Friday, 16 December 2011

And now with added Zombie

Once it was there. And then it got taken out. But now it’s back again.

Important feedback from Gentleman Jim Eaves: make the film as marketable as possible. Let audiences know what they’re paying for; and, more importantly for our immediate future, let distributors know what they’re buying.

And so, today Resurrection officially becomes Zombie Resurrection.

To be fair, the film did start off life as Zombie Resurrection, but we struck off the undead early on when we were worried that we were just going to be labelled as yet another exploitation genre flick. That is until it was pointed out to us that this is exactly what distributors want. Don’t have pretensions to distance yourself from the genre mainstream; concentrate instead on making a movie that people actually want to see.

Plus it turns out that those nice programmers of Grand Theft Auto IV have already gone to the trouble of pre-emptively sticking up posters advertising the film in all the game’s subways. Theirs has ‘TBone' Thomson and 'Pissup' Hutchison in; ours, mercifully, doesn’t.

I haven’t played it. No rival gang-members or digital ‘ho’s have suffered in the making of this film.

And with that in mind, Jake and I spent Tuesday up in London fine-tuning the trailer edit. Now that all the pieces are in one place (including a fabulously dark score from Dale-the-tunes), Matt-the-trailer has turned out something that got even Jake and me excited; it pops like a stressed exec in the company bubble-wrap cupboard. One quick grade from Ads-the-DFX and we will be in business.

So, when the trailer finally makes it on to a computer near you next week sometime, don’t act all surprised at the sudden appearance of a double-barrelled moniker. It’s all part of the Cannes plan, man. Poetic.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Two VAT ladies

Put the hoover round – we’re getting audited.

In (yet another) piece of sage advice from that nice Mr Chris Jones, one of the things Jake and I sorted out at the beginning of this whole movie nonsense was getting ourselves VAT registered. Do this and we can claim back any tax that we are charged on business expenses, like the costs of shooting a movie, for example. A not insubstantial amount of cash on the scales at which we’re working.

Lovely. In Charmed parlance it’s known as “free money”.

The downside is that it forces you to be extraordinarily anal about keeping tabs on your company accounts. As this soubriquet has been levelled at me on a number of occasions (and not always with respect either), master of the spreadsheet duties falls to the boy Phelps.

And today I get a chance to show off my adding and dividing-by-six prowess. Today we get audited by the VAT man.

I say VAT man – in the end it was two women from HMRC that drew the shortest of straws and are currently trawling through a shoe-box full of receipts. And I’m not letting the fact that one of them is quite hot in any way cloud my professionalism *glances left*.  What better way for a Billy Bragg fan to end the week than talking with the taxman about purgatory?

Hang about – where does all this free money come from? Er… from you, the eventual non-business DVD-buying public, it seems. It could be argued that we’ve taken our thirty pieces of silver to collude with the HMRC mafia; we appear to have inadvertently subcontracted ourselves as part-time tax collectors.

Hmm – thanks in advance, guys. You have my unofficial permission to download 20% of the movie from Pirate Bay if it makes you feel any better. Divided.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Fuck me - it's Danny Brown!

INT. KITCHEN – Day

A man sits with a cup of tea listening to the radio; a football match is playing. The man is weeping.

As tears stream down his cheeks, they are joined by rivulets of snot effortlessly meandering from each nostril. Lines of mascara chart a crooked path to his chin, where they tumble to form an untidy and sticky pool on the table.

Such, it seems, is the lot of a Blackpool fan. At least that is what the BBC would like us to believe in their new inter-programme plug for FiveLive. I can’t tell you how it ended, such was the unexpected uproar in my flat – Fuck Me! It’s Danny Brown!

Last seen chowing down on intestines with an axe in his back, Danny very ably played the character of Beaumont in Resurrection, and now represents the first of the cast members that I have seen on the TV since the shoot wrapped (and on BBC1, no less). As a staunch Arsenal supporter, any excuses of “well, I didn’t see it” should best be addressed to Danny in a French accent.

And no – we haven’t finished cutting the trailer yet. Can you tell? Stalling.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Write turns

Cue the sweeping fields of tumble-weed rolling through Charmed Central.

With Resurrection still out with the grown-ups to play with, it has been an especially quiet week. Jake has now retired from office life completely to take on paid interweb-thingy employment for a few weeks (and to stoically battle through a dose of the man-flu), leaving me to rattle around the flat on my own.

And what does a man do when he has nothing other than the internet to entertain him? He contemplates. Contemplates like a caged chimp.

I won’t bore you with the mundane details of any existential angst, except to say that it centres on the problem of what to do once the movie’s done. While Jake is keen to move into throwing a camera about professionally, my ideal scenario is slightly more nebulous – how can I parlay the Resurrection credit into a proper screenwriting gig?

And so, the Phelpenmusings this week have been mostly about the next movie.

In any case, it can’t hurt to have other projects in the stable when we come to sell the movie next year. We can’t have us coming across as a couple of chancers that have taken a year out from what we should be doing just to waste everybody’s time. *Sigh*.

Anyway, the one thing that we did manage to do last week is pick up some more photos from the shoot from the obscenely talented Rob Luckins. If you haven’t already taken a trip to the dark slide to check out his fabulous portraiture, go now; however, he also managed to capture another couple of thousand photos from the set.

So, with kind permission, here are a bunch of our grateful dead. Hell, it’s all we’ve got till the real mess arrives. Snappy.

 Ross and Alex practice their scary.

Wayne’s wound. Party on, indeed.

Zombie school - Milling 101; remedial class.

Stu. Don’t worry, ladies, that’s not his real hair. It’s Ant MacFarlane’s, apparently.

And there’s why. Stu II gets hoiked into frame for a thorough skewering, while Rup and Matt squat in a pool of prematurely-spilled stage blood and Director’s tears.

Loz. We weren’t even allowed to touch his hair.

A triptych of the splattered dead – Lauren, Peter and Susi. They all left set smelling vaguely of mint and curdling milk; apologies to their respective better halves.
 
Our beautiful horde, completely ruined by a couple of under-dressed wankers at the front.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Suffering from a handover

All in all, this was a big week in Charmed Central.

Getting the first assembly out of the way has opened the Resurrection pie up to a handful of other fingers, and this week Jake and I set about coaxing some of these more expert digits in to come and sample the fruits of our cooking.

It was a week that started with that conversation with Dale-the-tunes, and it finished with us handing over the whole shooting match. On Friday all that was left for Jake and me to do was to sit in stunned silence and wonder at what just happened.

Wednesday was the main culprit. We wandered up to London with a plate full of meetings scheduled. We came back with hangovers-in-waiting.

Once you have a DVD to give to people (no matter how rough the content), the project becomes considerably more tangible. There are a whole load of people out there planning to make a film; significantly fewer get past the constriction point of actually getting it shot. The shit, so to speak, suddenly gets real.

And, rest assured, the DVD content was rough; no foley, no digital FX, no music, no grading. And very much in need of a cultured eye to re-work the inexpert Andy’n’Jake edit.

So, with those caveats firmly on the table, on Wednesday we handed a copy over to Jim-the-potential-cultured-eye. And another to Ads-the-DFX-and-grading-guy. And then one to Rup-the-title-sequence.

And in doing so we basically handed responsibility for the movie over to other people.

Up to the point where Ads suggested that he should also be given the chance to re-cut our trailer. I mean – the trailer was all we had left. Although, with his partner a professional trailer-cutter, it wasn’t one of those decisions that needed a lengthy debate.

So, overnight, Jake and I have moved from being two people that were throwing every working hour towards pushing the movie forward, to where we are now effectively programme managers; the grown-ups with the training and talent take over. We are no longer the critical path. And I am fine with this.

It’s just that it all feels a bit weird. It’s like we’ve dropped our movie off for its first day at school, leaving Jake and me to concentrate on bullying the rich kids out of their lunch money.

And like every self-respecting parent, we marked the occasion with a session. Time to hook up with a few of the London-based cast and crew in a Battersea boozer and to mull over what just happened. So, to Danny, Rachel, Lois and Simon – thanks for a very entertaining night. To the Southern Water Board – I am genuinely sorry.

Now we just need to see whether Resurrection can go and make friends on its own; they grow up so fast these days. Fretful.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Trailer trash

Damn – cutting a trailer together is tricky.

I mean really, really tricky. Jake and I have been walking in circles for the last week, and have finally reached the lofty heights of “well, it doesn’t suck”. Other opinions are, of course, available.

It seems that we may have lured ourselves into a false sense of security by some casual advice that we received at the beginning of the project. Look at the 28 Days Later trailer, and replace all their shots with the corresponding moments from your film. What could be easier?

This, it later transpired, was shit advice.

Any good horror trailer (and, believe me, we’ve watched a few recently) seems to consist of two sections. The opening half has three essential elements: frequent dips to black, a bunch of cleverly-phrased cue-cards to break up the blackness (and if you can make the words get slowly bigger, all the better), and a dissonant drone under-pinning the whole shebang. The second half is slightly easier – all the best action moments bolted together in no particular order on a bed of fast metal. And then you finish it off with a kooky line from your protagonist, followed by a fast cut to a close-up of a zombie leering at the camera.

Terrible. And it’s exactly the formula that we’ve followed. Right down to the getting-closer writing.

Part of the problem with getting the pace right is that everything depends intimately on the music. So, this afternoon Jake and I went and spoke to a local composer.

One of the more bizarre things that we have witnessed over the course of the production is the amount of freelance soundtrack composers there are out there. Every cast and crew posting on Talent Circle or Shooting People, regardless of what position it was for, attracted unsolicited and speculative “ah – but have you thought about who’s doing your music” emails. We must by now have a pretty comprehensive directory of all the jobbing movie tune-smiths in the country.

Where to start? Well, helpfully, I also met one at Mary-the-zombie-bride’s wedding. Her actual wedding, that is, not the rain-soaked practice we laid on for her the week prior.

And rather a good one, it turns out.

Up until this afternoon, we had no idea about the relative musical chops that Dale-the-tunes had to offer. But it turns out that the man has chops. In spades (and please don’t feel shy about checking them out for yourselves – www.dalesumnercomposer.com). And he gets horror. We left his Southampton studio with big smiles on our faces.

So today has been a good day. We’re off to see Ads-the-DFX on Wednesday with a view to getting a quick grade done on the trailer, and so hopefully should have something up on-line in the next ten days or so. Only then do we have something tangible that we can use to kick-start the process of looking for more cash.

Watch this space – before too long expect to see a lovingly-coloured doesn’t-suck compendium of all the nastiest bits of the film wrapped in a duvet of gorgeous audio, featuring strangely growing frames of pithy trailer-speak.

I am selling this to you, aren’t I? Forthright.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

91 minutes and counting

I am happy to report that on Friday evening, Jake and I finished fiddling with the last scene of the movie.

It all happened roughly twenty minutes before we were in the pub. This may not have been a coincidence.

Yup – the first round of the edit is now officially complete, and the skeleton of a zombie movie stands before us in all its ragged undead glory. Actually, we went round twice in the end; coarse sanding and then a finer polish. And not before time – I have woken up on these last two nights in the middle of extraordinarily dull dreams about splicing footage together.

Sure, the on-screen lighting levels are all un-graded, there’s no sensible audio track beyond us digging out the best speech samples we have and then adding some very temporary foley when it’s needed to tell the story, there’s no music or digital gore, and one of our cast members is mostly seen wearing a large green sock which we will need to lose before too long. But otherwise, it’s our film. All in one place.

And I don’t hate it.

There were times when I was genuinely concerned about what kind of reaction I would have to the assembled footage in this state. When you have to film an average of four minutes of the movie every day, you know that you are making decisions on the shoot that will come back and bite you on the arse when you come to bolt it all together. Not getting enough coverage; not rehearsing each scene for as long as you’d like; not getting multiple takes of some shots if the first one worked; not throwing enough gore around. If you don’t make your pages, you don’t have a film at the end. Everything else is second priority.

So to get to the other side of the edit and find that we have actually gathered enough of the good stuff on set to be able to tell our story; well, it’s a good feeling. The collective Charmed sphincters de-pucker.

And so the next question looms at us – where do we go from here?

My earlier concerns about people that write, direct and edit their own material are still valid. We have so little objectivity about the film at this stage that our opinions are almost worthless. Is it still funny when it tries to be (or worse, is it funny where it shouldn’t be)? Are there sections where the viewer is confused at what’s happening? Do we explain some things too little? Or others too much?

Basically, is it any good?

Don’t ask us – we haven’t a clue. So step one is to send it out to a couple of Charmed pals to watch. Movie-making mentors that we’ve met over the course of the project, and know all about low-budget movie making. They understand what state a film should be in at this point and can see past the dodgy sound and green legs. Step forward Gentleman Jim and Master Bruce; thanks guys for agreeing to be our guinea pigs.

And while that’s happening, we start to chase down the post-production cash. Which means pulling a trailer together. Let’s see if we can’t get some Resurrection action up on-line for you all before too long. Teasing.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

The Da Vinci Chewed

Since the shoot wrapped Jake and I have had a number of conversations with old cast and crew members about how much they were missing it all.

It’s either them getting suddenly dumped back into a world where all their family and friends have just lived one of their standard months and can’t mentally appreciate the behemoth that has been the focus of the last four weeks; or it’s classic Stockholm syndrome.

Or they’re just being polite. Actually, that might be more likely.

In any case, it has been difficult to empathise at times, not least because our standard months now involve us spending more time with everybody in the edit. When you start missing those moments on set, you’re only 45 seconds away from a delicious delivery of a line, or beautifully understated glance, or a carefully placed shard of light gracefully dancing across someone’s face.

But we’ve reached that time in the edit; that time when we start killing our cast members off. And a little piece of my heart breaks each time one leaves us.

I don’t think this counts as a spoiler – this is a zombie movie after all. But to have to say goodbye to Jim and Simon, and now Joe and Jade, over the course of only a few days; well, it’s brought it all to the surface. So long, guys. I’m missing you already.

On the other hand, it has meant that we have just passed my favourite shot from the whole shoot.

It was on our mega-horde day. Everything was stacked against us on this one: hoping that fifty people turned up at the allotted time; trusting that our temporarily expanded make-up and wardrobe teams could process everybody in good time; worrying about whether there was enough lighting to illuminate a large sports hall from the outside and still look like moonlight; and this was all at the end of the first week when sleep deprivation and night-shoot jet-lag were raging loudest. And in the midst of this we still had about 25 shots to make, one overly-complicated blood gag, and then had to leave the hall in an acceptable state afterwards for a pre-teen dance workshop that kicked off at ten in the morning.

Ah, fuck it – let’s throw a hero-shot in there as well for good measure. It’s not like we’ve got anything else to worry about.

It’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment. Our core audience of stoned fifteen-year-olds won’t notice it; in fact, anybody not paying complete attention at that point probably won’t notice it either. But there will be someone that catches it, and for them at least it’ll be one of those “now, that is cool” moments. It was a one-take deal; if it didn’t work, we had to move on.

It was a recreation of Da Vinci’s Last Supper. With zombies and entrails. And with my Mum acting as the table.


Ah, sweet, sweet schadenfreude. Stop me from going to Jason Steinberg-with-the-really-cute-sister’s party when I was in year eleven, would you? What did you think was going to happen? Avenged.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

In morning

Never trust morning people.

It’s a simple adage that has stood me in good stead for the last 42 years. An unshakeable belief that there is something that must be messed up in the internal wiring of anybody that can bound out of bed in the morning with good grace; it’s just not nature’s way. Sure, I understand that it’s a useful social aberrance for Olympic athletes and farmers, but it’s absolutely pointless for us slowly-atrophying city-dwellers. I apply the same filter to people that don’t like Led Zeppelin, and have strangely wound up with a bunch of mostly lazy and deaf pals.

And then, to my great consternation, I only go and turn into one.

Life in the edit consists of long days sat down staring at a laptop screen; concentration muscles worked to their limits as you finesse a frame or two to perfectly match up head positions between shots. It’s a continual balance of video and audio, of technical and aesthetic choices, and neither hemisphere of the brain gets a moment of respite.

In short, it’s bloody exhausting.

So when the day’s work is done, and you’ve surely turned the laptop back on again for the last time of the day to make the final tweak that helpfully crawled into your head as you stood outside in silent contemplation with a cigarette, your eyes, ears and brain have all had quite enough, thank you.  Go for a walk. Put some tunes on. Watch a movie. Anything, just please stop thinking.

All well and good, except as soon as I distract my brain away from the undead, that’s it. I have spent more time asleep on my sofa over the last month than I have in bed. It’s like being back on the shoot again.

And so it stays until the first crack appears in my unconscious mind; that moment that used to herald a quick acknowledgment that I didn’t need to be up yet and could safely turn over and go back to sleep. That moment has now become the bookend of a night’s rest, as the zombie virus moves to re-infect my psyche with a speed and virulence not seen since the outbreak.

No point staying in bed. Might as well get up. *sigh*.

The good news is that we just passed the sixty minute mark in the edit, and thus the bulk of the movie is already cut and dried. The bad news is that editing is a bit like sanding a piece of furniture – you need to go over the footage time and time again with ever more fine grain paper. It’s a task that’s never finished, only abandoned.

So, no rest for the wicked for a while, it seems.

And all this while any self-respecting gore-hound should have been spending the day in Brighton, joining the 2999 other beautiful freaks in a slow amble around the city centre. Read down, and you find that the University of Winchester is even running a study module on their Media course devoted entirely to zombies; time to dust down the CV, I fear.

But until then for God’s sake don’t anybody lend me any money or tell me a secret; I just can’t be trusted. Awake.

Friday, 14 October 2011

South by Southeast

Today nostalgia reigned supreme at Charmed Central.

In one of the more peculiar twists of fate arising from this summer’s shoot, Jake has wound up becoming a local champion of the Panasonic AF101 camera that we used to film the movie, on hand to extol its virtues and sing its praises to anyone that’ll listen. The AF101 only came on the market in autumn of 2010 as some high-end competition for all those Canon DSLRs taking the indie film world by storm. And so, unsurprisingly, Panasonic are keen to put the word out.

So when the programme for Southampton Film Week was being put together and the organisers began planning a cinematography workshop, Jake’s name was fed into the mix. And rather than spending this Saturday sat inside looking at how best to edit together a couple of zombies getting mushed up in a Basingstoke kitchen, local Guest Director of Photography Jake Hawkins has instead been lured into making a presentation to a bunch of young film-makers.

The company whore becomes the company whoree. How quickly things change.

To help matters along, Panasonic dropped off a lovely new AF101 for tomorrow’s festivities. A shiny camera in an over-sized peli-case, sat around all day with nothing to do.

Yeah – right. They’d drum us out of the union if we let it gather dust in a Winchester bedroom.

So, today we went back to our Portsmouth woodland location to gather some pick-ups. Nothing too drastic, just a couple of nice-to-have cut-away shots that would benefit the edit, and another shot that got lost in the move.

It was quite a strange feeling, piling down the M27 again; as we pulled off the motorway I could feel a Pavlovian craving for a can of Relentless. Getting to re-enjoy that bloody walk through the forest down to our old set – anyone that worked on the film this summer knows exactly what bloody walk I’m talking about. And so, with Ian McIntire in tow (who was part of our original production design team) we set about re-creating moments from the film.

Once upon a time we had proper actors with talent and training around to swear at each other in front of a camera; two of the very finest thoroughbreds from our Charmed stable were Eric Colvin (Sykes, in the orange) and Joe Rainbow (Gibson, in the fatigues).


Today, sadly, we didn’t. Today we had Ian, Jake and Andy, together with a big bag of the costumes within which actors used to play. And sweat. So, in answer to something I’ve been asked a number of times, Jake and I may well be appearing in the film after all, albeit from the waist downwards only in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it groinal cameo.

So to all those future viewers suddenly dropped out of the movie by some shamefully stilted wobbling, please understand that Eric and Joe had nothing to do with it. Sorry, guys. Hitchcockian.


Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Wrapped

We were way too gentle with our stunt zombies.

Life in the edit suite continues along the way of the tortoise, albeit one that also needs to pull over for a kip once in a while. This is not a quick process, but the fruits of our labours are ripe and bountiful. Eventually.

But over the last couple of days a whole new editing challenge has reared its ugly. One that I’ve not had to work around before.

Sure, we are continually faced with the standard editing problems – eye-lines, matching arm and head positions between shots, wishing we had slightly more coverage, etc. And now we welcome the editing spectre of “flexible props” to our manifest.

When we were sorting out our stunt props before the shoot, Jake and I may have been a little over-careful in ensuring minimal levels of pain for our hero zombies. We ended up getting fake bludgeoning tools made that were guaranteed not to leave anyone with a head-ache; no one except us, anyway.

We are currently editing the party’s encounter with their first nasty ripe zombie – fast, strong and scary. We cast a body-builder called Lee in the role, who was an absolute pleasure to work with. Lee is big, broadminded, practices some flavour of martial art, and is chewing over a possible future as a stunt man. Not the kind of guy that would insist we play gently; in fact, he spent most of the evening egging on the cast and amping the impact up himself.

And it was in the fevered heat of his final take-down by a chrome table-leg that the cracks started showing.

I’ll show you what I mean. Below is Jim Sweeney (on the left) and his chrome table-leg weapon, about to carefully plant it through the brains of trapped zombie Lee. Sure, the leg has a few wrinkles by now, but it is mostly straight, shiny, and when it’s moving through the screen quickly it’s fairly convincing.


And yet two frames later, we end up with this…


Suddenly our scary take-down has become a Vic’n’Bob gag, and our editing options are dramatically limited. And the irony is that Lee would have probably preferred a real table leg anyway.

Still, the magic of Final Cut being what it is we have worked around it, and the whole bludgeoning looks great. Sadly the prop doesn’t look quite as attractive anymore, and it may have tickled its last pate. A new future as a bling buoyancy aid or a pimp-my-hair-scrunchy beckons; if only Jake and I were half as employable. Flaccid.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Life as a Legend

A moment, if you please.

One thing I’m sadly lacking at is sending out props when props are due. I could blame it on the minutiae of the production process blah blah blah, but it’s mainly down to insecurity, vanity and an extraordinary lack of grace. However, today I get to right at least one wrong.

If you asked anybody on the Resurrection set over the summer who the most useful person in the production team was, I’m pretty certain they would all have given you the same answer. Not Jake, and certainly not me; it would have been my brother Rup.

Production manager, minibus driver, prop buyer, Messiah of the undead, stunt furniture maker, occasional clapper loader, production design assistant and poster boy for the son of God.

And, along with Rob, he was our set photographer.

When we come to tart the movie around Cannes next May, one thing on every Distributor and Sales Agent’s must-have list is “fifty good quality still photos” from the shoot; God knows what they do with them all, but that doesn’t let us off the hook from not sending them in. And today we got to have a proper gander at Rup’s photo-record. All 815 of the buggers.

So rather than blather on like I normally do, I thought it would be way more entertaining to share a few of his photos with you all instead.

 Jim Sweeney (Mac) gets rid of an unwanted prop the Highland way.

Costume designer Arianna Dal Cero and nasal foliage. We never did find out who threw it.

Sound recordist Lois Jones and boom-operator Shaun England wait for everybody else to get on with what they’re doing. Again.

Joe Rainbow (Gibson) enjoys an uncomfortable cigarette after treading in something painful.
 
Danny Brown (Beaumont) practices his golf swing. His follow-through looked great to me; seasoned professionals may hold a different view.

Zombie bride Mary Stone takes a moment to reflect on why she agreed to spend her day off covered in dirt and gore.

Shit-sack zombie Leif Phelps prepares for imminent decapitation.

Jim Sweeney (Mac) takes a well-earned five minutes off from being made to swear.

Our 1st AD Dave White contemplates the deepening lake between our woodland base and the way out.

The pango gun gets filled with maggots and honey blood; the splatter recipient Simon Burbage (Gandhi) may be pleased to know that at least one maggot survived the journey into his face, and can be clearly seen on film making a break for it across his tee-shirt.

Principle zombies Peter Thorburn, Susi Halley and Lauren Thompson enjoy a light drizzling from the blood-gun.
 
“A scene of considerable carnage” – trust me, it looks slightly more awesome from the camera angle we picked. A four-pack of chopped tomatoes never went to better use.
 
Production design assistant Hanna Matheson gets her zombie on.

Getting ready to shoot the scene formerly known as the “crass blow-job scene” with thankful re-writees Simon Burbage (Gandhi) and Rachel Nottingham (Becca).

Jade Colucci (Harden) before a trip to the opticians and burns unit.

Honey-blood enthusiast Georgia Winters (Asher), enjoying her daily routine of re-gorification.

Five minutes after the first on-set collision, involving Shamiso Mushambi (Esther) and Jade Colucci (Harden), and roughly ten minutes before the first cast trip to A&E.

Editor Sam Taylor and DIT Alex Blott and a table o’toys that no passing cast or crew member seemed capable of resisting.

Gaffer Ste Webster slowly destroys the carefully designed set.

Eric Colvin (Sykes) and Simon Burbage (Gandhi) chat fire-extinguisher facials with zombie Susi Halley.

Day one, 3 am. The ├╝ber-broadminded Rachel Nottingham (Becca) is decorated for disembowelment as she ponders what the next 23 nights hold in store.

Wardrobe assistant Pete Lumley applies the finishing touches to his zombie clothing line.

Rup as the Messiah of the undead, in all his purple glory. Thinking about it, he probably got someone else to take this photo.

Our main challenge now is how to credit Rup at the end of the movie, as they’ll make for extraordinarily boring reading if we’re not too careful. But then again, a lifetime of being repeatedly stopped in the supermarket and harangued by irate Catholics is its own reward. Nervous.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Head-hitting

Ah – the ever fluid goal-posts at Charmed Central.

Why don’t we ever just stick to the plan? A couple of weeks ago the way forward was crystal clear to the pair of us: off-load the film to an editor post-haste, and start to work on all the other things that we need to do. Such as cutting a trailer and chasing down more money to pay for all the digital effects work, sound mixes and music. And grading. And mastering.

And then we started having a little play with Sam’s first assembly edit. This was either a really good idea, or a moment of extraordinary stupidity.

To be fair to us, we didn’t have much choice but to dip our toes into the morass. Sam’s assembly came to us with one scene uncut, where his editing software had resolutely denied repeated attempts to import the footage. And we couldn’t hand a first assembly over to our prospective editor unfinished, could we?

So, we made an attempt to quickly bolt something together for Scene 71. Just to reassure ourselves that we have all the necessary footage; essentially answer the same questions that propelled us into getting Sam on-board to start with.

And it took us two days to do; way slower than the speed of the on-set edit. But after we were done, the general consensus in the office was pretty positive.

One of the things that made watching the first assembly so painful in places was that the pace was all wrong. Gore moments were dwelled on for too long; tense moments came and went in an instant. And none of the humour seemed all that funny. No disrespect to Sam – this wasn’t what we wanted him to pay too much attention to; his job was to get us out of a world of pain when stuff wouldn’t cut together properly, and when we could actually do something about it. Which he did admirably, and on a number of occasions.

But once you spend a bit more time getting the beats right, a much more enjoyable watching experience crawls out of the wreckage.

And Jake and I allowed ourselves to relax a little.

So the conversation moved on. OK – why don’t we spend a bit of time going into the scenes that would most benefit from some work, and tinker with them? Just so we’ve got a more representative cut to hand over. Should only take us a week or so.

Start at scene 1. Hmm. Cue a radical re-working. OK – Scene 2. Hmm.

And so it went on. We have now re-cut the first eleven scenes, and a proper movie is slowly emerging. Using Sam’s assembly as a starting point, we are adding in beats; shuffling shots; editing around moments we don’t like. And it’s coming together really nicely.

And it’s a whole load of fun, more importantly.

That’s not to say that everything I wrote in the last blog about being too close to the movie to have a sensible view of the material isn’t completely true. We are still planning to look for someone to come in and shape out the best film possible from the available clay, it’s just that when it happens they will have a much better idea about what they’re working with.

Till then, it looks like Jake and I will be frittering away the Indian summer sat in front of a monitor after all. Has anybody else ever wondered how many accumulated weeks they will spend over the course of their lifetime watching computers turn themselves on and processing bars slowly crawling up to 100%? Patient.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Under-delighted

Finally, today the ball-ache is over.

I say over, but really it has just changed from a stamping pain to a dull throb. Today Jake and I finished auditing and cataloguing all our movie and sound files, in anticipation of handing the whole lot over in a tidy state to an editor. Two weeks of comparing our meticulous Script Supervisor’s notes with the contents of three hard drives, trying to make sense of it all.

Today we re-named our last file. And it was at this point that the dull ache set in to the Charmed testes.

Because it was at this point that we got the final tally of what’s been lost in the move: fourteen shots and 201 sound files.

Nowhere to be seen. Vanished. Gone forever.

After months writing the script, half a year of pre-production and an insane four weeks waving a camera at some acting, it all comes down to what footage you have. At this point the script might as well go in the bin; these are the only puzzle pieces you have to play with, and you have to make the best picture you can from these and these alone.

So finding so many pieces missing from the box can best be described as “disappointing”.

Sure, we have 1,653 other shots to play with, and 1,235 perfectly OK sound files. But that’s not really the point. As an example, three of our missing shots are empty frames of sets; clear all the actors out of the way and just film the stuff they’re stood on for ten seconds or so. While this is not particularly useful as part of an edit (which is presumably why they got deleted, and then carefully deleted from both of the back-up disks too), they would have been massively helpful for our digital FX guy when he has to remove one character’s missing leg (which got filmed in a green sock). I don’t think it’s an insurmountable obstacle, but it does mean that what might have been a two hour job now takes him a week to do (disclaimer: actual timings for DFX work may differ wildly from these completely pulled-out-of-my-arse guesses).

So Monday night in Winchester finds me not in the finest of moods. 

We tell ourselves that it is what it is, and we’ve just got to make the best of what we have; there are no show-stoppers in the missing footage, and we’re not phoning around to get everybody back for pick-ups just yet. But this was the easy hurdle in the editing process, and higher fences await. It doesn’t feel good to be tripped up so early.

But then again, if every blog entry was just me being cheerful you’d smell a rat. This making a movie lark is difficult, you know. Pungent.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Putting the iHoover round

Damn this tidying up.

The march towards getting all the information together that we will need to pass on to an editor continues with a slow and painful grind. A lot of playing with spreadsheets; colour-coding files; searching through sound files to try and tally up with bits of speech or noises on un-slated footage; a lot of sitting on our respective fat arses staring at computer screens.

And so Jake did the only sensible thing that a man can do under these monumentally monotonous circumstances. He went on holiday.

Well, it was really just a long weekend (albeit longer than most long weekends), but he did leave me with the singular pleasure of logging and re-naming all the sound files while he was away.

1,235 different WAV files, each with a name completely un-correlated with the scene, shot or take. That’s 1,235 different times I get to listen to Lois our Sound Recordist say “speed” and me say “Action”. 20 GBytes of data (or just over 19 hours, in old money).

It is what it is – a phrase quickly becoming the Charmed mantra. And so we push on.

Anyway, fresh from the shameless tarting wing of the company comes this recent moment of Resurrection buzz-building, ably decorated by Eric Colvin (in the orange) and Joe Rainbow (in the fatigues), with the freshly zombified Sam Purnell below them. And, yes - Jake really does talk like that when he’s being interviewed, exclamation marks and all!

So, another couple of hours with the rename button await before bed-time. However, as a fitting accompaniment, I have been mostly listening to the infectiously spiky riffage of Mega City Four on Spotify all evening; a band that used to be graced by the guitar talents of Danny Brown, the actor that plays Beaumont in our movie. A man with more talent than me would attempt a mash-up with some of the character’s dialogue; God knows I have enough bloody sound files at my disposal. What makes me think I'm so special? / Good girl, you’re a good girl.

Now that’s the proper way to avoid an evening's work. Not today, sadly. Muffled.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

A thousand toothless cuts

It’s been a mixed bag of mood down at Charmed Central over the last couple of days.

I blame the bloody edit. Not, I should mention, the sterling work that Sam and Alex have done to get the first assembly together, but the shear amount of wood that we are failing to see for all these damn trees.

So, we do indeed now have a cut of the movie to watch, coming in at around the 1 hour 45 min mark. And it does everything that a first assembly should do – it infuriates, reassures, depresses and occasionally entertains. It allows us to re-enjoy all the stresses of the shoot, but from the comfort of the office.

But deep in the heart of the footage, there is most definitely a movie screaming to be let out. Thank fuck.

Much of the chat over the last couple of days has been about where we go from here. Original plans were for the two of us to take the footage and stitch the movie together over the next few months using Sam’s assembly as a springboard, but this may have changed.

It’s because a few little things are niggling us.

First up, editing a whole feature (with action sequences, horror and quiet interludes) demands serious craft and experience. Sure, Jake and I have both edited stuff in the past, but not on this scale, and not with the same potential audience that we hope to coax into watching this film. A passing knowledge of the basic rules of how to stick tab A into slot B just isn’t going to cut it (no pun intended); we simply don’t have the chops that a proper editor does, and our film will be all the worse for it.

But more than that I have a fundamental problem with people that write, direct and edit their own stuff. Editing is the final opportunity to re-write the movie, and Jake and I are so mired in the minutiae of the film that we don’t have the required perspective anymore. If you want to see what I mean, go rent a recent Kevin Smith movie.

So, given our aim to hit Cannes next May with the finished product, the chat has been mostly about bringing someone in. A whole different can of worms.

Chief amongst these is gathering all the ingredients together in a palatable form to hand over to someone else. Which means ploughing through all the shots and trying to tie them up with the Continuity notes that Amy our Script Supervisor has meticulously prepared for us; making sure that we have all the available footage in one place and labelled properly. Our camera’s compact flash cards had a habit of corrupting the odd file, leaving us to dig the odd shot out of our back-up SD cards, we have to check that all our second unit footage has been logged, we need to tie together shots which were missing a slate for one reason or another, etc.

Ah. More Excel. Marvellous.

Actually, what it is is a slow and painful ball-ache, and should keep us suitably under-entertained for at least a couple of weeks. Don’t expect to read anything too insightful on the film-making process till October.

As an aside, I suffered a moment of consternation while we were filming when it turned out that an earlier blog about the joys of smoking had inadvertently lured some of the cast back into old and bad habits (at least for the duration of the shoot). Everybody parted ways after the wrap party vowing to knock their respective habits on the head before rejoining the real world; I am slightly ashamed to admit that I have made absolutely no leeway into becoming that cleaner, healthier Andy since then, and I hope the others have fared better than me. I am, however, sadder still to witness the early buds of a nicotine attachment from m’colleague at Charmed Central (although he does seem woefully late to the party). Double the reason to sort it out, Phelps, before the whole production collapses under the weight of carcinogens.

I blame the bloody edit, although I may have already mentioned that. Repetitive.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Whimpering when only a bang will do

Well, that was a bit of a damp squib.

Oh, welcome back, by the way. With the weeks of pre-production panic, shoot insanity and psyche re-balancing now officially “things of the past”, hopefully we can get back to more regular communication. Having just spent an extraordinarily relaxing week sat indoors watching Wales getting rained on, I am now officially champing at the bit to dive ball-deep into post-production.

And as I mentioned in an earlier post, the 12th September was planned as the date that Jake and I would reconvene in the Charmed offices, and gaze wistfully over the fruits of Sam’s first assembly edit.

On paper a first assembly is no massive milestone – simply a rough edit that has been quickly pulled together to check that we have all the shots that we need to make a movie. Sam, along with our Digital Imaging Technician Alex, has been meticulously building this as we went along throughout the shoot, from the comfort of a number of silos suitably removed from all the action and production faff.

So, no massive milestone. But then again it is our first opportunity to watch the whole film.

Tradition dictates that directors and producers walk way from viewing their first assemblies in exceptionally bad moods. The temptation, I guess, is to watch it as you would a normal movie, even though the shots have been stuck together in a fairly utilitarian manner, the sound is all over the place, no one has even thought about the pace of the film, and there’s no music or foley, or digital FX. Instead you’re presented with a smorgasbord of off-mic dialogue, performances that look different to when you were shooting them, un-fixed continuity issues, prized footage buried in a soft focus, etc. etc.

So Jake and I were bracing ourselves for a thoroughly miserable day. That is until last night, when it became evident that Sam needed an extra 24 hours to tidy the edit up further.

And so our day of communal Charmed trauma has been commuted till tomorrow. And a morning that should have propelled us into the boozer at lunchtime to reflect on the error of our ways passed by without issue.

Meh. Tomorrow we hit the ground running. You have been warned. Stretching.

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

24 Days Later

So, anyway – we’ve only gone and shot a bloody movie.

Yup five zombie hordes, two visits to A&E, 1400 baguettes, just over a kilometre of gaffer tape, one awesome wrap party and a spot of mild breaking and entering later, and if everything goes to plan we’ve now got all the pieces to put together the Resurrection jigsaw.

 
I only wish I’d watched more Big Brother before kicking off, as this would have been a valuable insight into what the life of a feature crew is like. Thirty strangers get locked into one place for a month, where they have to get on and grind through the slow (and often extraordinarily dull) mechanics of making a movie.

And in and amongst this motley assembly I’ve met some people that I will be friends with for the rest of my life. Or till the cast and crew screening (ETA next April), whichever comes first.

‘Nuff respect to the Resurrection posse over this last month – some extraordinary talent in the mix and just the right amount of collective group insanity required to push through en masse to the finish line. It’ll be a while before I can watch Predator again, in any case.

And by Christ it was hard work; hard work in a way that no amount of making shorts can ever prepare you for. At any one moment over the last month there were at least thirty “challenges” that needed solutions (for any female readers, understand that the maximum number of concurrent thoughts that a guy can have before he steps out of his comfort zone is one). For the first two weeks Jake and I were surviving on about three hours kip a night, and it was a regular feature that I would need to pull over after dropping the last person off to have a sleep in the car before I could muster the fifteen minute potter up the M3 back to my sofa.

So, the question that Jake and I are wrestling with is “what happens now?” Our outlook has been deliberately separated into two files marked “pre-27th August” (i.e. needs a decision now) and “post-shooting” (some mythical land in the distant future). And now we’re there, it’s turned out to be a very strange and foreign place. Life beginning again for the last two evictees.

In any case, before then it’s time off from the Charmed enterprise. Everything starts again on the 12th September, when Jake and I get to gaze over the rough on-set assembly that our editor Sam has been compiling, and to catalogue around 1200 sound files. Sam’s edit was intended to be our insurance against pick-ups (and fuck-ups in general), and the noises from the suite are pretty positive that we have everything.

Really? No pick-ups? I remain to be convinced, but thoroughly delighted if it actually turns out that way. Let’s just say that we’re not going to be filing the props and costumes just yet, no matter how badly they smell.

So, another enormous and sincere thanks to everybody involved in the cast, crew and hordes, as I drop off the radar for a couple of weeks to re-charge the severely depleted batteries and re-acquaint myself with my son and girlfriend. In the meantime, keep an eye on Rob’s pictures and see you on the other side. Gone.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Half time


It’s half-time in Charmed land, and we now get to hand around the oranges in anticipation of an exciting finale to the shoot

So far so good – we have some great footage and nailed-on performances from our supremely talented cast; we have made our pages for the first two weeks and have broken the back of the tricky gags and horde activities. The next two weeks will be (on paper at least) considerably easier, and I achieved my first sensible night’s sleep last night safe in the knowledge that we should end up with all the puzzle pieces from which to build a movie come the end of the month.

Irritatingly, the sensible night’s sleep started at about midnight, and I may have just reset my body clock to day-time hours. I have a feeling that 3 am Andy may be rueing that decision.

In any case, it’s an early start today to get some shots of the party getting into the refuge at golden hour, and we should be done in good time tonight to let the cast and crew out early.

Yesterday evening, after shifting all our gear to a new location, a mini posse of cast and crew hit the Charmed local for a couple of beers and a chance to chat about stuff that wasn’t just zombies, all without the pressure of a camera in the face, someone tapping a watch and a room full of waiting people. A very enjoyable and relaxed evening, although it may take a few months to get my alcohol tolerance back to pre-shoot levels (Two pints? Really?)

Anyway, time to get going, but before I do I thought I’d share a couple of links from the more diligent and energetic bloggers within the team. Alex, our Digital Imaging Technician, has somehow been finding time everyday to file his thoughts from the edit room - http://runningwithzombies.wordpress.com/

…and Rob, our Assistant Camera-man, has been posting some extraordinarily entertaining photos from a studio that he has set up at the location - http://welcometothedarkslide.blogspot.com/

Tonight everybody gets camera time as we wait for the sun to go down between set-ups; keep checking back. After a night off, this is as good as any of us are going to look this week. Refreshed.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Apocalypse now

A rare moment for reflection as Britain burns around us. A prescient moment to be documenting the end of days, it seems.

Anyway, we are now eight days into the shoot, and a set of lessons for the next time round has already emerged.
  • Don’t work with blood gags. Just don’t. They are messy, sticky, mess up your continuity when they cover actors’ faces and clothes in a different way to how you expected, and never look as good as had you imagined them in your head. One face cast prosthetic which should have spurted gore from the temple sprung a leak when pressurised, and pissed red syrup out from under the chin. Not what we were hoping for.
  • Continuity. Man, oh man – it is such a pain in the arse to get this right. We have already had to re-write two bits of script to get around continuity problems, and our opportunities for fixing future problems are getting fewer and fewer. And this is with an absolutely awesome Script Supervisor on the case.
  • Night shoots are a massive ball-ache. You spend every day squeezing in shots to chase the sun-rise, and are forced to compress and improvise diet-versions of gags and action on the fly to make your shots at a time when everybody is powering down mentally.
  • Why didn’t we write in more acting moments? Big action sequences are a massive drain on the actors: yesterday was one of our set pieces, and we ended up having to splatter our already-knackered cast up at 5:30 am just to get a single shot of them braining a zombie with poles. Some of them are excused for being a little pissed off on their way home.
  • Sleep. Shooting hours, stress and never being able to switch your brain off make this an extraordinarily valuable commodity. I have taken to smashing a couple of impromptu beers at the end of each day just to give myself a fighting chance of falling asleep; alcohol as medication. Not a positive step, one imagines.

And the saving grace - our stellar cast and crew. We have chanced out here and somehow avoided any divas and dick-heads. Most of these people I have never worked with before, and it is absolutely down to luck rather than judgement that we ended up with the soundest of all posses. I can’t imagine what it’d be like if we had to put out fires all day long as well.

Oh well – back to the front we go. It’s a day of acting to look forward to (with a few pick-ups from yesterday thrown in for good measure); let’s hope this resets everybody in time for another hitting and biting session tomorrow.

But are you actually enjoying yourself, Andy? It’s not an easy question to answer. I absolutely loved the mega-horde day last Friday (a day that was itself responsible for more than one sleepless night over the last month), and I really get off on watching our cast when they’re given a chance to act. But the stress is just enormous. One dropped continuity moment; one under-dressed set; one missed edit because we were forced to busk it to make our shots and be sure we wrapped on time – all things that drop a viewer out of the film.

And here endeth the lessons on the most important one of all – be careful what you wish for. Ask me again on the 28th. Tense.

Sunday, 31 July 2011

Last goodwill and testament

Well, this is half an hour of bonus time alone that I wasn’t expecting. A quick update before I fall off the radar for a month.

That said, I should really be sleeping, but somehow my brain has different plans for me. Strange that.

Tonight it all kicks off. We have moved from the life-span of cheese to that of a mayfly, and in less than 12 hours time we will be turning cameras. It’s a simple set-up for openers – one and a half pages of mostly action and running about – but about a gallon of coffee and 400 cigarettes stand between now and when I’ll next get the chance to stare at a ceiling wishing I could disengage long enough to pass out.

Charmed Central has degenerated into what looks like a high-tech refugee camp. Our Wardrobe Assistant is currently asleep on the sofa surrounded by peli-cases full of 57 varieties of camera and lighting gear; our production designer has just slipped away with crates of cobwebs-in-a-can and spray-on dust to start the process of turning a perfectly attractive school into a post-apocalyptic film set; every visible flat surface is stacked high with man-traps, severed heads and rusted latex axes; and I’m perched above it all next to my camp-bed in the Charmed Offices trying not to type too noisily.

In fact, it’s only our Script Supervisor Amy that seems to be weathering the storm un-touched. I find this rather reassuring.

I’m told that no production ever kicks off with all their ducks in line, and it’s then the Producer’s job to sacrifice his nails and phone credit to fixing the logistics while the Director goes off into his happy place to muse that evening’s aesthetic. Christ, that’d be nice. I should take solace in the fact that just about every other movie in our situation has also had to swallow this, and most of the time that trauma never makes it onto screen; but it doesn’t make the shit smell any better knowing that there are other people stood in it.

Major ball-aches left to overcome are the late arrival of all our SFX parts (our gore-meister was held over on a shoot in Pinewood by an extra day), and one key piece of missing wardrobe which will delay the arrival of our Wardrobe Supervisor until early afternoon. Apparently this is not the right time of year to be looking for multiple copies of distinctive and garish jumpers, although looking out of the window you could be forgiven for thinking that winter wear wouldn’t be that inappropriate. Both are things that have forced us to suddenly re-plan our already chaotic last day to make sure we’re in the right places at specific times. Not welcome.

But, on the whole we’re in good shape. Rehearsals last week were just about the most fun two days that I’ve spent over the last few production-focussed months, and gathering the crew into the Charmed boozer of choice last night filled me full of confidence that it’s going to be a very entertaining month.

And so – into the fray we head. Missives from the front are going to be few and far between, but I will try to get the more amusing photos up on the website. I’ll catch up with some of you in a horde later this week, but for now that’s me signing off for the month of August. Onwards and upwards, as the mantra goes.

Actually, probably got time for a coffee and a fag first. Wired.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

That’s another fine Messiah you’ve got me into

It seems that simply being dead for four hundred years isn’t quite enough.

As pre-production activities enter their final panic, the “little things” are starting to catch us out. With our respective Charmed heads already firmly down and focussed away from anything not directly related to ensuring that as many of our ducks are in line for next Sunday, jobs that we once thought we could safely leave till the last moment now all need addressing.

To be clear, these aren’t big tasks. Nothing for which a good procrastination wasn’t entirely appropriate at the time; these were once competing with essential activities, and quite rightly they fell down the queue. And are now raining down all around us with smug “told-you-so”s  written all over them.

One of these was finding a painting of Jesus.

Yeah – that’s what we thought. How hard can it be? I mean, this is the fellow that has inspired centuries of devotional art across the free world. What with most of the artists having long shuffled off to find out whether they were wasting their time or not, it’s not like they can personally object to having the fruits of their labour appearing in a zombie movie; a quick trawl through Google Images and a trip to the printer should do it.

And then it came back and bit us firmly on the assumptions.

So it turns out that while the Caravaggios and Michelangelos have safely decomposed through the whole of the term of their post-mortem copyright (and then some), the buggers that took the photos of the old masters probably haven’t. It’s apparently called Mechanical Copyright, and these guys will need to sign a piece of paper to let us use their images.

Ah. Bugger.

And so the two-minute job turns into a problem. A problem that needs solving now, and draws on that most precious of Charmed commodities – time.

In the end it was my brother that fixed it, and in the process bought himself some bonus camera time. Sofa covering by Habitat, hair by Photoshop, and the beard is all his own.


Phew. We’re safe unless Jessica Simpson’s hair-dresser ever gets wind of this and comes after his pound of flesh. Sacrelicious.