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.