Halloween Indie Film Challenge: The Cellar Rooms Film

A few weeks ago, an old friend of mine called Rob Fellows got in touch with me, suggesting that we collaborate and make a film in his rehearsal studios in Wolverhampton called the Cellar Rooms.
Being in between jobs and awaiting a new contract for the old day job, I thought ‘why not.’
Then Rob told me that he wanted the movie out for Halloween. The pressure was on, here we had one location, a brilliant one at that, two actors one of which being Rob and no crew.
With Rob being a musician and fairly well known in Wolverhampton, I was able to tell him who, and what I needed, and like magic Rob pulled out a few contacts and boom we had a crew.

Most of our crew were musicians, but also film lovers, with an interest in filmmaking so there were a few things that required some explanation, although most already knew elements relating to lighting, cinematography and sound. It was a case of transferring skills from music and technology to film where there was a crossover.
Our Director of Photography was Lewis Rochelle, a drummer for a band called Mystiek who rehearses at The Cellar Rooms but is an avid film lover who’s just starting out in film. In fact, the Cellar Rooms was his first movie. Along with Lewis came Josh Prex, our Sound Man, the vocalist and rhythm guitarist in Mystiek.

We had a deadline of a week and a two and a half day shoot with little time before Halloween for the release date and the pressure was on.

I bought a load of props with me which I had stored in my Dad’s outhouse, six LED lights and a Diva, and we literally threw together a kit list combining all of our equipment.
Unfortunately my Black Magic Pocket Camera didn’t work on the gimble and we used Lewis’ Panasonic G7. But eventually the gimble threw a tantrum and didn’t work on his camera either. This resulted in us having to bodge our own version of Steadicam, that luckily went in with the ghost-on-the-wall Giallo film style we had in mind.With no budget available, we did the best we could to be innovative with our combined equipment to shoot a film with a fast turnover and on time for Halloween. And, a film of which would work stylistically within our limitations. I took a lot of inspiration from Giallo and supernatural horror movies from the 70s. It is certainly an atmospheric piece with all of Rob’s pre-set production design seen in the film!Vintage speakers, amps and other working musical memorabilia crammed the studios giving a real sense of the Cellar Rooms.
The Cellar Rooms is also said to be Haunted. Ventilation ambience can be heard at all times, humming constantly, like an underlying rumble trapped deep in the gut of the studio. When we smoked the corridors, using only small gelled LED’s and strobe lights, the feeling that something could come out of the shadows at any time was immense. As the fog settled into thinly spread haze diffusing the light, there was a sense that asides from us, we weren’t alone…Quite a few times I would be left alone in those corridors and I felt that some presence was there.

As there were quite a few scene changes and surreal moments where Rob played three different versions of himself in varying time periods, there were a few makeup changes. This is where Sydnee-Beth Cross came in, our talented Makeup Artist. I had made a brief for Syd a week before and she took her own initiative to add more depth to some of the looks for Rob.
Without an art director on board, Sydnee also applied her artistic skills to help set dress and do some of the production design which was required. Generally, it was joint effort with everyone doing set design including our Behind-the-Scenes photographer Vivien Varga who ended up mucking in.

The most challenging part of film was the poltergeist scene. We had to choreograph it so that it made sense within the space and looked near to realistic. We shot the majority of the scene in one take following the action as it happened and having loads of hands on board to throw stuff at Rob.
We blocked out the scene by timings reminiscent of silent cinema. I would count down and call out cues to all of the different choreographed elements like characters appearing, reappearing and flickering lights. Everyone knew their part and it made for a really hands on experience, but it took a lot of logical mapping out where our actions mattered within the space.
The next day, we shot the cut always of various objects moving courtesy of us shaking amps, throwing music sheets and paper using a fan saving smashing a cup against the wall until the last day.

Another scene which was fun to shoot was a flashback fight scene. I wanted to make this as vicious and violent as possible.
Melanie Powers, our actress and a friend of mine hadn’t played an aggressive character type before and is generally a really bubbly happy person often playing those kinds of characters.
But I wanted to throw her into another world, one where she would have to work hard to portray the violently compelled woman in this film.
It actually occurred to me that Rob and Melanie are the sweetest and most calm people I know, so to have them playing extreme opposites to themselves was very ironic.

I originally planned to do all of the sound design myself, but then remembered Mariam Michael Draeger; who I’d had the courtesy to do the Woman in Horror Panel with at the Liverpool Horror Film Festival last year. Mariam is a Composer and runs Headcinema Productions; an innovative and talented sound design team based in Frankfurt, Germany who specialise in the development and creation of horror, sci-fi and fantasy audio/visual/photographic projects.

I had messaged Miriam and asked whether she’d be interested, especially as it was a fast turnover dependent on the spirit of collaboration. I also made her aware of the limitations in terms of the production itself. I was happy that Mariam was up for being part of the project, along with her team Marlene Jacobs and Alexander Bös. The project officially became an international affair with members of the Headcinema crew working around the clock in their studio to complete the sound design and create the intense and nostalgic score for the film. We worked solidly with me editing, sending drafts and keeping an active discussion as they created specific sounds and music for the scenes.
Please keep an eye out for the up and coming blog post on creating the sound design and score with Headcinema next week with exclusive insight into how they created the séance track in the film.

As I didn’t have a budget for a grade artist and dealing with 4K files would mean I’d have to find someone fairly local, handover a drive and then retrieve it, this would have been too difficult with our deadline breathing down our necks. Therefore, I had to do the grade myself. I am calling it the ‘temp grade,’ since I threw myself in the deep-end and learned how to do it on the go. Nonetheless, I hope to get an artist to do a re-grade soon.
Now for the Cellar Rooms film with all its airs and graces! Please enjoy our film, a true indie-filmmaking process with a turnover of just over a week! Happy Halloween!

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