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.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Lego and move on

The list of things we’re losing in the fire of final pre-production activity is growing.

Exercise, drinks with pals, breakfast, respecting my woman, leaving the flat, food shopping, watching movies, laundry, 8 hrs sleep. And keeping up with the blog. All things of the past.

I had thought that we were operating in our highest gear, but it turns out that we did need to up our workload even more. One friend’s mother has just passed away, and I can’t get out to see him. Another has just gone through a painful break-up, and we aren’t going to get that night in the pub to drink away his angst. The film has swallowed me whole, and left behind only the promise of September apologies.

We are now working 9:00 am till 2:00 am everyday, with the only reason I can find an hour to write today because Jake is off at his nephew’s Christening. He’ll be ducking out of that one as early as is socially acceptable, and he’s the baby’s Godfather. I think he intends to make his nephew an offer he can’t refuse.

So where is all the time going? There are still the standard activities of prop buying, horde management, ironing out the last production minutiae and picking up all the little bits and pieces. But the monster that has subsumed everything else is the story-boarding and shot list.

Half of this is a fabulous task – you get to pre-edit the whole movie, plan shots, pick camera angles, and draw a million pictures of the action as the movie develops. And then there’s the other half; the ball-ache. Have we crossed the line? Can we keep our actor in the same bit of the frame between shots? What the hell were we thinking when we wrote this line of action in the screenplay?

And this is where having kids is a massive boon. The single best tool we have in preparing the story board is Lego. My God, I love this stuff. I’m sure we’re not the first people to have figured this out, but when we cottoned on it sped us up by about 400%.

What we have here is your fairly standard kitchen-based zombie assault, featuring (from left to right) Sykes, Lozza-the-zombie, Gandhi, Stuart-the-second-zombie and Beaumont. And that pen lid? It's where the camera is going to be. Remember this picture when you finally get to see the film. Simples.

I say simples, but it still takes us around 3 hours to plan a day’s filming on set. We kick off next Sunday and it’s a 24 day shoot – you do the maths.

Anyway, a massive thanks to any of you that have volunteered for our hordes. We are now replete on all three nights, and I should really be sending people some further details rather than writing this. But sadly, it turns out that while I can do without the sleep, alcohol and sex, I just can’t seem to quit this blogging lark. Lonely.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Just the fags, ma'am

I’m not particularly proud to say that I’ve recently re-succumbed to an old nicotine habit.

I guess this isn’t really the best forum for a mea culpa, but I’ve been racking my brain as to why this has suddenly become such a massively critical crutch during the last few weeks. And the only answer that makes any ounce of sense is vaguely related to the movie-making process. So you’re going to have to indulge me.

So, sure – smoking is going to kill me, it saps me of energy, makes me a liability if we need to spend long periods indoors, and is an extraordinarily bad example to set my 16-year-old son. But recently I have somehow developed a bad case of multiple-onset short-term recluse-aholism; the clinical need to be able to crawl away somewhere and take five minutes out.

As we get closer to the shoot, pre-production has become an endless stream of small problems to solve, and cigarettes are an excellent punctuation mark to separate one problem from the next. And the good thing about nicotine is that it’ll go out its way to remind you when the next punctuation mark is due. These little moments of carcinogenic zen are going to get even more important once we start making the movie at the end of July; micro brain-spas between set-ups to reset the psyche.

And what happens when the excuses run out after the shoot? Well, my girlfriend is about to embark on a course in clinical hypnotherapy, and is looking for susceptible minds within which to make all her mistakes before she gets let loose on the fee-paying public. But then again I think she’s only planning to use her power for evil.

Meh - I’ve had so much practice giving up smoking over the years that I’ve got that bit down pat anyway. Wheezy.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Sean of the Dead

I have never in my life observed the speed limits as closely as I have today.

I mean, it was almost dangerous the amount of time I spent staring at my dashboard instead of the road ahead. But today would have been the wrong day to get pulled over. With two weeks to go before kick-off, Jake and I took an early morning jolly into London to pick up some of our more, shall we call them, “niche” props.

And now, Charmed Central is replete with replica handguns and magnesium rounds. And body parts.

What is it about guns that make them so addictive to hold? Is it just simple ergonomics, refined over hundreds of years of evolutionary improvements? They are, after all, just tools for a very specific job. But that doesn’t quite explain why I’m sat wearing Mac’s Smith & Wesson .357 Magnum in a shoulder holster as I’m typing this. And I know that when Jake gets back to the office he’s going to fight me for a go.

Anyway, before I coax out a commentary from the amateur psychologists out there (or another dumbassing lol from our resident flamer), let’s quickly move onto the collection of body parts. Ah – so, the amateur psychologists are back.

You can imagine that a post-apocalyptic zombie movie needs a whole load of limbs and viscera, if only as set dressing. Today marked the first consignment of corpse-bits, appropriated from other films that Robbie-the-gore and his pals have worked on over the years; a bucket of innards, a headless torso, hands, arms, and four decapitated heads.

And at the same time we have somehow wound up with a couple of big-name cameos for our film. I should stress that this will be completely without their knowledge or active participation, and don’t think they’re going to get paid either.

I'll leave it as an exercise to the horror enthusiast to figure out who it is, and he'll be joining Ian Dury’s leg. This is the polio-withered appendage used in Sex, Drugs & Roll’n’Roll, before being gored up, welcomed into the horror community and given a chance to stand up and be counted in its own.

It’s a massive thanks to Robbie-the-gore and to Ads-the-digital-FX, who regaled us with stories of the war-footage from Iraq that he is currently scanning at work that were so disturbing that I didn’t get a word out of Jake for the next hour. Anything that we do over the summer isn’t going to come close to matching the horror of breakfast in Coulsdon, and for that we are both enormously grateful. Traumatised.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

The quick and the undead

It seems that you lot really want to get your respective zombies on.

Our horde is swelling by the minute; our two micro-posses are already over-subscribed, and there’s only a few spots left in the big’un. I’ve always suspected that there’s a whole lotta love for the undead, and now I have the numbers to back it up. Thanks to everyone that’s already got in touch, and to everyone else – be quick.

Anyway, the official count is 17 days till we start rolling cameras. The list of stuff-still-to-do is long and terrifying, with the only thing keeping me sane being the adage that every shoot only falls into place at the last minute. Bruce had an expression for it, appropriated from WWII army slang: SNAFU. Situation Normal – All Fucked Up.

And it’s the little bits that suck up all the time. Phoning around for the best price on 12-seater vans; tracking down splatter-proof crash mats; figuring out when to pick up the guns and corpses.

And that’s why the time between posts is getting longer and longer. Sorry.

But today deserves a blog. Not just because it’s been a disgraceful five days since the last one, but because today has been an especially good day.

I have to say up-front that the college within which we are going to be filming could not have been any more accommodating to the shoot this summer – friendly, flexible, responsive and generous with their time and facilities. All the grief caused by our earlier experiences with the first college is now a distant memory, with a hairy piece of seasoned pork rind on display in the Charmed offices our only reminder of the trauma.

So, to return the favour, today we met up with a bunch of their recently qualified Film and Media A-level students to try and convince them that a couple of weeks of their summer holidays would be better spent by going back to school. At night. To watch a bunch of people who should know better biting each other.

Yup. It’s a full-on Charmed Runner hunt.

I don’t think I've met anybody in the production bit of the film industry that hasn’t started off as a Runner on someone else’s set. Until they’ve worked on a film set, most people have no idea about what they actually enjoy doing in the production process. They may think they do, but chances are they’re wrong.

The smart ones do it once, and then concentrate on becoming lawyers and doctors. But for us unfortunates, it’s only the start of a long and painful process.

Working on a film set is hard. Long hours, truncated weekends, and periods of just standing around waiting. It’s better for smaller crews like ours, as everybody tends to pitch in (if only to spare themselves the social awkwardness of having to watch somebody else move lights across a room one by one), but it’s still not for the faint hearted. The simple fact is that film is essentially a manufacturing industry.

When we’ve been filling the production roles on Resurrection, we haven’t once checked to see what film school people went to. Or even whether they went to film school at all. Maybe if you wanted to become a Director or a Writer, then I can possibly be convinced of the merits of academic study; however, if you want to move into Production Sound, or Gaffing, or Line Production, it seems to me that set experience is the only thing that matters.

Most crew members are extraordinarily generous about sharing their experience and knowledge – find the production role that most appeals, and you’ve got a month of priceless mentoring. You spend the whole shoot on the steepest bit of the learning curve, guzzling down reams of useful information; you’re making contacts; you’re becoming part of other people’s professional networks.

And those oh-so-elusive IMDb credits don’t hurt either. Hoarding.

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Hail to the horde

Six months and 83 posts later, here’s the one that most of you have been waiting for.

Because today’s blog is the answer to the question “who do I have to blow to be in your movie?” Today we started looking for our horde.

I say horde, but the schedule shows that we actually need three separate posses. We’re looking for a micro-horde of ten zombies on 3rd August in Basingstoke, and another horde-lette of ten on 11th August in Winchester.

And an enormo-horde of sixty Ripe beauties on 5th August. Damn – that’s going to be an entertaining evening.

This last one is on a Friday night, so not even gainful employment should be an obstacle. If you have a bunch of old clothes, the capacity to stay awake all night and the means to get to Basingstoke, you too could be in a horror blockbuster.

Writers and actors love talking about back-story – everything that has happened before the film starts, so I’m going to fill you in on the history of the apocalypse. The plague kicked-off and everything turned to shit very quickly; cue plenty of biting and general pandemonium. Survivors of this first onslaught quickly gathered together into refuges all around the country – schools, village halls, prisons, etc. And then the majority of these were quickly swamped by the undead; easy feeding, as one of our characters observes. Our school is one of those places.

So, our horde are just a bunch of survivors that got unlucky; something to bear in mind in picking an outfit for the occasion. We want to include a smattering of zombies in various uniforms and outfits – lollypop ladies, policemen, nurses, vicars and tarts. We’ll refrain from lacerating and distressing these costumes (everyone else may not be so lucky), and rest assured that the liberal application of gore will wash out. Honest.

And if someone comes dressed as a clown, we can tick every box in the horror manifest.

I should point out that we have rather cheekily asked people to bring their own zombie contact lenses – at £18 a pair this would have created a fairly sizeable dent in our budget if we had to buy a crate of eighty of the buggers. From a couple of feet back they look absolutely sick; they last for a year, and are good for plenty of other occasions (scaring children, creating a memorable impression at a job interview, getting served quicker in a pub or ensuring that strangers respect your personal space on public transport). Think of it as a tiny investment in the movie.

So, what are you waiting for? Get on to the website and get in touch. Threatening.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Bite-sized chunks of August

Ladies and gentlemen – we now have a shooting schedule.

I can never remember whether it’s pronounced with a “sh” or a “sc”. One of them makes me sound like an American; I want to use the other one.

But however you say it, we can now look at a single spread-sheet and see how August is going to unveil itself. It’s a massive step forward, and has assuaged a whole bunch of Charmed angst. Sweet Dave-the-plan sent through his first spin late last night, and armed only with a collection of fine toothed combs, Jake, Rup and I have spent the evening making like the proverbial squirrel. Suddenly the film is a manageable series of mini-hurdles rather than a daunting whole.

Everybody wants the shooting schedule. The actors want to know when they can head home for a couple of days; Robbie-the-gore can plan when to be on set and when to drop the smaller gags and prosthetics off to us; Jaimie-the-set-dresser can check for days when she’s going to need a whole bunch of helper elves and when she squeeze in a lie-in; and everybody I’ve ever met can find out when they can get their zombie on.

In some lines of work I think these kinds of exercises would be called multi-dimensional optimisation challenges; we only know it as Excel madness.  I am still grateful that PowerPoint is no longer part of my working life, but spread-sheets have quickly stepped in to fill the void, as I find myself continually reaching for the green icon rather than the red one. It’s like giving up ready-salted crisps, only to find that I’m obliged to snaffle my way through non-stop cheese and onion.

There is a mass of information that goes into planning a workable shooting schedule: when are certain rooms not available; how many pages we can realistically shoot out each day; what slow SFX shots are we including; when do actors have weddings to go to; how can we pace the shoot so that all the frantic excitement doesn’t all happen at once; can we group all the scenes in a single location together; where are we expecting to fall behind and what kind of contingency do we need to make?

And the good news for all concerned is that weeks one, three and four of the shoot are looking great. Sure, we have a number of pages to make each day, and the full extent of the horror won’t really become apparent until the shot-list has been completed. But there is an aura of quiet confidence within Charmed Central.

Week 2, though. It’s a monster.

This is going to be when we earn our stripes. All the action happens in one room, spread out over the course of the movie, but we only have the specific location for six nights. Working in our favour are the reams of dialogue that should speed things up, and the fact that we don’t need to be continually fiddling with lights and moving stuff around, but looking at the maths we are averaging somewhere between five and six pages a night. We’re going to need to introduce some kind of forfeit system for forgotten lines, off-target focus pulling and inane direction.

And if we get through that intact, I’m going to drag the entire cast and crew out to the nearest boozer and ply them with half-time beverages and savoury snacks. Anyone know where we can get a drink in Winchester at 6 am? Sober.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Queasy like Sunday morning

It looks like driving the Charmed bus has officially moved from a weekday service to a seven-day-week enterprise.

With only four weeks to go till the start of the shoot, that’s probably not too surprising. What concerns me is where the next gear is going to come from if we find that this still isn’t enough time to do everything we need to do; shaving and showering have already fallen victim to the scourge of the undead.

So, the important question is how did our camera and make-up test at the college on Friday night go? When we emerged at sun-up on Saturday morning and reflected on the night’s work, the general feeling was that it had been a night of wins and fails. For example, the successful consummation of Jake’s love-affair with his camera (win), and the discovery that we had a woefully under-powered lighting solution (fail). After a Saturday (admittedly late) morning of bleary eyed soul searching, we’ve ironed out the issues, safe in the knowledge that a dress-rehearsal that goes off without a hitch normally spells doom for the first performance.

But the largest triumph of the evening was seeing the make-up for the first time. Robbie-the-gore came down to chat over his zombie plans and designs with our on-set make-up people Heidi and Sara, transforming Leif into his undead alter-ego en route. Regular readers would have seen Leif in blue goo during his life-casting at the beginning of last month; four weeks of carefully managed decay later and this is what came out the other side…

And we are delighted to now have our elusive ninth (and final) cast member – Beaumont, the middle-class parent (another win). It took a while, but it was absolutely worth the wait. Then on the same day we lost a Script Supervisor and a Gaffer (another fail); one step forward and two back, it seems.

But deliciously, the number of full-time Resurrection personnel has also swollen by 50%, with the arrival of our Production Manager, my brother Rup; a man so dedicated to the project that he’s sleeping on a futon in the Charmed office (OK, it’s the upstairs room in my flat). Designs for a testicular cuff that sends an electrical pulse every time an email comes in would be most welcome. Jolted.

Friday, 1 July 2011

Testing times

It’s a Friday quickie for y’all as we’re busy getting our stuff together for the camera and lighting test tonight at our college location.

Somehow between 6 pm and 5 am tomorrow morning, we’ve got to figure out how to light every room we want to shoot in, make a 45 second short that our Script Supervisor has written, decorate two zombies in full regalia, and film a zombie horde training video for YouTube.

And everybody wonders why I’ve stopped bothering to shave. Truth is there’s no time to even shower anymore, but I’m probably going to get pulled up on that one first.

Anyway, anybody feeling short-changed by the brevity of this posting should go make themselves a hot cup of tea and settle down in front of their computer for 8 minutes 39 seconds of teenage zombie mayhem from the proper film-maker in my family – m’son Leif. And before anybody complains I should point out that he picked up his coarse language from his fucking mother. Absolved.