Summer of the Flying Saucer

This page is a reproduction from the updates on blogger.com

Back in the Saddle Again

Building a Better Flying Saucer

The Talented Mr Duffy

Calm Before the...

Shooting Week One

Shooting Week Two

Shooting Week Three

Shooting Week Four

Shooting Week Five

Shooting Week Six and Wrap

When the Shooting Stops...

WHEN THE SHOOTING STOPS....

Friday, December 1st, 2006

... the cutting begins.

I'm back in Berlin after my first week in the cutting room with Michal. I was an editor for 15 years but have never been tempted to cut my own films. I believe very much in the importance of the relationship between director and editor and all it brings to a film. For that reason, I am always keen to work with the most experienced editor I can find. Thanks to my wife Claudia, and her connection to Danish filmmaker Henning Carlsen and producer Helle Ulsteen, the editor Michal Leszczylowski was recommended to me. When I found his number and called him, I hadn't fully realised how gifted - and in demand - he was. Swedish producer Fredrik Zander thought it would be impossible to get Michal, but by a fortunate set of circumstances Michal was available - and he liked the script. He and I have chatted often about the set of coincidences that led us to work together; in German 'Schicksal' - fate.

I very much wanted Michal's full creative input, so after his move from Galway to Stockholm I waited at home in Berlin while he completed not just a 'rough cut' of the film but a cut he was happy to show to me as his take on the film.

I arrived in Stockholm (for the first time ever) on Monday 20th November and Fredrik Zander and I meet and went for lunch - I had just missed Michal who had gone for lunch. When Fredrik and I returned, Michal (and his dog Miro!) greeted me. Michal sat me down at the Avid and said he would prefer if I watched the film alone. I had already decided I would simply watch it through - not stop and start or make notes. When Michal returned an hour and a half later, he was waiting outside the cutting room when I emerged.

My feeling, having seen his cut, can be summed up in one word; relief. I know we have a film. I know we are already way up the quality scale on all the levels of production values, and I know that every step we take now is to make the film better until it finally reaches the screen. We're not saving the film (which can happen in the cutting room!) and we're not covering up any fault lines.

I had brought over music for the 'temp track', and Michal and I spent the week sitting together going through the film experimenting with music, alternate takes, alternate approaches to some scenes, and alternate ideas about structure. I love the cutting room - especially in these circumstances where the 'patient' is responding so well to treatment. I am delighted with the performances and with the look of the film. When the picture is locked, Fido Films will begin the challenge of realising the many special effects in the film. For me, the coming months will be a matter of living out of a suitcase as I go back and forth to Stockholm with a few other trips - such as an upcoming visit to the Belfast film event 'Cinemagic' - along the way. Already, plans are being made for test screenings to study audience reactions..

But I do it all in the knowledge that in the end of the work that lies for months ahead we will have a great film. I'll give updates at further 'benchmarks' along the way - probably every few weeks.

SHOOTING WEEK SIX AND WRAP!

 Wednesday, November 1st, 2006

I'm back home in Berlin and working off a laptop borrowed from a friend. On Saturday October 21st I was at the Magma office going through emails - and sending the Week Five blog to my son Bernard - with my laptop and then went back to the flat. I turned on the laptop again - and it was dead. It turns out the screen lights no longer work. The laptop is under guarantee, but I will be waiting up to three weeks for its return.

So here's a belated report on the last days of the shoot - and my last days in Galway. All, unfortunately, without photos as I can't load from my camera onto this laptop.

Monday October 23rd

We were filming all day in a church in a small village called Cortoon. It was comfort all the way; unit base was the nearby Cortoon Inn, where we sat in the lounge having breakfast at 7am. The sparks had been there ahead of us and had constructed a lighting rig across three of the tall stainglass windows on one side of the church. We started filming - mostly scenes with the fantastic Hugh O'Conor - and soon the weather played its one last possible dirty trick on us. The lighting scaffolds were rigged on the left side of the church to provide 'our' controlled sunlight through the day. Soon, however, real sunlight started pouring in the stain glass windows; on the other side of the church. And not a cloud in the sky. We'd been rained on through so much of the film, and now sunshine was screwing up our lighting plan on the one and only day in the last two weeks of the schedule when weather might have any effect on us. Once we'd filmed out one scene (with huge filters and screens being put up to block or dim the real sunlight) Shay had the lighting rig killed and used the real sunlight as much as possible until it started to dim and we could use our lights. But a lot of time was lost.

Nevertheless, we made the day; we did 27 set-ups in one day.

There's one little story I must tell because I'm very proud of it. One member of the cast is Gerry Ferguson, who crops up a few times in the film, with Jim Aherne, as an 'ancient villager'. Over the making of the film, we had time now and then to chat a little. The role of director, however, can be such that people keep their distance. On this day, as Gerry was taking his place with actors and extras for a scene in which Hugh, as Father Burke, gives a sermon during Mass, Gerry tapped me on the arm. "Your priest is dressed wrong," he told me. One of the vestments was missing. No one else had spotted it, but it was obvious as soon as Gerry pointed it out and was quickly corrected. This was great in two ways; to feel such involvement, and to feel that I was approachable enough that Gerry would say it to me.

Tuesday October 24th

And now we're on the final stretch. We have moved into the 'studio' - the set built by Nicola and her team in a factory unit on the outskirts of Tuam. Here we have built the 'real' part of the flying saucer against a green screen. The rest will be supplied as CGI by Fido Films. Fido reps Cameron and Anders where on set to assure we were providing the right material for matching with their work.

It was a day of simple scenes, and Nicola and her team also recreated part of a previous location so we could pick up a simple extra scene. This we did at the end of the day - also crossing the Slate 500 mark. The AD Yasmin O'Grady kindly supplied a bottle of champagne (still in her jeep from a previous production!) to celebrate the occasion.

I got back to Galway and watched almost 90 minutes of cut material with Michal. This really is a fine film in the making. Michal and I went for a meal afterwards - we won't be in a cutting room together until Stockholm in about two weeks' time.

I went home a happy man - one day to go with filming, and feeling proud of all that has been achieved.

Wednesday October 25th

The last day. As it happens - this film being an ensemble piece - virtually all the main cast were present on this last day. It was natural to also take the cast and crew photo (which I'll post on the site as soon as I get a copy!). We sailed through the day - going a little past wrap time to complete the shots needed. As Sheila called "it's a wrap!" I got a big bear hug from Lorcan Cranitch who told me he'd really enjoyed working on the film. It was hugs and handshakes and thanks all round - we'd done it.

I was back in Galway by 7.30pm. I had a drink, then lay on the bed and slept for an hour or so. Then I showered and went to the wrap party. It was fun to see all the people there in their glad rags as opposed to in weather gear, and I had lots of enjoyable chats. Joanne looked stunning - if only I was single and 35 years younger!

Bob Quinn was in town, and by the end of the evening he and I and Shay Deasy sat at the far end of the bar over a last drink before getting a taxi back to the apartments - Bob stayed overnight with Shay.

Weeks Remainder

So it was all over. On Thursday, I eventually wandered in to Magma. There had been talk of doing pick-ups on Thursday, but this idea was dropped. I, however, had booked a return flight for Sunday to allow time for working on Thursday. Having a sudden longing for home, I moved my travel plans a day forward and busied myself clearing out from the flat that had ben my Galway home for four months.

By Friday lunchtime I was on the road to Dublin where I left some of the stuff I had accumulated (including a guitar and a dvd player) with my brother Kevin. I stayed overnight Friday with my pals Sean and Angie Quinn and was up at 3.30am to make my way to the insanely crowded Dublin Airport for my flight home to Berlin.

Claudia and her son Noam were waiting to bring me home.

In the days since, I have done a lot of sleeping. I must wait two weeks before the cutting room in Stockholm is up and running. I'll post news on this blog later in November when I've been there and have seen Michal's cut of the complete film.

Thanks for following this adventure of mine, and I hope you'll keep following this film's journey to the screen.

SHOOTING WEEK FIVE

Saturday, October 21st, 2006

I start writing this at 9pm Friday evening October 20th. I just got back from work and immediately stripped off and took a shower. We were shooting a fire sequence - and what an experience. It is incredibly difficult and stressful work - and it left me reeking of fumes. But we achieved amazing stuff today and throughout the week. We have now completed our last full week of shooting, and we have some really great material added to what is already a film growing in scale and shape. I have seen over an hour of edited material - drawn from the first three weeks of shooting.

Below is a basic rundown on the week that was...

Monday October 16th

I know I've said it before, but I'll say it again; one of the great fun things about this film is that every day brings a new challenge or some new unexpected facet. Today, working in the pub, we had several fairly straightforward scenes and then a scene in which Jens Winter does a very unexpected dance. It was a clash between an Irish pop song of the 1960s and alien response to the music. It was great fun to do, and Jens got a few well-earned rounds of applause from crew and fellow cast.

On Sunday, meanwhile, I had seen yet more material with Michal. This evening I watched dvds of all material up to a couple of days ago. Everything is looking great and I really feel we are making something very special. I'm very proud of this work and the people making this film with me.

Today, however, I was unexpectedly tired. I suspect it was an adrenalin thing; knowing we are now in the last full week of shooting and also no longer dependent on the elements maybe had me take my foot off the gas pedal. I'll have an early night tonight.

The Swedish producer, Fredrik Zander, visits tomorrow and we will meet tomorrow evening.

Tuesday October 17th

As it happens, I think I would be spoiling the story if I gave too much information about what we shot today; it is the penultimate part of the film, but also has surprises that should be kept for the day the film is up on screen.

PA Jane in gale force mans the mast of a 'skrim' while we work in comfort in the pub.jpg

In the evening, Michal and I sat with Fredrik Zander plus Magma boss Ralph Christians and producers Clodagh Freeman and Gerry McColgan to view the material edited to date. Afterwards we had a discussion about what we had watched over a drink and I finally got home to the flat. The overall response is positive, but already there are suggestions for pick-up shots. It will add to the pressures as we head for the finish line; but anything that helps the film is good!

Wednesday October 18th

There is a scene in the marquee tent where a film is being shown, and filmmaker James Finlan took on the the task of making a plot-related trailer for a coming film which is watched by our central characters. What he did on his limited budget was brilliant. The audience - who were supposed to be watching it straight-faced - were suppressing laughter.

The schedule for this day was always light, so we finished shooting in the tent by early afternoon and went rushing off to get shots needed for the pick-up shots list now taking shape. We are now long past even the slightest vestige of summer - we had run out of light by 6pm. I went back to a production meeting and afterwards found a new joy in life; to buy a single of chips at McDonagh's on Shop Street and stroll home eating them.

Thursday 19th October

In praise of extras!

So now we are into a big scene of a 'ceili' - an Irish dance. In the early stages of the shoot we were focusing on Hugh O'Conor as the priest who has organised this event, and again he and I found opportunities for comic business. The extras flooded in to fill the scene and they were brilliant as they went again and again on takes filming the dance for 'the siege of Ennis'. Many of the extras are locals from Kilkerrin, and the town very kindly treated us to free drink and sandwiches at the end of the day as we are about to finish work in the town. I couldn't stay for long as I had to get back to Galway and do some work with editor Michal - again dealing with issues arising from the producers' wish for pick-up shots in the last days of the shoot.

God bless the extras (and John Nee) as we start the ceili scene

But I did get to walk home eating chips from McDonagh's before phoning Claudia. I also had a phone chat with my pal Jim Jermanok in the US. I had been out of touch with him for a few months and he hadn't known I was on the road of this big adventure. I fell into bed knowing that the toughest day of the shoot awaited me.

Friday 20th October

What a day. We still needed to shoot out the ceili scene, and then we were into the fire scene. Plus some pick-up shots. Without my pal and the rock on which this film is based - Shay Deasy - it could not be achieved.

But as the last full week of filming ends I realise what a special brand of person is the one who chooses to work in this business. It takes a special kind of stamina and commitment that comes only from within. I couldn't be the driving force behind all this energy. No producer could. When I was a kid, the man of the house of our next door neighbours mas a man who worked as a merchant seaman. Film work is the closest to what he did. You set off on a journey together and you sign up for that trip. As we worked on to complete this gruelling day I was surrounded by many people I may never meet again (unless we are all brought together by a new film adventure!) who are driven by their own commitment to this film and this profession. I don't know how to thank them all. I also don't know how to thank my cast. I was driven home in the company of Robbie Sheehan, Joanne Kernan and Dan Colley - all of whom had been through the fires for me this day and in the making of this film. They still abound with young energy. I am hoping to spend the weekend sleeping.

Three more days of full crew before we move on to pick-ups on Thursday. We are on what we Irish would call 'the bend for home'.

I am losing my voice from shouting over crowds this week.

This weekend for me will be divided between two rooms; my bedroom and the cutting room. I want to catch up on sleep and catch up on all the material we are shooting.

SHOOTING WEEK FOUR

Saturday, October 14th, 2006

This week my wife Claudia visited with her friend Henrik and her kids Marlene and Noam so I had more going on in my life than coming home to an empty flat and writing my blog over a glass of wine before going to bed.

Saturday of last week I spent the day with the editor, Michal. It was a huge relief; there are lots of very fine scenes in there, and the film really works. It was also a day when he and I were getting a feel for how we will work together - it's not the easiest thing for an editor to work with a director who was himself an editor for many years. But we got along fine, and where there were problems in scenes we had the same instincts about fixing the problem.

This week, we moved to the very fine town of Kilkerrin where we are based for two weeks. The pub we use is also our unit base and has many rooms above that are used as offices etc. I immediately bagged one - which had a bed without mattress - as my hideaway for a lunchtime cat nap. Claudia bought me an inflatable mattress for my added comfort.

One thing I've noticed this week is that my feet and legs are markedly tireder than they were at the end of the day in weeks gone by - I think it's tougher on the body when working on concrete instead of out in fields and on farms.

One good thing to report up front; weather was not a theme this week. In a week when we were totally dependent on weather, we had nothing more than a couple of light showers.

But here's a basic report on the week...

Monday October 9th

We are on the home stretch and past the major discomforts of locations up hills or in caves or out in mud baths struggling in downpours. We have taken over a huge area which was Glynn's pub in Kilkerrin, and so it will be for the next two weeks.

One of the great things about this film is that each day brings some kind of new challenge; today we had a string of cars coming into town and circling Father Burke before all pile in to the ceili - a lovely shot to orchestrate. We had a few other fun shots with enjoyable scene staging. And we had 'The Tall Man' performing another stunt of super strength - with a little help from special effects men Marty Kelly and Dominic Hewitt.

Tuesday October 10th

Today we were filming the final sequence of the film. We were very dependent on weather for this one; it wouldn't look right if the day was grey or raining. And indeed the sun shone for us. We had a huge amount of work to do, however, and by the end of the day - as we were doing shots on board a bus leaving the village - we didn't get all our shots done. Claudia, her son Noam and friend Henrik were extras on the bus.

Claudia, Henrik and Noam as extras

Wednesday October 11th

It wasn't until afterwards when someone mentioned it that I realised; we started the day doing the few shots we hadn't managed yesterday, then came back into the village to start into our schedule for that day. In so doing, we went from shooting the last shot of the film to shooting the first shot of the film.

Hugh O'Conor is a brilliant comic actor. I had been looking at more rushes and cut material with Michal last night, and today we were filming a one-shot scene where Hugh has no dialogue. But even that he does hilariously. In this great ensemble of actors it's always a joy to see what they bring to their roles.

Hugh O'Conor with production designer Nicola Moroney

We again fell behind schedule this day, needing to shove a scene over to tomorrow. It's just the nature of what we're trying to achieve; you try to get the best shots and the best working of a scene, but the clock keeps on ticking. What we managed to do - which made the schedule wobble - was get a couple of pick-up shots that Michal had asked for. One - that I'd been too nervous to get our star Robbie Sheehan to do - was a stunt fall. We had brought in a stunt double, but Robbie had a look at what was being planned and said he'd do it. He did it perfectly first take. Legend is our Robbie.

Thursday October 12th

Again a lot to be achieved - and we just about did it. I can't write about what we shot - because I would be giving away too much about the story of the film!

We have now finished all day exterior shots of the film. After tomorrow's night shoot, we work in controlled environments through to the end of filming.

I viewed more edited material; two of the scenes that had worried me most because they were scenes with a lot of actors and I wasn't sure I was giving enough attention to everyone. But both scenes look great. Michal told me that cutting one scene had him laughing all day. When I looked at the same scene I just watched without as much as a grin; I was too amazed just to see that the scene worked. Thanks to Michal, I am starting to allow myself the feeling that we are making a really great film!

Friday October 13th

Friday the 13th was also our last exterior shoot. It was a night shoot, beginning at 6.30pm and doing a set of scenes near and on the main street of Kilkerrin. The night was a bit cold, but pleasant. The locals were friendly and co-operative and didn't complain about our making a racket as we worked into the small hours of the night.

The Flying Saucer comes to Kilkerrin

One particular scene we did was a 2-pager with several of the cast; it is a scene in which several villagers have their suspicions aroused when meeting the alien girl for the first time. Blocking it out, it became clear that this needed to be a one shot scene with choreography between the actors and the camera. We rehearsed it several times with camera, then I went indoors with the actors to further rehearse it while camera tracks were laid. Then we rehearsed it some more. In the end, we started shooting and went twelve takes - I've never gone that much before - to get a take we were all happy with. It was a risk, but one that paid off beautifully I think. I was specially proud of Joanne Kernan who has, in the space of four weeks, gone from being on a film set for the first time to being part of this choreographed piece with eight other actors and being able to completely hold her own.

The shoot went so smoothly we wrapped an hour earlier then planned. I got home to the flat again empty - Claudia and family are on their way back to Berlin. I sat down to write this and noticed that it is 5.30am - which is the time I had set the alarm clock for this Monday to Thursday. You're body clock can get seriously messed up in this line of work.

I'll take Saturday off. I spend Sunday with Michal going over more rushes and cut material. Next week will be the last full shooting week as week six has only three days of shooting.

Where did the time go?

SHOOTING WEEK THREE

Saturday, October 7th, 2006

Monday October 2nd

We have moved to our new base - Tuam. It was another night shoot, and so a huge crane was brought into a field to raise our 'moonlight' - a powerful light. The crane promptly sank to its axle in mud. Three tractors failed to shift the crane and an emergency service bulldozer was called in to shift it. The crane then sank into another spot. Plan B changed to Plan C as Micháel O'Mogain and his sparks team worked ceaselessly to solve the problem. It was fantastic to see - though not exactly a sight we wanted to see.

The shoot was actually a lot of fun - we did several visual gag shots of the aliens stealing metal around the area as they seek to repair their flying saucer. At one stage, we were filming beside a part of a farm where a huge sow was sleeping. We wanted her in shot, but she was disturbed by our work and we had to spend a while settling her - feeding her with apples - before we could get our shot. Our last shot of the night was a gag carried out by a group consisting of people from our props, transport and locations teams all leaping into frame as the camera panned away to do a switch that makes a really cool in-camera gag that had those of us watching it on the monitor in fits of laughter.

Jens and real stonemason Jimmy at the wall the alien builds

Tuesday Oct 3rd

I didn't have very much sleep as we are making a transition from night to normal day shooting. There's a wonderful US film about film making, 'Living in Oblivion', and it starts with a director having a nightmare about his shoot. I was woken by my own version of it. We were completing a night shoot and it was morning and we had to work further hour and a half. But I said we couldn't shoot the scene because it didn't make sense. A huge argument then broke out on the set that soon developed into blows being exchanged - and even the sudden appearance of the female version of the dwarf in the 'Living in Oblivion' nightmare. I woke an hour too early and shaken by the idea that the team - who are getting along well with each other and me - could turn on each other.

But it's a lovely sunny day.

The shift from night shooting to normal days is a head wreck, but the weather stayed with us - aside from occasional waits for cloud cover to match in scenes we were doing. We slipped behind on the day element of what we were shooting but got all the shots we needed when we got to the night element.

An exciting development for me is that our editor, Michal, has now arrived in Ireland and by this coming weekend I will be seeing the first of material edited by him.

Wednesday Oct 4th

I write this at 6am on Thursday morning, woken by howling wind and lashing rain. But on Wednesday we responded to the weather forecasts and shot as many exteriors as we could so I don't feel so intimidated; though again a tough day for the sparks, riggers and ADs is in store.

Wednesday was a lot of fun. Making this film is a lot of fun. It isn't a matter of showing up each day to do 'walk and talks' or dinner scenes or such predictable things. Almost every second shot was in some way related to special effects or some kind of visual trick. And I got to shoot with a cow for the first time; very amenable she was too, if a bit weak-bladdered. She did some sensational pees in the course of the scene.

We made the day - a work day that included an element of night shoot - and were wrapped by quarter past nine. Shay and I drove back into Galway so I could finally meet our editor. It was clear from first eye contact that we would get along fine. He has an aura of calm that immediately gives me the sense that the film is in the safest and most professional hands. Our Swedish producer Fredrik Zander was also making a brief visit to Galway and joined Michal, Ralph Christians and I for a drink at what is now almost the half-way mark in the shoot.

Thursday Oct 5th

The film reveals another facet; one strand of the plot is the difficult relationship between our central character and his father, and we spent today doing various scenes in the 'Mullaney farm' cottage that worked through this strain. Robbie Sheehan played a stormer, well matching the energy of Lorcan Cranitch in dramatic power and presence while keeping his place as the heart of this story. I was delighted with the scenes and proud of the work on screen. Off screen, as feared, riggers, sparks and ADs were out in the elements.

The many dimensions of the film are also a slight fear; we have comedy, drama, special effects... the list goes on. It has to somehow all come together

At day's end we went to Tuam for a small party hosted by Magma in a pub called the Rustic Tavern. Shay and I quit after an hour and a half to get back to Galway. So we're half way now in the shooting of the film.

The low loader with crew gadding about!

Friday Oct 6th

This blog is turning into the diary of Irish weather. But where else can you get horizontal rain? Where else can you get beaming sunshine and simultaneous rain? Where else can yo look up to a clear blue sky and know that the grey clouds on the horizon will be over your head within minutes?

We went through it all today as we filmed a lot of tiny scenes; drive-by shots of a car, low loader scenes in the car, and some transitions with the Mullaney farm.

At the end of the work day I met with Michal for a meal to chat - getting to know each other more and discuss the film.

I have heard that we have already filmed 52 minutes of the film. On Saturday I  will spend the day with Michal to go through the material and the scenes he has cut.

Next week we move to the small town of Kilcerrin. We will be based there for two weeks - it will become almost a second home! - and face a whole new set of challenges.

SHOOTING WEEK TWO

Saturday, September 30th, 2006

It's 6.20AM on Saturday September 30th as I write this and I am home less than half an hour from my first ever night shoot. There's no point in my trying to get myself back into a normal time zone, as the first two days of Week Three are also night shoots - though not finishing this late.

This week was a steep learning curve for me and I often felt out of my depth. To top it off with a grueling night shoot of a major scene leaves me a bit dazed.

Last weekend, the village grown-ups of the cast arrived; Hugh O'Conor, John Keogh, Lorcan Cranitch and Lalor Roddy. I was able to do some meetings and rehearsals with them, and I felt very happy to be surrounded by so many friends; I felt even more supported.

The week began, and below are my notes...

Monday Sept 25th

When the sun is our friend all is good. We were joined by our grown-up cast, most of whom I had a chance to work with over the weekend as they arrived in preparation for the work ahead. The film shifts focus now; actors Robbie Sheehan, Dan Colley and Joanne Kernan step back a bit.

Hugh O'Conor, John Keogh and Lalor Roddy play the great Irish triumvirate of the priest, the policeman and the politician. First shot of the day was of them walking together, cresting a boreen hill. We sailed through the day and even got one shot ahead of the film's schedule.

Jens takes John Keogh in hand

Tuesday 26th

The scenes today were too much to achieve, but the Scene 168 was covered great with a lot of fun. It is a scene involving all the cast, and I soon realised that dealing with a lot of actors at the same time is not really a strength of mine. We have the funniest scene in the film now shot. On his first day on our set, poor Lorcan Cranitch was doing one of his most demanding scenes in the film.

Wednesday 27th

We moved into the barn where the aliens are hiding and had a huge amount to achieve. It was one of those weird days where we were doing a string of those little joining scenes - eighth of a page stuff - that can drive you a bit demented. We slipped a little bit behind - it's a constant frustration to think 'if only we had more time for this...' and the balance between what you want and what your limitations are. The location looks brilliant - it had been used in the past as an artist's studio space and is really magical. But also really tight! One of the skills required in film making is to keep cool while constantly bumping into people and trying to find a little space for yourself when in such a snug space.

Thursday 28th

Moving smartly along... on three of the five filming days this week we are doing the most demanding scenes of the film: most of the climactic events of the story happen here. So we had a scene (I can't give away details as it would spoil the story!) of very high emotion - a scene also including one of the more spectacular special effects being planned by Fido Films. For all I might write about it (and just can't right now as I am so tired and need to finish this) I just can't say enough in praise of our main character Robbie Sheehan. This young man is just everything you'd wish for in working with an actor. He is hugely gifted, but he also has extraordinary patience and stamina. He was really put through the grinder today, having to endure a lot of physical discomfort while also having to give a very dramatic performance. But he just does it. And to top it all he is a boundless fount of good humour and corny jokes. Another major scene in the can - though we needed to go an hour over time which did not make me hugely popular with the production office.

Friday 29th

The night shoot. We had two cameras, we had a 'cherry picker' for the light show created by the flying saucer, we had our own 'moon' light, we had our cast and extras and our crew. Call time for most of the crew was 6pm Friday, with the hope of starting to shooting by 9pm. We started shooting at about 10.30.

Cherry picker arriving for a night shoot

It was a scene I needed to cover extravagantly and that's what we managed to do. The night was calm and relatively clear which was a blessing as we would have been totally screwed if it had rained: Fido Film have to do all their work of generating the flying saucer and could not do so with shaky or rain lashed shots. We were on the last shot of all that coverage when the rain started to come down. We just managed to complete the night's schedule, dropping one simple scene on the wise advice of line producer Brian Kelly.

That was one tough week. The unit moves now to base itself out of Tuam for the rest of the shoot. All next week we shoot around the area of the farm where the character 'Dan' (Robbie Sheehan) and his father (Lorcan Cranitch) live.

It is 2pm on Saturday. I had a sleep between 9am and 1pm. Later today I meet up with production designer Nicola Moroney to go over a planned special effect in the studio build of our section of the flying saucer. On Friday myself and Daniel, the current special effect rep from Fido, had been out there finalising the build plans for the saucer and that led to this need to get specific about just exactly what work the aliens are doing down there.

SHOOTING WEEK ONE

Saturday, September 23rd, 2006

Lining up the first shot

Monday Sept 18th

Well, that was the worst day of filming I have ever experienced and I can only hope and pray it won't happen again; but my hopes and prayers may be in vain. We were on set - a country road not far from our Gort production base - at 8 in the morning and we were ready to shoot at 9am. A better start you could not have. Except then the weather kicked in.

It poured down rain.

The rain would halt for a few minutes and we'd grab a take, then the rain would pour down again.

By 11.30 we had two shots in the can and were ready, at a second set-up, to do the two shots of the next simple scene. The rain came pouring down again and finally we broke for early lunch.

We started after lunch and guess what - our problem was the sun now shining down on the pools and puddles and so we had to wait for cloud. But with cloud came downpours.

So was the shape of the day.

The team is great, and the cast were all being brilliant.

From tomorrow onwards we have weather cover on standby. The weather forecast is for changeable weather the next two days and BAD weather Thursday and Friday. I sit in my apartment and the wind howls outside like the sound effect for a Hammer Horror film.

Welcome to the west of Ireland.

Tuesday Sept 19th

Could a day be more different! It was Joanne's big day, and we had more fears about the weather. We went in hoping to catch up on what we had lost yesterday, but of course that didn't happen - but we captured some magic.

The sun was shining from the start and we shot two small, simple scenes. Then we all had to lug our way to the top of a hill - no small task when that means getting up there with the camera, lights and sound plus generator. Once stationed up there, we had two fairly complex scenes to do; one requiring a lot of coverage, and the other being one of the romance scenes between the central characters Dan and the alien girl (Joanne Kernan on her second day ever on a film set).

With the weather on our side, we made our way through the first scene with no hitches. Then came time for the heavily emotional scene and I was concerned for Joanne that she would be able to cope such a task; it's the second day you've ever stood in front of a camera and you need to be emotional and you are kissing. She couldn't have been better. Not only does the camera love her, she is a born natural and an absolute star. Wrap time is 7pm and we finished a quarter hour before. I took Joanne aside and thanked her and told her that casting her was probably the best casting decision I had ever made.

Wednesday Sept 20th

Three days of shooting, and two of the worst days of filming even veteran cameraman Shay Deasy has ever experienced.

In the story, there is a 'rocky shelter hideout' where the the two teenage pals in the story, 'Dan' and 'Lorcan' hang out. We found exactly such a place - a huge cave opening directly beside a gentle river no more than a foot deep; we knew we would be wading in water a bit - but nothing too bad. But when I woke up the rain was pouring down again. At 7.15am as I was on the way to unit base with Shay Deasy, I got a call from production designer Nicola Moroney asking us to swing by there to make the call on whether we should go for the weather cover of the 'cottage in clearing' location. Seeing how miserable it would be to be working at this cave and river in such awful rain, I was ready to say that we shoot again in the abandoned cottage. First A.D. Yasmin O'Grady said, however, that even worse weather was forecast for the following day and we should treat the cave - where at least the actors would be in out of the rain - as weather cover. I accepted that.

The cave and torrential rain

The day was being shot as 'day for night' - three scenes that would be shot and lit in such a way that they would later be graded to look as if it was night time. This involved a lot of lighting and therefore a lot of work for riggers and the lighting department. From early in our working day the weather became absolutely torrential - to such an extent that at one stage we all simply called a halt to work and sat in cars and vans or under umbrellas waiting for it to subside. The misery just grew with the day. The area near the mouth of the cave where the monitor was set up so that continuity supervisor Julie Daly and I could view takes was turning into a mud slide. Lights started popping. There were electric outs. It was absolutely miserable: and at the centre of it all was Shay having to endure every moment of lighting and framing shots as the rain beat down and the crew waded around the shallow rocky river.

By the end of the day - having worked almost an hour past our normal 7pm wrap, we had managed to shoot all but one shot - a shot that wasn't dependent on this location anyway.

I thanked all I could individually for their work that day and arrived back at unit base covered in mud. My wife Claudia has come over from Berlin to visit for a few days and had prepared a meal for me when I got home to the flat. Much as I was delighted to see her, I was absolutely drained and exhausted by the day I had been through. In the course of the day, some of us had joked about renaming the film 'Monsoon of the Flying Saucer'.

Thursday 21st Sept

The weather forecast was that on this day Ireland would get the tail of Hurricane Gordon. And indeed it did.

We were technically in a weather cover location; filming in an abandoned cottage. Arriving on set, we met the art department trying to put a tarpaulin over the roof of the cottage as leaks through it had damaged the set and would make working conditions for us tough; there would be leaks and drips coming down from the ceiling in shot. It took over an hour before the tarpaulin was in place and we could start lighting and preparing the four scenes we needed to do in the cottage. Camera, sound etc had some moderate comfort being inside the cottage, but again the riggers and sparks, led by gaffer Micheŕl Mógain, were out in the very miserable elements.

We needed to do one fairly simple scene and then allow the art department a one-hour turnaround to change the set for the other scenes. Originally, we planned on doing a simple exterior scene nearby during this change. But with rain pelting down, that was not to happen so we simply had to wait there for them.

Rain was becoming a part of our lives, and a perverse little torture in the cottage were the rain drops coming from the ceiling that would land down the back of your neck as you went about your work. Outside, the lovely grassy clearing between the cottage and barn - where we were due to film the following day - was a soggy and muddy mess.

By lunchtime, an extraordinary bit of news reached us; art department had gone back to the 'rocky shelter' location where we had been filming the previous day to strike the location and found that the one foot deep gentle river had risen to four feet and the set we had been working on was floating around the cave where we had been shooting!

We made our way through our working day and got our scenes in. Jens Winter made his first appearance as the tall alien and looks extraordinary in the role. As Shay and I were driving back to Galway, the sky was almost clear and there was a spectacular sunset.

Friday 22nd Sept

When it's good, it couldn't be better.

There were terrible storms overnight - and winds gusting up to 120 kph. Yet the day began with an absolutely clear blue sky. The forecast was for a sunny day with showers coming in later. We quickly identified a spot to shoot one of the scenes that we'd been forced to skip due to weather earlier in the week. By 9.30am the camera was rolling on the first shot for that scene. Actors Robbie Sheehan and Dan Colley were in great form and are two extremely funny and charming young men. I think the crew all feel it is going to be a joy being around these young people in the coming weeks.

We were soon down in the wooded area near the abandoned cottage and barn to do two scenes - one comic and the other romantic. Grips Pat Gilligan and John McKenzie had their work cut out for them as we did a number of tracking shots in the woods - and everything was looking wonderful. There was another challenging scene for Joanne; the most romantic scene of the film. She and our star Robbie Sheehan performed it like a dream and we were blessed with the look created by sunshine and Shay.

Props department - Ian Wallis, Arna Klohn, Irina Passawar and Gabriel Clark - were meanwhile working hard to restore the clearing between the cottage and barn from a muddy mess to the beautiful grassy stretch it had been. By late afternoon we were filming our scenes there.

The day was moving along efficiently and pleasantly. We were halted briefly late in the afternoon by a couple of showers that quickly cleared.

By about 6pm, I was able to announce that it was the end of Joanne's first ever working week in front of a camera and we gave her a round of applause. Various departments were wrapping work as we shot off a few simple establisher shots and we were wrapped by 6.30pm.

It was the end of the first shooting week. Given what we'd been through, it was a remarkable tribute to the team that we end just one single-shot, scene behind schedule for the week.

Over the weekend, the 'grown up' cast arrive; Hugh O'Conor, John Keogh, Lorcan Cranitch and Lalor Roddy. Next week will be a whole new adventure.

The Talented Mr Duffy

Friday, September 15th, 2006

First day establishing shots.

On Friday September 15th, shooting began on SUMMER OF THE FLYING SAUCER. In a humble way. DoP Shay Deasy and his basic crew came out with me and the gear to shoot some landscape shots. We got a lovely sunny day for it and picked up some very pretty pictures in the area around Gort, County Galway.

I also discovered a new talent; I somehow managed to always be the only one standing in a cow pat. Everyone else walked out of the fields with barely a trace of mud. I even had cow shit on the legs of my jeans. I guess I'm a city boy.

Calm before the...

Thursday, September 14th, 2006

Cast arriving in Galway

It's a funny thing. I'm sitting in the office on Friday afternoon, September 8th, with nothing to do. We are just a little more than a week away from start of shoot. The weather is wonderful - the kind of weather we will be praying for during the shoot - and I hope to do some kind of escape this weekend.

On Monday morning, everything will change.

9 AM Monday morning 16 of us board a bus to do the 'tech recce' of going to all the locations and then preparing notes for an all-day meeting on Tuesday going scene by scene through the script with points of concern. On Wednesday, cast are arriving and we're into rehearsals, wardrobe etc. The camera gear arrives on Thursday and we'll be doing tests. The special effects elements arrive on Friday for tests on Saturday.

In other words, I should not be sitting here when this might be my last chance to be relaxing.

Time loop - Saturday morning at 7 AM. I sit in my apartment looking out on Galway harbour. I've decided I'll rent a car today and go west for the weekend.

So where do we stand? Fully cast. I found my Janis; a Dubliner named Joanne Kernan. She joins Robbie Sheehan and Dan Colley in the central group of teenage characters. Christopher Moloney and Naoise O'Guibne play the brothers who thwart them. The adult cast is Hugh O'Conor, Lorcan Cranitch, John Keogh, Jens Winter and Lalor Roddy among others.

The crew is almost complete. We have almost every location. We have decided on the design for the flying saucer (there are surprises there that I won't deliver before the film is on screen) and on other special effects. So I should just enjoy this pause and prepare myself for riding the crest of this oncoming wave.

September 14th. Early in the morning when only a half dozen or so of us are here in the production office - there was a party last night and I think there will be some fuzzy heads this morning. The tech recce went well and everything seems to be in order. My aliens arrived yesterday - Joanne Kernan and Jens Winter. From a half an hour's time I go from a short audition for a part (a musician in a ceili scene) to a constant flow of rehearsals, costume fittings and a final script session with writer Martin Thorisson. Tomorrow we do camera tests.

I woke up this morning at six (having gone to bed last night at 10) feeling remarkably calm about the whole thing.

Now at 9.30 the production office is full and buzzing and people seem pretty happy - which is important to me. When you set off on an adventure like this you want people to be enjoying themselves; why else be in a mad business like this?

Okay. I should get back to work. I will start doing 'blogs' at the end of each shooting week.

The photo is of the three teenage leads - Robbie, Dan and Joanne - flanked by 'Tall Man' alien Jens Winter and me.

Martin

 

Building a better flying saucer

Sunday, August 27, 2006

The Swedish producer Fredrik Zander and Special Effects Supervisor Cameron Scott were in Galway for a few days and a major point of discussion was the design of the flying saucer. Production designer Nicola Moroney had already done several designs and concept drawings for the saucer, and one of the most enjoyable things about this job is to find yourself deep in conversation with a group of fellow adults trying to figure out how a flying saucer should look and work. The conversation is still ongoing, but we have to soon lock off our choices as Nicola has to initiate the build for the craft which in turn has to fit in with Fido's CGI work. What will eventually be seen on the screen will be maybe a tenth of the ship actually built on a set here in Galway and the remainder completed on computer. The hope is that when people see the saucer up on screen they will be duly impressed.

The flying saucer is the highlight of the SFX element of the film, but there are some other tricks and touches that have now been itemised. The fact that I spent weeks at home in Berlin making my shot-by-shot 'sketches' for the film proved to be of huge help. I find the work such a drag that I asked again if they helped and was assured all round that they make a great difference.

Many other important production decisions have been made; we have most of the locations and have done most of the crewing and casting. A final choice has yet to be made for the girl alien who is one of the central characters in the story. Given that we are now three weeks away from shooting, this is a worry. I am delighted that yet another friend is part of the production; the actor Jens Winter has gotten the role of the alien referred to as 'The Tall Man' and will move from Berlin to Galway for the duration of the shoot.

I have been in Galway for seven weeks now, and recently the work has been gathering pace. This past week, however, my wife Claudia came over for a visit and so I sneaked some time off. We went out to the Aran Islands for the day on Thursday and the weather smiled on us. The weather, though, is becoming a worry. In the west of Ireland, you get a lot of weather. You can get all four seasons in one day, which is the worst scenario for filming. We will be filming 'summer' in mid September and the weather can often be quite pleasant that time of year. But it is the amount and speed of change that is the worry. If you start filming a scene in overcast weather and half way through the shots you need the sun comes out - you are screwed. I may have to enter into negotiations with the devil about how many sunny days I can get for my soul.

As of Monday August 28th - three weeks away from shooting - the pace of work will pick up considerably. Our production office is already full and buzzing, but the design and wardrobe departments are about to set up their own offices and more crew will be coming on board. From here on in, the demands on my time will be pretty relentless through to the end of shooting. But that's fine by me. A few weeks ago, when the financing of the film had been signed and sealed, Magma Films' boss Ralph Christians said 'this train has now left the station'. Less comfortingly, line producer Brian Kelly said 'this snowball is now rolling down the hill'. I'm responsible for the safe arrival of the train/snowball at its destination on a screen near you.
In my next 'blog' I hope to be able to report on the full rundown of cast - including the alien girl; wherever she may be.

Back in the Saddle Again

August 15, 2006

It's been six years!
It's taken me that long to get back behind a camera on a feature film. The failure of my project JENNY'S GIFT, my move to Berlin and the glacial pace at which film projects come together have been to blame.
But now here I am in Galway - I moved here from Berlin a month ago - with preproduction starting on SUMMER OF THE FLYING SAUCER. The story is from Murray Suid and Ronald Kruschak and the script is from Marteinn Thorisson. The film is being produced by Magma Films in Ireland and Fido Films in Sweden. When the shoot here is finished, I move to Trollhattan in Sweden for post-production.
So; the story. The film is set in 1967 - the 'summer of love'. But this is set in the west of Ireland. The central character, young teenager Dan, comes back home to the tiny village after school term and arrives with denim jacket and long hair: the locals are scandalised to have a 'hippy' in their midst. Then comes the twist that sets up the story; Dan discovers that aliens have crash-landed near the village. As storylines would have it, one of the aliens is a beautiful teenager. So here we go; romance, adventure, special effects and a lot of fun. I am back making a family film.
Most of the parts are already cast (more about that in a future blog) and the crew is being assembled. Seamus Deasy will be DoP - my old friend working with me again for the first time since THE BOY FROM MERCURY. Stephen McKeon will do the music (another MERCURY pal) and one of the leads will be played by Hugh O'Conor (yet another Mercurian). My friend producer Brian Kelly is line producing for Magma. We joke about whether our friendship will survive this collaboration, but we have other projects together (including my ghost story LITTLE BOY PRIEST, which I will be making next year) and this is a great way for us to test our filmmaking skills.
Shooting starts September 18th. I have - as usual - done storyboards of everything. I call them storyboards but they are glorified matchstick men. But I have the whole story worked out and I have worked with writer Marteinn Thorisson to make a shooting script. I have lists and notes about all departments, and am proving that I am a typical Virgo.
I will write a weekly blog from now through to the end of filming and my son Bernard will put it up on the website he made for me. Making a film is a great adventure, and this will be my first chance to share it with an 'audience' of the people who visit my site. I welcome your questions also.
Obviously I am delighted to be back making a film. What I particularly look forward to, however, is seeing how things have changed in my absence. Six years should be a blink of an eye, but the world of special effects has been transformed by computer technology. The film will be shot with a High Definition camera and go to 35mm film when all SFX work has been done - something I have never experienced before. The budget is tight and the film is very ambitious, but every challenge broadens my smile.
Let's boldly go...
Martin

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