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.

Collaboration Is NOT A Dirty Word…

Recently, Shooting People asked community members to comment on their experiences with the site’s Script Pitch service – a conduit through which screenwriters can connect with filmmakers to start building something beautiful… so long as they keep the dialogue going. Despite those times a promising something fizzled out to nothing, we haven’t done too badly from the conversations that carried on.

So we replied:

False starts are emblematic of any collaborative venture, so we tend to ignore them: connections that go nowhere, dialogues that end before they ever really begin – who hasn’t been there…? The real value of a network becomes clearer once those who feed in decide to trust their instincts and take a chance on a project they might not have initially considered.

We had some false starts. Some dead-end dialogues. Then we connected with a script seeker on SP who’d never directed or particularly considered comedy. The script she was curious about was a comedy, but it had an indirect appeal. We met for a beer at the BFI. We talked. We committed. Rewrites were made to develop a shared vision and accommodate production values. People were drafted in from the real-life production world to work on ‘something fun’, and within the year, we had ‘Snug As A Bug’ filmed, screened and earning laurels on the festival circuit.

Immediately after, we began working with Snug’s producer on ‘Making A Killing’ where all the necessary production ducks fell into their rows in less than five months. This screened for the first time in late September.

More dialogues. More connections. Four more shorts were made in the calendar year with the director of ‘Snug’. A feature’s being pushed. Some very interesting people are getting to know what we’re about… and it’s no word of a lie to say that it all fans out from that one connection on Script Pitch for a project that wasn’t necessarily ‘the one’ for a director we’ve now made five films with.

If I’d say anything to anyone coming into this diverse collaborative network, it’s open your mind a lot further than you’ve opened it up until now. All of our successes, major and minor, feature collaborators who’ve made major comfort zone or preference concessions to see these projects through… quite a lot of which has rubbed off on us.

And so on we go, ready for more new projects, more new conversations.

Who wants to talk…?

 

Short Film ‘Bloody Tourists’ Screened By London Short Film.

On 3rd September, we pottered up to Café 1001 on Brick Lane, E1, to front our short film ‘Bloody Tourists’ at a screening hosted by London Short Film (LSF).

Resisting the twin temptations of attractively discounted bhuna and beer along the way, we walked into a smart and very well attended event showcasing the diverse work of eight filmmakers over two halves. We were also surprised and delighted to run into one of the stars of ‘Bloody Tourists’, actor and stuntman-in-the-making Harry Palmer who so willingly put himself forward to be chased down by an angry pack of dogs in an unflattering boiler suit.

These events are very useful things to pitch for and attend if you’re able to briefly suspend that competitive instinct to ‘rank’ your efforts against the work of others – there’ll always be something to praise right alongside something to pick apart. Indeed, it’s listening to the filmmakers after the fact that often sparks the most interest: visually gorgeous shorts that nevertheless disappointed the directors who shot them overall; interesting and engaging ‘story’ pieces that just clipped the last few narrative hurdles near the finishing line. Even if you can’t help your preconceived ideas of what makes a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ short film, it’s always surprising how much more you learn from a Q&A, no matter how brief.

Being writers, we tend to look at – and therefore judge – everything from a narrative perspective. So what if you start with some incredible drone acrobatics, showing two circus clowns aggressively playing ping-pong at the edge of The Grand Canyon…? Do nothing to explore that engaging thread and you’ve produced nothing more than an advert for your piloting skills, right…?

One of the films on the evening’s bill seemed to fall into that kind of ‘image-heavy, narrative-light’ list of flicks for writers panning for storytelling gold to slosh dismissively back into the water. We watched – curious, then impatient, then confused – and then we sloshed it dismissively back into the water. After the completion of the first half, the filmmakers were invited to take the stage. We listened – curious, then a little more enlightened, then a little more forgiving – and we realised that their presentation was more a ‘near miss’ than it was an outright failure.

And wasn’t that, after all, the point of making and showing these shorts…? That these were the great ideas we had in our mind’s eye to begin with, and with all the budget, time and expertise constraints we faced along the way, this is how close we got to realising them…? That at least is worth showing some credit for.

We’re very grateful to LSF for picking our film for their event and hope to grace another Q&A sometime soon. If you’re wondering if we managed to suspend our competitive instinct on the night, let’s just say we came away fairly confident of a podium finish…

Short Film ‘Between’ Raises Level Of Threat To Defcon “Gasp!”…

Funny how a sunny family stroll through the glorious Kent countryside could lead to a spooky-assed short exploring the recurrent nightmare of a horrifying discovery…

But then that’s what we’re all about here at Rich Teasers: digging out the funnies from the darkest holes or plonking gut-wrenching revelations in the eyeline of a sumptuous rural view. Thus it was for that amiable family amble through the Garden of England way back when and a spot of mental bookmarking at an elevated treeline that wouldn’t have felt as welcoming on a solo slog at sundown. You don’t always need a starless night, a rundown house on a hill and an axe-wielding loon in a hockey mask to put the hairs on the back of ones neck on high alert.

Fast forward several months and we found ourselves back at that ambivalent backdrop with director Louise C. Galizia, DOP Caroline Bridges and actors Lewis Cartwright and Georgina Blackledge to shoot ‘Between’ – the spooky-assed short exploring all those things we said it explored two paragraphs back.

Despite a few early equipment travails and the ever-present threat of a mood-altering mizzle, the shoot was a great success, due in no small part to the hardy collaborative shift put in by all involved. Andy’s two daughters and the family dog also provided sufficient evidence to the contrary that you should never work with animals or children. One daughter even put in a solid shift as a body double – the quietest she’s been in years…

Between shot

‘Between’ was written and filmed for the #oneshortfilmamonth project and will be released some time in October 2018.

It’s pretty spooky-assed.

Happy Critics & A Category Win In Toronto!

Word came in on the Toronto screening of ‘Snug As A Bug’ on July 5th… and the Word was GOOD!

Not only did the rakishly ruggish ‘Snug’ snaffle the gong for ‘Best Cinematography’, it also left an audience of FEEDBACK Female Film Festival critics wanting more. Do we accept the verdict that we wrote an “adult cartoon”…? Yes we do. Are we happy with the plaudits heaped on the writing, acting and directing…? Yep. Is the praise lavished on our comic beats and timing forcing a shy “aw, shucks” smile of gratitude on the outside whilst inwardly we’re charging around the walls of our inflating egos with our shirts pulled over our heads…? You betcha!

What really struck us was the number of critics calling for a feature or series… because that was precisely the motivation for creating ‘Snug’ in the first place. Its big sister, ‘Happy Birthday Mrs. Shine’, came long before the thought of a bookended showcase short, so to hear viewers wishing there was more to the story bodes well for our future feature offensive.

Check out the filmed audience reaction here:

Thanks again, FFFF, and thanks to you too, Toronto: we’d celebrate with a Ruben at Shopsy’s, but we’re just the wrong side of the Atlantic at present…

A Win, A Shiny New Thing & A Mini-Revelation.

At the beginning of the month, we were notified that ‘Snug As A Bug’ had placed in the One-Reeler Short Film Competition – a smashing new piece of industry endorsement that came at the same time the film was screening in Toronto as part of the FEEDBACK Female Film Festival

…at the same time we were being reminded by our calendar-crunching social media accounts that it’d been a year since an I-dotted, T-crossed ‘Snug’ birthed in a central London editing suite… at the same time we realised two years had passed since a script with a different name had risen to the top of a keen director’s slush pile and gotten the whole snuggy, ruggy snowball rolling.

So cheers, One-Reeler! You’ve been added to a growing list of favourite Rich Teaser festivals and competitions: a tacking, broad-sailed “yes-please” on a rolling, wrecking sea of “no-thankyous”. Or something less overtly nautical.

“If you’d told me two years ago I’d be the first man from Greater Manchester in space when I was still clearing up half-eaten plates of sausage and mash in Mecca Bingo in Bolton… I’d have laughed in your stupid face.”

In 2016, we had lots of content, no films, no writing credits (no terribly recent ones, anyway…) and no fast-track plans for demolishing all the insurmountable-looking industry walls separating us from Square 1. Then someone liked something we wrote. Then someone else did. Then the BBC invited us over to Broadcasting House to wax lyrical about our work and tell us we could “absolutely” write for this industry. Then a film got financed and made. Then three more. Then we won some laurels. Then some more. Then something else we wrote attracted the interest of some people we could never have imagined getting close to when we first started. Then that got made too. Then we acquired interest in a feature. Then we began writing a television series.

Then we realised we’d gone a lot further than we’d ever thought we’d get two-point-something years ago.

As planless as we might’ve been way, way back in 2016 (when we toiled in sepia with top hats and smoking jackets…), the greatest favour we did ourselves was to write and write and write. If anyone was to ever give us the time of day, we weren’t going to be short of winning alternatives – after all, the Beeb got us in for a gangster flick then asked where we stood on children’s comedy. Having additional content kept working relationships going past the ends of individual projects and started fresh dialogues with new and interesting filmmaking folk. It kept us invested in our own game, revising, refining, even repurposing material as new enquiries were made and opportunities developed.

We didn’t exactly sit the wrong side of the Square 1 wall praying for a Christ-in-cornflakes style revelation of arcane industry secrets, but we did sit on a pile of finished works wondering how we’d ever get them looked at. Turns out once we got that one important break, we’d already laid the foundations to demonstrate quality, versatility, timeliness and a willingness to adapt: yes, we did have ‘other stuff’ that was just as good; yes, we could have it ready for the end of the day, week, month or Skype call; and yes, we can adjust it to fit all of X, most of Y and enough of Z to tie it all together.

Oh, and that shiny new thing…?

We’ve recently seen the assembly cut of our newest flick ‘Making A Killing’. It stars a critically-acclaimed ‘Bombshell’ actress and comedian and an Olivier Award-winning actor and accomplished nailer of tricky bathroom takes.

But I think that’s all we’ll say for now…

More too on our One-Reeler placing once we know it.