Making Elephants Pray
A Film Making diary
By Paul Hills & Jonnie Hurn
PART ONE JONNIE’S PRE-PRODUCTION DIARY
Day 1 Monday August 13th 2007
I wake to the sound of the phone clattering for attention. I try to ignore it but it refuses to go away. Such impudence, clearly it has no respect. It is early and I have had less than, I check the clock, 3 hours sleep having worked my “normal” job overnight pressing buttons, playing music and talking nonsense on the radio with a presenter. Bugger. I answer trying not to sound too annoyed.
“Hi Jonnie, it’s Ed, listen sorry mate I’m not going to be able to help.”
And so the day begins. Badly.
Today is the first day of pre-production and Ed was supposed to be our emergency Line Producer, stepping in bravely to fill the void left by the mysterious disappearance of Williams our original Line Producer who we have been unable to contact for three weeks since we offered him the job. We figure he is either in prison, in hospital or has been deported back to Mexico. Thankfully he is not Brazilian or he may have been shot by the police.
I snuggle back between the folds of the fluffy cloud-like duvet and try to ignore what I have just heard. If I forget it it will not be real. It is this kind of sound logic that has gotten me where I am today. Begging people to work for free three days before my 36th birthday.
My phone bleeps at me again.
“Whose stupid idea was it to start today?” I holler at it forgetting it was mine all along.
“Hi Jonnie it is M_____, sorry but I don’t think I can give you the time–”
I know the time, it’s bloody early o’clock.
“I need to save my money and–”
I let the phone dangle knowing what is about to come so not feeling the need to actually listen to it. Some poor excuse about eating food and paying the rent being more important than making a film. Such a misappropriation of priorities amongst the youth. How inconsiderate some people are I think, all we are asking for is that she commits herself to six days a week filming for five weeks playing the female lead in a film she is not going to be paid for.
“No worries M_____, I understand.” I don’t understand but I can’t say that.
I hang up and return to the desires of slumber. It doesn’t last, rather like people’s commitments on this film.
The phone rings again. I resist the urge to toss it out of the window into the perpetual rain of this summerless year but decide to answer, after all it could be a guardian angel offering a solution to all my problems. Instead I get this–
“Hello it’s Helen, Amie’s friend.”
“Hello,” I reply rapidly trying to think who the hell Amie might be.
“Is Amie there?”
Ah. There is not nor has there ever been nor is there ever likely to be anyone called Amie here, unless it was that girl who died six months before I moved in (hence the cheap deal and quick sale!) No, that was ten years ago it must be a wrong number. I inform the disbelieving Helen of this simple fact convinced she suspects I am lying and covering for her friend. Somewhere in the next few days an argument is going to explode because of a miss-pressed digit. Still, this is a first for me, most wrong numbers I get are for people wanting to book a tennis court at the local sports centre who’s number is one different to mine. Sometimes, when I feel particularly malevolent, I accept the bookings. I would have done so today.
I text Paul, the film’s Director and my fellow Producer, the news about M_____. A few moments later I get the reply “Well she must be some kind of c***. Not a good start!”
I reply with typical blind optimism of a first time Producer that it is better to have a bad start than a bad finish. I’m not entirely convinced of my own sentiment but it is the best I have at the moment.
I settle in for a few more hours sleep before my first meeting of the day and fail dismally as the building workers across the street decide this is the perfect time to start drilling holes.
The afternoon comes and starts to go and I realise it is time to head into Soho for the first of the day’s meetings. Two prospective Make-up Artists. One, a friend of a friend and the other a friend of Kylie the Executive Producer. We meet at the Blue Posts pub in Berwick Street. The first Make-up Artist is not convinced she can commit to the film, and does not do hair, she is however interested in how much blood and gore FX there will be (clearly she has not read the script – a sort of surreal dream-like love story of two people in a forest in France). She is only interested in dark films, Kieslowski & Lynch. When she leaves Paul and I stare incredulously at the pavement.
“Do we really want to spend three weeks in a forest with her?” He asks hoping I will say no. “I feel like slashing my wrists. What we need is someone who’s favourite film is Mary Poppins.”
Our thoughts turn to the Line Producer problem and the inevitable truth that we are half a day into pre-production and already a few days from postponing the shoot. We both know that if we don’t do it now we will miss the autumn leaf drop that Paul wants in the forest and that ‘postpone’ really means ‘cancel’.
We dig out our phones and scroll through our contacts for anyone who could help. Well, Paul’s are contacts, mine is little more than a list of people I have met, usually a little worse for wear at the Cannes film festival. I call a couple of Directors I know and beg for help whilst to my side I overhear Paul leave a message for someone—
“Hi, it’s Paul Hills, remember we did that advert three years ago–?”
We are half a day into preproduction and already the barrel is, if not being physically scraped, being at least studied closely with a spatula in hand.
Messages are left but hopes are little raised. Our spirits are lifted slightly when an attractive dark-haired woman breezes past and smiles at us both. She enters the pub and we return to our malaise finally deciding to post pleas on various film making websites in the hope of persuading someone to give up the next ten weeks of their life for us.
A few moments later the woman re-emerges.
“Are you Paul?” she asks Paul.
“I hope so,” he replies.
We head into the pub and find a table. Paul orders drinks and attempts to persuade the Polish barmaid to divide the bill by ten before putting it on his tab. She is not falling for it, probably as he tries it pretty much every time he sees her.
We sit, drink and chat and within minutes the black tumult has lifted significantly enough to allow a ripple of laughter into our lives. Cristina, an Italian with a fiery look about her, proves to be a constant source of amusement.
“What’s your favourite film?” asks Paul.
“Some like it hot?” She replies cautiously unaware how we will react to such an old choice. Sensing our pallid faces unaware that this is a result of relief she adds “Is it strange to like a black & white film as a favourite?”
“Not at all,” I offer. “My favourite film is in black & white.” (Woody Allen’s Manhattan if you are wondering.)
“Mine is in monochrome,” adds Paul though he refuses to divulge what it actually is.
And so we continue in the same vein for an hour chatting about the film and swapping stories of our various farcical arrests by the Metropolitan Police and suddenly the world isn’t quite so bad. He boyfriend it turns out is Brazilian so she is always a little apprehensive every time he takes the tube.
So the first day ends on somewhat of a high even though technically we are in a worse position than we were.
Crew members. 1 gained. 1 lost.
Day 2 Tuesday 14th August 2007
I get an email from Andy, one of the potential Line Producers I called yesterday, a brilliant young Producer who produced a short film I was in last year. We have already taken on another of that production team as the Elephants Art Director and a guy called Job as our Grip. Andy is tempted but concerned about the commitment. He asks what the job will entail? I reply that it will largely involve organising the shoot, securing locations & permissions, liaising with cast & crew and hiring equipment whilst Paul and I attend lavish showbiz champagne & oyster parties, hoover vast amounts of cocaine and sleep with high-class prostitutes.
The day’s post brings me a birthday card from my parents and the company paying-in book. I head to the bank and deposit the first of our investment cheques. We now have 1/12th of the shooting budget in place with a promise of a further 1/3rd to come. Let the good times roll. Or should that be “Live in the fantasy before the reality of putting the rest of the budget on credit cards kicks in”.
Paul has been bugging me to rewrite the script to make Sark, the second female lead, and Jode, one of the male support characters, more interesting. The former has been easy, give her an accent and stick a boomerang in her office. The other is a bit of a pain. I want his character to do something other than work, a hobby, build something maybe, anything to distract from what he is supposed to do. I, like the characters in the script, am devoid of all ideas.
I abandon my role as scriptwriter and concentrate instead on deleting names from the crew list on the website and posting some adverts on the Shooting People and Talent Circle film making websites asking for potential Line Producers. I get an almost instant reply from someone and in my mind the sun shines again (not in reality as we are in the middle of a six month autumn).
I feel a little depressed and make a production decision to have a cup of tea. No sooner have I strained the bag when the phone rings. I dread the news it might bring but it is Paul.
“I’ve found a Line Producer,” he crows with appropriate pride.
“Great, who is it?”
“It’s this chap I know from Mexico!”
“Yes, he had been in the Pyrénées and out of phone range and has been waiting for us to call him.”
Clearly tea works miracles, I will remember that.
Crew members. 1 gained. 0 lost.
Day 3 Wednesday 15th August 2007
First meeting is in The Blue Posts again at midday. Paul and I chat about a few things when the prodigal child returns.
“I’ve never been so pleased to see a Mexican before,” I say as I throw open my arms and hug Williams.
“I’m from Venezuela,” he says. The air turns a little icy for a brief moment before retuning to its usual chilly August normality.
We spend the next few hours planning the next few weeks. Listing the locations we have and assessing our state regarding cast and crew. The inevitable subject of finance rears its never diminishing ugly large head and I mention that my girlfriend is about to have lunch with a millionaire in Paris. Hopefully she can convince him to part with a few Euros.
We check out a great location in Covent Garden and have lunch. Paul enthuses about the delights of eating pig’s trotters and I am somewhat put off my vegetarian pizza.
We repair to a delightful little French Patisserie in Soho to meet a French actress who is interested in the lead role. She is very keen and loves the script but…
Here it comes.
She is concerned about her TV presenting job and how it will fit in with the shooting schedule. Short answer. It won’t. She says she will investigate the possibility and that she definitely wants to read for the part.
We meet Job in the evening and he proves to be a perfect Grip. We also get a call from Marc Warren, who having been in four films with Paul already, agrees to play the role of Marrlen, which is a great boost, particularly as I wrote the character with him in mind. He confesses he hasn’t yet read the script but is willing to do it anyway as Paul is directing and we cast his mate Steven in the Jode role.
I get home to a call from my friend who was supposed to make the on-screen web pages the lead character Callum looks at. He is not happy and despite having known him since before the members of the Arctic Monkeys were born he decides to quit.
Crew members. 1 gained. 1 lost.
Cast members. 1 gained. 0 lost.
Day 4 Thursday 16th August 2007
Happy birthday me.
This is an odd one as I have become used to of late spending my birthday in some obscure part of Europe, far from anyone I know. Last year it was the French Alps, the year before was Minsk, the year before that I was in the Arctic Circle in Finland, the year before that was in Budapest. You get the idea. This year I had planned to be in Albania but Paul decided he wanted to make a film from my screenplay instead and so I have sacrificed my annual birthday retreat to confuse people by asking them if elephants pray? Paul on the other hand has flown off to Marrakech so he can spend five days sitting in a café making the shot list. He texts me to say it is very hot and sunny and the opening of the film will be “f**king amazing”. I look at the dull slab of endless grey outside and sigh.
So my birthday was spent sorting out my apartment into an office and playing games with my friend and her three year old son, broken only by an email from the French actress we met yesterday saying she is unable to commit to he film and therefore not going to be able to read for it.
After they leave I stare at my old sofa bed in my front room. I need get rid of it to free up space that is to become the production office. I have been wanting to get rid of it since I moved in ten years earlier but it is too large to fit through the door. There is only one thing for it, I have to smash it to pieces. I spend an hour and a half on the phone chatting to my French girlfriend Stéphanie, whom the lead female character Malika in the film is based on. She wonders what all the banging is.
“It’s a surprise. I’m changing my front room around a bit.”
“Why?” Comes the inevitable reply.
Now, to clarify the situation here and fill in some back story Stéphanie and I have decided that next week would be a perfect time for her to quit Paris and come and live with me in London. I haven’t yet told her that my small two-bed apartment is about to be converted into the production office and be invaded by several people everyday until October. I take the less than honourable way out of this revelation and settle for the more convivial…
“I wanted a change in my life!”
Yes. A change. I am starting to see how big a change it
is. However, it will not be changed by the generous donation from a French millionaire. Tant pis.
She accepts my reasoning and lives in the temporary bliss of not-knowing for another week until she gets here.
Crew members. 0 gained. 0 lost.
Cast members. 0 gained. 1 lost.
Day 5 Friday 17th August 2007
Williams comes round and I spring the need to help destroy the sofa be on him (having given up on it last night). We take it in turns to jump on it and eventually fragment it enough to get out the door. We set up the office and I spend 2 hours talking with a succession of people all with indecipherable regional British accents in a technical call centre to try and install a wireless network.
I fail dismally.
I call my friend Matt Blackmore an actor who is also a web designer and ask if he wants to design some web pages for us promising to let him win our monthly poker game if he does so. He agrees.
I get an email from the French actress who confesses that she “Can’t get the script out her head” and that her agent has said she should do our film and that she will sort it out with her TV people. We add her to the list for the casting next week.
I go to work in the evening and sort of crash back into the real world of earning money for pressing buttons all weekend whilst watching poker on the TV.
Crew members. 0 gained. 0 lost.
Cast members. 0 gained. 0 lost.
Day 6 Monday 20th August 2007
I crawl into consciousness courtesy of the ringing phone again. Seanne our Production Designer says the Art Director is not happy and could I call her. With coffee in hand I call to find out the problem. Simply put she wants us to pay for her accommodation in London. I casually remind her that I have arranged for her to stay for free with someone she knows well so she has no need for us to pay for her accommodation but this is still not good enough.
“I will feel guilty about that!” She says. I am so taken aback by this comment I spill coffee on my legs.
22, just graduated from University and she has been offered an Art Director’s job on a feature with an experienced cast and crew and she feels guilty about crashing at someone’s place for a month? What’s wrong with ex-students these days?
A few hours later she emails and says she has decided she doesn’t want to work on the film. That decision wasn’t in fact hers, I had made that one for her the second I hung up the phone.
“Shame,” says Seanne later. “I could have offered her a lot of paid work after this.” Shame indeed.
Williams and I battle with the wireless network again but to no avail. It is still proving to be elusive and I have single-handedly boosted BT’s share value through the number of calls made in the last few days.
Crew members. 0 gained. 1 lost.
Day 7 Tuesday 21st August 2007
The day, like so many recently, starts badly. I get an email from Job saying his circumstances have changed and he can’t be our Grip any more. However, unlike our errant Art Director, he feels guilty about letting us down and has found a replacement called Matt. I chat to replacement Matt, whom I remember having also worked on the same short film, and agree to meet next week. He is very keen and sounds ideal.
I post ads for a new Art Director and Sound Recordist and almost instantly get a reply from BECTU the technicians union threatening legal action over our “unlawful contracts”. I contemplate several possible ripostes all consisting of two short words but decide not to prod the wasps nest further and simply ignore the email instead.
Paul texts me from Gatwick having returned from Morocco and asks for the latest news. I break it to him gently in drips ending with the Bectu email.
“Good,” he says with a manner that suggests this is a marker, an inevitability of film production and a stage we must pass through in order to continue. Sort of like reaching the end of level one on a computer game. Congratulations you have reached the level of Bectu-annoyer you may continue. Next stop the one from Equity. Boosted by this I print out the email and stick it on the wall.
Crew members. 1 gained. 1 lost.
Day 8 Wednesday 22nd August 2007
Today we are location scouting. I get up at stupid o’clock in the morning and grab a train across London. It is clearly monsoon season in the UK as the world outside the train is flooded and I look decidedly out of place in my shorts. I am glad the line is elevated or there could be water lapping at my feet.
I meet Paul and Willesden Junction station. The rain is relentlessly pounding us by the bucketful. I take a deep breath and we swim to Seanne’s house.
“I’ve never been here during the day,” says Paul as Seanne shows us into the kitchen and on to the conservatory. He looks at me with a weird grin, the sort of one that usually comes with a call of “bingo!” Instead he says…
“Really?” I reply. “Does Seanne rent it then?”
“No, Emma, the character Emma, the one in the screenplay you wrote!” He can tell this is going to be a long day, but it is early and the tea is only just starting to take effect.
Seanne picks up on Paul’s sudden childlike glow of excitement. She is cautious, sort of seen this before fear sweeping over her, she probably knows what is coming.
“I think you’d better ask,” I suggest in a low voice.
“Seanne,” he begins, placing a comforting arm around her which she eyes suspiciousl. “If we use this as Emma’s house then that is one location you don’t have to find or travel to.”
As angles go that’s a good one, there is a certain logic I suppose. Through natural survival instincts Seanne argues against the idea. Like most people in the film world she knows what location filming entails and is reluctant to allow anyone to film in her house, kind of like the Groucho Marx I wouldn’t want to be a member of any club that would have me as a member, philosophy.
Paul bombards Seanne with a barrage of reasons why we should shoot at her house intercut with blatant flattery about how wonderful the yellow and orange paint looks. Knowing that resistance is futile as Paul will just lambaste her until she agrees she capitulates and we splash our way to her car buoyed by the success of having found at least one location on our list.
The car scythes its way through the flood water en-route to our first stop to pick up Williams who gives me a gift of a statue of Ganesha, Elephants – praying – you can see the logic there. He is drenched and has a sort of ‘Why did I ever leave the Pyrénées’ look.
We head to the first apartment, high up in the attic of an old converted post office. Paul and Seanne inspect the layout whilst I hunt around for some of the numerous lost letters that have never arrived at my house over the last decade. Surely if I look hard enough I will finally find that letter from my ex-flatmate with the back rent he owes me. I wander into the kitchen and see a young woman sat at a computer checking her emails. She smiles and says ‘hello’ in that way people do when it is not for the first time and I wander back out again frantically trying to remember where I know her from.
“How are you?” she asks ever so politely and I instantly feel embarrassed at my lack of recollection. I look around for inspiration to jolt my memory and overhear Seanne discussing the location.
“Do you like it, I like it, do you like?”
I try to corner Paul to ask him who this woman is and how do I know her but he is busy actually doing some work and replying to Seanne.
“Not really. Can we reshape this wall?”
“No,” she replies and that is that, the location is no good. We head out to the door covering ourselves in an many layers as possible when the woman looks at me again, I feel a question coming on as we say goodbye.
“Did your friend pay up the bet he lost?” she asks.
“In Cannes, some football thing with Seanne…”
Suddenly it all makes sense again. Cannes. Yes, ‘The Ginger Beacon’ Irish Paul and the bet he lost on the Champions League Final. Ah Cannes. It seems so long ago, a quick calculation reveals it to be less than three months. My mind starts to drift off into the void of esoteric questioning… If I hadn’t gone to Cannes this year I wouldn’t have given Paul the script to read and he wouldn’t have decided to make the film and we wouldn’t be here now in this woman’s apartment and I wouldn’t be in this awkward position of wanting to shoot in her apartment but not knowing her name. Then again, I wouldn’t have met her either so it kind of evens out I guess.
A few minutes later we are back in the car with the windows steaming up. I call my friend Mandy who is also our publicist to ask her what time we can come round on Friday to look at her Studio apartment.
“Midnight!” shouts Paul from the passenger seat.
“I’ll be wrecked by then,” she says on speaker phone.
“Great, party at 7pm,” says Paul and pretends to call people on his mobile.
I try to reassure Mandy that allowing us to film in her place is a great idea whilst trying to cover up Paul in the background dropping in various lines…
“Yeah mate, we’ll all be wreaked by eight…total carnage…we’re gonna tear the place apart…”
Sometime later we arrive at out next stop, Alexandra Palace. This is a potential location for the Act one climax where the two central characters Callum and Malika kiss for the first time. However, it doesn’t look overly romantic as the rain beats down whipped up by a fierce wind blowing sheets of water in our faces. I shiver in my shorts. This is supposed to be August the hottest month of the year.
“I can see it now!” cries Paul. “The whole scene in one take! (About three minutes) A long tacking shot on a zoom lens ending in a tight two-shot with an old man sat behind on the bench smoking a cigarette. Can we get an old man?”
I fear the water has clogged his mind but he is serious.
We repair to my favourite London bistro, ‘Banners’ in Crouch End. Whilst waiting for our food and munching on popcorn Paul rues the fact he never found a sheep’s eyeball to eat in Marrakech and is outraged that Williams has eaten something he hasn’t and so begins a trade-off of who has eaten what. Williams is clearly winning when Paul cries out…
“Guinea pig! I’d love to eat guinea pig!” His desire is aimed in some vain hope at the bemused waitress “I’d eat one raw, if there was one running across this table now I’d bite its head off and put teeth marks in its back.”
Bellies full we head reluctantly back into the rain to roundabout in a nearby park. It turns out to be a perfect location for Callum and Malika’s first meeting. We are all relieved as it has been a difficult location to find. There is something a little disconcerting about hanging around children’s play areas particularly when you don’t have a child.
“I’ve been to more parks than a paedophile,” jests Paul.
We are about to leave when I get a call from a girl called Anna regarding the Art Director’s position. She is only in Finsbury Park so we hastily make arrangements to meet and debate about the origin of he unusual surname settling for something Scandinavian which fits in well with our desire to get as many different languages spoken on set as possible. Paul’s dream is to have two people on set who can’t speak English communicating through a third person.
We spy her and say hello.
“Hello. Where are you from, Sweden or Norway?” I ask outside the tube station having been charged with finding out.
“Wales,” she replies.
“Do you speak welsh?”
“Erm…yes,” she adds wondering if it is a prerequisite of the job.
We hole up in a café and drink fresh mint tea. She seems ideal for the job and agrees to take it on. However before we can get down to the details she has to leave because her friend is getting a tattoo and she is needed for moral support and we head to Islington to look at a street. Paul stares at a blank brick wall next to the exit of a building we are using.
“Can we paint a giant flower on this?” he asks.
“That’s not like you,” retorts Seanne.
“Mmm… you’re right we need a flower with ‘Fuk Da Pigz’ sprayed across it, can you do that?”
“Yeah, I’ll get right on it.” I get the impression that Seanne isn’t overly enthusiastic about this but then again she has known Paul a lot longer than I have and knows when he is serious, or not as the case may be. They settle on just a flower without the added social comment.
Williams disappears off to investigate food for the location at a place around the corner I recommended and comes back beaming.
“Great food and cheap! But vegetarian.”
A look of horror falls across Paul’s face.
“Will you cope?” Asks Williams.
“I will make sure I have a whole suckling pig to eat when I get home, I’ll stick it on my head and eat my way out”.
He is not kidding.
We part ways here for the day and Paul heads into town to meet with Rhys, a young guy whom he takes on as his First AD.
Crew members. 2 gained. 0 lost.
Locations. 5 gained. 0 lost.
Day 9 Thursday 23rd August 2007
The day starts, unlike so many others, positively, that’s if you count no-one having quit before 10 O’clock as being positive. I point this obvious upturn in fortune out to Paul as I look at flights to book for our recce to France next month.
“Not yet!” He grins.
With perceptively perfect timing befitting more a Neil Simon play than the pre-production office of a film I get a text from Anna regretfully informing us she has to quit, some family crisis apparently. I stop looking for flights and start looking for more potential Art Directors. I call Seanne and tell her we had to sack Anna as she wasn’t welsh enough. We decide that maybe we are aiming a little high and need to set the bar a little lower with regards to the Art Director position, so low in fact that a one-legged drunken chimp could stagger over it.
Williams arrives with the wonderfully tradition call of “Good news or bad news?” We let him decide which to reveal first.
“The park with the roundabout wants £500 to film there.”
“And what about the good news?” I ask.
“That is the good news,” he replies. “The bad news is Alexandra Palace wants £250 an hour.”
I finally abandon the Art Director search and book six flights to Nantes for the recce. We are taking a bit of a gamble here as we are booking a flight for Roger the DoP even though he hasn’t yet agreed to do the film, nor even read the script. In fact I am not sure he even knows about the film as he is currently in Syria shooting a three month mini series and doesn’t get back until the end of the month. Paul is adamant he wants Roger and no-one else and is hoping to guilt trip him into agreeing by showing him how much we have paid for his flight already.
“How much have we paid for it?” he asks.
“Two pence plus tax.” I reply rather smugly. Many, many people complain that they never manage to book those tax only free flights, that is because I usually have booked them up already. Six return flights for twelve pence plus tax. Even our impoverished budget can afford that. Just. Checking my emails I get a very interesting one from someone in Croatia applying to be Paul’s Assistant. Somewhat worried about the daily travel expenses from Zagreb I email back but she assures me she is only there on holiday. I ask if she has a car and get the following reply…
I do drive and I do have a car, yes, even though it’s fairly old and unreliable, but I do have access to a more up-to-date vehicle which doesn’t make me look as cool but works fine.
I like this reply, and chuckle. I ask Paul which car he wants?
“The knackered old one!” he replies, and so Croatian Marina and her vintage wreck are hired.
I sit back and relax into this latest success with a cup of tea still amused at her email when I’m instantly jolted back to reality by a text from Stéphanie.
Oops, I’d clean forgotten she was coming today. I hastily tidy up and plan how to tell her why there are two desks and four chairs in my front room. I decide on breaking it to her gently as we climb the stairs. She is set to arrive and at 5pm and so I calculate I have just enough time to nip out and buy much needed stationary. I get back to see Stéphanie with a look of horror dangling her set of keys at me having already decamped her bags inside.
“You make a film here?” she asks without really needing to.
“Erm yes,” I say sheepishly hoping over-emphasised cuteness will soften the blow.
“Is okay, will be fun!” Well, she says that now. I decide not to tell her just then that I have to leave in three hours to go to work all night.
Crew members. 1 gained. 1 lost.
Locations. 0 gained. 1 lost.
Day 10 Friday 24rd August 2007
I wake up after three hours sleep by a ringing noise. I answer the phone but there is no-one there and the ringing keeps on. In that semi-conscious sleep-deprived state I realise it is the door bell. I throw on some clothes, barely, and stagger downstairs to see Billy Bob Thornton at my front door. I look confused and want him to go away so I can go back to bed, he however looks happy.
“Hello I’m Tim,” he says in a clear Australian accent. “I’m here about the Art Director’s job.”
Kerching! Come on in and save us.
“Oh, that will keep Paul happy!” I say ushering him upstairs.
“Who’s that, your Designer?” he asks.
“No, our Director with an obsession for multinational multilingual crews.”
I sit him down with a coffee and a few minutes later Seanne arrives to chat with him and an hour later he still hasn’t quit so we feel good about him.
Paul and I head into Soho for a casting session for the lead actress organised by Jeremy Zimmermann our Casting Director. This is a tense day for us as Malika is clearly the hardest part to cast and if we fail to find the right actress the whole film will suffer. Not only does she have to brilliant but I have to get on well with her to make the chemistry between us work. She is a unique character and, unusually for a lead role, only only interacts with one other character. Callum. The one I am playing. None of the auditionees know that the person they are reading opposite is actually going to play the part. The magic is going to take place in a venue that Jeremy has booked for us called the Soho Laundry which, despite half an hour of searching, we fail to find. We eventually stumble across a building with a load of washing machines and try our luck.
“Hello? Is this the Soho Laundry?”
“Hello yes this is the laundry,” comes the inevitable reply.
“Are you having a casting here?”
“Casting here for ‘Do Elephants Pray?’”
“Do elephants what?”
We quickly realise perhaps this is not the place and look around again finally finding a small, dark room in an old building that USED to be a laundry. Mmmm. Maybe the Soho Ex-Laundry would be a better nomenclature. We settle in and wait the procession of wannabe Malikas.
The first girl who comes in is called Julie. She was on holiday in Ibiza when her agent sent her the script and she has just flown in to read for the part. She brings her own stone from the island to use in the audition scene and gets so carried away she hurls it and a plastic bottle at the table, the latter of which bounces off the surface and smacks me right between the eyes. I like this, it shows passion and she is a passionate character. It is at this precise moment that I decide I want her for the part. Paul & I look at each other…
“That was fucking amazing,” he says to her and I agree. When she leaves we stare out the window reflecting what had happened.
“Shall we go home now?” suggests Paul.
“I feel sorry for everyone else but I guess we should see them.”
So we do.
We sit there all day watching a succession of actresses ranging from the brilliant to the goddam awful try out for a role we both know we have probably already cast. Some are French, some pretend to be French, some look the part, some don’t, some find part of that character none find it all. Apart from Julie. Manny our other Casting Director brings us coffee and we watch some more.
The last one in is the French actress we met last week. She tells us that she has become obsessed by the script and is desperate to play the part. She reads and is good, very good, so good in fact that we both feel really bad about NOT casting her.
Several long hours later we hastily eat some chips outside The Blue Posts pub and head to Mandy’s place to persuade her to let us use it. She and Paul hit it off immediately and talk about Formula 1, Lewis Hamilton, Minardi, Hakkinen, it’s all an alien language to me but apparently they understand each other. Seanne and Williams arrive having gotten lost and Seanne instantly doesn’t like the place.
“Can we repaint?” she asks. Mandy looks apprehensive but I persuade her it will be fine.
“How’s your little French thing?” she asks as I leave in her slightly churlish way.
“Stéphy, she’s fine, she’s…”
Bugger! She is at my place, sorry, our place. I think of her there all alone as I head straight to work. I text her and apologise that I can’t be with her, she replies “You do what you have to.” I think to myself how lucky I am. How many many other girls would move to a new country to be with their boyfriends and be happy to be alone for the best part of the first two days!
Crew members. 1 gained. 0 lost.
Cast members. 1 gained. 0 lost.
Locations. 1 gained. 0 lost.
Day 11 Monday 26th August 2007
Being a bank holiday we decide not to work. Ah the extended weekend. Some respite. I’d lounged around all day Saturday just hanging out with Stéphanie and catching up. In the evening we went to dinner in a restaurant courtesy of Mike the radio presenter I work with and Kelvin, another work colleague whom I somehow manage to get £100 investment from. Good. Only £17,900 to go…
Today our extended weekend is also the premier of another film I am in called “The Zombie Diaries” a low-budget British horror film that is screening at the Odeon West End as part of the ‘Frightfest’ horror festival. We head to Leicester Square only to be confronted by 900 people dressed as zombies staggering around dripping blood and body parts on the ground. The screening is a great success and a sell out and afterwards we hold a Q&A and then repair outside for photos, autographs and press interviews. My mind wanders to a year in the future and the prospect that we will go through this with elephants. I hope so. But that is a long way off yet. I meet Williams who introduces me to Rhys our new 1st AD and Julia who is our new Production Co-ordinator. I like them both and they like each other, in fact they would make a great couple if they weren’t already so.
I abandon Stéphanie in a bar with Kenny my agent and some friends and meet with Paul again to audition two more actresses in a room above Jeremy’s office that resembles a second-rate downtown Las Vegas strip joint. One actress is excellent but not quite right for the role, and the other one is just plain terrible. She has no idea of the character nor the idea behind the screenplay and I would rather burn every existing copy of the script rather than have her bastardise the role. Thankfully I can put my matches away.
Crew members. 1 gained. 0 lost.
Day 12 Tuesday 27th August 2007
After the euphoria of yesterday, the idea of what to aim for, the acclaim at the end of the hard work whereby you prostrate your efforts on screen to hundreds of people and hope they stay awake despite the dark, comes the inevitable come down. I wake early ready to start the third week of preproduction with vigour and guile only to be stopped dead in my tracks by the phone.
“Hello,” says a voice in an Australian accent, it is supposed to be our latest Art Director’s first day on the job but I can guess from the fact that he has called in rather than arrive at the office, what is coming…“I’m sorry mate, I’ve just been offered another job, a paid one, really good money and I really need to do it…”
I thank Tim for his honesty and tell him not worry.
I break the news to Seanne and Paul, repost our call for an Art Director on various film making websites and spend the rest of the day drawing up investment contracts in time for our Investors Evening.
Ah contracts, if I had to sum up film production in one word it would be that little nine letter countdown conundrum. Now for the numbers round, 1, 2, 5, 6, 10, 10, and the target is….our budget! Even Carol Vorderman would struggle to make the budget work with our resources, which is why we have dumped that thankless task onto Williams.
The Investors Evening is being organised by Cassie French the actress playing the role of Fahra the receptionist, a part that was originally a non-speaking role but has since grown into an interesting little character.
Hopefully on 13th September we can dazzle and amaze some rich people into handing over their wallets, or failing that, just tap all our friends and family.
Paul arrives at the office and I break the news about Tim to him. He doesn’t appear phased having been through this before several times.
“There is always one job you can’t fill on a shoot.”
He grabs a sheet of paper and a blue marker pen and writes ART DIRECTORS and scratches seven lines underneath it, one for each Art Director, before pinning the whole thing to the wall. I look at it and have the strangest feeling that we won’t be stopping at eight.
I finish off the Investor information and email it off to be printed then spend the afternoon perusing numerous websites of varying degrees of legality with a view to buying a gun for the Soldier character. As he is a French soldier he has to have a French weapon, a Falmas, which is not exactly the top seller in the American replica stores. I eventually find one and fill in the details only to discover they don’t ship abroad. The one in Hong Kong will ship abroad but is asking about five times the amount for the exact same gun. I keep up the hunt and eventually find and purchase one. On the final page is a ‘comments’ section for the seller, I ask Paul if he wants to add a comment?
“Yes,” he says keenly. “Tell them I want it quickly to shoot things with.”
“Shoot what?” I ask.
Crew members. 0 gained. 1 lost.
Day 13 Wednesday 28th August 2007
Half way through week three of preproduction and we have our first miracle, it comes in the guise of an Iranian called Lewis who takes a quick look at the wireless network, presses what seems to me to be fewer than a dozen buttons and voila, makes it work for the first time. I have been on the phone talking to innumerate call centres trying to get this thing to run without success and he does it in less time than it takes to boil the kettle. Maybe that was where I was going wrong, I didn’t offer the people at the call centre a cup of tea.
I celebrate this momentous upturn in events by sitting on the futon I just found courtesy of a neighbour who was like me, having a furniture clear out, and I happily tap away adding and deleting names from the website as appropriate. One name I add is that of Lewis under the title of IT Support. Genius would have been appropriate.
Now there is no longer a queue for the modem, both Stephanie, Paul and I can use the internet at the same time, which would be wonderful if the lap top she was using hadn’t decided to break.
I get a call from Greg, a friend whose HDV camera we are planning to use for the film and who also has a steadicam kit which he is happy to offer us, along with himself, for the duration of the shoot. Such generosity is rare and has nothing whatsoever to do with the emotional blackmail I laid on thick to him having played the lead in a feature he made last year (and not yet completed) entirely for free, he still hasn’t paid my expenses. His reasoning being that he has had little work lately and may have to sell his beloved sports car to pay me, to which I instantly suggested he could therefore invest in our film. Until he does so I am still without my expenses, still, he is going to pay for it now….
Or is he…?
He calls to say that he has been offered work on the Ridley Scott film in his usual guise of armourer and has been offered more money for three months work than we have for our entire budget. How inconsiderate of Mr Scott, jeapordising our entire shoot just so he have someone to hand out the guns at the start of the day. I’m sure Greg would argue, rightly so, that he does more than that as an armourer but I am a little worried here, one way I managed to persuade Paul that we could make this film for such a pitiful amount of money is the fact that we had access to a free HDV camera, stedicam kit and operator. Now we have none.
Greg senses my disappointment and offers his profuse apologise, I tell him not to worry, after all if he gets paid that amount he can pay me my expenses! I ask if we can still borrow his camera but he is somewhat reluctant to hand it over, can’t think why. Actually I can, there is a whole issue about using prime lenses with the HDV camera, it involves bulky adaptors on the front of the camera which adds to the weight and tips it over the maximum allowance for the type of stedicam kit he has. Also the adaptors are damn expensive, it would be cheaper to tear down my apartment and have it rebuilt than buy or hire a little box that clips onto the front of one lens and on the back of another.
Williams comes round and Paul and I show him the tapes of the short listed actresses from the audition. We ask his opinion but we have already decided, it is Julie, it has to be Julie. Hopefully she hasn’t changed her mind or been offered a paid job like our last Art Director…
Ah, talking of which…
I check my email and and get a few replies from the latest advert and forward them to Seanne, hopefully one of these will last longer than the current record of about three days. She replies an hour later saying she has spoken to two of them and is meeting them both tonight. She sounds happy and relaxed which hopefully means she has finally found the right person.
As half of the shoot will be in France I start to translate the contracts into French, ah contracts, welcome back, I’ve missed you guys these past few hours.
Crew members. 0 gained. 1 lost.
Day 14 Thursday 30th August 2007
I am excited today, I feel good, it is not raining (not yet) and I feel a positive air blowing in through the window. It doesn’t last.
Seanne calls to say that last night she decided to play it very safe and offer the Art Director’s job to both the latest applicants hoping in theory that even with our rate of natural attrition she might still have one left in the morning. Theory is a wonderful thing. Apparently both have already quit. I mark up another two lines on the official Art Director’s list and realise we are close to double figures.
Paul calls to offer Julie the part and she is very excited. The call is a little strained as there is a lot of interference on the line.
“Excuse me, I have to get off the metro,” she says.
“Don’t you mean tube?” says Paul.
“No, metro, I am in Paris.”
This is the moment where we find out that our request to find a London-based French actress has garnered us a Paris-based French actress which is all very well except that it means we have to find her somewhere to stay in London during the shoot and pay for her travel in her own tale of two cities. No Scarlet Pimpernel for us only a bank balance rapidly heading south into red.
“No worries,” says Paul. “She’s young, she’s beautiful, maybe she’ll start sleeping with one of the crew.”
Williams offers her to stay in his spare room, funny how he didn’t offer it when we needed a room for a sweaty hairy Grip.
We agree a compromise deal whereby we will split the cost of her accommodation and set Sarah, our new Production Secretary, onto it. A couple of hours later she tells us that there are no hotel rooms in London available for the dates we need apart from ones that are normally reserved for heads of state.
I spend most of the day translating contracts again and the day takes a marked downturn when the wireless network stops working again ! I try in vain to fix it by replicating the buttons that Lewis pressed but I apparently don’t have the magic touch and instead I fritter away several fruitless hours and end up getting to work late.
Crew members. 0 gained. 2 lost.
Day 15 Friday 31st August 2007
Today is my mother’s birthday. I celebrate this wonderful annual event by persuading her to part with £100 investment in the film. I get far too little sleep having worked through out the night in my regular boring non-film making job and I’m woken up by the latest Art Director arriving at the office. Actually to be precise she is the Art Department Runner but has been cajoled into doing more. She makes some calls whilst I catch a few more hours sleep, then leaves a note saying she will do the rest at home but doesn’t mention anything about quitting. Hopefully this is the turning point ! See, the job isn’t that bad. I text Paul the good (sic) news, he replies “shame” somewhat ironically.
Waiting for me at the door is a large box containing fifty copies of the Investors Information Pack I have made up for the Investors Evening, I scan through one to check it has been printed okay only to realise that I forgot to include our contact details. No phone number, fax number, email, website, nothing. I hastily knock one up, print it fifty and charge Sarah with packaging them all together.
Crew members. 0 gained. 0 lost.
Day 16 Saturday 1st September 2007
The day is settling into its usual pattern of phoning people and begging for money/equipment/time for free when a tiny person appears at the door. Her name is Am and she is here about the Art Director’s job. She speaks Punjabi and likes the idea of three weeks in a forest in France, seeing it as some sort of adventure, well, yes that is true, it will be some sort of adventure but I am not sure what sort that is.
I realise that having gone from no Art Director’s for the past few weeks we could be in the unimaginable and envious position of having two, rather akin to that scene in Spartacus, “I’m the Art Director”, “No, I’m the Art Director”, “No, I’m the Art Director and so’s my wife.”
The prospects of Am staying the course (in our case the rest of the week) are good as she has already been offered another job but has decided to turn that one down to do ours. She had the choice of a month in east of London with a TV director on yet another shoot ’em up gangster flick or three weeks in a forest in northern France with a bunch of cinematic beatniks. The lure of lakes and garlic obviously being more intriguing that a bunch of pseudo-cockney blokes running around in suits, brandishing fake guns and shouting “leave it ahhht you muppets” every few seconds. That reminds me I must check on the progress of our fake gun.
I check the account with the supplier only to find out that the order has been cancelled because the famous Falmas gun we need is no longer in stock. They offer a refund and then ask for some customer feedback. I write “Leave it ahhht you muppets” and hope they might one day understand.
We set young Am off on a somewhat smaller adventure of going to meet Seanne to discuss the rapidly mounting number of jobs that need to be done whilst Paul, Williams and I play a game not unlike the Elephants version of X Factor whereby we list out all the crew members (or in most cases the actual positions that have yet to be filled) and decide how many we can squeeze in the mini bus to France, basing the decision on importance of position, number of places available and ability to crucify a Johnnie Hallyday song.
Another potential Art Director email’s his CV, he is called Daniel and from Switzerland. I mean to forward his details to Seanne but forget, not to worry, he can wait another day before he quits, we have a queue already.
I pop out for a few minutes to the Post Office, something our Production Secretary should do but as it is Saturday she is sat in a branch of Blockbusters somewhere earning money. When I get back I think I am in the wrong place, the office has suddenly exploded into life having been invaded by potential crew members. Williams has chosen today to find people he needs to run the shoot, Runners, Production Assistants, Floor Managers and Steve Stills.
Steve is someone I met in January whilst playing a bit part in a film called “Seven Seconds To Heaven”, he was the stills photographer on that film and has been wanting to do the stills on Elephants since he read the script in a pub a few weeks ago. He and Paul are in a corner debating the virtues of Andrei Tarkovsky the Russian Director who is somewhat of a hero to both.
We take on a few people in various roles and everything appears on track.
Crew members. 4 gained. 0 lost.
Day 17 Monday 3rd September 2007
Having worked throughout the night again last night in my nocturnal doppelgänger role as radio button-pushing- nonsense-talker I crash into bed at 7am looking forward to a long and peaceful sleep to start me off in the right way. Of course this fantasy is never going to happen. I get a call from Seanne after just three hours, she is in Venice for the film festival where a film she was the Production Designer for is screening, she says that we need to get Elephants there next year. I promise to take some actual elephants to Venice next year if she will just let me sleep, but no, she is a little concerned about the Art Director situation.
“We have an Art Director, a good one called Am,” I remind her hoping to put an end to the matter.
“Erm…no, she called me this morning, apparently she has been offered a job…”
I cut Seanne off “I know about that, not to worry, it is the gangster thing, she is doing ours instead.”
“Gangster thing? What gangster thing?”
Bugger. She lasted about five days, surely a new record. I am feeling terrible and Seanne is sounding desperate, I can hear it in her voice when she says…“Will you be my Art Director? I’m really desperate!”
I like Seanne and we need an Art Director so I agree, though a little perturbed by the “really desperate” bit.
I hang up, get up and mark up myself on the Art Director’s list, the promptly go back to bed.
Ten minutes later I get a call from Am, apparently she hasn’t quit, it has just become a force of habit on our part to assume so and she is ready to start work properly. I officially quit as Art Director making mine the shortest tenure so far.
Paul comes round later and we have a very important discussion about what type of contract to give the dog. In the script the Soldier has a dog with him and we need to decide how to categorise the four legged actor. Character, supporting role or extra? It is mentioned by name and interacts with the principle actor, that should warrant at least a walk on or in this case a walkies on.
We decide on featured extra and I start to translate a contract into French for a dog. Thankfully they have no union and is not likely to bicker over the finer points of the small print such as what dog food to supply or which arses it is allowed to sniff.
The office is again flooded with people as Williams holds his great Elephants Runners run-off. Paul has been bugging him for weeks to sort out his on-set production team for the shoot and so he decides to meet all the potential runners at the same time. Not what you really want after three hours of sleep. No, wait, make that three hours and ten minutes. I have no idea how Williams is planning to chose his runners, personally I would challenge them all to go to the shops and bring back a packet of biscuits, the one who brings chocolate hobnobs would be the clear winner.
Lewis comes round again to sort out the wireless network. I offer him the magic cup of tea whilst he looks at the computer and, seemingly without touching anything, it starts to work again. Obviously my approach of shouting at it and getting very annoyed doesn’t work, temperamental thing that it is.
A friend of Stephanie’s arrives from Paris and reads for the role of the Soldier outside the front door on the little patch of grass by the car park. It is fairly warm and sunny so any excuse to actually get outside for once.
The postman arrives but no sign of the gun I re-ordered. “Waiting for something?” The postman asks. It is the first time he has ever spoken to me. I think about being honest “Yeah a gun!” but think better of it.
I spend the evening wrangling with my conscience about whether to ask my six year old niece and three year old nephew if I can raid their birthday money fund for a £500 each to invest in their uncle’s film. It is a morally bad thing to do but on the plus side they can’t touch the money until they are adults so I’ll have plenty of time to pay it back. As long as they are re-reimbursed by the time they reach eighteen I am safe, round about the age they can legally watch the film! (It is likely to be an 18 certificate with the full frontal nudity involved – mainly from me.) Then again do I really want my niece and nephew to see me fully naked on screen after having paid for the privilege ? These kinds of quandaries were never mentioned in the film making handbooks I read.
Crew members. 4 gained. 1 lost (me).
Day 18 Tuesday 4th September 2007
I start the day posting out dozens of Investment Packs to potential life savers. Paul and I have collated a list of people we think we can tap and settle in for a morning of stamp licking and cover note writing.
“What shall I write for this one?”
“You are fucking loaded and will you give us some money?”
I look at Paul with an ‘are you serious’ expression.
“It’s alright he’s a friend of mine”.
I print the cover note and hope I put it in the right envelope.
“Who’s the cleaner?” pipes up Paul.
“I don’t have one,” I reply. “I do what I can and Stéphanie helps out…”
“No, the cleaner in the script!”
I sit and think trying to recall at what point I had written a cleaner into the script. Thankfully Williams chips in saying he knows someone who can play the part and I no longer suffer the embarrassment of memory failure.
The gun has still not arrived and Paul is getting twitchy and wants to shoot things. Jaki our Art Department Runner calls and doesn’t quit, so that is good.
Paul heads out through the striking Tube network to the Blue Posts to meet a potential Sound Recordist (a notoriously difficult position to fill on a shoot). The person he is due to meet turns up an hour late to say he has another job and can’t work on our film.
Back in the office Sarah gets a box of free condoms courtesy of a woman called Faith who also offers us a bunch of sex toys should we need them. It is 3pm and Sarah, I notice, hasn’t eaten or drunk anything, in fact she never eats or drinks anything. I try offering her tea coffee, green tea, nothing. I ask her what she does want and she replies…
“I want to produce horror movies.”
No food, no drink, horror movies, now it all makes sense. I ask if she is a vampire and try to find a mirror. I threaten to throw garlic at her but her look makes me think otherwise and I decide not to pursue it.
Paul trudges back from his wasted trip to the Blue Posts and I break the news that we can’t get the Alexandra Palace location for less that £1000. The idea of using Kensington Roof Gardens instead is raised and Williams asks Paul if he likes it?
“If it is free I like it.”
Such is the mantra of our film.
“This is a film production office,” he adds. “We should get everything for free.”
I tell him about the condoms.
“Good,” he says. “Product placement, that’s what we need, I want truck loads of things turning up every day. Food, equipment, anything, if we don’t use it sell it!”
I mention the sex toys offer and we agree that there has to be a line drawn somewhere. He stares out of the window longingly searching for a delivery truck.
“How much paper do we have?” he asks.
“Just over a ream,” says Sarah quite prepared to count each sheet separately.
“Right, give me the phone,” he says and within minutes puts in a stationary order to rival the needs of a small publishing house.
Crew members. 0 gained. 1 lost.
Day 19 Wednesday 5th September 2007
Am calls first thing in the morning and doesn’t quit as Art Director, she merely needs to confirm some phone numbers, that’s two days in a row she hasn’t quit, things are definitely looking up.
Today is a very important day in the whole six week preproduction period as it is the day in which Paul tries to persuade Roger to be our cinematographer. Paul & Roger are long term collaborators and Paul is adamant he needs him to shoot the film and no-one else. One of the tenets of getting Seanne the Production Designer was that she could work with Roger again. The more I hear about him the more I think he is some kind of cinematic guru.
Paul’s plan to persuade him runs loosely on the lines of ‘I know you have just come back from three months in the Syrian desert and haven’t seen your wife yet but we have already booked your flight for the recce.’
Guilt trip yes, feel guilty about it no.
Williams and I spend the day prepping the recce next week including booking a café in Rennes to meet an actor for the Soldier role and advertising for dogs, specifically a Breton Spaniel, such is Paul’s desire to have a “local” breed in the film.
The emails bring in a plethora of CVs from Sound Recordists whom I fix to meet Paul tomorrow. I am about to reply to one when the room starts to shake, the tea in my cup ripples and I am reminded of that moment in Jurassic Park. We rush to the window to see a huge van rumble its way along the street and pull up outside the door. I greet the driver, sign for the stationary and spend the next fifteen minutes humping paper, pens, ink cartridges and a chair into the office whilst answering the numerous texts I get from Paul. “What camera are we using, what percentages, deferred payment etc”.
Stéphanie comes back saying she saw Paul and Roger in a little café in Soho, I ask her how Paul was, happy, sad, stressed, hoping for some clue as to how the meeting is going and if Roger will sign up or not.
“He was okay,” came the inconclusive answer leaving me non-the-wiser.
A long day of emails and calls ends at 5:40 when I check my in box and find no new emails. Phew. Paul calls and says Roger is interested and is prepared to blow out two TV series offers for us but has a commercial offer which will pay him equivalent of half our shooting budget which he needs to do. He will know in 24hrs when the dates are. I am about to relax when Kylie, our Executive Producer, arrives with her boyfriend Yoram who is interested in investing the equivalent of 1/5th of our shooting budget, I make him some tea and we discuss details.
In the evening Stéphanie and I go to the cinema to see a preview of ‘The Marriage OF Figaro’, I had forgotten that other films exist, normally I go to the cinema two or three times a week, I have seen two films since we start preproduction.
Crew members. 1 gained (possibly). 0 lost.
Day 20 Thursday 6th September 2007
Seanne is back in the office after her sojourn in Italy, she meets Am the still-not-yet-quit Art Director and likes her, so that is sorted.
We go on our second location recce to find an apartment for Callum. Seanne is not happy with our choice, a run down Tower Block in East London.
“It’s a shithole,” she says in that subtle way Italians have with words.
“I want him to live in a shithole,” argues Paul.
“Yes, but there’s shithole and shithole,” adds Seanne. “And this is a shithole!”
We finally compromise with a Tower block round the corner that is exactly the same except that it is painted a nice shade of blue.
“Now that’s a nice shithole!” says Seanne.
Back in the office I check with her that she is okay for the recce next week and she tells me that her new Italian boyfriend is in London for those days and so she can’t go. As half of the shoot takes place in France we really need our Production Designer on the recce but she refuses to leave him in London on his own, pleading that he doesn’t speak any English. Backed into a corner I acquiesce and book him on the flight with us to France, which really pisses Williams off as he has already prepared the recce budget without including Italian lovers.
Steve Stills calls and says he has a Camera Operator for us. A friend of his called Pete. In the afternoon the post still hasn’t arrived and this makes me a little edgy, which is quite disturbing when I realise I am actually hanging around my apartment all day waiting for my gun and condoms to arrive. If my mother calls I must remember NOT to mention that. Still, at least with an office full of people I’m dressed and not hanging around in my boxer shorts eating cold beans from a can.
Stéphanie breaks the wonderful news that we have a bunch of dogs waiting for us to meet in France for the dog casting. We get a call from a company offering us a small lighting package for free. We accept clear in the knowledge that our idea of the term ‘small lighting package’ is probably very different to theirs, rather like being offered a cup of coffee and a biscotti when what you really want is to own Starbucks.
I crash into bed late and dream of small lighting packages and Starbucks.
Crew members. 1 gained. 0 lost.
Day 21 Friday 7th September 2007
Hurrah ! Today the condoms arrive, hundreds of them. Some are out of date and to be used as props only, the rest are to be handed out as gratuities to sweeten the crew (probably just before wrap party).
As if that wasn’t enough Roger calls to say he is okay to be the DoP on the film, this is a huge relief and we are about to celebrate by inflating pink balloons when he mentions that he will only do it on one condition, that being he refuses to shoot anything on HDV as the quality is not good enough. In short, we need to find a full (full being the industry term for ‘expensive’) HD camera, which somewhat flies in the face of our initial idea of shooting on HDV because it was free. The plus side is that if we get full HD we won’t need the lens adapter but the down side is that the full HD camera and prime lenses will still be too heavy for Greg’s stedicam rig. We set Sarah the task of finding a camera.
It is then that the inevitable happens. We have been waiting for it and running a small sweepstake on the outcome. Yes, Seanne calls to say that Am has quit as Art Director. Apparently she has been offered a paid job. Paul & I pay Sarah her winnings and once again we are back to square one on this issue. I have exhausted my resources and contacts but assure Seanne I will find someone. I would offer myself but I have already quit once. Steve Stills then calls and says he can no longer be the stills photographer as he can’t commit the time. However, the day isn’t completely lost as we get an offer of a brand new HD camera that has only been used on one other feature. A deal is struck involving deferred payments, back end percentages & cash stuffed in an envelope, no doubt brown in colour and recycled from an earlier football bung. The deal is to be done in a seedy bar somewhere next week when we will step boldly into the murky side of the film world.
I am about to post yet another advert for Art Director when I get an email from Daniel the Swiss one asking if I have passed on his details to Seanne as he hasn’t heard from her. I quickly forward it to her and text her the news. A few minutes later she calls to say she has spoken to him, he sounds promising and they are meeting at the weekend.
Crew members. 1 gained. 2 lost.
Day 22 Saturday 8th September 2007
I crawl into bed at 7am having worked all night and sleep for three hours before being woken by Williams arriving. We have a quick chat and I go back to bed and sleep for another thirty minutes before being woken up again. Surly lack of sleep is starting to affect my eye sight as I am convinced I can see a slice of toast in my hand. Stéphanie looks at me and points to the toast and then to my mouth. I nod a feeble nod and fall back to sleep. I wake up twenty minutes later. Stéphanie points to mouth again I point to my alarm clock. I close my eyes. Ah bliss, the gift of sleep, the great refresher, the mender of all bodily ills, repairer of souls, precious precious sleep… Thirty seconds later the alarm goes off. I sit up and stuff toast in my mouth. It is cold.
Stéphanie and I head to Paddington. Paul texts and asks if we can meet a French actor at 10am Monday en-route to Stansted (I will have worked until 6am again). Lack of sleep makes me say yes before I realise what I’ve done.
We head to Wiltshire to spend the weekend with my parents and brother Russell and his family. I extol the merits of investing in the film to them all and Russ says he will happily give us £500 if he gets paid the money he is owed by the NHS. In theory a great offer, except that he has already been waiting for this money for two years.
My father, taken in by my hard sell of the film and the subtle persuasions of Stéphanie, hands over a check for £1,000.
“That’s to pay your mortgage whilst you make the film,” he says.
“Thanks!” I say, eyes beaming, and promptly text Paul to say I have secured another grand for the budget.
I then spend the rest of the day persuading my father to let me borrow his car for the duration of the shoot to use as Callum’s prop car (which means taking it to France). I, and the rest of my family, am somewhat amazed when he agrees. This represents something of a miracle as I previously borrowed it for an hour or so a couple of years ago and had to negotiate in detail for several days.
I love my parents.
Crew members. 0 gained. 0 lost.
Prop car. 1 gained. 0 lost.
Day 23 Monday 10th September 2007
I wake up after two hours sleep by Sarah arriving. I let her in and she gets on with the huge list of tasks we have lined up for her. I would offer to make her a cup of tea but as she is a vampire I know she won’t drink it. I snatch another thirty minutes before Seanne puts in her usual Monday morning call to say that she met with the Art Director from Switzerland and he sensationally hasn’t quit over the weekend. Not only that but he wants a contract. Hello Daniel welcome to the team, where have you been all this time? Oh yes, sat waiting patiently in my In box waiting to be forwarded to Seanne. I sleep another half hour and get up.
I just have time to send off a few emails before packing my suit case. I have managed to negotiate my way out of meeting the French actor at 10am, leaving that to Paul. Fifteen minutes later Stéphanie and I miss the bus which means we miss the coach which means we have to catch another one which is running late and then decides to take a different route to the airport to catch up thus landing us in heavy traffic.
“Don’t worry,” I say to Stephanie. “I have never missed a flight.”
This is true my record is flawless on catching planes, a record that is to be shattered in two weeks time when I am due to fly to Bucharest for a week’s holiday in Romania but which I am sacrificing for the film as it is the date we randomly chose to start filming. An hour later with the coach stuck motionless on the M25 I wonder if my perfect record isn’t going to be destroyed two weeks early. Paul texts to say he is having a coffee in the departure lounge. I tell him we will be there in a few minutes fully aware that we might not make it at all. We have to get on the plane as I am the only one booked to drive the car in France.
Finally, after what seems like the slowest journey ever, we get to Stansted a full twenty minutes before check-in closes, which actually for me is quite early. I hook up with Seanne and her Italian beau, he and Stéphanie chat in Italian whilst I meet Roger for the first time. I instantly like him, it is impossible not to, always cheery, always positive and I can see why Paul insisted he come on board. I thank Roger for coming to play with us and stuff a few of his things into my suitcase. As we are on a strict budget I only booked one suitcase for the flight and so everyone stuffs various things into my case. I heave it onto the scales and smile at the young chap behind the desk.
“That’s 5kg over weight, that will be £27 extra.”
I refuse. He refuses to let me refuse. I take out a couple of items which knocks off a single kilo.
“That’s still £22 to pay, sir.”
“Tough,” I say. “I’m not paying it.”
The unfortunate young lad checks his watch, looks at the long queue behind me and realises I am going to eat up the bulk of the remaining fifteen minutes check-in time arguing this matter thus creating an even bigger problem when twenty or so other people can’t get checked-in. I make another gesture by taking out my production folder barely scraping a few grams off the weight and dogmatically refuse to take out any more. He lets me off the charge and I thank him for not being a typical boring jobsworth that makes life so frustrating.
I am about to get on the plane and eat a baguette when my friend Mandy calls to say she has fixed me up with an interview on Wiltshire Radio tomorrow morning.
An hour later we arrive in Nantes and collect the word’s smallest People Carrier car, one that claims to be for seven people but, by the look of it, was designed in the Middle ages when people were a lot smaller. We drive to Brocéliande, the forest about 60km from Rennes. It is strange to be back. Stéphanie brought me here two years ago on the trip that inspired the writing of the screenplay and I have not been back since.
En route Paul and I listen to some potential soundtrack music on CD and he then tries to tune the radio to a local station claiming he wants wall-to-wall Breton music. We settle for NRJ instead then play the four track CD over and over again.
We get to the caravan site we are staying at and are shown a caravan which is far too small for six let alone seven so we have to get a second one. We look up at the night sky, so black and the stars are so bright. The magic of the forest is back with us.
Crew members. 1 gained. 0 lost.
Day 24 Tuesday 11th September 2007
“What?” I holler wondering why Paul is banging on my door at 7am and realise it is actually 8am. Bugger. I didn’t put my clock forward one hour. Skipping breakfast we head to the village of Tréhorenteuc and check out the church and car park as well as a tiny, rather deserted café. There we meet Roger, a white-haired ex-pat Brit who lives there and has become a druid, he is riding his bicycle and has been collecting mushrooms. Stéphanie and Williams go to the Mairie to get permission from the Mayor to shoot in the car park and come back with permission to shoot the whole village for as long as we want.
We traipse up into the forest towards the lake where the climax of the film is set. The last time I did this was at midnight two years ago, this time is a little easier. We find the lake and it is as beautiful as I remember. Paul and Roger get very excited and plot where to shoot from. I stand in the lake up to my knees for nearly an hour to check the temperature. Julie and I have to jump in the lake and as it will be in October I am a little concerned about the temperature. With everyone else off wandering around I ask the forest to bless the shoot and look after us and instantly get a huge rush of energy and wind around me filling me with an elated sensation that everything will be fine, it is as if the forest has accepted us being there. Immediately my phone rings, it is Russ saying the NHS has miraculously paid up and who should he make his £500 cheque to? This truly is a magic place !
I get out of the lake and my legs are covered in mud. I try to wash them but as the lake water is the cause of the mud it only makes it worse. We head back to the village with the mud drying on my legs making me itch like a flea-invested dog. Stéphanie asks me for the French contracts so she can get them signed and I start scratching my head. I realise I have almost certainly forgotten to pack them. The very ones we spent several days translating. As this is one of the main reasons for coming here it represents a major cock-up on my part. I say that I think they are in my case and hope that they are.
In a nearby town Paul buys an English / Breton dictionary and proceeds to translate everything into Breton. He orders lunch, in Breton, but as very few people here actually speak it he ends up talking to the air whilst the rest of us order in varying degrees of French.
We travel to another part of Brocéliande and find some more locations for the forest journey. In one scene Callum has to hang upside down from a tree and fall out. We find a suitable candidate and up I climb. Being country born and bred climbing trees is like a hobby and falling out the fun part of it. But it is not something I have done for a number of years and when I do a test fall from the branch I promptly smack my shin against the root causing a huge bruise. Feeling rather nauseous I have a quite sit down whilst the others continue along the path.
Paul, who stayed with me to discuss a few matters, and I wander through the forest en route to the Fountain Barenton we meet a girl with blue eyes and two black cats in a box that seem somewhat distressed. We catch up with Seanne who says that she saw a dead black cat nailed to a tree and that she suspects the girl to be a witch.
“Welcome to Brocéliande!” I say. Seanne’s phone rings, she has a voice mail message from Daniel. We fear he may have quit and gather around her phone to listen and offer support but he is merely a little concerned that he doesn’t have enough to do! Seanne calls him back and fills up his day for him. We went around the world looking for an Art Director, thank god for the Swiss!
In the evening we go to a restaurant that Stéphanie and I ate in two years ago. Again Paul insists in ordering everything in Breton, the waitress looks confused so Paul rifles through the pages and asks her if she would like to follow him outside.
We get back to the caravan and I check my case but alas there are no contracts to be found.
Locations. 2 gained. 0 lost.
Day 25 Wednesday 12th September 2007
In January when it was cold and dark and miserable I had this idea to write a screenplay set in a forest in the UK, now I find myself sat early in the morning on terrace of Café le Picca in Place de la Mairie in Rennes opposite the Opera in the middle of a music festival talking to a French actor who wants to play a Soldier! Be careful of what you wish for life has a habit of throwing up weird variants. He is however a very good French actor and makes the two hour round trip worth while. We read a few scenes together, he corrects my not always perfect written French grammar, whilst Paul watches and Roger takes some photos. After he leaves we place him at the top of the potential list along with Jean-Baptiste, the actor Paul met on the way to the airport. As I didn’t meet J-P I leave this decision solely upon Paul to make. The three of us wander around Rennes for half an hour or so looking at the architecture before trying to find the car park, a task that appeared easy in theory but, as the mother of a former girlfriend always used to say “Theory is a wonderful thing.”
In the car on the way back Roger watches a showreel of a potential camera operator that Paul likes. Roger is not convinced and after forty minutes says he hasn’t seen “a single well composed frame yet!” Paul reminds him that we have few options in this department as camera operators are not exactly queueing up, there is Steve Stills’ mate and the one who’s handiwork Roger is currently destroying.
“We do have one option,” says Roger. “I’ll do it myself.”
Being an experienced DoP Roger hasn’t actually operated for a number of years the offer is a bit of a surprise but Paul accepts for artistic reasons and I accept for financial ones – a self-operating DoP means one less person to squeeze into the mini bus and one less mouth to feed.
At 6.30am I texted Sarah begging her to email the French contracts to the caravan site office by 9.30am. As we drive back to Brocéliande she texts to say it has been done. Life saver !
We get back to Tréhorenteuc and whilst Williams and Stéphanie finally get the permission contracts signed Paul, Roger, Seanne and I start casting dogs. About a dozen of them with owners have turned the deserted café into a canine lover’s paradise, that’s assuming you only like Breton Spaniels, a smallish ginger breed that other spaniels probably pick on.
The casting session involves Seanne watching Roger filming Paul sat on a chair looking on as I roll on the floor playing with them all in turn. We try several tests, sit, stand, roll over, chew that table leg, get away from me… A local Journalist turns up expecting to see a Hollywood film crew replete with Winnebagoes throwing bundles of cash around but instead sees four people, a tiny digital camera and an idiot in shorts flat on the floor having his face licked. We eventually choose a dog called Statis and have our photo taken with her and her family (canine and human) for the local paper.
I recount the tale of dog casting to the listening west of England public on Wiltshire Radio and I get the impression that they think their former son has gone off the rails somewhat.
Before we leave we all buy rings and necklaces with the Breton Triskellian as a connection to the area, apart from Roger who buys a cross. Paul also buys a triskellian for Julie to wear. We are late leaving but check out another camp site just in case it can offer us a better deal which annoys Williams as he has spent three days negotiating a deal and has already paid the deposit. On the way back to Nantes airport we get stuck behind a tractor that is struggling to overtake a pensioner, then I take a wrong turn onto the motorway putting us out by about 15km and then detour off the motorway into the town of Vannes to find petrol and discover it is apparently a service station free zone. When we finally fill up we are left with 110km to get the the airport and just over an an hour before check-in closes.
“Not to worry,” I say trying to keep up moral. “I’ve never missed a flight!”
Even I am not sure that I will be able to say that come the evening so I press the accelerator as hard as possible reckoning that a speeding fine in France will be significantly cheaper that rebooking seven flights for tomorrow plus accommodation and meals etc. Paul keeps a look out for police as I hurtle the tiny car through the French countryside at a speed that would lose a licence in England.
I screech into the airport, drop everyone off and ditch the car finally presenting my own passport at the desk a full five and a half minutes before it closes. Plenty of time. I feel good, against all the odds we made it.
In the departure lounge Paul tells me that Williams is not happy with us, well to be precise, he is not happy with me. My late arrival, the delayed leaving, the contracts, the second camp site, Seanne’s boyfriend… Apparently that constitutes the worst set of film making crimes imaginable and as a result he doesn’t want to come to France during the shoot.
I have plenty of time to contemplate the effect of this whilst sitting, bleary-eyed at work all night.
Crew members. 2* gained. 0 lost.*One dog & one Soldier
Day 26 Thursday 13th September 2007
The idea of the recce to France was two fold, firstly to find the locations, resources and outstanding cast we needed and secondly to act as a bonding exercise for the Heads of Department. We largely succeeded in the first but appear to have failed in the latter. After three hours sleep Paul, Williams and I have a meeting to discuss Williams’ little departure lounge strop. Paul and I assure him he is invaluable to the shoot and persuade him to come to France during the shoot after all.
The morning is spent in the usual manner of phone calls and emails and trying to find something that Sarah will drink when I hear Paul’s side of a phone call that worries me…
“Hi Geoff, what’s the matter?….Oh, can’t do it all?…Ah, can you recommend anyone else?….No?….”
Paul looks troubled and I start thinking, Geoff…?, Geoff…?, Ah! Julie’s agent Geoff, damn! We are eleven days from starting principle photography and we have lost our lead actress. Paul ends the call and I prepare for the worst.
“So, Julie is out then?” I ask.
Paul looks at me then starts laughing.
“Not Geoff, Jeff!”
“Jeff, with a J, from the camera place.”
Apparently the fantastic deal we struck for the brand new HD camera has fallen through as they have had the temerity to rent it out to another film company who can actually pay for it up front. In essence the camera was offered a paid job, it should have been an Art Director.
The relief of not losing our lead actress eleven days before we start shooting doesn’t last long, in fact only up to the moment when the realisation dawns that although we may well have a lead actress to film we now no longer have anything to film her with ! This is a big decision, we have already lost the HDV camera, the HD camera and now need to find an H camera from somewhere.
“I’ll shoot on anything from super 70mm film down to selotape through a cornflakes packet,” says Paul. “As long as we start rolling a week Monday.”
I love blind optimism it’s what this film is based on.
An hour or two later crunching figures and investigating options we settle on super 16mm as being the best chance and calculate that with some shrewd deals we can shoot on film for little over an additional £2,000 on the budget and set to work on the phones.
“I want the best f**king deal that has ever happened in the history of the universe,” says Paul negotiating stock with Fuji. He covers the mouthpiece and turns whispers “We can get cheap stock from a company in Madrid but they only sell to Spanish companies, do we have one?”
Williams pipes up that he does somewhere, hidden in the back of a cupboard gathering metaphorical dust and so we’re in business.
Although shooting on film is always a benefit in the long run as it ups the quality and therefore value of the film it is more expensive in the production stage than shooting on tape and much more expensive in the post-production phase. I ask how we are going to pay for the processing and how much will it be? Paul replies that he will get it all for free.
“How?” I ask, suspecting another deal involving envelopes stuffed with cash and a few Eastern European sex workers to hide them in their lacy underwear.
“Because I’m a C***!” says Paul, clearly fired up by the enormity of the challenge. He pulls up an obscure number from deep within the address book in his phone and dials.
“Hello mate, remember that deal you didn’t give me thirteen years ago, well now is your chance to make it up to me…!”
Ten minutes and a lot of flattery later Paul has several deals to get all the film stock processed, transferred to tape and then graded ready for output back to film, all for no upfront fee ! Fortunately the person he had called was about to step onto a plane and go on holiday and had agreed more as a way to ensure he caught his flight than anything else. Paul certainly has timing, either that or he really is a c*** ! (His words not mine.)
Stock – check, processing & digital transfer – check, great, only a camera to go, but still, three out of four ‘aint bad.
We break early from the office to head into Piccadilly for the Investors Evening. It is being held in a small private members club off Regents Street that only the initiated or fortuitous would ever discover, the sort of place that you have to knock three times on a non-descript door and say the magic password whilst rolling up a trouser leg in order to get in.
Inside is a bar and club built inside an old cellar complete with prison bar grills and stone walls. In one back room at the end of a small labyrinth lies a screening room where eager film makers show shorts to each other and eager feature film makers gatecrash to raise money. Tonight we are the gatecrashers and show three films in all, two directed by Paul ‘f2point8’ & ‘Secrets’ and one starring myself called ‘Collapsed’. The room is packed and very hot but Paul and I stand at the only door and insist that no-one leaves without paying up, a little like leaving Wales on the Severn Bridge. After each film we chat to the sweaty fainting audience about what they have seen and what we are hoping to do. My friend Dougal who is playing the Hoody character in the film documents it on his digital camera and we post the result on Youtube. The reactions are mixed with the bulk of people liking what we show and one main detractor lambasting everything. It later transpires that he had originally booked the venue that night to show some short films of his hoping to raise money for a feature he is producing and, thanks to the sweet-talking Cassie, we have crashed his party.
After we screen the films we chat to potential investors whilst the band Slashed Seat Affair, whom I have known for a few months and hope to get featured in the soundtrack, play a few acoustic songs from their amazing set. I chat about how great they are to Sam from Excellence Records who introduced them to me and she agrees to become our Music Supervisor on the film. I am negotiating terms on her contract when Kylie, our Executive Producer corners me saying she and Paul have met some Investment Bankers in some of the little prison-like cubicles and that I should chat to them as well. I follow in anticipation of all our financial woes being swept away in one go but they turn out to be quite the bunch of irritating bores that you would expect Investment Bankers to be. Isn’t that cockney rhyming slang for something? Kylie lays on some flattery to the red-faced chubby one whilst Paul tries his charm to the uptight pencil-skirted ice maiden leaving me with a self-obsessed sort who wouldn’t part with his own money to fund his grandmother’s funeral. He tells me he is sick of his career and really wants to follow his unfulfilled childhood dream of directing music videos. I tell him it is important to listen to your dreams and that he should just do it, as we are doing, and that he should quit his job and follow to his heart, but he says he loves earning money too much to quit the job he hates and orders more champagne. Time is short and I sense we are not going to get any investment from these people. I try one last tact and ask him for whom he would most like to direct a music video for? The will to live slips away when he replies… “Coldplay, they’re my favourite band.”
I have to leave. Before I go I am introduced to Iain our Standby Props guy that Seanne has hired. He says hello and doesn’t quit. The Art Department is on a roll. I take in the cool fresh air outside the hidden club to see Dougal abandoning his role as documenter for the evening by pointing his camera at a bunch of attractive women and asking them questions their mother’s would not like to know the answers to. Eventually I get to work very late and in a very, very tired state. I have slept little in the past three days and the world is becoming surreal. I seem to recall someone telling me their favourite band was Coldplay, surely that can’t be possible, no-one is that dull.
Crew members. 2 gained. 0 lost.
Day 27 Friday 14th September 2007
Ah luxury, if you can call five hours sleep a luxury, possibly Margaret Thatcher and some Trappist Monks might agree, everyone else in the universe needs more. Sleep deprivation is a mind blowing thing, it plays with your senses and makes you do weird things, better than drugs it should be illegal. Knowing that our former leader ran the country on just four hours a night probably explains why she was such a tyrant. We still need camera. Williams, who studied film in Moscow, reveals that he has a Russian contact in Finland who has a mate who knows someone who’s uncle has a super 16mm camera that he may lend us. He makes a call and negotiates in fluent Russian and Paul and I draw lots on who is going to fly to Helsinki tomorrow to get it. I don’t like Finland and don’t want to go back, Paul loves Finland and has friends there but doesn’t have time, neither does Williams so we decide we will have to send Sarah our Production Secretary who has popped out to the Post Office.
“I can’t ask her to go to Finland on her day off,” I say. “She’s hardly ever left London!”
“Bollocks, don’t ask her, just tell her you’ve booked the flight and she’s going!”
He stares out of the window whilst Williams continues his negotiations, he has settled into the Russian mode so well I am thinking of opening some vodka. Suddenly Paul is excited and calls me to the window. Outside an enormous truck is attempting to do a three-point turn at the end of the road in a space barely big enough for it to fit in. I wonder what is being delivered, probably some kind of aircraft.
The door bell rings and a I bound down the stairs excitedly. The man at the door says he is from a Product Placement company and he has some things for us. He opens up the side of the van which is stuffed full of boxes.
“Which one is ours?” I ask.
“All of it.”
The three of us start to unload box after box after box of goods. Biscuits, cereals, soft drinks, alco pops, energy bars, more biscuits, crisps, nuts, water and even more biscuits. As I’m unloading the final box and I get a text from Am one of the former Art Director’s asking if the Product Placement has arrived? Apparently she felt so guilty about taking the other job she arranged for all this to be delivered for us as compensation. I thank her profusely and draw up a short term contract for her as Product Placement. The boxes are finally stacked against the wall covering one half of the office and the futon is moved into the bedroom to make space. We still have to get the grip and lighting equipment in somehow. We settle down to celebrate our booty with a cup of tea and I am confused by the number of cups, surely there is one too many, but no, Sarah has finally revealed her weakness and decided to join us, she tears open one of the boxes and shows her preference, apparently vampires like to drink hot chocolate. As we drink we assess the effect of the Investors Evening and realise that we managed to raise several thousand for the budget so it wasn’t a complete loss. In the evening Paul & I record a video for youtube announcing the film. We get Stéphanie to stand in back ground staring out the window for no reason other than its funny.
Crew members. 1 gained. 0 lost.
Day 28 Saturday 15th September 2007
Today we learn that we don’t need to find Julie a place to stay in London as she is staying with a friend which saves us a few hundred pounds. Paul tries to listen to some tracks by Slashed Seat Affair, the band that played on Thursday night, but is constantly interrupted by calls, one of which is to say that the actor playing the part of Jode may have to pull out as he has been offered a leading role in a West End Musical and it will clash with the proposed shoot dates which will be a weekend and two evenings. This is the latest knock-on effect from our continual scheduling problems. It all stems from the Tai Chi class scene. I am insistent that Barry my instructor, who has graciously allowed us to film the class, is there to play the minor role of the Tai Chi Class Instructor (there is a logic to that !) but on the date we had originally proposed he will be flying to Belgrade to take part in the world Kickboxing Championships. Our plan was to shoot all the London scenes first then go to France but now, on version five of the schedule, we are having to split the London scenes and shoot the Office scenes last. As we can only get the office at weekends (the perils of shooting everything on location) it either means two very long days or two weekends with five days off in between. Neither is particularly acceptable and neither will enable us to use Steve in the role of Jode if he accepts the West End job.
We contemplate the need to recast and watch a number of showreels we have been given in the past few weeks, one of which is from someone prepared to invest £5,000, a much needed amount of money, if we cast him. We pull up a box of biscuits each and settle down dreaming of how best to spend the money and watch the showreel. After about thirty seconds we have doubts, after a minute we are faced with a terrible dilemma and after two minutes realise that he is so bad he would struggle to get a bit-part in an American daytime soap. He might be offering us a large sum of money but it is not worth it.
The rest of the day is spent getting photos and contact details from the expanded crew. We have a simple remit, if they work a day get them on the site.
Cast members. 0 gained. 1* lost.
Day 29 Sunday 16th September 2007
Technically today is a day off. Stéphanie and I spend it with niece & nephew and have lunch with my brother’s in-laws who generously offer some investments. Great news on two fronts, firstly we need the money and secondly I can put the train fare through as a company expense, albeit in about a year’s time when the company can afford to pay me back. I am running around the garden chasing my nephew when I get a text from Paul saying he has found a super 16mm camera owned by the person who was the DoP on the film ‘Seven Seconds to Heaven’ where I first met Steve Stills. It is a small world. Roger and Matt, the new clapper/loader, are going to Reading tomorrow for camera tests and in the space of just over a week we have gone from shooting on HDV to super 16mm. I leave my brother’s in-laws with a chocolate cup cake and two investment cheques in hand. A good day all round !
I stroll into work ready for another all night session of pressing buttons, talking nonsense and being generally bored and glory in the knowledge that this is the last week I will have to do this, at least until November.
So, preproduction is now over for me, we have arranged that Paul and I have a week off to prepare our other roles, namely as Actor and Director. We will take up the reigns of production again once the shoot has wrapped and so hand over control to Williams and his production team of Sarah, Julia and Rhys leaving me seven days to prepare for a lead role in a film that I would normally want a month to ready myself for. I sit back, work on the script and watch what used to be my apartment slowly fill up with equipment. Still, at least I already know the script and don’t have to learn the lines.
Crew members. 0 gained. 0 lost.
Day 30 Monday 17th September 2007
One week to go before we start principle photography. We are not ready. As an actor the final week of rehearsals before a show is always the worst. Back in my pre-theatre school days I was a member of a local theatre group The Trowbridge Players and we always, without fail, stumbled into the final week before a show under rehearsed and desperately lacking time. Such is the status of Elephants now. I am hoping that the magic of theatre that used to miraculously make everything come together on the opening night will reappear in celluloid form for next Monday. I’m still not sure what scenes we are shooting on Day One or where the location is. In need of preparing the role I ask around the office for a copy of the latest shooting schedule so I may get some grasp of what to prepare first, but no-one appears to know if there is one. Paul, Williams, Julia, Sarah. I am assured that a copy will be whisked to me as soon as it arrives.
I sit outside in what passes for a communal garden at the back of my apartment and work my way through the script. I always prepare through music, choosing the character’s favourite band or music style is my way of identifying with them. I have always been obsessed by music since a small child, thanks mainly to my older brother Russell who used to run a mobile disco, and I am still somewhat of a music junkie craving the next great band to listen to. Whenever I visit someone’s house I immediately look through their music collection, it gives me an overview of who they are, such is the way I approach characterisation as an actor. I write to music, I choose several albums before I start writing a particular project and stick within that band or genre, or even year of release, throughout the writing process. With Elephants I listened to French jazz singer Coralie Clément in the mornings and Richard Bacon on XFM in the afternoons. I wanted to get a contrast between French serenity and British immediacy.
When I came to approach the character of Callum as an actor I couldn’t choose either of these as they were too generic, I needed something specific, one band to focus on. When I watched the film of The Marriage of Figaro a couple of days ago I was struck with the idea that as Callum needed to find some stability in his life, some sense of direction, that he would probably like music that was a little chaotic, I tried out Bentley Rhythm Ace, Midfield General and my current favourite band The Kills before finally settling on a more obvious choice for someone in the advertising world. OK Computer was recently voted the best album in a poll on Channel 4 and their demographic audience is close to Callum, so, Radiohead it was. Two years ago whilst preparing for the film Collapsed I spent a week listening to Darklands by The Jesus & Mary Chain only to discover on the first day of filming that it was the same album the writers had listened endlessly whilst writing the script.
So, I sit on the small patch of lawn, green tea in hand, MP3 player on repeat of Kid A and work through the script. It is a magical process, by listening to music whilst working on character I start to associate the scenes with particular albums, songs, refrains, memories which I will use later during the shoot when the ability to concentrate is not at its greatest. I think of the music and effortlessly slip into the character’s frame of mind. Cheating maybe, short cut certainly, but it has worked so far for me and I hope it will again.
Stéphy pops out to say she is going to Covent Garden to meet some friends, she doesn’t look well but assures me she is fine. I am constantly amazed at the amount of hassle she has had to put up with in the last few weeks. If I were her I would have left me a long time ago and gone back to Paris.
Sometime in the getting chilly afternoon I get a call from Rosie Fellner, the actress playing Emma whom Callum knows from his Tai Chi class. I had agreed to show her the Tai Chi short form we will be featuring in the film which, of course, I have completely forgotten about. She is on her way. We spend the next couple of hours going through the 24 moves of the yang style short form. Despite having very little knowledge of Tai Chi she picks it up very well. It is rather ironic as in the script Emma teaches Callum. I reassure Rosie we won’t be filming the whole thing just snippets (something that turns out to be a complete lie when Paul announces he wants to shoot the whole thing on slow motion!) When she leaves I am not sure if she feels better for her lesson or more intimidated by the task ahead.
I head back into the office and try and contact Greg about his stedicam kit and Barry about shooting the Tai Chi class scenes, but both are unavailable. I update the IMDB & facebook pages and website with our expanding cast and crew as well as a video of our investment night. I end the day predictably in going to work having been asked at the last minute to cover for someone. As I need the money I reluctantly agreed.
Crew members. 0 gained. 0 lost.
Day 31 Tuesday 18th September
I sleep in as best I can to expunge the memory of a dull night at work dealing with idiotic people on the telephone who think that just because they call a radio station that it automatically gives them the legal and moral right to talk on air with the presenter, however asinine and pointless their comments (and probably lives) are. I have little sympathy when I am tired, particularly towards people who are starting to annoy me. I am forced to trot out the well worn “I know it is a phone-in talk show but being on the radio is a privelidge not a right” line, but this is not enough for some who, through combinations of alcohol and sleep deprivation want to vent spleen on me for all their worldly troubles. One woman from Richmond who claims she works for the BBC threatens to complain to my boss and that she is “going to take my job from me”. I give her the name of my three different bosses she can complain to and suggest she does it quickly before I leave (sackings don’t tend to have much effect after the employee has quit), but preferably after she has sobered up and listened back to the tape she claims she is recording of our numerous conversations. By the time of her fifth call I lose my patience and pretend to be the night watchman.
I work through some more of the script in the afternoon whilst the office buzzes with activity. I try not to get involved but inevitably the moment I appear I am barraged with questions and decisions to make. I only came in for a cup of coffee, now I have to decide which car hire firm we are renting our grip truck from. “The first one” I say having not really paid much attention to the options and picking one 25 miles away in St Albans.
The day is spent much as was yesterday, working the script, avoiding the office and ending with some Tai Chi. As Tuesdays are my regular class days Paul, Roger, Seanne and myself decamp to The Angel for a final location recce. I attend the class with Rosie whilst the others wander round assessing how best to shoot the all white room. Seanne hits on an idea to cover up one plain wall with an oriental picture from her grandmother’s house and we all drink green tea, an essential part of the Tai Chi class which is why it is written into the script. I make an announcement to the class that we will be filming in two weeks time and only one person refuses to be filmed. Thankfully it isn’t Rosie !
I race from the class to work, late again, but make it perfectly clear that I don’t really give a damn about my recent and repetitive tardiness and spend the night doing as little as humanly possible.
Locations gained 1. Locations lost 0
Day 32 Wednesday 21st September
Today I get hold of the final shooting schedule and see that we are doing the Hampstead Heath scene first. This was originally going to be at Alexandra Palace but we couldn’t afford the location fees. This hasn’t stopped Paul’s ambitious long tracking shot idea for the whole scene, it just means that it will be a double track back and forth instead of all in one direction. I am a little cautious on the idea of a five minute double track that culminates in a tight two-shot as the first scene to shoot but we have little flexibility in the schedule. Besides Paul assures me it will be fine and I trust his better judgement.
I escape the office refusing to answer questions, make decisions or unload the ever increasing amount of equipment that is seeking sanctuary in what used to be the apartment where I lived. I hide out in the garden and listen to more Radiohead before heading to work overnight again for yet more hassles from irate listeners who have nothing better to do than call and blame me for every little trivial thing in their lives. Though congratulations for the most pointless call of the night must go to the guy who called up to ask if I knew which was wider, the Thames or the Mersey? Frankly I don’t care as long as he throws himself into one or the other. I think the disillusioned Callum is starting to take over my thoughts. My heart has long since evaporated from this job, I need Elephants to be a success so I can actually do something interesting with my life…
End of tethers reached 1.
Day 33 Thursday 22nd September
I crawl out of bed after a few hours sleep, down as much coffee as possible, grab my script, refuse to answer questions or make decisions, kiss a queasy-looking Stéphy goodbye and head up to Archway hoping I won’t fall asleep on the bus and miss my stop.
Today is rehearsal day for Julie, Paul & I. We are booked into the attic room of an old building that is home to the Whittington Association that looks after the play park where Callum and Malika first meet. Ironic then that this is where we meet today. Julie has come over from Paris on the first train and arrives full of Parisean air. This is the first time we have seen each other since the audition four weeks ago. I check to see if she is holding a stone or plastic bottle ready to throw at me but thankfully the only thing wrapped in her fingers is the handle on her small wheeled suitcase, I hope it is too heavy for her to pick up. Paul has been in regular contact with her since offering her the part and they spark up an instant friendship, which I soon join in on. We spend the whole day working through the script scene by scene discussing the characters, their histories (such as it is for Julie’s character Malika), and improvising around some of the themes and scenes. It feels right. One of the things that appeals to me about acting on film instead of the theatre is the spontaneous and improvisational elements involved. In theatre every moment is meticulously choreographed and rehearsed and re-rehearsed until it becomes an autonomous set of events, the lines are memorised word perfectly and any deviation is considered a blasphemy. In May before Paul read Elephants for the first time I had an audition for a touring theatre show which insisted the character had to have an authentic west country accent but the script was clearly written by someone who had evidently never lived in the west country (or probably even visited it). When I read the part, without the script, I embellished the lines a little making them authentic to my Wiltshire upbringing only for the director to insist that I read the scene again, using the script and not deviating from the written page even by one word. When I pointed out that the lines as written were not in anyway how someone from the west country would speak I was told quite plainly that it was the scripted lines or not at all. I chose not at all.
Julie is word perfect. Ironically more so than me. I have a tendancy to improvise around a script, regardless of who wrote it, I feel that is part of the actor’s job, to create the character and make him a realistic entity and not just a collection of words on paper, so it only seems right that I do it to my own script as well. It is for this reason that I deliberately underwrote the character of Marrlen. I had wanted Marc Warren to play that part since its conception in January and I knew from Paul that he was an actor who liked to play with dialogue and embellish text to suit his characterisation, so I left plenty of opportunity for him to do so hoping it would encourage him to take the part on. As it happens he agreed to play the part without reading the script as Paul is directing !
One of the challenges of film acting is, unlike the stage, you have little or no idea what the other actor/s in the scene are going to do, it means you have to react in character to whatever they throw at you, which in turn means that you need to have a deeper understanding of the character than you would for a play, where most of the work is done in learning the moves and lines. This is why I prefer film to theatre. It is freer, more liberated, more spontaneous. Maybe this is a hidden aspect to the lead characters in Elephants, the straight-laced everything-in-its-right-place Callum (theatre) against the wild and unpredictable yet deeply rooted Malika (film). It is also inherent in why I like writing so much, there is an intense amount of preparation in the story, everything has to be structured perfectly for a film to work, but when the actual writing process begins there is that chance of something magical happening, the unknown quantity that no amount of preparation can uncover.
By the time we get to the final scene at the lakeside Julie, Paul & I all have a much more profound understanding not only of the characters but of the story we are trying to tell. Even so, I know that this is just the beginning, once we get onto set and the camera rolls that hidden unknown element will kick in and the real magic will happen. Paul has made numerous notes on his bulging script, as have I. We say goodbye to Julie and pass another hour comparing notes for what will be the final shooting script.
I leave the rehearsal room buoyed by day and more confident that we can actually pull this off. I invite Julie out for dinner with Stéphanie and I, but she has other plans. Instead Stéphy and I go for dinner in Islington. We both know the next few weeks will be difficult as I have warned her that, as is my method, I am likely to absorb elements of Callum’s character into my life during the shoot, I’m not sure which ones but I am likely to change somehow.
“As long as it is not perminant”, she replies.
As we walk back home late through the back streets of Islington I notice a white light brushing against Stéphy forming a sort of blurred figurine and I am struck overwhelmingly with a sensation that we are being followed. This feeling continues all the way back to the apartment, it isn’t sinister but it is vivid. Stéphy breaks out her tarot deck and I pick three cards at random which she interprets as…
Accident. Child. The one you love.
I shuffle the cards and pick three more. The same three cards come out…
Accident. Child. The one you love.
I shuffle them again and repeat once more. Again, the same three cards…
Accident. Child. The one you love.
I’m not sure what it means but I do know at least who the last card refers to.
Rehearsal gained 1.
Day 34 Friday 21st September
Today the final draft if the script is written. Using the notes garnered from yesterday’s rehearsal I rework several key scenes cutting some dialogue and adding other. Paul approves the changes and one of Sarah’s last jobs on pre-production is to email out the new script to everyone involved. Another delivery truck rumbles up and drops of boxes and boxes full of film stock. My fridge is cleared out and transformed into a celluloid cold storage facility. This is it, finally the reality. In six weeks we have come from planning to shoot on HDV tape to having a fridge full of Fuji stock.
I head off to Cristina’s to get my hair cut in Callum style, thus shearing off my somewhat beloved wayward locks that I have been growing since having my head shaved for the film Too Many Bullets barely a week after Stéph and I first visited Brocéliande forest in October 2005. From there I hightail to Jade’s for a final costume check. Julie is there having her fittings. I am under strict instructions not to see any of her costumes as Paul wants each one to be a surprise, particularly the one she wears for the lake scene, the climax of the film. From the delighted cries echoing from the other room next door the wait will be worth it. From there I cross London to Seanne’s for a quick final pre-production meeting. Paul & Roger are en route to see the camera test rushes from Monday but I am forced to decline the chance to go as I have to be at work in an hour.
This is the last time I have to spend all night pressing buttons, talking cynical nonsense and answering calls from insomniacs, in knowledge of this being my last night (at least for six weeks) some of the regular listeners call in and wish me luck. I leave at 6am feeling joyed by the experience for the first time in months.
Shooting Script gained 1.
Day 35 Saturday 22nd September
I sleep in as much as I can making the most of the fact that the office is strangely quiet and this is the last day I will get to lie in until November. When I finally drag myself out of bed I print off as many contracts as my not-quite-up-to-it printer can manage in readiness for tonight’s cast & crew social.
We all decamp to Paul’s substantially larger communal garden than mine and I get a chance to meet many of the crew members that have been hired over the last six weeks. Swiss Daniel the eventual winner in the “Who can have the most Art Directors on one film?” contest, Scottish Kate the newly promoted focus puller, Spanish Jose our gaffer, Croatian Marina with the knackered Merc, Malaisian Sound recordist Axle, plus a troika of Italians Seanne, Donatella and Cristina, Venezualan Williams, Israeli Yoram and Australian Grace this truly is a cosmopolitan cast and crew. Pete, the “Making of…” Director, films us as Steve the stills photographer takes some much needed portraits for the website and I thrust contracts under people’s noses and persuade them to sign the next month and a half of their lives away.
I end the evening soliciting a cash investment from my friend Dougal who is playing the Hoody character. We are still woefully short of the amount we need but every pound helps. So, this is it, pre-production is over we are ready to roll.
Preproduction. 1 gained. 0 lost.
Day 36 Sunday 23rd September
I get up very early, far too early to be healthy, and for the second weekend in two weeks Stéphanie and I head to Wiltshire, this time to collect my father’s car. I plan to get there and leave as a soon as possible before my father realises what lending me his car for six weeks actually entails but home cooking and a million mother-lead questions force me to stay late into the evening. She asks me if Stéphanie is alright as she looks a bit peaky (mother-speak for ill), I assure her we are both fine and that it is probably just the stress from moving to London from Paris only to have her life invaded daily by an apartment full of people talking about filming permits and aspect ratios. A quick ride on my father’s train that he has built in the garden and she’ll be fine.
Paul texts to say that he has discovered Pete our new “Making of Director…” asleep in the dumpster outside his house, very hungover having apparently lost not only his car keys but also his car. I wonder if this is some kind of omen.
Fully fed and ready for battle I thank my parents for everything they have given me over the past few months that have enabled me to actually get Elephants into motion and we drive back to London. Stéphy is unusually quiet, hardly talking, my mother is right, she is looking a bit peaky. This unnerving silence lasts throughout the three hour journey as I listen to a local unsigned band playing on Radio Berkshire and continues back at what remains accessible in our apartment, namely half the bedroom and a thin sliver through the lounge between the two desks. Even the tiny bathroom has tripods and gels in it. After an hour or so of much needed last minute character work she comes in and sits on the equipment free half of the bedroom (the bed) with a cup of green tea for me. This is by no means unusual, what is disconcerting is that she looking rather worried. I ask her what’s wrong? She is quiet and reticent to answer. This is not like Stéphy and it troubles me, she has put up with a lot in the past few weeks but even someone as tolerant as she is has her limits. I fear she is either about to take a knife to me, reveal that she a terminal illness or wants to go back to France, out of the three I would probably choose the knife. We sit in silence for a few minutes more sipping hot tea and staring at each other in the way we did when we first met.
There is something she doesn’t want to tell me which means by default it must be something I don’t want to ask her about!
Finally, no doubt sensing I am never going to pluck up the courage to prise it out of her, she opens up…
“I missed my period,” she says. “I think I’m pregnant.”
In six hours time I have to wake up and get ready for the first day of a six week shoot in my first leading role in my first feature as screenwriter and producer. I was hoping to get a little sleep at least.
Timing, as they say in comedy, is everything.
I give Stéphy a deep hug and with true English stoicism ignore what she said, hoping it will go away.