As featured on the Huffington Post blog, some words from director James Kibbey about making movies and making mistakes:
Imagine you’ve come up with this hair-brained idea to shoot a feature film in six months time. You’ve literally set a date when you will press record on whatever camera you’ve managed to get your sweaty palms on. Now imagine you have the following: No script, no cast, no clue. Know anybody who would be that daft? You do now.
It was New Year’s Day 2013. With the previous year’s alcohol still in the bloodstream, my producer Adam and I decided that we would make our first feature film that very summer. Now, just over 2 years later, and on the brink of releasing The Last Sparks Of Sundown, here’s our blueprint of how NOT to make a feature film.
1. Set a date
27th June 2013. Plucked from the thin air of a crisp New Year’s Day morning. That was our D-Day – the first day of shooting of whatever this film turned out to be with whoever would be foolish enough to come with us. Setting a date gave us something to work towards, a focus. The fact that it was a little over 6 months away and we were starting from scratch made it utter madness. But, using the phrase “reverse engineering” in a bid to make it sound more like a legitimate strategy than a misjudged pipedream, we got to work.
2. One month to write a script
March. Still pretty cold, not much going on. Seems like a decent month to stare into the white abyss of Final Draft’s title page. Whether by Captain Hook or Mackenzie Crook I would have a completed draft by 31 March. An arbitrary amount of time to work on the most important part of the process – rock solid thinking. INT. HELICOPTER – NIGHT…
3. Shoot the film in two weeks
Shooting is the expensive bit. Cast, crew and equipment all cost money even when everyone’s doing you a favour, so the shoot had to be two weeks. It’s all we could afford and all we could reasonably ask of everyone’s summer. A necessity it may be, but it’s tough. The Shoot Day From Hell™ involved shooting 13 pages of script with six of the seven main actors, two cameras, and three special effects. Not medically recommended.
4. Shoot (and stay) in one location
So we managed to find a location (our Sundown House) that we could not only shoot the majority of the film in, but that could also house our entire cast and crew. Well, just about. So, the editor was sleeping in a tent in the garden, the director and the producer were sharing a bed, and the shower leaked onto the set with the expensive cameras in it? Relax, no one died.
5. Edit in your Producer’s spare room
Featuring Three Men and a Baby. The Men: Director James, Producer Adam and Editor Ryan. The Baby: An ugly sunnuvabitch made-up of 50 hours of footage on 10 hard drives. In a spare room no bigger than Steven Spielberg’s downstairs toilet, we spent almost nine months trying to make sense of what had happened in the summer of 2013. Things were said. People got hurt. We lost a lot of good men in that spare room.
And then it’s finally done. You play the festival circuit, win a couple of awards. Why not try self-distributing? Pardon? Taking on what is essentially a full-time job on top of your actual job and other things like eating, sleeping and raising children? Yep. Sign me up.
And that’s where we are now. A two year journey of highs and lows, an intense, hurried pre-production, an unforgettable shoot and the gruelling marathon to actually finish the bloody thing. Am I proud of what we achieved? Absolutely. Would I recommend this method of making a feature film to anyone else? No, it’s bonkers. But maybe that’s you…
The Last Sparks of Sundown is playing at the Prince Charles Cinema from 27th – 30th July followed by Q&As with the director and cast.
It was the producer who’d been throwing up all night. Thank God for that. (see previous post)
In the darkness of the early hours the sound was like that of a angry wild animal trying to escape from inside the bowels of a slightly smaller wild animal. Someone was seriously ill, that was for certain. The only uncertainty was the identity of the man – Producer or Director Of Photography? Both key positions for sure, but if we were to lose the producer at any time, the shoot was perversely not the worst time it could happen. But on a film where we were shooting some scenes in little more than an hour, we needed Peter our DoP to be firing on all cylinders. We’d lost Emily our lead actress the day before, and now Producer Adam, but we had to keep moving forward, to keep shooting something. Anything.
So, with a little trepidation, I headed down to breakfast. Had this virus claimed any other victims in the night?
No. All present and correct. But it wasn’t all good news. Reports were coming in of a newly formed indoor lake in the living room. Water was dripping down from above onto the set, in the process unlocking that indisputable Health & Safety equation of Water + Electricity = Death Trap.
So, now we had a leaking ceiling to add to a leaking producer. And, with a shower out of action, a crew with a grumble. Low-budget filmmaking is hard work, the least you can expect is to be able to sleep, wash and eat. But, whilst one of these key human rights was being compromised, we did at least have an ace up our sleeve. And his name was Clive.
Not so much an Ace of Hearts as an Ace of Stomachs, Clive was our caterer. Together with Michelle, they would produce meal after meal that would not have been out of place in a top drawer restaurant. Crucially for a crew that included one or two “nutrionally-enthusiastic males” the quality was matched by the quantity and – not to call into question the legality of the ingredients – the food seemed to have an amnesiac effect on the crew. However tough the schedule, disease-ridden your fellow crew member, or lethal the working environment, you knew that if you could make it alive to the end of a shooting day there would be one hell of a meal waiting for you. And in the troubled early days of the shoot, that just about kept us on track…
We’re excited to announce that on October 17th, the film will screen in competition at the hotly anticipated Chicago Comedy Film Festival. Amazingly enough this takes place in Chicago. So please spread the word to anyone who likes comedy, Chicago, or just has nothing better whatsoever to do that weekend.
Our short House Cocktail screened here in 2013 scooping Mark Chavez a Best Actor Award so it’ll be great to be back.
And, without charge, here are 3 facts about the Windy City that previously took up no space in your brain:
1) Chicago is home to almost 3 million people. Only 200 of these people will be able to watch The Last Sparks Of Sundown. Bummer.
2) Chicago is home to the world’s largest population of Poles outside of Warsaw. The Last Sparks Of Sundown does not have Polish subtitles. Oversight.
3) Chicago’s Western Avenue is the world’s longest street. It was deemed too long to feature in The Last Sparks Of Sundown. Lengthy.
See you there! x
The first day’s shooting went quite well. The sun shone, everyone seemed to know roughly what they were doing, and we ripped through 3 scenes with relative ease. Then our lead actress starting getting sick…
Not just a sniffle. Properly sick. Bed-ridden sick. Sick sick.
In a schedule that was already re-defining the meaning of optimistic, we were suddenly having to tear it up on day two. Hmmm… No problem, we’ll move day three to day two, give Emily 24 hours to recover then proceed as normal. On we go.
BUT THEN IT RAINED.
What the schedule definitely did not have room for was just sitting around marking time. We had a cast, crew and equipment, we had to be shooting something for the film at all times. So, with none of the interior locations camera-ready yet, we were left with only one option: Going underwater.
In one of the script’s more surreal scenes, the Sparks brothers have a summit underwater to discuss what to do next. Mid-summer it may have been but on a drizzly English day the unheated pool was more death trap than sun trap. I’d read somewhere in a “How the F*ck Do You Direct A Movie” book that you should never put an actor through something you’re not prepared as director to do yourself. So, whilst Mark and Shenoah were inside psyching themselves up, I jumped in. Expletives turned the air blue as the water did the same to my skin. My testicles pulled the emergency ripcord and sought temporary shelter in my lower intestine. This was going to be a challenge. Staying in was just about bearable if you kept moving, but holding your breath underwater for any meaningful length of time was a different matter altogether.
But with some sterling endurance work from our leads, some rather crude weights, and a little help from some high frame rates we managed to get what we needed from the scene and salvage something from the schedule.
That night, I put my head down on the pillow. We had got through the day. Nothing was derailing the Sparks Express. We’d faced a problem head on, adapted, and kept going. That’s what low-budget filmmaking is about after all right? I could sleep soundly.
Until 3am. Pitch black. From the warm embrace of a pleasant dream I awoke to a nightmare – the sound of somebody wretching their guts up repeatedly. I was sharing a room with 2 people – the Producer and the Director Of Photography – two fairly crucial individuals to the filmmaking process. One of them was seriously ill.
The virus was spreading…
In the next instalment, find out who was next to drop and what happened when water started coming through the ceiling…
And please sign up with your e-mail on the right to keep up to date with screening news…
This is the story of how we made a feature film for very little money, in very little time.
In autumn 2012, we made a 2 minute film called House Cocktail. It won a few awards and even the big man upstairs, no not HIM, Harvey Weinstein called it “a fantastic, entertaining short.” We then had something of a lightbulb moment. Harvey Weinstein likes us! He doesn’t like anybody! This is a sign! We should make a feature film!
We even had an idea. But – even with a conservative estimate – it was going to cost several hundred thousand pounds to make. So what do you do? You write the script, have a few hundred meetings, try to convince people to invest all that money, and maybe – just maybe – 3 to 5 years later you have your completed first feature film. Bollocks. To. That.
Call us crazy, call us impatient, call us stubborn. On 1st January 2013 we came up with a different idea. A simple idea. SET. A. DATE.
A date where, come what may, we would press the big red record button on the first day of shooting. If that happened to be on an iPhone and we were playing all the parts ourselves in a series of bad wigs then that was our movie. That date was 26th June, 2013. Six months.
Six months to hone an idea that could be done on a shoestring, to write a script, to get some actors, some equipment, maybe even a crew crazy enough to join us.
By the end of March we had a first draft. By mid-May we had what we thought was a workable script. But, with a little over a month to go to until our self-imposed D-Day, we had no cast, no crew, and no equipment. This was a ridiculous idea. The naysayers were right – it couldn’t be done.
But we’d been telling everyone we knew that we were making a film. And I don’t like losing things, especially my face. Then, just as we were contemplating which one of us would look passable as a leading lady, a turning point.
On May 17th, we got an e-mail – we had our lead actors. The Pajama Men. And with them, we also had a little momentum. Suddenly, our rickety old train was pulling out of the station. Within 2 weeks, the rest of the cast had jumped board and we were hurtling towards day one of shooting. The bluff was starting to work. People actually believed we were doing this. And that’s what it dawned us. Shit. We are actually doing this.
The same thing soon started to happen with crew. And equipment. The shoot was just 2 and a half weeks. We weren’t asking for much time. Yes, we now needed a little money but with what we could cobble together ourselves and some generous investment from the guys at Steam Media we thought we could just about make it work. As long as nothing went wrong.
So we’d made to D-Day. June 26th, 2013. Day One of the shoot. A fantastic cast, a fancy camera, and an almost 30 strong crew. We pressed record. The shoot had begun. The hard bit was done. Wasn’t it?
But no one had told us how crazy it was to try and shoot a feature film in 16 days. For tales of bad weather, last minute pull-outs and a crew vomiting bug, tune in next time…
Ladies and gentlemen, we are done. The film is finally finished. And other things beginning with F.
We have a new fancy sign-up box over on the right for latest news on where, when and how you can see the film. Join us, we promise not to send anything crap. Also follow us on Facebook and Twitter too. The film clocks in at a little over 90 minutes so make sure to set aside an hour and a half between now and when you die to watch The Last Sparks Of Sundown. And then, if you like it, tell your friends. And if you don’t, tell your enemies. It doesn’t matter either way to us.
The Sparks Brothers are coming. Lock up your grandmothers.