Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Chris and tell

I have a small confession to make – I’ve been cheating on you with another blog.

The aftermath of a Masterclass… Chris Jones’ rash offer to cross-promote the Guerilla Film-Maker’s Masterclass attendees’ blogs was pounced on by Jake in an unusual display of wanton self-promotion. And it seems that Chris likes this blog; well, enough to offer us a guest-posting on his site, anyway.

So, here’s the link to the fruits of my infidelity – catch it quick before it’s lost in the stream. Onwards and upwards indeed. Swallowed.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

The Shining, Part III

Anybody would think that there wasn’t a recession on.

Friday is the day when the Charmed massive get to answer a whole bunch of outstanding questions… how do we light an empty school so that we can see what’s happening, while still making people believe that it’s all just moonlight? How long does it take to download our camera footage and back it up to three external drives? What are our zombies actually going to look like?

Because Friday is our camera test.

I say camera test, but it’s pretty much a dress-rehearsal for the shoot. The camera gear that we have booked for the shoot arrives for a bonus long weekend in Hampshire, and Jake is planning on spending every bit of intervening time wearing it.

So, we organised a night at the school. Robbie-the-gore is coming, to show our make-up supervisor Heidi and make-up assistant Sara how it’s all done. Leif-the-Shit-Sack and Rup-the-Ripe are getting their zombie on, for purely educational purposes. Sam-the-edit will be there, de-bugging our data transfer processes and seeing whether he can survive a month in a separate classroom on his own. There’s Rob-the-scrutiniser, pulling foci like Jake’s conjoined twin; James-the-Continuity is bringing a 45 second short that he wants to make. And Dave-the-plan will be there, rapidly re-scheduling the shoot to allow for any ineptitude evident in the rest of the crew.

I’ll be the one stood at the back, wondering what the hell I’ve let myself in for.

And so back to the recession. Before the hire-house let us have the gear, we need insurance. So today I have spent an inordinately large amount of time chasing some down.

I don’t want you thinking that we’ve left this till the last moment; we started tapping companies up about two months ago for quotes. It’s just that now we actually want to buy some the process doesn’t appear to run particularly smoothly.

In the middle of a global financial melt-down, you would have thought that insurance companies would be making slightly more of an effort to sell their product. Not so.

I’ll give you an example; I think we’re OK to name and shame. Aon insurance was one of the companies that got a mention time and time again in Shooting People. Four separate phone calls over the course of a couple of weeks, giving them the same details each time in anticipation of a broker calling back. And not a dicky-bird. Another company, Clarity: three phone calls asking their broker to call me back, until I gave in and sent him all my details in an email. Fourteen emails back and forward later and he finally has all the information he needs (so much less work than getting everything in one phone call), with a cast iron promise that he’s going to call me tomorrow morning.

I’ll believe that when I see it. It’s just like a trip to Parliament.

Ah – that. Meeting our constituency Parliamentarian was due to happen tomorrow, but this evening we’ve just been bumped again. For the third and final time. We clearly aren’t his preferred choice for an entertaining afternoon, but then again he wasn’t my preferred choice for MP. Shined.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Dead and Glastonburied

Jesus H Ripe – how do people manage to do this and keep a life on the go at the same time?

To be fair, this week has had to be crammed into three ball-breakingly solid chunks of zombie goodness to allow me to slope off to Glastonbury on Thursday. Five days away from the undead, and my girlfriend is delighted.

I’ve been a regular at the Pilton mud-bath since 1991. And I have to ‘fess up and say that this is the first year that I’m not looking forward to going.

It’s not just the prospects of having to carefully plan my evenings to make sure I avoid BeyoncĂ© and U2, or the forecast of rain, or the fact that I no longer have a shitty job to escape from for a long weekend. It’s because I really can’t justify taking time away just as everything is hitting critical mess.

It’s 12:30 in the morning, and I’ve just sent Jake on his way.  The whole of yesterday evening, and a couple of hours after school today saw us marching around our college location armed only with a screenplay and a particularly hard-to-follow map, working through the script in minute detail. Marrying up what’s happening in each room, discussing camera angles, and making sure that when someone goes through a door they pass into another room through a door of the same colour. We planned the script around a different location, and there’s a whole load of work involved in moving that across to another venue.

And then tonight we re-wrote the screenplay.

From start to finish – all 87 pages. New take-downs and escapes, different gore levels depending on whether we’re shooting on carpet or a wipe-clean floor, and adding the line “if you ever touch my bum again, I’ll toe-punt you in the cock so hard you’ll be fucking your own arse from the inside.”

Because tomorrow kicks off again at 9:00 with our 1st AD, Dave, in attendance. Tomorrow we start our scheduling. It’s going to be another long day.

So, chances are that this is my last posting till next week, unless something pertinent to the undead holocaust happens while I’m away and I get enough mobile bandwidth to be able to send anything home. Don’t hold your breath, eh? Inhaling.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

A false tart

So, here are the maths of it:

No pre-sold distribution plus no marquee-named actors means not even Pukka Pies are interested. And we’re not even trying to get money from them – we’re just about the free pies.

But I guess the good news is that no minibuses are going to be harmed in the making of the movie.

A quick chat with Sir Jim, who advises striking directly at the public relations wings of the relevant companies, and not fannying about with middle-men in product placement firms.

So email number three went to Zen Republic.

You probably haven’t heard of it, but it's a slim-canned energy drink that works in the same way as Red Bull, except it’s made from 100% natural ingredients. None of that nasty Taurine, but plenty of caffeine. And chillies. They sponsored last year’s DVMission 48 hr film challenge, and seem very rock’n’roll in the way they do business, and yet don’t feel the need to coax a bunch of flightless show-offs into the Serpentine every year.

I have personal experience that this stuff is an absolute motherfucker. Half a can is enough to get a dormouse to do the Lambada.

So, we proposed a fairly simple cans-for-screen-time proposal. Hey – we’ve got three weeks of shooting throughout the night. The worst they can do is pie-up on us.

The bad news is that I also noticed a wedge of recently-acquired Stilton boasting a best before date after the start of principal photography; Jake and I have the equivalent timescale of a mould outbreak to get all our remaining ducks in a row. Race you to the start line, penicillin. Raring.

Monday, 13 June 2011

Whores d’oeuvres

I’m not proud to admit it, but in and amongst today’s production nonsense Jake and I flirted with the dark side.

Yup. Today the impeccable artistic integrity that comes as standard at Charmed Central got briefly wedged on hold as we dipped our toes tentatively into the murky pool of product placement.

I mean, it’s not like it was a quiet day in the office. We were out and about checking on a back-up location; chasing down dietary requirements and make-up allergies from the cast and crew; and getting our shit together for the camera test.

But somehow we also found a bit of time for whoring.

I blame that Sir Jim Eaves, who put the notion of company freebies into our heads when we met him back in April. Unable to immediately quash the thought at the time due to inadvertent group insobriety, the idea quietly festered unchecked in the Charmed subconscious; two months later it has burst like a pus-laden boil, flinging its necrotic pay-load all over our psyches.

How about a quick gander at productionprofiles.co.uk?

We were swift. In and out again in 30 seconds. Absolutely text-book. And then we braced ourselves for the wrath of the God of Cinema to strike.

But nothing happened.

Now at this point we could have walked away if we had wanted to. Hell, we should have walked away. But we were emboldened. Cocky. We got reckless.

How about a quick email?

I think it was the pictures of the delicious cars and shiny pies on the homepage that pulled us back in. So, we introduced ourselves, told them all about the movie, and directed them to the website; and, you know, maybe because, like, we’re shooting in a school, and all that, well, maybe there could be some scope to use, you know, some… snacks and soft drinks?

And a minibus?

A minibus? What the hell were we thinking? How are we going to get that into the bloody film? If they do give us one we’ll need to torch it in a school car-park to give it that “post-apocalyptic” vibe. And then somehow pass it back without them noticing.

Idiots!

Email two was much easier to write - Grace Foods, home of Encona Hot Pepper Sauce. How about a crate of the bad-boys? We included a photo of the museum of emptied dreams, and a couple of paragraphs so pathetically gushing that they can only have been sincere.

Fuck the minibus; I know what’ll be packed in my rapture-ready back-pack. Divine.

Saturday, 11 June 2011

‘Nuff Rhys-pect

And so we reflect back on another week in Charmed central.

If it’s fair to say that a production routine has emerged, this week has been as typical a five days of movie preparation as we’ve had: securing our 1st AD, phone calls to prospective sound recordists and make-up supervisors, organising our camera test, and the second last-minute postponement of the trip to see our local MP at the Houses of Parliament.

I mean, I know the guy’s busy running the country, but come on... I bet he’d turn Michael Winner round quicker than that.

So, with our voting habits still unsullied by the need to re-pay a favour, we started re-casting for the elusive ninth cast member. We did get a chance to audition a fabulous Beaumont as part of our earlier casting activities, but sadly the unwelcome spectre of paid employment intervened.

Yeah – but is it going to be more entertaining than primo zombie mayhem? We all need to justify our choices to grand-children one day.

There’s a lot of love in the Charmed offices for the Beaumont character. 45 years old, quietly heroic, and struggling to bring up a teenage daughter after the apocalypse without compromising on too many of his middle-class values. Jake and I had assumed that this would be one of the easier characters to cast, not least because any self-respecting 45-year-old actor should have grown up on the same diet of classic zombie horror that I had.

So, we’ll see what comes back from the casting call… any thespiatically-inclined gore-hounds in their early forties could do so much worse than clicking here.

And the week finished with a chat with Rhys Davies, Director and Producer of the rather tautologically named Zombie Undead


The movie only came out last month, and was the fruits of two years of shooting in Leicester, fitting it in and around the various players’ day jobs. I haven’t caught up with the movie yet (Jake has rather selfishly called shotgun on the DVD for his own entertainment), but Rhys very generously gave us the up-to-the-minute view from the ramparts regarding no-budget post-production and distribution.

A heads-up from someone that has just gone through exactly the same journey that Jake and I have in front of us is absolutely invaluable. It is safe to say that when Chris Jones railed off the ridiculously long (and expensive) list of deliverables that Distributors and Sales Agents demand at last weekend’s Guerilla Film-Makers Master-class, the wind audibly fell out of the collective sail. And then Rhys goes and tells us that he edited his movie on a £300 laptop.

Zombie Undead is currently HMV’s third best-selling DVD, behind Lady Gaga and Adelle. Kudos, Rhys. There’s a lot of love out there for the genre.

Rather unsportingly, it was the same Leicester that last week ‘fessed up to an extraordinary lack of preparation for the zombie apocalypse. For readers in the environs, Rhys is the man with the plan when it all goes tits-up in town; get him on speed-dial while you still have time. Braced.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Busted by the rug squad

More sweet green boxes on the Charmed production spreadsheets.

This week is all about nailing down more of the remaining production elements – phoning around our last few crew members, chasing insurance quotes, finding solutions for some of the more esoteric props, etc. Along with Excel, Skype is quickly becoming a friend of the project; helping provincial film-makers feel slightly better about not living in London since 2003.

One of the props that we knew was going to come back and bite us when we wrote the script is a “blanket crudely fashioned from the pelts of dead animals”; this has some later narrative importance, and can’t just be replaced with a “second-hand duvet, featuring pictures of animals”, for example.

Quick maths puts the surface area at around 36 rabbits, four goats or a bison. Strangely, eBay appears to have a disturbingly wide array of flayed skins on offer, although I think that half an hour of research may have ruined my Google-targeted advertising for the rest of 2011. Grizzly.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Axelle stands

Oh, it’s all go now.

Another two days of production carnage finally spits me out again long enough to let you know what we’ve been up to. And it’s all moving in the right direction.

The in-depth discussions with the Premises and Facilities teams of the potential new college are in full flow. Is there a First Aider on the crew? Who is going to be producing your Risk Assessment documentation? Do we need to be CRB checked? Yesterday spawned another extremely positive meeting, as Jake and I were gradually helped out from under our angst-lined location clouds.

This time we had a guided tour around the college, ticking off our planned filming spots, and we wound up chatting about the project with the staff in the Film and Media department. Guys - it’s a standing invite to come and join in with the production fun, should you think that the best thing to do with a summer holiday is more school.

We have now cast eight out of nine of our main characters, and I am stoked beyond measure with the talent we have assembled. This is the posse with whom I’m going to be spending three weeks in a dark room, and I genuinely can’t wait. One word of warning – after the visit to the college we had a quick straw-poll around the crew, and it looks like it’s me who’s the designated First Aider; anybody thinking of developing chest pains on set would do well to give me a day’s notice so I can shave and brush my teeth beforehand.

I’m pleased to report another Charmed win with the catering – anybody on the shoot this summer is in for a treat. A local business one-stop-shop for hot meals, sandwiches and cakes, freshly cooked each day and delivered directly to us. Jake and I chatted the logistics over with the boss, Mark, and sampled their fine wares, officially making this the first Encona-less lunch since we kicked the film off.


Mark is a mad horror fan, and you can commend him on his nibbles when he goes native in our horde. A couple of his pals even featured in the last Pirates of the Caribbean movie, driving two horse-drawn carriages with Johnny Depp strung between them (if this makes any sense – I haven’t seen the film). I think this means that I’m now only one degree-of-separation away from someone who has gone on to become a Lego figure.

And it seems that the Zombies on an Oil Rig high-concept has kicked off a bit of to-and-fro in the Twittersphere (a word which trips off my 41-year-old fingers with the same sense of unease that I get when reading text-speak from my Mum). Disappointingly, it appears that Neil Marshall has got there first – none other than Axelle ‘Mrs Marshall’ Carolyn waded into the debate with news of his existing screenplay. All well and good, Axelle, but does he have an Oil Rig? Gushing.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

That was the week that was

Has it been that long? Rest assured that I am still here.

Just. Having fought my way through to the back-end of the most insane of weeks, I’m finally in a position to post the first blog update since last Tuesday. This is no way to keep in touch, Phelps. I know. Sorry.

You’ll be happy to hear that the intervening time has been all about the zombies. I have a sneaking suspicion that this is how it’s going to be from here on; shit getting crazy. Jake and I are locked in the submarine and it’s surfacing at increasingly infrequent intervals; a point not missed by my girlfriend and former drinking buddies.

So, in no particular order, here’s what we’ve been up to: finishing our auditioning; meeting our prospective Production Designer to chat over props and the best way to post-apocalypsise a perfectly nice looking college; filing our first VAT return; chatting fake mantraps, snappable golf-clubs and fire-extinguishers filled with eye-happy foam with prop designers; and filling my son’s face with Alginate.

Actually, I think that last one probably needs some further explanation, before a red-flag gets posted against my name on a child-protection register. On Wednesday night, the Charmed office took a road trip to see our man Robbie-the-gore in London to get some face moulds done; my son Leif and Mary-4th-from-the-right-in-our-read-through were also in attendance, along with Rob-the-camera-assist to take plenty of photos.

Leif and Mary have bravely volunteered to play the roles of two of our “shit-sack” zombies; old, decayed and utterly without threat. And Robbie needs the imprints of their faces to lovingly transform them into a mess of rotten gore over the next few weeks. It was an experience not dissimilar to apple-bobbing in quick-setting cold blue porridge, apparently. With a bonus couple of holes to breath through.


So far, so goo.

And then came the big one. A weekend at Chris Jones’ Guerilla Film-Maker’s Masterclass in Regent’s College, London. He of the low-budget film bible of almost the same name. 300 or so delegates piled into the middle of Regent’s Park to hear him tell us everything we need to know about making our first feature films: writing, budgeting, scheduling, crewing, post-production and selling the bugger. The next eighteen months of Jake’s and my lives, laid before us in all their cold, harsh reality.

And, by Christ, the man can talk.

Twenty hours of hugely entertaining presentation and nineteen pages of Phelpenscrawl later, and we are now significantly better tooled up for the job in hand than we were on Friday. There is nothing that can touch this course for anybody wanting to make a feature; a reality-checked low-budget film-school in just two days. Even the horror of the £22-a-night back-packers’ hostel couldn’t dampen my enthusiasm. Although it really tried.

And the best bit? The inception of the second movie – Zombies on an Oil Rig. The networking that we both love so much chanced us a meeting with an extraordinarily sound fellow called Pete; designer of the business bits of Oil Rigs and film-maker gottabe. It was still an awesome idea even when the three of us had sobered up. Pete is going to be driving across from Norway to join the fun on 31st July, and he is most welcome.

Suggestions for a suitable title are welcome. You have Drill Bitten to beat.

And that brings you all just about up to date. There was a time when I was working for the man that the week just used to disappear; Mondays quickly became Fridays, and became Mondays again in a blink. Coasting for a living. But looking back, burying my son in latex must have been months ago, when it was actually only last Wednesday. There are plenty of things that I’m loving about this year, but not least is the feeling of time finally slowing down again. It seems I’m going to be 41 for considerably longer than I was forty.

That said, it’ll count in dog years when I come to tot up the wrinkles. Corrugated.