Imagine you've come up with this hair-brained idea to shoot a feature film in six months time. You've literally set a date when you will press record on whatever camera you've managed to get your sweaty palms on. Now imagine you have the following: No script, no cast, no clue. Know anybody who would be that daft? You do now.
It was New Year's Day 2013. With the previous year's alcohol still in the bloodstream, my producer Adam and I decided that we would make our first feature film that very summer. Now, just over 2 years later, and on the brink of releasing The Last Sparks Of Sundown, here's our blueprint of how NOT to make a feature film.
1. Set a date
27th June 2013. Plucked from the thin air of a crisp New Year's Day morning. That was our D-Day - the first day of shooting of whatever this film turned out to be with whoever would be foolish enough to come with us. Setting a date gave us something to work towards, a focus. The fact that it was a little over 6 months away and we were starting from scratch made it utter madness. But, using the phrase "reverse engineering" in a bid to make it sound more like a legitimate strategy than a misjudged pipedream, we got to work.
2. One month to write a script
March. Still pretty cold, not much going on. Seems like a decent month to stare into the white abyss of Final Draft's title page. Whether by Captain Hook or Mackenzie Crook I would have a completed draft by 31 March. An arbitrary amount of time to work on the most important part of the process - rock solid thinking. INT. HELICOPTER - NIGHT...
3. Shoot the film in two weeks
Shooting is the expensive bit. Cast, crew and equipment all cost money even when everyone's doing you a favour, so the shoot had to be two weeks. It's all we could afford and all we could reasonably ask of everyone's summer. A necessity it may be, but it's tough. The Shoot Day From Hell™ involved shooting 13 pages of script with six of the seven main actors, two cameras, and three special effects. Not medically recommended.
4. Shoot (and stay) in one location
So we managed to find a location (our Sundown House) that we could not only shoot the majority of the film in, but that could also house our entire cast and crew. Well, just about. So, the editor was sleeping in a tent in the garden, the director and the producer were sharing a bed, and the shower leaked onto the set with the expensive cameras in it? Relax, no one died.
5. Edit in your Producer's spare room
Featuring Three Men and a Baby. The Men: Director James, Producer Adam and Editor Ryan. The Baby: An ugly sunnuvabitch made-up of 50 hours of footage on 10 hard drives. In a spare room no bigger than Steven Spielberg's downstairs toilet, we spent almost nine months trying to make sense of what had happened in the summer of 2013. Things were said. People got hurt. We lost a lot of good men in that spare room.
And then it's finally done. You play the festival circuit, win a couple of awards. Why not try self-distributing? Pardon? Taking on what is essentially a full-time job on top of your actual job and other things like eating, sleeping and raising children? Yep. Sign me up.
And that's where we are now. A two year journey of highs and lows, an intense, hurried pre-production, an unforgettable shoot and the gruelling marathon to actually finish the bloody thing. Am I proud of what we achieved? Absolutely. Would I recommend this method of making a feature film to anyone else? No, it's bonkers. But maybe that's you...
The Last Sparks of Sundown is playing at the Prince Charles Cinema from 27th - 30th July followed by Q&As with the director and cast.