Never work with children or animals. Or slinkies.

I spent today trying to knock my brain back into a world of words after a weekend of filming for the 48-hour Film Project (48HFP) London edition. Between this, last weekend’s triathlon-based events, and work being particularly hectic at the moment, I feel like Langwidere, the princess with 30 heads in The Wizard of Oz – but changing heads to suit different pastimes instead of looks. Except I can’t seem to swap heads quickly enough, and that pesky girl Dorothy has made off with the only one that gets plenty of sleep and doesn’t have a cold clinging grimly on.

For now, though, back to film: a recap of the past couple of days’ crazy filming business.

In a nutshell, the 48HFP is this:

“… a wild and sleepless weekend in which you and your team have a blast making a movie. All writing, shooting, editing and scoring must be completed in just 48 hours.”

(I ripped that text from the 48HFP website, by the way.)

My team was ten people altogether (six crew, four cast). As crew – we had mostly (with one exception) worked together on our first 48HFP effort –the London Sci-Fi  48-Hour Film Challenge, during which we learnt a lot. So this time round we lined up four actors in advance and a couple of locations. We had the script written and with the actors by midnightish. We got a bit of sleep. We planned out everyone’s crew role in so that everyone had something to do that they were happy(ish) doing. I say happyish because the only thing we were having trouble settling was who would be the director. Not because we were all scrapping over it – far from it – but because no one particularly wanted that responsibility.

I think directing would have been easier if I'd been able to actually eat cake and jelly while I as doing it. And we didn't even keep that name.

I think directing would have been easier if I’d been able to actually eat cake and jelly while I was doing it. And we didn’t even keep that name.

In the end, because I’m the one with the absolute least experience on a film set at all  – so I didn’t already have a job I could point at and say ‘I’m doing that’ – and because I’m the one that signed us up for the comp in the first place, I ended up directing.

Baptism of fire, truly. When we first discussed who should do this, Coffee Monster said it needed to be the person who could most clearly see the film. That’s tough with a 48HFP, and particularly one where we had only a description of the location go by. Even tougher for a first-timer when, rather than the actors being people you know from uni, only one of them is a friend and the rest are Proper Actors.

Bloody. Hell.

Pressure.

I learnt more film jargon in 24 hours than I ever have in my entire life. I had butterflies the entire time. Thankfully, I also had a patient cast and an understanding crew. I have no real idea how I did as a director (I mean – I look at the film and see A LOT of stuff to work on, but it’s also not the worst short film in the world. It’s flawed, of course, but not entirely terrible). I didn’t piss anyone off; I tried to understand and answer questions. I was actually a bit of a pushover – but then in a situation where I don’t know what I’m doing, I don’t block my ears to suggestions. I was functioning on a 1-part bluff, 1-part guts, 2-parts trust-my-crew sort of approach. Or something.

Other ways in which we were lucky – our actors, and one in particular, couldn’t have been more perfect if we’d held actual casting sessions.  Our film has been lifted well above its humble and fairly amateurish origins thanks to their talent and hard work. I’ll gush about them more when the film is up and you can all see how good they are.

We had a huge amount of help in the form of locations from a colleague who opened up her house for us to film in. We were filming site unseen, and it was a massive relief to walk in and see that it was perfect for our film. Not only that, but the homeowners laid on bacon sandwiches for us first thing in the morning, and cups of tea, and then left us to run riot in their house for the whole day. With the lights, and the equipment, and the general intrusion, this is honestly one of the most generous things anyone has ever done for me/us.

More generous support came from musicians whose work we ended up not using (they didn’t fit the genre we had) – but I’m giving them a promo here, because they are GOOD. Obviously. That’s why I asked them for music in the first place.  If you’re ever in Manchester and like hard rock/punk, get yourselves out to see The Zero Symphony play. Or just listen to them here, and then buy their stuff. In a completely different musical world, Ed Wright over at Virtual 440 provided us with a couple of his beautiful electro-acoustic sonic art pieces. I can’t even begin to describe these, so head over to www.virtual440.com to hear and read more.

I am deliberately not giving away what we filmed, by the way. It can’t be posted online until after the 48HFP screening takes place (SHAMELESS PLUG ALERT>> 6th October, 3.30pm, at the Prince Charles Cinema. Tickets £10 – and for that you get at least 15 short films, and the chance to vote for your favourite. <<END SHAMELESS PLUG), but maybe we’ll put it up then. Or rather, put up a two-weeks-later, we-had-more-time, spruced-up version with less bloopers and more film.

What has our hero seen? Come to the screening and find out! ... if he's even our hero. Oooh, keeping you on your toes ...

What has our hero seen? Come to the screening and find out! … if he’s even our hero. Oooh, keeping you on your toes …

I feel as though this entry is not at all portraying just how much fun I (we, I hope) had working on our film. Forgive me. I’m very tired and grappling with Real Life taking a sad turn, and I’m a bit burnt out thinking about the logistics and the bloopers and worrying about the screening. I thought about leaving this entry for a couple of days, but I wanted it done while things still feel a bit fresh.

Anyway. It was an amazing weekend. Also exhausting, particularly for Coffee Monster given he was DoP AND editor.  There were highs and lows – particularly dealing with the slinky (an integral prop that refused to go from high to low when it was supposed to. Slinky Diva.) Mostly highs: the joy of watching a scene unfold perfectly; realising an idea actually works. Other things that were just ridiculous and made us laugh – the lack of working clapper board (resorting to numbers scribbled on a notepad); the moment we shouted action and the resident cat rounded the corner instead of the expected actor. Lows: realising how out of time we were and that actors had to leave; cutting one of our favourite scenes, and thus lines, completely due to time constraints (“You left beetroot juice on the light switch, you mad bitch.”); rushing others in edit, again due to time constraints. There were highs and lows watching the finished product the day after we handed it in as well. Moments in the film that are brilliant; other moments that make me shake my head and swear a little bit. I don’t expect that we’ll win (unless the audience loves us), but I don’t think we’ve shamed ourselves either.

It was a massive learning curve for me – I truly never realised how much work goes into directing until now, and I didn’t do half as much as a proper director does. I’m proud of our film, but (and I know that this is partly because it’s our film and I’m a picky viewer anyway) there is so much room for improvement. Once I’d had a bit of sleep I woke up and thought that actually, I want to do it again  – but with more time, and the possibility of pick-ups if we need to, and enough time for proper post-production, and time to get the script right. So… watch this space, I guess.

In the meantime, now I’ve had a crash-course in actually being involved in making a film (rather than, as previously, making the food and moving the furniture), I get how easy it is to miss things when you’ve watched a scene so many times in a row. I’ve had the horrible stomach lurch of spotting a blooper too late to fix it (and then getting over it).  I am going to be a lot less judgemental about other films from now on.

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One thought on “Never work with children or animals. Or slinkies.

  1. Pingback: The week that was | Bookworms and Coffee Monsters

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