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.

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

Press the “Relative Indifference” button

We have a new website. It is not very grand and when we have some more money we will get something more elaborate, one that will make you a cup of tea, tickle you gently under the chin and sing the hits of Aerosmith to to you in an alluring falsetto. But for now you’ll have to make do with a photo of Jimmy and me looking like we REALLY want to be in a band and some embedded videos of stuff you’ve probably already seen. If you haven’t then hasten over there right now and have a watch. Some of it is quite good.

But remember when you watch Stuart and Kate  – KATE DOES NOT EXIST. Thanks. It probably could have been clearer in the film.

Now of course when doing anything online these days you have to have a “social media strategy”. We now have a lovely woman doing this for us. She is called Nat (hello Nat) and she is the one behind  both the Long Arm Twitter account and the Facebook page. Nat recently went to Canada and spent some time gadding around wearing snow shoes. This makes her officially a good thing.

And so we are forced to join the fug of electronic noise bouncing around the planet in order to tell people who are mildly interested that we are making a film. To not do so would be putting ourselves at a significant disadvantage and as long as we have someone as supremely competent as Nat at the helm (of our metaphorical social media ship which, bizarrely, is shaped like a modest willy) then those that subscribe will receive only relevant and diverting material.

I am on Twitter. Is “on” the right word? It makes it sound like a drug. Which for some it may be. I am rubbish at Twitter. Those that follow me do so out of pity mostly. I used to agonise over crafting subtle, arch and ever-so-pointed tweets that I hoped would be pinged around the world like a million tiny parcels of my god-damned genius. It never happened. The most retweets I ever received was three when I oh-so-brilliantly called George Osborne a posh, self-serving wanker. Which he is. But it wasn’t worth repeating. When I was first “on” (in? amongst? beneath?) Twitter I tweeted etymologies of interesting words that I had found in a slightly obscure book secretly hoping that logophiles and Guardian readers would flock to my account and be so wowed by my diverse and witty observations that they’d tell their friends who read the Independent and little by little, floral print by floral print, I’d accrue the numbers of followers enjoyed by Pegg and Fry and then I would lead my new army to VICTORY OVER THE IGNORANT. And there I’d be in my new palace made of gold and poor people, my face on a massive painting like Kim Jong-Un, passing down decrees about spelling and Bill Murray.

Again, no one was interested. So if you do decide to “follow” me then be warned, it is no fun. Unless you like plugs for Long Arm stuff  or potty-mouthed insults of the government, particularly the odious Michael Gove.

Oh goodness, I can’t allude to North Korea without thinking of this. Utter genius.

And as for Facebook. What can you say about Facebook? Actually the Guardian today said that it was shedding users like a balding man sheds hairs. Although not quite in those terms. We all know Facebook is evil don’t we? We all know that we’ve essentially entered into a Faustian pact, albeit a rubbish one because we don’t get unlimited knowledge and pleasure we just get to look at that bloke from school who you didn’t like very much getting drunk in a tedious nightclub. And then getting married to someone who is not very pretty. And yet we all offer up our souls willingly.

I saw a tweet recently (see, I am addicted too) which went something like this: celebrate the joy and wonder of your friends brining a child into the world by repeatedly “liking” their photos on Facebook! And we all do it. And then post photos ourselves. And pretend that we don’t care about the numbers of “likes” we gather but secretly keep a spreadsheet with in-depth analysis. If I post a picture of my (admittedly beautiful) son, the “likes” go off the scale. When we first announced that we’d made a short film I think I had about three. Not that it matters. But Facebook sort of pretends that it does and then I DO start to care and that really, really bothers me.

And then there is the LIKE button itself. What an invention. I realise that complaining that Facebook is reductive is akin to leaping into a river and complaining that you’ve got wet. But that won’t stop me complaining. It is binary thinking: yes or no, good or bad, LIKE or ignore. There is no room for nuance. I’d like a “HMMMM, THAT’S QUITE GOOD” button or a “WOW! HE’S GOT OLD” button or a “RELATIVELY INDIFFERENT” button. We are complex, subtle and changeable as a species and the LIKE button reduces us to the level thoughtless drones with a stick taped to our forehead hammering one of the two very large buttons on the desk in front of us. We are digital woodpeckers, but with a lot more flesh. And wind.

Ionesco’s play “Rhinoceros” may not have been an allegory of Nazism after all. From this perspective he seems to have foreseen the age of media; technology that purports to collectivise but in reality atomises us and makes us think that we are more important than anyone else.

And I am one just like all the rest.

That said it is useful for telling people that I have written more of this nonsense and for that I am grateful. Hypocritical to the point of crisis but grateful. I am delighted that so many people have been reading my recent wonderings and drivel but promise to write more about the film we are making when I have something of interest to say. Honestly I will try.

But if by any chance you do like what you’ve read on this blog, be a poppet and pass it on would you?

Maybe even press LIKE. (I am clearly keeping count)