Monday, 31 January 2011

Who's the daddy?

Today we made plans to find ourselves a daddy.

Not a sugar-daddy, I hasten to add. If we can find one of those when we start to whore ourselves out for funding that’d be wholly unexpected, and extraordinarily appreciated. But for now we’re really just after somebody who knows where it’s at; to raise us and school us right.

I think the technical term is an Executive Producer. A veteran film-maker with a pedigree in the UK horror business. Someone that can help us navigate through the next stages of the minefield; who knows what needs to get done now and what can wait; that can point us at people for specialist production roles. Someone with “the Knowledge”.

Hell, someone that we can just phone up for answers to all our stupid questions.

And remember – these are your stupid questions too. We’re just the ones that get to look like arseholes by asking them.

So, Jake and I set about making a short-list. Sadly, it became clear pretty quickly that this would be a very short list (see my earlier comments about the state of the UK film industry). But a few champions of low-budget British horror floated through the morass. A shorter short-list.

In the end, our strategy boiled down to a single principle. And irritatingly I’m not sure whether this principle is the most profound truism that describes the nature of the universe in all its mathematical splendour, or just a trite sound-bite on human psychology.

The principle states that there are only three numbers: zero, one and infinity. All the other numbers can (if you’ll excuse me slipping into the vernacular of our earlier discussion) “go fuck themselves”.

WTF, Andy?

OK – imagine you enter a marathon (sadly the Snickers re-branding has denied me a perfectly good peanuts-under-the-foreskin joke here). It’s very impressive. All your pals can tell you how much they admire you; marvel at your training regime; sponsor your good cause to the hilt. But you’re still one of us farties, albeit one that has chosen to do a remarkable thing.

However, if you then go on and do another marathon, attitudes change. You are no longer from amongst us normal folk. You are allowed to climb onto the Special Pedestal. And after that, people’s perceptions won’t change no matter how many more races you do; you will just be thought of as someone that “runs marathons”.

Put simply, it takes nerve, perseverance and tenacity to make a film. But it’s a much smaller subset of awesome that manages to go round again.

So, our choice of prospective Exec should be someone with more than one movie under their belt. Whether it’s two, three, or ten; that number is not so important.

Decision made.

All we have to do now is see whether he wants to talk to us. Presumptuous.

Friday, 28 January 2011

Going Live!

Ah come on! Have a bit of respect
for those that are living with zombism.

Living with zombism? You’ve had a
charmed apocalypse, mate.

And so, despite the best efforts of Companies House and WordPress IT support, today Jake and I are mighty relieved to unveil our production company Charmed Apocalypse Pictures Ltd.

Go. Have a nosey about; sign up to our Tweets; pass the link about; re-Tweet; salivate over the concept art; and fill up our Comments box with where it looks shit.

Personally, I’m looking forward to a weekend not sat in front of the computer, but don’t think that this lets you off the hook. Bleary.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Too macho

So – how cool does the banner look, eh?

It comes courtesy of our man the GhoulFool (not his real name, thankfully – think more a binocular Snake Plissken without the ASBO). Props as ever, sir.

Anyway, in other news, a big fat package arrived today from Companies House. Cue much jumping about and a general outpouring of excitement. We looked inside it was the government sending our forms back with a list of all the places we had filled them in wrong. Cue an extraordinarily rapid deflation of enthusiasm.

Our IN01 was an unwitting victim of testosterone last week; it seems that we would have benefited from that accountant after all.

In the highly unlikely event that any future reader has adopted this blog as a loose blueprint for getting their film made, watch out for the bizarre non-printing barcodes in the D4 section and make sure you fill in the F4 bit.

For everyone else, it’s probably best not to let Jake or I help fix your boiler, no matter how convincing we sound. Chastised.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011


Did everyone recognise George Clooney’s redundancy mantra in my first blog posting? “Anybody that ever built an empire or changed the world sat where you are today.”

If not – shame on you. It’s from the very awesome Up in the Air. Go rent it now.

In it, Clooney works for a company that is brought in specifically to lay people off, and the film follows his struggle against a dehumanising management drive to roll out a cheaper technique for firing people over a webcam link. Brilliantly funny, poignant as Hell and utterly absurd.

Well, it turns out that this is a shining model of exemplary HR practice compared to how I got fed my chips.

I found out that I was on my way out when my employers emailed the whole company with a bunch of spreadsheets containing the structure of the new organisation. What the new teams are, who’s managing them, and who’s nominated to fill each position. I dutifully opened each in turn, searched for “phelps”, and on finding no matches I accurately concluded that my services were no longer required.

All those coming to the office summer party, step forward now. Where the fuck do you think you’re going, Phelps?

I'm only whining about this now because I had to go back to the office today to chat over my see-ya numbers, and so no zombie work gone done. But reassuringly it transpired that I was just about the only relaxed person in the building. All my old colleagues were mired in a mixture of survivors’ guilt, nervousness at another impending management re-shafting, and the nagging doubt that they may have just missed a golden opportunity to go and do something much more entertaining instead.

I passed around the URL for this blog. Hi guys.

Now, I’ve thought about this quite a lot, and I’m pretty certain that I should be feeling at least some resentment or malice, or even just dented pride. Christ – I’ve just been dumped after 12 years together. Badly. But I genuinely don’t. If this was a relationship I would at least be irritated, even if I knew that it was going to be in my best interests in the longer term.

I guess it’s because the new chick is so damn hot.

True, she’s also a total bitch. She’s going to clean out my bank account, spoil me for other women and more than likely leave me with a neurosis.

But what can I do? I love her. Fuzzy.

Monday, 24 January 2011


Does anybody ever get any love from their regional film agency?

In theory, your local regional film agency is the hub of all things movie-related in the environs. It’s the way the UK Film Council (God rest its soul) interacts with root-and-branch film-makers throughout the country. It’s how Lottery cash gets distributed to small productions, and how government convinces itself that it’s stimulating our dying film industry.

First up – the legal disclaimer. I should preface this, well, rant with the proviso that I don’t know nearly enough about everything that our local regional film agency is involved in. I am sure that they enable and facilitate many worthwhile local activities, and provide invaluable funding for grass-roots film-making.

I’m just saying that the bit we had to deal with left us thoroughly under-whelmed.

Imagine, if you will, that two first-timers are keen to make a zombie movie, and they want to know what to do next. Not unreasonable to think that it might prove useful to get some advice from the people in the know at their regional film agency. For example, it could be helpful to pick the brains of a local film producer – maybe someone that has worked within the genre – and maybe the regional agency might be able to help with this?

I could go on mentioning our “regional film agency”, but you all know we’re based in Hampshire. So can I just go ahead and say Screen South?

Anyway, here’s how it works.

First, a prospective film-maker needs to attend an Information Day. A register is taken; a number of people come and talk regional film; and then you can have a 1-1 meeting with a Screen South executive. So far, so good.

Here we’re told that the database of local feature producers is not something that just anyone can come and look at. I mean, every Tom, Jake and Andy has a good idea for a screenplay, and these are busy people. No, the way it works is for this kind of conversation to be conducted with a Screen South panel as part of a RIFE funding interview.

I had to look it up too. Regional Investment Fund for England, apparently; it funds production, development & training, exhibition, education and community.

Now if you’re thinking that this all seems strangely circuitous, in that we need to apply for funding that we don’t really need right now just for the sake of having an interview, then rest assured that this is how it seemed to us too. But, we don’t make the rules, and if that’s what’s got to happen so be it.

Ah. Actually, sorry – it’s not quite that simple.

No, in order to be eligible to apply for RIFE funding, we first need to have our screenplay assessed. So instead we need to apply for a bursary to employ a script reader to send us some coverage and provide feedback to Screen South. Right. Enough already – just show me the form, and please can we get on with this?

So, we applied for the Script Assessment Bursary, and Screen South sent our screenplay off to a reader.

And here is where the process hits the weakest link.

I should make it clear up-front that we were very grateful for the feedback that we received: some of it was very insightful, and it has proved extremely helpful in subsequent re-writes. But, it is safe to say that the reader isn’t a fan of the genre. I mean, really not a fan.

So, the message that gets sent back to Screen South is “no thanks”. And so we’re not eligible to apply for funding that we don’t really want, and so don’t get to attend a funding interview, and so don’t get to talk about what to do next.

And so we’re doing it on our own.

“Supporting film and media in the south east”. Miffed.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Sunday Bloody Sunday

And as threatened, a sneak-peak at some of the concept art from the GhoulFool (not his real name, thankfully – think more Tony Hart suffering an unassailable hangover). I feel a change of desktop wallpaper coming on. Techy.

Friday, 21 January 2011

Buttocks of the living dead

Forgive me – it has been two days since my last confession. What’s with this slacking off on a Thursday, Phelps?

I do have a good excuse. I was “networking with key creatives”.

And if you think this was just the line that I used so that my girlfriend would let me head down the pub with Jake and the GhoulFool (not his real name, thankfully – think more a cuddly version of Lawrence Llewelyn Bowen that doesn’t trigger the violence instinct), you wouldn’t be a million miles away. But you didn’t hear that from me, right?

Predictably the GhoulFool failed to disappoint. The sweet fellow.

I am surely doing General Patton a disservice in paraphrasing him without even bothering to check my accuracy on Google, but he had an adage that went along the lines of “don't tell people what to do, tell them what you want and let them surprise you with the results”. Yesterday we were treated to “early sketches”, featuring full-on designs for the undead, an array of possible logos for the production company, and, deliciously, a near-perfect rendering of one of our characters before and after having her face ripped off.

Consider me surprised. And utterly delighted.

In fact, such was the strength of feeling (and just maybe also that of the on-tap lager) that Jake and I felt moved to make a pact. And you can’t ever, ever go back on a pub pact.

So, on the day of the film’s premiere, we will be seeking out a reputable tattoo artist for the purchase of two renditions of the company logo.

I only mention this in case Jake feels like he can claim boozer’s remorse on his pledge to commit the GhoulFool’s work to flesh, and I call upon this growing band of witnesses to not let us off the hook. It seems fair – if we get to realise a lifetime’s ambition, that’s got to be worth at least a buttock each. Demand your ink, people.

And so all the background work continues. Today we bought the company URL and started building the website, onto which the logo and all this content will be lovingly placed. We are looking at mid-way through next week to go live, but I may well be compelled into a sneak-posting of some zombie art over the weekend when it gets FTP-ed across.

But otherwise, the weekend finally beckons. Has this week seemed to last as long to everyone else as it has to me? Knackered.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Phelps Hawkins & Bullshit Chartered Accountancy

The Guerilla Film Maker’s Handbook starts with Ten Commandments, carved into stone. Well, printed onto pictures of stones. And there are 14 of them. But anyway, their gravity is clear. Ignore these at your peril, unenlightened film-beings.

And there it is, on the left tablet. “Thou shalt make a film through the legal mechanism of a limited company”. So, if you’re producing your own film, that process presumably starts with setting up a private limited company.

I mean, how hard can it be?

Being honest, in our early-morning straw-poll of two, the majority expectation was for “very”. The boiler breaks; you get someone in to fix it. Someone that knows what they’re doing. Isn’t this the same thing? Taxes, pensions, PAYE, National Insurance... I mean, some people go to university and this is the only thing they get taught, for three years. And sure enough, our first frolic through the Companies House website filled me with the same impotent shame that I feel lifting the bonnet of a car.

Then we hit our first snag. We don’t know any accountants.

I pretty certain that phoning some professional at random from the Yellow Pages, and then hoping that they were enough of a fan of the genre to agree to mates-rates and postpone reimbursement till we start raising some cash isn’t going to yield positive results. Plan B is to start frequenting the pubs outside big centres of accountancy at 5:30 pm on a Friday, and engaging the most affable-looking suit in conversation.

But until then, we need to be brave. And I’m surprised and mildly delighted to say that our macho posturing actually seems to have paid off in this instance. Bizarrely, setting up a private limited company doesn’t appear to be that difficult, even though the website behaves like it wants it to be (our first guidance was a daunting 76 page how-to PDF). But the actual IN01 application is as simple a government form as I have ever filled in, and if everything goes to plan we can move on to more pressing creative activities a mere £20 lighter.

That said, I’m still shitting myself.

Is it just me, or does everybody have the same natural paranoia when making un-charted forays into governmental officialdom? Have I just blown 41 years of immaculate credit rating by ticking the wrong box? Is someone going to come and throw me out of my flat (our de-facto registered premises) if we forget to stick in a “filing”? Is there something hidden in the Articles template document that’s going to bite us on the arse in ten years’ time, only because we quite reasonably got bored and didn’t bother reading it?

But then again, how cool is it being a director of a film production company? I’m so going to get some tee-shirts made. Bouncy.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Dying to be in a film

So anyway, today we have been offered human remains. As set dressing.

My girlfriend’s recently deceased father is currently being Ded-Exed across from Michigan; well, an urn-full of him anyway. Being in a horror film is, apparently, exactly “what he would have wanted”. I doubt that.

It seems that the cremation combustion process is pretty good, but not perfect. An urn will rattle when shaken (although what anyone would achieve by shaking one isn’t clear). The conversation on the best way to separate the remaining bone from ash was brief, and I urge people not to accept any of Claire’s dinner-party invitations for a while.

Are there other instances where an actor’s IMDb listing consists only of parts played post-mortem? A lesser man than me would pop in a Nicholas Cage gag here.

Thinking about it, I’ll probably tell her “no thanks”. Troubled.

Monday, 17 January 2011

Day one

And it begins.

Early, as it turns out – a potent mixture of raw excitement and indigestion from the celebratory team-curry last night; a lamb tikka napalm that has proven considerably more challenging the day after than it appeared on the night.

And it starts, predictably, with the screenplay. Since our previous draft in early November, we have accumulated a substantial amount of (mostly) gratefully received notes and suggestions. Stuff we need to deal with before we can send the screenplay out to anyone. Good housekeeping.

At FrightFest last August, Adam Green ‘fessed up to writing the screenplay for Hatchet II in a week, and then shooting that first draft. I enjoyed the movie. Feel free to express any alternate views in the Comments section below.

Because we’re working on the slightly different principle that our script can always get better. We only get one block of clay to forge the movie from; I’m relaxed that time spent picking the crap out is well spent.

So, we went through the list and debated each point. Should our 50-year-old male protagonist be swapped to a woman? Answer: no – this doesn’t serve the narrative, and is only there to artificially differentiate our movie from the slew of other zombie films. Should we include more description of the world 15 months after the zombie apocalypse? Again – no. You’ll get just enough to figure out the story we want to tell; we’ve already been through and pulled out background information piece by piece until the barest cradle exists that can support the narrative, like a game of exposition Kerplunk. Should we add the line “gangbanged by a thousand toothless cunts”? Er, OK then.

One of our activities was a piece of pure screenwriting smoke and mirrors.

A couple of people that read the last draft didn’t pick up on who our protagonist was at the outset, and didn’t find him suitably likeable. Message received.

So we put our faith in formula (sorry – screenwriting “principles”). A couple of years ago I went to John Truby’s “Beyond Structure” seminar at Raindance. Truby is the master of screenwriting micro-analysis: lists of the 38 character arcs, 1368 adjectives from which to build a more interesting persona, 6 pages of possible plot twists. And 44 different ways to build audience empathy for a character. So that’s what we did – trawl through the list to find a few additional ticks and inflections to drop in over the course of the first 10 pages, cynically dialling up the love like the score to a Spielberg movie. Shocking.

With that slightly unsavoury business behind us, the next step is to organise a read-through with a bunch of actors, and see whether the character voices really work; if something entertaining emerges I may throw up some videos onto the blog for a giggle.

And the other start-up log-jam is finding a friendly accountant, so we can get our production company registered. It’s probably too early to crowd-source the head of dead bread, but any suggestions would be welcome. Pikey.

Friday, 14 January 2011

Crossing the first threshold

Everything kicks off on Monday.

Today is Jake’s last day of paid employment. Oh, I get a slightly more graceful wind-down from a regular salary as the lengthy letting-Andy-go process shuffles on, but after today that’s it for m’partner. His bank account has gulped its last lung-full, and he has now got to hold his breath. Even for a man with an absence of life-anchors (no mortgage, girlfriend, career, kids, friends, class, sense, etc.), it’s a massive commitment to the undead.

And he moves back in with his parents this weekend.

Damn... I salute you, Mr Hawkins.

So, better finish the back-story while you can, Phelps. List the project assets. Make it clear that we don’t have super-star actors or investors already lined up; no Deus Ex Machina to mysteriously pull out of the bag later on and hope that nobody notices. In the spirit of full disclosure, this is our lot:

  • The draft screenplay, honed by long summer afternoons in the pub planning character arcs and act turning points (I only knew we were thinking hard enough when I started waking up with a headache).
  • The Guerrilla Film Makers’ Handbook. Of course.
  • A year.
  • A childishly impressive library of zombie movies, both great and small. And as I mentioned in my last posting, some are very, very small.
  • 250 tea bags.
  • Er… and that’s about it, really.

Not true. There’s also the GhoulFool. Not his real name, thankfully – think more a civically-responsible Hampshire Banksy. Our artist in residence. A man with some serious chops up his arsenal, talent oozing through to every un-split end of his lavish perm. He’s currently sketching out our characters; visualising story elements; cooking up some poster art. And hopefully something to beautify this ugly-arse blog site. In case you think I have an obligation to blow smoke up his rectum, don’t take my word for it:

So, on Monday we get lost in the detail. The planning. The OK-what-the-hell-do-we-do-now. It’ll be messy when you check in next week. Danders will be up; medically significant levels of caffeine and chillies will be consumed; reality biting. Grammar will suffer.

You have been warned. Antsy.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Life amongst the undead

Zombies. Everybody loves zombies.

A quick check on Wikipedia shows that 2010 alone brought us 68 zombie films, including the big-budget Crazies and Resident Evil: Afterlife, Uncle George’s Survival Of The Dead and Uwe Boll’s most recent contamination of world cinema. And my personal fave of the year – The Dead, the only zombie movie that made it onto the main FrightFest screen last year.

It’s not by accident that the subject matter of the first Phelps / Hawkins foray into feature production was chosen because it’s going to be easy to market, and because the genre has an enormous pre-existing fan-base. I like to think of this less as a deliberately cynical ploy, more a sensible foundation to our risk management.

But really it’s because we adore zombie films.

Before I tell you about Zombie Resurrection, my inner nerd needs to come clean; better I get this out of the way now so that there can be no confusion later. I prefer Day of the Dead to Dawn of the Dead; I don’t think Shaun of the Dead is the extraordinary masterpiece that many people claim (and I loved Spaced, so it’s not like I don’t get the Wright / Pegg thing); I’m relaxed about both fast and slow zombies; and I’m also OK with the notion that zombies are infected rather than corpses raised from the dead.

Our main problem is that most zombie films are extraordinarily shit. Flat, humour-less, theme-less, unimaginative bollocks, populated with bland characters that wouldn’t make you care one way or the other if you saw them hanging out of a zombie’s maw. Maybe this is what makes it so special when the really good ones come along; Dead Set, Pontypool or [·REC]. But most of the time the genre is a gleaming litter tray, an invitation for low-budget film-makers to come and squat; the result is a crowded and messy smorgasbord of poorly formed cinematic stools, mostly indicating an imperfect diet and an inability to aim properly.

I’m pretty certain that every one of those feculent piles must have started out with good intentions, to make the best movie ever and rock the zombie world to its core. Basically, exactly where Jake and I are now.

Ah. OK.

The difference is in the diet, and you can’t polish a turd (and that’s quite enough with the faecal metaphors). The screenplay is everything; garbage in, garbage out.

When you write a genre film it’s often very difficult to innovate, to find a new and meaningful spin on the subject matter. When other people are making 68 similar movies a year that becomes doubly difficult. And this is where we have an edge. We’ve got something new – something that hasn’t been seen before in a zombie movie. Sure, there are all the genre tropes of infection through biting, death by head-shots and a group of people that are far more dangerous to each other than the horde is. But without the special sauce it’s really just a burger in a bun.

15 months after the zombie apocalypse, a group of survivors are forced to take refuge in an abandoned psychiatric hospital, where they encounter a mysterious zombie with the power to bring the undead back to life.

Oh, and for the record, we’ve got both fast and slow zombies. Righteous.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

The call to adventure

Yeah – I know. Anybody that ever built an empire or changed the world sat where I am today. I get it.

So, earlier today I was finally de-shackled from corporate life. Yup. After 12 years (and change) designing phones for an un-specified Finnish telecoms megalith, I am now officially supernumerary to their future plans. Thanks for the last decade, and see ya, Andy.

If I had a knack for making mobile phones, or enjoyed it more, or was blessed with no imagination this’d be horrible news. But the truth is I have been jealously coveting one of those escape pods for a while. After 12 years you build up a loyalty bonus, which translates as “expensive to fire”; the maths works out as roughly 12 months of doing something less boring instead. Austere months, to be fair, but there are enough of them. The mortgage will get paid. Heat, food and internet porn. And presumably at some point the first mobile-phone bill that I will have ever seen.

But what does an unemployed 41-year-old usually do?

Well, it turns out that we’re going to bring 86 minutes of low-budget big-screen horror to the discerning masses. And this is where we get to write down how.

This is not a royal “we”. The next year also belongs to my co-directing, co-writing, co-producing, co-etc. partner; the fresher-faced and irritatingly talented Jake Hawkins. And don’t be mislead – this is not a guide on how to make a low-budget horror film, like the Guerrilla Film Maker’s Handbook already is. Fuck; it might not even be a particularly sensible way to make a movie. It’s simply a place to chart how we are doing it. The steps as we take them, the advice we get given, the choices we make. At the very least it’ll be a place to catalogue our stupid mistakes so that future neophyte film-makers don’t have to make them themselves; at the very best it’ll be the same road-map of lunacy, but with an Amazon link at the end where you can go and buy the DVD.

Because in case you’re wondering, at this very moment in time we have less than no idea how to do it. You will need to be gentle with us as we get up to speed. Remember – we’re fucking up so you don’t have to.

Oh, and did I not mention that it’s a zombie movie?

Welcome to the start of the journey through my mid-life crisis. Daunted.