Close Encounters at 1.15am…

So it’s 1.15am and I look over to see the shop manager looking sleepily at the clock. I had told him we’d be finished filming by 11pm and we’ve still got a couple of shots to do. I look at the crew but they’re working flat out – as they have been for eight straight hours – I can’t say anything. I just have this feeling which is simply… pressure. We’ve had to try and put so much into such a limited time frame and now I’m beginning to panic.

An hour later and we’re wrapped.

I first heard about 50 Kisses about six weeks ago. A director friend of mine sent me the link to the site and asked me to read one of the scripts she’d picked out. I thought – yeah, sure – another short film competition – why not? It was only when I started looking at the site in detail did I realise its potential and the sheer scale of the project. Nearly 2,000 scripts whittled down to 50 by top industry people? That meant….good writing – my spider sense started tingling! A week later my friend called me to say she couldn’t take the project on as another film she was working on was going to need more time.

I had already read all 50 scripts by this point and I was going to have a film in London by the 27th of October no matter what it took! I decided that if I was going to get involved I’d have to produce it myself. As an actor this was a huge learning curve – I’m used to getting a script, learning lines and turning up for rehearsals/shoots etc so being in charge of everything was going to be… interesting.

To start with I had to pick my script – I had got down to about half a dozen and now the practicalities started to kick in. Could we film this? Can we get away with doing that? Do we have the time to make these props? Can we afford to do that? As a producer you quickly realise you have a finite amount of resources – people, money, time and equipment and that you have to maximize all of these to get the best possible result. In the end I chose Close Encounters by Phil Berard. What I really liked about this story was its warmth and its universal appeal – it could be shot in Paris or New York or….Glasgow – I think we’ve all been one of the characters at some point!

Ok so I had picked my script – what next? Cast and Crew. I was very lucky in this respect that I had worked on a film called Porphyria earlier in the year and managed to convince the lead actress and most of the crew to have a look at the project. To a man (and woman) they agreed to do it. So next on the list was location – I wanted something special visually for this film but where? I drove to Glasgow’s West End with the idea of wandering about to see if anywhere caught my eye. Half an hour later I was back in my car with a confirmed location. I couldn’t believe it – walking along Great Western Road I saw on the other side of the street this lovely golden light coming out of a Deli window. I stood outside looking in and could see Close Encounters come to life. Five minutes later I was talking to the owner and very soon after we were shaking hands – I had my location.

The next phase was crucial – planning. We visited the Deli numerous times taking pictures, measurements etc. My Director and DOP were very efficient – storyboarding, lighting and shooting schedule were all taken care of which looking back was the backbone of the shoot – without the organization we would’ve been nowhere.

At the same time as all this was happening I had asked Douglas my director to contact Phil the writer to see if he minded our tweaking his script – also as a courtesy I thought it only right to speak to the guy whose idea we were using! Phil was fantastic – he replied to Douglas with a whole load of notes on our changes which were so useful in getting the story to where it just seemed right! What I really learned from this is how useful collaboration with the writer is – you might think you’ve got it right and then you get a note from the writer which means a small change which results in a huge improvement in the film. I’d say to anyone else making a film for 50 Kisses or any film for that matter – talk to the writer and be open to suggestions.

So the film is now in post production with just some work on the sound design left to complete and my job is nearly done. 50 Kisses has taken over my life for the past six weeks and I’ve loved (nearly) every minute of it. It’s amazing to see the World Map on the site with all of these pins showing teams across the globe all involved in the same endeavour. The fact that a small team in Scotland (with the help of a writer in Michigan) can compete with teams in London, LA and Lagos is fantastic.

Best of luck to everyone involved!

Simon McCay
Producer Barnstorm Pictures
Close Encounters

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