Why did I choose to make, “The Nearness of You?” Well, I was very impressed by its insightful, sensitively drawn script with a story that drew me into an authentic historical setting and kept me guessing until the end. I knew that the actresses could work wonders with the superbly crafted dialogue and well, the fact that I wrote it and nobody else wanted to make it; that was the real clincher!
I liked the idea of the competition from the start: short script, impressive judges, international entries; and tried to persuade a number of acting friends that we should all enter. At 8.30pm on the closing day for entries I hadn’t done anything about it so sat down, acquainted myself with, “Final Draft,” and had a go. What can you fit into a 2 page film? You might establish a setting and an atmosphere, sketch a couple of characters that an audience will take an interest in and put a bit of a twist in at the end. By 10pm I was reasonably happy and couldn’t fit another word on my 2 pages, not even, “The End,” so bunged it in.
Very excited to get on the long list and even more so to get in the top 50. Not too long after I was contacted by Gail from, “50 Kisses,” and after a quick chat it was obvious that her understanding of the story was quite different from mine. In fact all the 50K readers had got the same message as Gail, as had some of the good people who left comments on the script page – interesting! Not only that but it was pointed out, quite rightly as it happened, that producing this film could be a bit tricky, it being set in 1943 and all!
I’d been going along to, “Shooting People,” meetings in Norwich for about 18 months. Often there were only 3 of us there – all actors – but the incredibly patient Pete Barfield kept it rolling and eventually there was an influx of creative film types.
Joe Carver was one of these and we seemed to have a similar taste in TV and films. He was about to start an MA in Film at NUCA. I got him to shoot a bit of extra showreel for me and edit the whole thing. His talent was obvious so I suggested he might like to shoot my script.
I had a venue in mind. It was a World War 1 hut in a village where I’d played a gig 25 years before. I went out to remind myself about it and found it was spot on, not only that but some of the people of the village were interested in getting involved.
I already knew I wanted Venetia and Tasha as my leading ladies and was lucky enough to find them available. I was getting to a stage where I was going to commit to doing it….
It was just a case of a huge production job, most of which I was trying to do while rehearsing and touring in a play! I’ve produced a couple of shows before and was almost expecting the stress-borne thought, “If I’d known it was going to be like this I would never have started!” This duly arrived and settled in around mid-September!
The internet was quite unreliable at the play rehearsal location down South but I managed to secure a USAF re-construction group, some top notch musicians, some swing dancers, a costumier and, eventually, a reasonable number of extras. My newly retired sister agreed to cook for the growing hoard and a neighbour, Tom who happens to be a music–tech journalist, agreed to cover sound recording. At some point it dawned on me that everybody was going to need their hair and make up doing and I was incredibly lucky to get the enthusiastic assistance of Kerry, “Missy Vintage,” Clark who I’d seen interviewed in the local paper.
One of the last people to come aboard was the, very handy to know, Steve Lofthouse, a professional site manaer for films who agreed to come along and do lights. He’s also intensely practical and used to problem solving.
Thursday before the shoot on Sunday I still had no leading man. I had cast a good guy a few days before but when we tried to find a uniform to fit his 45” chest and 32” waist it was no go. Thankfully a few friends were looking for me and we got Jack. Fortunate because I had a theatre show to do in Canterbury on the Friday and by the time I got back on Saturday there would be very little time left.
The day before the shoot we had to pick up a piano from the costumier in my pal Russ’ van. I can’t really lift anything myself, you understand- dodgy back and all that – so went with a small delegation including Steve and Tasha Purwin. This little iron framed upright was colossally heavy and in a tight spot and, at a point where there was only enough space for 2 to lift it, Steve was on one end and Tasha the other in her high heels. Multi-talented that lady; really!
Joe, Steve, Venetia and I went out to the location the night before to do a bit of setting up. It was freezing and we couldn’t work out how to fire up the gas heaters! I hadn’t even given the temperature a thought; the weather had been very mild in the city in daytime.
We put up most of the blackout blinds, flags and bunting. The lighting was very even from the fluorescent tubes in the building but even with grading there’s always the chance of flicker and colour casts. Steve bounced a couple of builder’s lights off the white painted ceiling and it immediately looked a lot better. Poor Vee had no coat and was crouching by one of Steve’s lights for warmth so around 9.30pm we headed back to the city.
On the shoot day the multi-tasking of production and direction got a bit intense! As I was trying to start the van to go and pick up Steve and get to the venue my phone kept ringing and as I was answering texts new ones kept coming in! I was kicking myself for not doing more to find a production assistant. One text was from the drummer for the band who couldn’t make it! Par for the course really.
At the hall people began arriving and we opened the doors to let the heat in! Kerry got started on our principals hair and make-up straight away and worked incredibly hard for many hours (to amazing effect) as even the extras who’d come prepared sometimes fancied a check over!
The piano was installed by about 5 people (mental note – get a trolley next time.) I was due to pick up our second camera and stills man but he thought he could get a lift – he never did turn up.
My sister, Jill, arrived with home made cakes. Also a guy Steve knew on a fantastic old Douglas flat twin motorcycle – unfortunately he was 6 hours early. Our fault, you just can’t seem to check arrangements often enough – I’d be cursing the production assistant if we had one!
A young girl turned up with her Mum by prior arrangement. She wanted to see a film being made so I got Mum to deal with the release forms. Everyone complained about the cold but we got the heaters going with help from local extra, Terry. As it turned out the solution involved a couple of knobs and a candle on a stick. (Insert your own joke here!) I couldn’t get a signal on my phone in the village but borrowed Vee’s and after a series of calls managed to get a drummer.
Suzanne, in charge of costume and props, had supplied bunting and flags etc and as the folk from Liberation 44 re-construction group stood round the, “bar,” things were really started to look authentic. There were a few concessions made – the buttons on Tasha’s WAAF uniform were wrong, some of the glasses people wore. You begin to see why an episode of, “Foyle’s War,” costs £2 million! Some extras came in their own clobber but Suzanne did a tremendous job of sorting out the rest.
We rehearsed the first shot of the crowd coming in. Tom was holding his headphones and complaining of a high buzzing sound. It’s a wasp, attracted by the heat of the lights flying figure 8s over the microphones. I flapped at it with a bit of spare blackout curtain to no avail before making an executive decision to leave it, the crowd are drowning it out anyway.
Joe is a perfectionist with a keen eye for detail and sees all kinds of minor shadows and so on that mean fine lighting adjustments are required. He’s using a Canon 550d and an Olympus Zuiko film SLR lens on for most of the shoot and I think he got some great results.
The actresses seem quite content and get on well. I got them to do a little co-counselling exercise over the phone before they met which neither of them is remotely convinced by! The performances are fantastic and they get on so well that they have to be retrieved from the pub when a half hour break ends being twice as long!
The extras too, seem to be enjoying themselves. My sister’s cakes are working their magic and all the waiting about is tempered by this and the attractions of the village itself. Things really peak for them though when the band start playing and they can have a dance around 3pm. For these shots Joe sits in a wheelchair while Steve wheels him about.
I feel quite at home in the director’s role, my first time! I’ve been an actor and extra on many film sets and know how long the days feel with no structure. I make sure that every one knows roughly what time stuff is going to happen and what it is we’re trying to achieve in specific shots.
We break for a hot meal, my sister has brought 45 baked potatoes and made chilli sauce, both meat and veggie. We’ve had to break an hour late but now just have one more indoor shot and a couple outside to do. I know that after the meal the extras will start to feel like going home so we do the indoor shot and, although it’s actually stopped raining and we should get outside, I call a pudding break to keep the interest going!
I’d hoped to film at dusk using natural light but time has slipped away and we have to get Steve to use some simple lighting. The motorbike is ridden in by Mark and there’s a discussion about whether it should have a headlight cover on. We shoot a little bit of dialogue and then we wrap around 7pm.
A lot of the extras say how much they’ve enjoyed the day. In about an hour and a quarter the hall is back to normal, the key returned, the piano is in the van and we’re away back to the city.
I’m aware all along that the production side has taken most of my attention and I learn some basic directing lessons a bit too late, ie during the edit!
- Shots are much easier to edit if the actors don’t start talking right away!
- We needed somebody just concentrating on continuity to give us a full set of options in the edit.
- To represent a crowded space, get some extras to walk past the camera at the start and end of shots!
- You can’t fake the sound of excitement. In the edit we have to use the on-camera sound for the dance scene because it sounds like a proper party, unlike the carefully recorded band on their own with added wild track chatter.
- Follow the script! American airmen should be hassling the girls for a dance. I’m still kicking myself for not getting the actresses closer together in the scene near the end – it should seem as if Dianne might be going in for a kiss!
I wish we could have had a second day to cover the gaps and gaffs but actually, thanks to the support of a whole range of people, we’ve got an amazing amount done in the time. Initial response is that people really like the look of it. The challenge for the second edit is to make them feel involved in the story.