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


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