Thursday, 26 April 2012

Amo. Our mess. Oh, mate!

Twelve seconds.

This is the amount of time it takes in a job interview for the interviewer to make their mind up on whether they’re going to employ you or not.

Think about it – twelve seconds. If your handshake is too limp, or your opening “wotcha” isn’t delivered with the requisite amount of panache, or you’ve chosen the wrong Mr Man on your tie, it’s all over. Everything else is window dressing, as the job owner struggles to crowbar whatever follows into justifying his initial gut feeling.

And it seems highly likely that distributors and sales agents operate on a similar timescale. Probably less, if anything – they’re not worried about the quality of the movie as much as they are in whether it’ll fly off a shelf in Asda.

So, it’s all about the first impressions. I see five days in a suit in the hot Cannes sunshine in my immediate future. *sigh*.

And this is where the key art is so important; possibly the most important thing. We need to show them something awesome and arresting that resembles a DVD cover. Quickly. We don’t get twelve seconds of glance time to work with in a busy supermarket as our prospective DVD purchaser scans the array of available titles looking for something mildly diverting for a gory Saturday night in.

Enter Amo – graphic designer extraordinaire. Using only a bunch of Rob’s stills from the set, can he sort us out a poster?

Er, yeah… we’re not sure quite what we’re after just yet… can you, you know, have a think and come up with some ideas? I mean, the Zombie Diaries covers were quite nice, and clearly worked well enough to shift a bunch of copies of the film. You know… so like that. But not exactly like that. Please.

Ah – how creative professionals love tight briefs. I think that’s why most of them see themselves as super-heroes.

Well, whatever we said seems to have paid off. Yesterday, Amo-the-pictures delivered the final spin of the key art to us, and Jake and I have been dancing circles around the office ever since. Add a couple of juicy quotes from some of the more visceral fan-site reactions to the original trailer and we’re in business (I mean, any DVD that has “a truly sick zombie flick” on the cover has already won me over), and we are in business.

I mean, how good does that look? Direct from the deliciously dark sickness at the heart of the brooding psyche of sweet Amo-the-pictures; you’ve done a man’s work, sir.

Now if there was only a Mr Dead to screen-print onto some ties we’d be home and dry; sort it out, Hargreaves. Arrested.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Shaven, not stirred

When you’re staring into the dark chasm and everything looks impenetrable, I recommend getting a Brazilian.

It’s all about Cannes in Charmed Central at the moment – booking meetings with distributors and sales agents, shopping for French SIM cards, and securing the enormous quantity of marmite and decent tea that the lovely Amanda-in-Nice has requested in exchange for the exclusive use of her spare room over the course of the festival.

And key amongst the preparation activities – getting a “Cannes Trailer” together.

Yeah. Not just any old trailer; this one has special needs with a set of unique demands dictated by the great and the good at the business end of the film industry. Six minutes long, with the whole story played out in a heavily redacted form. No one that buys and sells movies for a living has time to watch them; accepted wisdom has it that most of them don’t even like movies. Take them a DVD copy of a film and they’ll watch it on fast-forward, pausing every once in a while to check that it’s in focus, and at every super-gory death or pair of tits.

Super-gory deaths we can do; the only pair of tits will be the ones offering up the trailer DVD dressed in poorly-fitting suits.

OK – so we need a six-minute cut of the film. This should be roughly 8% of the work involved in editing an eighty-minute film, shouldn’t it?

Well, yes and no. But mostly no. Just like the original trailer back in December last year, Jake and I quickly tied ourselves up in all the wrong kinds of knots trying to pull this together. Quickly the trees appeared in front of our respective gazes, when only wood would do.

St Marcelo to the rescue. Again.

Just when he thought he could take some time away from all things undead and concentrate on proper editing gigs, he gets dragged back into our tawdry world. Bless him. Even while fighting through the arse-end of some kind of ‘flu (no doubt brought on by his Brazilian metabolism’s expectations of a spring season when you don’t need to carry on wrapping up warm), the sweet man came though for us again; on Tuesday Jake and I wandered up to London to sit in his flat and finesse the last few details of the trailer with him.

And it looks terrific. It rattles by with the assured grace normally associated with a stampede, levelling all before it. With spaces for some early CGI-enhanced shots from Ads-the-VFX and a schizophrenic soundtrack from Dale-the-tunes, this is going to be one hell of a calling card.

In fact, the only person that might feel slightly aggrieved is the gorgeous Georgia Winters, whose character, Asher, we have had to excise completely from the trailer to keep the micro-narrative under the six-minute mark. Sorry, sweetheart; I am aware that apologising to you is becoming a bit of a habit of late.

And I only wish I could let you all see it; it’s so laden with spoilers that you’ll not want to eat the main course. Strict.

Friday, 13 April 2012

Stars on a stick

Is it wrong to still get childishly excited every time I see one of the Zombie Resurrection cast members on the TV?

Thankfully, after the impromptu shock of inadvertently catching Danny Brown weeping into his radio a few months back on BBC1, I can at least give you a bit of notice on the upcoming fortunes of some of our other actors. While all the Zombie Resurrection post-production hard work is happening elsewhere, it’s time for me to catch up on my viewing. And it’s a bumper crop.

First up, to give you enough time to set your preferred format of televisual recording apparatus, a taste of life before Zombie Resurrection for the mighty Joe Rainbow. Tonight, at 9 pm on The Horror Channel (Sky 319, Virgin 149, Freesat 138) a grateful nation will be treated to Joe Rainbow’s first outing as a zombie in Stag Night of the Dead.

The film is a hoot, made hootier by the fact that Joe gets the best line in the film. Stay in and pine for a time when Zomball becomes a reality. Joe also hooked us up with Neil Jones, the director of the movie: a valuable source of useful info on avoiding the distribution pitfalls for low-budget British zombie flicks.

Forewarned is forearmed; we now have plenty more plates in the Cannes bullshit armour. It’s enormously appreciated, Neil; thanks.

And on to stick-right – the milky-boy-kid Simon Burbage. Or “internet sensation Simon Burbage”, to give him his full moniker, as the trailer for his upcoming movie Pulp has now officially gone viral. This looks like it’ll be a whole lot of fun, extremist views on the Holy Trilogy not withstanding.

And then it’s the big man, stick-left. The freshly muppeted legend that is Jim Sweeney, swapping bloodied fatigues for an XL stab-jacket in the new Ken Loach movie The Angels’ Share. The fact that I’m now down to one degree-of-separation from the man that made Kes and The Wind that Shakes the Barley is already on my CV.

You have your viewing orders for 2012, people: undead stag parties, comic-book geeks and teenage whisky heists; only then can you go see Batman in good conscience. Assigned.

Saturday, 7 April 2012

The digital hand-over

The pace car has pulled into the pits, and now we get to hear the glorious roar from the powerful engines.

As in F1, so in post-production. There is a strict hierarchy and order to the various tasks; it’s a relay, and not a sprint. Before anybody gets a chance to play with the footage you need to lock the cut down.

And after two weeks of entertaining St Marcelo in Winchester, we’re there. 78 minutes of shambling hordes, miscellaneous bludgeonings, excessive swearing and Danny Brown looking sheepish. After building in all the comedic beats and adding a bunch of people running through woods with toy guns and cutaways to exteriors, we have reclaimed seven minutes of film from St Marcelo’s original pruning. And the mood in Charmed Central is extraordinarily positive.

Finally, finally, we have a DVD that our post-production team can watch that Jake and I are happy to stand behind. This is our film, like it or not.

The rain break is over, and the rest of the grid can begin the race proper.

So, this week in Charmed Central has been enormously busy – chopping the film up into manageable chunks and handing them over to our merry band of post-production experts to work their magic on.

First up – Dale-the-tunes on Monday; it was the turn of Glen-the-sound and Tom-the-foley on Tuesday, and then a big box of all the shots that need a little CGI to Ads and Matt-the-VFX on Wednesday.

And sadly it was a big box. For all our earlier intentions to get as much of the gore done in-camera, and thereby honour the films that made me fall in love with horror cinema as a younger man, it turns out that we still need 88 different digital enhancements. Some of them were always planned in (see, for example, the IndieGoGo video of recent amputee Joe Rainbow wandering about in a green sock); some of them are simple augmentations of the footage (muzzle flashes, smoke from guns, and getting rid of that red light that we failed to spot on a smoke alarm); and some of them things we just couldn’t get working on the shoot (such as my brother’s pathetic inability to cry me a single tear on demand at a key Messiah-of-the-undead moment).

But, as the silence fell across Winchester on Wednesday night, Jake and I relaxed with piping-hot mugs of Encona safe in the knowledge that the mightiest of engines were now in full voice. This is a really terrific post-production team. If we’re happy with the movie now, just think how good it’s going to feel as the fruits of their labours start filtering in.

And so, a man’s thoughts turn to Cannes. Poster art, scheduling meetings, and a 6-minute digest of the movie to tart around a cathedral-of-film filled with distributors and sales agents.

With this in mind, we now welcome St Marcelo back to Charmed Central. The man that turned 91 flabby minutes of Andy‘n’Jake’s limited editing prowess into a watchable 71 minute movie gets the chance to get really aggressive on the footage. Can you please now do it again, but lose another 65 minutes?

And they’re off. I wish all but six of you a very restful and relaxing Easter break. Whipping.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Go ukfc yourselves

Well, that’s the last avenue of completion funding from what used to be the UK Film Council now officially closed off.

Yup – today represented an end to the thanks-but-no-thanks formalities. Cue the waves of surprise and shock that failed to materialise in Charmed Central. It was always going to be thus, but we still felt an obligation to try. You’ve got to be in it to win it, right? If you don’t buy a ticket you don’t get to spend the lottery.

Not that I’m going to let that stop me from going off on one, you understand.


So anyway, when that David Cameron prattled on last month about how UK filmmakers need to “aim higher” and focus on "commercially successful pictures", a sense of mild irritation set in around the office. OK, we’re not making the King’s Speech II, but surely exploitation movies like Zombie Resurrection are by definition commercial ventures. It’s an ambitious genre piece – the audience is obviously going to be smaller, but it’s still substantial, and it’s spread across the entire planet. Everybody loves a zombie.

Don’t get me wrong – I’d happily take a rap across the knuckles from the organisations-formerly-known-as-the-Film Council if we were embroiled in making the notoriously un-marketable “drama” cinema that us Brits seem to specialise in, but I foresee us having considerably fewer problems come distribution time than if we were a couple of first-timers with a copy of Vera Drake tucked under our arms, for example.

So, the way it works is this: the stuff that the UKFC used to look after is now spread between two organisations: Creative England and the BFI. Opportunities for double dipping, it would seem. Lovely.

Well, not really, as it turns out.

Application 1 – Creative England. This is the supposed engine that will drive the national film industry going forward, champions of British filmmakers across the country. So it did appear rather strange when they got back to us saying that they don't actually have any schemes available for production / completion, and are only looking at funding the development of new scripts and projects.

Er… isn’t this essentially a veto on the movies that are going to get made in the UK, should you rather cheekily want any help at all from your national film industry?

Anyway, onwards and upwards. Application 2 – the BFI, which does support post-production funding. After half a day of filling in all the forms, it became pretty clear that this scheme may not actually be there to help first-time moviemakers; number of questions about the project: 2; number of questions about all the stuff we’d made before this: 6.

But in any case I think we found quite a compelling argument. I mean, who needs assistance making a film more than people that have never done it before? For what it’s worth, here is an excerpt from how we pitched the project; a salient lesson to other first-timers in the approach not to adopt:

Horror is really suited to low-budget filmmaking and working within tight financial constraints: it forces people to be creative and inventive; it demands novel solutions to problems that bigger budget productions don’t have; it demands that you craft a film through love and commitment. Horror is the only genre where there is a cachet to being low budget. It’s not an impediment; it’s a badge of honour. It is the only genre in which the international sales are de-coupled from the recognisability of the actors.

David Cameron recently announced his vision for the future of the UK film industry, urging filmmakers to think more commercially. In Zombie Resurrection, we have written and shot a hugely marketable movie using only private investment to get us through principal photography.

It is my assertion that for a country to have a successful and distinctive national film industry, it needs to allow genre and exploitation cinema to flourish. This is the genuine grassroots of feature production, where filmmakers, crew and actors all learn their craft. Feature production requires a massive step up in commitment and enterprise from that required to make short films – no amount of short films can prepare you for the horror and stress of a feature shoot.

However, at the end, the artists are left with a saleable property, rather than simply a calling card. While the traditional roots of British cinema lie in gritty and often hard-to-market drama pieces, it is evident that commercial genre and exploitation cinema can provide a more solid route into the industry.

The BFI remain, shockingly, unconvinced by this argument. It seems we aren’t ripe for a national exploitation film industry just yet; the next time you find yourself wondering why it’s wall-to-wall alcoholism and wife-beating at your nearest art-house cinema, go stick your lottery quid into a deserving IndieGoGo campaign instead.

And the siege mentality sets even deeper into Charmed Central.

It’s a timely fillip for Jake and me to work harder on securing that last piece of post-production cash. Back in February we wrote a lovely shiny new investor pack and sent it out into the wider world, fishing for three more executive producers to come in as investors. And it seems to be doing its job – two of the berths are now occupied, with only one space left to find.

It’s close, but no cigar just yet; back to the whoring board, boys. Puckered.