Extreme UK Guerrilla Film-making #5

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.

At time of writing, the film is nearing completion.

People and Gear

How do you source people and equipment when there is no production budget? In the case of Do Something, Jake this was through local contacts in Loughborough (UK), spreading the word, and a bit of luck. When we put the word out, many university graduates looking for experience approached us. Also local businesses, individuals, and a charity contacted us to help out. It seemed the story’s premise and the opportunity to work on a full-length feature film captured people’s imaginations.

This office location was kindly loaned by the Twenty Twenty charity in Loughborough. The crew had to work quickly on this long dialogue scene with actors Imogen Hartley, Alex Doddy, and Jamie Alderson. Image © 2017 Raya Films

None of the equipment was hired, so it was a matter of pooling together camera, lights, and grip gear that the crew owned. Fortunately, filmmaker, Tom Wallbanks, was able to loan a set of good quality lenses. Some of these were quite old and, unlike modern lenses, did not have full automatic functions. So, it was a matter of adapting our working methods to accommodate whichever lens we were using at the time. Despite the unconventional gear, the nature of these lenses, together with the autumnal light in November, seemed to deliver a certain ‘warm’ look to the film.

On Set

The crew gelled immediately. We seemed to find a balance between taking enough time to achieve a quality result and moving on quickly (essential when working on the street or in working environments such as restaurants, offices, etc.) Some people were not available throughout the entire shoot and so crew (and sometime cast members) would have to take other roles. For example makeup artist, Rachel Goodger, was invaluable as a runner and clapper loader when crew members were absent or busy with other tasks. Nathan Ifill also took on many roles from boom operator to clapper loader and runner. Rachel and Nathan are just two people from many cast and crew members who offered their time and skills to make the film happen.

Makeup artist, Rachel Goodger, regularly stepped in as clapper loader and runner. Image © 2017 Raya Films

Camera Department

The Director-DoP (Director of Photography) relationship is a vital and often fractious one, since the collaboration involves many subjective and technical decisions based on countless factors.

Cinematographer, Jonathan Hawes, steps in as clapper loader whilst the actors await nearby. It was windy with erratic noise from traffic, passersby, etc. Image © 2017 Raya Films

Furthermore, with our no-budget project, we had little or no time to prepare and scope out locations, and not all of the camera department were available for the entire shoot. Thus, the film is credited with three cinematographers: Jonathan Hawes, Josh Penlington, and me on the main film, plus Nick Williams for our short film A Real Peach (this was shot to provide additional black-and-white footage that the character of Jake watches on television in his apartment).

Same location. Cameras are now rolling as actors Mia Mills and Simon Crudgington deliver their lines out in the street in the village of Quorn. Image © 2017 Raya Films

Adding to our workload, we did not have a full team in other departments, and so Jonathan, Nick, and Josh were required to set up the lights, operate cameras and focussing, help out with production design, and a host of other tasks.

Despite these challenges, we found a way of working to best use our individual skills. Importantly, we worked swiftly enough to complete the film within three weeks without any major technical hiccups.

Jonathan Hawes pulled off an incredible ‘one take’ Steadicam shot, my first time using this type of camera stabilizer. Image © 2017 Raya Films


In clip #5 below, Peter Pizzeria in Loughborough kindly loaned the use of their premises for a few hours. It’s starting to rain and a local building site is firing up, so we’re working as quickly as possible and dealing with problems as they arise. Jonathan is operating the camera, I am directing, and Josh is clapper loader. We need to sync the visuals and sound in two different positions: with Simon Crudgington in the foreground and with actors Tom Loone and Domenic Tiberius Russo in the distance. The sound crew are hiding in the container, to which Josh runs to get an audio sync mark.

In clip #6 below, Josh and actor, Jamie Alderson, struggle to keep the rain off themselves and the clapperboard. I try to move things on as quickly as possible as traffic hurtles close by.

In clip #7 below, US actor, Ed Bergtold, is required to deliver his lines opposite Sue Moore. He warms up to give the impression that he’s just run up the stairs, whilst the rest of us try to position the microphone, adjust the lighting, and camera position. We’re in a rush, as this is a large private property with residents coming-and-going, and we do not wish to outstay our welcome!

And then there was post-production, a phase that makes – and often breaks – a film. Those traumas will be exposed in the next blog post… coming soon!

James Smith, writer-director