One week down and seven to go.
It was actually (touch wood) a great week. We've gotten a little ahead
of schedule and have kept within the working hours for our young actor
JP McLeod. JP is a revelation - he is a great actor and a real find. We
looked at printed material on the big screen on Friday night - he looks
wonderful; you just want to look at him.
The high point of the week for me is that I've finally gotten my own
director's chair, to have and to hold, with my own name. There for me
to sit on whenever I get a chance. Last two films, I would be wilting
by the end of the shoot and never be able to find a place to sit and
Jonathan Pryce is great to work with and we get along extremely well. I
have invited him into the directing process and in return he brings
this great gift of performance which also inspires the others around
him. He is also coaching JP on technique. We've done a few pretty heavy
emotional scenes - always a real test - and they went brilliantly.
Geraldine James is really giving herself to the role.
Incidentally, we viewed the material at an art house cinema/centre and
I picked up a programme of upcoming events; they're showing 'Boy from
Mercury' there as a Saturday matinee in a few weeks time. I'll sneak in
and see how it's received.
The week began with news that we are not going to the Isle of Man to
shoot and therefore I now will spend weekends scouting locations in
Wales for all the places we had chosen there. The English producers
never had the Isle of Man deal in place and are really at rock bottom
in anyone's credibility.
I'm enjoying myself more directing this time around; thinking more on
my feet, testing people more, being a bit more bolshy on set to get
what I want. I have obviously already put the fear of God in the
producers who rarely show up on set and don't breathe a word to me
about what I'm doing - no more
looking over my shoulder.
Basically I'm working fourteen hours a day five days a week then ten or
so on Saturdays. It's tiring but great. I'm eating like a horse - big
breakfast, huge lunch, then pasta/readymade food or out for a quick
meal at the end of the day.
The only bad thing is that I've started smoking a few small cigars
I'm living in an apartment which would be great if not for the fact
that it has horrific interior design; frills and china dolls and floral
Let's hope I can have such a bright report at the end of each week.
... or why this is the last time I work as a director for hire.
This week, on screen, we achieved some of the most magical moments of
the film. On Monday, in one 360 degree camera move, we go from bleak
present to an idyllic Christmas past. On Tuesday, we go in one
steadicam move from the boy at the window, to him rushing out the door
in different costume/different time, to him at the piano in another
room. We got out of the farm slightly ahead of schedule and went to our
most gruelling location and biggest build; walking a 400 yard tunnel
(mostly about five feet high) to a huge cavern beside a lake where the
art department had created a magical cave of stalagmites etc. We were
there for two days to shoot five scenes with about twenty shots
planned. We called lunch on the first day at 1.15 with one shot in the
At the end of Thursday, muddy, weary, and two scenes behind, we
surfaced to the news that some cheques were bouncing and the producers
called a meeting at unit base to announce there was a money problem
which was being sorted out. But that we might be shutting down for two
So back in we go on Friday, one scene dropped and I'm cutting back my
'vision' of the other scenes to what was barely achievable. We surface
at lunchtime to the news that all cheques had bounced. But the
producers saying that the distributor was trying to expedite paper work
so a halt in shooting wouldn't be neccesary. We went back in on Friday
afternoon (I could describe the mood - and what it's like to be a
director in these circumstances trying to get crew and cast moving and
energised, but let me just say it was impossible).
We surfaced with the bare minimum of material in the can to get the
scenes. And the union rep waiting to discuss the situation with the
I got back to the apartment and unplugged the phones. I drank modestly
- I don't mix drink with depression. I checked my mobile around ten in
the evening and had one message saying we are filming at least next
week, another telling me my pick-up time for Monday morning. Oh yes -
and on Thursday evening among my post was an airline ticket organised
by the English producers for me to travel to Dublin on June 4th. No one
can find out what bright spark initiated that.
Today (Saturday) I stayed in bed until noon. I'm waiting for the rain
to stop so I can go into town. I'm drained.
This film will be made. And then I take a year writing and focusing on
getting 'Mothership' made. I'll be a writer for hire from now on, but
not a director for hire. Paul Brady was right - 'someone else's dreams
will get you nowhere'.
This will be a great film and the cast and crew are great (though I had
a major, unexpected row at the end of the day on Friday with the
make-up woman who apparently resents my two attempts to date at asking
her to let us shoot). At the open meeting on Thursday evening I
launched a tirade of abuse against the producers and on Friday many of
the crew, one by one, came up to me and thanked me for speaking their
All a learning experience, I suppose. And boy am I getting any soft
edges knocked off my personality.
On to week three.....
The only way was up and that's the way we went.
Spirits were very low at the start of the week, but at least we set out
in more controlled conditions - the bedroom set of the central
character Tal, then an office scene, a classroom scene, and two days
covering (with two cameras) two scenes set in a school auditorium.
The 'visiting star' this week was Griff Rhys Jones ('Alas Smith and
Jones', 'Not the Nine o'clock news' etc) and he was great to work with;
extremely low maintenance. He told me this was a week off for him; his
company (co-owned with Mel Smith) is very busy and he also has two
writing gigs to complete so being here he spent much of his time
reading and resting. It was just what I needed; a technically excellent
actor doing his thing and leaving me in peace.
The days went well after the extremes of the first two weeks, and I
suppose the most harrowing task was dealing with 120 schoolchildren on
Thursday. Something kind of funny happened on Thursday. We would roll
cameras on the crowd of kids for reaction shots and they'd sit there
like "Children of the Damned". Then they had a cue to leave and they
stood up in absolute silence and filed out of the hall like zombies.
So. I set up the cameras to roll without their knowing. I stood in the
correct eyeline for their listening to the speaker. I chatted and joked
and they were relaxed - I talked to them about what was wrong with what
they'd done and they laughed. Then I said we'd take a break and they
could leave the hall for a while; I got all the reactions I needed and
the natural animated banter as they left the hall.
What we all needed was an uneventful and pleasant week. That's just
what we had. On schedule, on budget, fine performances, and a breather.
The delay in payment proved to be a way of saving for some, and we
wrapped early on Friday as people left with cheques and in some cases
cash talking about what they might buy over the weekend.
Next week we take on some more difficult tasks; my first crane shot, a
scene with 200 schoolkids, steadicam - and all weather dependent in
Wales which at the moment is experiencing a spate of thunder storms.
Oh yes; and I've been moved to a really great apartment with tall glass
doors that open out onto a man made lake/wharf about the size of
Central Park reservoir. I could sit and watch the water forever.
Last year in NY I met two guys about to make their first film and one
of them described the process of directing a film as 'one of the last
great adventures'. That's true, I think, and this week was one of those
easy slopes on the way to the peak. The 13 year old boy playing my
central character, JP McLeod, is absolutely wonderful and always
focused and casting him was the luckiest and best decision I made in
Bye for now,
This week I want to write in praise of Tony Imi. As director of
photography, and a man who has filmed everything from the lush ('The
Slipper and the Rose") to the Hollywood barf ('"Seawolf" with Roger
Moore and David Niven etc) to the down and dirty ("Shopping") he knows
it all. Tony is English, but in
his blood is the visual heritage of Italy all the way back to the
Romans. Indeed, Tony looks like a Caesar.
So by now, I have the confidence on my third film to break out of my
cutting room mentality and try to make a frame work on its own rather
than breaking shots down so that it's the editing that tells the story
or carries impact. The result? For instance, at the start of the week,
we were doing a two minute scene in which three boys chat and then the
girl comes along and says her lines and end of scene. In my storyboard
book it was nine shots. What is it now? One shot. On steadicam, we walk
with the boys (my idea, I admit) and then Julie comes along (Tony's
idea) and it all happens in a lively frame (Toni's idea worked out with
AD Jon Williams) with other kids rushing around in the background. It's
all beautiful but not showy. I listen to Tony more now and look at ways
of making the frame come alive. The routine is that we discuss my
storyboarded ideas and Tony shows me how that can all happen in a frame
which as a result becomes more dynamic and riveting. I look at the
rushes and see images richer than I could have imagined. Tony and
production designer Hayden Pearse are forever lifting the film higher
than I could. My job is to have the confidence to accept their gifts.
In other words, this week we were shooting a film. Not looking over our
shoulders at political or financial intrigues. Not battling with
impossible schedule demands. Just being creative.
The first three days of this week were exteriors around the schoolyard.
Then a day back at the farm doing steadicam and crane work. We were
blessed with the weather. On Friday we were back on a set. Today
(Saturday) we travelled around the locations for the upcoming weeks.
Tomorrow I look forward to being alone. After a certain length of time
being questioned by everyone and being in constant conversation, this
other side of me starts wailing for privacy. Which reminds me - we had
a 'midshoot party' last night (mainly a confidence booster after all
the uncertainty) and showed some of the edited footage. It all went
well though I bailed out early to come home and look at the water and
drink a beer.
This was another tough week - mostly physically tough. Two days in a
workshop/studio which was dark, airless and stuffy, then a day on a bus
in brilliant sunlight that had us all sweltering, then a day at the
mouth of a cave - lumping up and down in the heat and mud. Then back
into the blacked-out and even clammier workshop/set. A charming aside
is that one night I'd closed the bedroom window because of noise
outside and woke up gasping in the middle of the night from the stench
of my sweaty dirty washing.
Oh yes - and let's hear it for the director; The crew are brilliant and
on our day at the cave entrance a group had teamed to carry a very
heavy piece of equipment (the 'dolly' used for camera moves) down to
the bottom of the hollow. In admiration, I grabbed my camera and dashed
up to the top of the hill overlooking the entrance to photograph the
event. I was up there when Toni Imi called me to check out something.
So I raced around and grabbed the safety rope to hold as I rushed down
the steep incline to him. Meanwhile on the other path the guys are
calling out and I don't know what it's about until I realise when I
reach the base; I had added to the weight they were struggling with
because the rope I was using was their safety feed being released as
they lowered the dolly.
We did a lot of magical stuff this week, which was great. On Friday,
for instance, we did one shot where the boy's bed changes to a boat and
he sails out of his room into a dark harbour. Started work at 7.30 in
the morning. The take was in the can at half three in the afternoon.
But it's great.
Most of the week I was working just with young JP who gets better and
better and is a real trooper. On Friday, for instance, he lay patiently
in the bed on the set for hours amidst dry ice and crew and mayhem as
we tried and tried to get the shot right. There's a really strong bond
growing between he and I - and he's a marvellous young actor.
This morning (Saturday) I looked at all the edited material to date
with the editor and we are running WAY over-length. We have been
averaging twenty minutes of screen time a week - though at least this
week is mostly complex shots with less screen time. I have to go over
what's left to be shot of the script to try cutting back some more.
This afternoon 'The Boy from Mercury' was being shown at an art house
cinema here so I went along. I sure can draw an audience; there were
about ten people there. But there was a family - parents and two kids -
in front of me and they really enjoyed the film and that's always
Next week we do mostly outdoor. Will the weather remain sunny? Hmmm.
Another week another world. One of the many interesting challenges
about this film is that the boy engages in many different worlds; so we
did two weeks in the farm with Jonathan Pryce and heavy family drama,
then a week or so in the school world and the energy of the schoolkids.
Then some days in Tal's bedroom - the home of his imagination. This
week we shot the events in his Mam's world; a seaside town. All is
light and bright and airy. The camera moves a lot. Mam and her new
partner are close and happy. Tony Imi shot this material on a different
stock to highlight colours and I suggested that in fact the character
'Toni' is a sometime painter so Hayden did paintings that colour the
room. The material looks great.
But then there was the fascinating experience of 'Black Tuesday'. First
off, I went to bed feeling fine on Monday night but woke up about 4am
feeling awful. By the time I went to work I had terrible stomach pains
and felt dreadful. We blocked the scene in the hair salon run by the
Toni character. Boyd Clack plays Toni, and while Boyd wears rather
thick glasses we had given him contacts. While the hair salon was being
lit we got word that Boyd had dropped one of the contacts and to clean
it had used some high strength formula and then put it in his eye;
which bulged up red. It took an hour and a half to sort out the
problem, and Boyd, being a trooper, wound up playing the scene not able
to see a blessed thing around him. We barely managed to get out
of the location before it opened for business. Next we were set to do a
car scene. The plan was that it would be rigged while we rattled off a
wide shot for a beach scene we'd done the previous day. So. First we
find there's been a mistake and the car is in the showroom sixty miles
away. Then it finally arrives and the news is broken to me that the
beach shot (the extras are now gone) was shot with an incorrect filter
and might need to be reshot.
In the end we got all the material (and the beach shot was fine) but
the first assistant director, Jon Williams, noted "I'm glad we're not
doing any stunts today".
Finished the week on Friday back in the workshop/studio to complete the
fantasy sequence of Tal's bed going out to sea, then picking up some
shots we needed.
Next week, Ian Bannen.
Where to begin...
Monday we were doing no-brainer stuff; establishers and link shots
outside the home of the character Billy (Ian Bannen). But a carry-over
from Friday was the fact that people hadn't been paid for last week and
would only continue working until Wednesday lunchtime. On Tuesday, with
more emotional stuff to do on camera, the day began with the generator
breaking down and the union rep coming out because the word he had
received was that the crew was about to walk. Work recommenced, but a
few of the crew were chatting in the corner in one take while I was
directing JP in one of his more emotional scenes. Later, Tony and I had
an argument - but everyone was just dispirited. I also had an argument
(again) with the sound recordist who I'd love to fire - but how can you
fire someone who isn't being paid? By the end of the day something
happened to me; I lost heart. Next day we arrived at the fantastic set
designed by Hayden and I was chatting with him and Tony. Hayden
commented that I kept pouring energy into the film and the producers
kept pulling the plug. I told him the plug had won.
That day was strange because I was quite aloof from the crew. By
lunchtime the producers arrived signing cheques (as indeed they had
promised they would) but I was sitting back working with the actors and
keeping to myself. I've never done that before; and I discovered a
director can have nothing to do with the crew. I wonder how it would be
if I only dealt with the department heads? The crew are great, but
their allegiance is to each other (they'll be working with each other
again in weeks or months - they're unlikely to see me again).
Ian and JP are fine and the material looks great. We're running two
cameras so we can get all the material we need within JP's working day
and not have Ian work without JP. The film, I am certain, is a very
strong piece of work. But I can't wait to be done with the shoot.
This evening (Friday) as I was dropped off at my apartment Tony Imi
said "see you Monday refreshed and optimistic." I answered in truth
"Refreshed I can do."
Next week is the last week and I count the days hoping for no more
bricks hitting me in the back of the head. I take a break for two weeks
after that before launching into the edit and naively feel the edit
won't be this kind of roller-coaster. Who knows.
Tomorrow I go to London for the day to work with the editor and view
all material cut to date.
The last day. This morning I sat gazing out the car window; past
Pontyprydd where we had out first day filming (the train station) and
Bedlinog (where we filmed on the farm for almost two weeks) and out
over open moorland to a tiny village overlooking the valley town of
Fochriw. On Thursday we'd worked a long day to get a sunset shot. So
Friday we finished and wrapped at lunchtime. Monday and Tuesday we'd
finished with Ian Bannen. Wednesday was some really visually
interesting stuff at a Welsh church. I was marking time to some extent,
knowing that the heaviest drama was in the can and we were joining dots
in the story.
On Friday I gave people turns at directing shots; Hayden set up the
first one, Tony the next, JP the next.
But I end with the following absolutely true story;
Way back, we were casting this cameo role of a character who crops in
two scenes that bookend the film. I was shown various people and saw a
still of Robert Pugh. I knew him from various things in films and on
TV. The casting director tried for him and came back delighted to say
he'd do the film even though it was way smaller than what he would
usually do. He was busy at the time so I couldn't meet him. He was away
when we were doing the read-through and wasn't available for
rehearsals. He arrived in Cardiff too late the night before shooting
for me to meet him so I met him for the first time the morning of doing
his scenes. And.... he's not the guy I thought he was. He's an actor
I've never seen before in my life. I kept looking at him wondering if
maybe he was the actor I thought I was casting but had lost/gained
weight. But no. I confessed this to the Toni Imi (who nearly gagged
with laughter on his breakfast) and to the first AD (in case this
was a wind-up). So we have Robert Pugh. A fine Welsh actor well known
in Britain. But I didn't know I was casting him.
And now the film is in the can.