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.

Being kneed in the nuts by The Guardian: film criticism from across the divide

Our feature film High Tide has been on release in cinemas for nearly a month now and we’ve been delighted by audiences’ responses to it. As explored in previous posts it is a profoundly terrifying process when you expose your work to the eyes of strangers; you spend years gestating a project, loving it, nurturing it, meeting its every need like a doting parent or soppy pet-owner and become increasingly flustered as the time necessarily approaches when your pride and joy, your vessel for all that affection and heed, must leave your care and confront its fate in the murky world of other people’s opinions. So it is with considerable delight to report that we’ve had a huge number of people sending us messages or coming to talk to us after Q and A appearances to tell us that the film moved them, that they enjoyed the performances and, in one case, immediately texted their Mum to tell her how much he loved her (this will make more sense if you’ve seen the film). There is clearly no better feeling than having your work received in such positive terms.

However, aside from these very welcome attestations of enjoyment from people we don’t know, we’ve also had our first introduction to the experience of being reviewed in print and online. And what an introduction it has been. When we first discovered that High Tide was going to get a limited cinemas release our immediate thought was wow, journalists with large followings are going to be writing about the film. How brilliant. And then we started getting emails from reviews editors asking for preview copies and RSVPs to the national press screening of the film and the excitement built further. We fantasised about the killer review in a national publication that would pluck our film from low-buget indie anonymity and thrust it into the shimmering spotlight of national or indeed international acclamation. I began wondering what I should wear for my inevitable saunter along the Croisette later in the year.

We still get a thrill looking at this.

We still get a thrill looking at this.

The first review arrived. I got wind of it late one Wednesday evening as I sat with my wife on the sofa watching the brilliant Engrenages (if you haven’t, you really should; although ignore Series 1 which is un peu merdique) and it appeared that Total Film magazine had given High Tide four stars. Joy unbounded. Leaping around the room. Rockstar poses. High-fiving imaginary well-wishers. And phoning Jimmy to tell him the news. Except that he was selfishly asleep and would not answer his phone.

The next morning dawned and Jimmy and I turned metaphorical cartwheels and phoned each other several times during the day just to extend this moment of joy and relief for as long as possible. Once the magazine was published we enthusiastically told Facebook the good news and our rag-taggle bunch of supporters and likers did the decent thing and pressed “like”. The red notification icon glowed red and numerous and we began planning the next stage in our forthcoming conquering of the entertainment industry.

A week or so elapsed and we had the utter pleasure of High Tide’s world premiere in Swansea; we dressed up in our finery, drank copiously from both glasses of prosecco and the audience’s reaction to the film and ended up middle-aged, drunk and elated in a late-night drinking establishment in the posh end of Wales’ second city. We’d done it. We’d made a film and everyone liked it.

Then the national reviews began being published. And in amongst the praise, for there was much, one particular review suggested that our house was actually made of straw and the BBC had forecast a gale. I am not going to link to the review because you are clearly capable of using Google but it is out there and my goodness did it sting when we read it. Now let’s be clear, I believe completely in the sanctity of free speech; journalists, indeed anyone, must be free to say whatever they like and the years of love, sweat and devotion that we’d ploughed into High Tide count for absolutely nothing when you are inviting the press to judge the film. You don’t have a Je Suis Charlie banner on your Facebook page if you expect exceptions just because you put in a lot of work. However, this was the Guardian. This was the newspaper that we’d both grown-up reading and feel an instinctive loyalty towards. The Guardian is our people; it’s the home crowd; it’s almost like family. So when its reviewer dismissed High Tide in the most searing fashion it did feel as if our own mother had taken a run-up, looked us in the eyes and then hopped, skipped and jumped towards us before launching a Doctor Marten boot full-force into our testicles.

No artist in any medium wants the word “atrocious” in a review of their work. For me the noun form “atrocity” is what happened in the darkest moments of the Bosnian war or during British imperial rule in Africa and so to have it applied to our film was desperately hard to take. To be fair, the reviewer used the word to describe only one aspect of the film and he did have some relatively pleasant things to say about some other moments but clearly it’s “atrocious” that sticks in the memory. Jimmy and I spent a brief phone call after this piece had been published just saying nothing; there was little to be said; our film had been castigated by a publication that we instinctively respect in front of a global audience. Ouch; ouch to the power of ten.

Friends and supporters rallied to our support; said the right things about it being only one opinion amongst many other positive ones and pointed to the fact that  the reviewer in question had a history of giving poor reviews to films, many of which we thought were excellent. And it is all just a matter of taste after all and we knew that High Tide was not going to please everyone; it deliberately takes it time and relies on its final few moments contextualising everything that has gone before and frankly, some people are not going to like it. However, we felt sick to our core, sad, tired and thoroughly fed-up of the whole crazy process of filmmaking.

The mood was dark a week later as we drove in the rain towards Cardiff for a BAFTA Wales-hosted screening of the film. When we arrived we were met by a lovely woman from BAFTA and we told her that we were happy to go ahead with the Q and A session as arranged but would probably not actually be in the cinema to see the film. She baulked slightly at this and very politely suggested that although we were of course free to do as we wished the sight of the two directors leaving the cinema before the film began probably did not send out the right message to members of the audience. Over a quick coffee we decided that there was good sense in this and so we took our seats reluctantly to watch High Tide for the first time since atrocious-gate.

And then something wonderful happened. We enjoyed the film. We enjoyed every second of it. We lived every shot, every line, every piece of music, every scene, processing that which we saw in the most profound fashion. At the Swansea premiere we’d had a few glasses of wine before we sat down and so the whole experience was emotional and almost dream-like but at this screening we were sober and still sore from what had happened. But as each minute ticked past it was as if we were reclaiming our own work, able to put negative reviews into context and just enjoy what we’d made. I’ve never been prouder of the film than at the moment it ended in Cardiff. This was not a two or a four star film, this was our film and it was really good. The Q and A session that followed was lively and fun and Melanie and Sam were on top form and then in the bar afterwards we had some excellent conversations with members of the audience, all of whom had good things to say about what they’d seen.

The atmosphere on the journey home could not have been more different to that which had choked us on our approach to the cinema. Something had changed, we were now assured in our work, delighted in what we’d achieved and able to treat the twin imposters of praise and criticism with a equable dose of cynicism; after all, after everything, they are just opinions to be read, respected and then forgotten. We’d made a film and it was playing in cinemas. We’d achieved everything that we wanted. 

High Tide is still being screened around the country. More showings are being added all of the time so for the latest list please visit our website.

A Guardian critic filing his review of "Morte D'Arthur III:  It's Gawain to be personal (in 3D)".

A Guardian critic filing his review of “Morte D’Arthur III: It’s Gawain to be personal (in 3D)”.

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.

A High Tide trailer released. At last.

For the past year and a half I’ve been using this blog as a forum for a whole manner of stuff and nonsense. Regular readers will be all too aware of my frequent forays into whimsy and nostalgia and some people have been kind enough to say they’ve enjoyed reading it. Most have just remained silent on the matter. I have tried wherever possible to stick to the theme of film and filmmaking or at least creativity in general and when I’ve failed in this then I have at least apologised.

However, this blog was conceived initially as a means to document the often-insane and always-exhausting process of making a independent feature film. And I think I’ve largely succeeded in this; if you read back over the archives then you will see the various triumphs and disasters that myself and my partner Jimmy have celebrated and endured, rendered for you in overly-verbose and meandering prose. In truth, some of the posts have been removed from public view because they managed to make some important people cross, albeit not deliberately. Maybe one day I will collect them all together in order to present a coherent and complete chronicle of what has been, and continues to be, an unforgettable process. But we may need to run it past the lawyers first!

Anyway, this is all prologue to what is for us a hugely significant moment in our adventure. We finally have a trailer for our feature film High Tide. We are also in the midst of various meetings about how this film will be shown to the world but for the moment I have to be annoyingly coy about the specifics of these. However, yes we do have a trailer. And you can see it here:

We’re jolly pleased with it. I think it does give a decent flavour of the film; you get to see some of the stunning locations we shot in plus there are snippets of the acting performances of Melanie Walters and Samuel Davies both of which hint, utterly accurately, at the wonderful work they do in the film. Having sat many, many times in front of the footage we shot I can say in all honesty that not only do the pair achieve great things in their portrayals of their characters, repeated viewings of a scene at three in the morning do not diminish their power. I take this to be a good sign.

We are also delighted with how good our composer Matt Harding’s music sounds on the trailer. We’ve long been fans of his work and were delighted when he agreed to contribute to the film but it is particularly pleasing now that we can hear his music illustrating the images. Again, having seen cuts of the complete, film it is heartening to find that his music, just like the work of any great composer, has become part of the essential business of telling our story. I can’t now imagine some of the images without their accompanying music. Again, this seems to be a very good sign. There is still some way to go but we are closer than ever to being able to show this film to the world. What the world will think remains to be seen but whatever the reaction we are very proud. And let’s face it, if the world doesn’t like it then we’re just going to assume the world is wrong and has no taste whatsoever.

If you are interested then we now have an expanded section about High Tide on our website and because you are all lovely, here is a still from the film which is not in the trailer. Just to prove that we really do have ninety minutes of footage, not just a shiny two minute trailer. Thanks as ever for being interested enough to read this far.

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Samuel Davies as Josh. Melanie Walters as Bethan.