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.

Four stars and two walk-outs: The world premiere of High Tide

Last Friday night saw the world premiere of our feature film High Tide at Taliesin, Swansea. It was an incredible night: we had live music (from the shimmering and wonderful Circe’s Diner), free drinks, a stringent dress code and of course we showed the finished film to an audience for the very first time. And this was as terrifying, bewildering, and ultimately as joyous as we ever hoped it would be.

After a year of some pretty difficult, dark moments for both Jimmy and myself, I must admit that I was holding back the tears when the BBFC certificate flashed on to the screen at the beginning of the film; a mixture of pride, relief and the realisation that this really could be the start of the next chapter, if you’ll forgive the clunking cliche, of our lives. I wish I could be more eloquent than I’m currently being about all of this but the night ended up at an after-hours drinking establishment in the posh end of Swansea and my increasingly middle-aged constitution is only just beginning to recover. I don’t think I have been up at 3.45am for about twenty years (having not first gone to bed) and it may be another twenty more before I am physically able to do it again.

We recorded some audience vox-pops just as people were leaving the cinema in a deliberate attempt to garner more publicity for the film. They were then shared with the small part of the world that is interested in all things Long Arm and we’ll be hammering them further this week as we build towards the cinema release. I do realise that this was the homiest of home crowds but people’s reaction to High Tide seemed to be overwhelmingly positive (and not just because we’d given them free booze before the film began) and as such I’ve embedded the video below if you want to have a look.  Do watch out for some particularly high praise from Hollywood’s Robert Pugh.

As the evening progressed and things got a little fuzzier I was asked by several people how I was feeling to which the obvious answer was that I was feeling pretty amazing (and a little drunk) but thinking about it now it does feel that the premiere was something of an inflection point in this whole process. After several years of micro-managing the entire project, from the early ignorant days when we managed to inadvertently upset a lot of important people with our clumsy amateurism right up until Friday afternoon when we were pushing a trolley of drink into the venue (something that I am sure Scorcese does before all of his premieres), it was time to let High Tide stand alone and be judged by its audience  with the two of us reduced to the status of cowering, powerless bystanders.

I’ve written before about the moment that a writer, metaphorically, slaps his or her new work on the table and says to the crowds, right, judge me on this. It is a terrifying and essential moment and one that the novelist David Mitchell likened to lying on your back, handing the audience a sharpened stake and egging them on to take their best shot. This is what we did on Friday night and very quickly we were afforded a lesson in the brutal process of judgement. There was a heady warmth to the early part of the evening as the free drink flowed and friends were reunited after many months absence (I hadn’t seen several of the cast and crew since the end of the shoot); Jimmy and I introduced the film from the stage, we thanked lots of the people that had helped us reach this far, there was generous amounts of applause. Everything felt wonderful.

Then the film began and after about ten minutes a woman got up out of her seat. Well, she must have been off to the toilet after quaffing too much prosecco on an empty stomach. So we thought. But a few moments later her husband likewise lifted himself from his seat and, with an air of some embarrassment, slid himself out of the row and mumbled that the film “really wasn’t our cup of tea”. I don’t know who this couple were; those invited to the premiere had some connection to the film so they weren’t complete strangers. Maybe they’d given us money (and presumably therefore now think that their donation had been squandered for which I can only apologise a little insincerely) or maybe they were friends or relatives of the cast, who knows?, but whatever their connection they disliked the opening of the film sufficiently to stand up and walk out in full view of everyone in the cinema.

I don’t mind at all that they did, in fact I am glad that they did. Art is always going to be divisive; one person’s David is another person’s big block of borderline pornographic marble which would be better served on their kitchen worktop rather than as one humanity’s finest ever artistic achievements. There are also some, deeply troubled and unhappy, people who don’t like Zoolander. High Tide is deliberately slow in its opening twenty minutes; we ask a lot of patience from our audience and then reward this patience in the second half of the film. But frankly, it is not to everyone’s tastes. And that’s fine. That’s good.

Perhaps, more than the BBFC certificate, more than the TV crews, the dinner suits and ballgowns, the sparkle and the fizz, two punters walking out of the premiere is proof that as filmmakers we have reached the level of professionalism that we’ve worked so damn hard over these past few years to achieve.

Either that or we should try to make better films.

Some people, however, have liked High Tide very much; who wouldn’t want to receive a review like this?  Or indeed a four star review in this month’s Total Film?

But let me end this entry with a piece of music that was playing as we arrived at Mozart’s in Swansea for a night of merriment after the premiere. The Breeders’ Cannonball is a stonewall early 90s classic and I dedicate it to star of High Tide and all-round superstar Mr Sam Davies who I bored with my thoughts on this song for a lot longer than was polite.