The basic idea occurred to me over a year ago, and it has taken me this long to figure out what (or to wait for the inspiration) to do something with it.
I don’t really want to make the premise public, as I truly think that it could go viral – there is definitely a space for it in the market (and I hate myself for using that phrase), and it relates to a lot of people. So instead, I’ll keep this relatively brief for now.
I’d asked for extras to make up an audience, looking for ten or twelve but advertising for twenty due to the inevitability of no-shows, and managed to get half of that. So there’s a lesson in there for anyone else – always get more people to say they’ll help than you actually need. I was fortunate that my appeals on Twitter and Facebook brought forth a couple of friends of friends, two of whom brought people with them, and without them I’d have fallen short of my target.
We were filming in The Halt on a Tuesday afternoon, although I’d originally tried to cajole Matthew into making it in his own office/studio space as it could have been done with just me and a camera – the key to making shorts on no budget is to have a simple script, no massive effects, as few actors and props as possible, one or two locations only, using places, people, and props that you can easily and cheaply obtain. He wanted to do it “properly” though, with a live audience and using his camera jib, and so it was agreed that we’d find a location and get some folk involved. Johnny at The Halt, and the manager whose name I don’t know but who was on shift the day we filmed, couldn’t have been more laidback about it – happy for us to come in and leaving us to our own devices. Massive thanks to them for that.
It was a strange experience for me, having worked on several shorts, realising the responsibility ended with me – to keep people interested, entertained, and with a sense of good feeling. Copious retakes would make them restless, and as I only barely knew the script I was a wee bit worried. As people came in I made sure to thank them all for coming, and giving up their time, and as we got closer to shooting – with lighting positioned and the camera set up, I stood on the stage to try and inform them of my intentions with the piece. Really grateful that so many came down, took part, and didn’t complain once. Oh, there’s rule two of short film-making – keeping your volunteers on-side can be achieved more easily if you express your thanks, involve them, apologise for delays, and ply them with sweets. 😀
What I realised, as we began filming, is that it is really easy to write “audience laugh” into a script twenty times. Actually generating false laughter, on cue, looking happy, for several takes each of those twenty times – jesus, it never occurred to me the effort and energy required to keep that up. Then Matt would ask them to laugh at the start of my take too, and really, I remain mightily impressed by the enthusiasm and effort shown by everyone who came along. Simon Sinclair deserves a special mention for his contribution, but for the avoidance of spoilers I shan’t say any more than that for now. Suffice to say, he took one for the team, and made me laugh a lot. His song will be over the opening sequence, and I’m really glad he decided to help out and take part.
Matt reckoned it would take five hours to make the four-page script, and we pretty much hit that – the audience of extras being shot first so that they could leave sooner rather than later. It was an experience for me, having to learn and repeat lines take after take after take, and I was unexpectedly exhausted by the end of it. By the time we did the final dialogue recording I was having to be prompted constantly as I tripped over my lines – another reason to do the audience stuff first and not make them suffer watching that. We ended with a suggested opening shot that wasn’t in the script, and the first take was suitably silly that I think it’ll work really well – I woke up the next day feeling really positive about the opening sequence and how it will all come together. Provided the footage all ties together in the edit, the rest of it might be okay too… Every now and then I think back to a specific action or reaction and it makes me laugh aloud, so I hope everyone else likes it that much when it’s done.
Matt and his crew had some nice wee touches that they suggested, for my performance and the improvement of a couple of lines, and I trust them to have shot good stuff that will look excellent. That’s their thing, and so I’ve tried to stay out of it as much as possible – everything I want I wrote into the script, and the only suggestions I’ve made to them relate to additional footage we shot and how I’d like it used/integrated. We only missed one thing, as far as I know, which was a joke I really wanted to do, but they didn’t incorporate it from the start and so it would have meant reshoots of too much to make it work. We did get a shot or two that might work, hopefully, and in truth if we only lose that one joke but add in a couple of new ones, I’ll still be very happy with it.
It’ll be a fortnight before he even looks at it, as he has work to keep him busy until then, and that’s when he’ll assemble a rough cut for me to go and see. We’ll discuss any changes that might need made, as well as thinking about the additional dialogue and sound effects we’ll have to record. We got all of the scripted dialogue and reaction shots though, so I have faith. I’m now just champing at the bit to get it done and out there – I really think it will interest (and amuse) a good number of people. It’s certainly different.
Meantime, it just remains for me to thank everyone who helped out: Joe Hullait, Keiron Nicholson, Lauren McDerment, Lynne McKinstray, John “Malky” Mitchell, Simon Sinclair, Jennifer Snodgrass, Erik Sund, Phil Topping, Ed Whitley, and all of the Production Attic crew. As soon as the film is ready, you’ll be the first to know. Personally, I can’t wait to see it.