The Oseman Diaries - 2002
The only people who truly know how much blood sweat and tears go into the making of a feature length movie are those who have done it themselves. The effort required is also in indirect proportion to the size of the budget - the smaller the budget the greater will be the effort required.
This particular story is that of Neil Oseman ("Hereford's Stephen Speilberg" - The Guardian) a freelance lighting camera operator. Between jobs, Oseman co-wrote, developed, shot, post-produced and finally... distributed his film in his home town, sandwiched between trips filming corporates in London, reccees in Italy and being a Director of Photography on a film shooting in upstate New York. Oseman always travels with his own film file and story boarding kit to while away the travel time working on his own movie.
Anyone interested in the process of filmmaking at zero budget levels will find Neil's diaries on the making of his film Soul Searcher, a revelation and a thoroughly absorbing read. Neil Oseman has allowed us access to his diaries and his archive of film artwork, to put you more fully in the picture - his picture, Soulsearcher......
Our story begins in August 2000, when I made Soul Searcher, a 15 minute fantasy-action-comedy about an ordinary guy who is trained to be the new Grim Reaper, which got into a couple of festivals around the country and was generally enjoyed by most people who saw it, despite none of them having a clue what was going on in it. About a year later, whilst filming crazy low-budget action feature The Beacon, people start asking me what my next project is going to be, and I start thinking that a feature-length version of Soul Searcher might be kind of cool. I originally envisaged it as much darker than the original, and it was temporarily entitled The Soul Taker.
At some point during these proceedings, my good friend, talented author, BAFTA almost-nominee and experienced film producer James Clarke announced that he was interested in getting involved. I initially asked him to write and produce the movie, two tasks which I (a) hate and (b) am no good at. With the mammoth project that was The Beacon lumbering on until February 2002, I had little time or headspace to work on anything else. Nonetheless, James and I had a couple of meetings, and by the time I had finished The Beacon, James had written an outline and 30 pages of a screenplay. With The Beacon taking its leave of my frazzled noggin, I was struck by sudden inspiration and churned out a new seven page outline which concentrated on an unrequited love story which would form the heart of the new Soul Searcher.
March 27th 2002
Ate pizza. James asked a random waitress for romantic advice concerning an ex. A fairly ordinary day, save for the unusual flatness of my hair. James skimmed through my outline, making assorted positive comments, and we started sketching ideas of what some of the creatures in the film might look like. Our stomachs filled, we proceeded to the Courtyard, where all the cool people in Hereford hang out. No, really. Therein we scribbled out a budget, and lo, it came to £60,000. Wow, paying your crew is pretty darned expensive. Especially when you're planning to shoot for 50 nights, yes, that's nights. (Having been frustrated throughout production of The Beacon by the ever-changing and rarely-nice light that God had seen fit to provide, I decided to make by own illumination destiny this time.)
April 4th 2002
James had to go to London to pitch a book to the British Film Institute, so I tagged along. On the way back, we made some progress with the SS outline and ideas. We decided to write half the script each - I the first half, and James the second.
April 6th 2002
We convened at James' on Aylestone Hill to drink Diet Coke. I'd sketched a few characters and shots, and managed the first ten pages of a script, so James looked over these, and we talked to his camcorder quite a lot about our vision for the movie, in readiness for the inevitable behind-the-scenes documentary.
April 11th 2002
Once again meeting at the Courtyard, James and I exchanged our script scribblings thus far and talked about how to proceed. I had got to the end of my half of the plot, and only clocked in 30 pages, not the 45 you would expect for half a feature script (one page in standard layout equates to about a minute of screen time). We discussed subplots, further characterisation, and the sticky issue of what the physical laws of our fictional universe would be, I having sent James a rather long e-mail giving suggestions on this. It's important to establish these rules right from the start. Can the ghosts fly? Can they touch the living? Do they have any special powers or weapons? What do they want - are they just making mischief or they trying to extract humans' life-force or just looking for a payphone so they can call their mom?
April 15th 2002
Hereford is such a small town. Today was the art college screening of The Beacon, which went down pretty well, but whilst waiting in reception I bumped into a lady whose farm I had shot my short film Cow Trek on. After the screening, James and I did a little spiel (as in Berg) about SS and asked any interested actors, designers and the like to come see us afterwards. Amongst the hopefuls was the waitress James had asked advice from in Deep Pan Pizza a few weeks back. And a guy who had auditioned for one of my early films, Traction. Then I went to Tesco and the guy on the checkout had been at the screening. Hereford - population: 57.
We've built the foundation for what should be a mutually cool relationship with the art college. I can't believe we're not shooting until October - I feel like we'll be ready to go in a few weeks.
April 18th 2002
Please welcome to the stage a new character, Mr. Doug Kirk-Patrick, who is designing us a nice spectral light background thing for our funding proposals and will doubtless be doing further design stuff on the project as it advances like some kind of spiky, punning army.
I've started discussing what the fight scenes might be like with Beacon veteran and all round rumble-meister Simon Wyndham. James' half of the script is coming on perdy sweet, whilst mine remains stalled a few pages short of completion, though I'm sure I can knock it on the head this weekend.
James went away to write the press release, to announce ourselves to the world.
April 23rd 2002
A very nice day. The perfect day to sit under the funky architecture of the Courtyard, on an outdoor table, drinking OJ and failing to discuss Soul Searcher in any serious way. I've started storyboarding - an amazing seven shots so far - those poor rain forests.... James will have his half of the script done for the weekend, when we plan to spend an intense day gelling the two halves together. The Deep Pan Pizza Agony Aunt Waitress showed up again, but luckily James wasn't there yet to demand inappropriate ex-relationship counselling of her.
April 28th 2002
So we have a first draft of the script now; it took a full 22 months less than the first draft of The Beacon. And is about 22 times better. It was kinda fundy to read James' half, which stuck to my outline a lot more closely than I was expecting. Things that I had put in, not really liking them but having no better alternatives at the time, he had fleshed out into really good sequences. The last ten pages of course were pretty much pure action - though very much driven by the character relationships - and I had expected to go through a process much like The Beacon did, where the third act's cacophony of action sequences changed radically from draft to draft, but James has nailed it first time. I guess part of that is down to the fact that this script is so character-based, so there is a solid foundation to start from, ie. "What does the character need to be put through now in order to progress their arc?" rather than just "What cool thing can happen next?", to which the answer could be almost anything.
Needless to say, given the way we split the writing chores, there are discrepancies between the two halves. These are mainly to do with the supporting characters, some of whom have been portrayed quite differently in the two halves. In one case at least, we plan to solve this by creating a smooth development of the character in the middle of the film from one type to the other, rather than rewriting all their stuff in one half to match the other. There were also a couple of little sub-plots I had added into my half to flesh the thing out which will need paying off in part two.
We also had a flick through some mythology books and thought a bit more about what the monsters would look like. James' idea of them having tattooed faces, which I initially disliked, is now growing on me and we expanded it a little, starting to think of them as tribal, so perhaps some groups of demons could have a more Celtic look, whereas others might have an Egyptian feel or whatever to their make-up, and then each group could have different weapons and/or powers.
I'm off to London for a week now to shoot a corporate, so there won't be any updates for a few days. In the meantime James is going to redraft the script according to the changes we decided on today, and I'm going to try to find time to rewrite one or two scenes which I have a particularly strong vision of.
May 4th 2002
I was able to spend a little time whilst in London making some more notes on the first draft of the script and doing a rewrite of one particular scene. I saw some amazing locations in London, but of course our budget isn't going to stretch to the extortionate location fees they're likely to charge. But going out to the Courtyard night (for a change), I was quickly reminded that, few and far between as they may be, Hereford does have some beautiful modern locations too. For me, the three places that sum up the look of this film are the Courtyard (theatre that looks like an airport), Leftbank (nice modern restaurant) and the giant Bulmers cider vats (shiny metallic industrialism at its skyline-defining finest). All three are also very nicely lit at night.
Also over the last week I thought a lot about, um, how to put this so as not to give the game away... suffice to say the film's finale will combine Beacon style vehicular action with cool fantasy miniature work. And I just came up with a killer Titanic-esque shot which goes from model work via CGI to live action. The mind boggles.
May 6th 2002
Another night in the pizza restaurant with the Deep Pan Agony Aunt - sorry, I've already forgotten your name again. We seem to do less at these meetings than I expect us to, but it doesn't matter because we always come up with one or two great ideas... which of course I can't say anything more about, because I don't want to give it all away. Let me just say that there are more opportunities for old style miniature work, maybe even some matte paintings, to take the last 20 minutes of the movie to another level. It makes so much more sense to be doing it this way round - having got the characters and the romantic plot firmly in place, to be developing these cool action scenes around that.
I want to be doing more between meetings too, but I know that the best way for me to spend this time is to let the film swill about in my head - brewing in my brain cavity, as it were, allowing it to naturally shape itself. As the ads say: "Schtop! This independent movie ish not ready yet."
May 15th 2002
Where to start? The girl James is supposedly stalking introducing her boyfriend to him? The college media department head telling us how alcohol is a great remedy for exam-marking blues? The Hereford Times reporter who's doing a piece on us in tomorrow's edition randomly showing up and knowing who I was without me ever having met her?
No, I shall start by explaining that James and I had a really good three hour meeting at The Courtyard (where else?) in which we discussed the 2nd draft of the script, the funding proposal and the locations. James has completed the first dozen pages of a second draft, which shows a great improvement in the scenes between Joe, his best friend and the girl he likes. James has written the scenes with an energy and naturalism that will really make the scene feel like you're hanging out with your mates. I had a third wave of notes for changes to incorporate into the rest of the second draft, mainly on sorting out a few little plot points, but also on adding some character scenes about two thirds of the way through the film, followed immediately by some action/FX cutaways. The more I think about it, the more I think this film might be quite unique in the way it gives the action and the romance such equal importance.
We also went through the script and listed all the settings we would need, and jotted down some thoughts on what locations we might use. Both James and I are keen to use locations which are (a) modern, to get away from the obvious gothic imagery normally associated with this kind of fantasy subject, and (b) have lots of nice lights. Neon strips, fluorescent tubes, strings of white bulbs, great big coloured spotlights blasting across fronts of buildings - it's all good. We'd also like to use layered locations, ie. places with balconies, tiers, catwalks etc. for extra dynamics in the action. And those Bulmers vats are SO getting the Oseman action treatment.
The other thing we discussed was the funding proposal - essentially a dolled-up letter to send to potential funders outlining the project, its benefits to the community, potential for training young people, the previous experience and achievements of its hairy instigators (that would me and James, then). I've designed a cover for it using some of the sketches and storyboards featured on this site, and James has drafted the text.
Amongst the never-ending cavalcade of familiar faces that seems to parade past us whenever we go anywhere was Doug, who we talked briefly to about doing some A3 production drawings in the manga stylee, complete with little frames along the bottom showing the preceding and subsequent shots. Just imagine how good the hypothetical "Art of Soul Searcher" book will be....
May 23rd 2002
Bought a new camera which arrived this morning in all its technological loveliness. James and I used it this afternoon to interview each other for the "making of" archives. As normally happens when I get on the wrong side of a camera, I rambled like a backpacker on a Scottish moor.
We'd been planning to shoot a teaser trailer for the Courtyard screening of The Beacon next month, with a few brief shots of a dark figure with a scythe, and a tiny bit of a sword fight, but now we've decided to produce a two or three minute featurette instead, which could include the same material, but also using the interviews and other footage of us working on the script.
Tomorrow we go in search of a scythe for the teaser shoot, and hopefully on Sunday I can get some shots of a backlit Simon Wyndham doing some sword moves.
May 31st 2002
Well, I didn't get the backlit shots of Simon on that Sunday. We got them today, amongst a lot of other good stuff. We met up with Doug KP at the offices of As You Design, where he revealed an enthusiasm to create a whole promotional campaign for Soul Searcher. Working of course for nothing at this stage, he has kindly offered in the first instance to create four production "paintings" (glorified storyboard frames) in the Manga stylee, which we can use when making presentations to potential funders, and a set of postcards using the same images, which can be placed on every seat at the Courtyard screening of The Beacon. We also came up with the cool idea of the backs of these postcards having a jigsaw element of a larger image which can only be viewed by collecting all four cards. Lo, one day these shall be collectors' items. Only got three? Ha ha, you poor fool!
Then this evening Simon Wyndham came over, and in the name of tradition we went for pizza at Deep Pan Sasha's. And there was some hilarity involving one of the other waitresses, a formidable ass groove on one of the seats, and of course James. We bounced various ideas around about the style and progression of the fights throughout the film, how the demons would move and die, and how we could enhance the battles by having the weapons do sparking damage to any walls or other objects they hit. A major discussion about scythes was prompted when James showed us the farming implement he had borrowed for the purposes of the teaser shoot. It looked about 200 years old, had a massive blade, and is officially classified as a lethal weapon. Simon had a few game attempts at doing some moves with it, but it wasn't long before James was putting it right back in the car. At which point it broke. So we decided to make a scythe, using a metal pole with a cardboard blade gaffer-taped to it. And what do you know? Lit only from behind, and being spun about at extreme speed by Mr. Wyndham, it looked pretty darn convincing. We learnt a lot right there about what qualities the scythe for the film would need to have - both practically, to allow the greatest scope for choreography - and aesthetically. It was great fun shooting out in the courtyard by my flat in the dark - I'm looking forward to the real thing. Funniest moment? I missed it, but apparently a passing lady was heard to remark: "My god - he's got a scythe!"
In other news, the second draft of the script is near to completion, and a distribution agent in Cambridgeshire has offered to meet with James and myself in June to see if he can't give us some pointers on getting this movie out there.
June 13th 2002
Trying to think of a way to open these journal entries is always difficult, and thankfully I've just gotten around that. Since the last entry, a heady three lines hence, my comic genius friend Jim (not be confused with my comic genius friend Matt, in an entirely different sense of the word comic) has produced four very cool illustrations of the lead characters. As ever, it was interested to see how someone else interpreted our ideas. One of the images in particular - of bounty hunter Luca - was exactly how we had pictured the character. Others differed more from what we had imagined, but included great ideas that we would never have though of.
Hopefully the A3 storyboard frames are coming along at the moment too. I had to provide the illustrator with very comprehensive notes, which was very strange because it was like having to direct the scenes right now, without adequate preparation. I had to specify the lighting set-ups, the costumes, the blocking. It'll be interesting to see how those turn out.
This afternoon James and I went to the art college, where Sam and Adam, a couple of performing arts students, had kindly agreed to provide a voice-over for the teaser trailer. We spent a little time going through the brief scene over and over and refining the dialogue to make it as natural as possible - an extremely useful process which we plan to do with the whole script a little further down the line, since trying to write good dialogue in isolation is a complete nightmare. Things improved greatly once James suggested we get the two actors to swap roles, and a couple of takes later we were done.
The featurette is essentially finished now - three or four minutes of material on what we've done so far and what we're hoping to do, culminating in the trailer itself. We met with Alan Jones, who composed The Beacon's excellent score, to chat with him about music for the trailer, and also for the film itself. We put to him the idea of having an orchestra perform it, which got him really fired up. Apparently I've shown him the light - since doing The Beacon he's decided that film music, not pop, is the way he wants to go.
James and I were wondering why all the musicians we know in Hereford have shaved heads. We decided they must have got fed up with the headphones messing up their hair. I know I do.
June 17th 2002
I've just rewritten this paragraph since what I put originally was so surreal even I didn't understand it. James finished the second draft of the script last week, and I spent some train journeys and other quiet moments going through it. The early scenes with Joe, Gary and Heather are working great now - really tight with potential for some great performances. We've also added in a new, mysterious character. As James and I were saying earlier, there's so much in it - a lot of little sub-plots and some very nice character interaction. The audience are really going to be looking forward to seeing how it all pays off.
The main problem with this new draft is a large cluster of dialogue scenes about three quarters of the way into the film. The scenes in themselves are really nice, but are slowing the film down massively where they are at the moment. James is going to try moving them or getting rid of them all together. I sent the poor guy away today with a hard copy covered in scribbles and a long e-mail detailing more general issues. To be honest though, we've done the difficult stuff - aside from fleshing out Heather's role a little more (taking a leaf out of Spider-Man's very cool book), the characters are sorted. It's really just structural stuff, stemming from my failure to tighten up the treatment before we began the screenplay. Spider-Man, if I may return to it again briefly, also highlighted for me the importance of having the right ending, or more accurately, setting up the ending properly. Brilliant film as it was, the actions of the two leads in the movie's closing scene seemed to fly in the face of everything that the rest of the film had told us about them. But kudos though, it was one of the best written films I've seen in a long time, and pretty feckin' entertaining to boot.
I've sent Jim "the comic guy", or Jamie as I guess he'd prefer to be called, as in "Jamie, clean your room!" or "Jamie, your dinner's ready, boyo!" or "Jamie for christ's sake put some socks on and get your arse down the Prince of Wales." Anyway, how did that sentence start? Oh yes, I sent him the script so he can start drawing more stuff. We aim to have an art department consisting of two or three concept designers, a props master, a costume designer and a make-up artist, and we hope to recruit these people from those that have approached us after The Beacon screenings.
I can remember a time - it doesn't seem that long ago, when the shoot for Soul Searcher was a whole two seasons away. Now it's a trouser-browning three and a half months away. We want to have cast our actors by the end of July, so that we have two months to rehearse them, tweak the dialogue with them, and train them in the arts, martial in nature. (Hello? Martial arts? I'd like two arts, martial in nature.) This means we'll be holding auditions on the week commencing July 22nd, which in turn means the official casting call will go out on July 8th. I remember when I sent out the casting call for The Beacon - I thought "This is it. I've committed myself now. I have to make this film." It was kinda scary. This time it's not scary, it's great. The only question is will we get the money?
June 18th 2002
The three amigos drove off into the sunset, towards Rotherwas and other glamorous potential locations. The third amigo was none other than multimedia personality Chris "Whitney" Mayall, who served as note-taker, video documentarian and surreal commentator on our journey from Sublimesville to Ridiculous City, USA. We checked out some warehouses and factories, and a cool abandoned Nissan hut, before heading back into town to wander the streets, pointing a video camera at various buildings and going "that's nice". Needless to say, we ended up drinking thin cokes at The Courtyard.
To be honest, I didn't feel like we'd achieved anything, but perhaps it was my fault for not really being in the right mindset. It's also an unusual experience for me to be directing a script which I haven't written entirely myself, so as a result I don't have every word etched into my brain... yet.
It was only when I got home afterwards that I got clear in my head exactly what I want from this film's locations. Firstly, like I always strive for in my photography, it needs to be uncluttered. Especially on video, where everything's in focus most of the time, if you're not careful to keep your frame fairly sparse, your subject gets lost in the background. Secondly, I like uniformity. That's what I love about Maylord Orchards and the Left Bank Village. Everything's been designed by one architect, so you get a visual consistency, unlike in the high street where every building is a different age, colour and design.
On the bright side, shooting at night has it's advantages in that if you don't like the look of a particular building, you just don't light it. It also hit home this evening that simply the fact that our actors will be walking through the main streets in the middle of the night with no-one else around will look very eery and interesting. Like it's a ghost town. Hardy ha ha.
Anyway, it looks like I may have to force some of the locations into the visual style of the movie by careful framing and coloured lighting. I plan to have a very stylised palette for the film; in homage to the beautifully photographed Terminator 2, I shall be adopting a Fire & Ice colour scheme - ie. pretty much every scene will be very orange or very blue. Of course this isn't just a lighting issue - it also needs to be worked into the props, costumes and set dressing.
The problem I have at the moment is visualising it. I've never shot at night in an urban environment, or with the size of lights we'll be using on Soul Searcher. I'm not entirely sure what High Town's going to look like with a blue-gelled 5KW HMI shining on it. Still, it'll be fun finding out.
June 20th 2002
I sat down yesterday and went through every story setting, writing possible locations next to each. This morning I went through it again and noted down the colours of light I want to use in each scene. I've now got quite a good idea of what this movie's going to look like. I plan to favour big, tree-lined, American-looking streets like the one with the leisure centre on and Rotherwas Industrial Estate over city centre high streets wherever possible. I've always wanted to shoot on a factory site too, so hopefully we'll set up a recce around Bulmers and Sun Valley at some point to see if we can't film in their grounds. As I was thinking about all this last night, something clicked in my head and action inspiration promptly formed. I have a couple of ideas now for what should be quite visually striking action scenes, reminscent of Highlander and classic 80s action movies. Blue light shining through big fans. Bring it on.
The great thing is that this action will be handled completely different to that in The Beacon. That was the kind of film where, when something blows up, the lead character walks away from the explosion in super cool slow motion, a blank look on their face. In Soul Searcher, our heroes will be stumbling away Indiana Jones-style from the explosions, dusting themselves off in disbelief at their own survival, and muttering about how much trouble they're going to get into.
I also spent a lot of today reconfiguring the trailer over and over again, trying to find a way to get the music, visuals and voiceover to work with, rather than competing against, each other. I finally succeeded and I thnk the result is pretty cool. It will premiere at The Courtyard after The Beacon on Monday - don't forget to buy your tickets folks (just call the box office on 01432 359252) - and then will be uploaded to this site on Tuesday.
June 23rd 2002
An evening of hilarity after a roller-coaster couple of days. The film continues to crystallize in my head. Where before I could only see the dialogue scenes, I now have strong images of fight sequences and action set pieces. I've sent Simon Wyndham, the fight arranger, some notes on the emotions and styles of each fight, and am itching to begin storyboarding.
Tonight James came round so we could write a press release for the casting call. After much comic double-acting, we got this done and turned our attention to going through the script scene by scene and noting down how many days each would take to shoot. Then I totted them all up. 84.
James proceeded to list big Hollywood movies which were shot in less time than that. I went through the list and shaved some days off. I totted it up again. 79.
So we sat back on my dodgy brown sofa which always makes you gradually slide off and laughed for a bit. It's not going to take us 79 days to shoot. Of course it's not. The Beacon only took 28 days. Allowing for the fact that this script is 20 pages longer, it's all set at night and the fight scenes are more complex, I reckon it should take us 60 days. Which is what we've been saying all along. I got out my diary and we looked at the latter part of the year. We decided to pencil in October 7th very faintly as a start date, with a wrap date of December 20th. That's 11 weeks; 77 days. 60 days of shooting and 17 days off in between. That's more like it.
So it's fine, it's all good. Except that every now and then I remember that we still need to raise £60,000. We reckon we can start shooting if he have £20,000. The Beacon screening's tomorrow; it'll be interesting to see if any of the funders we mailed will show up and want to support us. Please. This movie's gonna kick ass. Seriously.
June 24th 2002
Firstly, I never want to see The Beacon ever again. An eight year-old could have written a better script. Sadly though I must sit through it again tomorrow, when there'll probably be no-one there except the ten winners of the Chicago Rock competition. Today's turn-out was pretty good, and only three old ladies walked out, presumably because of the f**k-laden prose that passes for dialogue in the movie.
A few people offered their services for Soul Searcher, but no-one offered any money. Indeed, it seems that none of the 12 potential funders that were sent comp tickets even bothered to come. You see, this is why I used my own money to make The Beacon. Myself is extremely generous when it comes to giving money to me. Extravagant even, one might say.
Anyway, I'm off camping in Cornwall for a week the day after tomorrow - but don't think I'm not taking my Soul Searcher file with me. Whilst I'm away, Beacon veteran Geraint Pounder will work on some concept sketches, and I'm going to do some storyboards, even if it's still just key moments at this stage, rather than entire scenes.
Also this afternoon James and I wreaked havoc on the airwaves, diffusing our double act onto BBC Hereford & Worcester as we talked about Soul Searcher. Sadly they did not broadcast our impromptu song. All together now... "SOUL SEARCHER / HE'S SUCH A HAIRY LURCHER / HE'S GOT A SCYTHE BUT HE WON'T HURT YA..."
July 3rd 2002
Oh man, this keyboard is so sticky. I only went and spilt OJ on it, didn't I? And the VCR remote, which no longer works. Yuk, yuk.
Right then, so I've just got back from a week camping in Cornwall - a surreal week featuring such rare sights as an aroused dolphin, a drunk woman trying to bed a gay man, and a man getting lost round the back of a portaloo. Of course I spent my spare time in the tent doing Soul Searcher sketches, brainstorming locations and sending James long e-mails from antipodean-owned cybersurf shacks with sea views. I hadn't been back long, naturally, before I ended up at The Courtyard with a large ring binder, a cup of coffee and a pile of headshots. For whilst I've been away, Jim has been fixing it for wannabe actors to audition for our movie. Let's not beat about the bush - the number of responses has been disappointing. No worse than that for The Beacon, but we were expecting more since we cast (ho ho) our net wider by posting in PCR. As ever, I guess lack of financial renumeration is putting people off. Still, thanks to everyone who has applied, and I look forward to meeting you all next week. We're also going to try to recce a lot of locations next week so that I can begin storyboarding while I'm in New York. But of course, you journal-starers don't know about New York...
A week on Sunday I'm off to upstate New York for three weeks, all expenses paid, to be the Director of Photography on an action thriller. Chopsy what? Jammy who? Beyond Recognition is being self-financed by London-based director Tom Muschamp, to the tune of not much more than The Beacon's budget, and he's hooked up with a producer in New York, so there it shall be shot. With me doing lighting-camera. In New York. [Laughs deliriously for several minutes.] Obviously this is a big chunk out of the SS preproduction time, so we need to get things to a stage where they can tick along by themselves during that period.
Once again, the scary smallness of Hereford, um, scared us. On the way to the Courtyard, we bumped into Geraint, who just happened to have some of his cool concept sketches with him. He had some very interesting ideas. We hope to meet with the "practical" designers next week and talk about who might be able to make some of the stuff. Goodbye for now.
July 5th 2002
The casting call finally got into the Shooting People digest, and James found his e-mail server jammed full of interested thesps. Of course, many of these folks are from London, so their talent and suitability for the part will have to be weighed against the cost of accommodating them for the duration of the shoot, but that's a bridge we can cross when we come to it. Incidentally, I'd like to see the bridge that you can cross before you've come to it. Does it have a wormhole in the middle?
This afternoon we met with one young actress (oh god, I've started calling everyone "young".... I'm so fecking ancient...) who won't be able to come to the auditions next week, but is interested in the role of Heather nonetheless. As much as I'd like to cast all the lead roles before I leave for New York - to give Simon as long as possible to get them fighting fit - the fact of the matter is that there may have to be a second wave of auditions upon my return, a month down the line. That is if I come back. People keep saying I won't.
About an hour ago I started storyboarding. I did part of the opening scene months ago, but now that many of the locations are firmed up - at least in my desire to use them, if not in their owners' desires for them to be used (yes) - it's time to start turning those words into crude sketches and little 3D arrows like the ones what proper storyboarders draw.
July 7th 2002
Wow. A guy from off of Eastenders sent his CV in. How weird is that?
I took a wander yesterday and shot a little recce footage of the station, Rotherwas Industrial Estate and the area around the Leisure Centre. As a result, I now know exactly where I want to film all those scenes in the script which just say "Ext. Street.Night." Walking around Rotherwas on a Saturday afternoon was much like walking around a ghost town. I saw no-one save for a woman locking up a factory, and a couple of guys who pulled up in their car and asked if I'd seen a black and white sheepdog. I told them I'd seen a black and white cat, but that he belonged to some postman or other. (Did you, Neil? No, I said "I'm sorry, I haven't.")
Today I've been doing more storyboarding. This film actually has more dialogue in it that any film I've ever directed. (Since my dialogue's always crap, I tend to use as little of it as possible.) This makes it a bit of a challenge from a camera point of view - ie. how to make the shots interesting and varied over the course of a five minute dialogue scene, without distracting the viewer from the performances. I'd like to do some really long shots in this movie, just letting the actors carry it.
So I've got five more days in the country. They will consist of almost constant Soul Searchering - auditioning by day, meeting crew or recceing by night. Sleep? Pah! I can sleep on the plane.
July 9th 2002
Two of days auditioning down, and we've seen a wide range of people, some of whom we'll definitely be seeing again. It was like a little Beacon reunion, with Geraint helping us out filming the read-throughs, and Josh and Sarah R reading parts against the auditionees. Dante was a particularly difficult character to audition, since he doesn't have a decent run of dialogue anywhere in the film. Even using a scene from an older, more speak-heavy draft left us with the problem of the actors having to mime sword fights in the Art College room we'd hired. And James made light sabre noises. I was also treated to the extremely rare (once every 14 years, it seems) sight of James shouting in someone's face, as he read the Grim Reaper's part against Joe hopefuls.
This audition process is a veritable epic compared with the rushed few hours of chats and read-throughs that constituted Beacon try-outs. What you're always hoping for is someone to walk through the door who pretty much IS the character, without having to act that much. Failing that, you're after someone who looks right and can take direction well enough that you can work with them to make the character what you want it to be. One thing we've found thusfar is that often an actor will nail one or two of the three audition scenes, but will be way off for the others. Ironically, the two people who have consistently delivered are Josh and Sarah, who sadly can't be involved with the shoot due to university commitments.
Nonetheless, we'll definitely have cast our Gary by the end of the week, and hopefully Joe and Heather too. The other roles may be left in limbo until after NY when further auditions can be held.
July 10th 2002
Ooh, the excitement. Start spreading the news, I'm leaving the-day-after-tomorrow, I want to be a part of it, etc...
Another fruitful day of auditions. I'm finding it a great opportunity as a director, firstly to be able to concentrate solely on peformances without having to worry lighting, camera moves and all the other guff, and secondly in trying out different ways of playing the scenes, and different tones for the characters. What I'm finding difficult is getting the awkwardness and stlited air in the early scenes between Joe and Heather, which I'm sure is due to my failing as a director rather than the actors. It's ironic that I've been in that situation so many times myself, but I can't seem to find the words to describe it to the actors. I'll have to videotape it next time it happens to me.
July 11th 2002
My last entry from this side of the pond for a while, I guess. Well, decisions have been reached. More, perhaps, than I had anticipated from this week at the outset. We haven't made the all important phone calls yet, so I'm obviously not going to say any more here. Overall I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of acting we saw this week, and huge thanks to everyone who took the time to come along. It takes a great weight off my mind to know that we've got (assuming the people in question accept the roles) the right folks for the job - it's going to make my job a hell of a lot easier.
Finishing the last of the auditions at about 2 o'clock, James and I made our recceing way to the football stadium (via Groovy Rick's house), where Joan the company secretary was very co-operative. She was even happy in principle for us to switch the big floodlights on when we film, and to go up one of the lighting towers for a couple of shots. I love helpful location owners.
This evening we met (in a location so predictable it's not even worth typing) with Kat Whiteaway (quite possibly not the correct spelling), who's interested in helping James out with the production and organisational stuff, and Jenny (er... don't know her surname... sorry). who is now officially our art director. We spent a long time explaining the tone of the film, the locations we have in mind, the look and feel we want to give the props, costumes and characters, and kicked around various ideas along those lines. Both Jenny and Kat were excited by what we were doing.
All in the all, it feels like the whole project has moved up a level today, which is a nice way for me to leave it.
July 13th 2002
I write from an apartment in Brooklyn, on a dodgy laptop that seems to click randomly without me wanting it to. What a rush glimpsing Manhattan from the plane, touching down at Jeff Kaye airport, and cruising under the Brooklyn bridge in a Lincoln. Storyboarding at 40,000ft was a new experience. More soon...
July 21st 2002
It's pretty sticky here in Orange County, which I guess is what you'd expect. Hot and sticky. I'm having a whale of a time. There's about a dozen of us crew staying in a big ole house with a white porch and a screen door, cruising the interstates in a minibus on steroids, singing Cheer Up, Sleepy Jean. There's lots of night shooting, which is great experience from a lighting point of view; I'm getting to try out stuff that I can use in Soul Searcher. Despite it being pretty intense (last night we shot 10am till 3am in order to get ourselves back on schedule), I'm managing to squeeze in some storyboarding, currently of Soul Searcher's climax.
James - let's not beat about the bush here - has dropped out of the project, which is obviously not good, but the show must go on. I'm trying to find a replacement producer, but it'll probably end up being a case of getting a really good production manager and just producing it myself. So it's funding applications, location permissions and scheduling all the way when I get back.
July 27th 2002
The shoot here continues to be almost farcical in many respects, but still a hell of a lot of fun. I've decided my next movie's going to be made in the US. It's so cool here, except for the fact that all the food's coated in sugar and it's impossible to buy clothes that fit you unless you have a waistline of equatorial proportions.
The guy I cast as Joe has had to turn the part down due to its unpaid nature, and this has led me to a big decision. If people are going to keep dropping out because there's no payment, I'm going to end up with a sucky movie. So I'm raising the budget to a minimum of 100,000 squid. Of course it's not going to be easy to get this, so shooting may not begin as planned in October. We'll continue working on props, costumes, locations and all that stuff, and I'll do everything I can to get the money together. If you see a spiky haired busker on the streets of Hereford or New York, please write a blank check (oops, been here too long: cheque) and toss it in the hat.
August 4th 2002 (actually the 5th, VERY early in the morning)
Britain sucks ass. I've been back for less than 30 hours (of which more than half have been spent unconscious), but I HATE it. What the hell is up with all those cars driving on the left? And why does everyone pronounce their vowels properly? And what happened to all the lard, salt and sugar?
Let me explain a little about being a freelance filmmaker. It rocks, basically. It's well paid, it's flexible, it's varied, you get to travel for free, you meet new people, you get to laugh at all the poor plebs who sit in offices for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. It's brilliant in every conceivable way, except for one: whenever you do a big shoot, you spend several weeks working intensively with a bunch of people who you end up utterly adoring, then the shoot ends and you NEVER see them again. Which is horrible, totally horrible.
So I'm really depressed now, and wondering how soon I can get my ass out of this country for good. What I need is a film, just one film, that will make people sit up, pay attention and say "That guy needs to come over to the states right now and make us a movie." Hmmm....
Anyway, what was this journal about?
August 10th 2002 (or 8/10/02, as those loveable Americans would say)
I started making the calls today to let the Soul Searcher cast and crew know that the project is on hold. I'm currently agonising over whether I should go ahead and make it on a tiny, Beacon-esque budget, or hold out for more money. Watch this space.
August 14th 2002
Well, I picked option number one. Tiny budget. To help work out how tiny I can get away with, I've called a meeting of the Jedi Council - erm, well the key crew members - on Friday. The guy I originally cast as Joe is kind of back on board now, after a little negotiation with his agent, so in theory, as long as I can scrape together enough cash to cover travel expenses, props, costumes and public liability insurance, principle photography can go ahead. I can then use the rough cut to attract further funding to pay for the special effects.
So Soul Searcher won't be the step up in budget from The Beacon that I had hoped for, but with the top notch cast we have so far and James' input on the screenplay, it will still be a step up in quality.
August 16th 2002
The most productive day of Soul Searchin' for a very long time. I called a meeting for the crew at The Courtyard this evening. Alongside Beacon veterans Simon Wyndham and Max Van De Banks were art director Jenni Gregory, camera assistant Tyler Winters, runner/production assistant Lex Collicott and Cat Whiteaway, whose role as production assistant became more and more like production manager as the evening went on. This all makes a big difference to The Beacon, where I didn't give anyone any responsibilities until the shoot actually started - struggling through the organisation of everything from props to locations myself whilst also trying to prepare for the film as a director - and subsequently found myself with a lot of people hanging around on set who didn't really know what they were supposed to do.
This time around, Jenni's handling all the props and costumes, and Cat and Lex are sorting out the locations, freeing me up enormously to concentrate on storyboarding, planning lighting set-ups and rehearsing actors. The production staff even offered to try to raise funding.
After the meeting proper I went through the script with Jenni, sorting out which props I could provide myself, and noting a few changes in requirements due to redrafting. Fortunately her department is going to need negligible funds, except of course for the costumes and props which need to be made. I plan to find an art college student or two to help out with this. The news from Max's make-up quarter was also good, and he was undaunted by the complexity of the demon concept designs which I showed him.
Filmmaking has its ups and downs. Today was a definite up.
August 19th 2002
Edd Reed, the 1st AD, came up from Bristol, and found himself on a little tour of all the settings which will be so familiar to regular journal readers. After meeting with Cat in The Courtyard, we went for food at Deep Pan Pizza, then headed to Doodies, where we went through the script with a fine tooth comb, making sure that every prop, costume and effect was assigned to someone to sort out. Although inevitably most stuff had already been taken on by the art department, things cropped up like vehicles (a street sweeper and a Cadillac, anyone?), stunts (demons leaping down from high buildings, to name but one) and loads of little details (like making an extra, meltable scythe for a fire scene in which Joe's weapon gets destroyed).
August 23rd 2002
Went to Malvern to engage in fighting talk with Simon Wyndham. We went through the fight scenes one by one (Simon pointed out that there are twice as many as in most Hong Kong action movies) discussing the style of fighting, character motivations, camerawork, location and length. If only we'd done that for The Beacon. Simon showed me excerpts from his not insubstantial HK action movie collection to illustrate various points. "What's that fighting style that's big and show-offy and crap?" was as technical as I got. We noted that two of the later fights were very similar, and so made a change to the script that will add more variety and I think works out better for the characters in the end.
August 27th 2002
A recce day, which kicked off with Cat and I meeting possibly the friendliest location owner I've ever encountered - the manager of Hereford Leisure Centre. He was excited about the project, and was more than happy to accommodate our needs for shooting in the car park. We then went to Halfords car park and the Texaco garage on Holmer Road, where I explained to Cat the nature of the scenes so she could approach the proprietors. After leaving Cat, I went on to TGS Bowling, where I sat and drank coffee by the pool tables, scribbling storyboards for the scene I want to shoot there. Then it was off up Aylestone Hill to Churchill Gardens, where I discovered a weird seat that I can sit our heroes on, and on to Watermeadow Close, home of James Clarke MIA, to check out the possibility of using his abode as Heather's in the movie. Since then I've been admin-ing and storyboarding. There are a couple more places to look at towards the end of the week, then I'm in London for most of September doing corporate work. Somehow I've got to fit the second wave casting in around that, but since most of the hopefuls are capital-based anyway, it should at least make things easier for them if I can afford to hire some kind of audition space in Londinium.
August 30th 2002
Simon came over to view the fight locations, with Geraint in tow to film the proceedings. We started off at Maylord Orchards, where our minds boggled at the action possibilities - mmmm, escalators... mmmm, lift.... mmmm, balconies - dropped into Doodies, which is now officially confirmed as a location, then went on to the Leftbank Village. Although we seemed to come up with satisfactory rough blocking for the first part of the fight, we began to get doubts about the second part, once we realised that the owners were never going to let a couple of actors climb over the tiered balconies. After pondering this for some time, and briefly going up to the top floor, but not quite having the nerve to go into the extremely exclusive-looking bar and roof garden, we checked out the river bridges. I have, ahem, big plans for one of them, but we also came up with a good alternative if the council won't let us close Greyfriars Bridge. Which, er, might well be the case.
Next stop was The Courtyard, where we got to go up on the roof, and lo, it was very cool. Consisting of several large flat layers, complete with a nice ladder next to a big boiler thing leading up to it all, it also provided a very nice view of the city and in particular Bulmers. Inexplicably, there were several tennis balls and a rugby ball on the roof, despite it being 4 or 5 stories high. After that we went to the multistorey, which we didn't have any official permission to recce, and as a result were kicked out by the night watchman after about two minutes. Finally we stopped off in High Town, where we lamented the ever-present orange atrocities that are streetlights. The problem is, no matter how great this film looks, if we get a hideous orangey-pink sodium streetlight in shot it'll instantly look like a crappy home movie. Which means we need to bring some very large lights of our own in order to render the streetlights little white specks in the background. Mmmm, expensive.
Spent a week in London shooting a corporate training video for Lessons Learned Ltd, who have now generously agreed to contribute £1,000 to the budget of Soul Searcher. Edd, the 1st AD, was also on the shoot and we had a little meeting late one night to see how he was getting on with all the ridiculously difficult things I've asked him to do - like blagging Cadillacs and street sweepers.
September 19th 2002
It's been a while since my last entry - I've been pretty damn busy. I actually got a couple of free hours today to put my feet up and watch TV - yay! Okay, so last week I had a meeting with the powers that be at Leftbank Village, who were most agreeable to us filming a fight scene behind some of their shops. Last weekend I went to Italy to recce for another shoot - Beyond Recognition - and spent the extensive trains and planes journeys continuing my epic storyboarding quest. And then stupidly left them all on the plane when I got back to Stansted. Fortunately a very kind security guard posted them back to me.
On Wednesday I went to London, where I met up with an actor, as well as two people who are going to be making props and costumes for the show. One of them, Rob Gillies, worked on Lord of the Rings no less, and is going to be making the swords and scythes for us, as well as bounty hunter Luca's customized arsenal. Today Cat and I went to Westons Cider Distillery out in the wild of the Herefordshire countryside. A very pleasant gentleman by the name of Colin gave us a guided tour of the vats - ranging from old style giant barrel affairs through to big shiny stainless steel numbers - plus the rest of the site, and was more than willing to let us film sword fights on the walkways and other such cool stuff. Now if I can just get a helicopter for that inevitable aerial angle...
September 20th 2002
The second wave auditions, at long last. Helped out by Chris "sound man" Mayall, Simon "Leave her alone, she's just a kid!" Ball and Salem "only met him yesterday" Hanna, we saw some potential actors for Luca, Gary, Van Helsing and Abner. A couple of actresses understandably didn't make it to the arse-end of nowhere that is St. John's Methodist Hall, Hereford, and so I hope to set something up with them in London next week.
September 25th 2002
Yesterday I spent largely in Maylord Orchard shopping centre, storyboarding the major action sequence which takes place there. My concentration was frequently broken as I attempted to guess which well-known song was currently being trashed by a hideous instrumental easy-listening cover getting piped through the centre's PA system.
A Chuck Berry compilation was the much more agreeable musical accompaniment today, as I sat in Doodies boarding some other outstanding sequences. This evening I met with Karen Nielsen, our second make-up artist alongside Max Van De Banks. Then I went back to Doodies, where sadly Chuck was no more. "Okay guys, this is a blues riff in B. Watch me for the changes and try to keep up..."
September 26th 2002
Max took me over to Norton Armouries Ltd, a company which makes armour for films such as Gladiator and A Knight's Tale. Where was this company? London? Bristol maybe? New York? Er, no. It's in Eastnor, Herefordshire. What are the chances of that happening, eh? Therein I met Dave, a very nice guy who looked at the Soul Searcher concept designs and promptly offered to work for free. Which is always nice. We were treated to a tour of the workshops, where some highly lethal-looking swords were being made, and remnants of past projects from various films and TV shows were scattered about. Coolest of all though, was a completely random formation of solidified plastic which looked exactly like something out of an H. R. Giger drawing. So anyway, that's one less thing for me to worry about. It really has been great having Maya on board doing such fantastic concept art - his work is responsible for attracting several cast and crew members to the project.
September 28th 2002
Simon "campest man in human history" Ball and I travelled down to London last night. We're flying out to Italy tomorrow with Tom and the gang for the last leg of the Beyond Recognition shoot. Today we held auditions in Conway Hall, Holborn, for the roles of Gary and Luca. Helping us out was Tom's friend and partner in crime, Matt Manning, who kindly agreed to read opposite the hopeful thesps, a decision he probably regrets since, whilst popping out to get some cash and coffees, he was mugged. Mmmm, London.
Anyway, we were meant to see four or five people, but only two turned up. (This is perhaps the folly of holding auditions on a Saturday morning.) Unfortunately, neither of these folks were right for the parts, though in a bizarre stroke of coincidence one happened to be the girlfriend of props dude Rob Gillies.
I can now reveal that Chris Hatherhall, who we saw in Hereford on the 20th, has been cast as Gary. As for Luca, the search continues...
October 7th 2002
The shoot in Italy has gone well - man, it's perdy up in dem mountains. I waited until the filming was over, and Tom was suitably drunk, then cheekily asked him if I could have the lights he bought for the shoot. Four nice, shiny new Arrilites. After all, he doesn't need them any more. Tom, being the lovely human being that he is, kindly obliged. So that's four more lights for Soul Searcher.
In between the filming, I've been co-ordinating the props design/making effort by e-mail. Maya has been sending me designs for swords and scythes, I've been selecting and approving them, then sending them on to Rob so he can start making them.
October 15th 2002
You're probably wondering why there hasn't been an entry for so long. It's not good news, I'm afraid. With only two weeks to go until our scheduled start date, we find ourselves in a position where we're several grand short of the budget we need to be able to shoot the film. The project's now officially on hold until after Christmas. It remains to be seen if any Herefordshire businesses will come through for us on the funding front, but there is a very real possibility that this film will now never get made, not least because I'm not sure where my career as a lighting-cameraman will be by the time the New Year arrives. Doors are starting to open for me and I may simply not have the time to make this film next year.
It's the old, old story. Boys write film. Boy has to drop out of project. Boy can't raise enough money to make film. Film is on hold. Shame on you, Herefordshire businesses.