For the most part disastrous. You’d think, would you not, that finding somewhere on the Malvern Hills that you could slide down on a piece of cardboard would be fairly easy. But oh no. The two locations I had planned, and several others that I hadn’t, were not steep enough, or too rocky, or the grass was too long, or too short. We borrowed some unused shop window dummies from a department store for the Sarah-and-Cameron-fly-off-rocks-over-hostages stunt, but after much chin scratching and some lame dummy-chucking, we succeeded only in breaking one of the plastic people’s legs. The production assistants, Sarah, Geraint and Simon, then had the unenviable task of returning the generously-lent mannequins, and apparently witnessed a rather frightening degree of upset on the face of the shop assistant. (I understand allegations were later made as to the nature of this man’s relationship with the dummies.) It was 4pm by the time we actually got going, having hiked all round the hills filming odd shots of LJ and John MacLachlan (Cameron) sliding very short distances over unsuitable ground. We finally found a section of path steep and smooth enough to permit cardboarding, and used it over and over again in the Back To The Future stylee. Injuries were sustained when extra Leigh was assigned to dive on LJ when she reached a certain point on the path, beyond which death was probable. Leigh managed to split his lip in the dive, and kick LJ in the jaw, giving her a headache for the rest of the day. Being the tough, uncompromising director that I am (cough), I got her to repeat the slide many, many times – this time with her being responsible for her own cessation of motion. We also gaffa-taped the camera to one of the cardboard sledges and I slid down on my arse next to it to get those dynamic POVs. So it was all worth it in the end, but I should have tried it all out beforehand. I’ll probably schedule in another day to shoot more cardboard chasing.
After a single day off, we returned to the grind by filming the recklessly death-defying quarry sequence. First some simple dialogue scenes, started when we managed to find actor Andrew Hill (Dan), who had wandered off up the hill, not having seen the rest of us turn up a concealed footpath. I insisted on waiting for the sun to re-emerge from behind clouds for each take, before giving up around lunchtime when it became clear that such an idealistic Hollywood approach was never going to work in the Kingdom of Grey Skies. Then it was off up the quarry face, while David drove down to the Link Common to film some extremely wide shots of us little ants crawling dangerously over the rocks. Andrew almost fell to his death in a hilarious out-take moment which saw him sliding perilously down the loose gravel, grinning inanely at the camera. At the top of the quarry, the actors were dismayed to find that everything I had written in the script about having to climb into a little enclave in the impassable cliff-face, then haul yourself up onto the grass, is entirely true. After I’d demonstrated it was possible, in a world where humans live but once and gravity points away from the big blue stuff, LJ (Sarah) bravely went first – and indeed repeatedly – and Simon Widdus (Trooper Fields) performed an impressive fake almost-falling-off-and-dying-horribly. Then I filmed a lovely silhouettey, lens-flarey shot of the team continuing on up the hillside. And failed to press record.
If you’re a film-maker, and you’ve ever wondered to yourself, “How can I make my stuff look really gorgeous and professional?”, then, my friend, I have the answer. Blue gel. Get some diachroic filter, double it up, and slap it on your lights. Hey presto, footage that could easily be mistaken for a Hollywood movie. Definitely an excellent day’s work. The afternoon’s action scene had to be cut down severely, but I don’t think it suffered particularly for it. There was a little shooting outside the cinema, then we took a two hour break while we waited for it to get dark, filmed another scene outside the ‘ma – and were surprisingly left completely alone by the nextdoor night club queue – and buggered off home. I really do wish I’d set the whole film at night.
My favourite day so far, especially the morning. I thought we were in for a nightmarish time, filming atop the Worcestershire Beacon, exposed to the awful weather we were predicted, and harrassed by indignant Conversators. But although we did have to retreat beneath umbrellas for two brief rainstorms that swept over us, the weather was kind to us, as were the Conservators. In that we didn’t see anything of them all day. The morning’s scene was the first to follow my original vision perfectly, whilst the afternoon’s action sequence was modified but better for it. I can’t believe I managed to cast two leads crazy enough to dive onto bits of cardboard and hurl themselves down the side of the Malvern Hills. We decided to leave today’s night shooting for another time, when I would be better prepared and less f**king knackered.
A very slow day, in which we went about three hours from the call time before shooting a single frame, then progressed with similar slugishness, while Simon Wyndham slid gradually into manic depression, forced to turn the SAS guy vs. bad guy fight into one of those Jean-Claude Van Damme/Steven Seagal affairs that he hates so much. The pear-shapedness began when a few people turned up late (it transpired that my notoriously poor directions to locations were largely to blame here), then the dreaded Malvern Hills Conservators turned up and started asking questions (there is a humorous tale to tell here, but one which I fear is best kept off of publicly available channels until the shoot is over), then we hiked up to the location to find that it was simply too goddamn windy to film there, then we picked an alternative location which meant both me and Simon had to throw everything we’d planned out of the window. So imagine my surprise when, upon viewing the rushes just now, it all looked pretty damn good. What are the chances of that happening, eh?
A short day today, in Great Malvern Cemetery. The key scene which marks the beginning of the film’s final act has been in my head for the last two and a half years, so I was quite annoyed when the weather kept going grey. Then it poured. Then it got all nice and sunny. So very poor continuity, then. Still we did, as Dave says, “the mother of all low angle tracking shots”. I sent him off to buy more 41mm waste pipe for the tracking dolly to run on, and we did a lovely long track at just above ground level, with lots of gravestones parallaxing across frame. In fact, today was the day of the tracks, as we also managed a rather nice one tracking around LJ with the stormy clouds in the background. We finished an hour and a half late. I really need to tighten my film-making belt.
The first task this morning was to scrub the fake blood from yesterday’s gunshot scenes off the newly painted exterior walls of Holy Well. This job fell to me. The whole day was allocated for filming the martial arts fight between Sarah (Lorna-Jane Hamer) and Cage (fight co-ordinator Simon Wyndham). Having seen the snail’s pace at which filming progressed yesterday, Simon had drastically shortened the fight. However, Lorna-Jane quickly picked up the moves, allowing us to wrap at the unthinkable time of 4pm. As soon as I got home my mouse finger began to itch and I rapidly edited a rough cut of the scene.
Did three gunshot effects. Were cool. Lit everything badly. Was rushed. Finished two and a half hours late. Tired. Watched rushes. Were better than it seemed whilst rushing through filming everything. Wish I’d scheduled more time for everything. Not as if I had to worry about extra budget to pay people for more days. Damn. Maybe next time. Ate Burger Star burger. Was Best By Far.
The day before the shoot begins. I don’t feel as if I’m about to start making a feature. I feel as if I’m about to do a short film, have a day off in which to pre-produce another short film, and then start making that the following day, and so on. My grand vision of having everything locked down so I didn’t have to do any producing between shooting days has dissipated. I can’t be shooting a feature tomorrow because I’m not ready. Surely I haven’t arranged anything? Oh that’s right, I did most of it weeks ago. That’s okay then. It’s going to rain. Hell, it has done for the last couple of days. Why should tomorrow be any different? This film is either going to look horribly flat and grey throughout, or have god-awful continuity as rain-soaked vistas are intercut with strong sunlight scenes. Britain sucks ass. And I have no sound man for tomorrow. So The Beacon is going to follow in the fine tradition of Soul Searcher and Cow Trek, and be yet another Neil Oseman film with shit sound. And what’s worse is that everyone else on the crew is going to say “it’s fine”, “anyone can do it”, “look, I’ll hold the boom – that’s all you need to do”. They don’t understand. They’ve not been there. Where are all the sound recordists? Curse you all for not doing my film. But I shall stop moaning now, and think about the fact that two and half years of work is about to come to fruition. The fruition of more work, followed by more post-production work, followed by an actual film. So no real fruition for half a year or so yet. Damn. But I’m looking forward to it. Honest. The guns came. Thank god.
Went to Hereford to pick up my pag light, which Hi Way had foolishly delivered to my old address, despite me telling them twice that I was moving. Got the final okay for filming in Rural Media, and for Holy Well (which is good, since we film there the day after tomorrow). The gun shop decided to tell me that the HK replicas I ordered two weeks ago will actually take 6-8 weeks to import, as there have been none in the country for the last year. After a brief but intense panic, I ordered M16s instead, throwing authenticity to the wind. There are still a few loose ends to tie but, I shall entrust these to my hopefully loyal production assistants, and just worry about directing the film from now on.