Friday, 30 March 2012

Muppet of a man

You know you’ve reached an important milestone as an actor when a character you’ve played becomes an action figure.

It is one of the sincerest forms of inadvertent flattery when a toy company decides that a particular character is so compelling that their envisaged backstory and future antics can be commercially mined. The millions of imagined possibilities for the character’s adventures outside the film are played out at the hands of kids, and adults that should know better.

But actually there is a hierarchy of respect, and the humble 3” action figure sits on the bottom rung. More flattering still are the 12” figurines, lovingly crafted by fan-boy sculptors and then sold for ridiculous amounts of cash to other fan-boys in comic shops. Bigger, brighter and more accurate; these will sit on display on someone’s shelf inviting adoring looks and stimulating nerdic conversation rather than being consigned to a box at bedtime. And then even higher on the ladder is finding yourself made into a Lego figure. Loved by adults and kids alike, these guys will become heroes in a multiverse of random stories, and then get respectfully passed down to the next generation of brick builders in a big bucket.

But top of the tree is the cuddly toy. What higher praise can an actor receive than the knowledge that people they’ve never met before are taking them to bed?

It’s a long preamble, but one that I hope will set the scene for the largest oh-my-sweet-merciful-Christ moment of recent memory. Because yesterday I was given a Christmas present.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Get over the date, people. It’s how we roll in Charmed Central.

Lovingly crafted by the supremely gifted Rob Luckins and his fiancĂ© (and erstwhile zombie horde member) Karen, it’s a cuddly Jim Sweeney. And it is just about the best thing I have ever seen.

Jim was the actor who played our character Mac, psychotic scourge of the undead and owner of all the best lines in the film. Be-decked in industrial elbow-length rubber gloves and an ever-bloodied machete, Mac gleefully strides about our apocalyptic universe chopping, bludgeoning and ripping spines wherever he goes. This is the guy you want to cuddle up to at bedtime in a dangerous world.



And I still can’t get over just how fucking cool this is. Rob and Karen – you have genuinely made my 2012, you sweet, awesome beauties. Speechless.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Re-shoots and scores

Rule #1 – get your monster in early.

So speaks Gentleman Jim Eaves; only one of the many pieces of sage feedback arising from an early viewing of the very first assembly of the movie when Jake and I cut it together last year. Audiences expect it, distributors demand it, and who are we to argue?

The only problem is that we already have an opening sequence. A montage of shots of the highly athletic Georgia Winters running through an empty school just after the outbreak, escaping from terrors unseen. And in filming this we also nearly lost Rob-the-camera-assist to a horrific wheelchair accident (producers’ note – people wearing flip-flops should be subject to a maximum speed restriction akin to a brisk walk). While Georgia bounds, sprints and cowers with great panache and energy, it’s just a little too lacking in actual monsters. Our bad – it looked OK on paper, but blows on a TV.

The solution – a whole new opening sequence, only peripherally related to the rest of the film. Monsters, soldiers, plenty of guns, and a completely different but equally gorgeous young actress to act scared and scream a bit.

So, after gathering as many prop guns as we could legitimately find, recruiting a serving marine freshly back from Afghanistan, coercing people with a jeep and a model plane to join in the silliness, and then bringing in the services of a fabulously talented young Slovakian actress who initially read for the role of Harden, last weekend we took off to some private woodland just outside Winchester called Spinney Hollow for an impromptu day of running around in the forest.

Spinney Hollow featured early in the Zombie Resurrection story. After going to watch the Evil Dead there as part of the 2011 Winchester Film Festival, and then finding out that one of the actresses that came and did the original table-read with us back in April last year is good pals with the owners, Spinney Hollow was originally planned to be the location of our week in the woods. That is until a subsequent visit highlighted some disturbingly high levels of distant traffic noise, and the even more disturbing frequent yelps from baboons at Marwell Zoo. The baboons we could have readily integrated into our post-apocalyptic universe; the M3 sadly not.

But it turns out that it’s nigh-on perfect to double as a non-specific Eastern European terrorist camp.

And so we document the first zombie attack at the start of the outbreak; the formative experiences of an apocalyptic world into which we then drop our characters 15 months later. Just under three minutes of screen time that partly resembles a game of Call of Duty and partly resembles a significant grading ball-ache if we want to make it appear to be night time. And it looks great. A hint at the zombie backstory (which is expounded on later in the movie), a genuine jump, and a load of terrific screaming.




So, a massive thanks again to Captain-Jamie-the-marine and Kate-the-scream for a very entertaining day showing off their acting prowess, Baz-the-jeep for turning up with what I now know to refer to as the ‘green fleet’ and repeatedly driving up and down bumpy forest paths at enormous speeds, Chris-the-propeller for gathering our film’s opening five seconds from the front of his model plane, Heidi-the-make-up for turning the lovely Ms Korbelova into a piece of bloodied steak, Ian-the-throat for taking a number of quiet knives to the neck, Rob-the-camera for his rapid induction into boom operating, and Charlie-the-production-assistant for everything else that needed doing. And an especially enormous shout-out to Kate and Geoff from Spinney for turning over their forest hive to a bunch of children playing at being soldiers in the woods. Only with better toys.

And when you come to watch the DVD, the especially keenly-sighted amongst you may well recognise Jake and me taking a couple of well-targeted bullets to our respective heads outside the encampment. At eight metres I’m happy that our performances as non-specific Eastern European terrorists are beyond reproach, but I may have spent too long cultivating my baddie beard. Splattered.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

EXT. DILAPIDATED BUILDING - AFTERNOON

Messy. Very messy. Bingo.

The Royal Haslar Hospital, just outside Portsmouth. A centre of naval medical excellence since 1753 (which is taking the whole concept of NHS specialisation to a ridiculous degree – I mean, what can go wrong with a naval?). That was until the government decided that, despite its best efforts, a sufficient number of sailors weren’t getting injured anymore, and so shut it down in 2009. It’s a familiar story, and pity the next seaman to hurt himself on one of our empty aircraft carriers.

Still, the navy’s loss is Zombie Resurrection’s gain. A massive 60 acre site with a cornucopia of historic buildings that have been slowly rotting away for the past 3 years – there’s got to be something we can use for our exterior cutaways.

And indeed there was, all for the rather more manageable sum of £100. That’s how to support independent filmmaking; I’m talking to you, St Joseph’s.

So, a couple of very entertaining hours were spent repeatedly circumnavigating one of the older and more messy buildings, joined by the ever-dependable Rob Luckins. An afternoon spent moving detritus around and trying not to frame the sea or the bizarrely perfectly-manicured grass in shot.


I mean – it’s even got a smashed up tunnel; the less vain twin of the corridor that our party pass down when they first enter the school (at 00:30 in the trailer). An important box gets ticked, a ball-ache alleviated, and an edit becomes richer.

It wasn’t till later that I found out that there are apparently 20,000 people buried on the site – for future reference this is not the place to flee to when the zombie apocalypse eventually kicks off. God only knows how many Napoleonic shivers we must have been responsible for as we liberally trampled over the mass of graves, and it certainly bodes badly for the veterans that should eventually be moving onto the re-developed site. Has nobody else watched Poltergeist? Possessed.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Hellalujah!

Ah – now that’s a full glass-and-a-half of the good stuff.

What an extraordinarily fabulous week this has been in Charmed Central. And yes, I am aware that I have been known to slightly over-shine the Zombie Resurrection experience in past postings, but believe me, today I am full of the milk of human kindness. Our Charmed cup runneth over, and not in the bad needs-immediate-attention-from-a-Jeyes-cloth kind of way either.

Because we now have a cut of the movie that we can show people without needing a long list of caveats about where it sucks.

Well, not the whole movie, but the first 35 minutes (and, for anyone that has never edited a movie before, these are always the most troublesome). This week, St Marcelo has been staying in Winchester, liberally conveying his editing guile, insight and Final Cut Pro short-cuts to a rapt audience of two.

In his normal London adobe, St Marcelo can count Thandie Newton and Cillian Murphy amongst his neighbours, and so this was a rare outing to our provincial backwater. But, lured by the promise of the Best Pub in Britain and as many cigarettes and pizzas as he could eat, he kindly made the journey down on Tuesday with a big silver box stuffed full with his latest cut.

St Marcelo had already made two passes on the edit, and then incorporated as many of Jake’s and my poorly-explained refinements as he could understand, so by the time he arrived we were already in pretty good shape to finesse the fuck out of it. And three days later we sent him back home with big smiles on our faces and a first half of the film that was acclaimed as “delicious” by mutual consent.

Damn – it’s going to be a while before I can shift this stupid grin.

At this point in the edit, it’s all about those tiny moments. What is the exact beat between an action and a reaction that makes it funny? How long do you need to hold a shot on a character to exact the maximum amount of audience empathy? What combination of cuts will best show both Becca’s embarrassment and her father’s beautifully-understated and unspoken shame when told that there’s “no more dining at the all-you-can-eat pussy buffet”? It’s a left and right brain exercise, and it has left me mentally exhausted; God knows how mashed poor Marcelo’s psyche is tonight.

And the best bit – if we’re excited about the film now, think how much more bouncy it’s going to get when the tidied dialogue starts arriving from Glen-the-sound, or the bits of score come in from Dale-the-tunes, or we get proper sounds from Tom-the-foley? I mean, we haven’t even stuck in the noises of the zombies yet.

In any case, it’s a week off before we can start working on the next 35 minutes, as Jake and I count down to exteriors-Friday and re-shoot-Sunday. But, it’s fair to say that if you see me in the Best Pub in Britain around the end of March, I’m a safe bet to buy you a pint.

Just don’t ask me how it’s all going, or I might just tell you; I’m sure I have much more entertaining anecdotes when it’s all going to shit. Serene.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

IndieGoneGone

So anyway, that was the crowd sourcing campaign.

Yup – earlier today the IndieGoGo clock ran down, and our crowd sourcing efforts officially finished. A very delicious and enormously appreciated $6450 with which to move Zombie Resurrection forward. And it's a massive thank you to the 46 of you that went and picked up a perk and wrote supportive messages on the site.

One of the nicer aspects of post-production is the modular nature of the work. While Dale-the-tunes is off doing the music, Glen-the sound can be polishing up the dialogue while Rup-the-title-sequence adds more smoke to his animatic of a burning London. While Tom-the-foley carefully places the sounds of gunshots and squelchy gore onto the time line, somewhere on the other side of London Ads-the-DFX is building composites of muzzle flash and splatter.

And seamlessly, Jake and I have adapted to looking at pots of cash in the same manner. That big box of variously coloured contact lenses that were sent to us by mistake instead of the zombie-white design we ordered? One quick Gumtreeing later and that’ll be our Cannes accreditation. That two-hour seminar on how to make a zombie movie to students at Solent University? That looks roughly the same size as the down-payment on our poster design.

The contents of the IndieGoGo campaign coffers? A perfect match for the up-front salaries for the sound, music and titles.

So, a genuinely heartfelt thank you to everyone that contributed to the IndieGoGo campaign – the role-call of the loved is on the website for all to admire, and here’s hoping that at least one Microsoft-supplied picture of the Aurora Borealis has been relegated to the bowels of the Windows 7 directory structure in favour of the poster of our much more attractive cast members.

And when you come to finally watching the movie and find yourself marvelling at the splendour of Rup-the-title-sequence’s funky animatics, or being moved to shed a tear at a particularly stirring moment of Dale-the-tunes’ score, remember – you paid for that, you little beauties.

We always suspected that we were going to miss our target for the IndieGoGo campaign – the £36,000 (or $55,000) that we estimate would see us through to Cannes and those happy conversations with distributors. But without any prior experience of what to expect, we figured that there was no downside to shooting for the moon. The financial penalty that IndieGoGo levies for missing your target is the same, whether you miss the mark by a couple of bucks or a country mile.

So we didn’t let the fact that we had the campaign up and ticking deter us from making approaches to the organisations-formerly-known-as-the-UK-Film-Council, or from slipping out the tendrils to potential private investors. And there’s plenty of news to report; stay tuned.

But until then, from Jake and from me – another thank you. And rest assured, the perks and exclusive merchandise will start to wander your way in a few months as we approach the premiere. Humbled.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Pricks and mortar

What is it about owning a derelict building that turns people into the worst kind of capitalists?

With St. Marcelo’s edit viewed, digested and critiqued, a couple of gaps have appeared. Gaps that we kind of knew were there anyway, but are now screamingly noticeable by their absence. And one of these gaps – exterior shots of the derelict refuge within which all the action takes place, to use as cutaways. Nothing says ‘later’ quite like looking at a knackered building.

This was always going to be a pick-up. Our 6th form college made it perfectly clear to us that it didn’t want anything in the movie that could be used to identify the place, and so we rightly postponed getting our exterior cutaways to a later time; we even left space in the shot that opens our trailer for us to composite the building in later. I mean, how hard can it be to find a derelict building when all you want to do is film it from the outside?

Not hard at all, it turns out. There are plenty.

But it’s only when the conversation turns to getting permission that the fleece-the-film-boy process can begin.

An example. Long-time readers of the blog may remember one of our earliest location love-affairs, St Joseph’s College in Brent. When Jake and I went to do our initial recce of the place we snapped off about a hundred photos, took some video on our phones, and basically had the run of the place for about an hour and a half. One of the site security guys gave us a quick tour of the inside, and then left us to our own devices. Disco.

Total cost to the production: £0.00.

Good numbers. OK – but now we need the exterior shots. This place would be great, so it’s a quick phone call back to St Joseph’s. Can the same two people come back, but this time only for half an hour? We don’t need to get indoors, and we don’t need a chaperone. Health and Safety ain’t an issue, and all we’d be bringing with us is a DSLR.

No problems. £1000. Plus VAT. Plus a £100 “library fee”. Plus some more VAT. Total cost to the production: £1320.00.

No – you clearly don’t understand what we’re after. We are going to be considerably less hassle than we were when we came to recce the place; I mean, it’s not like we’re bringing a film crew to the location. We’re happy to consider a location fee, but we can’t stretch anywhere close to £1320. But hey, this is essentially free money for you guys – you don’t need to do anything to earn it other than just letting us back in. You’ve got 24/7 security on-site anyway, so the whole shoot can be arranged for the price of a phone call.

Ah. Got it. That’ll be £1000. Plus VAT. Plus a £100 “library fee”. Plus some more VAT. I guess I should have been prepared for that after the conversations we had last March.

Really? I mean, are we part of the same industry? You must know that it ain’t easy making an independent feature film, but thank God people do otherwise our national film industry would die on its arse overnight. Without independent cinema, where would crews and actors go to get experience working on feature films?

And when all the filmmakers have gone, who’s going to be left to fleece?

So the search goes on. So far we have competing quotes of £1320, £1000 and £600 for three different places, and are running out of easy options. Stock footage hasn’t thrown anything helpful up yet, although we still have a couple of irons in our deeply inexpensive fire.

But, come on, neglectful property magnates of the South of Britain. Throw us a realistic bone, would ya, if only to give you the moral high-ground when complaining that there’s only ever American movies on at the cinema. Homeless.