Soul Searcher: September 28th 2004

“It’s only forever. Not long at all…”

My dad came over at the weekend and examined the train. Tut-tuttings and utterings such as, “That’s the worst hole I’ve ever seen,” issued forth. He then removed most of the wheels, took up a ruler and began drawing diagrams. Tomorrow he’s coming to take the whole shebang away and hopefully return it in working order, with the help of his brother and father. Between them, I doubt there’s anything they couldn’t build or fix.

My poverty has led me to take up the long-forgotten ritual of the shirt, the tie and the photocopier, by temping at the council planning department across the road. Far from being the soul-crushing experience I expected, it’s actually quite relaxing to spend eight hours a day worrying about nothing more significant than whether I remembered to stamp all six copies of a particular document.

Nonetheless, the heart palpitations and chest pains I’ve been experiencing on and off all year have got a little worse lately, but my doctor assures me it’s just stress and there’s nothing to worry about except worry itself. Is 95 minutes of film really worth all this?

Soul Searcher: September 28th 2004

Soul Searcher: September 23rd 2004

“Explode? Impossible – it was made in Birmingham!”

I returned from directing another film at the weekend (a relatively relaxing experience) to find Andrew Biddle’s stop motion shots of Ezekiel on my doormat. They did not disappoint. The shot where Jonny actually sprouts wings looks particularly sweet. So that’s it for Andrew – another character takes his bow and exits stage left.

The next day I received the first CG umbilical cord shot, at long last. The motion tracking still needed a little work (it’s the world’s wobbliest tracking shot) but it was great to finally see a cord shot in the film. Well done, David.

And then today I received the rushes of last week’s highspeed film footage. My first thought was that the explosions looked very impressive and very expensive (which of course they were) but too big for the scale of the models. But the way they’ve been shot, it’s not too much of a problem. I can definitely cut them in in a way which works.

Soul Searcher: September 23rd 2004

Soul Searcher: September 17th 2004

It’s official. Last night was the worst night ever on Soul Searcher.

I find it difficult to recall how the evening even started. Ah, that’s right, it was more of an afternoon. Everything seemed to be going well. The weather was dry. Jonathan had arrived with the train, which looked very good. Kevin McDonagh, Colin and I spent a while putting together Hollie’s buildings and generally setting stuff up for the shooting of all the train shots and the explosion of the brewery vats. I also found myself painting the wagons red.

As darkness fell, Stein Stie, the 16mm DoP, and his assistant Rob arrived and began setting up the Arri SR2 to shoot the vats. Toby rigged the pyro and Jackie Regan, maker of the model, finished it off by attaching the walkways on top – which were extremely accurate. There were 20 minutes or so of panic when it seemed Arri had given us the wrong gear and we wouldn’t be able to shoot 150fps, but Rob sorted it out and the vats explosion went off just as planned. Nice one.

It was then, as the time for the train’s debut neared, that the seeds of doom took root. In a nut shell, the train didn’t want to stay on the track. The old wheel problem again. The hours ticked by, whilst the crew ate incinerated beefburgers and set up the buildings, background lights and details around the railway line, all of which looked great. By 1am I was on the verge of vommiting from extreme panic. I had 25-ish shots to get in now only four hours. Jonathan said the wagons were ready, and placed them on the track. They wouldn’t go along. Wheel problems again.

Then the power tripped out, leaving us in complete darkness.

Then it started to rain.

Once the power was reset, I weighed up the options before me. I had to blow the train up at 6am, come what may, because otherwise I would have wasted a lot of money on the Arri gear, the pyro, the insurance, etc. But how could I blow it up when there were still 25 shots of it moving to shoot? And the damn thing won’t stay on the tracks.

Phrases of the “computer generated imagery” ilk were bandied about. I quickly put a stop to that.

There was only one real solution. Kevin knocked up an extremely crude version of the locomotive, simply to blow up. He then went off to kip in the van, because he had to work today, whilst Colin and I – horror of horrors – dismantled the earth embankment we had spent most of last Friday building. Sometimes I wonder why I fucking bother.

The rain, meanwhile, continued to fall. Gradually it became heavier and heavier until, when Stein and Rob reappeared on the scene at 5am, it seemed that we couldn’t possibly shoot. However Stein convinced me otherwise, and with the aid of a tarpaulin, an old towel and Kevin’s ropey mock-up, we got the explosion filmed.

So, a brief summary. Over the last week, two sessions of back-breaking labour building embankments and then dismantling them again, many hours loading things in and out of hire vans, UKP250 worth of damage to one such van, and hour upon hour of working in the pouring rain, wind, mud and miscellaneous unpleasantness… and for what? Two shots. TWO FUCKING SHOTS. THIS FILM IS TAKING THE PISS. I HATE IT. I HATE IT I HATE IT I HATE IT I HATE IT I HATE IT.

We were so close. I can’t believe how close we were. I’m now sat in my living room surrounded by Hollie’s buildings and spiky Hell rocks, the very cool-looking locomotive and four pretty convincing scale replicas of the Rowden Mill goods wagon we filmed on last year, and yet it’s all useless because the DAMN THING WOULDN’T GO ALONG THE TRACK.

I hate everything.

Soul Searcher: September 17th 2004

Soul Searcher: September 11th 2004

Another year. Another kitchen. Another crisis meeting.

Your attention please on platform one. We’re sorry, but the Hades Express service to Hell has been delayed by approximately six days. Hades Express apologises for this delay and any inconvenience it may cause you.

My first concern when I got up yesterday was the weather. After two weeks of brilliant sunshine, I had picked the day when the heavens opened to spend all night outdoors shooting. Getting horribly lost on the way to location was a relatively minor inconvenience. Jon rung me every few hours to say he would be later than expected arriving with the train. Something about the wheels.

I had just taken up a shovel to begin digging the 25 metre embankment required for the train to run along when Jon rung again. If it were possible for a dead man to speak, this is what it would sound like. He had not slept for five days. Never in my days have I heard such a wretched voice. The wheel, that most ancient of human inventions, had defeated him. Failed moulds, materials too brittle and a slight misalignment which would completely derail the vehicle.

So I found myself sat at a kitchen table, sipping a hot beverage and wondering how the hell I was going to reschedule everything. Sound familiar?

We also managed to dent the hire van and get it stuck turning into a small lane. As Toby trudged up the lane with me after pushing the van back onto the road, he said, “It’s not always this bad on Soul Searcher, is it?”

“Yes,” I replied.

Various dates were bandied about, some of them towards the end of October. Suddenly I was struck by a vision of seeing in 2005 with Soul Searcher unfinished.

But in the end there was only one viable solution. We were already scheduled to blow up the miniatures on Thursday next week. We would simply have to shoot everything else that night as well.

Hollie Swain continued putting together the buildings and other paraphenalia she had made to go alongside the railway line. As well as office blocks and other earthly institutions, there were some spiky red rock formations – one of which looked like a giant Venus Fly Trap – for the Helllish section of the train’s journey. They were a really good match for James Parkes’ stop motion moat set.

So that our journey was not wasted, we spent the rest of the afternoon building the embankment. The soil was mostly clay and rocks, which made the going difficult, but as darkness fell we had completed our task. I was astonished at how readily the crew – Beth, Toby, Colin and behind-the-scenes cameraman Tom Hewett – got stuck into the digging, despite the rain. I asked Colin why he kept coming back for more punishment. “This is pushing it,” he muttered, forcing his spade into the unyielding earth.

I must confess that after that I was very glad we did not have to do eight hours of shooting.

Soul Searcher: September 11th 2004

Soul Searcher: September 8th 2004

Everything’s sorted for the miniature shoot on Friday. Not that there’s anything miniature about it, aside from the actual models. I am predicting the sharp onset of winter to concide precisely with our arrival on location.

I got some pictures through of the wagons, but I still haven’t seen what the locomotive looks like, which is pretty scary. If it was anyone but Jonathan making it I’d be freaking out right now.

The vats are wonky, so I hear. But they’ll all be straight and lovely by Sunday, when Beth the soon-to-be-long-suffering runner drives to Dartford to pick them up.

I keep bumping into people I haven’t seen for ages and their first question is always, “How did the film turn out? Must be finished by now, right?”

Soul Searcher: September 8th 2004

Soul Searcher: September 2nd 2004

Busy, busy, busy. Various different things going on today. I spent most of the day on the phone and the internet. (Mmm, nice phone bill to look forward to.)

David Markwick was working on the look of the umbilical cords, so every couple of hours he would put a new test shot up on his webspace for me to check out, then I’d call him with feedback. At close of play today it was looking somewhat Abyss-like.

Alongside this, I was trying to sort out the 16mm gear for the explosions shoot. Arri Media have very kindly done me an excellent deal on a highspeed SR2 and lenses. Getting the gear (West London), the DoP (North-East London) and the vats miniature (Dartford) to Gloucestershire for the shoot is another issue entirely.

I talked to Jackie Regan and sorted out a larger scale for the vats. (Toby blew up one of the original small-scale vats and it didn’t look too hot.) Hollie Swain is still at work on the buildings and other background scenery for the train shots.

In between all this, I listened to the first version of Scott’s score, which arrived in the post this morning. Well. I don’t know what to say. Even though it’s in a very, very rough form at the moment, I sat through it alternatively giggling with delight and wiping away the tears it had brought to my eyes. For some reason, Luca’s theme had me in stitches, probably because I know Lara.

Also, yesterday I got some full res clips of the Moat Creatures from James Parkes, and for the first time was able to get a true sense of how that key shot of the train crossing the bridge is going to look. Nnnnnnnice.

Soul Searcher: September 2nd 2004