I remember John Peel’s (God bless him) advice during the advent of Punk Rock, “Go out and knock off a phone box! Make your own record! Don’t wait for things to happen!” Seventeen years on the rollercoaster ride of “professional screenwriting” has rammed home to me the fact me that if you do indeed wait for things to happen they never do.
Every project - produced and unproduced - I’ve worked on as come about through force of will. Success has never been a motivating factor because the necessity to simply keep working in such a precarious business overshadows everything else. Feast or famine is the reality. I’ve experienced both and neither are fulfilling. The feast is usually soured by the fact that while you may be experiencing an infusion of digits into your bank account you know that all those digits are being eradicated by a Pacman like creature, gobbling them up to pay back all the credit you have been surviving on during the famine.
I realized a couple of years back that the chances of me getting healthy budgetary investment for films I really wanted to make wasn’t going to happen. The financial meltdown saw a notoriously cautious film industry become even more scared of its own reflection, and investment opportunities started to disappear faster than rent boys at a Michael Barrymore pool party.
I became friends with Indie music kingpin Alan McGee a few years back after we found common ground in our interests in Gnosticism, transgression and synchronicity
Last year a low budget script I had written set on the tiny island of Tagomago in 1969, revolving around an urban legend of hippies being sacrificed by Satanists, was getting some real interest and praise, but I was unwilling to tone down the darker aspects and consequently...no cigar.
Fortunately I became friends with Indie music kingpin Alan McGee a few years back after we found common ground in our interests in Gnosticism, transgression and synchronicity. McGee had recently retired from the “music biz” and was becoming something of a hermit in the Welsh countryside. We talked about films we both liked and then the idea for ‘Kubricks’ was formed. I would direct it with my son Josh who shares my fascination with Kubrick.
Stanley Kubrick’s films have been analysed more than any other director’s oeuvre. Search the net and you will find obsessive and invariably eye opening essays on Kubrick’s films. Writers such as Rob Ager, Jay Weidner, Bill Blakemore and a host of others from the Synchromysticism Forum, have all contributed mind-blowing interpretations of Stanley’s films. Director Rob Ascher has produced a film,” Room 237”, that deals specifically with this relatively new subculture of Kubrick Detectives and it was lapped up at the Sundance Festival and has secured distribution.
Cut to 2011 and I decide it was time to pay my own kind of twisted homage to the great man Stan
My interest in Stanley Kubrick goes back to the late 1970’s when I was desperate to watch his film of Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange. Kubrick had famously withdrawn the film from distribution due to copycat acts of violence by young British wannabe Droogs. There was always somebody around who knew somebody whose mate had a bootleg Beta or VHS copy and I eventually located one. Unfortunately it was so degraded through copying it was unwatchable, which only made my interest in ACO and Kubrick even more focused.
Cut to 2011 and I decide it was time to pay my own kind of twisted homage to the great man Stan. There was no point wasting time and energy in trying to pitch it to a studio or production company for financing - because interference just couldn’t be run on the idea - so Alan Mcgee threw a few grand down to make it happen.
Trying to shoot a feature film on virtually “no money” is a lot easier than it sounds when the stars are in alignment and the attitude is right. We had the location, Alan’s scenic country pile in Hay On Wye, and fortunately a young cinematographer called Tom Mitchell whose work is stunning. Cutting everything to the bone: no make up, wardrobe, lighting, continuity etc, we were quick off the blocks. The miniscule cast and crew: nine in all, would camp out for the duration of the shoot in the grounds of a country pub and get fed and watered well. Alongside this they would get scale pay and a healthy cut of any back end profits that might materialize.
The production process was mirroring the actual plot which adds an intended multi-layered aspect to the film
All that remained to be figured out was how to actually tell our story in such a short space of time. We had 5 days to do it. There was absolutely no point having a nailed down script to work from so I decided that improvisation would be the best route. My son Josh wrote segments of a script and I added and subtracted from it. It soon became clear that the best way to tell the story of a young man with a Kubrick obsession trying to make a film with no money (the plot) would be to set up the scenarios and see what happened. The production process was mirroring the actual plot which adds an intended multi-layered aspect to the film.
To facillitate four actors, Roger Evans, Joanna Pickering, Gavin Bain and Matthew Blakey, creating something out of essentially one line of plot, I brought along my friend Chris Madden who became the defacto on-set psychiatrist. Chris is actually a neurolinguistics therapist and he soon started getting into the heads of the actors and making them question everything about individual psychologies and that of the group. This really got the actors on their toes and consequently the tension and frustration became palpable. At one point it looked like we were heading for a mutiny and whispers were heard that I might be suffocated as I slept in my tent. Alan McGee played a blinder by confusing the actors even more with tales of ley lines and magik. The desired effect was achieved and the cast and crew vigorously threw themselves into the organized chaos.
Roger Evans is an experienced actor and in my opinion one of the best improv players in the country. He was the motor to keep it all moving forward and it was a joy to see the less experienced actors learn from him. If I were to give any advice about the no budget filming process it would be to get a solid actor in as the central character and, I believe, you can fill the other roles with real characters rather than professionals. Gavin Bain for instance isn’t known as an ‘actor”. He’s a musician from Aberdeen known for having one over on the music industry by ‘acting’ as a Californian rapper for years. See his book “California Schemin’” for a gutsy and brave method acting lesson.
In five rain drenched days we managed to have a truly wonderful time free from any interference from bean counters and jittery financiers and it’s really given me and Alan McGee a taste for this kind of film making. I’m inspired by the fact that film making doesn’t have to accommodate ego, one-up manship, stringent accounting, pampering and rehearsal. The shooting in Hay On Wye was a million light years removed from Hollywood, and in production values, the same distance removed from even Hollyoaks.
I’m inspired by the fact that film making doesn’t have to accommodate ego, one-up manship, stringent accounting, pampering and rehearsal
Our film will be what it will be. No more no less: an experimental homage to Stanley Kubrick with symbolism layered in for the Kubrick’s Detectives to have some fun with. I’ve never experienced so much creative freedom and it will be a chore if I ever go back to producing in the mainstream fashion.
There are many young cinematographers, actors, editors and writers making personal “no budget” films nowadays. Obviously the net and relatively cheap technology is facilitating this, but as the film & TV industry contracts even more and concentrates its investment into ‘recognized’ talent pools, it seems almost perverse, if you are inclined, not to get your shit together and go out and make a film exactly how you want to instead of trying to second guess what will tickle the financiers’ fancy.
One enduring memory I have of the shoot is Alan’s young daughter, Charly, filming us on her phone camera. She was making a “making of” which I can’t wait to see. You can’t help but be inspired when you see that personal films are embraced by the new generation and that creativity can never be killed off by the salaried gatekeepers and accountants, no matter how entrenched their indifference to the new, novel and experimental is.
Check out this great Alan McGee interview...
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