Straight 8: showing your mistakes in public

It’s done for another year. Three days of screenings. Three days of triumph, of disappointment, of joy and pain, of ecstasy and despair. There’s nothing else like Straight 8, and that’s probably a good thing. I’ve done four films under the discipline now, and I still can’t honestly say I recommend it. It’s like any addiction. You know it’s going to do you some damage, but you just can’t help going back for another hit.

This year was new for me for a few reasons. It was the first time working with my good friend and docobuddy Dom Wade. It was the first time working with a pick-up crew sourced from Shooting People.

And it was the first time that we badly screwed up.

Rewind to March. We are in London Bridge, at our first location. We’re set up in the kitchen of the flat that is our primary indoor location.

And Dom is convinced something’s gone wrong with the camera. He didn’t hear the film roll on the last two shots we ran. And that mechanical claw is loud. But we have a lot of ambient noise going on, to help our actress Kiki get into character. He can’t be sure, but he’s used the Braun Nizo on every Straight8 film he’s shot. In his bones, he knows something ain’t right. So he reseats the battery.

It’s a tense moment. We reset the shot without the noise, and are relieved to hear the clatter of the camera mechanism. Problem solved, we think, although there’s a danger that we have the same scene twice. That’s something we have no way of checking, so we carry on.

Dom was right. There had been a problem. The scene was shot as planned. But at some point, the camera triggered while left on its side, and rolled for 8 seconds. There is a shot of a corner of a kitchen counter in the film that shouldn’t be there. It was a mistake which blew our carefully timed sound effect, and the entire conceit of the film, to bits.

We found this out at the same time as everyone else, in the crowded screen two at the Curzon Mayfair.

The heightened atmosphere at a Straight8 screening is like no other. Everyone is in the same position, not knowing, hoping, dreading. The highs when your film goes well are unbelievable. The lows when it doesn’t are black dogs.

Confronted with the realisation that my carefully laid plans had gone horribly wrong, and were playing out in front of a room full of my peers was not one of the finer nights of my film-making life.

I felt sick. I needed a wee. I wanted to cry. I watched the rest of the film through my fingers.

I excused myself as soon as I could, and stood in the loos, letting the waves of nausea ebb. I felt frantic, panicky. If I’d had my jacket with me, I probably would have walked out. But no. This kind of thing is always a risk with Straight8. You can never be sure what you’re going to get. I took a deep breath, and walked back in. The place for drama was up on screen.

Afterwards, a surprise. Both Ed, who runs Straight8, and Fiona Brownlie, who made the best film of the night, mentioned how much they liked the idea. (“But Ed,” said Dom in the quote of the night, “It’s completely wrong!”) We must have been doing something right for it to get into the screening in the first place. But my disappointment was tangible. I don’t know if it was better or worse that only one member of our brilliant cast and crew, Hayley, could make it. As it was, I found it hard to look her in the face as we said goodbye. I felt like I’d let everyone down somehow.

Enough of this pitiful attempt to curry sympathy. It belittles us all. The fact is that this can be fixed, and no-one has to see Time Out in that form ever again. We have the film, and will retransfer today. Then it’s a simple matter of cut, top and tail, and we can get the film out there properly. I’m fascinated to see just how well the sound drops back into sync once we chop out the offending shot. I’d like to feel that all my hard work with stopwatches and schedules wasn’t completely in vain.

I have to remind myself that we went through exactly the same shit last year with Code Grey, where we lost the important final shot. the fix was done, and it went on to great success. Who knows where Time Out will lead us?

So, that’s it for this year, and I ask the question I always ask. Will I do it again in 2010?

Dunno. Like any addict, I have to take it one day at a time.

Blood & Roses – And Now The Screaming Starts

B&RExcellent news from X&HTeam-mate Simon Aitken – his horror feature Blood + Roses is finally finished!

It’s been a long, hard road, with a lot of pitfalls, mis-steps and out-and-out crashes along the way, but the completion of this film shows what can be done with determination, hard work and the willingness to max out as many credit cards as you can lay your mitts on. Simon tells the full story in unexpurgated detail on his website, which is well worth a look if you’re interested in finding out just how much time and effort has to go into a low-to-no budget film.

I’m very very happy for Simon, and will be buying him a celebratory beer when he joins the Time Out crew on Monday for our Straight 8 screening.

Just the one, though.  I don’t want success to go to his head just yet…


Your attention please. The word is finally out.

Time Out will be screening at the Curzon Mayfair on Monday 27 July at 9:15 in the pm. In a wonderful twist of synchronicity, X&HTeam-mates Fiona Brownlie and Andy Bradley will be showing on the same night, so it should be some party!

As ever, nerves will be masked by alcohol-fueled bravado, but the observant among you will not be fooled. Panic is the motor of the night, and that motor will be running on overdrive.

Good luck, everyone. It’s SHOWTIME.

Straight 8: The Word Is Out, And The News Is Good.

Excited texting from DocoDomsy this weekend, with a piece of very good news. Our Straight 8 short, Time Out, has been selected to be screened as part of this year’s Rushes Soho Shorts Festival, sometime in late July. Venue and screening time are yet to be confirmed, but be assured you’ll hear as soon as I do.

Obviously, I’m insanely chuffed. I was worried about this one, as it offered so many new challenges. I was working with a crew and cast I didn’t know that well, and Dom and I had never worked together on a Straight 8. Camera glitches and squiffy timings didn’t add to my piece of mind. However, it seems to have worked out, and I am now desperately eager to see how the film has come out. And I would happily work with Kiki, Lewis and Hayley again, who were inventive, cheerful and bloody hard-working. The perfect crew. 


Congrats also go out to other Friends of X&HT who will be screened: Fiona Brownlie, whose film features Leading Man Clive in a cheeky cameo, first time 8er Andrew Bradley and of course Nick Scott, the man by which all our humble efforts are judged. Props, hugs and sturdy handshakes to all who have done the do and snagged a screening this year. You’re all stars!

Here’s to July. More news as I get it.

Straight 8 at Cannes

A quicky from Nick Scott, super 8 film-maker extraordinare:

This could be appallingly premature given that I haven’t actually seen the film myself (!) but tomorrow night, at the same time as the straight8 films screen in Cannes, they are also posting them on-line for a hour at 9pm UK time. I made one of them, called ‘Visions of Jack’, and this will be the first time that anyone, including the filmmakers, has seen them.

Twelve of the films that the Straight 8 judging panel consider the best of the bunch are screened in a tent on the Croisette every year. It’s the prime goal for all Straight8ers, and I’m chuffed to bits for Nick, especially as he wasn’t planning on doing a film this year!

The link, if you fancy checking out innovative low budget film-making at it’s rawest and most exciting, is HERE.

Sadly, Nick can’t be there, but I’m issuing a shout out to the Friends of X&HT who are there and waving the banner high for low-budget British film-making. Brownlie, Aitken, Coppack and Booth, go forth and spread the word!

Meanwhile, the wait continues for the other Straight8ers who haven’t heard about potential screenings yet. Nervous? Moi? I didn’t need these fingernails, anyway…

Network Updataria

It’s been a busy few weeks, so I thought I’d let yawl know how things are standing for me and my network of fellow travellers as we move into film-making season. 

This Friday sees me and thinking girl’s eye candy Clive Ashenden in Cambridge for the third Super 8 film festival. Code Grey is the final film of the Friday night competition screening. If anyone’s around, and fancies saying hello, we’d love to see you. Hopefully we’re doing a Q&A afterwards, which should be fun in a nerve-wracking kind of a way. 

Before that, I have a drive to return to Simon Aitken with the finished version of The Making of Blood + Roses on it. This has been a solid learning experience for me, and well worth the struggle. It’s pushed me a bit creatively, which is always good. That ol’ spiritual kick in the pants that’s conducive to opening up the mental sinuses.

If you’re going to mix your metaphors, you may as well do it thoroughly.  

This is another step towards the completion of Simon’s feature, which is now starting to pick up heat following good reports on MJ Simpson’s blog and Zone Horror. I’m seeing him tomorrow, where I can hopefully pick up some pre-Cannes goss. 

Also going to Cannes this year, Michael Booth and Paul ‘Cop’ Coppack of Pleased Sheep Films, who’ll be toting round a rough cut of their second feature Bar Stewards. Their first film Diary Of A Bad Lad is doing really well at the mo, and will be out on DVD soon. Well worth a look if you like a bit of pitch-black mockumentary action. Bar Stewards looks like it’s gonna be a good ‘un too – although a bit less dark in tone. 

Congrats and a Short Film Corner appearance also go to the makers of  Sertoli Sertoli Sertoli, featuring the talents of Lewis Shelborne and Kiki Kendrick – most of our crew on this year’s Straight 8, Time Out.

Speaking of the 8,  we’re in that quiet period before we find out who’s made the grade, who’s got screenings, and which of us will be among the lucky 12 that get shown in a tent at Cannes. Nick Scott, Fiona Brownlie, me and DocoDomsy and hundreds of others are quietly gnawing thier fingernails down to the elbow and wondering.  

Next week, I shall be writing again, and not thinking about Straight 8. That way, madness lies.

8 and Out

I’m bone weary, barely able to focus. The frontal lobes of my brain are in a knot. A thunderstorm of a headache is making slow progress across my brow before settling in behind my eyes, where it will force jabs of pain out through my tear ducts.

I feel fantastic. The final push of effort has been completed, audio has been tweaked, polished, sweetened and uploaded and we are done for Straight 8 09. Dom has done some fantastic work over the last week in getting the found sound and atmos we’ve gathered into a cohesive whole. The cacophony he’s created all sounds the way I imagined it when I wrote the script for Time Out four score years and ten ago.

We’re quietly proud of what we’ve achieved so far. Now all we have to do is wait and see if we’ve made it into the screenings. And as anyone who’s made a Straight 8 will tell you, that wait is the toughest thing of all about the whole process. We’ll see.

Fist bumps and hugs to everyone that got their film into SFL on time this year. You’ve done something great, and you’re part of the hardcore. You’re film makers in the very purest sense of the word.

Be proud tonight. I am.