PAUL HILLS DAILY SHOOT BLOG
DAY ONE Monday, September 24th …
On way to set in a vintage Merc. The moment of truth has dawned. Al the preparations and pre-production will finally come to fruition. The bizarre thing about being a film-maker is for ages and ages working on a film it actually tangibly yield nothing. So far I haven’t even shot a frame yet although I have been working on this film almost non-stop since Cannes. In 1997 I did all this work and didn’t shoot the film. The finance fell through. On this film there is little chance of that as the finance is so meagre anyway!
We are shooting a low budget film. A really low budget film. A kind of back to basics film in terms of resources but certainly not in terms of expectations. The last time I made a film this budget was “The Frontline” in 1992. Then it was my first feature film and I was full of the naïve optimism of youth. Now I am 15 years older and although not naive anymore (I hope!) I am still wonderfully optimistic. We have a wonderful cast and a great crew, a mixture of faithful long-time collaborators and keen emerging film-makers.
Miraculously last night thanks to a large glass of port and a herbal Serotonin capsule I slept from 11pm till 4am and now feel strangely serene ad un-anxious. Maybe it’s just that you get used to things the more films you shoot. The first short I made was 23 years ago when I was only just a teenager. I thought of that today as I pulled on my lucky T-shirt. I’m a stickler for superstition on a film set! I’ve worn this T-shirt now on the first day of shooting on all the four features and all 17 short films. Of course now it is ripped to shreds and totally faded. The cover of the White Light – White Heat LP is barely even visible. Thus far, none have been a disaster!
My only anxiety is that as luck would have it, the first shot of the first day is probably the most difficult shot of the entire shoot. It is a 3 minute sequence shot up and down a hundred foot of track on Hampstead Heath. The crew will still be fitting together and it will be crucial for focus and grip to be on their best game. I don’t say that about camera, as Roger Bonnici, my most trusted companion in this shoot is also operating as well as lighting on this film – his decision. Roger’s always on his best game!
If we can get that right hope it will be a big lift for cast and crew alike. Currently it is raining. The news last night said it will clear at 11am. I hope so!
Just wrapping from first location of the day. Two hours late but we got the scene. The 3 minute sequence shot came good about take 7 and I did 9 in total. Main problems were of first day production teething type. Pieces of equipment arriving late or not arriving in correct form. Sound had a nightmare. Hugh Griffiths, our Sound Recordist, was really under pressure. No working DAT machine at the start then no tapes arriving on time. Luckily I had one in my pocket!
At the start, though, while we were setting up, the rain was torrential. There were hailstones at one point. Most of the crew turned up looking like drowned rats.
One memorial one was my Make-up Designer, Cristina Corazza “ I’m a drenched!”
in her mellifluous Italian accent.
The big problem in the middle of scene was poor Jonnie, playing Callum, who hasn’t smoked for years started feeling dizzy during take 4. His character has to smoke for most of film. He dropped down out of shot. Julie, playing Malika, tried to keep it going by incorporating it in shot. Soon it became apparent he was out of it. We had to rest him for 20 minutes before we could continue just at the time the Park Ranger came over and told me we were running out of time!
Jonnie was very apologetic but not to worry. He’ll have another month and half’s shooting to make it up to us!!
Katherine Higgs did a wonderful job today on focus. Although quiet and unassuming she was quick with marks and on the ball no matter where the actors moved in frame. With a long shot like this I like to keep it as fluid and as natural as possible and not lock them in too much. At the end of the scene I cut in as the characters fell to the ground for some lovely footage of Callum looking up at Malika and vice versa. Julie was wonderful.
The great thing I have on this film is that I have two actors in leading parts who just are the parts. They live them, breathe them, know them personally. It was the same when I shot Boston Kickout in 1994-5. All the young boys just were the parts. As a director you have a choice of casting an actor who is good enough at his craft that he can become the part or one that just is. Both choices can work. Maybe because of my neo-realist leanings and cinematic historiography I tend mostly for the latter. Although I didn’t do this for the part of Andrei in The Poet, for the leads on Elephants I think I have this.
When Julie came into the casting some 4 weeks ago it was just obvious she was Malika. She was the only one who really expressed and understood the emotional range of the character. After we shot the scene today she thanked me for choosing her but it is me who should be thankful that she came through the door! In preparation it was the thing I was most worried about, finding the right actress for Malika. I found the right one.
In a month’s time I start shooting with my old friend Marc Warren who is playing Marrlen the real antagonist character in the piece. Instead of being the part, he will be playing against type, bringing out a darker side of his psyche. That is one of the two things I am looking forward to most on this shoot. The other being once we actually get to Brittany and start shooting in the wood that will so much be a character in the film.
Now on to location two! Just two short scenes in an Islington Street. One in the evening as the light is dying then one at night. Should be simple or should I say much simpler than what we’ve just done!
We have finished shooting finally. God! What a total nightmare.
We shot a great first scene with Callum on his own walking home but then it took ages for Malika to arrive because of delays in costumes arriving at the second green room. By the time that they she arrived quite a crowd of rowdy teenagers had appeared. They started shouting “action” and “cut” etc. Then one stepped in front of camera. I grabbed him. He pushed me so I threw him out of shot. Another rushed in and punched me in the shoulder. I wheeled round to land a punch on him. Luckily, Rhys Dyer, the 1st AD managed to lead them off and suggest they become extras in the background.
Julie did a lovely Matador style improvisation on the roundabout where she revolved around Callum. It worked out perfectly even though it was quite fraught at the start.
DAY TWO Tuesday, September 25th …
Driving around Seven Sisters at the moment picking up Rhys, my 1st AD. Of course it is an ungodly hour. It always is,when you have to get up not having had enough sleep. My assistant , Marina Jankovic, is at the wheel, trying to find the right place to stop.
Today we shoot all the scenes that take place in or around the park. The problem will be we only have until 2pm actually inside the park. So it will be a race against time to get the first two longer scenes before this time.
The first scene we will shot is the first scene that Callum meets Malika. For me it is always important to have a good introduction to a character. Malika’s introduction, I feel, will be one of the best I’ve ever conceived for a character. It was one of the few scenes I changed with Jonnie in the script development process. I wanted something a bit more special. A bit more suggestive and imaginative. Callum lies back on a roundabout to smoke a cigarrettte. As he is smoking, he hears a voice. It is Malika on the opposite side of the roundabout. He hadn’t noticed her before. The roundabout spins as they talk.
Of course smoking and spinning might have weird consequences if Jonnie gets ill again. Let’s hope not.
The good thing today is that the scenes we shoot today and indeed over the whole of this week will fill in the first third of the film in relation to the story between Callum and Malika. Of course we all missing out all the office scenes which we do when we come back from France. The first scene today comes directly before the second scene we shot yesterday and the second scene today comes directly before the third scene we shot yesterday.
My only other headache ahead today is to try and sort out the flow of communication between the set and the production office which doesn’t seem to be deal yet. I shall try to arrange a production meeting maybe at lunch time to try and ameliorate the situation!
First scene of the day was a complete success. Wonderful shots. All ten were perfect. It’s a star scene that will be hard to top. I’ll try though! The overhead shots from a ladder pod were absolutely sublime. Hal Hartley eat your heart out! I can’t wait to see the rushes.
Jonnie smoking cigarette was no problem as he’s got used to the poison now! Everything is going perfectly…
Of course we are a little late. We’re just back from lunch and now have about 20 minutes to shoot a complete scene until we chucked out of the park. Hopefully, though, they will be a bit lenient here. It’s almost deserted and the park attendant seems more than a bit chilled. Rather than having to work today and marshal kids he is just sitting and relaxing on a bench watching all the action. ‘It’s fascinating!” he said earlier.
Now we’re setting up for a Roger Bonnici special – a day for night scene. He has a brand new filter that should give us the desired effect.
I’m home. The end was quite a race to beat the dying light but we got it. Two days and haven’t dropped a shot yet. Even gained some. The last two scenes after lunch were wonderful also. The Bonnici day for night filter I hope has done the trick. We had a quick rain burst near the end of it but still managed to cope thanks to Cristina’s willingness to change makeup in the middle of playground in torrential rain under an umbrella. The performances were outstanding. I can’t wait to get into a cutting room on that one.
The star of the day for me on the crew was Rhys. Every little challenge I gave him he overcame brilliantly and quickly and was always thinking ahead. Even ahead of me at times! Like the end of yesterday we had crowd problems when trying to shoot a scene in a location which is meant to be deserted. There were loads of them! Luckily, unlike last night, they were really good natured and enjoyed watching the shoot. I took some pictures of them smiling at us.
Ian, the dressing props, came good this afternoon. Unfortunately he is an insomniac I found out today and has been having a few problems with his girlfriend. On day one he was just off the pace and I was probably a little too harsh to him. Today I had him wrangling leaves again as well as other things – the film is leaf city – autumnal colours etc. I rushed in when we needed them urgently done for a shot and sprinkled some to camera. He said “Are you trying to show me up?” I assured him not and later explained to him a principal. There are two speeds on a film set. Stop (waiting to do something) and damn bloody quick (something needs to be done). By the end of this afternoon he got it and really stepped up to the plate delivering perfectly on planted sunflowers as well as leaves and car drying! I’m glad because secretly I was worried.
So overall a fantastic day. Long may that keep on being so!!!
Tomorrow we have a later call. 9.30am in central London. It will be crowd control big time. Real cinema verite shooting with real people crossing in frame and probably interfering with shot! It will be short sharp and intense I imagine.
DAY THREE Wednesday, September 26th …
No car pickup today as later call and shooting in centre makes it too hard for parking and too expensive with NCP fees and congestion charge.
Blog starting a little late today as poor Marina, my wonderful assistant, had an unfortunate incident in Dalston. It cost her an ipod and she was so shook up that she was delayed getting to set with the lap top. Thank God he didn’t also steal that .
Marina is helping me with all the transcendental directorial prep as well as wild goose chases on things that might be useful as props and costume accessories and on top of administering the bible, my master shot list and delivering t to the HOD’s each day!
Also I’ve just discovered now that Hugh, our Sound Recordist, has developed Bronchitis after the rain sodden shoot on Hampstead Heath on the first day probably. I’ve just texted my best friend Simon who is a Doctor to ask him what is the best thing to get him.
Shoot today is right in the centre of Covent Garden. Real people walking into and through shot. Luckily the scenes to shot are quite simple. The whole location permission thing has been hard to sort here as there are so many people to ask. My real fear is that one of the residents complains to the police of to security and chucks us off part of the location. Part of a scene takes place in a small walkway into a serene courtyard. It is surrounded by hundreds of apartments and is in that grey area of public/private property. The public have right of way but are we part of the public? The answer is yes as long as we don’t actually block it. Of course, though, I have a little tracking shot on a dolly to shoot in it!!!
No car pick-up today as later call and shooting in centre makes it too hard for parking and too expensive with NCP fees and congestion charge.
Blog starting a little late today as poor Marina, my wonderful assistant, had an unfortunate incident in Dalston. It cost her an ipod and she was so shook up that she was delayed getting to set with the lap top. Thank God he didn’t also steal that .
Marina is helping me with all the transcendental directorial prep as well as wild goose chases on things that might be useful as props and costume accessories and on top of administering the bible, my master shot list and delivering t to the HOD’s each day!
Also I’ve just discovered now that Hugh, our Sound Recordist, has developed Bronchitus after the rain sodden shoot on Hampstead Heath on the first day probably. I’ve just texted my best friend Simon who is a Doctor to ask him what is the best thing to get him.
Shoot today is right in the centre of Covent Garden. Real people walking into and through shot. Luckily the scenes to shot are quite simple. The whole location permission thing has been hard to sort here as there are so many people to ask. My real fear is that one of the residents complains to the police of to security and chucks us off part of the location. Part of a scene takes place in a small walkway into a serene courtyard. It is surrounded by hundreds of apartments and is in that grey area of public/private property. The public have right of way but are we part of the public? The answer is yes as long as we don’t actually block it. Of course, though, I have a little tracking shot on a dolly to shoot in it!!!
When we originally conceived this project we were going to shoot the film on HD. For years I have resisted the peer pressure from the UK film industry to shoot on HD but finally I succumbed to it as we had a camera donated to us for shoot. Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on how you look at it, the camera fell through and re-jigging things I realized it would only cost us £3k more to shoot on film with all the deals we had in place.
The other thing about film is it just “feels right” – having to change magazines, having run throughs on camera, slates that really mean something. The only problem of course is film stock – i.e. it costs
money. That makes me a little bit more careful about when to turn over and how much improvisation to do in front of it. At the moment I am quite loose but will tighten up the shooting ratio as the actors gain confidence and I see some rushes to properly gauge them for the camera. Also shooting on film gives more urgency to the performance. Rather than endless amounts of tape the actors know that it must happen between action and cut. That the magic is required THEN and at no other time….OK. Lunch over. Back to set!I
Williams Rodriguez, has done a great job so far. His three telephones have been ringing non stop and it’s been almost impossible to get through to him. On the first day the three equipment vans we had at one time were all going off and about London picking up and dropping off. Replacement radio mikes, new DAT machines, grip equipment, replacement heads for the tripod etc etc.
I have complete faith in Williams but some people a but frustrated started to do things on their own which just confused Production and got Williams back up. Now by day three everything seemed to have calmed down and things are going much smoother. The truth is I desperately need Williams. On this film When you produce and direct it is impossible to be on top of the production while shooting. There is just too much to think about. I first worked with Williams on the short film f2point8 that I made about 5 years ago and when I first read this script and decided to shoot it as a low budget film I thought of him immediately. I also secretly hope it will be the starting point of a long future collaboration. I can’t wait to shoot a film every 4 years like I am at present!
Just home. After the shoot finished at 6pm (as scheduled) we had to have a production meeting back in the office to talk about the French part of the shoot. Not all the crew we have now need to come as the scenes there will be quite simple so we had to make some hard decisions about who we are taking and not taking. One is a little disappointing but it is a necessity. We need one more person who can drive and speak French. Unfortunately a lot of our crew can’t drive – me included. I will have to delicately arrange this tomorrow.
As I left the office, Matt, the clapper loader was still unloading magazines and Jose, the Gaffer was meticulously organising and checking the lights, stands and gels. Jonnie said to him “You need to go home now and get some rest!” He shook his head and carried on. It made me realise what a great crew we have. How much they care about the film and share the passion for it that me, Jonnie, Julie and Roger have.
Believe it or not I have thus far not shot a feature film without sacking someone. On the Frontline it was the 1st AD who had to go through unreliability. On Boston Kickout it was the Prop Master who just kept on making serious mistakes. On The Poet it was the 1st AD again but not really through her own fault! This film I confidently predict will be the exception. Everyone is just so good.
We shot all the remaining setups without problems. The beautiful backlit one of Julie, turning around in the Ching Court courtyard stands out as a peach. Roger gave me a sly wink just before we turned on it then suggested we do one at 36fps but I declined. Having beautiful images is one thing but doing a shampoo commercial is another!
So three days completed and nothing dropped so far. With it all being exteriors in London that’s an achievement. Tomorrow we are inside mostly at Emma’s house. The location is Seanne Grasso, the Production Designer’s house. She, with Daniel, the Art Director have been working ahead thus far and have both only made fleeting visits to the set so far. Tomorrow I will be working a bit closer with her which I am looking forward to. She is a long time collaborator like Roger is. I first worked with her on Boston Kickout in 1994 and she really saved my arse on the amazing $1m commercial we shot together in 2000 for Shiseido.
That’s it – got to eat!
DAY FOUR Thursday, September 27th …
On way to set. We’re late. Marina had to pick up Jade the costume assistant before picking me up and there was a delay. Originally Clare Anderson was at the helm of the costume department. I’ve known her for years and we have been trying to collaborate for all that time. Claire has even be badgering me to use her. So what happened? After about two weeks of prep, while I was still in France on the recce, she texted me saying she is now working with Danny Huston (!) and that Jade would see things through. Apart from the odd text or Email, she has not been seen since! Apart from the obvious feeling of sadness, it certainly hasn’t been as bad as I imagined! Jade has taken up the baton perfectly, at times even making and designing new dressed to order! I’ve even done a tweak at the end of the script to specifically accommodate one of these creations.
Still in the car. Now driving through Camden trying to glide through rush hour traffic.
I’m feeling a bit tired and anxious. I woke up at 5am and couldn’t get back to sleep. It’s not that I have anything specific to worry about. Of course these cue all the things that play in my head that I have to do on the day, directions that I should give, decisions that should be made….
The only other thing is that this far I still haven’t seen my rushes. Not a single rush! I’ve shot “blind” many times before but it’s not ideal. I’d just like to see rushes so as to gauge certain things creatively, the performances being one of those things. When you are on set you have a choice of looking at the monitor or at the action right next to camera. What I like best is to be right behind camera so that I can almost see straight down the barrel as well as the monitor. Shooting in crowded locations can sometimes make that hard.
Apparently Ken Loach sometimes closes his eyes during a take. The theory is “if it sound’s right, it must be right”. Although I don’t quite subscribe to this, I agree with the theory.
So just seeing rushes to me is perfomance-wise just a confirmation that what I see with two eyes, one on action, one on monitor, is the same as the cyclopean camera lens.
The stress now is Hugh, our sound recordist, is ill in bed with bronchitis. Basically it didn’t get any better. It got worse. I just hope someone can be found to fill in before I want to turn over at around 10am.
Now I’ll try and catch a quick nap!
Just finished a late lunch. I’m in the green room now where both Julie and Rosie are talking about different projects they have done before.
We have completed the main two Emma scenes 58A and 59. Seanne did a wonderful job in dressing in various ethnic props and hanging loads of loads of origami birds hanging from the ceiling of the conservatory.
My favourite shot was a low 2-shot of Callum and Emma sitting on the floor as she gave him the camping stuff. It had a kind of Ozu-esque simplicity that should contrast nice with all the wider shots shooting through socks and knickers on the washing line! It wasn’t a shot I’d planned and was completely off the shot list.
It has been nice working with Rosie Fellner again. We last worked together on a TV series I did for Channel 5 called Urban Gothic. I think it is one of the first things she did as an actress but since has played many parts in numerous feature films. I got her to play the first scene almost unmade up as her character has just been woken up. Also I had her play the first part with a toothbrush in her mouth and occasionally brushing!
Now we are setting up for a jibbing tracking shot except the jib isn’t here at the moment. Roger has just told me he has come up with a great idea to get over that problem. Hope so!
In the car on the way home. Shoot just finished. We kind of got everything. The last scene of Malika and Callum in the car driving out through London was a surreal one. Standing in front of cars to block traffic. Cueing the action by mobile phone. Me being stopped by a representative of the Hindu Temple to ask why the temple was in the back of shot, why we hadn’t asked permission and how it is a very sensitive issue. I asked him why it was more sensitive than St Paul’s Cathedral or Notre Dame? He told me that he didn’t care about other religions and only about his temple.
Anyway we got it. I couldn’t actually record the dialogue on it though as Hugh has one of the radio mikes and didn’t think to send it to set. It appears that he will be off until Monday. He’s in a bad way.
In any event Axle, the boom operator took over the sound recording. I listened to it through a second set of cans and she seemed to do a fine job despite the lack of radio mikes. That promoted, Michael, our perpetually sunglasses wearing Runner to Boom Op on all but one of the shots where I decided it was better to boom Op myself as I could see the monitor and judge the edge of frame better. The last time I did that on a film was 1987 on a short film photographed by my old friend Danny Cannon!
Jade Page, in the back of the Merc, is talking now about fashion and how people who appear to not care about fashion probably do care about it the most. I asked her if she cared. She told me she would wear anything. I asked if she would wear a sack. She replied “Certainly with a nice belt!”
Anyway, day completed except the line of dialogue in the final scene that I’ll do tomorrow. Four great days so far and no unassailable problems so far.
DAY FIVE Friday, September 28th …
In the car on way to set. I got a full nights sleep last night from the moment I hit the pillow through to the alarm clock I was utterly zonko!
Before I went to sleep I had the obligatory call from Williams. In addition to the normal and the imminent arrival of some rushes, it seems that there was a slight contretemps in the Production office last night between Williams and Jonnie. The exact nature of which I am not so sure yet but I will find out soon. As the only other Producer it is my job to sort out the problem. Hopefully I can do that before we are due to turn over!
I met Jonnie about 4 years ago through a bright faced young Producer called Steve Dimarco who wanted to wage a single handed crusade to change the British Film Industry. The three if us have been collaborating on developing a project every since. The nature of script development is that it goes on for ages and ages. That reality is one of the precipitating reasons for us shooting this film low budget with private investment rather than waiting interminably for proper funding.
Of course this isn’t the first time I have made this decision. It’s actually the third feature film that I have shot “Guerrilla style” and out of the four of them I haven’t yet pre-sold one film in the UK. Even though I have subsequently sold my films to Channel 4 etc and all of them have subsequently come out in the cinema’s at some point, none have ever been supported before the shoot by any UK funding body! Do I feel bitter about this? How can you when probably for the next one you will be knocking on the same doors yet again.
The day before yesterday I got a text from Neil Peplow, a Producer whom I collaborated with a few years back, who had read the blog. He texted me “Don’t forget to enjoy it!” It’s sound advice. I certainly am enjoying it in a heightened ecstatic way. When I do a wonderful shot, get a beautiful performance etc. I get a buzz, a sense of achievement. Shooting outside, though, is always a bit of a race. Today we are shooting a whole day of interiors so I hope that the pressure will be off a bit and I might savor the moments and enjoy it more.
In any event it will be two days at the same location and thus a bit of stability before the weekend. Jonnie has arranged for me, him and Julie to do a radio interview on Saturday night.
Nearly there now. Marina is chatting beside me about the crack whores on her street while Rhys behind is fielding calls from crew members who are having trouble finding the location. Problem is they say things like “I can see a bus stop” or “there is a white building in front of me”. Rhys is replying “I need a street name to give you directions!”
Shot first scene in the bath with Jonnie naked. His first of many naked scenes. Of course we started late. I think I have solved the problem from last night thankfully. Let’s see what happens.
Cristina Corazza was a little upset this morning. She had serious problems getting to set here in Hendon. It is quite a nightmare to find with one way systems, dual carriageways etc. I got lost in the car coming here on the technical recce and ended up on the road to Mill Hill!
Unfortunately also, Rhys couldn’t give her proper directions over the phone either as she couldn’t find a street sign. I hope I managed to cheer her up a bit. She’s so dedicated to the film and cares so much. She’s really a great collaborator, having done perfect drawings for each character in each scene well ahead of the shoot. Probably the most detailed preparation I have ever had with a Make-up Designer on a feature film.
Second scene shot now. I was going to have a static frame of Callum sitting in the bath reading a la Ozu again but decided to incorporate a zoom out a la Rosselini. Matt King, the Clapper/loader started humming during the rehearsal. I knew instantly the reference. It’s the zoom out from Malcolm McDowell in Clockwork Orange. It’s nice to have a cine-literate crew.
The good thing about shooting inside is I can blog between scenes!
Back from Lunch waiting for a magic stone to arrive! The crew are talking about sleeping arrangements in France and who is going to be sharing with who. I asked Kate who she’d like to share with. She replied that she is in love with someone who she hasn’t yet told and who isn’t on the crew – so better nobody!
Funnily enough the French part of the shoot is less than a week away and has kind of crept up on us. Just three more shooting days in London before we go. We will be filming all the way, on the ferry, on the roads and all the way to the mystical forest of Broceliande.
The scene we are about to shoot is the first one in the apartment. Just after he comes back from Tai Chi with the stone from Emma.
We have just had the most bizarre accident on a film set imaginable while filming the fourth short scene of the day. Camera action is Callum walks into his flat, turns on lights, walks into the living room and places the stone he got from Emma on top of an action man who has his arms outstretched to receive it. Jonnie does the action but after he has cleared frame the action man starts to keel over. The stone falls out of frame and bang on top of Rhys’ head who was lyng beneath the table holding it steady. Roger could barely continue operating as he started to crack up. There’s a huge bump on Rhys’ forehead now!
Just completed another little scene. Number five of the day so far. Callum ironing in the flat. Loads of little scenes today. Then once it gets night we do the big one. Callum has Malika at his house for the first night. They drink wine, get drunk start snogging, almost get it on before she pulls back and tells him it has to be somewhere special i.e. a forest!
I’m worried about Rhys. It really has grown into a big lump.
Just about to go to bed. We wrapped at 10.40pm. The final scene I shot was of Callum and Malika starting to have sex in his living room before she stops him to tell him she wants their first time to be special and that it should take place in a forest.
In true Paul Hills style (!) I decided to shoot it with real red wine being drunk and spilled into each others mouths as well as on the carpet. It’s similar to how I shot the boys getting drunk upstairs at Steve’s party in Boston Kickout and the joints in the car scene later on in the film.
As a director the challenge when doing something like this is having the schizophrenia to be able to manage the intoxication levels enough to be able to get the scene done and get the most from the performances. Before I shot a take on Jonnie he was on his third glass of vintage red. As Julie doesn’t normally drink I started her on a half glass. They were more than up for the scene and although two and half minutes long I managed to get something really special.
I covered the scene in a wide tracking shot into a double close up then on to Callum and a reverse angle on Malika. Afterwards I shot some inserts to give me cutaways to get out of continuity problems – every take was different. Even though quite pissed by the end Julie gave me amazing stuff, jumping up to give a half page speech at one point – how she remembered it while so inebriated was amazing.
Afterwards she told me how much she trusted me, we hugged and she cried. Moving stuff. Very powerful. It was the second woman who cried in front of me today. Quite a day.
I hope she’ll be Ok as she’s not used to drinking. I feel a bit guilty even, But that’s the problem with being a director. Creating reality to show it on screen.
DAY SIX, Saturday, September 29th …
At Jade’s waiting for Rhys to turn up before we leave for set. Marina is ill today. Maybe the same thing as Hugh who still hasn’t returned to production yet. I heard from Williams it should be Monday.
I sent Marina off early last night to pick something up for France. Her car broke down and she was stranded for ages. I don’t think she got home until after midnight and now is ill.
Holly Rivers, our dreadlocked runner who I used as an extra on the first day walking a dog through shot, is also ill so that makes three people off at the moment!
I’m surprised by the level of drop off through illness. Almost 10 percent. It reminds me of John Boorman’s hundred percenter club on Emerald Forest of people who were in for every day of the shoot. At the end it was maybe 3 people out of a crew of a hundred. Of course one of those was the director. As the director you NEVER get a day off. Even if you are dying you still must turn up and do the job.
One night shoot on the Poet at 3am in the cold I was so ill and tired I wanted to crawl under a stone and cry. The only problem was I had to direct the final scene of the film and all the extras, action cars, huge crane, 2 cameras, crew, armourers, SFX guys, Dougray and Lara were all standing by waiting for it. I got Florian, my assistant then, to get me two double expresso’s and into action I had to go.
I got a call from Julie first thing this morning. She’s fine, fully recovered. Cristina took her home and cared for her. My worry now is for Cristina who is feeling the stress. I am desperate to get to set now to try and cheer her up. We decided before the shoot to go a more complicated way with hair and make-up on Malika so as to create something breathtaking – the net result is 90 minutes prep on Julie at start of day and 60 minutes de-rig at the end of it.
Now in taxi on way to set. I’m glad it is a day off tomorrow. I think we all need a chance to recharge our batteries. It’s not that the days are particularly long. Most have been 10 hours. One was just 8 hours and even yesterday was just 13 hours on set. When I shot The Frontline every day was about 16 hours long and one was 22 hours!
Just talking to Grace Vallorani while preping the scene before the last one last night. Cristina and Jonnie are lying on the bed together. Cristina is now purring. She seems to have cheered up remarkably. Earlier we talked through last night.
Grace is Executive Producing the film as well as playing the part of Sark. Her first scene is Monday. I met her through Jeremy Zimmerman, our casting director, while we were giving a lecture. Grace is one of the primal tenets of this productions existence. It’s thanks to her we are shooting this film.
Earlier I shot a couple of smaller scenes. Callum getting into bed and Callum doing Tai Chi on the balcony. The latter being a new scene I came up with to be included on the Saturday before they walk in the park.
Unbelievably Ian Dodds, is also starting to become ill it seems. That will make four casualties if he goes down as well.
Had production meeting after lunch to clear the air. Everything fine now I hope. Now we do the morning after the drunken night before scene.
Just had the 100th slate. I got champagne for all the cast and crew and toasted them all for their hard work so far. People are happy I think despite the long hard week. We generally have a laugh on set. That’s how I like it. Lots of jokes and running gags.
Julie just told me it’s quite different from a French film set. The director is normally miles away she said in the next room watching a monitor.
Just one big scene now before they depart and then a quick one shot scene of him in the bathroom.
Half way through the depart scene. Lovely coverage and beautiful lighting by Roger. Even did some silent turn over stuff on Malika as POV’s of Callum as he watches her. When I called end board most of the crew along with Julie didn’t even know we were shooting. I love doing stuff like that. How much more natural a performance can you get?
It seems that Ian, props man, has left early ill. Seanne is doing dressing props at the moment so that’s now 5 people down on the crew. I hope that most of the crew lost come back Monday.
Just done a live radio interview with on Talk Sport with Jonnie and Julie to publicise the film. We plugged the blog as well as the film. Luckily we found enough energy to be funny as well as awake!
The day finished at 11.30pm. Another 13 hour one. Yet again we got all the scenes. Yet again all the stuff was wonderful. Now we have shot nearly twenty percent of the film and the first week is done. Tomorrow is a day off. I am glad for the rest as I am sure my crew will be too!
Only problem is, as a F1 fanatic I must wake up at 7am for the Japanese GP!
DAY 7 Monday, October 1st …
On way to set by train. Marina’s car is in the garage. I got the full 8 hours sleep last night which shows I am in the rhythm now!
Apart from having a really good sleep, yesterday was the least enjoyable day for me so far. It reminded me of that scene in “Apocalypse Now” where Martin Sheen is stuck in the hotel room but can’t get the war out of his mind or that scene in “Peckinpah’s Cross of Iron” where Corporal Steiner is recovering in hospital but can bare it less than being on the Russian Front!
“Why?” you’ll probably ask. We’ll ‘family and friends’ is the answer. No-one who has never been on a film shoot can really understand what it is like, how all consuming it is, how intense it can be. Sometimes people just can’t understand why they don’t get their texts or e mails replied to, their calls returned etc. and expect you to have time for them and be able to accommodate them in your busy schedule. They think film-making is just like any other job.
It is not.
The whole process is a totally involving, a seemingly endless process of decision making, problem solving, checking things, implementing and just doing. I’m not complaining though, it’s what I do and I certainly would never entertain for a second a thought of doing anything else.
I feel most alive while making a film. I’d even go so far to say the rest of life is preparation for the next film, a form of enforced hibernation!
Anyway, the hardest thing I’ve done in the last week is to keep my eyes open from 5am to 7am Sunday morning after an hours sleep to see Lewis Hamilton’s brilliant victory in the Japanese GP! BRAVO!!!
Last night, I should have dropped off a bottle of Tequila to Dougal Porteous, the actor who plays the Hoody skulking outside Callum’s towerblock. When I called I could tell he was already in the mood so it is now in my bag as a present. I envisage shooting a ridiculously big E/C/U of him on one side of frame and Callum walking home in W/S on the other side of it. I want to see in his eyes how out of it he is!
I wonder now how many crew members come back from illness today and how many more will drop like flies.
On set setting up for first shot. We have switched the order of scenes as John Gavin, my friend who is letting us use his porsche as Sark’s car, has put back his own call time.
Off the MIA list are Holly Rivers and my assistant Marina who is still full of cold. Ian, the prop man is MIA and it seems Hugh is worse and thus KIA’ed. I think we will have to take Axle to France rather than him. She has really stepped up to the plate well and also entered into the spirit of things “Good for plane!” etc.
Roger just told me people were unhappy with the food on Saturday. Least they got some food. I was in a production meeting then. Also the previous two days were a little too long for some people it seems – 13 hours. Crazy really. On The Frontline we did 16 hours routinely. On promos and commercials longer days are not impossible I’ve found. Anyway today should be under 12 and tomorrow even easier maybe 8 hours.
Pouring with rain now here in Bethnal Green. Luckily the scene of Sark pulling up does not have to cut continuity-wise with anything else. I hope that we cut from beautiful sunny France to rainswept London.
What I need, though, is for the rain to abate after this sequence as the other two scenes I have to shoot today will cut directly with scenes we shot on days 1 and 2.
Just shot last shot on Dougal, actor who is playing the Hoody. In first scene he looked like he had been properly mullered the night before. All good.
Also shot first scene of Sark’s. When she tries to visit Callum to see where he is. The white chanel suit I wanted for her worked perfectly as did the little improvisations of different telephone calls. One ring tone for office, another for child minder and a third one for lovers. Worked beautifully.
Now about to finish the coming home scene with a beautiful skyline shot of London as Callum clears frame. Next a quick night scene then that’s it.
One point of interest is that is seems Ian, the poor dressing props man who is currently MIA after sleeping and girlfriend problems has been replaced on set by Seanne with an efficient Swiss girl, Alessa Gallian, who will now do on set dressing props. Ian will do backup.
Wrapping gear now. 7 days and haven’t dropped a shot yet. Perfect. Even though we had to deal with loads of local residents and the local drug dealer it was all done in remarkably good humour. A couple of locals appeared as extras even and really got into it.
Jonnie produced some real magic in the coming home scene where he invites Malika inside but she declines. It may have been very simple but he really was in the moment. I absolutely saw and believed his thought process. Beautiful.
Julie was as sublime as ever. I loved her twirling backlit under the walkway as she says goodbye. As she has two days off now, I told her at the end of the shoot to look forward to the beautiful stuff we will shoot in the forest.
My only concern now is stock. I am still shooting over the ratio, although less than the first 3 days but I have still not seen any rushes yet. That makes 7 days shooting blind now. God, I hope I can see some before we depart for France on Thursday!
Home now. I shared a train ride back to Stoke Newington with Rhys and Alessa. We talked about silent cinema. I recommended they watch Stroheim’s “Greed” and Gance’s “Napoleon”. Both of which they had not seen.
I must say what a wonderful crew I have. It is really heart-warming to see how much everyone is enjoying the shoot. We have so many laughs on set. It must be the happiest set I’ve had since Boston Kickout! Not that I ever have unhappy shoots. I don’t.
When they pull things off I get great enjoyment from their accomplishments. Matt Hyman, my grip, did a great job today for instance. The best shot of the day was a tracking shot behind Callum pulling focus to a beautiful skyline of London.
It was nice also to have Seanne on set all day as well as Roger again today. The two of them are like my right and left arms. I would be lost without them and it is so much pleasure to work with them. Hopefully I can make a film more regularly and enjoy their collaborations more often.
Tomorrow we start later at 3pm outside a School in Islington. Then we shoot in a real life Tai Chi class. In some ways it is the backbone of the film showing Callum’s spiritual longings. The problem will be doing it during the class in terms of timescale. Also it will be our last day in London before we get ready for the trek to Brittany.
DAY 8 Tuesday October 2nd …
I am in Soho now briefly. I won’t see my beloved local pub now for 3 weeks. After I finished 3 months on The Poet I got a taxi from Heathrow airport straight here!
A couple of people have asked me why I am making this film. That question really has two parts. Why this film? and Why so low budget?
The latter is simple. To me a film is not good or bad depending upon it’s budget. I have made a film for €5m and it was not a better film than one I made for £150k. People think it may be a backward step. I don’t consider it so. On DEP we have enough money to make the film the way it needs to be made – just! That is fine. In some ways also, the simplicity of the shoot allows me greater artistic freedom. There are no producerial conflicts for a start, like I had on The Poet.
The former part of the question is a little more difficult. I guess it’s what drew me to the part. Someone wise once said that a writer only writes one book his whole life, a film-maker keeps remaking essentially the same film over and over again. That is partly applicable. The lead character of the film is actually despite his longings expressed through Tai Chi, spiritually destitute.
Our theme in this film is that of Callum trying find himself. It’s not the plot, it’s the underlying thread. That thread immediately struck a chord with me. Although not spiritually destitute (!) I, like Callum, am on a journey. His search is my search. As a film-maker, every film is a journey of discovery, many times the journey of the protagonist mimics the journey I experience making the film. For instance I even fell stupidly in love with someone while shooting Boston Kickout in the same fashion that Phil fell for his ultimately unattainable cousin, Shona. It certainly wasn’t deliberate though!
When we depart for France on Thursday, that’s when that journey will step up a gear – for me, for Jonnie, for Callum and for the rest of us! Do I know exactly how it will end yet? Of course not!!!
Setting up for the Tai Chi class. It will be quite a race. We have to shoot three scenes in the class and another three in the tea room afterwards. The problem is a class will be an actual happening during our filming and we have to fit in with it.
Outside now. No time to think even. Been full on getting through all the stuff. Rosie Fellner’s close up at end of film sticks in the memory as something magical. I needed something damn magical to end the film on and Rosie didn’t let me down. Also improvised a scene with her using a sword in almost darkness, one light and a 10mm lens. Beautiful.
From the moment I met her some 7 years ago I knew just what a great actress she was.
Also we did some sweet little tracking shots across the class pulling focus between different movements. I shot the shit out of it really so it should be an editors dream.
Rosie just said to me on the street where we are setting up the final shot “I like shooting with you guys, you’re so much fun!”
Now everyone is wrapping gear and drinking beer on the street. Poor Kate banged her head during a hectic part of the shoot and got two bad knocks on her hand while wrapping gear. She is a brave one and is desperate to carry on regardless. We had to nearly pull her out of the van. Rhys got her an ice pack and I got her a beer. Marina, it transpires also has a broken toe. So both are walking wounded but are soldiering on!
We have finished the first part of the shoot. The first London part. 8 days. I changed the coverage in one scene tonight to make it simpler but that’s the first creative compromise so far on the film. I think it will work that way anyway. I did a slow track in from wide to a 2-shot with lots of background action then a contra track back as Emma walks away – my favourite way to track I think. One shot. 1 minute 20 secs. Second longest sequence shot on the film so far.
In the production office now, what used to be Jonnie’s flat but has now COMPLETELY been taken over. I haven’t had much chance to come here recently and thus have hardly seen Sarah Hutton our wonderful Production Secretary that much so far. Sarah was the second person to come on board the project after Williams. She has been a reliable anchor for the film and is so wonderfully sweet natured and kind and considerate to everyone.
I am here sorting out some paperwork. In addition to the production office, we have the equipment store, the camera changing room and everything else here.
Earlier I packed my bag ready for France just so I am ahead of the game. It occurred to me I might need to get Jade to put another hole in my belt before I leave. I guess I’ve lost half a stone in weight already on this shoot. It’s not uncommon for me to loose a whole 2 stone on a film. Hopefully, though, the lovely French cuisine we will partake of in Brittany will check this. I’m still well under my ideal weight!
Home now. We went to the pub afterwards. About half the crew we have now will not go to France on Thursday so it was a sort of au revoir until we get back for the third part of shoot. It was nice to see people bonding, joking and discussing travel arrangements etc. Jade was particularly funny.
It’s a day off tomorrow as we prepare for the trip. Hopefully I will be shooting just before we get on the ferry at 7am. Getting everyone and everything there on time so that no-one missed the ferry will be a challenge for production.
Oh, I almost forgot, some rushes arrived finally, mute unfortunately but least they are here. So that’s only 8 days blind!
DAY 9 Thursday October 4th …
Speeding along the motorway on the way to Portsmouth. Jonnie is driving the prop car. The smell of hairspray all around as Cristina is doing Julie’s hair in the back of the car.
We are late. I’m not even sure we will make the ferry talk about the scene we must shoot before it. Axle arrived one hour and twenty minutes late. Appalling. She got lost but there’s no excuse possible. If we miss the ferry it will cost us loads and she will be responsible.
Further, Kate was dumb enough to forget her passport so I had to rearrange the travel arrangements to despatch her in Pete Stevenson’s car to go to Greenwich to get the goddam thing. Incredible. I carry my passport in my wallet 24/7. Never leave home without it!
Anyway, I’ve finally seen the first three days rushes – mute! They are beautiful. We got it all. I’m really pissed off though. The situation where I don’t get rushes for 8 days really stinks. I was tempted to sack Sonrisa, the assistant editor yesterday. She’s a lovely positive spirited girl from Equatorial Guinea, a real nice person but that still doesn’t excuse the fact I shot 8 days blind thanks to her. I hate doing that! Further more, Caroline, the editor barely gets her phone calls returned by her. What is she doing?
I would say that the net result also is it has probably cost the production in film stock and processing etc where I am covering myself. Ridiculous. After seeing Sonrisa on the first day I have had barely any contact with her. She didn’t reply to my text message from Tuesday either and now it’s Thursday. Total amateur hour!
Danny San, a Producer I am working with on another film, texted me the other day wishing me well. It’s nice to know that people are reading the blog. So far I write it either on a laptop or my mobile phone on set and Marina puts it up on the net. The photos I shoot on set get put on later when I give her the PCM card I am using.
Yesterday was another anxious day but not an unhappy one. After me and Jade visited Georgio Armani to choose some costumes for Sark, I saw my partner in the DVD distribution company, Bluebell Films, to hand over the reigns for the time I’m away. We had lunch in Maze which was lovely.
Why am I anxious? It’s simple. We haven’t really got a film yet. We’ve got a nice beginning section, about a quarter of the film but we haven’t got the crux. If the film is successful or not depends on the French part of the shoot that we start now. It is me who needs to create the magic on set and do the business. I carry that burden as lightly as possible but find it hardest when I am not actually shooting, making the film.
Anyway, we are now hurtling down the motorway towards Portsmouth. If we make the ferry, then this is the start of the adventure, the start of the journey. Earlier in the shoot I started quoting “Trust in God..” only to have my sentence finished by Steve Norris, the stills photographer and fellow Tarkovsky fan. He continued “..but tie your camel first.” It’s nice to not only to have a cine-literate crew but also a well read one too, Rumi being my favourite Sufi Poet. Anyway, that quote applies now also.
On the ferry now. Kate Higgs didn’t make it on and thanks to that I’ve not got Steve for stills, Pete for the documentary and no Marina as well. Cristina did a wonderful job finishing make-up on the way travelling at 80mph down a motorway. Thanks to the delay waiting for Axle, when I got to the ferry terminal I had just two actors, the prop car and me with 10 minutes before the ship was set to leave.
When the camera arrived in the equipment van 2 minutes later along with Matt King, the clapper/loader, I got hold of Roger’s light meter got Matt to set everything up and shot it myself with Matt pulling focus. I think we got it. Three shots. A car pulling up. A POV of ferry terminal and a close up of Callum reacting. Roger arrived just in time to put a pole in for the close up. Matt was outstandingly up for it. He did a great job.
Then we shot the scene on the ferry. Another rush job to get the scene in the can with England receeding in the background. It reminded me of a similar scene in Boston Kickout. There was no compromise, though, as Julie and Jonnie did some lovely stuff with her juggling etc. Along with some great early morning sea scapes I think we really got something nice.
Mid Channel. I’ve just discovered that Ian Dodds forgot to pack for France a vital and key prop, Malika’s rucksack. It’s a major calamity. A disgusting oversight. The third time I’ve been let down by someone today and it’s still mid morning!
It will either have to be Fedex’ed out or Seanne will have to get on a plane later today to bring it to Brittany. It’s needed for the second shot of the second scene tomorrow and then for EVERY GODDAMN scene thereafter.
Sometimes I feel I’m the only one totally on the ball except Roger, Seanne and the actors. A terrible state of affairs. What a moron!
5.07pm FRENCH TIME
About half an hour away from Mont St. Michel now. We’ve been shooting from the hip as we motor south towards Brittany. I’ve been shooting POV’s out the car and shots on Jonnie and Julie. The shots that stand out so far are Malika standing in the car, her hand silhouetted against the sun, her hair blowing in the breeze.
It’s been a long long day. We’re all running on adrenaline and caffeine. Shooting beautiful stuff. Hopefully Kate, Marina and the others will meet us at Mont St. Michel.
We are now in Mont St. Michel about to eat. Williams is collecting the amount over and above what Production is prepared to pay for dinner. Everyone is here now. Most people got a good chance to see this amazing place. Others also had the time to nap on the way except the drivers of course Jose Ruiz and Daniel Naussbaumer who must be hanging in rags.
I had to abandon a dialogue improv because the mixing desk went down but otherwise got everything including sound wild track I needed from day 3 as they head out of London. The final shot was a car pass with Mont St. Michel in the background. We shot some really lovely stuff. More than enough to cut together a great montage of them driving to the forest.
In a service station on the edge of Broceliande Forest. Pete is changing a head light that has gone off on his car. We’ve just driven for another two hours. Kate relieved Daniel with the equipment van. Everyone is dead tired and shattered. Jonnie and Jose have driven now for nearly 9 hours. I have been full on working since 3.30am yesterday morning.
Only 20 minutes or so left till we get to our base for the next two weeks and a half, a caravan park! Already the magical forest has welcomed us. Jonnie opened a book in the service station and the first word on the page was “Elephant!”
In bed now. Just under 22 hours. Good night!
DAY 10 Friday October 5th …
Just had breakfast and a production meeting. We will be starting late today as need to give everyone a bit of rest and time to organise things production-wise.
Last night at dinner Williams was complaining about things. I couldn’t really get to the bottom of his gripe with me but I asked him “Am I not working hard enough?” He said “To be honest no”. I walked off to sit on the beach in front of Mont St. Michel so as to not go mental in the restaurant in front of everyone. When I returned he apologised emphatically and said “It was not true. I’m sorry.” We shook hands on it. I know his job is difficult but is mine easier?
Make-up and hair is late. Cristina was crying again earlier. She didn’t even want to talk to me to say why. I found out the problem was she missed breakfast due to oversleeping. Is it my fault that she overslept and got an extra hour in bed? All the other crew got up on time and got to it fine including Jose, Jonnie, Julie, Roger and myself who had no time to snooze on the minibus yesterday as we were either shooting or driving and thus had just 2-3 hours sleep in 48 hours.
Further, to help, I just found a Japanese to UK plug adaptor for Cristina’s digital camera (needed for make-up continuity). How fortunate she is that I carry one! Unbelievably, though, she didn’t even say thank you when I gave it to her!!
Still waiting for make-up and hair. Now it’s an hour late and will be an additional 15 mins. That’s 75 minutes late. If we loose 75 mins every day it will take us another 2 days to shoot everything we have to do here. Roger and Jose have worked like navvies this morning to have all the equipment in the right place but now are sitting around asking “What’s happening?” and “Why is it taking so long?” etc.
Just wrapped now. We are on our way back to the camp site and then to eat dinner. We finished off the scene we shot yesterday with a couple of nice drive throughs with boule players in foreground and on a mirror.
Cristina is happier now. It was just a misunderstanding. Not really her fault about getting up late. I’m glad as she is doing a great job, especially yesterday on the way to the ferry.
Before we shot some car to car stuff of the improv I couldn’t get yesterday. Scene 68 is now more than finished. At one point Julie and Jonnie turned the radio mikes off to discuss something. It turned out it was the appearence of Jonnie’s girlfriend here on the shoot. The visibility of it is something I am not happy with also. I’m not happy with them excluding me from the discussion either.
Afterwards we talked things out and I am happier. I think Julie is too. She is completely in the right of course. A film set is no place for wives, lovers, husbands, girlfriends etc Especially when you are making a love story..
What I am not happy with is the situation with Malika’s backpack. It still didn’t turn up. UPS didn’t deliver it urgently as promised. The net result is I couldn’t shoot half the scheduled scenes today. Instead I wrapped the cast and shot some nature inserts for Scene 1, the beginning of the film.
I have been on the phone and texting Seanne constantly today to try and solve the problem, all so far to no avail. It seems the backpack is near Versailles at a depot. Daniel will drive Williams to Rennes then he will take a TGV overnight to Paris. Tomorrow will have to be a day off and then we will shoot 6 days consecutive to get back on schedule. As tomorrow is Julie’s birthday that shouldn’t be so bad. She might be able to go back to Paris also for the day.
I just called Ian Dodds and sacked him. Somehow I thought that would happen on day one. So fate intercedes and I have actually had to fire someone on this film. It’s a pity. He’s a lovely guy with a lot of problems. But along with the wine bottle mistake – he used one of the ones needed for the scene in Callum’s flat – he has not been quite on it and now this is an enormous mistake. Of course it’s not totally his fault BUT more of that tomorrow!
DAY 11 Sunday 7th October …
On way to set. Today we shoot in the village the arrival scene. I am a little despondent because of the result of the Chinese GP but will try and block that out. Now we shoot 6 days consecutive and chronological which should be good for preserving the moment and continuity of performance.
Marina has had problems connecting to the internet and thus updating the blog. Passwords, uploading photos etc. It’s a by product of being in rural France in the middle of nowhere. People have been texting me asking if I’m dead or not. Bad luck – I’m not, yet. Anyway, I hope it will be better from now.
Yesterday after watching F1 qualification and having a good lie in most of us went into Rennes. It was nice to have a total break from shooting or production for a few hours. I even found some nice nicknacks in some antique shops.
Williams didn’t have so much fun. He was in Paris trying to convince UPS to give us the rucksack that is lost in the courier system. It seems that Seanne didn’t send it express as she said she did. It was shipped standard. That’s a terrible oversight. Maybe thus I have been a trifle harsh with Ian Dodds!
Although doing great work creatively, I think the organisational side of the Art Department isn’t up to scratch. Seanne would probably say it’s the lack of resources. I would counter it’s because you can’t treat a small film in the same way you would a big film. You can’t delegate responsibility as much and trust people who are stepping up the ladder and expect them to be as on the ball as they would be having made 5 films in that grade.
In addition to Williams being in Paris, the whole of the art department were out in London trying to find an identical bag to no avail. In the end Williams found a similar one in Paris and saved Seanne’s bacon.
Julie slipped back to Paris yesterday also for a few hours. It was her birthday. I had looked forward to throwing a party for her but the schedule change enforced by the prop oversights has scuppered that. Anyway, I got her a lovely present in Rennes, a little ceramic bowl with an elephant on top. When I saw it in the shop window I thanked fate for delivering it into my hands.
One thing I’ve been thinking about warmly is Julie’s dedication to the film. On Friday when we were talking with Jonnie I said “When I make a film, nothing exists for me apart from the film” She chipped in “It’s the same with me, not my son, not my family, nothing exists apart from the film”. Her words made me recall all the great actors I have worked with over the years. Ronald Lacey, Emer McCourt, John Simm, Marc Warren, Mel Raido, Francis Barber, Erika Marozsan, Laura Harring. A true kindred spirit. In some ways I think it will get Jonnie to up his game, to match us in his dedication to the cinematagraphic art.
In my opinion, if you don’t have that passion and dedication, then what’s the point? You might as well stack shelves in Tesco’s.
Now in middle of shooting arrival scene. I’m using Roger, a local Druid in the scene riding past on his bicycle. He’s a good guy, from England originally who settled here because of the lay lines and esoteric history of the forest.
We are shooting in front of a wonderful grael church. I’ve incorporated the writing on the front door into the scene as an improv. Every scene now has an improvised element. It’s a testament to how in character Julie and Jonnie are that I can do such things.
On the tree in front of the church I have had hung lots of ribbons with wishes, prayers to God upon them as well as some charms. I have even added the charms that me and Roger wear round our necks at all times. Roger, as an ardent catholic wears a cross. I wear a gris gris I got in Marakesh that was specially made as a charm for the film as well as a Breton Triskelion like the one Malika wears throughout the film.
The scene is beautiful. Magical.
The last scene of the day. It’s amazingly relaxed shooting here. We are doing it scene by scene chronologically. The improvisations are working wonderfully. We just shot the scene where Malika throws the mobile into the corn field. On a 100mm and then a 200mm framed three quarters on the corn it was beautiful. Julie improvised at the end of the scene “I’m losing my time with you!” and Jonnie replied “I’m losing my phone with you!” Genius!
Actually Roger just told me we shouldn’t shoot this last shot now as the light is too flat. We’ll do it tomorrow morning. We’re on schedule anyway apart from the half day lost on Saturday because of prop mistake.
DAY 12 Monday October 8th …
On way to set to pick up the scene we didn’t shoot yesterday afternoon. We played Poker last night for the second time. Axle Cheeng is an absolute natural at the game. From the moment she learnt the rules she immediately grasped concepts that are at the very least intermediate level. Marina won the most – €31. I was up €18 last night.
Today we shoot the scenes where they actually enter the forest. The shoot is taking the form now of a kind of road movie. Actually a path movie, a road movie without a car!
We just did a wonderful little scene of him traipsing after her and apologising for God knows what. The trees on either side frame them like an honour guard at a wedding.
Kate has injured herself again. That’s four wounds so far on the film. One punch in the face, two jams of thumbs between tracks, one camera box fallen on finger causing blister. She is a real trooper and is still smiling and happy to be here!
Now we are on the way to the second location. Cristina has been to the toilet four times so far this morning. She is worried about finding a private place to pee in the forest. Likes the cats she has just told she will mark her territory!!
She spotted me writing it in my blog and has just told me now “You are crazy! You can’t write everything I say!” But I can if it’s funny or interesting!
We’ve just arrived at edge of forest. The scene will be shot 15 minutes trek from where we have to leave the vans. We have to carry all the equipment. Rhys has forgotten to bring the coloured jackets so that the crew don’t get targetted by the hunters in the forest. Health and Safety is compromised now. I fear. I hope no-one gets shot. Although, as a film-maker, what death could be more glorious than dying on set while shooting a film? Of course it would be better if it was on the last shot of the film!!!
Cristina now wants to pee. Like all of us, she has to sneak off into the wood. This I feel will become a running problem, especially if Pete, who is making “The making of…” documentary chooses to use that action in his take on us filming here.
The last couple of days I have had a strange feeling, like déja vu. Whatever the coverage it’s like I’m conforming to something I already know. Even the performances are exactly as I expected when fully perfected. Maybe I am dreaming the scenes we shoot the night before. It’s spooky but somehow serene, like it is all pre-planed, pre-ordained and I am just on a kind of auto pilot.
We just did a shot that reminded me of Tarkovsky’s Mirror. It was so beautiful with the framing, lighting and action that a little tear rolled down my cheek. Not that it was moving in itself or an emotional shot. It was just a spontaneous reaction to it’s sad lyrical beauty!
I had told Julie after she cried in my arms in London that I would have my moment too. That was it. Or the first one maybe? Only Roger really saw it though. He wiped the tear from my face with his middle finger and ironically whispered “Got something in your eye?”
Just finishing the bit of the scene where Malika asks the Forest to let them enter. She reminded me of Jean D’Arc in Dreyer’s film. I cried again as she did in the scene. It was an amazing performance. Powerful, moving and brilliant. I had to manage the way I shot it, the coverage, trying to keep the performances consistent throughout. In an emotional scene like the one we did today, where Julie was giving me everything, it is all about giving the actors space and managing that dance between camera and actors that is cinema.
I also improvised a shot off the shot list from a branch of the tree looking down on her, a kind of POV of God as she pleads with the spirits of the forest. It reminded me of a similar shot I did on a commercial for Shiseido in Villefranche Sur Mer in the south of France.
At the end of the scene I also had Julie come into the back of Jonnie’s shot and get him do the dialogue again properly, without any mockingness. I knew I would do that when I first read the script in Cannes in front of the Grand Hotel. But I saved it until the day we shot, the third take of the shot in fact. I primed Roger, Axle and Julie but didn’t tell Jonnie. I just said don’t exit frame until I say and then didn’t say. It worked a dream. Giving the scene a rollercoaster ride of up and down emotions.
The reason I never told Jonnie about my idea many many months ago is because I wanted it to be a surprise. Some times there are directions you give weeks before you shoot as preparation. Others days before as pointers and some have to be given on set at the moment. It is a delicate process of layering and caressing the cast how you want them to be. Sometimes if they don’t even know they are being directed you get the best results.
Also I like to keep things as truthful and fresh as possible. One way to do that is to introduce random and hidden elements to scenes. One way to do that is to tell one cast member to do something and not another so that you get their reaction to it for the first time. If they are perfectly in character and have the ability to improvise and respond to things then it should be fine and some times be absolutely magical. It certainly was today.
In the restaurant now. We got the boots in the mud scene too including a very wide 10mm shot panning across them as tiny figures dwarfed by the forest. Rhys was a trooper putting his hand right into a rancid mud hole to dig it out ready for the boot to slip in to! That scene completed puts me back on schedule having caught up the shot we didn’t do last thing yesterday because of the light.
Everything is going well now I think. We are back in the swing of things, like we were mid way through the first week in London. Roger even sidled up to me just now and said” You’re doing a good job!” That’s high praise from a man who is hardly ever 2 minutes away from a joke or a piss take. Not to complain, though. Apart from his skill, that’s one of the things I most like about Roger!
Tomorrow we shoot around Merlin’s tomb.
Day 13 Tuesday October 9th…
Late start again. This time because it has got noticeably colder and there was too much mist in the forest. Also somehow Malika’s hair extensions started standing on end!
We are now at Merlin’s tomb. I could have really done with steadicam here but it’s making me and Roger be more creative such that when we do start shooting on the steadicam it will be a breath of fresh air.
Unfortunately the owner of the tomb has had it cleaned up ready for our shoot. Thus we have to dress back in notes and wishes and prayers to make it long authentic. It reminds me of when we were shooting Boston Kickout in Stevenage and the council would clean the streets before we came to shoot. We had to dirty it up again.
The whole crew have helped dressing the tomb, all pulling together. Daniel has done a great job but Rhys has done some wonderful stuff. A wooden crossed star hanging from a large stick. Many of the crew have also put in their own personal wishes and prayers under rocks by the tomb. I have. Matt, Roger, Jonnie and Cristina have also.
Waiting for rain to pass while having lunch. Shot the start of the first scene but having to delay the ending. It is Axle’s birthday today. We got her and Julie a cake each as well as some champagne. All the crew song happy birthday to her and were joined in at one point by some school children who were visiting the tomb.
I told her “You will remember this a year from now.” She smiled.
Hurtling to the restaurant now as wrapped late because of rain. Being a small provincial restaurant, they prefer us to turn up at 7.30pm! Jonnie just ran over a frog. Being a sweet natured vegetarian guy he feels a tinge of guilt. Me, all I can think of is frogs legs cooked in garlic butter!
Shooting round the rain was real nightmare. We even had to do two shots in pouring rain with reflector boards and umbrella’s as a canopy from the rain. Probably those shots will have to be ADR’ed. We got everything even a couple of additional ones. Roger whispered to me that getting it despite the rain and falling light had been his wish to Merlin! The last shot in falling light of Malika looking through the hanging cross was a wonderful steal.
The high shot at the beginning of the scene was also beautiful. While Callum opening his eyes to see a notebook rather than a cigarette I did a little invisible creeping zoom which should work especially well. Jonnie’s performance in the last take was one of the sweetest ones he’s given me so far.
At the restaurant now. I hope we don’t have too much more rain as it will really kill our schedule. In any event I have to do another one tonight to compensate for a day off that Jonnie needs. In fact, though, I don’t mind a shower in a short scene. I will incorporate it. But a long one will be impossible as it will mean that we may be waiting for the rain. A nightmare situation.
Anyway, 13 days and not dropped a scene yet. My only gripe is I still haven’t heard any rushes. Only first 3 days mute. That makes me now 10 days blind and 13 days deaf. Ridiculous!
Day 14 Wednesday October 10th …
I feel like I am in a metronomic pattern. Each day takes a similar route as the journey progresses. I wake up, tweak the shot list, have breakfast, shoot the scenes, go to the restaurant, play poker to unwind, sleep. Every day it is the same the variety being purely what occurs during the shoot.
Last night I lost €3.20 at poker to Pete Stevenson, my first posted loss so far. He had never played before and thus I counted him out of the running only to see him turn over quad 9’s.
Pete is making the documentary about the making of the film. I have given him carte blanche and final cut on it so that he makes the most personal film about our endeavour possible. He’s totally committed to the project. Although I was a bit sceptical after finding him splayed out in my parking lot paralytic drunk after the get together meeting and drinks the Saturday before we started shooting.
Last night at dinner we gave Axle a poker set for her birthday as she’s such a natural.
Jose, the “Iberian Ox” as Marina has just christened him, has humped the generator onto location in the forest, against all expectation of human endeavour. We are setting up for the hanging from the tree scene but yet again I have been enchanted by the possibility of a new and inviting shot. Malika and Callum walk through frame, their reflections crossing across a puddle focusing on the branches and leaves reflected therein.
Earlier we shot a simple scene of Malika and Callum navigating through the wood with a barbed wire fence dressed in. It started to rain in the scene and we incorporated it, Malika dancing in it and Callum complaining about he could be back in England to get the rain and that he stupidly didn’t put the roof up on the car.
Julie, amazingly, brilliantly, inspirationally came up with the idea to leave the red jumper featured so heavily so far snared on the barbed wire. It is like the forest is slowly stripping her back to a natural state! Jonnie told me “It was a nothing scene in the script”. It was. But I love those scenes. They are the space that I try to fill with the magic of the music of chance.
Last night Jonnie was talking at dinner about how nice it is that we are working chronologically how he doesn’t prepare ahead of the day as things that happen on one day effect things shot later the same day. He genuinely doesn’t know what will happen next, what Julie will do and what I will spring upon them. He certainly doesn’t know how it will end. The funny thing is I don’t really know either! Although the closer we get, the more of an idea I have. The similarities with Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now are prevalent in my mind.
The wide shot of the hanging scene was fantastic. The first wide shots were amazing. The timings were sublime. Julie improvised a re-entry into frame taking a picture of Callum with the line “Remember!”
It was a perfect scene.
We are now preping for a shot where Callum and Malika walk through the trees in a beautiful wide shot. Cristina has just come up to me and asked for a full meeting of the entire crew tonight. Why I don’t know know. I suspect it is about creature comforts and having a generator at all times to power the hairdryer. This is something Williams promised her. It has hit me hard at the base of my back. I am in the middle of nowhere in a forest and now I am stressed. The nature is beautiful. The light in the forest is magical. But I am now deeply unhappy and affected.
Rhys has just come to me to say that Julia is crying her eyes out because Cristina was horrible to her. All it seems for a damn hairdryer etc. We haven’t been able to hump the generator deep into the woods. Rhys has just told me this incident has sparked off a small mutiny.
I am absolutely gutted. I don’t even feel like shooting the next scene which should be a wonderful beautiful improvisation. I feel like calling a wrap and ending it for the day.
We are wrapping now. I shot the improvisation but not the other small scene we are scheduled to shoot. I don’t feel it is my fault though. I had the stuffing knocked out of me earlier. Maybe I’m too sensitive though!
Anyway, I talked with Cristina before we shot the scene. It appears that I misread the situation and assumed too much. Cristina wasn’t worried about the hairdryer or creature comforts. It was not even her that wanted the full cast and crew meeting. It is Julie who wants it. She had complained to Cristina and she came to me.
Of course, she should have known better not to come to me in the middle of setting up a scene, in the middle of a shooting day. She cried again. I nearly did too. It’s the second time in 3 days that I have misunderstood something she has told me and assumed one thing rather than another based on misinformation. It’s the language barrier of course, the right or wrong choice of words. She also explained “People don’t come to you. They are afraid of you.”
“You’re not I replied”
The scene we shot was lovely. The improvisations were fantastic. The third and final take was pure magic. Roger whispered to me afterwards “I almost cried”. I felt it too, the power. Afterwards I hugged Julie and Jonnie. We are working well together. I just hope we can sort things out tonight. The meeting will take place in the restaurant after dinner.
Just back from the restaurant. During desert we started the production meeting. The main topic of discussion was the generator. It seems we are allowed to take it into the forest so it’s just a matter of buying a trailer so it can be transported and finding someone (we are short of people) to be with it. The worst problem for Make-up is the resetting of hair between takes when she dives in the water. That’s a huge reset and thus completely understandable the need for a hairdryer.
I am desperate to do a new schedule but am just too tired now. I am also too tired to take the shower I so need. I have to rejig things to make up for scene not shot today. The extra scene I dreamed up today where the Soldier finds Malika’s jumper. To accomodate steadicam and people’s days off and now to add prep in deep forest to get the generator there.
The real problem is not with Cristina as I originally thought but with Julie. Not that it is a real problem either. Just an imaginary one in some ways. Julie thinks that no-one and more importantly myself either, actually cares about taking care of her. She told everyone else about those concerns BUT not me and I myopically didn’t see them. I was too worried about constructing the magic and telling the story. I looked at Julie and saw the amazing, self sufficient Malika she is playing. I was blind to the fragility of Julie. The fragility of all creative people when exposing themselves utterly. Indeed I share that fragility. Today being a case in point.
As the meeting was ending, Julie turned to me and said “I am willing to give everything for this movie but I don’t think you care about me, that you love me.” To my embarrassment, the whole crew were still seated around. Luckily they tactfully trooped out quietly leaving me and her alone in the restaurant. We talked further, She got angry and upset. So did I. Her eyes bled tears and she said “My towel was not there. There was nothing to warm me.”
I replied “Is it my job to bring the towel? If you ask me I will order it. But should it be me who will physically bring it to you?”
She replied “I didn’t think you cared.”
I countered “Your towel didn’t arrive today? My ‘towel’ doesn’t arrive every day. In fact ten times a day! Do you know what I have to go through each day, what I have to endure?”
She cried. I embraced her. For a long long time she sobbed in my arms and I felt her pain.
I have had immense problems of failed organisation on this film. Grip gear not arriving on time. DAT machines not working. Batteries being the wrong types. Things going down for various reasons. In the first 3 days I must have had 5-10 problems every day. What did I do? I worked around it, keeping the problems to myself and certainly away from the cast.
The real underlying problem, I discovered, is reciprocal. She also did not want to bother me with her problems and told everyone else what she needed and nothing happened. Bizarrely, if she had come to me directly with her needs and concerns I would have done something about it immediately. Her concerns are my concerns. It is my responsibility to take care of her. I have done that emotionally but have trusted the practical side (off camera) to Production. Unfortunately they have not delivered due to lack of resources.
In the end I think things are resolved now. I am always utterly supportive of my cast. You will be hard pressed to find an actor who can’t say “Paul was there for me.” That’s what I’m like. That’s my conviction. I am well known as “An actors director.” On shoots sometimes even, Roger tells me I go too far protecting them!
Anyway, I will endeavour to give Julie everything she needs. Hopefully now she will be more honest with me about her concerns and indeed trusting of me to take care of her in all ways, not just on set in front of the camera. I do care for her. I do feel the responsibility. She is my actress. I am her director. I am there for her utterly. At the end I said “If you want to call me at 3am then call me. You would not be the first who has done that. It’s my job. For you who are so great an actress, so wonderful a person and so generous with what you give to the film it would even be a pleasure. I am there for you. Please believe me.”
I think things are fine now. They are for me. Now I know what the true problem is, I can solve it. For an egoist the unknown, out of your control is far worse than the known that you can control – maybe!
Anyway, back to my personal problems. It seems the hard drive I ordered on day one of the shoot has still not actually arrived and that is the reason that I have not got sync rushes. They have not even been digitised, talk about synced up. Ridiculous. I just got a text from Caroline, the editor. It’s not her fault. Something else that has slipped through the fingers of the meagre resources of Production on this film.
Enough. I’ve got to redo the schedule early tomorrow. I go to bed having still not read one word of the book beside my bed. Not one word in weeks. Too tired.
DAY 15 Thursday October 11th …
Julie has just handed me a handwritten note. She wants to remind me that as well as her, Roger, Axle, Steve and Matt all want a generator for different reasons at the lake including health and safety reasons. She is right. Absolutely right. Of course, it might be that, as it leaks, it could actually pose a health and safety problem!
Julie also reminded me that I am Producing the film as well as directing. The problem is Jonnie and I had hired Williams to Line Produce the film so that we don’t have to do any actual production work on the film while shooting, so that we can do our main jobs. It seems that this now is far from possible if we are going to continue in an utterly professional manner and keep everyone happy!
Now we are half way through the shoot. We should have had a party but we didn’t. Instead last night we had a full cast and crew meeting. An HOD meeting probably would have sufficed once Williams came back to the unit but never mind now. That is water under the bridge.
On way to set now with Jonnie, Cristina and Julie. The sun of Austerlitz shines to the east. We are discussing the new schedule, or indeed part of it – the printer ran out of ink half way through printing it! I have texted Williams to get one when he gets back to Rennes after a three day sojourn back in London preping the final part of the shoot.
When I arrived on set Roger had already set up a shot of the sun through the trees. Many times I don’t have to tell him what is needed, what I want. He is ahead of me. We are so marvellously linked telepathically I even at time finds myself anticipating a framing correction or camera pan while watching the monitor to find half a second later he does exactly what I feel is needed!
Daniel, the Art Director, is currently prepping the zone militaire sequence. Seanne told him the other day “The Art Department can’t fuck up.” They haven’t so far thanks to him. Against the odds he is doing a good job. Thank God! Being autumnal, this film is heavy on leaves and in the forest now it is a HUGE job. He did a great yesterday. We hugged for the first time by the fountain. After he left me there on my own, I said a prayer in the stillness of the fountain spring where we had shot before walking back through the forest twilight alone. It was calming and serene.
Late starting as van has had serious difficulty getting into the forest. The entire crew and cast except Daniel, Marina and me who were at the location preping, pushed the van uphill through the mud with bald tires. Kate sustained her 5th injury, a cut between the thumb and the index finger on her focus pulling hand. She also slipped over just as the van was rolling backwards and was very nearly KIA’ed!
Kate has just told me her mother is going to be very concerned when reading about this episode in the blog. Indeed, she has just told me further that her mother is a health and safety officer!
Waiting in Trehorentuec for a journalist to interview me, Jonnie and Julie. Earlier we finished the Zone Militaire scene and a simple one where I had them improvise freely again. This time without dialogue. Malika finds a cone in a stream. Callum watches her clean it up. She sees that he is watching her and smiles at him. Simple. It reminded me of a scene in “Elvira Madigan”.
Now about to shoot the first scene I’ve shot in the deeper part of the forest. I have them walking along the stream, over a knoll and across another bit of stream approaching camera and her saying “Shush” and ducking down. Then he walks away and surreptitiously watches her peeing before she enters back into shot. It will be an amazing sequence shot.
It is nice shooting again without any atmosphere. Yesterday afternoon was intolerable and quite unnecessary. There have been the usual amount of jokes and good humour today. The collective van pushing and beautiful locations I hope have helped also. Hopefully things are back on track.
One thing of note is Kate managed to sustain yet another injury, her 6th of the shoot. This one is on her other hand and came about through scraping her hand on a script! She now will have plasters on both hands.
In the car driving here Julie told me that the problems we have had are really to do with Production. I told her she is right. She is. The mitigation of course is the lack of resources that poor Williams has. Me, I just try and concentrate on getting the best stuff possible with the resources available. So far I think I have succeeded.
Roger is up in the sky above me now on a motorised hanglider. He is doing a recce to see if we can shoot an aerial shot swooping like a bird over the forest. Of course it is a bit risky. The thing does look a bit fragile that’s for sure. I hope he is alright. If the motor cuts out at least he should be able to glide down to earth – I hope!
After shooting the final scene of the day I shot a few additions of water trickling down a stream. The main scene I was planning to cover in 8 setups but did in the 1 minute 40 sequence shot that cuts into some boots across a stream which whip pans up into a M/C/U2 shooting up with trees framed above them. It was wonderful.
On the way to the restaurant now. I’m starving. Williams has just arrived back. We are a complete team again. He has brought back some hand warmers amongst other things but no rushes as I expected late last night.
Day 16 Friday October 12th …
Shooting the first soldier scene now. 8 takes on first shot to get dog action right. It is different to shoot a scene without Malika and Callum. Only the second one I have shot so far.
Last night at the restaurant people were laughing and joking. Quite a contrast from the night before. Rhys, who is ahead in the how many digestives can you fit in your mouth a one time on set competition, put his head on the table and gad someone pour water into his mouth from three feet.
Jean-Baptiste Puech, the actor who is playing the Soldier arrived in the middle of it. He seemed to blend in well. It is hard joining a shoot in the middle, feeling comfortable with all the in jokes and established crew banter. He even played poker with us afterwards. He won of course also.
When we were at the airfield last night, I suggested a shot to Pete, the documentary film-maker. Marina turned to me and said “You can’t stop. Can you?”. She was right. I can’t stop directing. I would direct passersby, cows in a field, anything. I can’t help it. Reality for me is the reality of the film now. I am trudging through the woods with Callum and Malika, setting obstacles in their path.
Jonnie has been bitten to pieces by insects in the forest. To Cristina’s disbelief I have forbidden the use of insect repellent on him. Bizarrely, so far I am untouched with no repellent. Jonnie really has stepped up to the plate in my view in the last few days. Apart from improvising perfectly with Julie he has also accepted the physical difficulties of the part admirably, inspirationally. Gladly he does all the difficult things I make him endure and bears up good humouredly to the problems I put in his path. Yesterday he joked “More suffering – that’s great!” as he traipsed after Malika again.
Malika’s backpack is as light as possible and easy to carry. Callum’s luggage is a nightmare to carry and I get Rhys to put in one extra stone in it each day. It’s working a treat. I can see the impact it is having on him! He slipped in the stream yesterday and hurt his shoulder. I told him “Please don’t break your neck when the camera is not on you!”. He apologised!
I’ve now done all the early Soldier stuff. It was quite simple for Jean-Baptiste. Most of it I shot in wide shots or quite enigmatic. He will have some real acting stuff to do when he comes back on the the 18th. The little Breton Spaniel that I cast to play “Holly” did a wonderful job. She certainly melted everyone’s heart, even mine who am normally a cat person rather than a dog person!
I hope I have enough time to shoot the scene where Malika and Callum find somewhere to camp..
Sitting by the stream at the location we have chosen for the first campsite. Only the sound of the stream and it’s water gurgling is audible. It is wonderfully tranquil. The crew are slowly arriving with the equipment. I am just about to start a little rehearsal.
Now sitting in the restaurant talking about Fidel Castro. We’ve finished the first week in the forest. I feel a little relieved as hopefully it will allow me to take stock a bit and regroup ready. The scene was beautiful. I shot a lovely wide shot panning down from the trees. After I that I shot a little coverage incorporating a zoom in and a pan off at the end of the scene. At the end I did another huge wide from the top of a hill where some beautiful purple flowers grew with a zoom out. I hope that the scene is poetic. That is what I was aiming for.
We are now talking about the England football and rugby games tomorrow. I have just discovered that there are many Basque players in the French team. That really gives me a dilemma. The Basques are very dear to me and it would be hard to go against them!
Day 17 Sunday October 14th …
In car heading to set. Every day each one of our vehicles plays over the walkie talkies a selected song or two. It’s a sort of ritual now. Tomorrow me and Jonnie will have the perfect one as a surprise. Today we shoot the longest scene in the film page count-wise. Five and two eights of a page. I am being as creative as I can without steadicam. In two days time I will start to need it for later stuff in forest and the early dream/nightmare sequences that Callum has while in London.
Yesterday, on our day off, we were going to leave early to go to Vannes on sightseeing. Pete was meant to take Williams to Rennes to take rushes etc. back to London via the Eurostar. Pete refused to do so saying he was still recovering from the night before and it was his day off. Instead Daniel had to be woken up to take him in the minibus. The net result is most of the crew woke up at 8am to leave early to go to Vannes only to find out there was no transport available until 10am.
When you have a day off, real life floods back in but it’s not that simple. It’s not actual real life, there’s not enough time for that. It’s just the larger parts of it that you don’t want to think about. Without any distraction, without any occupation like the full time all consuming one, it’s impossible to keep the more overpowering and problematic personal conundrums at bay.
For a second time I found a day off harder than a day on. The last one in Rennes 6 days ago was extremely pleasant but somehow Vannes, half asleep under an overcast sky as it was yesterday, was full of sadness for me. Maybe it was because we are over half way through the shoot and thus I can see the end coming. Maybe it was just that when you have such an energetic, intense and ultimately egotistical endeavour like making a film, that during breaks it is inevitable to have a come down or to experience some self loathing! Or maybe it was something else. All I know is I am looking forward to shooting more today than I was looking forward to the break on the last day of shooting. In fact I feel great now and “focused” as Roger would say!
Between “Action” and “Cut” the world is under your control. As a film-maker, you can make it afresh in your own image. Tell the story you want to tell. Get across your own point of view. The protagonist can win or loose. The hero can get the girl or not get her. It is your choice. What is more wonderful than that?
Axle won the Friday night poker tournament. “Bronson”, as she is now called is the most naturally gifted player I have introduced to the game.
Earlier Pete asked Jonnie if he had make-up on or was just muddy. Now he certainly looks like shit as he should! That illustrates just how good a job Cristina is doing. Upon reflection, everyone on this film has been brilliant. There has been no-one who has let the team down substantially. We are a great team.
Rhys is up a tree while we shoot this scene. He drops leaves into shot on cue. Of course the level of leaves depends on the action of the scene. He has been very brave getting himself right up there.
We have shot the first part of the scene now. Axle soldiered on through a migraine complete with throwing up. She ran up and down to run it off. Unfortunately also she fell over and and hurt her hand and leg. It is her first injury so she has long way to catch up the brave and battle hardened Katie Higgs.
Just about to start shooting the end of the scene. Rhys is climbing up the tree again. I am now thinking about film stock and how much I have left. I’ve worked out that if I shoot the rest of the French part of the film at an 8:1 ratio then I have enough stock. Otherwise I will need some more. Always the amount of stock is a problem for the director. On a film where there is an improvisatory element it it’s generally more acute. That is certainly my problem on this one as well as not seeing rushes.
I am now 14 days blind and 17 days mute in terms of seeing rushes now!
Sitting in Julie’s caravan while Cristina removes the hair extensions from Julie and cleans up Jonnie. We are talking about the scene today. It was the scene that Julie did in the audition. She told me after the scene that she was really worried that it would be not the same as the audition or the rehearsal. What I loved about those versions is how affected Malika was, how personal she took it.
When we shot the scene I broke it up into parts so that we progressed through it bit by bit. When we got to the bit where he makes her so mad that she cries and storms off I kept doing takes. Eventually she cracked and in a blind rage she slapped him across the face. It was never scripted that way. It was never discussed that way. Never rehearsed that way.
As soon as she did it the energy changed. Things instantly changed completely. The gear had shifted up. Jonnie face was a picture of incredulity and repressed rage. I went straight into her close up and shot 3 takes on her. The second one was the best. Pure magic.
After shooting his reverse I did a wide for her storming off while he shouts “Malika! Malika! Malika!” after her. It suddenly occurred to me that if I did a tighter and wider version of the wide that I could cut out between the three as he shouts out her name, jumping cutting down the line. Also I can use them to repeat the action of the slap for added effect. The net result is he got slapped round the face fifteen times. Normally when I shoot a scene like this I have to whisper to the actress “Fucking hit him!” as it is human nature to pull back. This time I didn’t have to. She pummelled him over and over and over again. Powerful stuff.
Rhys was up a tree practically all day today dropping leaves into shot. He did brilliantly. He’s not let me down yet in 17 days of shooting.
Day 18 Monday October 15th …
Tonight is our only night shoot.
I just had a meeting with Jonnie and Julie to discuss all the details in the sex scenes we still have to do. There are three of them. Flash inserts while he is imagining how it will be while suspended upside down from the tree. In the tent for real the first time and again when he is out of his mind on magic mushrooms.
In the latter I want him to cry when he comes. I think this will be a good turnaround and will be cathartic. He is out of his head so is through the looking glass in terms of emotions.
In the first scene where he imagines it I want it to be perfect. He is giving her pleasure. In the second one that we shoot later tonight it is not as he imagined. My idea is to shoot the whole scene lit by a single torch. He turns it off at one point leaving the screen (and the audience) in total darkness. She then turns it on telling him that she wants to see his face.
I don’t think either of my actors have much experience with this type of scene. I am not worried, though, the professional and personal relationships are strong and I feel we will all do a good job. For me, tonight will be special. I am really looking forward to it. I have said many times that I prefer to shoot a love scene than an action scene. It is true. I even consider myself a specialist in them. It is one of the things I can do best!
When you are down to two actors, me and a camera then cinema can be at it’s best. The intimacy and subtlety that a camera can pick up is a beautiful thing. It is the joy of cinema, the use of perspective, going from one to another that you don’t get it theatre. Love scenes are a perfect example of this.
Now on set setting up. Jonnie and Julie just had a row. It was over the sleeping bag. It was not dried out by Daniel and Jonnie started to dry it. Julie thought he was angry having to do it and it sparked an argument. I appeared in the middle and appeased them. It’s Daniel’s responsibility but in any event it is not needed for at least another five hours so why so much stress now?
From a directorial point of view it works well that they have just argued as they did on camera at the end of the last scene. Anyway, in reality, it’s the continuation of the problems discussed last week. Too much to do and not enough people. Daniel keeps on being borrowed to do production things and thus has little time to do he real job.
The real reason for Jonnie’s stress (and mine) is that it appears that an investor who promised to invest in the film has reneged on his promise. He claims to have not been sent the correct details until too late. This affects our cashflow as much needs to be paid on leaving France in 9 to 10 days time. We will have to ameliorate this tomorrow.
Even more bizarrely, I found out earlier that Pete and Steve had a huge fight two nights ago. They were both half cut at least. Apparently, Jonnie was woken up at 1.15am in the morning by shouting and screaming and emerged onto the veranda of their caravan to see on the grass in front, Pete on top of Steve half naked, holding him down, surrounded by broken glass. They were trying to kill each other it seemed. Steve had just before thrown Pete’s HDV camera at him and broken the microphone connection. The cause of the rift I don’t know. They’ve known each other for 20 years plus so the cause may be deep seated and nothing to do with the film. Anyway, it’s their business.
Jonnie calmed them down by telling them he’d sack them both if they didn’t stop. They did thankfully! Pete slept in his car. The campsite owner was not best pleased when she got complaints from the neighbours yesterday morning. That’s how I found out. I think they’ve patched it up now and that was the reason they were a little late arriving to set yesterday. Thank God! They are both really decent guys and I have a lot of respect for them.
The generator is not working. After humping it into the wood for power, hot water for drinks. water bottles etc it is now not working. We have just shot a day for night scene where the camp is still and a boot comes into shot in the bottom left of frame. It is a Breton Farmer. The “boot” was played by me.
Just discovered the reason the generator is not working is because Jose put diesel in it rather than petrol! He now has to empty it out completely and refill it with petrol. Hopefully that will get it working. Never mind!
Just finished shooting first twilight scenes so now need to wait for night. I hope we can get through it all tonight. Incidentally I am also sick with cold and running a temperature so it’s not the most ideal day for a night shoot in a forest!
Listening to Jacques Brel on Marina’s ipod. It’s taken ages to shoot all the stuff with Callum in the wood with the torch. We just had a break for soup before he finds Malika in the woods. We still have loads to shoot including all the intimate stuff. I’m worried that we might get far far behind and it will then become a 5am’er rather than a 3am’er!
Now rigging for the exterior of the tent scene. After that I will be inside for the love scene. Still so much to shoot. It will become a race against time I am sure. When the pressure is on the key is to still get it as good as possible despite everything. Not to compromise. Not that the word is in my vocabulary!
We are shooting mute now, as no sound is needed for this shot. That means we all have our ipods on while we are running. Filming in a forest in France in the middle of nowhere in the dead of night, people are dancing to their different tunes. Rhys, Axle, Julia, Steve, Myself. It’s like a bizarre rave in a forest. Pure complete and total madness.
Now I am sure it will be at least 5am. Maybe later… Roger’s good humour is a bastion of strength as usual. I hope it’s not later!
Just about completed the love scene. It took a long while. Jonnie and Julie needed lots of time to prepare and get comfortable as well as rest and reset things between shots. The torch idea worked perfectly. It is now getting much colder. Just when I’d got it, Julie asked for another take. Just before that Marina had whispered to me that Axle was very cold and shivering. I was in two minds to do the extra take but decided to do it. I’d told Julie from the start that she could have an extra take if she wanted it. I had to keep my promise.
Motoring through the scenes one after another. Done the one where Callum jumps out of the tent naked and the one where after making love they look up at the sky. Julie came up with a great idea of lying back on Callum’s chest making it a most unusual 2-shot.
Steve has had to fill in on sound as Axle is wrapped up warm in Pete’s car with the heating on. I saw her and Marina 30 minutes ago and thought they were recovering. It seems Marina also has caught a chill. I saw them in the holding area. They were joking around and were eager to get back to set. It seems that afterwards they both had a relapse and were sent back to the car to keep warn. Rhys tells me Axle is fine but I have asked Cristina to check in 15 mins time and tell me how they are.
Finally wrapped. Got it all. We completed. What a ridiculously long day. I’m afraid the crew are really exhausted now. We lost a couple of hours at the start and another one midway through. A terribly long and cold night.
When Julie emerged from the relative warmth of the tent she couldn’t believe she had been in it for around 6 hours. She thought it had been one or two. It was the first time either her or Jonnie had done a proper love scene. She asked “Do you look at me differently now?” My only answer was “Why should I?”. They both had done admirably. It will be a lovely and unusual scene not least because of the lighting and location.
Now sitting in the Accident and Emergency of Ploermel Hospital. After the shoot Axle was discovered to be in such a bad way that we had to rush her and Marina to hospital. They tell us they are fine but we are still worried about Hypothermia.
As we were wrapping, Axle, who had been sleeping in Pete’s car, got up and started to throw up. She had thrown up two days before also with what she said was migraine. She looked very bad and was extremely weak. Julie called a Medical support number and they immediately advised we take them both to hospital.
I am very worried about Axle. She is comatosed now and so so cold to the touch. Everyone here is fraught and concerned about her but we are trying not to let our emotions get the better of us. Tears have welled in my eyes more than once. I keep thinking about how happy she was only a few hours earlier dancing to the ipod tunes in the forest and now is so defenceless and fragile in a hospital bed.
Julie has taken control here as she knows the French medical system. We have had to answer numerous questions complying with the French bureaucratic system. Of course in the UK system she probably wouldn’t have even been seen yet!
Marina has been let out of hospital. She seems relatively fine and is putting on a brave face. Jonnie has taken her along with Julie and Cristina who were also waiting, back to the camping site. I have to wait for Jonnie to return and also to find out the results of some tests on Axle. The doctors are running more tests. They believe it is not hypothermia. The two incidents must be connected though. They had the same symptoms in different degrees. Marina also felt sick the same time as Axle was throwing up.
Just got back. It appears Julie was sick after leaving the hospital also and I felt bad in the stomach at one point as did Jonnie last night. Maybe it was food poisoning?
Day 19 Wednesday October 17th …
On way to set, back to the campsite for an early call so that in the morning after scene we have mist over the forest. In the van there is stolid optimism in the face of the events 36 hours before. I am feeling worse. My cold now having become full scale flu I think. Heavy head. Stuffed up. Running nose. Coughing up phlegm etc. Not that I am complaining, compared to what happened to Axle and Marina I am in the best of health.
Axle was released from hospital yesterday afternoon. While I was sleeping, Julie took Jonnie back to the hospital to sit a vigil. I feel a little disappointed Jonnie didn’t wake me when the hospital called as I expected so that I could go to see Axle also. Jonnie and Julie brought her back. She is fine now and desperate to get back on it. Jonnie and I have decided, though, to rest both her and Marina today.
Yesterday, I was awoken by a scream. Kate even on a day off managed to bang her nose on the underside of the van’s mirror. I rushed out to see her sprawled on the floor holding her nose. I asked if she was OK. Again she braved it out. Just now I discovered she banged her head while getting out of the van and had the whole of the top half of her head throbbing for a few hours. This makes now seven injuries sustained on the film. Incredible.
Marina asked for a day off for everyone today but that would be impractical and cost us too much money now. We need to exit France and get back to London to prep the office part as soon as possible. Finally I got a cost report. It is not great reading.
Now prepping to do an insert on the sex scene. Callum ripping Condom packet. Stupidly I forgot to include this before. A mistake on my part considering how they were featured in scene in London and need to be included later in Soldier scene. It’s probably the first creative mistake I have made on the film so far. Hopefully this insert will solve the problem. I know how to edit the scene to make it work.
Jonnie has arrived on set without make-up. Unbelievably he couldn’t wake Cristina this morning. I heard she had a bad day yesterday and didn’t want to see anyone. I can only assume it is exhaustion or stress as she was not ill the other night and didn’t thus have to go to hospital. I would have gone and visited her yesterday except Julie told me explicitly that she didn’t want to see anyone.
I will have to send Jonnie back after doing this insert as there is no other choice. I had already decided that as it is a light day with no make-up resets, she can set make-up then have day off until de-rig. Hopefully this will give her the opportunity to recover. I have no other choice as like a lot of people, she does not have an assistant here and I do not have the luxury of being able to call another day off.
Earlier I shot a lovely scene of the tent shrouded in mist. Daniel is doing a great job. I texted Seanne in London and told her than Daniel deserves a medal. He’s doing a great Bruno Gantz impersonation of him playing Hitler as well so maybe it should be an Iron Cross which by chance is the name of the film by Peckinpah that we were discussing on set earlier while prepping!
Now shooting scene 102 where he calls out for Malika. Roger suggested an idea where he calls, walks out of frame, calls again then walks back into frame, calls out and then walks out again only to return a final time. A wonderful idea. Worked beautifully. Roger and I are on the top of our game at the moment. Earlier someone said “When the going gets tough, the tough get going!” I couldn’t have said it better myself.
Steve, who is standing in for Axle, asked earlier as he has a cold, “Can he be replaced by Axle?” I told him no way. She was in a hospital bed less than 36 hours ago!
Having lunch now. Kate is telling us about her experiences shooting in India. I feel great, strangely despite having flu. It’s probably my mental state rather than physical. Up on the hill earlier shooting Callum doing Tai Chi exercises was beautiful. I sat there in the sun for 10 minutes waiting for the shot to be set up. It was so peaceful. Afterwards we shot some more of 102B. I decided to start that scene as Make-up was a little late and thus I couldn’t shoot on Malika.
Then I saw a beautiful thing. The sun backlighting some trees as seeds fell from them against the sun. We shot it. I’m certain it will be shot 2 of the film coming straight after the close up of a leaf backlit by the sun. I feel the full presence of Broceliande now. It’s peace. It’s magic. It’s the calm after the storm but it’s also about being perfectly harmonious with the film and full of confidence.
I wish everyone was as absolutely focused on the film as I am, as Roger is, as Jonnie and Julie are on set. That’s how you get through a long shoot. Not through worrying about peripheral things. By concentrating on the job in hand. Of course you can’t expect everyone to be like that. All you can do is show by example. To me even. Roger is a shining example of how you get through a long shoot. He is a rock and I am glad to have him.
Anyway, Dougal Porteuos has arrived here in France. He will have a single scene tomorrow as part of 118, the tripping scene. He came up to me and whispered “If you have no problems normally that means that you make a shit film.” He’s right of course.
I remember on Boston Kickout a sceptical assistant Art Director who evidentially didn’t believe in the project. She got sidelined effectively by more diligent and dedicated people. At the London Film Festival screening of the film I looked down to see her in the front row with tears in her eyes. She had finally got it, what we were trying to achieve. The only thing was it had taken a year after the shooting. She lost it through her own obstinacy. Afterwards she apologised to me as did the Prop Master that I had to sack on that film. They both apologised for not being with the programme, for not believing, for not understanding what it is to make a film.
Making a film is not something to be taken lightly. It’s a monumental task physically, mentally and emotionally. Not everyone has strength in all three areas. As a film-maker having all that is essential.
Shot some lovely stuff just now. Scene 104, Callum sitting by the river at the edge of frame off to the right was very nice. But as Roger said earlier “It’s all nice on this film!”
Now in the middle of a rehearsal for scene 106. Julie is happy I can tell. I have heard mixed reports throughout the day about Marina and Cristina. Some say they are better others not so. I don’t dare to ask her about them. I just hope they will be rested enough to return tomorrow from the MIA list.
Just wrapped. Kate caught her fingers in the camera car. It is her eight injury now. She was in so much pain she even didn’t want me to take a snap of her!
We shot some great stuff today. Julie’s close up at end of 106 was especially memorable as was Callum dropping down into frame at the beginning of it. We shot more than was scheduled to shoot today and thus got ahead or ourselves. If we keep this up we’ll be leaving France a day ahead of what was predicted. That will be good for everyone. People will be getting cabin fever soon I imagine!
We were going to go bowling tonight but unfortunately it has been cancelled. Cristina and Marina are too tired to do it today. It would have been a nice bonding experience. Matt was especially looking forward to it. I was too. Maybe it will happen on the19th now. Maybe not.
Day 20 Thursday October 18th …
Shooting lovely stuff of Callum and the cigarette tree. It really works well having the packet being suspended from the tree by a ribbon. Lovely lighting too. Later Callum must climb the tree and fall down. Jonnie, a natural born tree climber is really looking forward to it!
Currently we are hamming up Jonnie with real ham so that our starring dog can lick his face. He just told me it is “disgusting.” I asked him if it was the most disgusting thing on the shoot so far. He said “Yes. I’d rather fall out of the tree again” .
It’s now stuffed into both ears, both nostrils and smeared all over. He stoically is putting up with this discomfort. Oh, I forgot, he’s a vegetarian!!!
He certainly fell out of the tree well. The scene worked perfectly. I even improvised a shot where he falls through frame and another where he hoists his fist in the air triumphantly with the cigarette packet. Great stuff that should be funny also.
Just shot all the big soldier scene. The dog couldn’t perform and because I can’t afford to shoot with Jean-Baptiste another day I decided to cut it and just have him wake up by the soldier kicking his foot and shouting. I did that myself in the close up so as to save the soldier’s appearance to Jonnie.
I told Jonnie to sleep until we were ready to shoot the main set up. Meanwhile I prepared the shot. A handheld one where the soldier walks in and kicks his shoe, wakes him up, puts a gun to his chest. I arranged with Rhys to ask him “How long for make-up?” He replied audibly “Another 5 minutes” then immediately I gave Axle and Roger the signal silently. They turned over sound and camera. I also cued Jean-Baptiste silently so the first thing that Jonnie knew that the take was happening was when the soldier kicked him awake. Never before had Jonnie seen the uniform, seen the gun nor anything. It was a total surprise. I’d hidden those things from him during prep and pre-production so he saw them for the first time when he opened his eyes in this scene on camera.
In the night scene I shot three days ago where Callum had been awoken in the dead of night by voices, I had fallen into the tent deliberately to great effect doubling as a drunken Breton hunter to Callum and Jonnie’s (genuine) surprise. The shot was absolutely hilarious. Fantastic.
The ruse today, starting a scene where someone is woken up abruptly, way before they think it is going to happen, so that they are genuinely surprised, worked even better. Callum was absolutely shocked when he was woken up. The scene was wonderful. Jonnie came up to me afterwards and said “Good”. He was impressed.
For reasons of coverage I decided to do a second take. The problem was how do I get the same effect when he is expecting it? I decided to ask Cristina and Marina to start talking audibly in Italian. Again I started a silent turn over. Jean-Baptiste kicked his boot, shouted and the girls talking stopped as planned. He was even more surprised than before. Especially when the gun was put right to his throat up against the tree.
I am using every trick in the book these days to illicit good performances from my cast. I feel fully articulate and confident as a director. I just wish I could shoot a film every year like Winterbottom does. Just think how sharp I would be then!!
In the later part of the scene where Callum and the soldier talk there was real warmth in it. I saw something in Jonnie I’d not seen before except maybe in the final scene with Emma. He did real good. By shooting on longer lenses for extended takes and reducing the crew I achieved an amazing naturalness. Afterwards Jonnie said “I just felt like I was having a chat. When you called cut I had forgotten we were filming!”
We have humped all the gear into the forest and up to the final lake to film the Soldier’s final scene. Jose, the strongest of us has humped the most. Axle, still being rested, brought the dog and her backpack. I brought two camera batteries and the prop gun (I am defacto Armourer!).
One problem I have had today is that we are running out of film stock. For some reason 9 rolls have gone astray. 10 extra rolls are due to arrive tomorrow but in the mean time I am running really low. I now have 290 feet of the right stock for a scene of one third of a page.
That was close. With the last frame of stock we got the scene. It run out just before I was going to call cut. I might need an insert but I got it. Even the dog performed.
In an earlier scene Jean-Baptiste had walked past a cornfield. I had told him when we had shot before that this walk around the village and forest was his daily ritual, where he thought about his past and more importantly his future.
Before we shot the final scene I told him “When you walked past the cornfield this morning. The corn had been cut.” He looked at me. I continued “You have the feeling today that something will soon change in your life.”
He replied “I agree. From now on I want to be called Francesca!”
The most amazing thing is when we did the final take of the wide shot. Bubbles appeared in the lake as if on cue. JB looked to the lake as if by magic. Bizarrely I was planning on creating bubbles artificially for a insert done later.
I didn’t need to thanks to the magic of Broceliande.
Sitting in the restaurant now. Earlier I had an impromptu meeting with Rhys to discuss our exit strategy. I think we will leave France on the 24th. As tomorrow is a day off, we only have 4 days shooting left.
Jean-Baptiste has left now. I had been quite harsh with him as an actor. I thought it would instill a more military air . I hope it worked. I feel it has. He did really well. I wish I could have spent some more time with him after the shoot but he had to get back to Paris. I met him through a recommendation from Steven Cree who is playing Jode. Of course I haven’t shot a frame on Steven yet. His agent is making my life difficult thanks to a theatre gig he has got. In any event we will have to find a solution soon.
Still in the restaurant. Earlier we were discussing something Jean-Baptiste had said. Apparently Williams had called him up two days ago and asked if he could put some stock in the toilet of the Eurostar from London to Paris and if JB could collect from the toilet! If this is true or not I have no idea but it’s certainly a good story. It certainly sounds a creative idea!
Paul Gernon is also here now. Apart from being a mean poker player, he is here to help us out with production things. Along with Julia Main, we are now back up to two people full time in production out of 16. That’s the minimum we need, I feel.
That is lucky as Williams is unable to come back on Saturday now. I assume he has to concentrate on our cash flow and prepping the second London part of the shoot. But I’m not sure and many times people have asked me where he is. Myself, I communicate with him almost exclusively through text messages. That suits me fine as while shooting and sleeping (90% of my existence these days) my phone is on silent.
Anyway, he managed to get me the stock I need to continue shooting. So that is a relief.
Day 21 Saturday October 20th…
Sitting finalising the shot list for today as I do every day once Marina brings me her computer. I publish a shot list every morning to have a blue print for what we will do and so that all the HOD’s have an idea of how the day will shape up. The administration of which is the main and most essential duty of my assistant.
I do diverge from it of course, sometimes combining shots, sometimes adding new ones. Rarely also, I will completely change things if something has cropped up on the day either in rehearsals or brainstorming with my DoP.
Yesterday was the final day off in France. After a longer poker session than normal the night before, in which, although only playing three hands in 2 hours, I still won €23.80, people got up late. We travelled to Dinan. I’m glad we did. The city was wonderful and I enjoyed the best day off of the shoot. I even came up with an idea how to use the Hoody character here in France!
When I got back from Dinan, Maureen, the campsite owner, grabbed me. Apparently caravan 3 is an absolute pig sty. “They must live like animals” she told me.
“If they don’t tidy it up tonight then all of you will be kicked off the campsite tomorrow morning!” I was told further.
It is the caravan of Daniel, Jose, Jonnie, Pete and Steve. For a long time now I have heard tales of Pete and Steve’s antics. I learned from Maureen that there is piss up the walls, ash on the ledges, unwashed dishes piled high, coffee stains everywhere, mud over the floor, red wine on the duvets and cigarette butts on the floors. I had to see it for myself. Afterwards I read the riot act.
Jean-Baptiste texted me yesterday saying “Hello paul, I’m in paris after a short drive (less than 4hours). I was really happy to meet you, there is not so many enthusiastic directors in this world, and be part of this adventure.” That was nice of him. His drive out to Brittany had been ridiculously long.
When JB had done his first scene on the film, he asked me “Where are the marks?” I replied “There are no marks.” On his final day he told me “I’ve worked with directors where they tell you to look left on a certain line. It’s nice to not have to do that with you.”
I love those comments! As usual, I shot listed his scenes before rehearsal, it’s just I predicted pretty much how it would unfold and adapted things purely to present them in an ideal fashion. When the guiding hand of the director is more subtle, I find you get better results! Not that I didn’t give JB ANY line interpretations or specific direction. I did. At the end of the main scene, before the coffee conversation I did an extra take just to get more noticeably the thought process before he asked “You have coffee for me?” for instance.
Coincidentally, Julie texted me the day before from the train to Paris saying “Thank you for today…. As always it’s a lot of happiness for me to be on your set… After almost 20 days of shooting it was high time for me to tell you that you are an amazing actors’ director, thank you for all the emotions you provocted, protected and stole from me for the movie, as an actress I feel very proud and lucky to work with you…”
I am glad she feels protected as well as happy and proud. It’s my job to protect her. I was very upset in the restaurant when she complained to me in front of the entire crew that she was not being looked after or felt loved. What she meant really was physically protected by the production not by me, the director. I fight all day to protect my cast emotionally, give them space and freedom to soar. Not to mention maintaining continuity of performance by rushing like mad between different set ups of the same action. Anyway, we have solved those production problems now. The most discernible being having a doctor on set when we do the naked swimming in the lake. That scene is Monday I think.
On set now. I just played the theme from “The Italian Job” over the walkie talkies on the way to set driving in convoy. What song can instill more of a spirit of national pride than that one. from one of the most English of film’s ever made? Julie didn’t hear it, though, as she has had an allergic reaction to the cream she will wear for the diving into the lake scene. Why she tested it this morning just before we were due to drive to set I don’t quite know but will try to get to the bottom of it.
Today we shoot the few remaining traveling scenes through the forest. It is also the first day we shoot with a steadicam. The operator is called Max and he is from Paris. My regular Operator, Martin Parry, that I have done 3 films with unfortunately is ill.
After todays shoot, the next scenes with Callum and Malika are finally at the lake.
Just walking past the camp site that we shot at for four days. There’s not an angle left in it that I haven’t used! The crazy thing is not until the end of the final day did I notice that carved into the tree is the letter P with a heart underneath. It is old and weathered. What a strange sign. Of course, there are no coincidences nor accidents.
Done the first two scenes using the steadicam. The second one Malika has to eat a magic mushroom. We are using a purple mushroom we found in the forest. In Dinan yesterday a woman in a bookshop said they are edible and delicious. Of course I can’t one hundred percent be sure it is the right type but I have already eaten one before the take to show Julie it is not poisonous. Of course I hammed up a death scene straight afterwards.
The first scene was leaf city. The most leaves we have done yet. The most in the whole film. Daniel, the leafmiester as I call him, was in the forest yesterday, on his day off. collecting leaves for the scene. Ten full bags in total. It looked wonderful. Unfortunately he denuded completely the location of the second scene and had to do a complete forest/leaf transfusion afterwards!
Daniel, who has been solid as a rock for me so far here in the forest, has also sorted out an impromptu scythe that I will feature tomorrow in the Hoody’s reappearance as the Breton figure of death, the Ankou. I had Marina do some research on this before we shot and although many times things like this are a blind alley, this time it came to me in a flash how those two elements can be fused together perfectly! I’m on fire creatively!
Shooting the performance scene now where Malika recites Merlin and Vivienne. Strangely, I am starting to feel really bad. I have shortness of breath, am light headed and feel dizzy. I think the mushroom I took was poisonous. I hope I can complete the day before I have to go to hospital. I have told only Roger and said that I will say the code word “Bananas” if I feel worse and “Apples” if better so that he can monitor me. I am sitting by the monitor for once on this film rather than rushing around as usual. How stupid I feel! What an idiot! At least Julie didn’t actually eat it. I don’t mind dying on set but to do it before I finish the film would be criminal of me. I’ve even told Roger if I die he is to finish it. Of course, that is being a bit of a “drama queen” as Cristina would say but better safe than sorry!
I’m feeling better now thank God. Maybe it was psychosomatic but who knows. The dizziness has passed. Julie was wonderful in the scene. It was perfect. Just as I imagined. Callum’s close up was beautifully cinematic on the 120mm lens also. He performed just as well as Julie also without doing anything but listening.
It made me think about when Jonnie was waiting to shoot a close up the other day in the same scene with the Soldiers gun trained on him by me he said “Go on! Shoot me. I know you want to.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Not for one minute for 21 days shooting have I felt that.
Two guys dressed as medieval Knights appeared in the forest just as I was completing the third scene. Marina had found them. I immediately put them in a little insert for the Mushrooms scene. They were pumped up and ready to battle each other. It should provide some nice little flash cuts.
When we got to the final scene of the day I had an hour to shoot it. Terribly, it included a 2 and a half minute steadicam shot. I expected Max, our new steadicam Op, to have to do 6 or 7 takes on it. Not a chance. He did it in two. Absolutely amazing. Wonderful. Great that it saves some film stock also. I could actually ill afford to do that number of takes.
I completed the day on time and on schedule again. Perfect. Things don’t get much better than that. Tonight is the Rugby final that most of the crew are looking forward to. Me, my mind is more on Brazil and the qualifying. I will have to watch the repeat late tonight. I think it will be 12.50am which is unfortunate as I am now the most exhausted I’ve been since starting shooting. Shattered!
I have also just instructed Daniel to get incontrovertible information that the mushrooms are not poisonous before any of my cast eat them.
Day 22 Sunday October 21st …
There is steam coming off Roger. Lucky him. My hands are frozen. “Everyone awake now?” Jose just asked. We have humped the equipment deep into the forest to shoot some little scenes at the Lake of No Return. I humped my standard two battery packs. There is a Sisyphean joy in this ritual. After doing Callum at lake doing Tai Chi we will shoot a day for night one then scene 1, the first of the film. The scene with all the serene nature. While we shoot that Axle will go off to record wild tracks of the sounds of the forest.
I can feel the tell tale signs that my body is starting to shut down physically today. I am even thinner than before and might need a second extra hole in belt soon. Although the flu has abated, I now have a terrible pain in my right neck. Axle gave it a massage this morning but it is still aching. I am so tired. So exhausted. I could sleep for days. In fact I am even looking forward to a little sleep on the way to Caen on Wednesday. Roger has just said that he would like some sleep too.
Like the scene in Jaws, we are now comparing wounds gained on the film. Jonnie started off with the bruises on his leg from falling out of the tree. They are a beautiful purple and black melange which contrast beautifully with the miasma of insect bites. Daniel has cuts across his hand. My neck is decrepit but unfortunately has zero visibility. Axle’s wounds are internal and also invisible. Roger has various splinters which register just above the pathetic count for wounds. Jose, the stout and reliable Iberian Ox has come through the war so far unscathed. Matt also is fresh and ready for action. Katie, of course, wins the purple heart for the most injuries sustained in the line of duty so far but still there is time for her to be overtaken.
I’ve been shooting all the stuff for Scene 1. Nature shots. Light reflected on tree trunks reflected. Flowers. bushes, holy, ivy, acorns falling into the lake, reflections etc. It has all been very idyllic. Beautiful. It’s been nice to shoot with just the camera crew, coming up with shots on the fly. Roger has found some beautiful ones.
Now we are on the top of a hill overlooking the lake. We are shooting some wides before lunch. I think we are a little behind but hopefully we will catch up. Later we do Callum running naked through forest. My wounds are up thanks to a number of thorns on the way up here!
In addition to scene one, I am also shooting a few inserts that I need for various scenes, 106A, 122 etc. We used to have a whole day for this but I added it to today when I got ahead and trimmed a day out of the shooting schedule.
Jonnie just texted me to say that the mushrooms I ate could be fatal. There are three types of purple mushrooms. One is edible, one causes illness and the other is fatal. The problem is I ate two of them of possibly different types. That’s a poor draw. Worse than drawing against a flush and straight possibility.
Been walking through the forest shooting little shots of it. Beautiful backlit ones of branches, trees, streams glistening etc. It’s nice and peaceful. Still I have to shoot Callum running though. My only frustration is getting the steadicam in here. I have been waiting for it on set since I ordered it at 1pm. Ridiculous.
Now the steadicam has problems with its transmitter. Jesus! Anyway, luckily today is a light day doing inserts, pickups and nature shots for scene 1. Roger suggested a shot where we zoom out from a tree to see a beautiful dense forest. It looked very powerful. It could even be the first shot if we edit it that way.
Now shooting without transmitter with fixed focus shot gliding through the forest looking through the trees and seeing the sun bursting through. I will also shoot a twirling shot that should work well. Afterwards I will shoot a shot looking up at trees. A POV of Callum and Malika to either use as a bridge between scenes or as the first shot of 113.
It seems now that I ate two mushrooms of the type of which they make you ill but don’t kill you. It’s the stems that are poisonous and not the heads.
The Brazilian GP is probably on lap 52 now. I didn’t see it. I am desperate that no-one tells me the result. I will watch the replay later. Please God let Lewis win tonight!
In the end I decided not to shoot scene1A today. I had to shoot the forest it seems. Rather than do a rush job on two scenes, I decided I let the forest star today and did one well. I have shot Callum and Malika for 13 days here. It was time for the other character in the film to come to life. The light was beautiful. So many shots stick in the mind. The zoom out of the trees. I repeated that shot later. Reflections in the lake. Ripples on trees. Pine cones up against the sky. Amazing stuff. Hopefully the stuff that will make the film stand out.
At least I shot all the inserts and the Hoody scene. As well as all the pickups etc. I had the Hoody jump into shot as well as doing crash zooms, speed changes and turning the camera on and off.
One headache I have had to deal with is that the laboratory it seems have destroyed some of the negative. 35 feet. It looks like takes 1 to 3 of a shot that I did 4 takes on. It seems I might have to redo that shot again. Maybe on Wednesday morning just before we leave. This has happened to me before. The worst time was most of the Irish sequence to Boston Kickout that had to be reshot. Terrible. The worst thing is that it took the lab over a week to tell us about it. Disgusting is the word I’d use for that.
Day 23 Monday October 22nd …
Shooting 1A with Jonnie running through the trees naked It has taken a while for the light to come up. Thus I am an hour behind. On one take we were running with steadicam and Jonnie naked at Pete appeared in shot. I shouted at the top of my voice, full of rage “Pete’s sake! Fuck!”
The real pressure is Cristina just told me before shooting this scene that it is a 3 hour reset between takes. Jesus! How can I accommodate that? She told me this morning. It’s a surprise. I know that she said it would be long time between in London before we started shooting. But 3 hours! Rhys had no idea either.
I need another hole in my belt. I have lost so much weight. My neck hurts so much. The pain is terrible. The flu has gone completely though now.
Jonnie has been great. He has so many cuts, bruises etc from thorns and brambles. His legs are cut to ribbons. He even has been thorned on the testicle. Hard stuff to shoot but he is doing brilliantly.
Last shot of running sequence. Jonnie jumps straight over camera at 48fps. Maybe this is the title shot where we freeze frame and “Do Elephants Pray?” comes up? We will see!
Finally got to the lake. We are setting up now for the scene 115 where Callum and Malika arrive and dive into it. I have come up with a way to shoot it that can exclude the possibility of a hair and makeup reset.
The doctor is here to take care of Jonnie and Julie. The water is 6 degrees. Freezing cold.
Waiting for delays. Some people are still at the camp site. We have gone a circuitous route to get the generator in which has cost us a lot of time also.
My back is worse. I can barely look over my right shoulder. At times it is excruciating. Is it a trapped nerve? Is it just stress?
Rhys has decided he will stay in the forest tonight camping. He has wanted to do this since we arrived. As we will go late tonight and we want to start early tomorrow this will save us humping gear in or out from the forest. That should save us some time.
Shot the opening shot of scene 115. We are going late. Will I have time to shoot everything before we leave the forest. Also I have to shoot the part of the mushrooms scene where he is out of his mind so that he can recover tomorrow.
Just waiting to do another shot of Malika and Callum swimming naked in the lake. I have shot them entering now. God, Julie was absolutely freezing after that. Even with two hot water bottles, two emergency sheets, a jumper, hand warmers, three coats and a hot cup of coffee she was still physically shaking with cold. It has taken now 30 minutes to get her body temperature back up.
While waiting I shot a suitably Tarkovskian shot of a bird feather falling into the lake. Beautiful.
The next shot is of them swimming, him shouting and then him chasing her out of the lake. This is the second time I have shot a scene like this. It is a goddam nightmare. The doctor says I only have a minute with them until things get bad. That means I will have to shoot a wideshot on a 12mm and closer ones on a 100mm all in one by use of a crash zoom. Hopefully I will be able to cut in on it or use a cutaway.
We shot the second lake take. Before it happened I looked into Jonnie’s face and saw something I had never seen before in it. Fear.
The water is so so cold. After about a minute in it your body starts to shut down completely, you feel tired and have no control over it. The timings of the shot are thus absolutely crucial and totally my responsibility. I hold the lives of my two actors in my hand. I have to cue them getting in, the “action”, the zoom and the exit perfectly within the minute before their bodies shut down completely. They could if the coldness takes control, actually drown in the scene.
After 19 seconds of the shot Jonnie still hasn’t done the cry out of “Yes!” that he should have done by 15 seconds. I waited one extra second and got it before the zoom in. When I shouted “Exit”, Julie didn’t hear it, thanks to the numbing effect of the cold and I had to shout again. I called cut on exactly the 61 second mark as they exited the frame and the doctor, physio, Dougal, Cristina descended on them like a huge blanket/warmer vulture engulfing them. They had been in the water for 55 seconds. Not for a frame did they give away how cold the water actually is.
When I got to he other side of the bank I saw Julie was in a terrible state. I ran to the tent to get her some hot tea as that had been overlooked. She was shaking like a pneumatic drill, crying, spaced out, her body on the verge of shutting down completely. She was wrapped in ten blankets. body warmers, hot water bottle, even more than before. People were rubbing her feet. massaging her arms. I caressed her forehead and fed her the tea. It was so moving. So painful to see the effect that the water had on her. She was destroyed by it. The physio talked her round, stopped her panicking, controlled her breathing. I fed her more tea and said “You are so brave!”
She was a hero for me. An inspiration. Even though the first shot had effected her much more than Jonnie physically she had been braver and less afraid. The result was before my eyes. The devastated shell of Julie shaking uncontrollably so frail and lifeless. I felt terrible for making her do it. Confronted with the terrible human carnage of my leading actress, I hated myself.
She whispered to me between breathing problems “Was it Ok?”. My heart melted. A tear came to my eye. I whispered back “It was wonderful.”
She would have volunteered for another take, I know. I didn’t need it. We had it. Thank God. Even the crash zoom thanks to Rogers intuition worked perfectly. It framed straight on Callum beautifully.
Afterwards the doctor said she could not shoot anymore today so I got her off set, in bed with hot soup. I will go with Jonnie to visit her after the wrap.
Playing a little poker. What a day! What a night! After doing the swimming scene I shot a close up of Jonnie for 119A on a 5mm lens of Callum out of his mind. He was. I just shot and shot talking to him, cajoling him, provoking him, illiciting different emotions. Take one he talked to himself about the office problems in the script, advertising, selling things. On the second one I talked to him about his real future, about his future. Then we really went crazy. Shouting. Laughing etc. It was amazing stuff. We had to shoot that scene today. It was the only day it could have been done.
Afterwards Williams escorted me and Jonnie out of the forest at night via torchlight. I clung to Williams’ backpack. It took ages but was inspiring and magical, walking through the forest at night. Afterwards the two of us just chatted in my caravan, slowly returning to normality. We talked about the amazing synergy of the shoot. How life reflects art etc. It was a real bonding experience at the perfect moment to do it.
The reason Jonnie had been afraid earlier was he had dreamt a couple of days before about his own death in that scene. Of course, it was a metaphorical death. That was obvious to me the moment he said it but still he had not been able to banish those thoughts from his mind before the second shot. His ashen face now makes perfect sense.
Some druids had put a protection spell on Jonnie before the shoot and I wear round my neck a gris gris made in Marrakech specially for the film also. Spiritually we are protected. I also knew in my heart that the lake would not harm us. Our film is a kind of ode to it. Every feature film I have made has a lake in it. That is not by chance. Jonnie knew that too but it’s hard to completely banish those thoughts even with Jonnie’s soothing Tai Chi breathing exercises.
Now for bed. Three wonderful scenes but lots more to do tomorrow.
Day 24 Tuesday October 23rd …
In Jonnie, Pete and Steve’s caravan. I am looking through some of the stills that Steve shot while waiting for Jonnie to get up and showered. Wonderful photos Steve has taken. Callum and Emma at Tai Chi class. Malika by Merlin’s tomb.
Today we have to finish 118, 119 and 120 as well as 1B. Then we will have everything we need here. The other little bits we can pick up in London. Jonnie is dead tired. He hardly slept last night.
I woke up at 5am from a dream about the forest. I could still feel it’s power. I walked out onto the veranda in the darkness and felt so so serene. I still do now. “Lose your ego…” the key line of the film springs to mind.
Last night Dougal, who wants to direct, came to me and said “I think this film is going to be amazing. You are an amazing director. I’ve learnt so much just watching you.” That was nice of him. He went on to say how healthy I look, how radiant. I don’t feel it though, apart from loosing 2 stone in weight and having a haircut there’s not much difference outside.
Axle just massaged my back, gave it a good pounding. It was sweet of her as the pain the disappeared last night has returned. Now I feel a little better.
Earlier I shot a bridging shot of Callum’s hand on a branch. I’m just spanning time waiting and waiting and waiting.
Still waiting for make-up. I texted Cristina to tell her at 7am that we would shoot 118 first at 8.30am. Instead her and Julie turned up on set with the wrong hair style. They had to go off set as the generator is broken. Now I have lost 3 hours shooting on key scenes. In the mean time I have shot a few inserts of nature that were missing including the backlit leaf that might start the film if I don’t use the zoom out from the tree.
Now shooting magic ring of candles. Malika’s costume, hair and make-up are wonderful. Cristina has made a crown of different flowers. It was worth waiting for. She looks amazing. Jade came up with this costume and prompted all this activity.
The temperature has dropped and I can see that Jonnie and Julie are freezing. We have to shoot another scene where Callum is thrown into the lake. That bodes ill. The doctor will arrive later.
Everyone is starving. Pete was sent to collect the sandwiches and a ladder two hours ago. He came back with the ladder but forgot the sandwiches! Rhys said “I’m not in charge of hiring and firing!” The problem is he is doing his second job i.e. running not doing the documentary!
Yann Goven, a Breton actor that Marina found turned up today. I needed someone to play the part of the Breton Hunter who turns up at the camp site. All his dialogue is off camera so I recorded it as a wild track. He improvised beautifully. The initial part is a song about hunting then exclamations as he pushes the tent. Wonderful. The guy is a real talent.
Problems of the second London shoot are starting to come in now. Actors availabilities. Location availabilities. It is getting quite annoying but I still can’t focus on it until I am down the road or on the ferry.
Now about to do another schedule. Today turned into a total disaster. Most of the things Paul Gernon was meant to bring to set never materialised for unknown reasons. Jonnie also went from bad to worse. He has the fear again I can see and his heart rate is up to 96bpm. The doctor told him going into the lake would be suicide. I sent him home to bed and shot some inserts on a tree with origami birds hanging from it for the mushrooms scene. They are the same origami birds that hung in Emma’s study.
This meant we had to change our ferry from 5pm to 11pm. We will now get the night ferry if we can complete tomorrow. I have moved a couple more smaller scenes to London. We will have to find a wood for them but that is fine. Scene’s 120 and 1B have to be shot here in Broceliande by the lake.
It is like the forest does not want us to leave yet. Tomorrow is the full moon. As I walked back from the forest to the village cafe I saw it looming proudly over the trees. Maybe we were destined to see it in full magnificence tomorrow. Legend has it that a portal opens in the rocks overlooking the lake in the position where the reflection of the moon in the lake is cast in the rocks. The portal is meant to be to another world!
Every time we delay our exit from France it costs us money. We can ill afford this delay.
Off to bed. So totally exhausted I couldn’t find my way back to the camping site from the restaurant despite having done the walk 40 times. I had to go back and ask Jose to drive me. My back and neck are throbbing with pain. I am shattered.
If we don’t complete tomorrow we are totally screwed.
Day 25 Wednesday October 24th …
My search for real coffee has led me to a little cafe/shop opposite the camping site. It is filled with locals. We need to make today. Things are now desperate, we have to make the ferry. It is do or die!
That reminds me of what Max Steady, our steadicam Op was saying last night. Because of problems and delays yesterday I wasn’t able to shoot a frame with him. A total waste. I felt guilty for not making the most of him really. He was still in good spirits though. We really bonded despite my utter exhaustion. He said “Remember when you talked me through the two minute 30 seconds shot and you asked me how’s that. I said difficult. But that’s how I like it. We are similar me and you. We like it difficult.”
All I could do was agree with him. It’s about the art. If it’s been done before or is easy to achieve then why do it? I feel I will work with Max more. I promised to text him after seeing the rushes.
After we talked he turned to Pete’s documentary camera and said pointing to me “This guy is fucking special! The special one!” Quite embarrassing but very heart warming also!!
On the ferry now. We got it. Scene 120 was a dream. Malika dragging Callum to the lake was amazing. When we did the shot of her pushing him in I waited five seconds then dived in to get him out. His hands and feet had been tied. We got him out easily enough. Everyone pitched in and he warmed up fine.
Julie was in tears after the scene. The last few days have been so emotional. She even called me later to chat and said she had cried the whole two hours back to Paris. Jonnie and I were very calm today but she was stressed. We had both had a good night’s sleep and knew in our hearts that everything would be fine today. When I first got to set today, I had a strange feeling, I was possessed with a warm buzzing feeling. The night before Jonnie had a dreamt about swimming in honey. The perfect dream to have before diving into a freezing cold lake.
At the lake this morning I prayed for the lake to protect us. The throbbing pain in my neck and back abated. The rest of the day I was totally tranquil. A total contrast with the day before. The shooting went perfectly to schedule. We completed120 and 1B.
It occurred to me at one point the meaning of the scene for me personally. In the film, it is about Callum’s death and rebirth. For Jonnie it marks the transition from boyhood to manhood. A pivotal moment in everyone’s life where they gain the mantle of responsibility for their actions and lose the immortality of youth. For me the true significance only dawned half way through shooting scene 120.
When I was a teenager growing up in Stevenage, despite an avid love of cinema as a cinephile I had not made the leap to deciding to be a film-maker. One night after my mother had attempted suicide I roamed the streets of Stevenage in a complete blur. I arrived at a large artificial lake near to where I lived. On the path was a fish, a dead fish that I tried to relaunch into the lake to no avail.
I sat and thought. In that moment I decided that instead of going to university to study geography or geology, that I would attempt to become a film-maker, something I had done before in an amateur way. Since then, it has been a hell of a struggle. Apart from seventeen short films and various other assignments etc. I have only made three films. This one is my fourth. In fifteen years just four films. All that time I have never given up despite the constant struggle. I have always ‘believed’.
In my first film, “The Frontline”, James King, after rekindling things with his ex-girlfriend, sits by a large underground canal and contemplates his life reciting poetry.
In “Boston Kickout”, Phil sits by the same artificial lake that I sat by in real life also contemplating his life before deciding to go to Ireland to see Shona and then embark on a photography course rather than geology.
Andrei in “The Poet” sits by the banks of the river Donau as his life implodes. That is where he decides to make a break for it with Paula. A decision that changes his life and eventually leads to his death materially but his nirvana spiritually.
In “Do Elephants Pray?” Callum doesn’t just sit and consider, he is killed only to be reborn.
The true to life legend of the lake of no return is that everyone who visits it is in some way changed. I wasn’t expecting any specific change – not at all – but today while shooting the scene it dawned on me what it meant to me. By the mystical law of magical transference his rebirth meant my rebirth! Not as a man but as a film-maker. A cinematic rebirth.
It struck my like a ray of light. I felt the glow of understanding.
After everyone left the lake, I lit a candle by its shore, thanked it for it’s help and humped my standard two battery packs out. As I walked to the village of Trehorentuec the sun was hanging low to my left over the wheat fields. It’s colour was a bright bright glowing golden yellow. One of the most beautiful suns I have ever seen. Hanging diametrically opposite to my right was her sister, the moon as if on a wire hanging right over the forest. It was a beautiful pale blue colour. I was standing right between the two. Right at the apex of their energies.
The significance of the moment struck me again and I cried like a baby. I cried and was grateful for the incredible gift I have been given. The ability to make films. The talent to make them well. The fact that people believe in me.
I love being a film-maker. I love it. There is nothing else I would do. There is nothing else I could do. It is my calling. I am so grateful for the chance to do it.
The thing I have learned today is that somehow it won’t be as hard anymore, as hard as it has been. I am changed because I know that now. I didn’t know before today. I didn’t have a clue.
I am so grateful to Jonnie for handing me the script of this film.
On the way to the ferry I had to recast the part of Jode because of availabilities of actors and locations. I am now raring to go to shoot the third part of the shoot, the second London shoot. I can’t wait.
Everyone here is elated. They are relieved to have finished the shoot, to be getting back to good old blighty. Julia, Matt and Cristina are smiling at me now. Julia is also dancing to “Saturday night at the movies”. She still wears the comic but rather cute hat she has worn for the last two weeks.
Not that getting here was easy. Before we left the forest, a butane gas canister leaked in Jonnie’s car. For a few moments I thought as we drove through the night with the roof down and “The Italian Job” and The Clash playing that we might explode in flames.
We didn’t. Scene 120 and 1B were great. 1B I had shot listed in Marrakech about 2 months ago now. It came together exactly as I had conceived. It’s so exquisitely gratifying when that happens.
Anyway, now for a quick poker tournament, “The English Channel Open (!)” before we all get some shut eye. The ferry docks at 7am.
Jonnie won the tournament. I’m now doing another schedule. The fifteenth so far. It’s really hard putting all the elements together but I think I’ve got a solution.
Back in England. Three weeks almost to the minute from when we departed. Good to be back.
Day 26 Saturday October 27th …
In the prop car with Jonnie and John Last, who will now play Jode. John Last Minute as I called him yesterday at rehearsals. Not that he is Last Resort. He isn’t. Yesterday in rehearsals he did admirably. Improvising perfectly with Marc and Grace. He is perfect to play Jode.
It was lovely working with Marc again. He told me “You always get me to play vacuous parts!” Of course he is right but I plan to work with him in just the opposite kind of role in a film called “No More Heroes”.
We have toned up all the office scenes and added some extra meaning and definition to them. We added to a scene a moment where Marrlen (Marc) flirts with Sark (Grace), asks her if she like to “share a bottle of wine”. She said “No” walked away then came back and then flirted back. The power changed immediately as Marrlen is not used to strong women. Wonderful moment. The kind that can only happen when you do open rehearsals like I prefer. It will be one of the scenes we shoot later today.
Hitting cold London streets at 9am, navigating the rush hour to get home after 3 weeks away and overnight ferry and little sleep was little fun. Compared with the serene majesty of Broceliande there is a tangible sadness to London. I miss the forest.
I have just discovered, Keith the campsite owner told Paul Gernon upon our departure “Don’t come back too soon!” Paul replied “Ok so bye”. How do you reply to that?
Yesterday was not much better than the day back. Real life succeeded again in disappointing me enormously. Some moments in life are huge turning points. I remember watching Fellini’s first film. Sitting by the artificial lake in Stevenage. Being refused entry to Plymouth film school (sic) and being told I had more chance of being struck by lightning twice than EVER directing a feature film. Seeing my first film by Andrei Tarkovsky and been inspired beyond belief. The Screenings of Boston Kickout in Valencia and San Sebastian. Visting Ney’s grave in Pere La Chaise cemetery.
The last few days have been like that. Momentous.
Another incredible thing is that yesterday, after the office rehearsal, I had my wallet stolen on a no 73 bus. I looked down and saw the zipper of my bag open. I knew immediately what it meant. I have to get everything again. Passport. Cards. Detritus. Keepsakes. Photos. Memories. Life. I must start afresh. How about that for divine intercession! Incredible!!
Finishing the first scene of the day. A big one. The first one in the office. Marc’s girlfriend, Abi Titmuss is playing a small part. The head of Cremeberry. Again it seems a strange coincidence, destiny. I saw her first a few years ago on the news. She had an amazing serenity and stood out incredibly. I had even dreamed that I was directing her which as she was then a nurse at the time, that was more than surreal! Today I am.
Marina and Daniel are also extras today. Marina is Abi’s personal assistant and in an unspoken subplot is also her lover! Daniel is a studious head of marketing in the scene. Cristina was looking forward to doing his hair very much!
We are behind at present as the equipment van was an hour late arriving today. Totally criminal and certainly it will push us late today. The next two days will be a bit of a race as we have to shoot Marc out of the film by Monday night.
Now we are having lunch. We have shot two of the three big scenes. Marc also improvised a huge and adapted speech that Napoleon gave to the army of Italy at the time of The Directory. It had the crew in applause and rapture though I feel the smaller things he has done are actually better. Eating an apple in scene 10 was a great idea and was so hilarious it was hard not to crack up watching it.
Abi is a real sweetheart. She tries to help everyone and even offers to make cups of tea and coffee. The atmosphere is great also. Everyone knows we are on the home stretch now. After today there are just four days left.
Lunch is hot pizza. The best we have had on this shoot so far I think.
Marc is a joy to work with. He is on another level. I love him dearly, trust him completely to come up with the goods and give him a lot of freedom – but never too much. I have made that mistake in younger years with actors, being befuddled by great ideas or big moments. These days I like subtlety as much as playing to the galleries. With Marc you can do both.
The office improvisations will give the film a darkly comic flavour. It needs it to contrast with the central love story and scenes in the forest.
I am doing a whole load of tracking shots in on peoples faces now after Callum gives the big line of the film. I hope to cut in on all of them to make it seem continuous before they intercut as people look to each other for reaction. It’s quite a stock burner. How exactly it will cut together I don’t know. Different little moments. Tension till Abi says “Fucking brilliant!” which is now the last line of the film before Callum gives Emma the stone.
Finished all the conference room scenes and now we have to do three scenes in reception with Fahra, the receptionist. Fahra is played by Cassandra French, an actress I have used a number of times over the years. She has really blossomed in recent years and has overcome her self-depreciating nature. I look forward to the scenes very much. Also they are the first ones that we will use our more obscure framing and camera style that we are applying to all the office scenes.
Earlier Grace’s close up in the final conference room scene was magnificent. The best moment she has done so far. Perfection. It is amazing how having scenes without dialogue can free everyone up to emote or communicate perfectly the thought process. It reminded me of Callum when he walked Malika to his home. I have always believed that silent films and minimalist films were the apexs of the cinematic art.
The great thing about today also is having so many faces back from the earlier part of the shoot. Jade our wonderful costume designer. Ian, our ever eager runner. Emily, our bright faced spark. Matt, the always chuckling grip. Alessa, the blushing dressing props. Even Seanne, the Production Designer who didn’t go to the forest with us. It is a hard day for her. Her budget is almost spent and we must achieve a lot in the next few days. The conference room table had been a huge hassle to have something different but it’s been worthwhile. I hope Seanne thinks the same.
Home now. We lost it on the last three small scenes in reception. Things that should have been easy became difficult. Trying to shoot night for day was hard keeping things out. Hitting framing marks became a problem. Getting props to work properly and indeed not having enough or indeed any repeats of them. Anyway, we did it and Marc’s improv in the second take of the second scene was one of the best he’s done today. Grace’s performance in her final close up of the flirting scene was also special once we got the blocking right.
Anyway, now doing shot list for tomorrow.
Day 27 Sunday October 28th …
We are not in the office yet. I am standing on the street with Cristina. Her makeup as well as the camera and all the lights are locked inside. Last night, Alex the owner asked if he should give the key to Williams last night. I said “Give to someone who is certain to be on set first thing.” I was right except she forgot the DAMN KEY!
Seanne is on her way back with the keys. Thank God as instead of losing the day I would have had to break down the door with an axe!
Kate had her eighth injury. She has done her back in! The cause she says is hard work! I wish she’d be more specific. Instead she is being a trifle recalcitrant.
We are shooting scene 16 now. A men’s room style private conversation that Callum happens by on. I’m underplaying it knowing that we have many scenes to shoot today that will allow Marc to fly.
Shooting the football table scene. Like a red flag to a bull I gave Marc a line interpretation on when he scores the 9th goal. In a wide shot he shouts and hollers, throws his jacket on the table, even kicks the machine. It’s huge and magnificent. Just like guys full of testosterone get into when excited by competition against their fellow man.
John stole the last line. A great one “Eat my shit!” Should be a nice end to the scene. I had Callum toss the ball up and down throughout the scene, which should give me some nice cutting points.
Two scenes done. Loads to go.
Shooting the scene where Callum gives Marrlen his coffee. The right coffee cups were not on set. After sacking Iain Dodds, Seanne didn’t go through all the props as she should have done. Someone had to be sent off to get them. Again my instructions weren’t followed to the letter.
Just shot the scene with the cleaner. Marrlen working in the foreground. Marc misspelled the name “Napoleon” or did he?
Now doing the scenes where we see the whole office. I have drafted in many of the crew as extras including Rhys as the office runner. Marc and I are buzzing. really motoring, coming up with wonderful creative stuff. Our energy is enthusing the whole crew. I just hope I have the stamina to complete today. I have just found out we must be out by 12.30am.
Just shot the scenes where Marrlen announced the “King is Dead” and where Fahra is motherly. The end of the final take was hilarious. Marc throwing things to the floor in ever increasing increments. We had to delay doing this scene as an integral part of her costume was missing. Least we got it.
Before we did the scene where Marrlen tries to grab the phone from Callum while he is speaking to Malika. On the first take of the first shot I called Jonnie and did Malika’s lines. On the second one I got Julie to call him from Paris right on cue. The difference was more than palpable. Roger told me afterwards that he instantly knew what I had done.
Jonnie’s face afterwards was a picture. Like in the soldier scene, I had come up with a way to surprise him, to make the scene more real, more truthful.
In the next part of the scene I shot it all on a handheld shot. Marrlen actually grabbed the phone. This was unscripted but I knew it would happen. To further confound me and also to give the scene more comedy he walked into the office holding a banana! It all worked wonderfully.
We are on fire today.
Racing forward as the clock ticks on. We just shot two scenes playing with perspective between Callum’s office and the courtyard outside. Rhys gave me a great idea to use army signs and Marrlen sneaks into the office while Callum is refilling his coffee. This interplay between differing focal planes ad off screen action, incorporating a little track at the end of the second take was wonderful. I am more happy with that shot than nearly any we have shot so far from a purely cinematic perspective. Beautiful stuff.
The second scene with the dual perspectives including Marrlen on a mini bike and Jode palying football. To surprise me Marc rode in on one take with his shirt off. On a later one got Jode to kick the ball straight at him. The crew were in hysterics. Unfortunately, they celebrated all little early as the track still hadn’t been timed right. Thanks to Matt, we eventually got it.
On last two scenes now. Roger reminded me I had overlooked something so now 4 more shots to do. We are already wrapping some gear.
Earlier I discovered that Sue, one of our makeup assistants is from Stevenage, my home town. She is from the Bedwell area where Phil lives in Boston Kickout and of which Shona (Emer McCourt) improvised “Bedwell, do ya bed well boy?”.
One more shot to do. Alex, the office owner, just kissed me on the forehead. I have gone through so much coffee today. It is like when I shot the nightclub scene in Dusseldorf for The Poet but thankfully without the heart palpitations yet. We just did the scene where Marrlen checks that Callum’s office is empty and savours the moment. Beautiful but subtle textures in Marc’s looks.
Just wrapped. Wonderfully stuff from John ad Marc in the last shot of the day. I did it! WE DID IT! It was like the Grand National today. I am totally shattered. No idea how many scenes I have shot today. A load is the answer. One after another. We did some amazing stuff. I have been in creases so many times. Incredible. We have the humour now to contrast with the incredibly moving and serious stuff in the wood.
It has been wonderful working with Marc. We drive each other nuts but in a good way. Many times before Marc has told me our relationship is like Herzog and Kinski. It IS a little but is wonderful also. At moments we soared, at others I felt like I was a lion tamer in the circus, at others like half of a telepathic mind meld. Everything worked today. We didn’t lose focus at all despite the hectic nature of the day like we did a little at the end of yesterday.
I wish I could shoot more often with Marc. He’s the perfect actor for me, a kind of alter ego. He’s put in subtle (and unsubtle) things today that people will only truly understand, I imagine, in years to come or even after I am dead!
John was the perfect straight man. He played off him brilliantly .Their improvs were at times show stoppers eliciting many spontaneous rounds of applause from the crew.
Now enjoying champagne for the 500th slate. Seanne has provided it. It’s been a hard day for her. We’ve had a few bumps over the course of it. I refused to compromise on the primal tenets of the creative vision that we banged out in the first meeting I had with her. She didn’t seem to have the moral courage of her convictions this morning. Now she has regained them.
How could I after having shot 26 days with those creative tenets in my mind only to fall at the final hurdle?!
Now we are happily wrapping. Today is Emily’s last day on the film. It’s a pity. She is starting a job as a stage manager at the Etcetera theatre in Camden and can’t shoot with us at the end of the journey. A great pity. I hope she makes the wrap party.
Now people are partying a bit also, laughing, dancing. We are so near the end. Three days shooting but well under ten minutes of the film to go and the scenes we need to shoot now shouldn’t necessitate such a hectic pace. I can smell the end. There’s even a subtext of sadness in my heart but I’ll try not to let that pervade the next few days.
The day began with a misplaced key and it has now ended with one. The key is lost again. People suspect that Paul Gernon has disappeared with it, indeed having even gone back to Ireland with it in his pocket! If we can’t find it then someone from production or the art department will have to sleep here overnight.
Even worse now. The keys still can’t be found. Paul says he gave it to Seanne. We have checked everywhere and called everyone. There is only one set of keys. Alex, the owner of the office we have been shooting in is utterly gutted. The architect who flies in from Oman tomorrow whose house keys were also on the ring will be absolutely furious. There is a good chance he won’t let us film in the part of the office he rents and controls which must become Sark’s office tomorrow. That would be catastrophic as we have already established the geography of the place and need it to shoot the way I NEED to shoot. On top of this is the terrible pressure that I must shoot Marc out of the film by midnight tomorrow.
Now I am in Jonnie’s car heading home where I must feed the cats and print off shotlists for tomorrow before heading back to Seanne’s to sleep tonight so that I can meet the guy from Oman tomorrow when he arrives.
Seanne, who was responsible to Alex for the keys, wants me to shoulder the blame with her. Of course I have never seen the keys and certainly have never been responsible for them. Instead of finding a solution, she is incapacitated by the guilt. The last thing I want is to lose any more sleep but it seems that I have to. More for personal reasons than for any justified sense of responsibility. I hope I don’t collapse from exhaustion tomorrow. Also, in the event of no-one being willing to beg the man from Oman to forgive us, it seems that I have to for the sake of the film.
I ran a marathon today, achieved the near impossible only to be kicked in the face at the end of it. That’s on top of having given my all for four weeks also. But Seanne cannot beg on her own. I cannot rely on her to do that, find solutions. I’m gutted beyond belief.
Going to sleep now on Seanne’s couch. I hope the gris gris I bought in Marrakech will continue to protect the film.
Day 28 Monday October 29th …
Sitting in Seanne’s kitchen. Things seem to have potentially panned out favourably. Alex has offered the Omani guy cheaper rent. All the locks are being changed. Alex is a star. Although, he wants to tell us we only can shoot until midnight. That is impossible. I need to shoot until at least 3am.
Seanne has just reminded me that Daniel destroyed the kite at the end of yesterdays shoot. It is needed for today. It is a terrible oversight. His first mistake on the film. Not that I blame him. He was outstanding in the forest. We have all made mistakes on this shoot. I did on Day 18. Alessa and Jade are remaking it now. Daniel is buying them champagne as a thank you. Seanne is touched by that because she didn’t ask them too. Of course, I was just about to ask her to get Daniel to do that anyway!
I just discovered poor Alex, in addition to the enormous problem with his keys, had to get all the office computers and hard drives re-formatted and reconfigured. By mistake yesterday, Emily pulled the power on them.
Alex is so helpful, such a wonderful person. Last night he was angry but after I got dropped off by Jonnie his amazing humour had returned. I am shocked today by his good spirit. I thanked him from the bottom of my heart and gave him a bottle of whisky from my favourite distillery, Edradour.
It was hard to find as it is obscure. Seanne took me to a shop in Portobello. Outside was a film set. People thought I was part of it because of my attire. Inside they had just two left. One for Alex and one for the architect.
Setting up now. We are here thank God. Sonrisa, the assistant editor, just arrived. She almost blanked me despite the fact I have not seen her since day 1 of the shoot and had no reply to up to fifty texts I have sent her and the numerous messages. No apology either for the fact I still don’t have any sync rushes yet. 28 days shooting. Not one rush sync up. No-one can really explain why also. Amazing really!
Katie today is Fuji girl. She is decked up in full Fuji gear thanks to their set visit on Saturday. I am funnily enough decked out most days in Fuji gear. The green “leprechaun” fleece that I got on Boston Kickout. The waistcoat I got on The Poet.
Just about to shoot Marc’s final scripted scene. In the earlier one he improvised to such a degree I have more coverage than any other scene I have shot so far. He still wasn’t happy though. The first scene he isn’t totally happy with. Although I do not have any perfect takes I have it combined from all different takes from all the shots. At the end he grabbed a globe, span it and said “I going wherever it lands… Fuck, I’ll need a boat!” Perfect for the water symbolism in the film.
Now we are doing a scene where he revolves into and out of shot on a swivel chair while Sark, behind, tries to ring Callum. Very cinematic. Reminds me a little of Mike Hodges scene in “Get Carter” where Carter is on the phone in his lodgings and the landlady is listening!
Sonrisa’s disappeared again. She vanished as quickly as she arrived. No goodbye. Nothing about her actual job on the film. The next time I see her I think I will sack her. I wouldn’t be surprised if that is at the wrap party though! Joke!
Ian Martin’s car was broken into last night during all the confusion about the key, is making coffees. He is a very happy and upbeat character who I have not seen flag or be downbeat yet on the film. I also am very calm now. Earlier, I chatted with Seanne’s mum, a spiritual guru, on the phone while on the way to set. Seanne had passed her to me. She gave me a little calming routine to do to help focus. It works well in a meditative way. I immediately felt the effect.
Seanne is much happier and relieved now. She told me earlier that her blood froze three times on the shoot yesterday. When a prop wasn’t there as needed, when the key disappeared at the end and also when she walked into the back of a shot by mistake and I shouted “Seanne Grasso!” at the top of my voice.
Just completing the zoom shot of Callum on the balcony. It is the shot I was most desperate to shoot in this location. It has taken ages and burnt loads of stock. This came about because it has been discovered that the zoom lens is actually not properly calibrated! That’s a by product of not using the best camera hire company available! In fact far from it! Lack of calibration has turned an easy 12mm to 120mm zoom into a double focus pull nightmare! Damn!!
Alex is snoring now as he sleeps in a corner. The poor guy is dead dead tired. We do not want to wake him in case he complains about how long it is taking to shoot. We should have finished at 3.30am. Seanne just took me outside just now to question me about it. I said to her “Last night I did everything perfectly. I got it all before 12.30am as planned and requested. But then you fucked up. Maybe tonight it’s my turn to fuck up!” She understood the point.
Everyone is dead tired, me included. I just have a couple of smaller scenes to complete now.
Doing the penultimate shot. A track in on Grace as she peruses the websites Callum has been looking at. At the end of the track I call a different phone ring tone that she has to answer. On the final one I will call two phones straight after another to see her confused reaction!
Home now. We got it all the scheduled scenes plus the extra shots of Marrlen and Sark for the mushrooms scene and also Scene 14 that was scheduled for tomorrow but was better to do tonight.
Matt King, who from day 1 to now, has really grown into a fully competent and professional Clapper/Loader, diligently checking what needs to be checked, loading at the right time, doing his sheets at any opportunity, told me on wrap that we are down to one and a half rolls of film. There is one at the office but that will still not be enough. I thought we would have enough but thanks to the inferior nature of the camera equipment, the lack or rushes at the beginning of shoot and recently Marc’s improvisations (I can’t complain really) we are almost out. I think we have less than 4 minutes of the film still to shoot over the next two days.
I have to be up in a few hours to go see our bank and then do recce for a bit of wood that we will need to shoot in on Thursday. That will be our last day of shooting.
Day 29 Tuesday October 30th …
Sitting in a car with Seanne. No idea where we are. We’re now looking for somewhere to have some chips. I’ve missed breakfast and lunch and Seanne has only had a single mince pie to eat today. We have £5 between us. We’ve just been with Williams to recce Thursday’s location. Back to Hampstead Heath. As it was the first day’s location it certainly has a circular symbolism.
Marc texted me this morning “Thank you dear friend. Another wonderful experience and chapter in our lives together, captured on celluloid, for all to share. I love you mate. Well done. X x”
I am glad Julie comes back tonight for her two scenes in the office. She has missed us just as much as we have missed her. Cristina can’t work tonight so she will set up the make-up and then leave. Her assistant. Katherine, will look after things.
Just shot first scene. The beginning of the glue shot sequence. It’s nice to be filling in blanks on the film. Unifying sequences by doing things that are missing from it. I’m so tired. I need to get the energy up. I am on coffee and chocolate but it’s not enough. I feel I need to pick myself up. The next scene is with Malika.
Numerous things are missing. The couch which should have come from upstairs. The guy from Oman hates us even more now after yesterday Pete knocked Roger’s coffee cup over one of their posters. The hair pin that Cristina has forgot that should be in Sarks hair and worse the Triskelion that should be around Malika’s neck. The latter was lost in France it now transpires. Instead Julie must wear mine! Funnily enough, imagining such a catastrophe, I nearly bought a second one on the last day in France but the shop was closed.
I feel I need to be exceptionally creative now. Come up with things. My body is fighting it though. I am as tired now as I was when I couldn’t find my way home. 10 weeks without a good nights sleep have caught up on me.
Earlier I went into Soho. Firstly I went to the bank where my bank manager, John Blake, said “Jesus. You’ve changed. Have you lost weight?” and then I met Caroline, my editor, in my local film pub. The mystery of the un-sync rushes has finally been revealed. Caroline is syncing them herself now and putting them in bins. Sonrisa wasn’t able to use the software. Because of the delays I will not be able to go through the rushes with her for another two weeks. The whole editing process will be a month behind.
In any event, she says it all looks (and sounds) great and that she can’t wait to start cutting. That is good news as I have still have not seen one rush sync up. In fact I don’t want to now as what’s the point? It’s nearly all shot and I can’t change a thing.
My sense already is that it is a better film than The Frontline or The Poet. Is it better than Boston Kickout? That I don’t know yet! I hope so but in some ways think that it is disrespectful to think that. When we made Boston Kickout, like now, the vibe with the whole cast and crew was so magic so wonderful!
We have just found a way to incorporate the plastic plant in Callum’s office into the scene. Malika will now stroke it and make a comment about it. Great little contrast to later scenes. When she sits on the table also she knocks over the phone which is another nice addition.
Julie is a picture of health and exuberance like she was on day 1 in London, which coincidentally cuts straight to the scenes we shoot today. She is on fire creatively I can see also and I’m sure will breeze through her scenes.
Rhys just told me that if we continue at our present pace we will finish at 7am! The added pressure is not really helping me tonight. It is hard to make a dent in the cement encased sonamabulist that is my body. All it does is just make me irksome.
Marina, I can see, like me is exhausted. She didn’t sleep last night. Alex, the owner, looks the worst of us. He has something important tomorrow so we should finish by 3.30am. I am so so so grateful to him for helping us. I embraced him earlier and kissed his cheek!
Nightmare. Jonnie couldn’t get it in his scene. He became maudlin when he needed to be more positive. I shot lots but couldn’t get it complete. I will end the scene on his smile not the line “Yes” I am sure. The first part I have in a pick up. I have the rest in pieces over the various takes. The contrast between the office and Malika being here befuddled him. He was apologetic afterwards. It is the first time it has occurred. He couldn’t believe it had happened either. Yesterday I shot a scene on him where he was so focussed I didn’t need to say one word to him, one utterance of direction and he was perfect. Just now I had to keep talking and talking. I felt like Billy Wilder directing Jack Lemmon doing the same line over and over again. But, not to worry, I got it.
Afterwards Grace also had problems with her scene. She was frustrated by the prop action I had assigned her and even shed a tear afterwards. I realised that for the first time on the film I wasn’t wearing my Triskelion because Julie had it on. I took it back and things went better with scene. Grace was also upset as she thought it was her final scene. I told her we have it. We do. Also she has one further scene to go, be it a short one!
Alessa, our serenely understated but quietly solid Swiss Dressing props had another wobble on the number of Banana repeats. It is the third time it has happened starting with the apple Marc ate in the conference room. It won’t happen again I imagine. She really is a reliable member of the team. It is thanks to her that the Kite got resurrected yesterday. I owe her a debt of gratitude for that.
Nearly finished. Wonderful stuff in the last few hours all with no problems. Malika and Callum’s shadows on the walls as they enter the office. Sark’s last scene in a whip pan. Her delicious shriek and finger pointing Almodovar-esque. Callum saying good morning reflected in the clock then tilting down to Fahra. Office mayhem with Jode, a toy zeppelin and flying helicopter, which I will intercut with Marrlen in Callum’s office. Rhys’ office runner cameo worked well I think. He will almost certainly be in the cut.
Cassie improvised also with a courier, played by Yoram, one of our Executive Producers, thanks to whom we are making this film. It was lovely stuff. Cassie did brilliantly. Her line “Sorry I don’t date couriers” summed up her predicament perfectly. She did wonderful stuff with Callum earlier also. Before I asked her what she thought of him as a character and she said “He’s the kind of guy I should go for but never do…” She was spot on. In the twelve years I’ve known Cassie and the numerous smaller things I have used her for, she has grown into a wonderful actress. For her, shooting this film with me and Marc is a dream come true. I am glad to fulfil that dream. She deserves it and much more.
Shooting Callum in the toilet. We would be nearly out of stock now if it wasn’t for a friend of mine, Bill James, kindly donating some to us earlier. I am shooting Callum reading his book low with wide angle lenses. It’s like an Orson Welles scene a bit. Last up will be Jode’s mushrooms improvisation.
Before Grace left I said “Thank You” to her in a really soulful way. I meant it more than any other “Thank you” I have said in the last four years. I meant it DESPERATELY. It may be a shock to some people but, for me, this film started preparation when I met her, when she put her hand up with a question at a lecture I was giving with Jeremy Zimmermann my faithful casting director and I saw her instantly as Sark.
“Ditto” she said back. I hope it is equivalent for her.
Alessa just said “well done” to me as we wrapped but it was a team effort. We got it. A long night but a productive one. Stupidly I had wrapped sound before doing Jode’s improv. I recorded it on Pete’s HDV camera. I didn’ think there would be anything sound wise to record but he came up with some wonderful bits, lines and squeals. Beautiful stuff.
On the final take of Jode, Sophie, an office extra who has given hair, makeup and costume major nightmares, had the temerity to ask me flirtatiously “Can I say action?”
My head span and I glared at her, eyes bulging I imagine as Marina clocked it all. I said “You need twenty years of pain to say the word action.” She crumbled like a pillar of sand. Not even Roger, with thirteen years hard service would be allowed to utter those words on my set. Not a chance.
Robert Bresson once said “The final direction you give to the actors is the word ‘action’, how you say it, the speed, the intonation, the pitch, they are all a subtle directions.” When a man is running down the street frightened, the ‘action’ must be loud and scary. When the scene is intimate and loving the ‘action’ must be like soft caress full of warmth. Earlier when I shot the courier scene, for instance, the ‘action’ was full of positive joyfulness to help Yoram find his confidence.
Being a good director, for me, is about being complete. Using everything. Every trick. Every idea. Every technical thing. Every opportunity to make the film better. Every opportunity to express something communication-wise that can contribute to the whole.
It’s not just a case of “Saying action” or “Cut” to be a director. Not a good one, I think, anyway.
I am now in Jonnie’s car heading home. In my mind I am editing the film. Now it is tangible. Something to be moulded. Cutting points. Intercuts. Rhythm. Pacing etc. I can see the shots I have made and how they will come together. I have nearly all the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle now. It’s just a matter of finessing them into place to make a whole.
It’s funny how your brain changes, switches over form one thing to another. It happened suddenly. Here in the car a few minutes ago. I hadn’t thought about such things before except in the practical sense when I am shooting. Amazing really. Will I go back to the other way of thinking on Thursday for the last few scenes?
Julie, last night, dreamt she was at home watching the film on TV. For me, I now am watching it too. But in my mind, my personal cinema. Again, like when I first configured the film creatively and thus imagined it complete, the film has a perfectness, not subject to the joyful but also debilitating process of shooting. Great!!!
Day 30 Thursday October 31st …
Sitting on a park bench with Axle. It is the last proper day today. Tomorrow is 2nd unit inserts day and tonight is the wrap party. Axle has seen that I am sad. She said “We had a lot of fun in France.” We did and other places too. I remember us all raving in the forest to our ipods before it all kicked off especially.
Axle will be designing the sound on the film so I know I will see her again in January. For a lot of the crew it will be Au Revoir for a while and for others fate will decree an Adieu. Last night I was asked “How many will you work with again?” I started listing and listing and listing. It’s a long list and a glowing testament to how good they are and how hard they have worked for the film.
When you make a film there is nowhere to hide. Sooner or later you have to remove that last veneer of pretension, the facade that covers the true persona. We have all been together the last 5 weeks, the entire crew, the cast, all of us. We have had to endure each other, get to know each other, learn from each other, learn about each others lives and problems as well as ourselves, how we deal with pressure etc. Mick Mahoney, a writer I once worked with said to me “I don’t know anyone unless I play football with them, how they play, if they have heart, if they are lazy, if they can keep their heads, if they cheat or if the play fair.” It’s true on a film shoot also. Everything is exposed in it’s true light.
It’s been an amazing experience. People who come for one day are amazed what a great cast and crew we have. We do. They are wonderful. Not one rotten apple in the whole barrel.
Roger brained Kate with the Matt box as he was going into low mode for the first shot and she was going into high mode. Kate was floored again with her 9th injury on the film. I can’t believe there will be another. That must be the last.
We are only just shooting the first shot as the equipment van was an hour late as well as hair and make-up. We can’t blow today, can we? Just 9 shots to do outside and 3 in a tent!
We have shot the first scheduled scene now, 119 to fit between what we have already shot in Broceliande. Two of the best shots in the film are in this scene. The double Malika reveal shot and the Satyijit Ray inspired 360 degree rotation shot that leads us into the 5mm 119A tripping scene.
Jade played the second Malika, flitting around in the distance. It’s only fitting as she designed the amazing costumes that Malika wears.
I already imagine that this sequence (118-120) will be one of the longest timewise to edit in the film with so many more possibilities and choices.
Wrapping from Hampstead Heath now. Darkness has descended. We are humping gear out of the forest like we did for 3 weeks in France. The final part of the ritual. By shooting the scenes here it allowed us to shoot the tracking shots on a dolly rather than on a steadicam which would have been inferior for this shots. The final one of Malika in the veil had an amazing surreal quality thanks to the dying light. Of course the light was dying thanks to squandering the first two hours of the day.
Soon we will head back to the Production Office (Jonnie’s flat) to shoot scene 79, the final first unit scene to shoot. It is the flash inserts of Callum imagining having sex with Malika. Someone wise once said that you should never leave such scenes till the end as it is probable that the actors may have fallen out by then. With our film that is far from true. The actors and me are all as tight a unit as we were at the inception, in fact more so thanks to what we have been through.
Waiting for a train to the wrap party. Marina has been finishing the crew presents today and I am desperate to get across town to help her. We shot the three little shots in the scene quite easily. It was strange to end the film on a scene like this, a sex scene, but actually quite an abstract one. Just little bits of it to use as intercuts with almost no beginning or end, just a middle.
I feel sad again that it is coming to a close. After the scene Julie still lay in Jonnie’s arms in the tent. She took my hand and the three of us were unified. In some ways for a final time. That is the last scene of the film we will shoot together. There will be ADR and screenings and publicity but that was the final bit of shooting. The end of our journey, our adventure.
Tomorrow I shoot some 2nd unit inserts. The crew will be me, Roger and Katie. That’s all.
Day 31 Friday November 1st …
A hundred percent record has been achieved. Something was missing at the start of the days shoot and thus we are delayed!! Alessa gave the desk diary to Sarah and Sarah gave it to Williams. It has only just arrived in the nick of time to be shot on as an insert! Williams thought the table football was first. He is right. I switched it with Roger for lighting reasons but still it should have been here.
Now I have seen that the desk diary is absolutely unusable. Yet another mistake. It needs to be redone. Seanne didn’t check what Alessa did yesterday. Again she trusted blindly someone without quite enough experience. I have just called her. The incredible thing is that this is not surprising in the least! Anyway, as always, we will overcome.
Now we must shoot the Football table inserts first.
Just completed the inserts. The football table was tricky and the desk diary was never perfect. We will have to touch up the desk diary in post. More time but in the future not now. The final slate was number 590. The clapper board I have taken to go along with the boards I have from my previous three films.
Julie just sent me a final farewell text from the Eurostar en route to Paris. Although I have included many times in this blog the texts people have sent I choose not to include this one. I prefer, selfishly, to keep the warming words she wrote to myself. I was touched beyond belief by the things she said from the heart. It came in about 12 parts and by the end of it tears were flowing down my cheeks.
Home now. The shooting is all done. Complete. As the ill fated Marechal Ney said in 1812 “I have fired the last shot and crossed the river Nieman. I am the rearguard of Le Grande Armee.”
How do I feel? A strange mixture of hollowness (a cliche I know) and elation. I feel empty yet fulfilled. I am proud of what we have done, what we have achieved though I am saddened that it is over.
At the wrap party last night it was a similar mixture of joy and sadness. Jonnie and I elected to say a few words. I let Jonnie got first. He talked about when he first passed me the script on May 18th THIS YEAR and thanked all the crew for their hard work. I knew he would thank them so that instead of saying the same thing I said sorry, sorry for being demanding, for not compromising, for shouting at times, for being inpatient at others. I wanted to apologise to everyone involved for my faults!
Making a film is inevitably an ego trip. On this film, because of the subject matter, there is a inevitable dichotomy in that fact that I am all too aware of. As a director you have to make decisions, to choose between possibilities. When you choose one you discard another. That’s how it is. Two days ago, for instance, Yoram came to me with a little idea of how he thought the motorcycle courier scene should go. I didn’t use it. It didn’t fit in with my plan for the scene and thus for the whole. If it had fitted into the whole I would have used it. A film is the sum of the parts. Not a load of separate bits. Only the director can see all those separate parts unified.
Rhys for five weeks has given me suggestions. It was only in the last two days that he came up with something that fitted absolutely into the master plan for the film. He hadn’t been disappointed once when I had turned down his ideas before. I thanked him for having the energy to keep offering me things. In the end he gave me gold dust!
People like Roger, Seanne, Jade, Jonnie and recently Marc have offered me many many many things on the film. Creative ideas that can be used or not used. I am the filter for them. If they fit they are used. It is hard not being a filter without any sense of ego and that is without considering having my own ideas, which are near endless!!!
After thanking everyone I said “Be proud to have been a part of Do Elephants Pray? I am proud of the film we have made. I hope you will be also.” Then we showed two minutes of the film that Caroline had cut together mute with a song by Francoise Hardy as music.
Although ungraded and in the wrong aspect ratio, watching the footage was mesmeric. We were all affected. I had not seen most of it myself and everyone else had not seen a frame. Julie was overcome the most. She finally saw what great work she had done. Steve Norris and many others were ecstatic. Jonnie and I at one point were mesmerised by our combined opus, the cinematic results.
The cast and crew present were stones that I had collected by hand from Broceliande forest, at night, near the broken wall that Malika gives her speech and that I had given to Marina to take back to London. Marina had done for me some BRILLIANT paintings of elephants on them. I wrote personal messages to each cast and crew member on the back. I asked Marina to write on mine. Amazingly it started “When I first met you, I was absolutely terrified of you…” I had no idea that was the case!!
There are just 37 stones with elephants on them. That shows how small and compact the unit was that made this film. By invitation, I made a cast and crew present for a film called “The Oxford Murders” six months ago and 98 of them weren’t nearly enough to go round. 200 would have been more appropriate.
None of us few who have been on this journey will ever forget it, that’s for sure. For many of us the film is a huge towering milestone in our lives. There is a shared bond, a kind of love that permeates the whole cast and crew on this film. It has been special. Unique. Unforgettable. Wonderful.
Looking forward to sleeping loads. Tomorrow I will be back in the sea of humanity, back with “everyone” as Joyce would say! Except of course, I am not the same person as before, I am changed. As well as a better film-maker, I hope as a better person too!
Anyway, on Monday we will look at the budget, see for the first time actually how much the film cost and how much short we are. I hope not too much!
THANK YOU EVERYONE WHO HAS HELPED MAKE THIS FILM. BE PROUD, AS I AM, TO SAY “I WAS A PART OF ‘DO ELEPHANTS PRAY?'” WE HAVE MADE AN AMAZING FILM, A FILM THAT IF ATTEMPTED BY NORMAL MEANS WOULD HAVE BEEN IMPOSSIBLE.
I hope you have enjoyed reading my shooting blog. Instead of a daily blog, I will now write a weekly post production one at the end of each week.