Here’s part two of the director’s notes on E V E N T
With this short experiment I wanted to play around with the convention that “the audience expects to, and must, understand”. The late great Alfred Hitchcock said “never confuse you audience as you will lose them” (not his exact words), which I agree with, but part of ‘Event’s’ philosophy is about looking for meaning in things that cannot be understood or explained and therefore having to draw your own conclusion. It was important to me that there would be no final answer to the film and times where the audience would hear but not ‘hear’, and see but not ‘see’.
With such an unconventional film there is always a danger that the audience will come away empty handed or thinking “the quality is crap”, “I couldn’t hear some of it”, “I don’t know what it was about”, but I felt that it was important to undo convention and to try and strive for innovation.
The choices made during editing were always governed by what adheres to the film’s philosophies and themes, rather than what the audience is feeling or expecting.
Changes from the concept to final film:
The script was originally much longer than the current 5 minute running time. Though I had (naively) intended the 5 page script to be about 7-8 mins, in reality it would have been closer to 10-15 mins.
I originally wanted 8 subjects to represent a broad cross section of our population; young, old, male, female, different nationalities etc. But due to the original shoot being sabotaged (see shooting journal) we had to run with the 5 actors who were able to make the new shooting date.
I also wanted to include news footage from disasters, riots and wars that had occurred in recent years to add authenticity to what I surmised would follow the ‘event’. After reviewing the rushes and realising that the film needed to be shorter we abandoned the news footage to reduce the running time and avoid any issues with rights to news/stock footage.
There was also a lot of critical allegory within the script about how we use the news, and how the news reacts during times of tragedy and disaster, but this was cut to reduce the running time and ensure the film did not outstay its welcome.
Further details/rules (mentioned early) about the ‘being’, and people’s interaction with it, and the themes associated, were also lost to the editing room floor.
From the very start this film was an experiment that I expected to fail, with my concerns being:
Whether the style I was intending to create would be possible or credible under the conditions of the production.
Whether the message I wanted to convey would ring true or go over the audience’s heads.
Whether it would be too abstract, and therefore not enjoyable, for anyone kind enough to give it their time.
Even with the hard luck experienced during the shoot, and the subsequent compromises that followed, I’m very pleased with this little short. I can’t say we achieved everything we set out to achieve, but considering it was one of our ‘£50, 1 week of pre-production specials’ (See Spot and Remain) I am happy with the result.
The lessons learnt have been small, but always important. After making a few missteps as a director during The Long Hard Goodbye, with EVENT I felt I exercised restraint whenever anxiety crept in about the film not making an impact with the audience or functioning.
As much as we relish the challenge of these ‘£50’ Short-shorts, we’re keen to get our teeth into another, much larger, project. We plan to film the pilot for a sitcom set in a art gallery called IMITATING LIFE in May of 2012. Whether we can depends solely on being able to raise the £5,000 budget needed, and we’ll reveal more details about this over the next few months.
Our best films are always in front of us, and we just try not to make the same mistakes twice, or make the same film twice.
Thanks for reading.
Production Details: Budget: £50 Pre-production: 1 week Shoot: 1 day Post: 3 weekends of ‘um’ing and ‘ah’ing Equipment: 3 x £230 Camcorders, 1 x Dictaphone Crew: 4 Cast: 5 Location: 1 Props: 4 x grey t-shirts (various sizes)
We recently completed and posted our newest short film EVENT. Here the director, David James Coe, explains the background and inspiration for the film.
Concept and Inspirations:
It’s very difficult to make a short horror film that is credible, especially with the limitations faced when making a ‘lo-to-no Budget’ production, the biggest concern being whether the audio and visual design will be both possible and credible given what little resources are available to us. So rather than attempting to do a ‘full blown’ horror short I wanted to try to create a film that had an unease about it, a tension that would cause the audience to cling to the dialogue of an ordinary person for comfort and answers.
The inspiration for this film came partly from the tsunami and subsequent nuclear disaster that tragically devastated Japan this year, and partly from wanting to make a film with religious or spiritual themes. I wanted to mirror the type of relationship people have with broadcast news when a disaster like the 2011 Tsunami occurs. One of the problems with ‘rolling’ news is that during a disaster there is a pressure on the broadcaster to give answers and information that are not yet proven or fully understood.
There is also a tendency to dramatise certain scenarios in order to maintain the spike in viewing figures they experience during such disasters. A good example of this would be Sky’s coverage of the tsunami disaster, which Charlie Brooker compared to a trailer for a Hollywood disaster movie. This false presentation of information, and ‘opinions as facts’, also mirrors the way certain theists champion their beliefs with the sole intention of influencing another person’s religious or spiritual views.
With these themes in mind I asked myself the question “what would happen to the world if something truly colossal and inexplicable happened to all of us at the same time”? Developing the idea further the question became what would happen if ‘God’ revealed itself to us one day?
In my mind ‘God’ would be gigantic, on the scale of our solar system, as opposed to anything thing on earth, meaning that all life would be able to see/experience ‘God’ simultaneously and equally. It made sense to me that ‘God’ wouldn’t communicate with us in any way, certainly not in a language of any form. I then began adding in what I expected people’s reaction to this ‘event’ would be; fear, happiness, comfort, panic, riots, violence, new cults, etc
One element of this concept that was really important to me was, within this reality, creating the rule that this ‘being’, appeared different to everyone, and felt as if it was changing constantly. This was to reflect the different religions of the world and how they are constantly changing and developing. I also felt it important that this ‘Event’ could not be proven by science to be ‘God’ or otherwise, just as science cannot prove or disprove the existence of ‘God’ today.
So within this reality I added the rule that this ‘being’/‘event’ could not be photographed or filmed, making it impossible to accurately document or study. Also, as the ‘Event’ is experienced by the whole world at the same time, it couldn’t be fobbed off as a hoax by ‘non-believers’.
These rules were introduced so that within this reality this ‘being’ absolutely existed but could not be defined or agreed upon by any two people. These themes and how they are represented as content within the film are allegory for how I feel about spirituality. Questions of ‘God’, life, death, existence, cannot be answered – but I feel it is important to have spirituality in your life as this is what connects us with this world, our planet and each other. There simply is no need to put into words what is just a feeling.
I decided to frame this story within the same timeline as the ‘pending 2012 apocalypse’, not because I believe it to be true, but for those who do it would encourage feelings of dread and anxiety within the audience. I also felt that it marries well with the film’s philosophy as the term apocalypse is commonly misinterpreted as ‘end of the world’ when really it means ‘spiritual revelation’.
Story, Content & Aesthetic:
The film itself is designed to be a transmission. Chronologically the events pass as so:
The event occurs: 2012 a ‘spiritual revelation’ The ‘being’ appears, filling the sky.
As a result of this ‘Event’ and the conflict that follows, society, law and order, civilisation begins to collapse.
A new future Orwellian government begins interviewing people about the ‘Event’ in search of answers and control (these are the interviews you see in the film).
Through escalation, in time, man destroys the planet and itself.
Before the end of the world a transmission (the film) is broadcast into space, but due to the nature of its launch it becomes fragmented, incomplete and broken (hence the films style).
It is sent out into space as an explanation of what happened to our civilisation and as a warning to other worlds.
I appreciate the above content isn’t present or clearly explained within the short meaning the above story line is not communicated to the audience.
The films aesthetic, how it flashes, violently jumps around, breaks up, was designed to be alien technology interpreting our last transmission. My intention was that the audience experiences what the alien civilisation would experience. The ‘writing’ that constantly flickers and appears throughout the film is corrupted data that is now unreadable.
After Saturday’s debacle we could be forgiven for waking up on Sunday with some trepidation and anxiety about how our hasty rescheduling would come off. But truth be told we were all still fairly calm, perhaps a certain fatalism about the project had come over us. We had done all we could to get it made and prepared all the reasonable contingencies, the rest was up to the gods and beyond our control. If it came off it came off, it it didn’t, it didn’t. C’est la vie.
Once again we were up at 6:30 in the AM, this time accompanied by our assistant saviour Bex Campbell, who had graciously agreed to step in and help us out at super short notice. We would have seriously struggled without her.
Again we were out of the house by 7:30, but this time the Victoria line was running as well as ever, getting us to Brixton around 8:15. With no one to meet there this morning we all headed to the location, wondering what surprises the day had in store.
Upon reaching the location (again) some of the nerves showed up (again), as we wondered what state the location would be in (again). We were pleasantly surprised to find it clean and clear and ready to use. We were set up by 9am, did some quick tests, sacrificed a couple of goats to the film-gods, and then waited for our first actor to turn up at 9:30.
Our morning shoot was fairly tight, with three actors coming in, each staying for an hour and a half. That’s a reasonable amount of time to get a few takes that were 8-14 minutes long each, depending on the style of delivery which we wanted to be varied, and enough coverage to help the edit. But considering we hadn’t wielded a camera in anger for some months, there was a question of how slickly we would work as a unit. If there was poor communication between the crew, then those hour and a half slots would quickly dwindle and start to feel a lot tighter, then the pressure would be on.
Thankfully there were no early shooting hiccups to talk of, and with Coe directing, Carson on roaming camera, Price on static camera, and Bex taking care of camera logs and clapper duties, our session with the first actor, Mark, went well. We were able to get three full takes in, and Coe even had enough time to work with Mark and focus on a couple of key sections so we had extra coverage.
After Mark was Miwa, a Japanese-born actress who kindly translated some of the script and did a take in Japanese. Following Miwa was Robin Kirwan, who we had actually met about three years ago (woah, time flies) when we were working on The Long Hard Goodbye, although this was our first opportunity to really work with him.
We finished the morning session at about 2 o’clock, and with an hour until our next actor arrived we took the opportunity to get out and get some fresh air and lunch. We were in a fairly ebullient mood. The morning had gone about as smoothly as we could have hoped; everyone was on time, the crew were working well together, and most importantly, we had good performances from our first three actors in the can.
The afternoon session kicked off with Jonathan, who continued the run of actors being on-time, prepared and producing good performances. After he left us around 4 we had a three and a half hour wait until our last actor, Luis, was due. This allowed us to relax for a while, although we also used it as an opportunity to work on some sound stuff, including ensuring we had enough coverage of Coe’s dialogue as ‘The Interviewer’, as well as experimenting with some sound effects using an old tape dictaphone and one of the camera mics.
We didn’t let ourselves slack off and lose focus though, and when Luis arrived at 7:30 we were set up and ready to go. It had been a long day and we didn’t need any unnecessary delays to make it longer. Our experience with the actors over the day meant that our final session with Luis was the best in terms of Coe knowing exactly what he wanted and how best to get it out of Luis as quickly as possible, meaning that no one would get too tired from repeated takes.
With our last actor’s performance completed we packed up and tidied the venue, then left the place which had been the source of so much frustration and difficulty yesterday but had been the scene of a smooth-as-you-like production today. That’s filmmaking for you; somedays you get the breaks and it all goes for you, somedays you don’t. You’ve just got to do your best and keep on keeping on.
We got back to King’s Cross about 9:30, fourteen hours after we had left. It was a long day for sure, but we were all happy with the day’s work and quietly confident that we had got what we were aiming for. Too tired to do any big celebrating we had a couple of beers each, watched some of ‘Danny Dyer’s Deadliest Men’ (highbrow stuff), then hit the hay, tired but satisfied, the best feeling to have following a shoot.
We’re currently putting the film through post-production, so we’ll give you an update on that soon, and maybe do a bit on ‘lessons learned’. Serious stuff. We should also have some stills from the shoot to post in the next week or so. So much content!
Our shooting day dawned and we were up and about at 6:30, an un-Godly hour for a Saturday. Nevertheless we were presentable(ish), loaded up with our filmmaking gear and out of the door in King’s Cross at 7:30 on the dot. We stopped at McDonalds on the way to the tube to shovel into our mouths what would be the first of many nutritionally dubious snacks that we would consume over the next couple of days. Standing outside looking at the pristine baby-blue sky, the sun gleaming on the grand clock-face of the St. Pancras hotel, it felt like everything had come into line beautifully for this shoot.
However, we were soon reminded that there are many variables involved in a film shoot and some are simply beyond your control. We reached the platform for the Victoria line, which would take us direct to Brixton where we were shooting, only to find it rammed. Now we’re used to the barely civil scrum that is London public transport, but people standing five deep on a platform at 7:30am on a Saturday was a new one to me. It turned out there was a problem with a train a couple of stops down, so we hot-footed on to the Piccadilly line instead, circumventing the obstacle, then changing at Green Park allowing us to miraculously still reach Brixton for our targeted time of 8:15. It seemed that even the capricious whims of the tube could not stop us today.
Upon reaching Brixton, Coe and Price headed off to the location, a ten minute walk down Coldharbour Lane, with the key equipment to set up, while Carson waited to meet our runners outside the station. As we reached the location the first nerves reared their meek heads. We were relying on the location owner having everything in place ready for us, and we were about to find out how reliable they were. First up, the front gate. The key was where it should be and we were in fine. Next, the shutter; again the key left for us worked and we were inside our shooting location.
The venue itself was situated in a converted railway arch, primarily used as a rehearsal space but also used occasionally for theatre productions. It was, shall we say, bijou, with a small basic lighting rig and not room for more than a score of people to watch a performance. We switched on the power; it was good. We tested the lights; they were good with all the bulbs working. Everything was as we had hoped and we were good to go.
By the time Carson turned up with the runners, Jess and Rich, at 8:45, again bang on time, Coe and Price had set up most of the equipment for the shoot. This meant there wasn’t much work left for people to do prior to the first actor arriving at 9:30. So feeling calm and confident about the day ahead we chatted with Jess and Rich about what we had planned for the day, what they were doing, as well as just generally shooting the breeze.
Then the call came.
It was about 9 o’clock when Carson’s phone rang. He stepped outside to take the call while we all chatted away inside. A few minutes later he came back in with a stern look on his face. My first thought was “One of the actors has pulled out”. An annoyance for sure, but it’s always a possibility, and with the film we were making, not a disaster. But no, it was much worse. The location was double booked.
The owner had called him to say that a theatre group who were rehearsing there were finishing tonight, not last night as the owner had told us. And once again that all-conquering master, money, ruled the day and as they were paying considerably more for the place, we were the ones who would have to make way.
That was it. Before the first actor had arrived, before we’d recorded a second of film, our shoot was over. With one short phone call our perfect shooting day had been transformed into an exercise in damage limitation.
After apologising profusely to the runners, who were very understanding about the whole thing, we rang round the rest of the cast explaining to them the situation and promising to let them know what would happen with the production in the next few hours. We packed up our kit and started on our way to the station so we could get back to King’s Cross and decide what to do next.
We had three options;
1) Rearrange the shoot for Sunday when we would have the location to ourselves from first thing until as late as we wanted, and for free as recompense for Saturday’s balls up. But this depended on how many actors would be available for tomorrow.
2) Rearrange the shoot for the end of September, which was the next time when the three of us were free. This would be less hectic than shooting the next day, but also carried the risk of people losing interest, having other commitments, and dropping out of the project.
3) Cancel the whole thing.
Eventually, after discussing dates with all the actors, we managed to get five on board to shoot on the Sunday, the minimum we were prepared to go with, so decided to shoot the following day.
It may seem like a simple solution; shift it one day, getting it for free for as long as we want, what’s the problem? Well aside from losing two actors, there are costs like catering which wouldn’t last an extra day and wasted transport costs, not to mention Jess and Rich, who unfortunately weren’t available for the Sunday so their time was wasted, and also the actors who weren’t able to rearrange and had spent time preparing had their time and effort wasted too.
It was a huge inconvenience, but that’s filmmaking. There are many links required to make a film, and if one of them is weak and breaks, it can jeopardise the whole project. This time we were fortunate enough to be able to continue, but it was a stark reminder of how fragile film making can be.
By 2pm we had everything in place to film the next day and there was nothing left to do but wait. But we felt compelled to do something noteworthy with this unanticipated spare time, so we tried to do what Brian Clough never could and win the FA Cup with Nottingham Forest (on Fifa ‘11)!
We went out in the first round. Kind of summed up the day really.
We filmed our latest project, ‘Event’, on the 28th August. This is an account of the shoot, but first, some background…
Recently we’ve been focused on some writing projects rather than actually filming anything. After the best part of a year away from the camera we were looking for a low-budget, short pre-production, 5-10 minute project to do, something that could be turned around quickly and would help shake the dust off our mouldy old filmmaking bones. Coe had a script perfect for such a project, and so a few weeks ago we started pre-production with an aim to film it before the end of August.
The toughest elements of pre were finding the right location and the right actors. They’re both kind of important, ya’know. The location was simple on the surface; a decent sized, blank-walled room with a table and two chairs, and enough room to have one static and one roaming camera. Unfortunately even the simplest requirements become hard to meet when you’ve got naff all in the way of budget. But, after much searching our dogged producer, Carson, found a rehearsal space in Brixton which more or less matched our requirements and for only £55 a day. A bargain, but more on that place later…
The actors were the other key to this project. It’s something of an experimental piece; there’s one script but we wanted multiple actors giving different interpretations of the same material, which would then be cut up and edited together hopefully offering different perspectives of one ‘Event’. We needed a diverse cast of at least 5 actors, but with the time constraints in place we didn’t have time to do full blown auditions, and instead had to suffice with casting on the basis of the show reels for the actors that replied to our ads on Starnow and Talent Circle. We had a good response to these casting calls, and after some deliberation settled on our 7 for the shoot.
With just over a week before our shooting date of the 27th August we had our location, cast, equipment, and with a couple runners recruited, our crew in place. Over the next few days we sourced the last of the props and the night before the shoot we met at our base in King’s Cross to double check everything and discuss the shoot; schedules, roles, whether having pickle in every sandwich would be a problem, etc… We felt prepared and ready to go, and with less than twelve hours until we started shooting at 9:30 the next morning we felt something we rarely felt prior to a shoot; calm.
But as we’ve learnt with filming, if something can go wrong it invariably will, and our calmness would give way to panic the next day when our shoot would be hit by a show-stopping disaster.