ffilmiau braich hir: shooting High Tide

Well then. What is the typographical equivalent to a lung-emptying exhalation of breath? The sort that one would ascribe to doddery relatives at Christmas time as they land amongst the welcoming cushions of an armchair and of the type that I have found myself making with worrying frequency in recent years? Er, “fffwwwwwwwwuuww” perhaps? (which, appropriately, is also the Welsh word for “steadicam vest”). Well whatever it is, that’s the noise I am currently making. If you listen carefully you may be able to hear me. Particularly if you are in the same room as me. Which being the case, please excuse the mess. And would you like to stay for dinner?

Anyway, the point of all this utterly typical flannel and tripe at the top of this blog entry is that as I inch closer to writing about the High Tide shoot I feel a certain trepidation about what is to follow. When I made the commitment to writing some sort of regular-ish addition to the billions of words floating around the internet I was walking with Jimmy alongside the Thames on a cold December afternoon having just met some potential investors for our film High Tide. The blog seemed like a decent means of chronicling the succeeding seven months as my brilliant friend and myself blagged and bluffed our way towards the shoot. And I think largely it has been a worthwhile exercise even if Jimmy did ask me to remove the direct link to the blog from our website and write a statement clarifying that the thoughts expressed in these endless sentences do not necessarily represent the opinions of Long Arm Films. (I take this as a compliment). However, the blog really was designed as a means to promote the film but now we have made the film and now I have to write about it. Hence the somewhat tentative and prevaricatory (not a word but it really should be) nature of this opening paragraph.

This entry will be long. Overly-long certainly. It will contain references and allusions that will be clever and funny to only a handful of people and if you reach the end of the piece then you will either be a member of the cast or crew OR my writing is far pithier and more readable than I am convinced that it is. However, I am certain that this is the single place in which I will respond in any meaningful way to the High Tide experience and as such I am determined that it will serve as an aide-memorire in times to come of an incredible, exhausting and uplifting two weeks spent with some of the very best people you could ever wish to meet and then repeatedly get up with at 4.30am.

But let me write for a moment for the future historian rather than the future nostalgist. Here are the facts:

For just over two weeks at the end of July and the beginning of August 2013 Long Arm Films shot its debut feature film called High Tide. It starred Melanie Walters and Samuel Davies and was written and directed by myself and Jimmy Hay. We shot the film in Swansea and in various locations around the Gower peninsular in South Wales and for the majority of the shoot the weather was excellent. Which was lucky as 90% of the story was set outside. The film is now being edited and we hope to show it to audiences in cinemas sometime in mid 2014.

And there we are. That really should suffice. But we both know that the likelihood of me stopping there is great as “no booze in the evenings during the shoot” policy lasting more than a couple of days. Which of course it didn’t. ¬†It didn’t even last one. This was the scene after the first day’s filming:

High Tide no booze policy

Jimmy and I were blessed with a wonderful crew during the shoot and as we gathered at the house that we were to use as Long Arm HQ for the duration (and at which we were going to shoot several scenes) we were struck not just by their capacity to neck gins and tonic (I maintain that this is the correct plural despite the internet saying otherwise) but also that they were ready and willing to do whatever was necessary to make High Tide in the ridiculously brief time available. Many had told us that making a feature film in a fortnight was a ridiculous notion and it is down to our fabulous crew that we went a very long way to proving them wrong. Although not entirely – as I will perhaps touch upon a little later on.

We were likewise fortunate to be working with a superb cast. It is probably unprofessional to talk at length about our actors (although as Jimmy will attest, worries about professionalism have not stopped this blog getting into trouble several times since its inception) however I will say that it was a joy to spend our long days in the company of such talented and lovely people. Melanie Walters delivered astounding performances in emotionally challenging scenes whilst running around a beach at seven in the morning. That is quite something. Melanie is quite something. And she was very patient with our novice crew and despite dubbing our operation “Long Time Films” due to the often lengthy breaks between set-ups, Melanie could not have been more supportive and encouraging of Jimmy and myself. And she tells a number of very funny stories, none of which I can repeat here.

Mel and Jimmy

And of course there was a strict “no omelette references” rule enforced on set and it is to Melanie’s eternal credit that one sunny lunchtime at Rhossili, having just finished shooting for the day and whilst tucking into one of Paul the Caterer’s legendary pasta salads, she allowed us a “five minute omelette window” to ask any Gavin and Stacey-related questions that we liked. Everyone of course just asked about omelettes.

And as for our other lead actor, what can I say about Sam Davies? Well, he’s good lad. A very good lad and an instinctively brilliant actor. He has a quite extraordinarily impressive taste in music (there are not many sixteen year olds with whom you can debate which is the finest Smiths LP or compare your top three My Bloody Valentine tracks) and he was very patient at all times, even when acting coach Tom Walker was essentially beating him up in rehearsal in order to squeeze (almost literally) out every drop of emotion. Sam is destined for great things, no doubt about it, and it was an absolute pleasure working with him for the two weeks of the shoot.

2013-08-02 18.49.25

Thanks also to the rest of the cast; to the brilliant Claire Cage who within seconds made the character of Tess her own, to Charlotte for her unfailing good humour, for leading us all to a hangover-curing early morning swim in the sea and for being so reasonable that she offered to sleep on the floor in order to give us enough time to finish shooting a scene. Thanks to Rhys, to Luke and to all of our party guests and if Julie Barclay does not get her own primetime BBC comedy series then there will have been a serious miscarriage of entertainment industry justice.

Gosh this is getting a bit tedious isn’t it? The prose equivalent of overly-long acceptance speech at an awards ceremony. I will curtail my excesses now I promise.

We had always planned to film a “making of” documentary during the shoot, if only for our own entertainment. This plan went much the same way as the “no booze in the evenings” rule and just as quickly; photographer Lewis who we’d asked to shoot the “making of” was assigned to focus-pulling duties as soon as he’d arrived and did such a superb job that he was promoted to Assistant Cinematographer and therefore too important to be making silly documentaries. We did just about manage to film a daily update, the quality of which varied wildly according to how tired we were and / or how well the day had gone. This is a particular favourite as it captures some of the hysteria of living in the insane midst of a feature film shoot (and in this case, being locked out of one). The man doing all the swearing is the aforementioned Tom Walker:

If you are really short of things to do, you can watch the whole collection of update videos here. Although I don’t recommend it.

Right then, I will spare you a day-by-day prose account of events on the shoot – if you want I can email you the filming schedule that Jimmy and I spent weeks assembling only for it to be rendered largely irrelevant by the second day. Instead, I will alight, like a butterfly atop a petunia (or something), on three separate moments that for me are particularly redolent of the High Tide experience.

Redolent memory number one:

It was the middle Sunday of the shoot. We had arranged to film at Penyrheol Comprehensive School, just outside Swansea. Over thirty pupils had been signed up to appear as extras; we’d borrowed a local theatre to use as a large-scale dressing room and Cinematographer Chris was very keen to try out his “stuffing the camera into the back of an Astra” tracking shot. So everything was set. The only problem was it was raining with antediluvian fervour. Only a few steps out of the car resulted in profound wetness and if we’d had more sense (or more accurately more money) we’d have called off the whole day. But we didn’t. We couldn’t. And so we persisted. We moved half of the scene inside and for the rest we relied (as we so often did during the shoot) on the kindness and fortitude of our team. And we got it done. And we got very wet indeed. But we got it done. And then we had a few beers.

Here is a photo from the day: this is one of my very favourite from the whole two weeks:

School cast and crew

Redolent memory number two:

It was Friday. We’d had another 4.30am start and everyone was feeling rather delicate as we arrived at Rhossili car park. After hair and makeup we loaded up the rucksacks and headed out towards Worm’s Head. We descended the path towards the causeway and then crossed the causeway; it was tricky underfoot and the bag containing about six thousand pounds-worth of lenses was digging into my shoulders. After about half an hour of rock-scrabbling we clambered up onto the promontory and the suddenly the sun came out as if we were in a film. Which we sort of were. The sky cleared; the air was sweet; there was nobody around apart from members of Team Long Arm and then seals began calling to us from the rocks below. The seals shouted and barked and we had to add a line into the script – something like, “Gosh! Can you see the seals?” to account for the noise in the background. It was a glorious morning. And my parents were there too, appearing as extras in the scene, which made the whole morning even more special.

Here is a seal from that morning. If you screw up your ears you should be able to hear him singing “Kiss From a Rose” (Paul’s joke).

Seal

And here am I ascending Worm’s Head like a hairy Moses.

Moses

And while we are at it, here is the video update from this day which I think captures some of the glory and fatigue of the day:

Redolent memory number three:

It was the day of the party scene. We’d always planned for this to be the final day of the shoot but for various reasons this turned out to be entirely inaccurate. However, it was still a big day and our house was filled with crew and actors and friends and family from about eleven in the morning. And then the band turned up. Sam Green and the Midnight Heist unpacked their vans, lugged their equipment up the tiny lane to the house and then set up in the garden. And then they played. And it was brilliant. A few hours later we shot a scene where the host of the party introduces the band and everyone begins to dance. Jimmy and I watched this scene from the back of the garden with tears in our eyes: if ever on the shoot there was a moment where we allowed ourselves the briefest moment of pride, this was it. The sun was shining, the garden was full, the band were brilliant and the whole thing was being recorded for our feature film. It was a very, very special moment. This photo captures that moment better than most:

band scene

And should you need reminding, Sam Green and the Midnight Heist sound like this:

Except when they are playing in your garden when they sound even better.

And there we are. That’s probably enough. All being well you will be able to see High Tide some time in the first half of next year. Thank you to all our many supporters who helped us get this far; to the many people who donated to our crowdfunding campaign we extend our very long arms of gratitude and friendship – without you we could not have come this far; and thank you of course to our families who we’ve neglected in pursuit of our dream.

A special mention to Team Long Arm: to Alex de Claap, Yaz, Sarah, Lucy, Chris, Lewis, Tom, Steph, Nat, Natz, Lel, Dan, Rupert, Sara, Paul, Joanne, Mark and Simon West – it was a bloody pleasure working with you all. You worked so damn hard and we are extremely grateful. High Tide is your film as much as it is ours. And thanks to Christian Bale for keeping his nose out the shoot, despite his regular attempts to infiltrate our ranks.

And finally, to my other half, my friend, my brother, Mr Jimmy Hay. You remain a fabulous director and the very best of friends. We’ve made it this far buddy; and we’re only just getting started.

As of next week, this blog will resume normal service as I begin to plug the gap between now and the release of the film with another overly-long musing on “dogs in pop” or “leeks I have loved” or “why Gerard Depardieu either holds the answer to the crisis in the Middle East or is just a fat French arsehole”. My money is on the former.