staring at random members of the public like she was going to eat them. I was not so great, and just about managed a zombie walk until I saw someone I knew and then I'd say 'hello' and wave, which I'm pretty sure isn't correct zombie behaviour.

Look, I totally made a video:

Someone else made a way better video:

The zombies were still out in force later that night, when we were walking around town trying to take in some of Brighton's White Night exhibitions. Which was pretty much impossible. I like art, but it's pretty hard to take anything in when you're crammed into a gallery with about a hundred other people, most of them now rather drunk zombies. I feel like I missed out on loads of cool stuff, but then I think had I spent the whole evening wandering around Brighton I imagine I would have perpetually felt like I was missing something cool elsewhere anyway.

Instead we went to the Duke of Yorks for the guaranteed awesomeness of 5 back-to-back zombie films. It occasionally felt like an endurance test but it certainly felt like an achievement for the handful of us that made it through to 9am the next morning.

There is a problem, however, with all this fun with zombies and it quickly became apparent when we were watching Dawn of the Dead. A good proportion of the audience were laughing or talking through it. I get it, I know some of the effects don't hold up like they used to and I know it's been spoofed to death, but for me George Romero's fuck you to a consumer-obsessed society has more relevence now than it ever did. The zombies are still us, more so now, and that's what's always been scary about it. But I guess that doesn't bother anyone anymore. I would like to intellectualise it, and say that this is perhaps a consequence of making the zombie a figure of fun, and that having people parade through town dressed up takes the edge off it. But I don't think that is the problem. I think the problem is that Romero's zombies have infiltrated our cinemas too now, mindlessly watching the pretty pictures and getting frustrated with anything that involves actual thought.

This perhaps ties in to why I've struggled to marry up the concept of Halloween with my love of horror films. I remember as a teenager I arranged a horror film marathon for a group of friends. I showed them Halloween, The Wicker Man and Night of the Living Dead - three of the scariest films I'd ever seen at the time. And they laughed through most of them and complained they were bored through the rest. The point is, I'm not sure Halloween is meant for horror film fans. It feels like it should be, but really it's for everyone else. It's for the people who laugh at Dawn of the Dead. For the rest of us it's Halloween every day.

Sorry, rant over, mostly it was an awesome night and the other films went down really well, particularly Evil Dead 2 which hadn't seen for years. I'd forgotten how much fun and how inventive that film is.

Last night was Son of Moviebar where I watched some fantastic short horror films, chatted to lots of awesome people, and drank far too much, mostly on purpose to make the most of the fact that I probably won't be able to be quite so inebriated once I'm running it next year. Which I don't think I've mentioned yet, but that is the idea. I have assembled a team, I have some vague plans and I will post more about it here once I get my head round actually doing it.

I also met Scare Sarah and Cyberschizoid who ruined my theory that all film blogs are written by the same Gibson-esque artificial intelligence by turning out to be actual real-life people. They also politely listened to me rant about evil twins and didn't run away. They are currently running a campaign to bring classic horror back to our TV screens, which you can find out about here and sign the petition here.

Monday, 1 November 2010

Short film diary - Week 24...

So we're getting there...

Last week I watched through the film with the temporary sound mix added, which is around 80% complete. And this made me realise that while I've been going on about how we've kind of slowed down and there's not much happening, my sound editor has been working extra-hard to get this finished for no money and whilst also being on tour with various bands. I am super-grateful and have come to accept that while I want to push for it being finished as soon as possible, ultimately it's going to depend on the time other people can put into it. And as long as we're making progress that's okay - I would just rather not still be saying this at Week 265.

Anyway, seeing it with properly recorded dialogue is a huge improvement. Some of the lines that didn't quite come across before work loads better and the voice-over sections, previously edited together from bits of a number of different people speaking the parts, are now fully edited and working great. There's certainly more consistency to it now and it gives a better idea of what the finished film will be like.

At the same time I've been working on re-editing the musical sequence with Brother Pete which is looking a lot better. At least, it looks a bit more like I wanted it to look but there's still a bit of fiddling to do to get it right. My main job for this week is to go through the film working out where music cues are and what sound effects will need to go where.

The long term plan is to lock picture in the next week or so and have all the colour correction and effects done by the end of November. We're still looking pretty good for finishing by the end of the year, although I think it will be January before we have a proper screening.

On Sunday we got some of the team back together for a photoshoot.

Andrea and I had been to an all-night zombie film marathon so weren't quite awake enough for this, but we managed okay I think. The real problem was deciding what I wanted - there was a particular image I wanted to get for the poster which was fine, but then I figured while everyone was there we should get some more shots too. And I'd meant to prepare for this and figure out when I wanted, but hadn't had enough time so ended up just kind of making it up as I went along and asking other people for suggestions. I think we got some really cool stuff in the end.

It was awesome to see everyone again and despite the tiredness I got back some of the excitement I had when were shooting. It was cool to see Rosie and Lukas in character one last time too and it came with a sense of closure that did make me feel like we are one step closer to finishing the film.

Other vaguely film-related stuff - if you have enjoyed this blog (or at least enjoyed the first part when there was more stuff happening) I suggest you check out Luther Bhogal-Jones' blog here where he covers the making of his short horror film, Creak (which Jenny Ringo DP Darren and make-up artist Jeanette worked on too!).

And if you're in Brighton tomorrow (probably today by the time you're reading this) then he should be screening the film at Son of Moviebar.