In darkened rooms we shun the sun and sketch for victory (sponsored by Pringles)

Last weekend, whist the rest of the country was outside enjoying a fleeting glimpse of half-decent weather, Jimmy and I were ensconced in the Swansea HQ of Long Arm films, with only a stack of DVDs, several bottles of red wine, crisps and some MASSIVE pieces of paper for company. And a couple of cats, although their role in this story is peripheral at best. After several weeks of pre-production slog we were actually going to do something creative: we were going to write the first draft of the storyboard for our upcoming feature film High Tide. And in a bad-for-the-anecdote-but-very-good-for-the-film kind of a way, the weekend was a success. Maybe our most productive ever. And that includes the time when we sorted out a plot problem over two hotly-contested rounds of pitch and putt golf on Swansea seafront.

Before we broke out the fat pens (although after we’d cracked open a couple of beers) we spent many hours watching films. Not just any films (my suggestion of Zoolander was roundly rejected) but films that had been handpicked by Long Arm’s resident aesthete James Michael Hay for their relevance to the visual style we’d been talking about for High Tide. If you’ve got a few spare minutes I will take you through them (feel free to skip this bit if it becomes tedious, which I suspect it might).

So then, we got going with this:

Film Number One: Your Sister’s Sister (2011) Dir. Lynn Shelton

I haven’t posted the trailer because it tells you everything that is going to happen in the film thus rendering it a near-pointless watch. But anyway, three people in a cabin by the sea, something happens and then they all talk about it. And that’s it really. The acting is stunning: Emily Blunt, Mark Duplass and Rosemarie DeWitt (who is doubly brilliant for the simple fact of being in Mad Men) are all effortlessly brilliant; the semi-improvised style results in dialogue and characterisation that renders it both convincing and truthful.

A great start to our research, on to the next. A film that Jimmy was so excited about showing me that he had bought it on Blu-ray. Yes, he loves me THAT much.

Film Number Two:  Monsters (2010) Dir. Gareth Edwards

Well then. This was quite something. Selected by Professor Hay because “it’s basically just two people talking” which, despite the none-too-subtle suggestion of the title, I was willing to accept as being true. But guess what? Yes indeed, it IS basically two people talking, two people talking amongst an ongoing massacre of humanity by MASSIVE ALIEN MONSTERS.

It is a stunning film and for all the idiots on the internet complaining that the monsters weren’t scary enough and demanding their money back on their illegal downloads, the atmosphere that Edwards creates is genuinely troubling. The two lead actors are excellent and given that it was shot with a crew of four people, that much of it was improvised on the spot with passing strangers drafted in as extras and the fact that all the special effects were created on the director’s laptop with software you can find in PC World I think Monsters is a masterpiece. In fact it would still be a masterpiece if none of those things were true.

We had a break at this point. And then went for a walk to visit some of the locations for High Tide and to see where we could add the newly-written alien massacre scene. It was a glorious evening in South Wales; the sun was setting large and orange, the air was sweet with blossom and barbecues and Jimmy and I bumbled along and reflected that we had very little to complain about. You can sense the jollity in the air in this short video we shot to add to our ongoing campaign to raise more money for the film.

It really was a lovely evening. And as the sun set we roared back across Gower with Jimmy driving my car far too quickly to the sounds of Belle and Sebastian on the stereo. Like a male Thelma and Louise. But without the bloke in the boot.

Back at HQ the red wine was enthusiastically opened and we were ready for:

Film Number Three: Before Sunset (2004) Dir. Richard Linklater

I’ve probably banged on about this film before but it really is glorious. Ten years after Before Sunrise the two characters (Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke) meet again in Paris and talk. And that’s it. But it is subtle and funny and moving and tender and has a truly great final shot. Jimmy and I’d both seen it several times before but it was great to go back to it again. The third part of the story, Before Midnight,  is released very soon.

And so to end the night, we returned to another film that we’d both seen and enjoyed several times before but there is a brief party scene in it and there is a party scene in High Tide so on this most tenuous of premises we watched:

Film Number Four: Once (2006) Dir. John Carney

This was made for about thirty Euros (an exaggeration) but went on to be nominated for an Oscar for its original song Falling Slowly. The story of a Irish musician and his relationship with a Czech girl he meets whilst busking, Once is both simple and touching. Glen Hansard (who also wrote the music) is particularly brilliant and it is a film that you’d have to try really really really hard not to like. Assuming that you had a heart. And you weren’t a total idiot. In an unlikely postscript, the film was adapted for the stage and won several awards on Broadway and is now in the West End. Which is exactly the plan for High Tide. Although I’ve not told Jimmy this yet.

So were we inspired by our selection? Ready to make a High Tide a visual masterpiece to wow critics and audiences around the world? Well to be honest, we were more than a little drunk and had eaten too many Pringles so any conclusions to be drawn at this point were to be a long way from profound.

However, a few basic “truths” were evident:

1. If you have great actors then you are going to do okay. Employ talented people and cast them in roles that they suit then press record and point the camera in vaguely the right direction. If you do all this then your film may not be a masterpiece but it will be better than many, many other films that you’ve seen in your life.

2. Camera angles and shot selection should serve the drama not the other way around. I still want a helicopter shot at the end of High Tide but Jimmy calls me nasty things when I bring it up. And righty so. Of all the films we watched, there was not a single shot that seemed indulgent or misplaced. We don’t want to be the kind of directors who direct like they are waving their willies at the camera – I mean this metaphorically although I apologise for the distasteful visual imagery I may have left you with.

3. Music is great and if you choose it with intelligence it can bring a further layer of texture and emotion to your work.

4. Drinking wine is good.

5. What makes Pringles so bloody addictive? Is there a helpline we can call to wean ourselves from their salty charms? Good Pringles. BAD Pringles. No more. No more Pringles ever. Not ever. Not one. Er, shall we open the new pipe?

6. We should sleep.

The next morning tea was drunk in near-industrial quantities and we began work on our storyboard. Neither of us can draw with any skill whatsoever but Jimmy’s visual imagination is superb and he led both the discussions and the drawing up of our plans. I helped by doodling in the margins and making needless annotations on Jimmy’s sketches. Here is Jimmy summoning the powers of Grayskull in order to visualise the bit from High Tide set in the Fish and Chip shop. That scene where the alien made of battered sausages leaps out of the fat fryer and makes dirty, fatty love with our main character as a group of startled OAPs who are there on a coach trip from Rhyl clap out latino rhythms and whoop enthusiastically.

Jimmy thinks

Jimmy thinks

Fourteen hours later, we had finished. And the floor was awash with LARGE pieces of paper that will be entirely impractical on set. But they look good on the floor at least.

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It was great to achieve a visual sense of the film; to take words on a page and render them into images. If we do our job properly then High Tide is going to look amazing. And if we don’t then we’ll just be a couple of idiots who wasted a weekend with film and wine and crisps.

As the shoot grows closer then the excitement, the tension, the pressure grows concomitantly. But that’s okay. We relish it.

Oh yes, if you have any spare money lying around that you’ve embezzled from an impoverished third world nation or have even earned through old-fashioned hard work on your part then we still need a few more quid to ensure the film is as good as it can be. (I am boring myself now even asking but it will be over soon I promise). If you are so minded to help us out then you can visit our crowdfunding campaign page here.

And thank you.

If I hadn’t seen such riches . . . a plea for a few quid

Let me be straight with you from the off: this is a not a blog post. This is a plug, a blag, a plea, a request, a nudge, a cajole, a begging letter. But not a blog post.

If you’ve read this blog over the past few months you know that I am up to my large neck in pre-production for our first feature film which is called High Tide. We have got some excellent investment from some excellent companies and individuals but we are also running a crowdfunding campaign to ensure we have the budget to make the very best film we can.

If you’ve got a spare half an hour or so, you can trace the journey through the blog posts:

High Tide is announced here. 

We add a composer to the project here. 

We hire a DOP here.

We sign a brilliant band to appear in the film here. 

We agonise about asking for money and then ask for money here. 

And so on.

And now I am asking you. Even a few quid, dollars, euros would be not only hugely generous but would genuinely help us make this film into something truly wonderful.

I won’t bang on and normal blog service will resume soon but before I disappear again, let me show you three videos that MAY persuade you to help.

CAJOLING VIDEO ONE – We try to be clever and ask for your money by telling you not to give us any money. This may not have been wise.

CAJOLING VIDEO TWO – The sun shone. We got some our team together in one of High Tide’s locations and the man with the steadicam didn’t show up. So please take your sea-sickness pills before watching.

CAJOLING VIDEO THREE -Our most recent short film Stuart and Kate. Made on a shoe-string but shows what we are about.

If you’ve enjoyed reading my collected nonsense over the months then maybe you’d consider helping us out. And if all that fails then let’s still be friends and enjoy one of the greatest songs ever written:

I wish you all an entirely enjoyable and deeply sexy weekend.

The opposite of hubris (not pubis)

I am currently sitting on a train thundering across the green fields of middle England towards Swansea for a fleeting Long Arm Films meeting with Jimmy. It is all quite pleasant actually; I have a good seat, the coach is relatively quiet and I’ve just drunk a plastic beaker of woefully poor red wine in near-record time. Outside the window bucolic Hardy-esque scenes (minus the rape, child-murder, mud and sheep plunging to their deaths) of cows, paddocks, spinneys, painted farmhouses and wonky-roofed barns speed past in an extended journey montage from some terrible crime thriller in the mid 1980s – to wantonly mix my metaphors and indeed my centuries.

Jimmy and I are spending tomorrow in some of the High Tide locations shooting a second crowdfunding video to launch the second half of our campaign. We were pleased with the first film – we thought it relatively clever and original and a decent contrast from the pleading, doe-eyed and entirely banal cavalcade of videos that are rife on sites like Indiegogo and Kickstarter. I also liked the gag about Brad Pitt and the fact that any of it at all was intelligible given we shot it in a force nine gale on the beach is something of a secular miracle and testament to the brilliance of our DOP Chris.

If you haven’t seen the video then you can treat yourself by clicking here.

Lots of people seemed to enjoy it; some kindly soul even tweeted that although we “failed to mention what the film was about, the video was engaging and original”. Which was nice to read. But something niggled. And it wasn’t just the muscles in my aging legs. Someone whose opinion I trust completely suggested, in the most generous, caring and delicate, terms that perhaps our video portrayed us as a couple of dicks. And not in a good way. Asking people NOT to give us money when we actually wanted the opposite may have been a triumph of irony and post-modernism but it lacked grace, sincerity and, again with reference to the opinions of my lovely friend, made us look like dicks.

And no one wants that. Unless you are going to a very niche fancy dress party in which case I’m sure it would be most welcome and you’d probably win a prize. And AT LEAST a snog.

Our fear that we’d sink into the quicksands of anonymity with a video like all the others currently flapping and bleating around crowdfunding sites ignores the rather blatant truth that most rational, normal people don’t visit crowdfunding sites and so the comparison is meaningless. And if you are going to ask people for money then it is probably better to do it with charm and wit yes, but with also a decent dollop of sincerity. Which, being British, Jimmy and I have never been much good at.

So we’re going to try again. We’re assembling some of the Long Arm team on top of a Welsh cliff at an unreasonable hour tomorrow morning to make something new. And hopefully do it well. And then hope that it works.  And so that’s why I am missing the finale of Doctor Who and heading westwards. We’ve just stopped at Swindon (for American readers, Swindon is very much the Las Vegas of southern England in its neon glamour, twenty-four hour gambling and sexiness; where the impossibly rich and the impossibly beautiful collide in a heady mix of perfumed brilliance, raunch and decadence and dance their out ritualised courtship under a five times life-sized rotating plastic Winston Churchill whose balls are lit with real fire and whose cigar puffs out tinted smokey plumes of nitrous oxide and brandy) and on the platform were eight men dressed as smurfs, their half-naked bulging bodies painted bright blue and each in a bright red hat. They were swigging from cans of lager, jumping up and down and singing a song that went something like “La, La, La! We’re lads! We’re pissed and we’re blue! We’re the fucking smurfs”.  It is currently 7.42pm. Oh England, my England, how profoundly do I love thee.

And with that I should end this blog entry. I will have more to say after our day’s work tomorrow and there are a number of High Tide announcements scheduled for the coming weeks that should have you quivering even just a little bit with excitement. After the difficult days when “the incident” occurred we are back fighting fit (well, Jimmy is at least) and the pre-production process on High Tide continues apace.

Be wary of modal verbs. “Should” my old mucker, my rascally friend, always turning up in my sentences to cause mischief like a dastardly uncle who gave you whiskey when you were ten. “Should” – the lexical passport to excess, joy and a thumping headache many hours later as the flat, blue light of an early morning cracks your eyes open like pair of Christmas walnuts and pours pain into the clogged pipework of your brain.

I SHOULD end this blog entry here but we’ve only just emerged from the Severn tunnel and my book is tucked in my purple rucksack on the rack above my head and I can’t be bothered to rummage around to find it. So I am going to continue writing in order to pass the time on the approach to the Welsh Riviera. Feel free to look away now. It may be safer.

I met my dear friend Kris last week for some beers in the same pub we’ve been going to for the past thirteen years. Now is not the time to write the full story of our relationship, except to say that he remains one of the foremost influences on my creative life. For all our adventures over the years, the comedy shows, the pasties, the dressing up as yellow witches on the streets of Edinburgh, Kris’ counsel both wise and unwise is something that I’ve sought and trusted.  So after the somewhat tumultuous previous week for Long Arm Films he was the ideal person with whom to drink too much on a school night.

Our conversation ranged over many topics, and then kept returning to High Tide. Which must have been tedious for him although he was too polite to say so. Actually, Kris isn’t often polite after a couple of drinks so perhaps he genuinely didn’t mind. Kris is also a writer and he’s had three series of his show “On the Blog”, written with another one of our great pals Dave, broadcast on Radio 2. Which was well deserved because it was brilliant.  So Kris knows what it is like to have casting crises (buy him a drink and he may tell you a very funny story about Barry Crier), endless script drafts and, relevant to this meandering point, endless meetings. Jimmy and I have had a lot of meetings in recent weeks and we have a lot more planned. And as we’re relatively new to this malarkey, we always feel somewhat fraudulent; as if we really shouldn’t be there, that someone is always on the cusp of discovering that we don’t know anything and then ejecting us from the building after first making us empty the bins. Don’t misunderstand me, it is brilliant having these meetings (well, some of them at least; the ones that take place in pubs particularly) and I am sure we’ll get used to them but at the moment we feel like slightly awkward teenagers standing in the corner and drinking squash at a sexy party being thrown by late-twenties socialites and sophisticates.  Kris recognised this sensation and we agreed that the only solution was just to smile and keep on pretending. And pretty soon you’ll realise that no one really knows that much more than you do. And in Kris’ words, keep this up and one day you’ll wake to discover that you’ve been made Prime Minister. “Shit! How did THAT happen?”.

I think there’s an important life-lesson buried somewhere amongst all this frippery. Set your mind to something, do your research, appear confident and assuming that you don’t have to fly a plane or perform neural surgery then there’s a decent chance you’ll do okay.

(Oh quick, the buffet car is closing in ten minutes. The man on the tannoy has told us to hurry along to avoid disappointment. A disappointment that is surely not as profound as finding it open! I thank you.)

For me the antithetical psychological position is also true and once nearly got me killed. (I’m sorry, I am REALLY going off-piste now; don’t worry we’re only half an hour away from Swansea, your torment will soon cease). And in what field did I prove my utterly disastrous ineptitude upon? Well, the cricket field.

I love cricket. I grew up watching cricket alongside my cricket-mad mother and it brings a genuine smile to my face now to think of days spent watching test matches during the summer holidays, Mum doing the ironing, me rocking back in the little chair beneath the sitting room window, both of us cheering on Willis, Botham, Gooch and then Atherton, Gough and Caddick. We were both big fans of Devon Malcom and not only because he was called Devon. (I am sad to think that I can’t watch the cricket with my son now without paying Rupert fucking Murdoch for the privilege which I REFUSE to do even though it breaks my heart). I played cricket in the garden with my friends, I played cricket at school and I was okay. I wasn’t amazing but I was far from terrible, was solid with the bat and could even bowl at an occasionally batsman-troubling medium pace.

However, it all stopped when I left school and started drinking and writing scripts at university. Or at least it stopped until another friend called Chris (although this time with a “Ch” rather than “K”) asked me to play in a cricket match to raise money for his wonderful charity Global Action Nepal (look it up) who do amazing things for people in that country. I was only too pleased to have a reason to visit Lillywhites to buy some new cricketing gear. The only problem was that I was now in the company of some actually pretty good cricketers. Chris himself is very good player, as is Dave (of “On the Blog” fame from an earlier paragraph) and Dave’s brother Tim was almost a professional (as well as being one of the nicest, most thoroughly decent chaps you could wish to meet) and so my very modest abilities, which had grown even more modest during the years of decay, were going to very publically shamed as the match commenced.

So I pretended to be an idiot. I am not a stupid man, actually I am in many ways, but you know, I did okay at school, I know a few things, I’ve written a few half-decent scripts, I am not without intelligence. But the only way I seemed to be able to get through these cricket matches was to act as if I were one ball short of an over (American readers, I really wouldn’t even bother googling that one). I put my pads on the wrong way around; I fell over comically in the outfield; I held my bat upside down to little hilarity from my teammates. I was a cartoon cricketer. And I was predictably rubbish on the field.

We played one year at Hove on the south coast, a ground which is often used for professional matches, which was a massive thrill and utterly absurd for someone of my piss-poor standard. I did the usual routine, made a few silly remarks, ensured that EVERYONE knew that I wasn’t really a serious member of the team and then the gods intervened. We were fielding first and after about twenty minutes my attention waned and I made the utterly unforgivable error of turning my back to the square and looking towards the darkening clouds in the hope that it might rain and mean that I wouldn’t have to bat. There was then a MASSIVE SHOUT OF “BADGER!” (a nickname; I may explain during another train journey) and I turned to feel, and I am not exaggerating, a cricket ball brush past my nose on its way to the boundary. Now, if you don’t know, cricket balls are SODDING HARD and as such I was about three centimetres (I have quite a small nose, some have called it cute) from, at best, a MASSIVE head injury.

I laughed it off. But I was pretty shaken. And felt ridiculous. I had been punished. The gods (looking like WG Grace obviously) had taken my inverse-arrogance, my desire not to appear in any way competent for fear of being less than brilliant, and sent a cricket ball hurtling towards my skull to show their contempt.

What’s the opposite of hubris? Pubis? (no) But whatever it is, I showed it. And I was justly scorned.

Later on in the same match I managed to hit a beautiful cover drive almost to the boundary. Everyone clapped. It was a genuinely good shot. And on a first-class ground too. And at that point I though it best to bring my cricketing career to a close.

And in a completely accidental way, I’ve stumbled on a decent conclusion to this journey-spanning piece of ragged prose. I think the lesson to be learnt from the above is simple: appear confident; say what you mean; aspire to honesty and clarity. Or in our case, don’t ask people NOT to give you money when you want them to give you money. It is all related.

Be better.

And tomorrow that’s what we intend to do.

Thanks for sticking with this to the end. You are very patient. I will post the new video when it is finished.  Hello Swansea. Hello Jimmy. Is there somewhere open we can still get a drink?