It might just be the fact that I am typing this at 03.04 on day two, but I feel kind of blessed right now.
Blessed to have spent the (very long) first day in the company of a very fine bunch of actors (bunch is the right collective noun, isn’t it?)
Blessed to have the privilege of working with such a small but dedicated and talented set of people: Tim Callaghan the long-suffering and unfailingly enthusiastic DoP, Producer, Editor-in-Chief and, when the need arises (as it does a lot), key grip. Alistair Hughes the writer and man who made all the continuity notes despite the fact that he ought to be in bed because he has (and this is no joke, nor is it a request for the sympathy vote) a case of pneumonia. I mean seriously… pneumonia. Jack Green the newest Wookie in our pack – a sound engineer, musician, composer and a man whose sunny disposition threatens to outshine even Tim’s.
I’ve never directed a movie before. Not even a short one like this. To go in ‘at the deep end’ with something like this that was so time sensitive was something that I can now admit (having wrapped the shoot) I was a bit nervous about. Strike that. I was really properly nervous about it!
Frankly if it hadn’t been for the fact that I knew I could rely on the technical expertise of the colleagues that I have mentioned above, I would have been stymied… I mean, how would you approach it?
You have four actors who don’t know you, and don’t know one another. You have a script that isn’t yet written and a very tight timescale to get everything wrapped up in… what would you do?
Well, rightly or wrongly, my approach was to work with the actors to get them happy working with me, and with each other. We did a load of improvisation and then working on scenes from films and TV and a play so that we could get a feel for the way that everyone worked.
It seemed to break the ice and by the time we got the competition variables (we were given the title ‘Hourglass’, the line of dialogue “Now there’s something you don’t see every day” and the prop was a cup of steaming liquid that a character had to sniff and then pour away) at gone 13.00 (yes, that’s right… over an hour after the competition started… see how we get punished for not living in London!) I had a good idea about how everyone worked, so I was able to feed Alistair some thoughts on characterisation for his script. Not that he needed them particularly.
The four actors we had were all volunteers and a more enthusiastic and willing troupe we could not have possible hoped for. All of them have said they enjoyed the experience and, even at gone midnight, they were still unfailingly upbeat.
We had Richard Priday, a drama student based in Cheshire but studying in York, who has great screen presence and a real ability to deliver acerbic snappy dialogue.
We had Laura Fay Smith, an actress with a real depth of knowledge of sci fi, and a really commanding presence on screen. Again, fabulous at the sarcastic lines and a really expressive manner.
There was Toria Pardoe, an actress from Merseyside who was just perfect for the quick descent into madness that one of the characters had to experience. She’s a very effective presence and I think that there are elements of her performance that were genuinely chilling.
And finally there was Roland Guenther from Chester, a warm and human fellow that comes across as just plain old-fashioned ‘nice’… of course he had to be the first to die!
And what of the script?
Alistair came up with a great set of lines, especially given the pressure under which he wrote them. Most importantly, the story really worked.
It was the simple tale of a heist gone wrong. The surviving members of the gang return to their warehouse lockup carrying with them their haul of money, gold and… something else.
The something else in question being the MacGuffin of the piece – the mysterious ‘Hourglass’ of the title.
It turns out that the Hourglass is an alien device that has the power to control minds, with the weakest minds taken first… Toria was sent nuts and shot Roland. Then she recovered her senses long enough to realise that she was likely to be a bit of a danger to her friends so she did the decent thing and blew her own brains out. Then Laura left Richard and he started hearing things… he thought it was Laura on the walkie-talkie, but it was really the aliens speaking to him in his head.
Chances are Laura was already dead at this point but we never found out because all we got to see was Richard fighting the alien’s mind control shenanigans. The clue for Richard was when they told him to jump off that fire escape. Pesky aliens.
Anyway, he shook off their control and that triggered the opening of the Hourglass device… he approached it, opened it despite the aliens screaming at him not to, he touched it, broke the seal… light and smoke poured forth and the aliens screamed a cacophonous and blood curdling cry of anguish and anger and all went black…
So we didn’t start shooting until 15.00. We wrapped at well after midnight and it was 01.00 when we finally got everything back into the cars and we headed for home. As I type this, Tim is in editing Hell, Jack is in composer’s corner and I am doing the blogging and the ‘making of’ video.
Still… breakfast time soon!