There are a lot of very tired, very nervous film-makers around today. The Halloween 48 hour Film Challenge took place this weekend, with dozens of teams up against the clock, the gun and their own failing strength as they strove to write, shoot, edit and score a 3 minute short horror film and submit it before today’s 12 noon deadline.
Dear reader, I was a member of one of those teams. Read and be horrified as I document the ups, the downs, the ins, the outs of a no-time, no-budget film short…
10AM SATURDAY 29th OCTOBER
Well met at Waterloo. The Sick Puppies (this is the name we have given ourselves, as befits a bedraggled bunch of horror film makers) convene. Clive the director, Dave the lights, and Graham the camera meet me at the South Bank, fresh from gathering a sub-genre and title for our film. It’s to be a horror comedy, entitled “Snatching Time.” So, we don’t get the musical. Things could be worse.
We find a base in a South Bank coffee shop, spread out some paper and pens, and start spitballing. We are quickly joined by the rest of our unholy band, Steve the sound and Amerita the makeup. Concepts are quickly thrown around. A time vampire idea is mused upon, as is the first appearance of a creature called The Snatcher, who attacks while it’s victims are on the loo. As Roy Walker would say, they’re good, but they’re not right.
Finally, an idea about a deranged game show host takes nebulous form. He snatches people off the street and forces them to compete in a game where they must win time points from each other. The loser runs out of time in every sense of the word. The winner gets however much of a head start in seconds they’ve managed to accrue. It’s dark, but the idea has enough room for silliness that it might just work. Together, we thrash out enough of a treatment that we can send the boys off to start gathering set and props material, and for Amerita to begin work on a prosthetic torso for the all-important stabby stabby moment. Meanwhile, Clive and I get more coffee in, and start putting flesh on the bones.
The actors arrive. We have to give Laura and Hugo a runthrough of scrawled bits of paper as nothing is ready for typing up as yet. They seem keen on the idea, and are given costume duty, including finding a wig and glamourous dress for Clive, in his role as the “glamourous” assistant to our game show host villian. Hugo, a suave old-school actor famous for his role in an 80’s kid’s show (oh, ok, he was Treguard the Dungeonmaster in “Knightmare”) tilts his eyebrows quizzically, but I can already see him getting into the idea.
Soon after, Scott bounds in. He’s full of energy, loves the idea, and is keen to try something that shows off his acting chops, as opposed to the martial arts and stunt stuff he’s more known for. We assure him that as his character will be gaffer-taped to a chair throughout, the chances of him being asked to do any stunts will be low. He’s sent out on costume gathering duties, and I pull out the laptop. Time to get this thing into shape.
The afternoon ebbs past. We lock the script at about five. Laura and Hugo, exhausted, reappear half-an-hour later, but they have done sterling service. Hugo now has a fantastic game show host jacket in black with silver swirls, and Clive has a cracking gold spangly number to squeeze into. There’s even a maid’s pinny, that they trawled through most of the sex shops in Soho to find. Their dedication is (ahem) admirable. Drinks all round, Scott reappears and everyone gets a first look at the script. They laugh. In the right places. Thank Christ.
Oh, and I’ve foolishly added another character, a fresh victim to be strapped into the chair vacated by Scott at the end. There’s nothing else for it. I volunteer to do my bit in front of the camera.
The Pavillion in Wood Lane is our location for the evening. Or more precisely, the squalid cellar is. It’s great, dank and labyrinthine. The boys are busy dressing the set as we arrive, squeezed into the back of Dave’s BMW (having picked a weekend when fat chunks of the tube are down for engineering work). We grab some sarnies, and start the read-throughs. It quickly becomes clear that hugo does evil brilliantly, Scott can do scared, and Laura can scream her head off very convincingly. Although when she’s done she always collapses into giggles, which is both sweet and a little un-nerving. We iron out niggles, and have to explain to Hugo what most of the game shows we’re lampooning actually are.
Amerita arrives, with bags of makeup and a chunk of foam rubber in a t-shirt. This is our big effects shot. It doesn’t look like much at the moment, but then it’s only going to be used in brief flash cutaways. it’s either that or stabbing Scott for real, something both Graham and more disturbingly Scott himself seem rather keen on. I start giving a hand with the set design, while Clive and Graham start blocking scenes. The arduous process of make-up begins at around 10.
I flinch every time Amerita puts make-up on me. “You’re not used to this, are you?” she says. Erm… no. I get a broken nose, throttle marks to the throat, and a torn ear. One for the family album.
12.30 AM SUNDAY 30th OCTOBER
We’re in the basement, strapping Laura and Scott to chairs, making a final check to the lights. It’s finally time to start shooting. The first set-up is the master shot, the foundation that everything else is bolted to. It has the most action and dialouge, and it takes Hugo a few goes to get it right. In the end, Clive decides to split it in half, to give him more of a chance. the problem is, it’s been a long night already, and the hard work hasn’t even started yet. When Hugo gets it, though, he absolutely nails it. He’s funny and scary, helped no end by Scott and Laura, in character as Dick and Jane, both looking absolutely terrified of him.
Shooting drama can be horribly tedious for everyone involved, as you go through the same bits of action and dialouge over and over again, in close-up, two shot, trying different things with lights, camera, performance. We’re tired, but things start to move along. Shots get ticked off. More importantly, the jokes keep flying, the mood stays light.
“Stabbing Dick, take 2.”
That’s it, everyone collapses in giggles, and I realise I’ve chosen exactly the wrong point to crack a funny, i.e. when an actor is waiting for his cue with a mothful of stage blood. I’m sure Scott gets revenge by spitting some of the foul stuff at me when he finally does the take. Soon after, Hugo does the creepy monotone countdown whie Laura tries to escape, and now I can’t help but giggle. In fact, the only way to prevent Steve on the furry mike from not having me snorting in the background is for me to not look at Hugo and bite my hand. Even then everyone can see my shoulders shake with the effort of keeping the giggles in.
We’re onto the prosthetics. Amerita mount Spongy the torso in place on Scott’s chair (and oh the relief on his face, cut free after four hours of being gaffertaped in place), Graham frames up, and we let Hugo loose. With one stab, the blade of his knife snaps. Tough t-shirt. We find another, and Hugo wades in, but it’s harder than it looks, and the torso gives way in a most un-Scott like manner. Kind of spongy, in fact. We end up cutting holes ourselves for the knife to go into. “We’ll fix it in edit”, Clive asserts bravely.
Laura gets her chance for escape, as Hugo cuts her free. She comes off her chair and staggers off-camera in a wholly convincing way. “That wasn’t acting”, she says afterwards. “I couldn’t feel my legs.”
With her and Scott both free now, it’s my turn to get strapped into place, and for Clive to drag up as the lovely Anthea. Amerita reapplies my bruises, now smudged to nothing after a night’s filming, and we both reminisce about this lovely thing called sleep that’s supposed to take place at this time of day. Out in the corridors, Laura runs around, screaming hysterically while being chased by Graham and Steve with the camera. I’d scream too with those two on my heels 😉
Clive appears in full glory, and everyone sods off and leaves me tied to a chair to watch him shoot his scenes. I contemplate the idea of a power nap, but being gaffer-taped to a haigh stool is not condusive to a restful atmosphere. Especially not with Laura in hysterics next door. I’m in hysterics myself when Clive finally appears. He’s a big man, and gold sequins do not suit him.
Final scene. I act scared, Hugo gets evil, Laura screams for England. Believe it or not, this is the only way to spend a weekend. We release the actors, do cast and crew shots with me still taped to a stool (I put my gag back in and bug my eyes for the second take. Bet that’s the one that gets used). Then a quick few pick-ups, the Sick Puppy logo (the ugliest stuffed toy you’ve ever seen in full-on MGM lion mode) and spank me bandy, we’re done.
Cabs disperse us to train stations. For Clive though, the hardest bit is yet to come, as he has to edit with Graham and do the sound with Steve. My next part in the endeavor comes on Monday morning, when I colour grade the finished article. Now, all I have to do is get home without falling asleep on the train and winding up in Bristol.
MONDAY 31st OCTOBER 6.55AM
My phone buzzes as I bound up the stairs at Picadilly Circus tube. It’s Clive.
“Don’t rush. We’ve had problems with the sound. I don’t think we’ll make it for the grade if we want to get it submitted in time.”
And that’s it. The deadline is mid-day, and I have work waiting for me. I’ve come in early to make sure there’s time to get the grade done, and now there’s no way. I’m disappointed, but we agree we will do the grade at some point. Graham pops in mid-morning, after dropping the film off. We’re in. The hard work’s paid off, and now all we can do is hope we make the short list and actually get our film up on the very big screen at the Imax in Waterloo. There’ll be a director’s cut, which I’ll grade and get screened here at Images, whatever else happens. For now, all we can do is wait.
My personal feeling? It’ll blow people away. There are some really talented people involved in this project. It’s a great idea, a good script, well shot, brilliantly acted. I think it’s good enough for first prize.
Whatever else happens, it’s been a challenging, creative and hugely enjoyable experience with a fine bunch of people. I for one am proud to be a Sick Puppy.