Five months ago I decided that I wanted to make my first proper short film. By proper I mean doing it with a crew and not directing, shooting, sound, editing and of course starring in it like many of my previous movies. I didn’t want to be a Bowfinger character anymore, although please note that I do admire people who are able to be all-rounders!
Along my journey of self-discovery I found that working as a producer in commercial video has its perks. I’m constantly working with talented film crews some of whom have become my friends. I was also keen to flesh out ideas that had been scrawled across random bits of paper and old notebooks that all highlighted themes that I was desperate to portray in films. It was time to bring these two elements together in a new horror film, Newborn.
The idea for Newborn came from an unusual habit. For years I have been an avid photographer of textures. In fact my favourite pastime is growing mould, capturing bark, spider webs and hair. I remember the first time I decided to cut my long hair off. it was almost like a Frida Kahlo moment. My friend Emanuela sat shaking her head cursing me while saying, ‘A woman’s beauty is through her hair!’ It was as if her words had bounced off the wall and crumbled onto the floor like decomposing maggots. I needed to get over this fear and cut my hair off just so I could prove her comments were not true. I needed to stop hiding in my hair and face reality that one day I might not have any, just like being faced with the prospect of never being able to walk again after being involved in a horrific car crash. It is a fear and we all have them no matter how odd they may seem.
Newborn stems from those phobias, the dread thoughts we often harbour but prefer to avoid.
When I first came up with the script I sent it to a friend of mine who told me its pitfalls. It was a complete abstract piece. It was more of an experimental exercise than a narrative. I didn’t want that. I really wanted to make the story understandable to a general audience rather than act as personal cinematic therapy. This meant adding more depth to the character. There was also lack of action, with loads of static shots and no cohesive style.
I had to revisit the proverbial drawing board make my central character more likable but how? I started to think about the reasons why my protagonist appeared such a depressive character, someone annoyed with the world. Why was she so negative? And then it came to me. She lived all alone in a big house. Surely she hadn’t lived alone since birth? Had someone left it to her? Had someone died? I immediately thought of her grandmother and my character’s backstory began to grow.
On the 8th draft of the script I brought in James Burt my film maker/editor friend. He said, ‘I like the script, but if you allow me I’ll rewrite it so it flows a little better and so it helps you for your future scripts.’ James had studied screenwriting and I was keen to have his expertise on board. He suggested that we try to emphasise the key themes in the film, those being hair and the fear of losing hair.
Draft 11 and we’re now there.
There have been a lot of challenges along the way and I am sure there will be more to come, the production has already been delayed by a month and a half!
The location was the first issue because of its limited availability. It is a house that is currently being sold. Scheduling filming before its sale has been nerve racking, especially since I certainly don’t have a budget for an alternative location and I’m getting this one for free.
I was originally set to film with another DOP but he couldn’t make two days of the three-day shoot and couldn’t commit to any other weekend before the sale of the house. He advised me to fill in the days with a second DOP, something I was reluctant to do. But I got on case and put loads of adverts out for another DOP and received around 25 applications. I viewed showreel after showreel and found two people who were fit for the job.
It then dawned on me that most films don’t have two DOPs, certainly not many short films. Having studied many famous cinematographers as part of my research, I realised that securing a visual style was essential to the movie. I recall watching movies where I know the editor or the writer has changed half way through because the film itself has changed pace or has some narrative or style inconsistencies. I had to make a big decision and find a DOP that was going stick with me through the whole process, someone who had a passion for the project and shared my vision. I had a decision to make and it meant letting go of my current DOP who, unfortunately, was also a friend.
So no DOP.
When I first came across Louis Corallo his work stood out because of his storyboarding ability. Not only is his board work flawless, he has a fantastic cinematic style and he’s a lighting DOP. He was also my favourite out of the 25 applications I had received previously. So I re-approached him and explained my predicament. To my surprise he was keen to come on board and understood my vision. Well actually he told me my story was ‘pretty fucked up.’
By now I had assembled all of my team, my friend Sammm Agnew on SFX/make-up, Digpal from Rathore Photography on lighting, James Burt as co-writer, a former C5 sound man called Tee, Xerath’s Christopher Clarke as the Monster, actress/model Iris Musel as the central character Marris, Charlie Cheswick from Grimewave as John and Lucy S as the Tupperwear Woman. Nodachi Films are supplying camera equipment and assisting on technical. I also advertised for runners/assistants online and got a helping hand with location catering from my family.
But only a few days ago another bombshell hit. I received an email from actress Iris to say she could no longer play the central character Marris.
I was on a film shoot when I got the email, assisting makeup artist Sammm Agnew (we were doing a heart being pulled out of chest scene that day) and it felt like my own heart had been torn from my now quivering body.
‘Anybody know a sexy actress around 25 years old who looks like a Goth?’ Sammm bellowed on set trying to calm my nerves.
Moments later a girl called Debbie from the art department sauntered over and showed us a picture of her friend who looked just like Iris!
‘Her name is Mairead and she’s an actress from Ireland,’ Debbie said.
I immediately texted her and, well, after watching three audition tapes this evening, lets just say she’s now our new Marris.
One of the questions throughout this process has been: To VFX or not to VFX?
Through a contact I was introduced to Escape Studios, a leading VFX academy in London, where I met Mark Spevick. Having worked on The Mask of Zorro and supervised on set for Casino Royale, Mark was able to give me an introduction to a world I knew too little about. I had a vague idea of the scenes that could benefit from VFX but I just didn’t know what kind or how they could be applied to further enhance my story. Mark introduced me to Anita Gribble, Relationship Manager at Escape Studios. With titles such as Tomb Raider, Enemy at the Gate, Puckoon and Vertical Limit under her belt, just to name a few, I was thrilled that she was happy to oversee Escape Studios involvement in my film.
Through our meetings, we have come to the conclusion that we will be using 2D animation in selected parts of my film. I hope it works.
The final countdown has begun with only a week to go before my shoot and, quite aptly, it happens to be over the Halloween weekend.
Please keep a look out for blog posts over the next few days as I hope to run a competition and keep you all involved as much as possible.
You’re all probably wondering how I’ve funded this film?
Well I’ve done it myself but I’ve also had a huge amount of support from friends who are willing to work for free and film companies who believe in my passion for filmmaking and want to see me succeed. I’ll reveal the film budget once the film is completed.
In the meanwhile keep a look out for up and coming blogs and tweets.
Thank you all for reading!