Shooting Ex Libris (not in zero gravity)

Good afternoon world (or at least the hundred or so people who regularly read this blog; a cohort whom, if not entirely representative of our silly species, would at least, I hope, form a pretty decent vanguard of humanity should these flood waters continue to rise and our happy few be herded by Russell Crowe into a CGI ark to begin an Earth 2.0 (or Earth 3.0 if you are biblically minded) once the seas have withdrawn). It has been some time since I last laid fingertips to somewhat dirty keyboard which, when compared to a mere twelve months ago, seems a pretty dismal effort. What can I say? I’ve been busy and I am certain you’ve been getting along with your lovely lives just fine without recourse to the overly-long screes of vocabulary that seem to be my stock-in-trade when filing digital copy to my non-existant (and sorely needed) editor.

However here I am once again and I am to expend a few paragraphs writing about what has been an excellent week for Long Arm Films. But there is a problem. Cinema might just have ended. It could be that all the many hours we spent preparing and then shooting over the past few weeks was all an utter waste of time. It may be time to pack up our Zeiss lenses and our Sony F55 camera (hired for a very reasonable rate from 180 Rental in Bristol) and take-up oil painting or erotic crochet. This morning, several months later than the rest of the world, I watched Gravity in 3D on a gigantic screen in West London. And it was incredible. Utterly, utterly incredible. Yes it is essentially a very simple survival story but one rendered in such a way as to make everything else EVER MADE look like it had been drawn by the Long Arm storyboard department. And believe me, we are terrible at drawing. Apparently Gravity cost $100,000,000 (or two thousand times the budget of High Tide) to make and frankly this seems like the  bargain of the century; it is unbelievably tense, humane, at times terrifying and it looks like nothing else that I’ve ever seen. Although I could have done without the  grieving parent storyline. There was a moment early on when Clooney (who still looks damn hot in a spacesuit; I’d just look puffy and hot) sails around the front of the space shuttle in his special jet-propelled armchair thing and the audience sees him, the shuttle and the Earth all on seemingly three different planes. It was wonderful and I laughed out loud in boggle-eyed wonder. Jimmy recently went to Berlin to supervise a documentary shoot, although it seems like he spent most of his time going to the cinema, and he reported back to the UK that Gravity was “the most immersive, exhilarating, and heart pulsing experience I’ve ever had in a cinema”. And you know what, Jimmy is right. But don’t tell him I said so.

So bearing in mind that cinema might actually be no more as an art form, let me tell you about the week just gone for Long Arm Films. Well, it has all been rather jolly really. Our friend, and High Tide DOP, Chris Lang shot his short The Sound of Silence, produced by Long Arm Films and Jimmy and I shot Ex Libris, a short film set in a library starring our pal Melanie Walters and the magnificent Robert Pugh.

The Ex Libris shoot was a pleasure to be a part of (as I am sure The Sound of Silence was too); we were working with a great crew led by DOP Paul Dudbridge and our cast were completely top of the range. There were some very pleasant differences between this and the High Tide shoot, not least after battling the weather, tourists and the sound of planes and jet skis last summer, we were shooting INSIDE and IN A LIBRARY; pretty much the most manageable location you could imagine. We had some great runners and our old pal Yaz did an excellent job keeping everybody in line as 1st AD. We also had a VERY BIG MONITOR which, after squinting into a portable one last summer from beneath a towel (and even then it stopped working altogether by week 2 of the shoot), felt like a real luxury. We also had a lot of cheese. More cheese than any of our crew had seen before on a film set; a fact that gave us a certain sense of pride – Long Arm Films is brought to you in association with Dorset Blue Vinney and a two-year-old Comte.

And then there was the cast. Oh my goodness, the cast. I think it is perhaps unprofessional to bang on endlessly about the actors (although regular readers of this blog will note that unprofessionalism has never been much of a censor of its output) but I must write a little about Melanie and Robert. Of course we knew Mel was good, like properly good, like Gavin-and-Stacey-gives-you-a-sense-of-about-five-percent-of-how-talented-she-is good; many of her scenes in High Tide are going to bring you to your feet and start demanding that she is given awards. However, it was excellent to cast her in a very different role again and once more be impressed by the pace, tone and delicacy of her delivery. She took our, sometimes, awkward and obtuse dialogue and made it into something very special and for this we are grateful.

Ex Libris still

And what can I say about Bob Pugh? The man is extraordinary. One minute he is joshing around with the crew, swearing in all manner of creative constructions, complaining that the jumper that I’d just handed him to wear has not been washed (which was patently true; one of the most “indie” aspects of the Ex Libris shoot was that Bob wore my clothes throughout. I am wearing the jumper pictured above as I write this) but when he was in frame he just transformed, seemingly effortlessly, and gave a performance that was so well-judged that you’d think he played the role a hundred times before. Look at the man’s CV; he’s worked with some incredible people and perhaps it smacks of our relative naivety as filmmakers that we were quite so taken aback by what he can do but I’d like to think is just as much due to his unmistakable talent. To say that we were lucky that he agreed to work with Long Arm is of course a nonsensical understatement.

You’ll hopefully be able to see Ex Libris and Sound of Silence later in the year after we’ve spent some time hawking them around the world’s film festivals. Ex Libris is a little like a grown-up version of our short Stuart and Kate and Sound of Silence has a concept so neat that you could take it home to have dinner with your Mum. But, as I say, for the moment you are just going to have to take my word for it.

Jimmy and I spent a happy, if somewhat weary, day after the shoot hanging around the cafes of Bristol (with a lovely lunch in the company of my sister and brother-in-law in the wonderful Rise Records: so Bristol, so brilliant) and we’ve planned out the next twelve months on planet Long Arm and, even though you are going to have forgive the smugly secretive tone here, we could not be more excited about the projects on which we are embarking.

So thanks to Chris, Keiron, Lynne, Alex and Lucy for running the Sound of Silence shoot and thanks to Bob, Mel, Paul, Scott, Rich, Keith, Yaz, Sam, Sophie and Nat for their wonderful work on Ex Libris. Thanks our brilliant wives for their endless patience and support. And thanks as ever to my partner, editor, director and eternal friend Jimmy Hay for, you know, everything.

And to finish here is a photo of Jimmy taking a rare break on set. Although I suspect he would have looked even better in 3D and tumbling through space avoiding lethal Russian space debris. It is only a matter of time.

Jimmy Hay at rest