Extreme UK Guerrilla Film-making #2

Why Extreme? Well, this is a feature film project shot in multiple locations (Leicestershire) with large cast, in 21 days, with no money or subsidy of any kind – nada, zilch. That’s what we did with Do Something, Jake and here are some insights in a series of blogs from the director and production team.

The film is nearing post-production completion and due to be released in 2017.

Roll Cameras!

Filming in the street ‘guerrilla style’ requires you to have a strong nerve and a keen eye. The camera is a magnet for the bored, foolish, or disruptive – as soon as the device is pulled from the bag, all manner of people will emerge out of the woodwork to create nightmares for the director. Luckily, the first scene of the first day’s shoot took place in the village of Quorn in Leicestershire, where the locals are generally sensible and go about their business with quiet politeness. Despite this, the shoot was tricky. We needed to film Jake (played by Jamie Alderson) at a bus stop, positioning the camera across the road. It was misty, a few drops of rain were falling, and the traffic was busy.

Jamie Alderson (far right) had to take directions from me as I shouted across the road above the traffic noise.

I like to work fast on location, because if you hang around, all sorts of unforeseen problems will soon arise.

The No-Budget Challenge

On our ‘no budget’ project, we were unable to close the main road, direct traffic, or have much control over the environment. Therefore, things had the potential to change quickly: traffic congestion, weather, and passers-by who decide to stand quietly one minute or gather in a noisy group the next. The element of change can result in continuity errors and audio problems, which can ruin a scene. Also, there was the danger to our cast and crew near traffic, and the awareness that we did not wish to outstay our welcome or cause any nuisance.

On all low or no-budget shoots, these factors lead me to take a simple philosophy: stay safe, shoot quickly, and move on.

In the B-roll clip below (taken from the last day of the shoot at an abandoned building), the actors (Imogen Hartley and Alex Doddy) were cold, the traffic was building, and we had a great number of other scenes to shoot later on. Working fast was our only option.

Filming on the Street

Indeed, back on that first scene at the bus stop, there were many more shots that we could have taken and many more performances and ideas to try out. But Monday morning on a busy main road is not the place to pontificate or debate. The crew worked well, and we soon moved on to the backstreets of the village where we filmed Jake walking home amongst the beautiful architecture of local houses. Some of these shots can be seen in the trailer below. This is a real environment, no set design, trained extras, lighting rigs, or closed roads.

Then we moved on to Loughborough town for  interior shots at two local businesses (a gym and hairdressers). After a break, we were back in the cars and heading to Coalville to shoot a scene with Ryan Flamson who plays a cobbler whom Jake visits to have a key cut.

Checking the rushes in the editing software.

This was a real working business open for custom, as were all of the shops, restaurants, and businesses depicted within the film. Customers come and go, and are naturally curious, but you have to continue shooting and hope that they won’t cause a stir or look into the camera lens. Most are fine, if you have patience and are polite.

And, that was just Day #1 of a 21-day shoot!

After the Shoot

Caroline Spence (producer) and I bid the cast and crew farewell on that bitterly cold evening, but our work would continue into the night – prepping for the next’s days shoot, checking footage, and backing-up to computer hard drives.

As a director, I find that this is when I most have to maintain my nerve. You’re tired and your judgement can easily evade you if you become overly critical of the raw footage you’re trawling through. Questions play on your mind: is this good enough?; could we have shot it better?; are we crazy getting up tomorrow to do it all again?, and, biggest of all; can we make a feature film from this material?

These mind games are part of the business. I dealt with them on ‘Do Something, Jake’ by drawing on experience and previous research of other directors and the way they work.

So, the first day was over and we had made a start, but there were plenty of challenges to come. More in the next installment coming soon…

James Smith, writer-director


Extreme UK Guerrilla Film-making #1

Why Extreme? Well, this is a feature film project shot in multiple locations (Leicestershire) with large cast, in 21 days, with no money or subsidy of any kind – nada, zilch. That’s what we did with Do Something, Jake and here are some insights in a series of blogs from the director and production team.

The film is nearing post-production completion and due to be released summer, 2017.

Are you Mad?

Being a middle-aged guy from a (some will say, misspent) background that involved outrageous amounts of surfing, backpacking, guitar playing, plus more considered ‘career’ soirees in software, stills photography and documentary film-making, I was unlikely to tick any boxes for lottery-funded schemes or other subsided incentives available via UK film and television organisations.

Michele Russo who plays ‘Guy in Gym’ Image © Raya Films

So, maybe I was mad to undertake such an ambitious project with all of the risks and uncertainties associated with going it alone, but there are many film-makers successfully undertaking projects on very low budgets including a great example, Tangerine, which was filmed on an iPhone! ‘No budget’ is a world away from ‘low budget’, but we had belief in our own ability to pull it off, plus enthusiasm from others in no small measure.

Kevin Smith (Action Coordinator) on set with Tom Loone. Photo © Mike Mafrici

As we shall see, despite the traumas and ‘firefighting’ requisite of making any film, there are some advantages to the guerrilla approach, not least creative freedom and the ability to produce something truly unique. The aforementioned subsidised schemes often require filmmakers to be ‘mentored’, handheld through development of the screenplay and production, after which the funding body receives a tidy portion of the profits. And let’s face it, although there is some fine stuff coming out of Britain, many films are from the same mould. You know the ones – council flat dramas, urban coming of age tales, and dodgy horror flicks. Oh, and Brit thug movies in which the first act comprises someone kicking someone’s head in, and by the third act, everyone’s kicking everyone’s head in! Well, Raya Films don’t make those, and thank goodness for that.

Whatever happens with Do Something, Jake as we near release, I suspect there has never been a British film quite like this one, and for that reason alone I am proud.

The dilemma

How could we produce something saleable (a film that people would pay money to see in a theatre or download online) with no production budget?

Oft-told guerrilla mantras sprang to mind: small cast, one location (dad’s house, that sort of place), and a simple story-line. Sounds like good advice. So, why then did we reverse all of this and end up with our complex, interwoven plot, and expansive production? The answer to that is probably temptation – I often sat down with expert screenwriter, Caroline Spence, with my “One man in a room” idea, only to end up a month later (after countless coffees and bottles of wine) with a 100 page draft screenplay comprising a large diverse cast, and a mammoth undertaking looming on the horizon. But to hell with the rules – guerrilla film-making of all of the disciplines is surely there to break them. We loved the idea of Jake, this down-on-his-luck character who battles through life with some bizarre and downright dangerous predicaments. Thus, despite the daunting task ahead, we just had to make the film.

Cinematographer, Jonathan Hawes, preparing a Reliant Robin for our ‘car chase’ scene. Photo © Raya Films
The scene involved Jake chasing a powerful Land Rover in the three-wheeler, with local resident, Dave Brown, at the wheel with his dog ‘Scamp’ on board. Photo © Raya Films

People, Places and Gear

In August 2015, we had a solid screenplay and I owned a basic digital camera, some audio equipment, plus a few bells and whistles all stashed in my parents’ house in Quorn, a small village in the English countryside. That’s pretty much all we had, so the next few weeks were assigned to auditioning the cast and seeking more gear and locations.

Some actors came from outside of Leicestershire to appear in the film, including London-based Jamie Alderson (pictured) who played ‘Jake’ and Ed Bergtold who flew from New York to play ‘Morten’. Photo © Raya Films

After nearly quitting due to inability to find locations, we hit on a bit of luck at the last minute (in the form of a kind business-minded family who provided many locations in the area), and found ourselves scheduling a November shoot. It seemed that everyone in Leicestershire wanted a piece of ‘Jake’ and involvement with the nutty film-makers undertaking this crazy venture. Having worked extensively over decades in various other parts of the UK (where, I found, film-makers and other arty types with ‘fanciful’ ideas could be greeted with ridicule and doubtful smirks), this was refreshing indeed, and I can’t praise the East Midlands people enough for their positive enthusiasm and energy.

The ‘Green Light’

But all of the above was the easy part – the real challenge would begin when we rolled cameras one misty morning in November 2015.

And that tale will unfold in the next installment coming soon … until then, check out this interview (courtesy of David Ward and Mike Mafrici) with Ed Bergtold who plays ‘Morten’. In following posts, there will be B-Roll clips and much more, so do keep checking by.

Oh, and don’t forget the trailer!

James Smith, writer-director