Saturday, 27 July 2013

Letters from an Ordinary World

Oh Christ – has it really been that long?

Once upon a time you couldn’t shut the bugger up, and then suddenly – nothing. Not a word since April. He doesn’t write; he doesn’t call; he’s just vanished into the blogosphere. Filmmakers, eh?

And so we start with an apology. Sorry. It’s been way too long.

Part of the extended radio-silence is down to the fact that Jake and I aren’t actually doing anything on the movie anymore. Once we had dropped off a hard disk with a (greatly pared-down) collection of finished stuff for our Sales Agents at the end of May, our work here was pretty much done. Rest easy, son – the experts are on the case.

But mostly it's because this bit doesn’t feel like part of the same adventure anymore. If this were a movie, we would have faded out on the applause at the end of the cast-and-crew screening. This bit feels like the first act of the next movie, where we see our heroes go about their daily lives in their Ordinary Worlds, just waiting for an inciting incident to come along. Since the screening, we have both had to find day-jobs in order to remove the contracts that our respective bank managers had taken out on us; Jake is busy planning his wedding and finding a place to move in to, and I have inadvertently wound up with employers who routinely insist on sending me out to the far-flung corners of the Cursed Earth to bring law to the lawless. And when you’re on ‘corporate expenses time’, you never find yourself sober long enough to throw a coherent five hundred words together. Oh, gidday from Melbourne, by the way.

But, behind the scenes, stuff has been going on. Not at a rate that demands frequent blogging, but important stuff. And rather than apologise to every member of the cast and crew individually when they text me for an update, here’s where we are at.

First up, we have now sold the movie in Japan; I say ‘we’, but actually Moviehouse Entertainment did all the heavy lifting at Cannes. So far, it’s only the Japanese distribution rights that have been snapped up, but the first pin to fall marks a profound demarcation in the lives of independent movie producers. It’s the difference between being a ‘filmmaker’ and a ‘distributed filmmaker’; semantics to some, but absolutely crucial to the people that dole out UK and European film money. In the unlikely event that Jake or I ever want to make another movie that ticks the necessary boxes marked ‘art’ and ‘decency’.

Being honest, I am more than a little surprised that the Japanese were the first to bite. 76 minutes of hostile, sweary nonsense for a more polite society. Presumably somewhere in Tokyo, an English language scholar is going to be given our dialogue sheet to translate, and will no doubt reflect for a moment on whether their years of experience are being properly recognised, as they struggle to find the Japanese equivalent to ‘Get the fuck off me, you head-raped cock-park’. If anyone knows the Kanji character for ‘idiot gentleman’, please let me know; I have a feeling it’s going to appear throughout the subtitle track.

And it looks like we may have sorted out a festival premiere; nothing confirmed yet, and so it’s probably sensible not to stick anything down in writing, but anybody that’s going to be in Chicago at the end of September and fancies meeting Robert Englund should make themselves known now. And with a couple more promising irons in the fire, here’s hoping that Zombie Resurrection loses its festival virginity by the end of October. As much as anything else, I’m looking forward to seeing whether jokes that we wrote in autumn 2010 are actually going to get a laugh.

Chicago? There must be some kind of work-related meeting or something that’ll warrant me being flown out to the Windy City that week, surely? Conniving.

Sunday, 21 April 2013


Q: When is 24 not 24?

A: When it’s actually 23.976; a piece of the most irritating kind of Final Cut Pro fuck-offery that has cost me half a weekend. And the sunny half to boot.

Frames per second – the number of different pictures that get flashed up in front of the audience’s eyes every second. European TV and DVDs do it 25 times (well, they do half of a picture 50 times a second); go see a film in the cinema and you’ll be presented with 24; and Peter Jackson has been known to go as high as 48.

And the Americans? 29.97 frames per second. Not 30; 29.97. Who the hell ever thought that was a sensible idea?

Again, probably not best to start with the rant before setting the context. You may have recently noticed some new pictures and links appearing on the Charmed website, directing the more forward-thinking business users towards our Sales Agents, Moviehouse Entertainment, proudly carrying the banner for Zombie Resurrection in its onwards march into DVD emporia near you. The contacts are signed, a skip-load of DVDs passed across to them to hand out at Cannes, and the extraordinary list of must-have deliverables bartered down to the absolute necessities.

Gone are the expensive HDCAMs and DigiBetas, to be replaced by a single full-fat ProRes file delivered on a hard disk.

At 24 frames per second.

And while this was cause for some jubilation in Charmed Central, it did raise one important issue. We didn’t shoot the film at 24 frames per second. Like all good Europhiles, we went for 25.

This was, I should point out, not an arbitrary choice on our part. If you start to read the Guerilla Filmmakers Handbook it’s written there on one of the commandment stones. On page 7. Even before you make it to the Contents pages, the decision has been take out of your hands: “Thou shalt shoot, while living in PAL land, at 25 fps on film, or 25p on HD, irrespective of what the other soothsayers advise. They be-eth wrong!”


But thinking about it, it does make sense. Outside of the festival circuit, Zombie Resurrection was never intended for a cinematic release. It’s a low-budget zombie film that doesn’t have Brad Pitt in it; if our core audience can’t get loaded while they watch it, why would they bother?

And so we plan for the DVD. 25 frames per second. Done.

So the question before us now is: “how do we make a 25 fps film into a 24 fps film?”. And the easiest answer is just to slow the whole lot down by 4%. No one outside of the production team will ever notice, we are reliably assured. Oh, and the actors, who will all wonder which slightly-more-baritone replacements came in and dubbed all their lines.

Simple. On paper this should be a stroll through the roses. Conform the video footage to 24 fps in After Effects, slow down and re-sample the audio track, introduce them to each other again in the editing software, et voila.

Except Final Cut Pro was written by Americans. Americans with their bloody NTSC TVs and ridiculous sample rates.

It is, apparently, far, far easier to convert the bugger into an American DVD if your frame rate isn’t quite 24 frames per second. No, no - 23.976 works so much nicer. But, hey, it’s close enough to 24 that we can probably name all the software templates 24 fps. Round it up, why don’t we? Don’t want to confuse the punters.

And so somewhere in sunny Hampshire, a lonely vitamin-D deficient film producer gazes sadly out of his window at all the other kids playing in the street, wondering why by the end of his film everybody’s dialogue is just a tiny bit out.

 So endeth the rant; I’m off to the pub. Spent.

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Body of Christ?

“Moist”. Now officially my least favourite adjective.

It’s a convoluted story that starts with a simple request from our Sales Agents, and ends with me in trauma counselling. However, persist to the end of the posting and you will be rewarded with the link to our brand new trailer.

I say “brand new”, but it’s more “variations on a theme”. But for those of you that watched the trailer that we stuck up last January just after our first pass on the edit, and were concerned by an absence of gore or people running about, this might just be your lucky day.

Anyway, I digress.

I mentioned in my last posting that Jake and I came away from the meeting with the sales guys with some homework. An updated trailer and a copy of the poster art for them to take to Cannes as bait for the Zombie Resurrection distribution mousetrap. And it all seemed so straightforward at the time – swap out the shots from the original trailer with the shiny graded ones from the movie, and send them the best quality JPEG of our picture of the zombie Messiah crucified on a cross of blood.

20 minutes work and the price of a first class stamp. If only every meeting was so simple.

That was until we got the details through.

Our poster art was prepared originally for a bunch of flyers and DVD covers to make ourselves appear slightly more presentable at last year’s Cannes festival. It had to look arresting and intriguing; it had to give potential sales agents and distributors the warm glow that there was a way that they could eventually market the movie; and it had to look presentable on an A5 piece of card.

But our Sales Agents have bigger plans. A1, to be exact.

I’ll save you the trip to Google - 841 x 594 mm, in new money. Movie poster size.

And immediately anyone that’s ever printed out porn from the Internet expecting it to look like a glossy top-shelf mag knows exactly what the problem is. The cracks start to show.

So, while the face of our zombie Messiah was lifted from a suitably detailed image shot by Rob-the-photo in his on-set studio, the rest of him is appropriated from a screen-grab from the film. High definition, sure, but not movie poster definition.

Bugger. It needs fixing.

And the quickest fix – sorting out a replacement shot of the Messiah’s body to overlay on top of the unusably pixelated torso. And that means digging out the costume that my brother wore continually for three weeks under hot set lights for some proper photos.

This is where being the person in the group with the least technical aptitude really sucks. Jake is the camera guy; Andy gets to be the stunt double.

Eighteen months hermetically sealed in a plastic bag in Jake’s parents’ loft later, and the bloody costume was still damp.

And it stank. My Christ, did it stink. A potent combination of mould and re-animated sweat; I never knew I could trip my gag reflex so hard and often without actually crossing the expulsion threshold. Although I did come dangerously close when I stuck my hands into the pockets and inadvertently gushed into a collection of my brother’s old tissues, their summer 2011 payload maintained in a perpetual state of liquidity.

Jesus – it’s making me retch just typing this.

Anyway, by 2:30 am last night, it was done. A poster fit for a wider canvas, and I can’t say that it wasn’t good to feel a little bit like a movie producer again after months in an office. A sensation that persisted up until my alarm went off this morning and I realised that I still had to go to work.

Only our mother can tell us apart, although I always imagined that the Son of God would be taller. Stunted.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

So, where’s our bloody movie, Phelps?

Fly free, my pretty.

Today almost felt like being a filmmaker again. No alarm clock, no creased shirt, no office peer-pressure to have a shave. Just a cheeky midweek trip to London.

I should start this posting with an apology. To everyone that has gone to the blog vainly trying to find out what’s happening with the movie; to everyone that has called, texted or emailed me this year – sorry. It’s not because we’ve been distracted by too much suckling at the teat of "the man"; it’s because we’ve not had too much positive to report.

I blame HMV. The arse has apparently fallen out of the UK distribution market since HMV went into administration; the distribution companies are all, one imagines, creditors of the ailing high-street DVD stockist. And some companies, such as Revolver, are faring worse than others.

Besides, I’m a sucker for making the whole movie-making process look easy. Easier, at least.

But today was an important day. Today we answered the question “what happens with the movie now?” Today we handed the whole shebang over to a Sales Agent.

Yup. As of this afternoon, responsibility for the sale of all UK and international distribution rights finally lies where it should – with the experts. And, rather incongruously, this is where the real hard work starts for Jake and me.

Anybody that has been through the process of engaging a Sales Agent to secure distribution for their movie will tell you all about “the list”. The exhaustive list of a hundred things you need to sort out to enable the movie to get sold. A 16:9 version of the film on HDCam; ditto a 4:3 version and a 1:2.35 version; both PAL and NTSC equivalents on DigiBeta; music cue sheets; a hundred pictures; an MPAA certification; E&O insurance; re-written screenplays and every combination of music, sound effects and dialogue delivered on ten different flavours of digital media.

It’s genuinely horrific.

However, this is early in the process, and certain things are more important than others at this stage. For them to take the film to Cannes and start the selling process, we really only need a trailer, a poster, a whole bunch of DVDs to give away, and a short synopsis.

Oh, and to be clear here – they’re talking about our existing trailer and poster art.

Yeah – the trailer that we cut together last January before we had any sensible gore or grading. That one. I had, naively, imagined that this would be useful only to break the ice with industry professionals, and, to be fair, it did that fairly admirably; the Sales Agents that we are going with were people that we met and auditioned at Cannes last year. But, at some point in the process I did think that responsibility for a proper trailer and key art would be passed over to someone that knew what they were doing. It may look like art, but it’s all craft and experience.

Oh no. It turns out that this is up to us.

And this is where our hard work starts. A complete re-working of the trailer to improve the picture, sound and blood content. Oh, and losing the swearing and adding in more running. And if we can come up with an easier-to-understand tagline, that might be helpful too.

But at what point in the process do we get relieved by the professionals? Is there a possibility that whatever trailer Jake and I pull together by Easter will actually be used to coax unwitting members of the gore-buying community into purchasing the DVD? And will Amo’s temporary poster art be on the box?

More importantly, what’s going to happen to the 18,000 hits that the last trailer has already amassed? Don’t think that you’re not going to be expected to help out once the new trailer is up on-line. Counting.

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

From rush-hour, with love

If this were Hollywood, our story would have ended at the cast and crew screening in November.

CUT TO: Eric vs. the zombies. A crash to black and credits start to roll. Silence from the room. The camera pushes in on the nervous faces of the two filmmakers as the lights go up. The men glance at each other – they slowly stand to face a barrage of flack from 180 unhappy punters. One of them opens his mouth to speak, but a single clap rings out from the back of the room; the men glance across, confused. The clap is joined by another, and then by more and more people applauding, until the whole room are on their feet, cheering wildly. The filmmakers are overcome with emotion; a celebratory fist is thrust into the air in slow motion as we fade to a triumphal close.

This, however, is Hampshire. So we have ended up with a dramatically-superfluous fourth act: Jake and I try and sell the bugger.

I’m getting slightly ahead of myself. I haven’t contributed anything to the Zombie Resurrection story since November, so we have some catching up to do. And from a production perspective the two most profound events since the screening have been Jake’s and my successful re-integration into the world of the day-job.

Well, the holiday had to end at some point.

And while I (at least) am quite enjoying my new daily activities, I do appear to have wound up with exactly the kind of job that I wasn’t looking for. And it’s all to do with labelling.

More specifically, it’s all to do with how you answer the question “what do you do?” Over the last two years whenever I felt myself reaching for the answer “filmmaker”, I knew exactly what the next question would be. “Oh really? Anything I might have seen?”

“Um, well, it’s kind of in post-production at the moment…”

Ah – so you’re not really a “filmmaker”, you’re “making a film”. Semantics, yes, but there are a lot of people that we’ve met who are “making a film”. Anyone with a good idea / screenplay / mate with a camera / etc. is “making a film”, especially if there’s a chance that it may get them laid.

And until your movie is available in ASDA or Amazon, it’s your fault that there is a glaring cultural gap in their film-watching history.

When I look back on my almost completely unsuccessful job-hunting strategies at the end of last year, it seems in hindsight that I was guided by extraordinary narcissism. Don’t go looking for anything that resembles a career, Phelps, because that will instead label you as an “engineer who happens to have made a film”. Get a job that has “temporary source of cash” stamped all over it, and avoid the kind of nuanced conversations about where your working loyalties lie that trainee baristas and shelf-stackers never get into.

And in this regards, I have failed.

Failed, thanks to the actions of an eagle-eyed recruitment consultant; I have somehow swapped my carefree lifestyle for one of alarm clocks, freshly-laundered shirts, self-enforced curfews and a commute. And a job that painfully resembles what I was doing when I got laid off two years ago.

I once made a zombie film, you know? Back in that two-year career break.

And here is where I get to stop whining. While I can feel my life starting to speed up again, the novelty of feeding the mortgage hasn’t worn off just yet, and there are plenty of jobs that I could be doing that wouldn’t be half as entertaining (or pay as well). And it’s not like we’ve let losing forty hours a week get in the way of selling the movie.

Oh – that? That’s a story for later. Back-peddling.

Monday, 19 November 2012

The coming together

And relax.

What a weekend… Saturday was as much fun as I’ve had in as long as I can remember, as we welcomed an insane amount of people to the cast and crew screening of Zombie Resurrection. Cast, crew, zombies, post-production guys, people from the various locations at which we shot the bugger, the guys that did all our set catering, investors, IndieGoGo supporters, mentors, friends and family. All in one place to enjoy 76 minutes of gore-laden sweary silliness.

And it was terrific. 180 people laughing in mostly all the right places, with the freshly-graded film looking and sounding lovelier than it ever has done before. And we got to hang out with a bunch of pals that we hadn’t seen in fourteen months.

Not that anything ever goes completely smoothly. The cinema was hosting the thematically-perfect Third International Death Day Conference beforehand, and when we arrived to set up at 6:00 they were showing no signs of letting up. And bitter experience insists that you’re never beyond the mercies of technical fuck-ups until you hear the last strains of the end-credits.

But when the lights went up at the end of the screening I could almost smell the stress evaporating.

Sure, it’s a wedding audience; a room filled with people willing the best-man’s speech to be that much funnier than it would otherwise be. Someone would have to be supremely un-classy to go up to a couple of filmmakers afterwards and berate them for the idiotic way that they’ve wasted two years of their lives just to turn out “that pile of shit”, but from my vantage point at the back of the cinema people did genuinely seem to be enjoying themselves. Jake and I lost all sense of perspective on the movie a long time ago, but until we get told differently we’re taking Saturday as an indication that we’ve done something right.

And it was at this point that I may have slightly over-relaxed.

As the audience de-camped back to the bar, and with our responsibilities finally discharged, everything inevitably degenerated into the kind of extended session that my body hasn’t been able to cope with since I was 25. Sat in my flat at 4:00 am with the last of the stragglers cracking through the contents of my eclectic booze collection, I should have known that Sunday was going to be a struggle.

But that aside, it’s a massive Charmed thank you again to Christian for organising the cinema, and to everyone that turned up on Saturday night; we wouldn’t be here without all your support and generosity over the last couple of years. You’ve made two happy people really old.

Sadly, photographs from the evening are in short supply (and if you have any good shots please feel free to post them on the Charmed Apocalypse Facebook page), but I did get sent one truly disturbing MMS from my brother yesterday. Blog readers with extraordinarily good memories may remember a rather foolish bet that Jake and I made with each other in January 2011, a bet that we were finally able to make good on last Friday.

So, so wrong; please don’t this be the only record of an otherwise excellent evening. Muted.