In November I began collaborating with a fellow student, who is also my boyfriend, on a short film he applied for through Central Saint Martins. After some brainstorming, we put together a film pitch and presented it to a panel representing CSM, NOWNESS, and Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy. Remarkably, we got the funding to make a comedy short. Honestly, this is quite unlike the kind of project I would have undertaken myself, but with T I have been working through the pre-production phase until now.
Last weekend we shot my and T’s film at Pagham Beach. This marks a twist in our film making journey, which must conclude by the end of the coming month. Up until the shoot, everything was merely hypothetical, and hardly seemed achievable because all the component parts of making this film seemed at all times up in the air and beyond our control. The pre-production phase involved a lot of planning, emailing, and endless administration.
From the moment we won the commission, I really wasn’t sure how we’d pull it off. Our idea was simple, and really we could have done it at home in one of our flats, without using the budget. We could have just went with telling the story, without fussing over the details of the image and its credibility. It just had to be two quirky people telling a quirky story about their contradicting way of life. But we had a £3000 budget and wanted to see what kind of film we could makethat we couldn’t usually make.
So we decided to mimic in form and quality, the artist interview/documentary genre as closely as possible in filming and editing, as well as pass the characters as convincing as possible with good costume, props and performance.
T and I are producing, directing, editing and acting in this film.
We soon found out that that’s a lot of responsibility to take on! Of all these roles I probably knew least about what producing entailed, but that is what we were immediately thrown into.
The minutia of detail involved in pulling off the shoot was surprising, though expected to some extent. We had to look for a suitable “eco-chic” designer home to film in, a crew (cinematographer, sound engineer and art director/make-up artist), props to make the house feel “lived-in”, costumes, fill out risk assessments and get them approved, find fake guns, alert local police in Bognor Regis that filming was to take place there, acquire filming equipment, find a way of transporting all these things to and from the filming location, schedule how to get the most out of our weekend filming there and consider the position and amount of daylight throughout the days, plan dinners that we’d cook ourselves during our stay, attend frequent update meetings with NOWNESS and insurance meetings with UAL.
Meanwhile, we had to write the actual script all this was to be based on, as we won the commission based on a principle idea only, as well as some improvised riffs between ourselves. Since improvisation appeared to be an interest and strength within both of our practices, the script was to play more of a backup role; material we could use if our improv failed during the shoot. It also contained a narrative thread that could be useful if all our improv turned out to feel disconnected or too tangential. We had to storyboard the spoken content we imagined surfacing in the interview, with imagery we imagined superimposing in the edit. What you go out to film, I realised, and in what order you film it, is markedly different from the chronology of the scenes in the edit. Filming is about capturing useful content that can be filtered and rearranged into a great story; filming is about widening your arsenal of useful shots as far as possible so as to maximise storytelling potential in the editing room.
On top of this, for the first two months of our work in the project, and during the preproduction phase, each of us had to continually meditate on our characters and their relationship, so that we could deliver a convincing performance. I was living with Michie and T with Brian for some time; they’d almost become a part of us.
Everything is up in the air in the production phase. It’s hard to get confirmations tied down, as they usually depend on other people, or other yet-to-be-confirmed factors in the film project. Our first desired location fell through when the owner insisted to be present during filming – we weren’t sure we could deal with her presence there, and our commissioner advised us to let it go in favour of ensuring we were in control during filming. That led us to search further, and we found something that really fit the part.
We contacted the owner directly, and started negotiating dates. She seemed keen on the exposure the NOWNESS channel would provide her property, and seemed to have a philanthropic interest in supporting a student-led artistic film project. She was incredibly generous with the price; whereby filming rental would normally amount to £1000+, she offered it to us for £600, the standard fee for weekend visitors at this time of year. We had the audacity to haggle further in exchange for a short “sizzle reel” we offered to make for her: a video of her home that she could use for advertising her home. We managed to get the location for £450 for the weekend, but use of the property for filming was not confirmed until about a week before we were scheduled to shoot, so it is easy to imagine how unnerving that was.
Our team came together by pursuing a trail through our personal contacts; friends of friends. Meetings with new people interested in working on the project. Sussing out who’d make a good addition, and how much their involvement would cost.
For props, I came up with the idea of organising an open call to the entire university to submit works of art and design that responded to the theme of “luxury and sustainability”, that were weird and wonderful yet could find a place in a home, or which resembled weaponry in some way. Wording what exactly we were looking for was difficult, but we put together a flashy poster and started targeting courses through their leaders, such as Material Futures, Fashion courses, Jewellery, Interior Design, Fine Art, etc.. In the beginning I really didn’t know whether we’d get any submissions at all, but I extended the call as far as I could, published it on as many platforms as I could, and even acquired additional funding via the UAL Postgraduate Community Fund, as it is there to back projects that encourage interdisciplinary collaboration at UAL.
I thought it would be lovely to litter the film set with objects designed by fellow students, and let that be the environment into which we meet the quirky artist couple featured in the film. I thought it would be lovely to credit all these artists from UAL at the end, and for it to be known that so much of the visual material was produced on home turf by our students. I thought it was nice; celebratory. But I didn’t know if we’d get any submissions, and in that case we’d have to start thinking what kind of props we’d need to buy to populate the space.
It worked. Submissions started flowing in. We got, in one go, access to a whole lot of interesting, cutting edge design, without having to buy or rent anything at all. Students from all colleges and different courses applied, and soon we had all kinds of quasi domestic bits and bobs that on their own were magnificent, and which were sure to provide the camera lens with a feast for the eye. We also sourced some of our costume this way, and it is such a delight to have been able to provide another platform for these works. When I extended the open call, a fresh bout of submissions came and doubled our collection.
But then of course, problems arise. To be in the possession of works by 30 students, each submitting numerous works, is a huge responsibility. How to store these when the college is so strict about letting students store works there? How to insure ourselves against potential loss, damage or theft, and minimise the probability of any of these happening in the first place? How to catalogue them and ensure nothing is lost in transit? How to keep these works utterly safe from harm whilst in my possession?!?
Much administration ensued. I had to get dimensions, value estimations, and descriptions from each participating student; I had to have them sign an artist contract to waive me from damages to the works whilst in storage, I had to organise delivery dates and then be present at Kings Cross to receive these and store them safely until we were due to travel.
Of course, my co-director and I both work part time, and have course commitments alongside this extra curricular project. It was a constant mad dash and bewildering planning during this time. He happened to have been called away by his day job, to work in Switzerland during the very week we were receiving submissions.
When I turned up at university to meet students coming with their works, I still didn’t have access to a place to store them. We had a plan about gaining access to a certain office which we’d not long ago used to store works for an on-site exhibition, and I proceeded to make countless phone calls to university headquarters about gaining access to it again with my student ID card. Meanwhile, my phone was ringing and showing unknown numbers. I was meeting students and beginning to take in boxes. At the time I was sitting in the library, and going in and out to meet them. I tried to play it cool, but really I was just accepting work and carrying it back to my station by the computer in the library, slowly becoming inundated in boxes and garments. Finally, I got the space I needed, and started locking up the works in the secure location. Then I could begin to feel proud of the interesting collaborative opportunity I’d created. It was exciting showcasing these works.
Other important props included picture frames with images T used from a photoshoot we’d organised with our cinematographer, in Photoshop edits where he inserted us into bizarre scenarios: Michie giving emphatic TED talks, Brian with his aristocratic family, the both of them on safari, or in a loving portrait embrace, one hand casually balancing a pistol over the shoulder of the other while wearing tender smiles. We printed and framed the images like family photos. We purchased toy guns online and spray painted them black. We bought household plants, and ransacked T’s flat for his desk, lamps and other studio paraphernalia.
Crew, props, kit, location, van. We found a van on Gumtree and rented it.
Last Friday we stuffed it to the brim with our stuff, leaving just about enough room to cram ourselves into it. And off we went to Bognor Regis to shoot our film; Tom at the wheel, me handing out snacks from the front, and our crew snoozing in the back with all our equipment rattling about as precariously as our promise of decent footage…