Tom Jolliffe on resenting rooftops and having nightmares about rain…
So as is common in the film industry, at all levels, sometimes a rescheduling is in order. Our small production is just such a case. Initially in the planning myself and director Alex Lawton decided that the best time to shoot would be in the tail end of September, allowing us plenty of time for pre-production. Then some apparent idea of logic started chipping away at us. There’s a bank holiday weekend. That’s three solid days on the spin. It’s logic. It makes sense. However, on occasion the logical becomes illogical. Getting your cast, your crew and your locations sorted for a bank holiday weekend proved to be a massive pain in the derriere. So now filming is pushed back from the bank holiday weekend to late September.
So why so problematic? Firstly, people make plans on bank holidays. That’s one problem. Virtually all the cast we actually had willing and locked had a problem on at least one of the days on that weekend and were required elsewhere. It never seemed to be the same consistent day that all had the trouble with either. As is the law of sod, you’d have three cast members, all of whom are required in scenes together, and all who couldn’t make a different day, meaning matching everyone up and even thinking about shooting scenes was a nightmare. In our way of thinking we want to shoot as effectively as possible. We’re not a big production. We don’t have the resources to bring cast, crew and equipment back to do pick up shots. We don’t want to be restricted in our shooting either. If you have three actors in one scene, it’s nice on occasion to have them all in a wide shot. Dialogue scenes have a spark of energy when there are two actors in a two shot. You could keep cutting back and forth between close ups of each actor but it’s a little bit too soap. It doesn’t draw the audience in, it distances them. The impact of a close up shot is enhanced by it being well timed, well placed.
Our biggest issue has been finding a rooftop. I hate rooftops. I hate them with a passion now! I resent them. You’d figure it would be easy finding an accessible roof to film on. On a bank holiday weekend it’s been extremely difficult. There’s health and safety to think of (even on rooftops which have chest high safety rails building managers get finicky). Sometimes we’d get permission but only for a limited amount of time. Sometimes with all good intention someone chips in with a suggestion. My old man suggested the roof where he works. It’s flat sure. It’s a roof yes. Sadly there are no safety rails, it’s too small a building, you’d have to climb a ladder to get up it, or out a window and it wouldn’t match our surroundings for the rest of the film. With the cast we have lined up, including the potential of a leading lady with an MBE, we cannot have our cast climbing up ladders or out of windows and potentially falling off a roof and breaking their necks. It’s late August and a good accessible rooftop in an office building, which we can film at for free, over a weekend, has become akin to the Holy Grail. I’m not sure it exists. I’d wager Indiana Jones having a tough time finding one.
No rooftop is one matter. So what if we get the rooftop, we get to the day of filming, and then as Britain is renowned for, it decides to rain all day? This will be late September after all. The film has to be shot on the days laid out. With the cast we’ve potentially lined up, we won’t get a second stab. We can’t snap our fingers and have them come back next week. We shoot on schedule. If we miss a page out by accident there’s no doing it over. Budget will not allow for this. So come rain or shine we have to plug on. Filming in rain becomes troublesome. With this in mind, and our struggles for a rooftop (let alone one with any cover from the elements) it seems a rewrite may well be in order.
Of course the ability to adapt is essential in low budget filmmaking. You adapt or die (not literally I hope). One character has already been nixed from the script for being essentially needless. It was a senior figure written essentially with a well-known actor in mind. We approached a Red Dwarf member and were rebuked. We had a couple of other folk in mind but in the end we couldn’t persuade anyone to give up a couple of hours without a significant wedge of cash. For two pages of dialogue this just wasn’t feasible. As it would happen, on bank holiday Monday I’m stood in a Co-Op supermarket, queuing up at the tills. The gentleman in front of me happened to be one of the well-known thespians I’d approached for this now nixed role. It was spooky (I say spooky because he was in BBC spy show Spooks) “Should I say something?” I thought to myself. Well…I didn’t. Though in retrospect I now wish I’d asked, out of curiosity, whether he’d actually received our offer, or whether his agent just couldn’t be bothered to pass it on. Still I mostly approached him because he lives locally to me and I’ve seen him out and about, thus bumping into him wasn’t the hugest of coincidences. I had hoped being a few minutes from our location he’d spare us a couple of hours for next to nowt, but alas, it wasn’t to be. That said in the context of the script and pacing, it wasn’t an essential character and probably a little indulgent.
September is now here. The plan is now to shoot towards the end of the month over two weekends. An extra month of pre-production will hopefully prove fruitful as we look to lock people down and cement our locations. Despite the problems though, the process of producing a film, and trying to get it from page to screen has been an interesting one. It has been stressful, frustrating, but enjoyable. The bug has been caught and thoughts occasionally wonder to the next project, and upping the ambition level even further still. With that in mind, I’ve got my fingers crossed for a lottery win tonight.