Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Last Tango in Cannes

Wow. Where to start?

So, that was Cannes, in all its carefully-marshalled insanity. Five days of meetings, train rides, hastily smashed sandwiches and biblically bad weather. A smorgasbord of Rutger Hauer and Christian Slater movie posters, where every trip along the Croisette could be rudely delayed by a crowd gathering around Alec Baldwin, Coldplay or just a man that wears live cats on his head. It was 24/7 game-face from the Charmed massive; an umbrella, DVD and business card always to hand.

And I loved every bloody minute of it.

I really did – I genuinely loved it. I can’t think of five more enjoyable days over the course of the whole Zombie Resurrection production. It’s like an interactive movie Glastonbury, but one where you get to hang out backstage and help pick the bands.

OK – let’s get the housekeeping out of the way first. Mission number one was to sort out UK distribution and sales agent representation for the movie; a bunch of meetings that Jake and I sorted out ahead of time. And while no one is going to commit to buying the movie based only on a six-minute DVD, it’s safe to say that we now have a winner for both roles. When the finished screener is ready, we know exactly who to send them to. Mission accomplished.

Well, when I say that no one is going to commit to buying the movie based on the six-minute cut, that isn’t strictly true. We received an offer for the German distribution rights, based on a scan of the poster and around 45 seconds of the trailer which they watched on my phone.

Seriously. And it wasn’t even a bad offer.

It seems that this isn’t that uncommon. We heard of at least two zombie movies that were picked up for frankly ridiculous amounts of cash based on the poster and title alone. It seems we may have spent too much time trying to make a watchable film when a weekend course in Photoshop would have been enough.

So, we turned it down. There is nothing quite like passing up the promise of cold hard cash to make you feel like a player.

Which moves us onto mission number two – festivals. Another win.

This was quite a strange one actually, as through luck rather than judgement we ended up meeting some extraordinarily cool people who are intimately plugged into the horror festival world; FrightFest, Fantastic, Fantasia, Lund, Leeds… and nobody went home empty handed. An eight-sided pincer assault on the festival world with the movie that they’re going to be referring to as “that one with the zombie Jesus”.

I love horror people. It’s a side of the industry that seems to be run exclusively by fans. No egos, no bullshit, and a sincere respect for the enormous number of genre enthusiasts there are out there. And we saw plenty of people that fall into the other camp. Fittingly, the French have an expression for it: “péter plus haut que son cul”; literally “to fart higher than ones arsehole” (unsurprisingly Cannes is a high-farter magnet); sadly this was almost business as usual in the UK pavilion.

I digress.

And this is even before I start on the Champions’ League Final; the seal of approval on our poster art and copy from the artist whose zombie DVD covers we originally set out to emulate (and how bizarre is it that we ended up sat around a table drinking with this guy anyway?); my very first and wholly ironic Royal with Cheese; the inevitable internal GPS fails that had us wandering around Nice completely lost at 5 am, and then again on a tiny emergency pavement on the side of a motorway the day after; the early screenings of Cockneys vs. Zombies and Storage 24; etc. etc. I’ll pop some photos up in the next few days, or better still take Jake and me out for a couple of beers and we’ll tell you all about it.

So, it’s a much more formal thank-you to the lovely Amanda-in-Nice for putting us up (and up with us) for the duration. She was such an unfailingly good host that she even managed to procure a yacht-mattress for the occasion formerly slept on by Marlon Brando; I should stress that this was from anecdotal information and not because there was a Marlon-shaped dent visible in the over-stressed springs.

Just the kind of night’s sleep you need before someone makes you an offer you can’t refuse. Tangoed.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Achtung Riviera

Damn – that came around quickly.

Yup, this time tomorrow, Jake and I will be basking in the Mediterranean summer heat at the Cannes Film Festival, swimming with the sharks and doing our very best to stay away from the sharp bits. It’s our first foray into the world of the hard sell to distributors and sales agents, and I can’t wait to test our wares against the great and the good at the money end of the industry.

Tomorrow we get to see why they call it show-business.

Cannes is basically two separate film events happening one on top of the other: the glamorous red-carpeted one filled with the beautiful people and baying paparazzi that you see on the TV, and its idiot cousin (the Marché du Film) which happens in the bowels of the same building; an enormous warehouse of stressed filmmakers, distributors and sales agents, all hawking their B-movie fare around trying to secure that elusive Taiwanese DVD release.

Guess which one we’re going to be at.

Trust me, we’re going in armed. A gorgeous looking and sounding 6-minute précis of the movie, wrapped in a suitably sacrilegious sleeve, and with a skipful of A5 flyers. Come on, distributors of the world. Who wants some?

Even though we’ll be dropped into the festival as a couple of neophytes, we have dug out so much information about what goes on that I almost know what to expect. Chris Jones’ on-line Cannes virgins seminar, the How to Sell your Film Without Selling your Soul e-book, and advice from just about every filmmaker that we’ve met along the journey.

Safe to say that there doesn’t appear to be one best way of approaching Cannes and of finding distribution; people only know what did and didn’t work with them. That said, certain universal truths have emerged: don’t buy a drink in a hotel bar (€100 for three cocktails), don’t buy a drink in a nightclub (€70 for two 33 cl stubbies), and if you find a party that’s offering free drinks don’t leave before you’ve had enough to drink.

And, who better to give us our final steer onto the inside track than the legendary Johannes Roberts, writer / director of the Zombie Resurrection template F; he very kindly took time away from distribution activities of his own on his latest feature Storage 24 to hook up with Jake and me in a London coffee-shop. To even up the numbers, Johannes brought along his flatmate James Harris, producer of Psychosis, Screwed and the soon-to-be-released Cockneys vs. Zombies, and even before the Frappuccino had had time to settle the two of them had launched into a torrent of distribution advice that made my hand hurt.

Johannes and James have been around this loop so many times before that they know practically all the short cuts. To go into details would I’m sure jeopardise their respective futures in the industry; let’s just say we are now in possession of some very promising marketing strategies. It has to count amongst one of the most productive coffee breaks that I have ever experienced, where just one piece of good advice might translate to literally thousands of pounds in sales revenue. Thanks again, guys – you left us with spinning heads and all the better prepared for it.

And in our last act as Cannes virgins, Monday night was spent in the esteemed company of some of the Zombie Resurrection stars, in what we’re now happy to refer to as the best boozer in London. Inevitably any festival conversation was soon side-lined by discussions on the merits of yellow trousers (firmly pro), the best kinds of adverts to be in, and on all the places that one of our prop guns had been before Shami seized an on-set photo-opportunity and gave it a big lick.

The last fifteen months have been one extraordinary journey, but tomorrow we finally get to approach the inmost cave. I’ll try and post some updates from the front, but let’s see just how much time we have. We go out as boys, we return as warriors. Bravehearted.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Making the grade

On a gloriously sunny spring morning in early March, Captain Jamie-the-marine must have thought that Jake and I were being a couple of wankers for insisting that he wore a plastic night-vision headset.

To be fair to him, I did sympathise. You couldn’t see a thing through the prop goggles; it was hard enough to negotiate the way around my flat with them on, and we were making him run blind through dense woodland with only the promise that we’d yell “stop” if it looked like he was about to career into a tree. It’s a level of production respect that’ll be responsible for a thoroughly boring out-takes reel on the DVD.

But all the scariest horror movies happen at night. Sadly, even the happiest cast and crew get grumpy if you stand them outdoors at 4 am in March while you faff about trying to swap out the blown fuse on a generator just because you haven’t got enough light. So this is where the movie magic comes in – shoot it all during the day and then turn the brightness down later.

Fuck it; we’ll fix it in post. The rallying cry of failed film-makers the world over. We can just paper over all our ineptitude and incompetence when we’re grading the movie.

Grading is a massively complicated and laborious exercise. First you have to adjust every shot to match up the light levels; balance out any differences in colour, hue and chroma; basically deal with all the footage direct from the arse-end of the cameras. And only then can you start to make the movie look like how you actually want it to look.

So when I say “turn down the brightness”, it turns out that it’s slightly more complicated than that. This is why Ads-the-grade is on speed-dial.

“The thing you’ve got to realise about Ads”, his business partner Matt-the-VFX assured us at the time of the first trailer, “is that he’s a bloody genius”. It’s complicated, but it’s well within his talent set.

Repeat blog attendees may recognise Ads-the-grade as Ads-the-VFX; the man has been extraordinarily busy of late. And today he sent through some screenshots from the graded Cannes trailer for Jake and me to check over.

So this is what the film’s actually going to look like.

And in amongst the screen-grabs were some of Captain Jamie-the-marine. But at night.

Jake and I have always wanted to go for a really bleached out and desaturated look for the film. It’s all to do with the rods and cones in your eye - when it’s dark a more sensitive set of photoreceptors take over; only they don’t do colour very well. And, bloody genius that he is, Ads-the-grade has made it so.


…and by moonlight…

This month has been conspiring to surprise and delight me at every turn, with the astonishing quality of stuff that's coming in from our post-production posse. It seems that the less that Jake and I are involved in the minutiae of making the film, the better it gets. Contrary to popular belief, these guys could polish a turd; I just can’t wait to see my face in it. Reflective.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012


With the considerable firepower of Ads and Matt-the-VFX, Dale-the-tunes, Glen-the-sound and Tom-the foley all laser-targeted onto the extended Cannes trailer, in a distant part of London at least some work on the actual movie continues unabated.

Not that the work that the others are doing won’t make it into the final movie; it’s all about prioritising their activities. All the right notes, but in the wrong order.

But in the darkest recesses of Brockley, London SE4, Rup-the-titles is currently sat surrounded by unpacked boxes calmly plugging away at our opening title sequence, unaware that elsewhere on the zombie rollercoaster people are manically throwing digital blood about the place and learning French.

I’ve known Rup-the-titles since I was a kid, when he and his brothers were known to all in the area as the under-age drinkers. Thankfully, things have moved on; he got older.

In some ways, Rup has wound up with the hardest story-telling challenge of the whole movie. We open the film on day zero of the apocalypse to show the lovely Kate-the-scream falling foul of Captain Jamie-the-marine and getting covered by the officer’s mess; we then re-join the action 15 months later. And, as you can imagine, quite a lot has happened in this time.

And there ain’t nowhere else to show it except in the titles.

So, in 1:45 seconds, Rup has been tasked with the responsibility of showing a load more soldiers going zombie, a bunch of people getting bitten, the total collapse of civilisation as we know it, the scary zombies slowly rotting away to shambling bags of pest, the start of the fight-back, and the establishment of the enclaves within which the survivors all congregate.

Oh, and he should really try and get the names of the cast in there too.

And the chosen medium? The animatic; a living comic with bits of animation, camera pans and zooms. Not our idea, but his, and judging by the early test footage that he has sent through it’s a stroke of genius. This is going to be a lot of fun on the big screen.

But it was only when Rup mentioned that he had hooked up with an illustrator for some of the more detailed punch-ins that cogs started turning in Charmed Central.

Being the flighty London socialite that he is, Rup doesn’t just know any old flavour of illustrator; enter the formidable Mike Dowling, with titles such as 2000AD and Batman in his artwork canon.


Wait a minute. We’ve got a moment in the title sequence when we see humanity reassert itself against the rotting zombie plague; a ragtag band of wannabe soldiers running and gunning through the badlands. Isn’t this basically the same backstory we had written for Mac, Zombie Resurrection’s unhinged bane of all things undead?

You know, wouldn’t it be quite cool to see Mac getting his gun off in the title sequence?

Yes. Yes it would. Can Mike make it so?

And so once again we shamelessly drag the newly muppeted Jim Sweeney back down to our level; any attempts to try and escape the clutches of the zombie horde by working with Ken Loach will ultimately prove futile.

There are very few things out there that go beyond cool: becoming a cuddly toy is just about the only thing that comes to mind. But into this tiny list we now need to include getting your face drawn by the guy that gets paid to sketch Bruce Wayne. We always knew that Mac was going to be most people’s favourite character in the film, but I had no idea that Jim was going to be bogarting all the after-dinner treats like this. Immortalised.