Beneath The Wormwood Trees

The shot rolled repeatedly in my mind: a slate shattering under impact in slow motion, totems stretched out in woodland. The heat of summer and the weight of regret. Around this sketchiest of frameworks I started to construct an idea, not a story so much as a theme, and one that took the longest of development periods to fully tease out.

The cards were stacked against us making it – I had no money, no job, and had just moved miles away from most of the Dope Meat crew. An attempted production for the previous year’s competition had fallen flat at the advanced planning stage, so there was also the weight of failure hanging around my neck. I had no choice but to take it all as motivation.

I liaised with Alex and Griff as scenes were reworked and dropped and refined. I made some hard choices with the story, and it wasn’t until I put together the UST (unofficial soundtrack) that the concept really began to make sense to me.

In the meantime I made production folders and journals and character biographies and wardrobes and colour palettes, and together with Alex, Emma, Eric and Rob tested lighting and cinematography extensively. We scouted around an abandoned and crumbling psychiatric hospital for no other reason than just because, and made a campfire in Emma’s garden to work out lighting and camera movements. These were the kind of doings that make life memorable, and somehow, the film was getting made.

The 2015 Beneath The Wormwood Trees Film Poster | Dope Meat Films, Northants, UK, short-film, filmmaking

Toby and I had nearly worked together the year before and he was perfect for the role of the Pilgrim. He was also extremely professional to work with, displaying a great attitude throughout the shoot. We put the poor guy through quite a lot. Katie was a pleasure to work with, professional and brave for turning up alone to a wood at night to shoot some weird film with a guy she had spoken to once on Skype. Cindy was as dependable and charismatic as always.

The location was the key to the production. The quarry had the potency that I was after and embodied the green, lush summer vibe that I was striving for. We shot the film in two days over one week, each shoot tense and hard work but completely enjoyable. We ran exactly to schedule on the first day and slipped by two hours on the second when we couldn’t get the set dressed as quickly as planned. I also gave Emma the wrong postcode for the first location, which didn’t help…

Penny really showed us what she can do with make-up when given the opportunity, and her commitment to the film was second to none. Ria was superb in her artisanship and took the prop design to another level. Griff provided fantastic directorial support, equipment and the best sound of the shoot whilst Rachel, Rosie, Em and Pat did all the essential ad-hoc tasks for us.

The above makes it sound like the entire production was a dream, much like the Pilgrim’s fevered delusion – but of course it didn’t feel like that at the time. The simple fact is that I choose not to remember the anxiety-inducing rush of finding another actor to play the Witch two days before shooting. I gloss over how I spent the very last money in my account on a load of cheap food and a cricket bat I was only going to use once. I’ve forgotten the hours spent in front of this very computer hacking at the footage, trying to get it to run under five minutes and agonising over the cuts I was having to make. But that’s because ultimately we found the best possible Witch for the film, I somehow still paid my rent and the film went on to win two awards. I quietly ignore the bits that went wrong because the film forced itself to exist in the first place.

Even still, I can’t kid myself. I am happy with the film and absolutely thrilled with what it has achieved thus far, but it’s only the second production made by a collective of filmmakers who are still at the first step of the curve. We are starting out, we have a lot more to accomplish yet, and I firmly believe that we’re only going to get better as we do so.

After all, this film shouldn’t even have been made.

DMF FTW.

The Careerists

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is her problem.

Boom Pole is the most recent Dope Meat Films project, produced for a microshort film competition that never quite sorted itself out. I only directed on this one, an experience that I thoroughly enjoyed – and certainly learnt from. There’s no point doing this (or indeed anything) if you’re not going to learn, and this film was an experience that challenged my abilities and also taught me a thing or two. It was a genuinely great way to spend a Sunday.

We’ve done plenty more since the last time this blog was active, the biggest headline being short film Beneath The Wormwood Trees, which won the Judge’s Choice Award at the Film Northants competition. We have several projects in various stages of development for the next couple of months, all of which are equally compelling and ambitious, and I’m looking forward to contributing to each in whatever way I can.

These are exciting times to be part of a great team… Which I guess is what happens when we’re all as equally committed to making a career out of this.

Destination: Big Time, right?

***

I closed the site down whilst engaging in a crisis of identity (graduating does that to you), but it’s apparent to me now that Dope Meat is who I am as a filmmaker. As always with these things I can see the complete package there in the ether, unique and brilliant but intangible… and I just need to pull the threads, weave them together in the right way to create something new.

In short, this is still a work in progress. And I’d rather that than say it’s done.

Beach Marketing Taxi Wrap Promo

A recent promotional film highlighting Beach Marketing’s work with the University of Northampton. Unfortunately the rain didn’t hold off on the day but there was a great atmosphere, and everyone involved was rightfully proud of their work on the project.

Including the logo sting at the end the project took three days in total to produce.

The Fourth

The Fourth is my Individual Production Project for the final year of my course. Shot on location in one day with a crew of six and cast of two, the always excellent Tom Carter and Lisa Ronaghan, the film was a resounding success from a production point of view with mostly smooth running, and wrap being called only an hour and a half behind schedule…

(I’d just like to point out that running to schedule is always the plan; but in the scheme of things an hour and a half extra on a one day shoot isn’t terrible!)

It felt like a big step forward in terms of the production value, and although it’s still not as convincing or encompassing as I would have dreamed, it’s a lot closer than I would have expected given the tools and time we had at our disposal.

Whilst I’m really happy with it as a production, I think the script could have done with another rewrite or two as the third minute lags on viewing. As well as that I think more camera movement could have been used to reflect the energy in the interrogation, but again due to the compressed production schedule I wasn’t able to fully devise that prior to the shoot. What I do take from the film is that we created a slick and polished piece of work in a very short space of time, and the time then saved for the edit allowed me to create exactly the mood and sense of space that I was after.

However much it owes to the X-Men and V for Vendetta, I’m happy to have finally produced a sci-fi film that I can call my own.

John and Jane

Way back in the hazy late summer of 2013, myself and the Giant Dwarf crew decamped to Stoke Bruene to work on a short film project, a period piece set when the sixties swung and university lecturers were (apparant) lotharios. Conceived and written by Lisa Ronaghan, John and Jane was the most professional shoot I’ve worked on yet, from the calibre of the actors involved to the sheer size of the crew. There were three of us on camera, leaving James free to direct, whilst the dedicated audio team ensured the best sound quality of any production I’ve been part of (well, except maybe this one, but apples and oranges…). We even had a runner, and as always when everyone only has one set job to focus on, we were able to get the best results. The fine selection of pastries helped as well, I won’t lie…

I know that post-production became a protracted process for all involved and was completed against a mountain of other things, but there are some really nice touches in there – the vintage grading, opening montage, and the soundtrack (by the hyper-talented Viv Sharma) are all fantastic. I’m glad to have contributed to this film because it gave me real insight into the production process, and how filmmaking is supposed to work. Valid lessons to learn before I make it at this for real.

M is for MEAT (ABCs of Death Submission)

M is for MEAT is from October ’13, and was our submission to the ABCs of Death contest. We didn’t get in but making the film was a great experience. It basically all began when James Millar called me up on the Friday and asked if I’d like to get involved. Naturally I said yes, and on the Saturday we met up and hacked out locations, the production schedule and a key shot list, before being joined by actress Lisa Ronaghan. I was working primarily as AD whilst also getting pick up shots, and I think the three of us worked well together to get the film made in such a short space of time. A big shout out to James’ brother Ash as well, who (spoiler) had to endure being tied up and soaked for the final scene (end spoiler). He took it like a man!

James came back with the first edit and some soundtrack samples, after which I did the complete audio mix, re-recording whatever was necessary and making extensive use of my soundtrack library. I actually completely rebuilt the audio for two scenes, the petrol station interior and the woods, which I think turned out alright. Phil Chapman did the VFX work to re-frame shots and remove logos whilst James did the grade, and we tweaked the final edit together before submitting it. We may not have won the contest (and the winner is one of the best short films I’ve seen), but I’m proud of what we pulled together, how quickly it came together, and what we learned from doing it.

On a related note, I’m focusing on sound design with my individual production project for university, and so I’ve posted about rebuilding the audio for the petrol station here on my mandatory project blog. From realising the possibilities of audio mixing on The Damned to getting it wrong on LOCAL and The Hunt, I’m making sound a priority over the coming months so that when uni is finished I can focus on making a high quality short film that fires on all cylinders. After all, when I graduate, there’s no more hiding places. It’s time to start meeting some potential!

The Applicant

It may have been a while since I last posted here, but I’ve been continuously filmmaking…

I shot and edited the above film over a couple of hours yesterday morning, as a test for my new lens and also to scratch a bit of an itch. The week before last I AD’d and sound edited a short horror film for the ABC’s of Death competition, and a few weeks before that I was camera operator on a short showreel piece, a period drama which is still being edited. I also took my first paid role as camera operator for a day on a music video shoot, and most impressively made the finals of the Raindance/Collabor8te 48 Hour Film contest, which led to a screening in London. I have blog posts about all of these things planned, but as you could probably guess, I’ve had little time to write any of them.

Speaking of blog posts, I’m also back at uni. As an aside, my advice to any HND students considering doing the top-up year is don’t. Go and get a job instead. Intern. Start your own company, whatever, just don’t get sucked into the quagmire of academia and ego.

I sure wish I hadn’t.

Anyway, for my course I’ve been keeping another blog, outlining my production process. You can read it here, but I warn you now that the idea is currently being reviewed for an overhaul.

Or at least it might be, if I can get a clear answer on what exactly it is I’m supposed to be doing…