Production – 19th March 2013 – Club M, Coventry

Perhaps the most stressful day of my life that ended in complete failure. Not the best way to start production, but a very important lesson learned for the future and for life.

Shooting was to commence at 11:00 and be completed by 21:45 – the club opens its doors to the public at 10pm so we had to be packed and gone by that time.

We had 1 hour of time for ‘preparation’ (me and 1st AD) had time to greet all the crew and cast needed for the first scene of the day (Scene 7). The makeup artist arrived overnight as she stayed at the local hotel with Grace; the DoP and his lighting team came from Birmingham; actors that were required for the morning all came on time; and the Sound guys were slightly late as they arrived from London, but to make use of this I insisted that make-up began and actors read through their lines. Myself and 1st AD knew that some people were coming from all over the country so we gave ourselves an hour of time for this so-called ‘preparation’.

So far so good, in that time the RED and the lighting in the toilet was being set up whilst the actors were getting their make-up done. Once this was completed we started shooting the first scene at around 11:30. Upon the first take it was evident that my directing was very rusty (I had never directed something of this scale & the last time I did direct, it was on a 3min short) – in this scene everyone was meant to act tipsy after the effects of alcohol was being felt in their bodies, e.g. the way they walked, the way you hold onto things for stability, even the way you look at things. The lines the actors spoke in this part of the script were already matched to their ‘drunk’ characters. So after directing the actors in detail we continued the shoot. It was relatively straight forward, one long take (medium shot), POV shot, close-up, and vanity shot (close-up of legs). The long take had to be done multiple times however so I could (as editor and head of post-production) choose the best parts from each take to edit/cut with the POV and Close-up.

The vanity shot was done to highlight the sexually liberated ‘toilet’ woman rejecting the main character Ted, showing her nature of rejecting the weak. Furthermore it’s not a student shot since it is somewhat controversial. With this project I wanted to avoid the student look/shot as much as possible. It’s a bizarre angle – we’ve always wanted to see what happens when a cubicle is packed in such a way, and thankfully, cinema allows for that.

Post-production note/Toilet flaw

The only flaw in this scene was the fact that we failed to shoot the close-up from start to end. I should have insisted the DoP shoot the whole close-up take from the very start of the scene and every single reaction till the end. Did this cause many problems? Yes and No. I was able to cut around this but at the end of the scene the main character (Ted) should stare at the toilet for a few seconds and then turn back to the urinal; instead he just stares at the urinal bemused to what he had just seen. Both make sense but unfortunately not the way I had originally imagined it.

Furthermore there are two instances of the actor swiftly turning his head, one to the urinal, and one turning away to look at something. They are in fact the same shot, one has just been reversed. Another clever trick to get past the error I had made above – I had remembered this edit being done in a classic 007 film From Russia In Love (1963).

This has taught me in future to do any important takes from start to finish, and not from half-way through to the end and vice-versa.

Another issue is that the main actor had to urgently leave at around 1pm (hence the unusually long break in the schedule) so we had to rush this scene slightly knowing that the main actor had to go away for some time – additional, non-needed stress. Instead of this really long lunch, I should have scheduled some scenes/shots here that would not have required the main actor to make better use of time. I started to notice that problems occur simply when you do not need anymore.

The Failure

After scene 7 was complete I felt like we were making progress. Everything was going well, to plan. I went on a few errands and arranged some food for the actors and arrived at the Club for 3 to continue. The actor playing Levis had trouble arriving at the Club as he somehow got the wrong address (the old address of ClubM since it had previously moved). I was very aware of this so I made incredible precision to put the correct address in the schedule and the emails I sent to him. But still, somehow he arrived at the old place; perhaps because his GPS was in need of an update. I had to direct him to the new place and stand outside fulfilling the role of production runner because I had failed to organise one. This was also a massive problem because I had to waste time standing outside waiting for cast/crew/extras, e.g. to direct them where to park, to greet them when I could have spent time organising current actors and crew members. A runner would have also introduced the cast and crew around and made everyone aware who was who. I noted to myself that a runner was of utmost important and that I would have one for next time. Thankfully the 1st AD did a good job in my despicable absence, although he blamed me for ‘disappearing’. Little did he know I was talking and befriending Roger when outside (a legendary guy who would help us secure extras in the very future).

Finally after the long break the main actors were there, the crew was there. So what was missing? Not a single extra. So we waited and waited.. but NONE turned up. This was caused by a number of reasons which I will outline below:

Reasons for no extras (in order of importance)

  • Poor organisation for which I blame no-one but the producers (me)
  • Relying solely on the 3 free drink tokens for each person was a very bad idea
  • Relying on the Facebook group only was a very bad idea again, it is useless and not to be trusted whatsoever
  • ClubM had only previously moved from another location – so some GPS systems/websites had the previous, completely wrong address
  • ClubM’s new location had a bad reputation in the past, it used to be known as Blok. Blok was closed down after a rape injury was launched after a Coventry woman told police she was attacked at the nightclub in May 2011. It was later shut down and only recently refurbished and re-launched as ClubM in January 2013.
  • Early timing – 3pm at a club with free alcohol – too good to be true?
  • It’s Coventry. People here are unlike anywhere else in the world. Very little people want to help and most people want to see you fail. Sad but true.

BlokCluM had a bad reputation in the past

What I would do in the future to organise extras?

I would dedicate myself to organising extras first hand and individually. Confirm each person and take their details – just like I would arrange an actor for one of the main roles. This is so incredibly important and I can’t believe I overlooked it so much.

After waiting for extras (outside in the cold) for an hour or two, the stress was piling so I was losing track of time and reality. Being slightly unwell at the time increased in completely ruined my mood. I felt shit but was determined to carry on, half-dead.The last resort which was agreed by us was to march into the city centre (which was around 5minutes away), armed with drink tokens in hand and attempt to persuade as many people as possible to turn up and be an extra. This was a very stressful experience.  The cast and crew were very friendly and we managed to split up into two teams to cover as much ground as possible. Some people were very reluctant to go, I had the script on my iPad, had one of the sound guys and a very persuasive female actor to try to gain the trust of local Coventry people. This must have taken around 2 hours – incredibly precious time that we couldn’t even spare in the first place. By the time we had arrived the DoP and his team were already preparing Scene 5, albeit 3 or 4 hours late. By this time we had just enough extras for that particular scene so we began shooting it.

Post-production note/Scene 5 (Box-office) flaw

The whole scene was shot in a long shot long take; however in post-production I was able to convert it to a medium shot to allow the viewer to see more emotion in the actors’ faces. It would have been nice to cut to a few close-ups.

At the time we agreed to complete the close-ups later on the day, but I should have insisted we complete them then and there because time was running low and it started to become evident that we might need to return to film.

However I am arguing that this scene cannot drag on for long because I want the main character get into the club as fast as possible where the main story unravels, rather than being stuck for too long in the outsides. The outdoor queue screen is a long take too, stylised in a way with as little cuts as possible, more interesting to the audience because it feels as if it is real time. The first queue scene establishes some kind of hostility, the second establishes the girl who he pays for and is then instantly rejected, not even a single kind remark for his actions. I managed to cut the shot after the 3rd slap on the back to when the girl overtakes him on the stairs to hug her friend (which just happens later in the take) with the bouncers voice becoming an almost voice-over effect “Good Luck, mate” which I find very iconic.

Footage after this point will never make it to the final film

After the box-office scenes were complete we moved to the main floor of the club to do the main scenes. By this time we thought we had a sufficient amount of extras – it certainly looked like we did (around 10 people arrived from town and another 10 from Facebook event page/friends), but looking back at the footage this was not the case. The club still looked empty, which lead me to believe that ClubM was simply too big for the film and that we should have chosen a smaller venue. Furthermore the club assistant manager and his minions were incredibly annoying and detrimental to the production of the film – they kept blasting out music and verbal trash from the loudspeaker which just made me furious, I kindly asked them to keep noise levels down but they weren’t too keen on cooperating – this made the whole experience agonising.

If I had known that we were not going to use any of this in the final film I would have put more attention to the previous scenes, but at the time I did not know this – If only I’d knew. We were running out of time so we thought we should get as much done as possible.

Directing the actors was hard but it was in everyone’s mind-set that we had to get this done; the most time consuming thing was the DoP’s lighting team to set up all their kit because of the incredibly low levels of light in the Club. This taught me that some shots do take some extra time to setup and consequently I should allow for that in the schedule. Again, this leads me to believe that the wrong venue was chosen because the levels of light were unsuitable for filmmaker, hence all the extra kit.

The following scenes that were done included the brawl between the alpha male and victim, alpha male and Levis, scene 5, and eventually some of scene 8. Physically and mentally I had lost it by scene 8, so I am displeased to say that the makeup artist (which doubled as a friendly runner, everyone seemed to like her) started directing scene 8. As a result, it turned out to be bad and unusable.

Towards 8pm the assistant manager of the club was telling us that we needed to start clearing up and getting out, unlike the previous agreed time of 21:45. This was really hard-hitting because not only had they not kept their agreement, we had to get out and fast knowing that we had failed. Yet again the wonderful people of Coventry messing you up – you cannot rely on anyone.

And there was the failure of the day. Going to town to get extras, getting told to leave far earlier, leaving the location knowing that you messed up your shots and wasted your money (rent fees), knowing that the day had been a massive screw up. Of course this was all overshadowed by the sheer amount of experience gained on my part. Also I met some exceptionally friendly and helpful people, notably Roger Payne who eventually became the Executive Producer of the film.

Unfortunately I had also failed to secure a good production stills photographer for the day, which was particularly crucial for evidence and a general warm feeling of some kind of evidence of completion. It made me realise how important they are so I made myself a promise that next time, I’d organise some kind of photographer. However what struck me is that when I helping out on another project, I was really eager to give advice and my help out so I started using my own phone camera to take stills to the point where someone offered a camera. Why did no-one on the day take a few snaps from their camera? The answer is that most people do not want to help you. Most people would rather see you fail. My personality however is one that never gives up. I will complete this film to the best of my ability no matter the cost to myself.

Thinking optimistically

The brawls between the alpha male and Levis/Victim were without doubt nicely shot and nicely lit. Unfortunately they were incomplete and could not be used for the final cut of the film. So the most I could do was put them into the trailer, after all the whole film is based around the harshness and hostility of society and one man’s inability to overcome it. Perhaps I can imply this even more now.

It was in my mind and the 1st ADs that we would be coming back to the club to finish shooting so we temporarily put ourselves at rest – we’d finish the shots at a later date. However, we were in for a surprise – refer to Pre-production for ‘The Dog, Coventry’. This was the first and last time at ClubM, and I am more than happy for that. Lesson learned.

So what shots were usable from the club? Everything in the toilet was more or less top notch and the box office scenes were good enough to use also. With a bit of talented editing and grading they will look great. Additionally we made even more contacts including the extras that turned up from town – we secured their numbers and names so that we could easily contact them in the future to re-arrange this set of night scenes. Here we met Jasmine, who was beyond perfect for her role. Not all of it was a complete failure; some good did come out of it.

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