Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Listen to me ramble...

I was on the Filmsploitation podcast last week! It's Episode 15, you can get it on iTunes here. I talked about The Sentinel a lot and I probably rambled about some other film-related stuff too. I think I managed to plug Jenny Ringo a couple of times, mostly thanks to reminders from Phil.

I will continue my production diaries soon, I promise, it's just I've actually had to do some writing this week. Proper writing like what I used to do when I started this blog! I've been wearing the writing hat and everything!!!

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Dead Hooker in a Trunk...

When I was reading about Women in Horror Month for a post I wrote a couple of weeks ago I realised that despite supporting the sentiment, I'd never actually seen a horror film directed by a woman...until I remembered Near Dark, Ravenous, Pet Sematary, The Being, Freddy's Dead, The Howling 6 and American Psycho. So I'll amend my previous statement to say I had yet to see any of the films by the recent wave of indie women horror directors as listed here

I went for Dead Hooker in a Trunk based on the fact that it has a UK DVD release making it the easiest for me to get hold of. And now I'm a little bit in love with it.

I should start this with a warning. Dead Hooker in a Trunk is one of those films that needs you to meet it halfway. Clearly filmed on no budget at all, it's often not pretty to look at and is a bit rough around the edges. You won't hear any complaints from me as the same can definitely be said about the no-budget feature I wrote but when the film started I did have that sinking 'this might be a bit of hard work' feeling. It didn't last.

The film follows a group of friends on a mission to figure out how a dead hooker ended up in their trunk and losing various body parts along the way. It's kind of Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia meets Bad Taste.

About halfway through there's a scene in which one of the characters has her arm ripped off by a passing truck and her friend marches over to the driver, punches him in the head and retrieves the severed arm all in one shot. It was at this point I realised I was really enjoying myself and I began to understand why the film has already built itself a formidable cult following. As well as being completely unlike anything else you will ever see it's also a lot of fun, and that's the key. It feels like it was fun to make, the characters are fun to hang out with and it never takes itself too seriously (except for a really long murder scene towards the end which feels a bit out of place).

There is a bit of a problem with the writing, in that I felt all the of the characters could walk away from the situation at any time with no repercussions. Sure, there was a mystery to be solved and killer on the loose, but was it really up to them to solve it? Would anything have happened to them if they hadn't? At one point the characters actually say something to the effect of 'let's go home and forget about it for a while' which is narrative suicide - if the characters are in no hurry to move the story along then why should I care what happens? At the same time this is balanced with a kind of Easy Rider  almost-arthouse 'let's just hang out with these guys and see what happens' attitude which does a great job at covering up the holes in the plot. 

And then the film ends on a rather touching, uplifting note that made me forget its flaws and rediscover a long-forgotten love for humanity. This is a film about friendship and the things we are prepared to do for the people we like. It is the loudest, bloodiest, craziest feelgood film I've ever seen, and for that it should be applauded.

Also, if this one is anything to go by, Jen and Sylvia Soska's next film is going to be something really special...

Friday, 9 March 2012

Jenny Ringo and the Cabaret from Hell - Production Day 2...

Here, finally, is my production diary for Day 2 on Jenny Ringo and the Cabaret from Hell.

Yes, it may take me until this time next year to finish blogging about the production of the film at this rate, but there has been important stuff to do like watching through all the footage and working on the script for Jenny Ringo 3...


Day 2 should have been easy. We were filming in our flat so we didn't have to go anywhere and all the equipment was already there. The scenes were all pretty straightforward dialogue scenes and most of them took place in the lounge so once we'd set up the lights that should have been it for most of the day. I hadn't covered these scenes in the rehearsals because this was Jenny and Gavin in their natural habitat and I knew Rosie and Lukas would get the performances spot on first time (which they did).

It should have been simple.

It didn't quite work out that way for a couple of reasons.

Reason 1) Long dialogue scenes.

By long I mean one page, a page and a half at most. In film terms this is long. Actually that's not true in all cases, but in the films I want to make one page is a long scene. Whether people liked Jenny Ringo and the Monkey's Paw or not most people have commented on the fact that it moves along at a good pace and doesn't feel 25 minutes long. In fact the only scenes that seem to drag are those without dialogue, which are on the whole shorter than the dialogue scenes.

I am making a point of this because I watch a lot of short films and a lot of them have overlong scenes. Some are mostly just one really overlong scene. And most of the time they really don't need to be that long.

So if a scene does happen to be over a page long and I've cut out everything I can then I'll look for ways to break it up. The same principle applies to filming the scenes.

The longest scene we shot on Day 2 involved Jenny and Gavin sitting on a sofa. It was written in the script that at an appropriate moment Gavin stands up. What isn't written is what Jenny does, but obviously she stands up too as otherwise it looks weird. This is all good as it gives an otherwise static scene a bit of movement. However, it doubles the shot list. In this case there were 3 basic shots we needed to make the scene work - a 2shot with both characters in the frame and a close up of each of them. But because they changed positions halfway through the scene we can't film the whole thing in one go. So we have to do three more shots for the new position. Each new shot involves tweaking the lighting, working out the camera position and sometimes changing the positions of the actors. Then you have to consider all the various things that can go wrong with a take. And then at the end of the scene they change positions again.

This all takes quite a long time, much longer than the hour we had allowed for filming each scene.

I recently watched Troll 2, which is famous for being the worst film ever made...

(I have actually seen worse. A lot worse. And that's probably not a good thing)

In Troll 2 all the major dialogue scenes seem to have been shot on Steadicam, so the camera just moves around to focus on whoever is talking. There are a surprising number of single-shot scenes in Troll 2 and I can understand why. It must have been way quicker. It doesn't look great and doesn't allow you to do much with the lighting other that made sure it's all really well lit so everything stays in focus the whole time, but it definitely must have been quicker.

Yes, I am taking hints from Troll 2 and should probably be banned from filmmaking forever now.

Reason 2) The tidying spell

So in this film Jenny uses magic to tidy up her flat. This is more exciting than it sounds, I promise - there are high stakes and unexpected consequences! The real issue is that 'Jenny casts a tidying spell' looks fine in the script but isn't so easy to pull off in reality. In my head it looked like Mickey Mouse and the dancing brooms (or Jay Baruchel and the dancing brooms). In real life...we hadn't really planned how to do it. For the last film we did effects tests for all this stuff, like this...

This time for some reason I decided we'd just figure out the tidying on the day. So we decided to do it by locking off the camera then taking still frames of a messy table while removing items one at a time. I was standing behind the camera telling the crew what to remove next, calling out things like 'bowl!' or 'ashtray!' in what soon started to feel like some kind of educational naming game. My initial plan was to do the same for different areas of the room, but given we were already behind I decided to just do the table which will hopefully be enough to show what is happening. So it was a bit time consuming but not all that tricky in the end, unlike the scene we were to shoot on Tuesday which was a lot more complicated.

There were two scenes left to shoot in our lounge but we were losing the light from outside the windows and we had another scene to shoot upstairs where Pete and Charlotte had been turning our bedroom into one of the dressing rooms in the Cabaret from Hell.

So I decided to move the two lounge scenes to another day. They weren't long scenes, and it wasn't a massive problem, but it meant that on Day 2 we were officially behind schedule, and that worried me a bit. In fact, from Day 2 onwards I would be constantly checking the time and stressing about being behind schedule. I'd lost some of the confidence I found on the first day and suddenly it started to feel like the whole thing might pose more of a challenge than I first thought. Friday seemed like a long way off...


No idea what all this is about? Here's the trailer for the first film...

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