Busy busy weekend. Up in Essex to see the folks, so a boozy foody Saturday. Then Dom drove over on Sunday, and we piled into the doco Polo and hied us to Harlow.
Our next documentary project is on 90s dance music and the rave scene, and Dom’s been busy snagging interviews. Sunday’s mission is to chat with Matt from SL2, at his pad just off the A414. We roll up at about 3, and chat affably while we try to squeeze lights and 4 (!?) cameras into his tiny home studio. Matt and Dom squash into a corner and start chatting while I roll tape. It’s good. Ground gets covered from reminiscances of the old scenes through to musing on the role of technology in dance music (fairly important) and thoughts for the future. Matt plays us some old videos, the original track that the famous “On A Ragga Tip” sample was based on, and a new track with a killer twist to it. We fill an hour tape on each camera, using the last of the HDV footage on in-car babbling on the way back to Romford. I’m excited to see it.
On the way home Clive calls, to tell me that the long cut of “Snatching Time” is finally done and ready to grade. I’m busting to see what he’s come up with. I’ll post a link once we have the finished product.

FODDERBLOG: SOMETIMES YOU’VE JUST GOTTA COOK

I arrive home at about 8 PM, tired, hungry. TLC is studying, and looks up brightly as I walk in. “I thought I’d wait for you to cook,” she says. Rats. No getting away with a bowl of cereal tonight then.

Quick and lazy cooking it is. Water goes on the boil for pasta. I gaze at the contents of the fridge, utterly uninspired. It’s that close to being a jar of something over spaghetti.

But no. My love has waited for me. Her patience deserves rewarding. I dig out garlic, a yellow pepper, and some cherry tomatoes. I chop the pepper, halve the tomatoes, and simply squash the garlic with the flat of a knife so it stays whole. The garlic and peppers are sweated gently in some olive oil until golden. When they’re soft, the tomatoes go in. Lots of salt and pepper. I squish the toms about a bit, and let the whole mess cook down while I chuck spaghetti into the now-boiling pasta water.

The sauce smells good, but looks a bit dry. I’d throw some wine in, but there’s no wine open, and I won’t open a bottle of wine just for a midweek supper, especially as with the day I’ve had I’d probably just end up drinking the lot. A splash of water suffices, mixing in with the juice coming out of the tomatoes.

Salad. There’s cos leaves, and some celery, which get shredded together. A bit blah as an accompaniment, until I come across some pine nuts kicking around the nether reaches of the larder. (Oh, alright, cupboard I put food in.) I toast the pine nuts. Gently, gently. In a hot dry pan, the little sods will burn in moments. Finally, in a moment of domestic epiphany, I remember we have pears. I chop one, and add it into the salad. I scatter over the hot, fragrant pine nuts.

Pasta’s done. Drain it, sauce over the top, moosh it together. Salad on the side, dressed with a simple vinegarette (yes, alright, out of a bottle). Parmesan grated over the lot.

Done.

You know what? It was the nicest thing I’ve eaten all week. The pasta was sweet and luxuriant. The salad was crunchy and vibrant, almost like a riff on a Waldorf. I get the “Yummy, honey!” seal of approval from TLC. I’m pleased.

Next time, though, I’ll crack a bottle to have with.

To the London Film Festival yesterday afternoon, for a screening of Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean‘s Mirrormask. I’ve been looking forward to this for a while, and have been following the development of the piece from greenscreen onwards with interest.
I for one wasn’t disappointed. The film looks absolutely amazing, rich, lush and textured, McKean’s work brought vividly to life.
There’s been quite a bit of discussion on the interwub about how closely Mirrormask resembles Labyrinth, the classic 80’s Jim Henson fantasy. My feeling is, a bit too closely for it’s own good. It has the heroine on the cusp of womanhood, the evil character with a vested interest in her fate, the untrustworthy sidekick, the obviously fantastical backdrop, the surreal and dreamlike atmosphere … I could go on. It’s also very episodic, and seems to rely heavily on the gosh-wow factor of the effects to ease the viewer over any clunky transitions.
Apart from all that, though, I did enjoy it. Stephanie Leonides as the heroine Helena gives a sparky performance and manages to pull off spending most of the film in a pair of fluffy bunny slippers, which is no mean feat. Gina Mckee is alternatively warm and icy as the dual mother figure, and Rob Brydon is solid and funny. There’s certainly more inventiveness in script and visuals here than you’ll see in most films out this year (with the possible exception of “Serenity” and “Strings”) and if you’re a Gaiman/McKean fan you’re in for a real treat. How it’s esoteric charms will translate into success in the real world is hard to say. It doesn’t have the crossover charm of a “Wallace and Gromit”, for example. It’ll do well with a select audience, and probably that’s it. However, I enjoyed it enormously, and will definately be investing in the DVD. If you’re after a cinematic experience that’s a bit different, this certainly fits the bill.

The screening went well. There was a minor technical issue that led to our film being screened at a quarter of the size of everyone else’s, which I personally thought added to the ramshackle nature of the thing, but doubtless Steve and Clive will be having words. Otherwise, it motored along like a bastard, we got some laughs at the jokes, and we made the shortlist (although not according to the 48 hour challenge webshite, thank you so much, Johnny Oddball!)

A real mixture of stuff was screened, from the professional to the resolutely amateur, but everything had something to recommend it, even if it was simply the verve and joy in hard and fast storytelling, or in some cases just sheer batshit craziness. It was fascinating to see how different crews rose to the challenge of making a three minute film. Some simply didn’t bother, as a few of the non-shortlisted films that got screened anyway were blatantly overlength.

However, the whole thing was enourmous fun. There was enough energy in the screening to light up the London Eye, and the atmosphere was just fantastic – buzzy, warm and supportive.

Would I do it again? Ask me again after I’ve had a decent amount of sleep…

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.

2.30 PM

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.

5.30 PM

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.

7.30 PM

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.

9 PM

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.

11 PM
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.

3.30AM

“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.

4.30AM

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.

6AM

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 😉

6.30AM
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.

7AM
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.