Saturday, September 30, 2006

Adam fibbed

All that stuff about "tax doesn't have to be taxing"? Then how come when filing my tax return, in time for the early deadline (midnight tonight - got in under the wire with two hours to go) I end up being liable for almost my entire self -employed income last year? You know what, I'm smart - I have certificates to prove it, no way do I fall into the "intellectually challenged" category. Yet I defy anyone to make sense of the tax system. Being a single working parent, I am eligible for Working Family Tax credit, and according to my most recent statement, I am paying them back for them overpaying me two years ago, at the same time that they are giving me a major one-off payment for underpaying me last year. Meanwhile, I paid tax deducted at source on my income last year when I was employed, through PAYE; so, tonight I declare £150 income from self employment and find myself liable for £145 tax. HOW???? I paid tax on all my employed income. The only bit I didn't pay tax on was the pathetic £150. How on earth can I owe £145?

It's no wonder people set up off shore accounts. The sooner I earn enough to justify an accountant, the better - I'm getting someone else to do the sums asap.

And meanwhile, back to the stuff that matters, i.e. Echoes; we had a day at Elvington today doing pick ups and a couple of scenes with extras and a most beautiful car.

Jim (car owner), Jayme and Joe getting ready for a shot:

And as usual, I manage to get a crew shot when they all have their backs turned:

Darren, Gali, Ben (Darren's son), Mark, Luke and Chris.

My target is to get a picture of the entire cast and crew, all looking vaguely camerawards - maybe at the screening party?

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Bite the mango

I'm not sure why "Bite The Mango" Film Festival is so named, except that it maybe gives a bit of exotic flavour to Bradford (and boy, does that place need it - maybe Bradford has its charms, but the municipal nightmare of concrete and ring road that seems to comprise the city centre manages to keep such delights well hidden). It showcases a range of films that otherwise might struggle for a screening because they're not the usual Britflick fare, yet they're not full on Bollywood. (Point of info for non-Brits, Bradford has a significant population who originate from the Indian sub-continent, linked historically to the textile industry, is famous as THE place to go if you want really good Indian food, and also provides a massive audience for Bollywood movies).

Unfortunately, despite spending the weekend at a film festival, I managed not to see any films at all, although there were a few I would have loved to see. I went to some of the "industry weekend" sessions, and the networking party, but have to wonder why the main event of the industry weekend (the networking and company showcase) was scheduled so that attending that meant missing two of the key films, "Little Box of Sweets", and "Halal Harry", both of which I would've loved to see.

The session on "The Future of Film-making in Yorkshire" was a massive disappointment, a mixture of patronising advice ("get a job as a bar maid while you wait for an industry job to come up"), and self congratulation ("we've got lots and lots of schemes to help people, so we'll just keep mentioning the one person who's made it in the last few years, but never mind that we can only quote one success, we're great, really we are") - although some of the questions from the audience showed astonishing naivety - "it's really hard to move to London and live on someone's floor while looking for a job in the film industry so can't there be a grants system to help?" Yeah, sure, I've got an idea for a scheme - it's called "pay me to lounge around and wait for my big break so I don't have to get off my arse and make it happen for myself". Actors know that the chances are, they're going to have to spend some time doing crap jobs to make a living while working their guts out to get auditions and get a break. Writers know that the chances are, they're going to get a stack of rejections despite the efforts they make to carve out writing time around family life and making a living, and ultimately it comes down to the question "is stopping doing this less painful than carrying on?" There can't be many people who approach the film industry thinking it's a quick n easy route to fame and fortune, can there? Hmmmm.

Next was a session on "The Short Film Experience" - this was a good session, a bunch of people who had actually made short films, worked with short film makers, distributed and exhibited shorts - so, a chance to spend an hour or more with people who were talking from experience about what they look for in a short film (originality, and characters who make an impact), the purposes of short film-making (the chance to be experimental, the opportunity to learn your craft), and the impact short film making had on their careers. It would've been good to see more of their films, but overall, this was the best session.

The networking party was fun - I met someone I hadn't seen since he and I were on the same writer development programme at West Yorkshire Playhouse a few years ago, he's now into props and sets, and is interested in working on our next film; also met a couple of actors, a few producers, an editor, swapped a load of business cards. The good thing was that although the numbers in attendance were relatively low (200ish people?) they're all local, and all keen to work and collaborate. Some had even heard of us, due to Richard Hammond's accident and our press coverage - "oh, you're the ones filming out at Elvington" - this part of the world may be small, but there are some very talented and very keen people around here.

Today went to a session on "Working with actors" - interesting, but again, one of those sessions where you think much of what's said is common sense - the only problem with common sense being that it's not half as common as it needs to be.

And that's it - I would've liked to see tonight's film, called "Echo Park LA" in this country which to my mind is nowhere near as good or as evocative as its original title "Quinceanera". But it was a choice of "find things to do for 6 hours in Bradford, with a headache" or "go home, crash out, recover from headache" - I chose option b.

And now it's bedtime.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

A room with no view

I realised what I don't like about my current job - I'm in a room with no view of the outside - no sky, no trees, no fresh air, just air conditioning and a view of the corridor to the staff room, which means everyone stares in at us as they walk past. And it's a "sitting in the same place all day" job - also very bad for the soul, as well as the bum.

Went to West Yorkshire Playhouse on Friday to see "The Overwhelming", a play by J T Rogers, directed by Max Stafford-Clark. It's a National Theatre/Out of Joint production currently touring, and if you get the chance to see it, go. It's funny, moving, and ultimately shocking play which left us talking and thinking long after the final curtain call. The cast were excellent, several of them playing multiple roles, and the play itself is so layered, with multiple stories weaving in and out of each other, that you cannot help but be drawn into the complexity of life in Rwanda in 1994, and wonder how you might have dealt with the situations as they arose. Powerful stuff - this is what theatre should be.

Also saw "Volver" over the weekend, and loved it. It's very much about women, and the relationships between sisters, and between mothers and daughters, and the roles women play. Men are absent, mostly - from the film and from the women's lives, although they have been catalysts for the action in some cases. Penelope Cruz is fabulous, in fact the whole cast just seem to click. And the idea of a farting ghost is just too funny. I really want to see it again.

And now I really need to do some writing. The advantage of a dull job is that it leaves plenty of thinking time - now I must convert that into words on the page.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Uses of energy

What with all the excitement of last week, I forgot to mention that the agency found me a job, so I am now an employed person once again. I'm doing a 9-5 office job, data entry/management stuff, pretty quiet at the moment so I'm getting plenty of surfing/reading time (currently reading "Shakespeare's Advice to the Players" by Peter Hall, which is an ace book if you want to understand why/how Shakespearean language works), but once the students get back, all hell will let loose, apparently. And this week is also A's first full week back at school, so as you can imagine, our house is a fun place to be in the mornings.

What's interesting is that we are both totally flaked out, me especially, despite the fact that we should either be used to this by now, or have worked longer days in previous lives so shouldn't be so tired. It's been a while since I did a conventional 9-5 job, but I'm finding it much more tiring than last week's equation of "10 hours on set + 2 hours driving + an hour or so of paperwork after tea". Guess the Chinese proverb quoted by Laurence Fishburne in "Matrix Revisited" was correct - "find a job you love, and you never work another day in your life". I just wish I'd discovered it sooner. I loved last week. I loved having to deal with whatever came up, taking phone calls and sorting things out, driving people to and from the station, talking to anyone who needed talking to, thinking about how I'd envisaged a scene and talking it over with Darren, suggesting to Darren that Richie and I wanted to try a different way in a scene, helping the crew when I could, lugging sandbags, doing lines with Jim, watching on the monitor, doing sums at night to see how the budget was holding up, fetching coffee and water for the crew. Not being in the same chair from 9 til 5. Cameraderie.

It was not all sweetness and light. I spent much of the week feeling anxious about money, and about time - essentially, did we have enough of either? There was also a personality clash which I didn't handle too well (i.e I avoided the issue until it had gone away). I know what I'll do differently next time (like I said, steep learning curve). It was stressful, but it was good stress. And we're beginning to plan our next film. So that's a sign - it must've been good enough to want to repeat the experience!

Meanwhile, I will be at the industry weekend of Bite The Mango in Bradford and will be working on Reception over the weekend at Hull Short Film Festival. Come and say hello.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

That's a wrap

Well, pretty much. The Elvington part of the shoot finished today, and we just have a couple of short scenes with Dania to film elsewhere.

It has been a pretty steep learning curve, but a very enjoyable one. Watching our crew at work has been an education, and I think I've learned one crucial thing about the role of a producer - find people who are good at their jobs, and provide the environment for them to do their stuff, then trust them. The other crucial thing is, of course, food and drink, and in that department we have been extremely well looked after by the catering staff at Elvington (thanks to a generous Angel) - I'm sure that being able to start the day with bacon butties, keep everyone supplied with coffee, tea, water, Ribena and coke all day, and have a decent lunch has contributed to the good atmosphere we've had.

As to what happens on a film set:

Some of this:

Some of this:

And quite a bit of this:

Andrew, Gali, Joe and Luke doing exteriors last night at the top; Dania having one of those "do I really have to do it all again today?" moments at breakfast yesterday; Susan and Bonnie (make-up and hair) doing Sudoku on Monday.

It's been great. Stressful, exhausting, mad, frustrating at times, but ultimately, great. I'm not going to think about the gaping hole in my current account, or even begin to imagine the pain of my next credit card bill - I'm just going to remember Richie going into make-up a modern bloke, and coming out transformed into a 1940s hero with a razor sharp parting, and trousers held up with braces; Jim giving me a hug saying "that's for the writer" when I'd almost forgotten I was the writer; Dania leaning her head on my shoulder and sighing "I'm so tired" then perking up when called onto set, and nailing a scene first time. I'm going to remember handshakes and hugs and kisses and "it's been great to work with you" and "I hope we work together again" amongst the crew as we went our separate ways. I'm going to remember that I promised everyone a party.

The question isn't "would I do this again?" it's "when can I do this again?"

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Almost there

Another long day on set, but we've made huge progress. Richie and Dania got all their scenes together done today, so just after Matt announced "that's a wrap for Richie", we all piled outside for a quick break, and a couple of photos with cast still in costume.

From the left: Patrick, Anna, Luke, Gali, Andrew, me, Darren, Dania, Matt, Richie and Joe.

We spent much of the day getting some crucially atmospheric scenes in the chapel, which was slightly hindered by the noise of vehicles going past (we're close to the entrance gates), and the bloke mowing the grass. However, he very kindly agreed to mow the grass furthest away first, and since the site is several acres in size, that gave us the few hours we needed. Better than yesterday, when an ice-cream van decided to do the rounds of the industrial estate next door to the airfield. Lovely sweet line of dialogue, immediately followed by that tinny, echoey "music".

Watching the processes, both of the actors and of the crew in capturing the performances, has been fascinating. I've found it easier as the days have gone by to listen to the actors say their lines - at first I just found it too strange, and didn't want to be in the same room, but I think having heard them over and over again as we've gone for several takes, then the same scene but reverse, followed by same scene but close ups, and so on until Darren has all the coverage he wants, I've become detached from them. They're no longer "my" lines, they're Peter's, or Elizabeth's. The actors have really inhabited their roles - although I wish I'd had my camera handy on Monday, when I could've got a shot of Richie in his 1940's RAF uniform, talking on his mobile phone. Working with Darren has been great - he's been concerned to make sure I'm happy with what's being done, and that it fits with the vision I first had when I wrote the story, but at the same time he's come up with really good ideas and new scenes that I think have enhanced the whole thing.

Now I'm very tired. Even though there are large chunks of time where all you can do is sit around and wait, it's pretty draining. Although we were on set for almost 10 hours today, and working for around 9 of them, with a lunchbreak, so it's not really surprising that we're all tired now. I could do with a good sleep - last night I dreamt about being on set, so I didn't even get a break from it overnight!

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Day 2

Just to prove we're making a film - from left, Luke (with his back to the camera), Jim and Dania (cast) Joe, Matt (AD), Dimitri and Matt (sound) with Andrew and Gali in the distance.

A long day on set, lots of good stuff done. Finding that we'd made the Yorkshire Post this morning got us off to a flying start!

That's all for today - we're whacked. Cup of tea and an early night I think.

Monday, September 04, 2006

It's happening

We've just completed the first day of shooting "Echoes."

You have no idea what a relief it is to be able to say that. From discussing how late we dare leave it before pulling the plug on the whole production with my director, Darren, on Friday night, everything turned round swiftly, late on Sunday - some gear was loaned after all, hire arranged for the rest, and we decided we could go ahead. A few of us met up last night for a concert which was taking place at our location (Elvington air museum, near York), and unknown to us a flypast of a Spitfire had been arranged - Richie, our lead actor, who plays a fighter pilot, was there as was our leading lady, Dania, and watching the Spitfire fly past, with the actors there with me, it felt as if everything was really coming together.

This morning was very slow - cast and crew gathered, sat around, drank coffee, read their scripts, drank more coffee. Meanwhile Darren and Joe (DoP) were collecting one lot of kit while Susan (editor, runner, whatever we need her to be) and I went for the other lot. Then in response to our press releases photographers arrived from York Evening News and the Yorkshire Post (we should be in the papers tomorrow), luckily just as Dania, Richie and Jim, our other cast member, were emerging from make-up. We also had our own photographer on set so should have some great pictures, hopefully posting a few here soon.

Meanwhile our fantastic hard-working crew (Gali, Matt, Luke, Dimitri) had set up, and finally at some point this afternoon cameras rolled. Richie said his first line, and I choked up and thought I was going to cry.

It's really happening. We're making a film, from my script.

More updates as we proceed. My head is still spinning from today to type much more right now (although I have a couple of script amendments to do), I need to eat and then have a big sleep.

If there are any Angels out there, I still need you ....

Saturday, September 02, 2006

See that rug?

Yeah, that one, the one that's just been pulled out from under us. Less than 72 hours to go until principal photography begins on our shoot, and for reasons as yet unclear, the arrangement by which we get all our equipment appears not to be happening. We have a complete crew, a great cast, a lovely location, lots of enthusiasm - and no equipment. Unfortunately, not much money either. We can hire what we need, but that costs hundreds more than we have.

Then at dinner last night, James says "I'll give you £50 if you give me a credit on the film" ...

48 hours to go til principal photography, and a plan is hatched - I email everyone I know who might be able to chip in, explaining the situation and asking for help. Donate £50 to our film fund, and in return you get your name in the "thank you" credits at the end of the film, a copy of the film on DVD should you want it, and an invitation to a screening party, whenever that happens once post-production is done.

36 hours to go, the film fund stands at £150.

If you would like to join in and help, email me here, or if you already know me, on my usual karoo address.