Tales from the High Tide tour bus – with sincere apologies to Mrs Miller

On Monday next week our feature film High Tide is showing in London at The Gate in Notting Hill; somewhat oddly, the screening is being sponsored by Jameson whiskey and everyone who buys a ticket will get free whiskey (providing you like Jameson’s) which should at least mean that spirits are high as the film begins (pun intended). There are still a few tickets left and they can be purchased via this link.

This London showing of the film is the last that we have scheduled and although there’s a bit of talk about further screenings in various places, it could well be that this is the final chance to see High Tide on a cinema screen.  Clearly this is going to be an occasion of mixed emotions; it will be hugely exciting to show the film in London and for many of the audience attending this will be the first time that they’ve seen the film but also, inevitably, there will be a smidgeon of sadness as this project, one that has held dominion over our thoughts for well over three years, reaches the end of its life in cinemas. Not that we are complaining. When we began the production process for High Tide we had no money and little idea of the challenges that we were going to have to overcome or the sheer bloody-minded will-power that would be required to drag the project into existence. We repeatedly modified our aspirations for the film during the production and post-production process, every time daring to dream a little bigger for what might, given a fair wind and a favourable reviews, be a reasonable expectation of its success. However, and speaking honestly, if you’d told us two years ago that the Notting Hill screening would bring the number of cinemas the film has screened at to well over twenty then we would have leapt into one of our special little jigs of thrilled excitement and then probably have gone to the pub and drank a few too many beers. To have reached this point feels very special.

Of course, High Tide will not just disappear once the final credits have rolled at The Gate. We are beginning the production work required for the digital and DVD release of the film and if everything goes to plan it will set amongst the virtual shelves of Netflix, iTunes, Amazon Prime etc, ready to be repeatedly flicked over by couples looking for “just something to watch” on their Friday night sofa. Who knows how many people will alight on High Tide and of those that do, who knows how many of them will be moved and entertained by it? And to an extent this is not really the point. The fact that it is possible, the fact that the film actually exists in the seemingly infinite world of available culture is a bit of a thrill in itself.

A DVD of the film will be of course a more tangible record of its existence and we’re currently working out what we can package with the release to make it a brilliant Christmas present for friends, lovers and family. The thought of a director’s commentary fills me with a cold dread; I really can’t imagine there will be much of a demand for a version of the film spoiled by myself and Jimmy droning over the top of it – “oh look, do you remember filming this bit? / Yeah. I was there. / And that’s just after the time where I fell over in the sand dunes / And did you know that we served real beer at the party? / Yeah, I do. I remember lugging the barrel up that tiny path/ etc etc ad infinitum.

I don’t think I’ve ever watched a complete film with the commentary switched on. I think I began listening to Coppola’s Godfather orations but after about twenty minutes became overly-frustrated with the fact that I couldn’t hear the dialogue properly. It’s like you are sitting next to an irritating family member who has seen a film before and insists on pointing out all the good bits. At length. Loudly. So no, I think we can rule out this for the High Tide DVD. Whatever we do end up including will be decided upon in the next few weeks and we’re aiming for a September release, just in time for that well-documented post-summer, early-autumn, pre-pre-Christmas spike in DVD sales.

Anyway, I intended to write about the experience of travelling around the country and showing our film to strangers who’d paid money to see it. Well, it has been fun. We’ve clocked up a lot of miles, drank a lot of coffee (and I can reveal that after extensive testing, the best standard coffee – and I discount a very expensive place near Covent Garden that sold a blend that was a little like tasting gold and with a similar price-tag, is available from McDonalds. Which is somewhat depressing but then made less depressing by the fact that you are drinking a damn fine cup of coffee), drank a lot of beer, answered a lot of questions and met some lovely people.

The Telegraph didn't say that, Total Film did - but maybe this is a sensible change in Rye.

The Telegraph didn’t say that, Total Film did – but maybe this is a sensible change in Rye.

It is a profoundly terrifying experience sitting in a room, or latterly in the bar down the corridor from a room, filled with people watching your work. You can almost feel the judgement hanging in the air and our one survival strategy was to talk animatedly to each other about something completely different – often Liverpool’s tragi-comic performance this season or the multiple intrigues and big ideas of the Battlestar Galactica remake (although don’t get me started on its final bloody episode in which the writers seemed to have given up on resolving the questions raised by 70+ hours of television, thrown their pencils into the air with a big shout of “I don’t bloody know” and then gone to the pub), anything to create a temporary amnesia about what was happening in screen two.

Circe's Diner perform at The Cube in Bristol.

Circe’s Diner perform at The Cube in Bristol.

We’d then shuffle in to the screen and meekly answer a few questions, scour the darkness for a clue as to people’s reactions and then disappear into the night. We are very thankful to the many people who stopped us afterwards to say how much they’d enjoyed the film and to those who emailed / tweeted us to say likewise. It is definitely something special, something inspiring when a complete stranger tells you that they thought your work was great.

Oh and there were no walk-outs at any of the screenings we attended. Except for the premiere. Which remains amusing.

Particular highlights of the High Tide tour for me (and for Jimmy’s opinions you will have to persuade him to start writing his own blog, the chances of which are fairly remote) included being taken to the pub in the beautiful Sussex town of Rye by a couple of members of the audience; seeing the band Circe’s Diner play live before a screening in Bristol and being generously plied with beer by the London Welsh Centre to the extent that I had to excuse myself mid-way through the post-film Q and A in order to go to the loo. Such professionalism.

Pre-bladder incident at the London Welsh Society.

Pre-bladder incident at the London Welsh Society.

Oh yes and Exeter. Lovely Exeter. A city that I will always see through the eyes of my teenage self – a 90s photo-collage (cut and assembled by hand, having waited for the photos to be printed by Boots) of CD shops and wooden beads, Firkin ale drunk at the pub beneath the iron bridge, first loves and tricky parties and the music, oh the music . . .  you see what happens when someone mentions Exeter? Anyway, the screening of High Tide at Picturehouse was filled with family, friends and faces from the past, many of whom we hadn’t seen for twenty or so years. It was lovely. And in one case a little awkward – there’s a moment in the film when Josh is telling his Mum Bethan about a geography trip he’d been on with school to Worm’s Head, where this particular scene takes place.  He remembers a friend “pissing in to the sea” at which “Mrs Miller went mental and gave him a week’s detention”.

And who was in the audience seeing and hearing that line? Of course, it was my old Geography teacher Mrs Miller, whose identity I’d ruthlessly stolen for the purposes of fiction. Thankfully she didn’t seem to mind too much once the shock of hearing her name in a film had subsided. I met her afterwards, along with my ex-Head of Year, Ms Fawcett and it was just joyous to see them both and helped immortalise this evening as one of the very best in the short history of Long Arm Films.

Ms Fawcett (left) and Mrs Miller (right).

Ms Fawcett (left) and Mrs Miller (right).

So there we go; a few memories from the past few months. As I say, we are very much looking forward to Monday and then our attentions will turn to what is next. Well, we know some of what is next having made an announcement about our short film Zero Sum earlier in the week – but we’ve also got some other things upcoming that I am just desperate to tell you about. I hope I will be able to do so soon.

But in the meantime, if you’ve been to see the film over the past few months then thank you very much indeed. If you haven’t then maybe you’ll want to get hold of the DVD or look it up on your smart-tv-film-on-demand-service of choice. Even if you’ve just got to the end of another lengthy and ponderous blog post then thank you.

Oh yes, we do now have an irregular email newsletter thing as if it were still 2003. If you’d like infrequent Long Arm Films updates sent straight to your device of choice then you can sign up here. 

And talking of the 90s – here’s Blur, whose new album is far better than I ever dared hope it would be.

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New Long Arm Films project announcement – Zero Sum

As High Tide approaches the end of its scheduled cinema run, a run that has seen the film screened in numerous towns and cities around the UK, it seems appropriate that we now start looking to the future. We have a number of projects at various stages of development, including some very exciting plans for our second feature film which I can’t say anything about here (although as the band Circe’s Diner discovered last week at a High Tide screening at The Cube in Bristol, if you allow me to drink a couple of bottles of strong local ale then I become a little more loose-lipped, particularly when Jimmy isn’t there to tell me off) but we do have something we can tell you, should you be interested enough to listen.

Last month we discovered that, following a lengthy selection process, we’ve been awarded a grant by BFI/Ffilm Cymru Wales to make a short film. This is something a bit special and whilst I am not going to be vulgar and mention the amount of money involved, it is going to be enough for us to make something with a level of professionalism that we’ve just not been able to achieve in our projects to date.

The film is going to be called ZERO SUM and, in a first for Long Arm, it will be set in space. Yes, that’s right, we are making a sci-fi film. The extra-terrestrial setting will also mean a host of other firsts for the company – we will be shooting exclusively in a studio; many of the shots will require green-screen and VFX technology (although we did use a bit of CGI in High Tide to remove a couple of rogue canoeists from Langland Bay) and the scope for creativity in its sound design will be greater than anything we’ve made so far.

Zero Sum

Zero Sum will also be the first Long Arm Film to not be exclusively produced by Jimmy and myself as we welcome Mr Ross Bliss to the team. Ross is an experienced producer, hails from the West Country and has an excellent beard, thus making him ideal Long Arm material. He’ll be in charge of the financial and logistical elements of the production, allowing Jimmy and myself a little more time to concentrate on the creative side of the film.  Ross’ involvement has already proved effective and we look forward to seeing our relationship develop further over this and future projects.

And that’s probably all that I am allowed to say about Zero Sum at this stage. We plan to shoot in the autumn and I will announce casting etc when this has been finalised. We are excited by the challenges posed by making this film and we hope that the finished piece will surprise and impress. That’s the plan anyway.

That’s the end of the announcement and all good sense would suggest that this is an appropriate place at which to lift my virtual pen from the virtual parchment and go and make a cup of tea or conjur some pesto in my new blender (this is still a dizzying novelty and our fridge is stacked like the shelves of the Bodelean library although not with books but with pots of various sauces and dips that I’ve overproduced since acquiring the machine, all catalogued via my own foody version of the Dewy-Decimal system, the stewy….. no).  However, let me resist the urge to blitz for a moment longer as I copy and paste below a short history of Long Arm Films that I wrote for the lovely woman who hosted the post-film Q and A session at The Cube in Bristol last week. She wanted a few notes on “how we’ve got here” and, never able to resist the opportunity to be a little bit silly, this is what I gave her. She seemed not to mind and it does give any readers of this blog new to out world a sense of what we’ve done in the past few years.

Long Arm Films is Jimmy Hay and James Gillingham. To avoid James-based confusion, they are known as Jimmy (Hay) and Jim (Gillingham) which actually doesn’t really lessen the confusion. Jim once experimented with being called Mabel but this was abandoned on account of it being ridiculous so they are sticking to Jimmy and Jim.
 
They grew up on the same street in Devon and were friends for over twenty years before anyone mentioned filmmaking. However, over a glass of wine and a curry for Jim’s birthday they concluded that Jimmy’s background in film studies and theory and Jim’s award-winning playwriting skills might give them a fighting chance of making half-decent moving pictures. They were proved to be right. Eventually. 

They made their first short film Sliced in a shed in Devon with a borrowed camera and Jim’s Dad in the lead role. It turned out that J and J didn’t really know anything about making a film after all and Sliced was released to a shrug from the small fraction of the population who saw it, including the cast. Sliced is no longer available online but both Jimmy and Jim think it is actually not bad. Apart from the sound. Which is terrible. 
 
Undeterred, they got a website, a logo (which is taken from a shot from the aforementioned Sliced) and embarked on their second short. This film became Stuart and Kate and is the story of the end of a relationship and, in a first for Long Arm Films, was actually quite good and people liked it. Stuart and Kate is available online and the sound is passable. Although mixed too loud.
 
Flushed with the minor success of Stuart and Kate, Long Arm Films started work on a third short film which was to be called High Tide. But then it was decided that in order to tell the story of High Tide properly it would need to be a feature-length film. Jim and Jimmy asked themselves how hard could it be to make a feature film? The answer turned out to be very, very hard indeed. But after a pre-production process that involved unwittingly upsetting large numbers of important people we arrived on set on Swansea and started making High Tide. And now High Tide has been released in cinemas in the UK. Which is thrillingly, unbelievably odd. Brilliant too of course but mostly odd.
 
After High Tide, its star Melanie Walters was still talking sufficiently to Jimmy and Jim to agree to be in their fourth short film Ex Libris. This co-starred Robert Pugh who is a proper star and has been in Game of Thrones and is friends with Russell Crowe (but wouldn’t give Long Arm his phone number). Ex Libris is about a dark love affair and is set in a library. It is slow, odd and ponderous. Jimmy and Jim are very proud of it although most normal people find it difficult to like. Some have been very keen to dislike it. But that’s show business. Ex Libris is available to watch online and the sound is excellent.
 
Long Arm Films has just been given some money by Film Wales to make their fifth short film. It is going to called Zero Sum. It is set in space (really) and we are shooting it later in the year. The sound is going to amazing.

Jimmy and Jim are also working on two new feature film projects which they won’t be able to talk about. Unless you really press them. Or buy them a drink. And then they’ll probably tell you everything and maybe offer you a part in one of them. 
 
They plan to continue making films for the foreseeable future and hope that people will want to watch them.

And there we go. I think I will write soon about the lessons learnt from screening High Tide to the paying public over the past few months (although the overwhelming response to the film has been soul-soaringly positive) but for now let me leave you with a plug for next Monday’s screening of High Tide at the glorious Gate in Notting Hill and a song from an obscure American songwriter that Jimmy thinks is dull but I love dearly.