Friday, 31 August 2012

Fright-night


If hanging around on a tenterhook is your idea of fun, may I suggest submitting a film to a festival?

With the Texas Fantastic Fest due to kick off on September 20th, we still haven’t been informed whether we’re in or out. And we aren’t due to get the final word until the 7th September. That’s a lot of house to get in order in under two weeks… pulling together a press-pack, squeezing the movie onto an HDCAM tape, booking flights, finding a hotel; Christ, Fantastic Fest would be doing quite well just to get all their printing turned around.

But this is the way they roll, and until we get told differently we need to keep the testicular cuffs wrapped tightly around our VFX, titles and sound guys. And so far everyone appears squeakily confident.

Not that anything ever works perfectly first time. There was a trite sound-bite that my last employers used to liberally bandy around as programme management panacea – failing to plan means planning to fail. But actually, I find planning to fail a much safer default. If we ask for stuff a few days ahead of when we actually need it, it means that when the inevitable internet issues and incomplete deliveries push everything past the deadline, it doesn’t automatically drop us in the shit.

And with the Charmed-imposed finishing date of the 7th September looming large, we had a bonus moment this week to reflect on our progress. The FrightFest screener.

God, I love FrightFest. What better way to spend a glorious summer bank-holiday weekend than sat in a dark room ploughing through a mountain of gore and monsters? It means I can switch of that nagging voice that tries to tell me to get off my fat arse and head outdoors and make the most of whatever fleeting sunshine there is. Fuck you – I paid good money for the opportunity to sit indoors, and that’s exactly what I’m going to do. Five days, 35 films, ten hasty KFC meals and five late night boozing sessions amongst the horror faithful.

Heaven. And, yes – I do realise that FrightFest just happened last weekend. Without Jake, me or Zombie Resurrection in attendance.

Not this year, Phelps; a catastrophic mix of extraordinarily depleted personal funds, a rapidly evolving production diary that doesn’t allow me to plan for time-off more than a week in advance, and all the work involved in getting another cut of the film together.

But there is another. The FrightFest Halloween all-nighter. A bonus selection of horror mayhem on the last Saturday of October, back in the West End. The spiritual home for the UK premiere of Zombie Resurrection.

And they want screeners today. No rest for the peddlers of the wicked – the poor FrightFest guys get to move seamlessly from watching films in a cinema all weekend to watching more films from the comfort of their respective sofas.

Zombie Resurrection has moved on substantially from the earlier screeners last month. Glen-the-sound has a bucket-load of ADR to play with, Dale-the-tunes has had another spin with his music, Ads-and-Matt-the-VFX have been sending through plenty of updated splatter, Tom-the-foley has been tirelessly generating better zombie noises, and Marcelo-the-edit has fixed some of the more persistent confusions from the test screenings. We can do so much better now.

And FrightFest deserve a better screener. Send us your latest, gents, and let’s see where we are.

So, after another mental couple of days, the DVD that got delivered to them yesterday is that much happier. All of the ADR is in, all the cracks in the music resulting from the final edit have been pasted over, and we are now officially without a green sock to be seen.

Happier, but not quite there yet. There is still some way to go before we can unleash it on the paying public: another 22 CGI shots, 23 more that need attention, and 117 tweaks to the sound. So, it’s another busy seven days on full alert as we snipe off these last moments, and only then do we get to find out whether we needed to rush after all.

But in any case, September is when we plan on gathering the cast, crew and horde together for the first mass screening, at an awkward time of day on an as yet undetermined cinema screen that will be mildly inconvenient for most people to get to.

And sadly, this will also be the moment when rash pub promises come back to blight us on the arms – it’s almost time to start looking for a sober tattooist in the Winchester environs to dispense a couple of Charmed logos. Any recommendations? Stuck.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Mac-spletives

And so, 34 bread-based lunches later with Dale-the-music, Glen-the-sound and the eight Zombie Resurrection cast members with sound to fix, yesterday we finally say adieu to our ADR.

The final tally – 225 new sound snippets to improve our aural landscape. The odd line of dialogue with too much extraneous noise on it; grunts and groans from various bludgeonings; swathes of zombie growls, screaming, weeping and manic laughing; and three bonus lines to assist the more confused viewer through the final act.

Hampshire has already said another fond farewell to the delicious acting prowess of Rachel, Joe, Simon, Shami, Eric, Danny and Jade, and it was the incomparable Jim Sweeney that was the last through Dale-the-music’s Southampton studio, flying down from Glasgow yesterday just to swear into a microphone.

One of our required deliverables for international sales is a re-written screenplay, with the original dialogue swapped out with the actual lines spoken in the movie; an essential aide for subtitling and dubbing the film for foreign markets. When I got onto this couple of weeks back, I had naively assumed that this would be a fairly simple exercise – after all, Jake and I went to a lot of trouble finessing the dialogue before the shoot to make the lines trip easily and effectively out of the mouths of the actors. Surely a professional respect for the written word would ensure only minor deviations from the page?

This, it seems, is not how it works. Seven hours later and I had effectively re-transcribed the entire movie from scratch. And it was a fuck-sight better than the one we wrote.

But along the way I did get some interesting insights into the acting process.

Regular attendees to the blog will know that Jim plays a character called Mac in the film – a veteran soldier with a voracious appetite for a very specific brand of zombie carnage. And an uncanny ability to cut directly to the insult. My recent exertions transcribing the film into Final Draft allowed access to some enlightening statistics – Mac has 888 words of dialogue, and the highest swearing-to-rest-of-sentence ratio of any character. And this was just the swearing that Final Draft’s profanity filter could identify; the vaginas, head-raped cock-parks and cock-in-anuses have all unwittingly passed through the algorithm with an official safe-for-PG-viewing stamp.

And so it came as quite a surprise to me to find that Jim had somehow secreted another twenty “fucks” into the film above and beyond those allotted in the screenplay. Mac now defaults to dropping in expletives where a lesser man would use a comma, and probably means that any future trailer cut for universal viewing won’t feature the big man with his mouth open at any point.

Although, to be fair, Jake and I didn’t go out of our way to help. After getting Jim to roar repeatedly at an empty Southampton graveyard to “shut the fuck up” (Charmed Apocalypse’s new preferred quiet outdoors spot – see the earlier blog entry for the problems we had with Rachel and Joe), our final act in the studio before dropping him back at the airport was to record some personalised Mac-based ringtones for our high-rolling IndieGoGo contributors. It was one of the perks we offered, courtesy of Zombie Resurrection’s “swearing connoisseur”.


Some advanced warning to Marty, Debbie, Adam, Andy and Chris – better not assign these to anybody in your phone book that might call you when you’re in a public place. One for when the mother-in-law rings, I recommend. Incarcerated.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Back in the loop

And suddenly it’s all go again in Charmed Central.

After those long painful weeks of hearing about all the hard work involved in felating the movie to final climax only through despatches back from the post-production guys, Jake and I have found ourselves firmly in the mix again. Gone are the thoughts of “is this the right moment to start looking for a proper job before I default on my mortgage”; making a movie has once again become a full-time enterprise. Full-time, but with the odd eighteen-hour marathon thrown in for good measure.

It seems that we are officially into the movie-making end-game.

The September festival screenings have probably done as much to galvanise everybody into making this last push as anything else, not that we’ve heard anything back yet from the big three that we put in for last month. But if Texas, Toronto or Sitges do come calling, we need to be ready to answer.

So, we set a date for delivery of all the finished pieces – 7th September. All the VFX shots, grading, sound, music and titles.

And throughout the diverse Zombie Resurrection post-production crew members, minds focus. 

Here is a little digest of the activities of the last week or so: Tuesday – our second test screening of the movie to complete strangers in Winchester (with a massive thank you to Christian, Jeff, Adam, Ashley, Joe, Naomi and Becca for laughing in all the right places); Wednesday – a meeting with our VFX guys to discuss the CGI shots that we had already received, and to agree a schedule for the delivery of all the rest of them; Thursday – an audio scrutiny of the film to finalise all the remaining ADR samples that we need to collect from the other six cast members, followed by a thorough analysis of the feedback forms from the two screenings to look for common threads (and a minor dialogue re-write in the final act to deal with the confusion that some people were experiencing); Friday – more VFX shots; Saturday – Simon and Shami join the posse at Dale-the music’s studio in Southampton to do all their ADR; Sunday – Eric and Danny do likewise; Monday – St. Marcelo-the-edit comes to Winchester to undertake the final finessing of the film down to our absolutely, totally finished cut, honest; Tuesday – more VFX shots, with another meeting with the guys in the evening; and today – our penultimate ADR session, with Jade.

And on the seventh day He rested. We, however, should be so lucky.

But what the hell would I do with a day off; it’s not work unless you would rather be doing something else. It’s a taste that’s going to make my delayed search for a day-job that much suckier, but then again my CV must have “flight-risk” written all over it anyway. Destitute.

Monday, 6 August 2012

Credit crunched

I’ve no idea what’s changed, but it seems that we’re now official.

Presumably something must have clicked over in the strict and arcane IMDb procedures, because overnight our Zombie Resurrection entry into the Internet Movie Database has suddenly appeared. Twice, actually. No warning, no information, nothing; one day we were considered to be a high completion risk, and the next we’re all buddies again.

It must have had something to do with the recent round of festival submissions; the screener submission website WithoutABox is part of the same organisation that’s responsible for IMDb. Although the database rules state that you must have a verifiable premiere date before you can go up, it looks like the $55 entrance fee was enough to buy us a bit of latitude (unless the festival have good news that they’ve failed to share with us).

And so there we are. A complete list of all our cast, crew and zombies, for all to enjoy.

It has taken a good couple of weeks to tidy the entry up into something that almost looks sensible, with every change request taking a reported 7-10 days to be processed. There are still spelling mistakes on a couple of horde members’ names in the pipeline, and a few job titles that needed fixing, but it’s close enough.

But something that we can’t seem to fix is the awful synopsis, and a really strange tagline that must have been written on the spot by the festival organiser’s data-bitch. In the place where the pithy “prey for salvation” should be sits the slightly less manageable “a zombie messiah that can raise the undead from the dead...after they've died...again”.

So we continue to plug away; to trim and manicure. And hopefully by the time that anyone can actually go and buy the movie, it’ll be coiffured to perfection. Although, if anybody knows the IMDb administration password, we could cut out a lot of faffing.

Go take a gander, and we’ll see you again in 7-10 days. Immaculate.

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Into the great beyond…

Sobering times in Charmed Central.

So, let’s just take a moment to consider where we currently are with Zombie Resurrection. The first pass of the music is written, the sound is tidy, and everything has been coloured in. The current best copy of the film still has a long way to go before it’s finished, but it does finally look and behave like a film should. Prospective horror festivals will accept nothing less.

Zombie Resurrection is open for judgement.

With our eyes on an early September finishing line (to hit the first of the possible festival screenings), this is now the last moment we have to make it better. Over the 150 times that Jake and I have watched the latest cut over the past few weeks, a couple of moments have jumped out at us that need work. Tweaks; nothing drastic. A finessed edit here and an extended beat there.

But, really, what the fuck do we know? 150 viewings later and the jokes aren’t funny anymore. The jumps don’t shock, the gore doesn’t offend, and the emotional moments don’t move. For us the film exists as a series of moments: shots needing light balancing; dialogue needing replacement; bludgeonings needing a liberal coating in digital gore.

Gone is the big picture. Gone is any concept of whether the film actually hangs together as an entity.

And now is the last moment that we have to sort that out.

So, now is also the perfect moment to get a bunch of people together who have no previous attachment to the film, and ask them. The great British zombie-loving public. These are the only people we can trust to let us know where the problems are.

Time to organise a couple of screenings. Get in a load of beer and pizza, sit a panel of people that we’ve never met before down in front of the largest telly we can find, and watch them watching it. Our first completely dispassionate audiences.

And it’s as daunting a prospect as we’ve had to face since the shoot wrapped; well, more specifically, since I had to deal with the unwelcome stains on my girlfriend’s floor after the wrap party.

The first session was last night, hosted by hero-zombie-Ross in his Winchester cathedral of technology. Having taken a slug in the head over the course of the shoot, he isn’t allowed to have an opinion, but his pals are. Grab a beer, sit down, and get comfortable, Simon, Louise, Row, Daren and Ormy.


Please don’t underestimate what a painful evening this was for Jake and me. Sat to one side, the film suddenly seemed to race by without ever catching its breath. Wasn’t that last moment meant to be funnier? Did anybody actually find that last jump scary? Can anybody understand Mac’s Glaswegian accent?

And the biggest laugh of the night? An overly-graphic sound effect that Tom had added to his foley reel to accompany the premature ending of some woodland coitus. It’s an immediate answer to the question that Jake and I had been wrestling with beforehand – is that squelch just a little bit too much? No, it turns out.

A braver man than me would have looked at the completed questionnaires by now, but I may save that moment for a stiff scotch later in the week. We have another screening in Winchester University on Tuesday, bizarrely back in the same room within which we shot all our Chapel footage last year; it’ll be interesting to see whether they’ve managed to get all the blood out of the floor tiles.

So, until then, I’ll content myself with the nagging butterflies, and save the analysis until all the votes are in. But in any case it’s a big Charmed thank you to Ross, Simon, Louise, Row, Daren and Ormy for giving over their Friday night to make two grown men nervous. Suddenly I understand where all the worry-lines on Andy Murray’s mum’s face have come from. Tweaking.