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.
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.