Making ‘Making A Killing’ – Part 2…

Second part of Rich’s reminiscences about the filming of our dark comedy short ‘Making A Killing.’

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Part II: Production

So, having cleaned my house from top to bottom—at least, the parts that hadn’t been artfully trashed to dress the set—and having just checked that the insurance was up-to-date and likely to cover bizarre unforeseeables, I opened my door at the frankly unreasonable time of 6.30am as the crew started to arrive…and kept arriving…and, good grief, are they all going to fit in my house? And the equipment! Black box after black box was loaded in, so much that I began to wonder I hadn’t also signed up for a Metallica gig after the wrap.

But it fitted, it got set up and we got underway. Adrian and Tiff went upstairs for costume, hair and makeup (one of my children’s bedrooms being commandeered for this purpose) and we were ready for the first shot. Director James deemed the daylight ‘perfect,’ (personally I like to believe our producer Rosie had fixed it—she thinks of everything), and we were out of the drive for the opening sequence of the film. The fact that this coincided with the school run to the local primary school only added to the lively buzz of activity around the driveway, as mothers with buggies and inquisitive toddlers all stopped to gawp. Within minutes, my phone was fizzing with messages from friends on the Gossip Grapevine wanting to know why a film crew was outside my house. Favourite comments included:

“I hope you’re not going on Come Dine With Me. Your cooking sucks.”

“Little Daisy just started stage school – do you need any elves or angels…?”

“Is that Crimewatch? Are you the reason my cat went missing?”

Like the pros they are, cast and crew took it all in their stride and we got shots dunked in cans without having to tell anyone to piss off or terrorise any young scamps. Win! After that, back inside, with the rest of the production being indoor scenes.

Now, my gaff isn’t tiny, but when packed with cast, crew and kit at times it felt packed tighter than the leather trousers on the collective Village People. Standout moment was when 6 crew all squeezed into my bathroom (including soundman Simon who had to lie on the floor out of shot whilst holding his mic) whilst a smoke machine filled the room to give it a ‘steamy’ atmosphere. Ah, the magic of the movies…

Cooked food for 20 people. (chilli and rice—always keep it simple). I piled them with snacks* and drinks. I made sure I turned my noisy kettle off when 1st AD Pedro called ‘Action.’ I gazed in awe as the cast and crew turned our script into something real. I learned how important it is to retain your inner Zen whilst a film crew stomps around your house. I cleaned the loo after a day of use by 20 people filled to bursting with chilli and rice and cleaned/prepared the house for day 2 of filming. Never let it be said we’re not writers who are willing to get our hands dirty to get our scripts produced. Literally. (God bless you, makers of Cillit Bang and hand sanitiser).

Day 2: as above, but more tired, more cooking, (chicken and veg pasta this time), more snacks** and drinks and more laughs. Again, we had a brilliant time. Tiff and Adrian were on top form throughout, and James, Rosie and the team were on top of their game. Andy and I mostly just stood watching it all unfold, with huge grins on our faces. Except for one sequence of shots where we needed to pitch in. Both of us burly guys, James had us standing six feet apart—both out of shot—holding a metal lighting pole between us. Adrian gamely hung from the pole so we could get a shot of his legs kicking, as if suspended. (To say any more would be SPOILERIZING). Again, the magic of the movies…

Before we knew it, it was a wrap. We applauded our cast from the set and within an hour all those people and all those boxes of kit were gone. There ain’t much that moves faster than a film crew with a pub to grace.

Andy and I chinked a couple of bottles of beer and enjoyed the moment. Important to do that. Writing is a lonely business even with a co-writer and being involved on-set throughout a shoot of ones of our scripts was a real privilege. A year on we are both still chuffed, awed, humbled and EXTREMELY GRATEFUL to everyone for everything they put into the shoot. Can’t tell you what a delight it is to work with a professional crew that knew how to adapt, be creative and do what was needed to get each shot done.

They did so without grumbling (ok, a little grumbling but nothing that couldn’t be fixed by beers and pizza) and without trashing my house. Our heartfelt thanks once more for all their professionalism, dedication and effort — all of it shows through in the film. It was fun, guys, wasn’t it?

Guys…?

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April/May 2019, and all the challenges were worth it. (And my house remains intact). We had a great launch night in September last year with a screening at the BFI, attended by our cast and crew and industry folks including screenwriter Jonathan Ames, (the man behind HBO’s outstanding comedy ‘Bored To Death’ starring Jason Schwartzman, Zach Galifianakis and Ted Danson). Great to chat with him (he loved the film!) as well as other contributors we had yet to meet (shout out to our editor Will Peverett and composer Dina Liberg of Universal Music, in particular). Fun times.

Fingers crossed it gets the attention we believe it deserves. Currently, the finished film’s doing the rounds of various broadcast channels and production platforms, to strong positive acclaim from the comedy commissioners at BBC, Channel 4 and Sky. Eventually, once all the industry folk have had the chance to cast their beadies over it, we’ll post it somewhere on the interwebs for all to see, which means YOU too will be able to behold its full glory. Exciting!

 

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Snacks breakdown:

* Filming Day 1: crisps (demolished); doughnuts (gone within seconds); fruit (largely untouched). Note: film crews are NOT to be fed after midnight. Do not ignore this warning. They can wreak havoc on a small-town community in mere hours.

** Filming Day 2: crisps, doughnuts and cookies (all eviscerated as if swarmed by ravenous locusts); same fruit from day before (binned).

 

Making ‘Making A Killing’ – Part 1…

March 2018: we were neck-deep in pre-production for our dark comedy short ‘Making A Killing.’ A year on, Rich reminisces about the production, what we learned and Things-You-Never-Think-Of-Before-A-Film-Crew-Comes-To-Your-House-And-Demolishes-It — a 2-part blog.

(WARNING: includes snacks)

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Part 1: Pre-production
Together with director James Debenham and producer Rosie Wells, my co-writer/conspirator Andy and I met with our stars Tiff Stevenson and Adrian Scarborough for a table-read in London. Whilst this wasn’t a full ‘stand up’ rehearsal, it was great for getting a feel for how the cast would interpret our script. Even though it was a low-key meeting*, it showed us how important it is for actors to have an opportunity to improvise and build chemistry prior to filming, even for a short.

Both Tiff and Adrian had us in fits, simply reading their lines or playing with variations in intonation and facial expression (silly voices; oodles of gurning), so we knew right from the start it was going to work. Aside from being a relief, it was a delight for us as writers to see and hear quality actors channel all the moments of comic/tragic nuance we felt were in the script – from words on the page to flesh-and-blood interaction. There’s genuine magic in seeing that – don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Table-read done, we were confident we had a strong cast that ‘got’ the script and had the right instincts for telling our story, as well as bringing real star quality to the project. A few tweaks to the script for clarity — there’s often a line or two that ‘reads well’ but isn’t quite right when spoken aloud — and the script was locked down to the production draft. (Note: this version, though ‘final’ is still referred to as a draft; once filming starts, sh*t happens, changes occur and the script remains fluid to a certain extent).

Next up, two days before filming: a location visit by director James Debenham, producer Rosie Wells and first AD Pedro Rilho. The location was… my house. The team hauled butt from the metropolis out to the untamed wilds of North Kent (only a 20-minute train ride, the wide-eyed Londonites seemed amazed to discover). On arrival, the team went room to room, discussing each scene in the script, assessing best angles for individual shots and generally getting a feel for how they’d use the layout of the house to achieve narrative ‘flow’. I left them to flow in peace, made tea** and only got involved when I heard shouts from somewhere in the house along the lines of: “Can we move this wardrobe?” or: “Would you mind if we took this ridiculous artwork off the wall?” or: “We’ve locked ourselves in the garage – it smells and we’re scared.”

Everything planned, I braced myself for the next day: the Set Dress. Again, the team descended on my abode, this time accompanied by Art Director Allegra Fitzherbert and her arsenal of crafty materials and pre-made props. As a courtesy, I cleaned the house. I needn’t have bothered. Furniture got shifted, my ‘nice things’ got stowed away and then Allegra unleashed her props…two bin liners full of empty beers cans, takeaway cartons and pizza boxes, which she artfully scattered around my house, all topped off by the pièce de résistance: an ashtray overflowing with already-smoked cigarette butts. All of which ensured that my house not only looked like it was inhabited by a character whose wife had deserted him, occasioning a severe bout of personal hygiene forgetfulness (Mr Loveless, played by Adrian Scarborough), but actually smelled like it too. The charming aroma of 3-day old congealed takeaway, stale beer and fag ash leant the production an authenticity few films can boast. (At this point, I feel I should say, once again, a heartfelt ‘thank-you,’ ‘sorry,’ and ‘yes, I’ll try one more time to get those stains out, dear,’ to my long-suffering wife. I love you).

The upheaval of my usually tidy(ish), usually clean(ish) house continued as each room we would be shooting scenes in got transformed to look like the home of, well, someone who didn’t give a toss what their home looked like. Mess was made. Fun was had. It looked amazing. Amazingly crappy. Antithetically crappy. You know what I mean…

One last point to add on this: there is nothing that quite prepares you for the cool assessment of your treasured possessions by an art director:

Art Director: “Sorry to bother you, but have you got any old, dated, kind of crappy-looking ornaments?”
Me: “Well, no, not really.” (Thinks: I’m far too discerning)
AD: “I’m after something old-fashioned, tacky, ugly-looking. (Spies beloved piece of décor of immense sentimental value). Ahh, this is perfect! It’s so horrid; I love that you’re into retro kitsch like this!”
Me: (smiles weakly) “Umm…yeah.”

Set dressed, (house trashed), we were ready to roll…

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Snacks Run-down:

* Table Read: fruit, nuts, biscuits. Not chocolate biscuits though—got to keep actors motivated; lavish them with choc on the first meeting and they’ll be wanting their own dressing room, foot rubs and Baftas before you know it.

** Location Visit: broke out the posh biscuits, bought especially for our producer Rosie, who said they were her favourite, only to say on the day, no thanks, she was on a diet…it’s fine, really it is, I’m over it…it’sfine.

*** Set Dress: no snacks because there was too much to do, but later that night, whilst walking the ruins of my once-lovely home, I ate a whole tub of ice-cream.

‘Snug’ Nominated For Best Comedy Award at CPIFF 2019…!

With all the terrific festival-pick news drifting across the North Atlantic throughout January, we had to sit on our hands like fidgeting five-year-olds while a cracking score closer to home filtered through to waiting hopefuls…

The 2019 Crystal Palace International Film Festival!

As January dragged and drizzled into February, we would’ve been forgiven for thinking there’d be nothing but festival tumbleweed until deep into the Spring. Not so with plucky, mucky ‘Snug As A Bug’ out on the circuit: approbation in Albion with selection for CPIFF 2019 in its 10th Anniversary year.

Kudos. Validation. A tonic shot for the endorphin drones.

Then we hear about the award nomination: kudos-plus; validation GTi; endorphins through the wazoo. We write to get the writing noticed – when a respected funny-someone judging ‘funny’ finds your ‘funny’ funny, you can’t help but feel that you’re scratching the right creative itch. We certainly don’t write to get ourselves noticed – nobody deserves that.

‘Snug’ will be screening during the Gala Finale on March 30th and we’re bloody well going. Here’s a taste of what else is planned…

‘Snug’ Proves A Hit In The Beaver State…!

This is just getting silly…

Nothing’s supposed to happen in January; pub abstinence; kale smoothies; suffocating ennui; nine o’clock bed. January’s when excitement, energy, surprise and unexpected cool stuff take their own vacations, safe in the knowledge that nobody needs or anticipates them for 31 joyless, colourless, water-flavoured days.

That said, not everyone has a cheeky flick like ‘Snug As A Bug’ in their corner…

Oregon’s an interesting place. Having nabbed the lion’s share of the American beaver fur trade during the War of 1812, we Brits demanded a sizeable portion of the Oregon Territory extending deeper into the United States (nearly Mexico) than the United States was prepared to stomach. The United States in turn demanded a sizeable portion of the Oregon Territory extending much further north (nearly Alaska) than we Brits were prepared to entertain. Cue much political toing-and-froing, a rush of land-grabbing settlers, a furious few rounds of mutual moustache twirling and a threat of war at a time when we Brits were still mixing it in the heavyweight division. Calmer heads prevailing, however, more diplomatically-inclined Brits and United States-ians agreed to split the disputed territory cleanly across the midriff at the 49th Parallel. The bit from the bellybutton down to the Converse soles became America’s 33rd state in 1859 to much fanfare and moustache twirling.

It’s capital is Salem. It’s known as The Beaver State. It’s legalised cannabis for medicinal and recreational use. More importantly, it’s home to the annual Oregon Short Film Festival. Even more importantly, its 2019 iteration will be screening ‘Snug’ at the 5th Avenue Cinema in Portland on 23rd February!

We might just stick a cherry in our kale smoothies.

Check out the full 3-day itinerary here – don’t forget to pop along if you’re in Portland, seeking to carve a surreptitious slice of Oregon off for Trump or Liz The Second…

Near-Return Of The Prodigal Film… With More Plaudits!

After a successful year of festival running, screening and kudos earning, “Snug As A Bug” is set to return to the bosom of our writerly home where we’ll listen to it’s tall tales of life on the road and overload the washing machine with it’s dirty laundry before packing it off for distribution.

Anticipating its arrival – like the Pale Rider, cresting the majestic dental peaks of the Sawtooth Mountains – we could be forgiven for thinking that it was done with the itinerant life… but no! News from the Jelly Film Festival that a semi-final posting warranted a laurel and a later-year screening was almost trampled underfoot by the breathless Hermes advising that another film festival was eager to put the “Snug” on it’s estimable slate!

We’re sworn to secrecy for now (organiser’s orders…), but let’s just say we’ll be able to get to it without disrupting the fragile ecosystem of our financial holdings.

More to follow…

snug pic

Comedy Short ‘Making A Killing’ Preps For The Long Game…

Amongst the usual new-year writers’ hubbub of script scrubbing, goal setting and project whiteboarding, we haven’t lost sight of the fact that our latest budgeted short “Making A Killing” (starring Adrian Scarborough and Tiff Stevenson) is currently doing some sterling work raising our profile with key distributors.

Yes, we’re pleased as supercharged punch with the final product. Yes, we want to see it owning screenings like a boss. But as Confucius might have said: patience is a dish best served in a locked Tupperware bowl.

We’re happy enough to wait for the key. Besides, we’ve got a couple of Mars Bars on standby if things get really rough…

A short trailer can be viewed on director James Debenham’s Vimeo page.

Latest Short Film ‘Between’ Puts An Unsettling Spin On The Family Picnic…

Perhaps it’s an echo of the horrid little boy in us that we see and appreciate beautiful things… then do our level best to scuff them up.

Thus it was a healthy and happy woodland perambulation with the family was used as the basis for our M. R. James-esque spooky short ‘Between’ which we shot in the summer with a mindful eye on the shortening days to come.

The shoot itself deserves special mention for a truly collaborative, problem-solving team effort that saw us overcome equipment issues, site access, body doubling, dog playfulness and an August morning that threatened throughout to bat for the other side. We writers became carriers, crew and provisioners of grub and essential tech. Family members endured leaves, mud and mosquitos for scene takes and resets. The director, DOP and cast pulled together splendidly to circumvent all the inherent problems of working with kids, animals and unpredictable elements.

The finished article is a real testament to everyone’s ability to convert difficulties into quality end product – I think we’re as proud of the process as we are of the film it produced. Many thanks to Louise Galizia [@cuepictures], Caroline Bridges [@dancingdop], Georgina Blackledge [@GBlackledge], Lewis Cartwright [@LewisCartwright], Tristellar Music [@TristellarMusic], Alexey Moskvin [@_alexey_moskvin], Andy’s daughters Lily and Molly McCormick and their remarkably well-behaved pet pooch Cooper.

Watch ‘Between’ here and let us know what you think.