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.
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