Monday, 19 November 2012

The coming together

And relax.

What a weekend… Saturday was as much fun as I’ve had in as long as I can remember, as we welcomed an insane amount of people to the cast and crew screening of Zombie Resurrection. Cast, crew, zombies, post-production guys, people from the various locations at which we shot the bugger, the guys that did all our set catering, investors, IndieGoGo supporters, mentors, friends and family. All in one place to enjoy 76 minutes of gore-laden sweary silliness.

And it was terrific. 180 people laughing in mostly all the right places, with the freshly-graded film looking and sounding lovelier than it ever has done before. And we got to hang out with a bunch of pals that we hadn’t seen in fourteen months.

Not that anything ever goes completely smoothly. The cinema was hosting the thematically-perfect Third International Death Day Conference beforehand, and when we arrived to set up at 6:00 they were showing no signs of letting up. And bitter experience insists that you’re never beyond the mercies of technical fuck-ups until you hear the last strains of the end-credits.

But when the lights went up at the end of the screening I could almost smell the stress evaporating.

Sure, it’s a wedding audience; a room filled with people willing the best-man’s speech to be that much funnier than it would otherwise be. Someone would have to be supremely un-classy to go up to a couple of filmmakers afterwards and berate them for the idiotic way that they’ve wasted two years of their lives just to turn out “that pile of shit”, but from my vantage point at the back of the cinema people did genuinely seem to be enjoying themselves. Jake and I lost all sense of perspective on the movie a long time ago, but until we get told differently we’re taking Saturday as an indication that we’ve done something right.

And it was at this point that I may have slightly over-relaxed.

As the audience de-camped back to the bar, and with our responsibilities finally discharged, everything inevitably degenerated into the kind of extended session that my body hasn’t been able to cope with since I was 25. Sat in my flat at 4:00 am with the last of the stragglers cracking through the contents of my eclectic booze collection, I should have known that Sunday was going to be a struggle.

But that aside, it’s a massive Charmed thank you again to Christian for organising the cinema, and to everyone that turned up on Saturday night; we wouldn’t be here without all your support and generosity over the last couple of years. You’ve made two happy people really old.

Sadly, photographs from the evening are in short supply (and if you have any good shots please feel free to post them on the Charmed Apocalypse Facebook page), but I did get sent one truly disturbing MMS from my brother yesterday. Blog readers with extraordinarily good memories may remember a rather foolish bet that Jake and I made with each other in January 2011, a bet that we were finally able to make good on last Friday.

So, so wrong; please don’t this be the only record of an otherwise excellent evening. Muted.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Picking up the pieces

The only thing that you can be 100% sure of in post-production is that no matter how much time you set aside to do something, everything will only come together at the very last moment.

It’s been three weeks since we arranged Saturday’s cast and crew outing to the nicest bit of south Hampshire. Three weeks, then, for the very last tweaks to the picture and sound. Extending a zombie growl here, making an exterior shot slightly bluer there. Plenty of time.

And yet, with four days to go, we still haven’t received the graded copy of the film or the final stereo mix-downs. Or, in non-techy speak, ‘all of the pictures’ and ‘all of the sound’.

There must be a secret post-production union somewhere that has guidelines to ensure that movie producers are never allowed to fully de-pucker, funded entirely through donations from the manufacturers of Gaviscon and Immodium. Let’s see how badly these filmmakers really want this. Enough to cry on the phone? Enough to open an important artery?

To be clear, it’s not enough to get all the constituent components through on Saturday afternoon and then wander straight in to the cinema. There are a couple of days’ work at our end piecing everything back together again, and this supposes that everything we get in works perfectly first time. It’ll take a good eighteen hours just to crunch the film into a format that the projector likes using my Mac, which the local Apple store recently euphemistically referred to as ‘vintage’. No amount of prayer, whip-cracking or sobbing is going to boost the processor speed.

But we’ve still got four days. Plenty of time. *Clenches*

On the plus side, if everything goes to plan, Saturday night is going to be an extraordinarily entertaining evening. 180 guests, all the principal cast members back together again (with the notable exception of Rachel, who is on tour with a show), and loads of our crew, zombies and investors. And if you’re expecting an invite but haven’t had one through, check your spam directory and get in touch.

And Plan B? Print out ten copies of the screenplay, dig out the costumes from Jake’s attic, boil up a gallon of honey-blood and re-enact the movie live.

Thinking about it, that may actually be quite a lot of fun; Zombie Resurrection – The Musical, anyone? Strained.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

How to look good knackered

The cinema is booked, the guests invited, and the fat-lady gargling in anticipation of the sweariest of arias.

Despite my naturally ingrained pessimism, it turns out that the 17th November is very much on for Zombie Resurrection’s debutante ball. Three hundred people from the cast, crew, hordes and their significant others, gathered back in Winchester to reacquaint themselves with the zombie apocalypse. It’s going to be an inordinately silly evening, and I can’t wait.

Just under three weeks away. Tick tick tick.

There are still the last few bits and pieces to nail down, but in a break from tradition I am actually allowing myself to feel mildly relaxed; the tricky stuff is now done, and the potential to be unpleasantly surprised by what we have yet to receive is greatly reduced. At the moment that we signed off the last of the CGI shots we allowed ourselves to believe that home and dry was a formality.

Such hubris, Phelps. Surely there must still be plenty of opportunities for it all to go catastrophically tits-up?

Ah – the unknown unknowns. The only constant in the life of a neophyte filmmaker. Those arse-biting moments that come out of nowhere to test the resolve and challenge the best laid plans. All you can do is keep your eyes peeled, breath bated, and double the amount of time that you expect every task to take. It’s going to be an interesting three weeks.

But until we get told otherwise, we get to enjoy that rarest of sensations – quiet confidence.

In fact, the mood in Charmed Central is currently so unflappable that we’ve turned our attention to that other outstanding body of work… the making-of documentary for the DVD.

Regular readers may remember the extraordinary aggravation that we had at the start of the process – digitising 21 hours of behind-the-scenes footage, and then struggling to find the most sensible way of getting them so they played OK on a PC. It was an unwelcome distraction from our efforts to get the movie finished, but one that I’m glad we persisted through. Because last week the finished cut of the making-of documentary arrived in our in-boxes from the mighty Chris Marley, complete with intercut footage from the film, actors giving earnest interviews while caked in honey-blood, and some wholly awful chat from Jake and me holding the whole thing together.

And it’s terrific. Terrific in the way that only something that doesn’t have Jake’s and my fingerprints all over it can be.

All those moments from the shoot that I’d forgotten: Danny sitting on a balsa chair and instantaneously turning it to kindling; Shaun-the-boom-op getting wrapped across the back with another stunt chair to celebrate his birthday; Jade losing it mid-interview when a naked pair of buttocks appeared at the back of her shot; our lovely horde getting painted and gored up; and long sections of various crew members sat around waiting for everybody else to get on with it. One quick re-working from the ever-dependable Dale-the-tunes to lay an authentic Zombie Resurrection musical vibe over the top and we are in business.

And, after watching it back, I genuinely have no idea how we managed to get a bloody film shot at the same time.

But shoot one we did; better get those RSVPs in for the 17th November if you don’t believe me. Unwinding.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Glimpses of a brighter beyond

Oh, we are close.

I mean so close that we can almost smell the finish line. It’s a bizarre feeling, like reaching the final chapter in a book that’s taken two years to read. But it has cheered us up somewhat.

On paper, the day-job hasn’t changed too much. We’re still taking daily receipt of the remaining CGI shots, and trading finesses to the sound, music and title sequence with our post-posse, but we are close enough now to the end of the tunnel to know that the light wasn’t a train rushing towards us after all.

The tally – only four remaining CGI shots, 48 tweaks to the sound mix and three minor changes to the titles. By this time next week we should actually have a finished movie; I know I’ve said this before, but this is the first time that I’ve actually believed it myself.

And to think that our initial intention had been to take the finished film to Cannes last May. Only five months late, Phelps; I’ll leave it to you to decide whether this represents poor project management, staggering naivety or thoroughly unwarranted optimism on our part.

We crossed an important threshold last week. There were four bastard CGI shots that had been lurking in the wings for a couple of months, which involved taking out green legs and replacing them with a knotted stump. Despite our best efforts on set to collect all the useful footage of empty frames and replacement elements, making these shots look good was always going to be a “challenge”. A challenge not improved when the compositor that was working on them suddenly upped and left for Australia, leaving behind only a set of undecipherable scripts on a flavour of software that no one else in the team was using.

So, the shots have sat on a back-burner for a while, thwarting all attempts to plan for activities beyond the end of the film as they waited for someone with the requisite chops to come along.

And then, as if by magic, along he came.

Suddenly the light in the tunnel gets that much brighter. An end is in sight, and for the first time the track ahead is pleasingly bereft of kind of shit that might trip us up. Christ - the shots look so damn good now that people are going to be surprised when they find out that actor Joe is actually bi-pedal in real life (and people blessed with the Horror Channel can check this out for themselves tonight at 9:00).

And we relax. Finally.

And we start making plans.

Our initial approaches to the world’s finest horror festivals have yielded a pretty shameful return: no takers from all four submissions (as an aside, the organisers of Toronto After Dark, Sitges and FrightFest could do a lot worse than taking a leaf from the Texas Fantastic Fest playbook in how they let producers down gently. Finding out that we hadn’t made the cut by checking the festival programmes for whether Zombie Resurrection had been given a mention is oddly reminiscent of how my former employers broke the news of my redundancy to me. I mean, it cost us $85 to submit the bloody thing to Toronto; surely a quick email is not too much to ask for?)

But in any case it does mean we can start planning the most important screening – showing the bugger to the cast, crew and members of our zombie hordes. There are still some logistical issues that need to be ironed out, but what I can say at this point is that it can’t hurt to keep the evening of 17th November free. And be in Winchester.

That said, the last two years have been a valuable lesson in the perils of counting chickens… better pop it in the diary in pencil, eh? Hedging.

Monday, 1 October 2012

Yawn of the Dead

It’s taken a while, but I am now genuinely sick of all things undead.

Fed up, pissed off, irritated and narked. No more runnething over for Andy’s cup; it’s now officially half-empty.

And we are so close to being done; I mean, within a gnat’s gland of complete. But why does the last 1% of the work take a ridiculously disproportionate amount of time to finish? With all memories of my last moment of creative excitement firmly in the rear-view mirror, the process has become a Sisyphean struggle for the line.

I guess this isn’t unique to making a movie – a lot of complex projects hit the moment of diminishing returns at some point, where the effort required to make an incremental improvement suddenly gets larger and larger. Nothing is ever finished, only abandoned.

Part of my antsiness is plain boredom with the process. We get sent something from someone in our post team; we slot it into the movie; we see / hear whether we like it or not; we send our notes back; we rinse; we repeat. Sure, in and amongst it all, our lists of outstanding issues with the audio and VFX shots are growing steadily smaller, but every day the curve is levelling off further. A decreasing trend towards finished, which sits like a gloating asymptote just out of reach.

And perversely, I’ve never been busier. Trips to London to snipe off moments of problematic audio and to swap across data because my provincial broadband is useless. Hours spent analysing why a shot or sample doesn’t work, trying to translate an emotional reaction into a logical list of fixes. Days where all I do is act as a digital sheep-dog, making sure data goes to the right people and watching blue bars on my laptop slowly climb to 100%.

But actually, my disquiet is probably mostly to do with that nagging voice at the back of my head telling me I really should be doing something else. I don’t think I’ve learned anything useful about filmmaking for a while, other than skills in advanced diplomacy and project micro-management, and it seems cruelly out of sorts with my experience of the last couple of years. And with the tank of redundancy cash now down to fumes, it’s time to get a proper job, feed the mortgage, and develop a sense of perspective about what the fuck the last two years have taught me and what I need to do differently if I go round again.

So, no September cast and crew screening, I’m afraid. But definitely October. Unless it’s not. And if you find that frustrating, imagine how I feel. Whining.