It's always a surreal experience as a screenwriter being on a set for your work. It never doesn't feel weird when actors say your lines and a crew gathers to set up cameras and mics to capture what was on the page until that moment. Today was trebly surreal. There was the fact that this was my first feature script being recorded, a feat which is the culmination of a shared 18-year ambition shared by me and Justin John Doherty. There was also the fact that a few years ago I said that universities should be directly involved in feature filmmaking, and my bosses said 'ok', and here I was on set with a group of professional friends new and old alongside a crew of students embarking on the creation of a feature film unlike any really known.
Thankfully, the day never buckled under the weight of expectation I placed on it and we got some great stuff. It was a joy to see the rushes come in and witness small moments of wonder from our actors.
The student crew did sterling work. I noticed only a few moments that would be a cause for concern in a professional context but the joy of this project is being able to talk to students about their actions and behaviour so that they don't make errors out in the 'real' world.
We finished early due to rain but we mostly got what we needed and it felt good. Ryan Sharpe who came on board this week sourced a lovely actor to fill a small role. Colin Matthews shone a light across the whole of the second half of our day, We wrapped early, feeling good about what lay ahead.
A frustrating day. A lovely breakfast in a room that carries echoes of Peckinpah and a visit from the Director of the School of Film & Television, Chris Morris, got us off to a great start but the weather had other ideas. Constant mizzle scuppered our plan to get mainly exterior shots. 1st AD Ida asked what could be done to speed up or change things and I had to admit that some days, on low-budget projects, nothing. Nothing can be done but wait.
Working with an inexperienced and/or student crew has been a rewarding way of working for me and Justin for a number of years. There's a reward and energy when the production flows that is unparalleled. It provides a constant reminder of how far you've come and how far there is still to go, what you've learned and what you don't know. However, sometimes the inexperience shows through and it makes things harder. Today, as we ended with a less than satisfactory amount of footage, we couldn't get it together to get packed and away. We needed good energy to end with and we couldn't get it. It's amazing how ending with good energy is essential to starting the next day with good energy. Leaving positive bleeds into starting positive when you are next out. The opposite is also true.
Following an early wrap we weren't happy about we regrouped and set about a plan to get the footage we missed and how we could attack day 3, to get that energy back.
The weather tried to dampen us again (damn me for writing a film with few characters and locations that stupidly happen to be mostly outside) but we fought back. We trusted the BBC and MET Office and waited it out. We changed our location to a more suitable place given the weather even though it meant more restrictive decisions. Fuelled by a great breakfast we set up so we could make the most of the gaps between showers and eventually got our reward as the rainy day gave way to sun and we got some wonderful footage. If the student crew showed their inexperience yesterday today they dug in and really showed professionalism and grit. They were in the moment and made sure we got the shots, made sure the actors didn't get cold, and made sure all the negative energy of the previous day was a distant memory. When we asked them if they wanted to keep shooting or head home, they resoundingly opted to stay on. We have a really good crew.
On a personal note it was nice to have my beloved dog make an appearance in the film and for him to (mostly) stick to his marks and do his job. Pah to formal training we say. Oh.
A bust for me. Exhausted and ill. Sick, a chill, sore throat, fever. I stay in the car next to the set, dog in the boot, drifting in and out of sleep, just in case I'm needed to answer questions for actors or Justin. The crew brilliantly get on with it, and as the film starts shooting after hours of prep I head home for an early night. It's nice as the producer and educational coordinator to not be needed, to know it's all taken care of. Neil the writer would have been insecure about not being needed on set in his younger days but thankfully he's beyond that now.
(Photo credit: Ida Olsen)