Wednesday, October 05, 2011

5am? Let's do one more.

Last Sunday 15 people locked themselves in a dusty, blacked out, 200 year-old abandoned mill to make a film. None of them were ever seen again. Some images and random footage survived. This is their story.


The schedule was out the window before day one had even started. Our lead actor, Michael Bates, had a commercial in the middle of the week, which he had told be about, but assured me it would mean he'd be a couple of hours late one of the days, and to put it to the back of my mind. On the last day of rehearsal he got a call to say he would be needed for two full days, 5:30am pick-up to 6:30pm. Basically meaning he would have to leave early on Monday, be gone all day Tuesday, and be late Wednesday - remember, this was a five day shoot, and Michael was in every single scene of the film. So we were up shit creek from day one.

Michael Bates as J
Let me just say before I continue, this is no slight on Michael, he was fully committed to the film, and on the Wednesday, after a 5:30am start he came straight to the set and shot till 3am. Bad timing was all.

I decided to start shooting on Sunday, what was to be the blocking day, and to make things even more complicated I decided to start with the most complicated part of the film - the end. If you want to know if you're ready for something, get the entire cast in a room talking, shouting and pointing guns at each other. I very quickly realised just how complicated this film really was. There was me thinking a few people in one room would be easy, but it was tricky and mechanical.

The first night was tense. People were on edge. We got started late and then had an issue with the sound equipment. First it went missing. I was supposed to pick it up at 12, but Sue ended up going to get it, wasn't there, took them an hour to track down the guy who had it and then she had to drive into Dublin to find him to get it. Then when she got back the harddrive wouldn't work, wouldn't start up, took Sue two hours of rebooting and phone calls to fix it. So we started 4 hours late.

We got a alot in the can quickly and although we went till 5am, and didn't get done what I had planned to do that night, we still shot 11 pages in that first night. But it wasn't a great start to the week, morale-wise. It got everyone tired right away. The schedule was shunted again, which meant no-one really knew where and when they were.

By mid week the schedule was changing hourly. We were working with who was available and on set. Someone showed up who should have been told they weren't need, things would move. I was just trying to keep one foot in front of the other and not side step off a cliff. I was concentrating on what was in front of me in the moment. But that often meant people were hanging around all day who didn't need to be. Still, we were getting footage in the can.

Painting with Light
The week was up and down. Good days and bad days. I think the lowest ebb was Wednesday night. A particularily difficult and complicated shoot. Everyone's energy was sapped and the energy in the room was throw the floor. The break room that night was silent. Nobody talking and nobody looking at me. I felt hated. I felt as though I was losing my grip on the project and if I'd said 'Let's just leave it' people would have happily exited the building never to be seen or heard from again.

I was asking a lot from people, and although they were committed, they were there, when the schedule started slipping I do believe some people lost their faith in me and perhaps even regretted their decision to be a part of the project. You pick up on a vibe. You see how people look at you. You hear whispers in the corner when they think you're not close enough. That was hard for me. I felt upset and it made it difficult to concentrate on the task at hand. I went home that night more depressed then I had ever been on a film. I wont say I cried. But I was close.


I managed a good sleep, which always helps, and came to set with the previous day behind me. I smiled at people as they entered, well aware that everyone was on my project, there for me, and feeding off my energy. If I was sitting in the corner of the room not talking, then that's what I'd get back. So I stood at the stairs and smiled a warm hearty welcome to everyone as they came in. I hope it work. People seemed a bit more cheery that day and we got good work done that night. I was never as low again during the shoot anyway.

Amid the mayhem I believe the film was coming together. I was getting great performance from all involved, and even when at times actors weren't happy with what they were doing, or unsure, or not feeling it, I was continually blown away. The moment of the week came when Elaine Reddy delivered a stunning performance that floored everyone in the room and had us all reeling afterwards. She said she wasn't happy with it, but Fuck Me! I had goosebumps. When I said 'Cut' everyone in the room let out a huge sigh, because they'd all been holding their breath watching her.

This happened again and again for me. I knew scenes were working when I forgot where I was, when I would be watching the monitor and I'd forget to yell 'Cut' because I was at the movies, completely caught up in what was happening and waiting to see what was going to happen next, and then realising I still had to film that part!

It was interesting watching how the actors worked, there were 8 actors and 8 different processes in the room. It was difficult at times. But for me it was working. There was tension, but it was in the right place. People were constantly telling me what I should and shouldn't be doing, I believe they were trying to be helpful and I'm happy to take suggestions, and if they're good I'm more than happy to run with them. But it gets frustrating when people are questioning you, and basically saying you don't know what you're doing. I did know, I knew what I wanted, I knew what I was getting, I knew to keep going if it wasn't their yet. If it takes an extra hour to get the take that makes it into the film and raises the film to a higher standard, then I'm willing to go to bed at 5am instead of 3am.

Bright Star - Catherine Wrigglesworth
There's a sense during any film, or any job, that a some point midweek you've broken it, the majority is done and the final run in should be easier than it has been so far and things can be a bit more relaxed. That's didn't happen on this. I didn't feel we'd broken in until the very last shot on the last day, which still left us with 2 days to pick up later. I know those two days will be more relaxed. But it was tough and tense right till the end.

There were one or two blow-outs during the shoot. People lost their patience. Which was fair enough. I remained calm through out. I almost lost it at one point. I forget exactly what day, Friday night maybe. I'd had enough of people telling me what to do and was building up to a blow out. I figured "Fuck it, I'm done, I'm gone. I'm going home to my wife and daughter, I'm sick of the lot of you..." I was waiting for the moment someone pushed me over the edge, but they didn't so I had a conversation with myself, I calmed myself down and I chose not to embarrass myself and waste everyone's time. We shot the scene and we moved on.

The level of commitment through out really blew me away. People brought their best work to the table and I enjoyed watching everyone work. All the cast brought their best. The crew were outstanding. I'm not going to single anyone out, but there were some star players, and they'll be the people you see go far. I was so grateful, and lucky, to have them.

There are still some scenes to get, the opening of the film, the conversation that changes everything for the two main characters, and the end of the film. All two handers. So hopefully we can go back and get them in the coming months. After all, it's nothing if it's not finished.

I was happy with everything that was going in. I haven't looked back at it yet. But I know there's a film in there. I'm not sure what it is yet though. Something different came out in that room. Something a bit more frightening then I had planned on. It's closer to the bone I think. I'm not entirely sure what I've made. It's the film I wrote. But I'm kind of afraid of this film. We'll see what arrives in the edit.

Me and DOP John Lawlor
Things I've learned on this one: Plan better. Schedule better. Be realistic. Fights are complicated. 8 people in a room talking is complicated (especially when they're pointing guns at each other). Good continuity is so important. An 1st AD is essential. 5 days is probably impossible. Two weeks is better. It's always going to cost more then you had planned for. Shooting in a filthy old building is a pain in the arse. Shoot in a comfortable hotel next time. Shooting dark material can effect you mentally. Remain positive. Focus on what's in front of you. Be in the centre of the room. Step up. Lead. DON'T PANIC.

I'm quite drained this week. I had the first good nights sleep last night. Previous to this it was broken with a lot of anxiety dreams of still filming and nightmares. Today I feel extremely low, which is probably just the come down from such a busy few weeks. So maybe I'll cheer up soon and be dying to get back on set!


But trying not to end on a dull note I am extremely happy with what's been done. The shots are beautiful looking, the performances are outstanding (wouldn't be surprised if there weren't a few awards on the distant horizon) and I think I've made the film I set out to make. I'm looking forward to the edit, I love editing and I'm so excited to start putting all this together, especially to Dermot O'Mahony's score. I think we've got a good film on our hands and I'm looking forward to finishing it and to showing you, especially all those who have supported it over the last year, and those who have believed in me.

2 comments:

Noel Farrell... said...

Good writing is when you can feel the emotion in the words. Blog post did it dude, I'm sure the film will as well. Doesn't inspire great confidence for anyone at a level like this to go forth - but still we do.
Good man Frank - You did it. ;)

Frank Kelly said...

Thanks Noel ;)