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

B-Rolls

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

@DoSomethingJake
#DoSomethingJake

 

Extreme UK Guerrilla Film-making #4

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.

Auditions

The best decision we made on Do Something, Jake was to thoroughly audition the actors. It’s often tempting to watch reels online, do Skype auditions and interviews, thus saving time, venue hire costs, etc. This is shortsighted – something I have learned through hard experience!

Actors Jamie Alderson and Becki Lloyd. Copyright © Raya Fims 2017

There is no substitute for seeing people face-to-face under the pressure of an audition. When I look back at the auditions for this film, I had, in most cases, decided that an actor was suitable within a few minutes of them walking in and saying a couple of lines. We auditioned many people, and it was clear who shone – have a look at the Full Cast and Crew to see who made it through. It was interesting that some people were cast in roles that they were not auditioned for. This is one reason why actors should have a go at a role, even if they think the chance is slim – you never know what other roles the director and producers are looking for.

Notably, some experienced actors did not take up our invitation to audition for the film, deciding against involvement in such a speculative venture (or simply not replying). So, full credit must be paid to our cast (and crew) who took the plunge, and it is they who will now benefit.

Directing the Actors

For many actors, this was the first time working on a full-length feature film. Furthermore, the pressure of no-budget and real locations (not studio sets) meant that we were up against very tight deadlines, often in working premises or residential properties where people were going about their everyday business. Shooting quickly with the least disruption was the only option, thus adding pressure on the actors to deliver.

I did sense that this created nervousness with some of the actors, but also a healthy buzz. I tend to dump actors into the ‘deep end’ (in the nicest possible way of course!) so that we can get them in front of camera as soon as possible. They’re not always keen on this, but there are no amount of bathroom breaks, cups of water, makeup adjustments, or any number of other excuses, that will prevent the inevitable: they need to step in front of the entire crew, lights, microphones and cameras all rolling, and deliver their lines.

Fortunately on ‘Jake’, they all endured the pressure beautifully (as they had done in the auditions). So, by the skin of our teeth, we shot the whole film on no budget within three weeks.

But what about working with the crew? That’s in the next blog post… coming soon!

James Smith, writer-director

@DoSomethingJake
#DoSomethingJake

Merchandise Now Available

OFFICIAL Do Something, Jake merchandise featuring artwork by Sean Strong is now available, including T-shirts, mugs, caps and hoodies. Select your own sizes and colours.

Buying merchandise helps the film project, since any profits go to the promotion and distribution of Do Something, Jake

CLICK HERE to visit the store!

Extreme UK Guerrilla Film-making #3

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.

The Weather

At time of writing (June 2017) the temperature in Quorn (one of our filming locations in Leicestershire) is 29 degrees with 46% humidity and a 9 mph wind. This, quite a contrast to the mix of autumn weather experienced during production of Do Something, Jake back in November 2015. Check out these two B-Roll clips, filmed indoors but cold nonetheless, since it was an old derelict building with no heating:

Indeed, freezing hands, long hours, big coats, and gruelling conditions are often part of film shoots whatever the budget. There are some hurdles that money will not resolve: you cannot pay the sky gods to make the sun stay a little longer, thus increasing shooting hours, and you cannot prevent the weather from taking an unexpected turn at any moment. English director Christopher Nolan said of his Iceland shoot on Interstellar (estimated budget $165m), “We did three days out on the water standing in 2-foot-deep water in the freezing cold. And I’ve never had a crew complain quite so much.”

On our no-budget film, we were generally lucky with the weather. Although it was extremely cold, we avoided torrential downpours and extreme winds – but only just. There were a few occasions when an approaching storm, rain, and other climatic changes could have aborted the shoot, or at least changed the schedule radically.

My approach is to film with what you have in terms of weather. If it’s raining, we roll cameras! Also, in scheduling, we try not to split scenes across days, thus mitigating the risk of continuity problems.

The other thing is to get stuck in and enjoy the early mornings, late nights, the cold, the heat, the rain, the wind, the mud… everything.

“People have no idea how physically tough doing a film is.” ~Ridley Scott

Whatever the budget, we’re privileged to be involved in film-making and out there doing it in the elements. I’ve spent enough time working in dreary offices to know that for sure!

So, that’s the weather, a challenge indeed… but what about directing the actors? That’s coming soon in the next installment…

James Smith, writer-director

@DoSomethingJake
#DoSomethingJake

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

@DoSomethingJake
#DoSomethingJake

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

@DoSomethingJake
#DoSomethingJake

 

Crew member, Rachel Goodger, on being a make-up artist

We hear from make-up artist, Rachel Goodger (who also helped as a runner), on being a crew member on Do Something, Jake

Photo © James Smith

“I loved every minute of filming Do Something, Jake, down to working with a great cast and crew, and visiting some amazing locations including apartments filled with ‘I must have these weird and wonderful things.’ Not all of the locations were glamorous though – there were dark and cold warehouses where we exchanged laughter and cringe-worthy innuendos to make the long hours more bearable!

“On set, a great atmosphere was created – something I was able to experience whilst being head of make-up. I was also on hand here and there throughout filming as a runner. The cast and crew were all great fun and lovely to be around, making the whole process so enjoyable – enough cannot be said about them all. I’m so happy and pleased to have been a part of this film, watching Raya Films bring it to life, and putting so much passion and detail into each scene.”

Rachel Goodger – Make-up


 

Were you a cast or crew member, or an extra involved in ‘Do Something, Jake’ or ‘A Real Peach’? Contact us to share your story on here!

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