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.
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.
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.