After van driving- or thoughts that occured whilst working on a short film

“So decided you want to direct films yet?” So asked a friend when he called earlier in the week. Due to my well-documented, frequent Damascan-style, enthusiasm for almost anything new and shiny, there was a bit of me that was expecting my head to be turned by the whole process of filming.
But, like a lot of experiences last year, the act of doing something different and strange provoked the familiar into new relief. So The Things I Thought Whilst Working on a Short Film Driving a Van aren’t mostly about filming.

– There is a ruthlessness- a singularity of thought- about the process I experienced on the film. Everything on the shoot is set up to service that moment when light crosses glass, when all actors, all dressing, all noise, all everything within the frame is perfectly arranged and prepared. Whilst also aware of the pressure that one, some or all of those things might be time precious (light going, site secured only until dawn and so on).
It gives the whole act of filming the same sort of urgency you get backstage before curtain up- you, me, this, here, now, got to do it now.
A group of people entirely focused on creating the piece of art they agreed to. Everything not relevant must be stopped at the water’s edge, and vigorously repelled by those of us whose job it was to problem solve and bullshit block.
I was surprised by the idea of a ‘safe space’, a sacred space- a place of total, unequivocal focus. Surprised because i had always assumed it to be a theatrical conceit. And this thought led me, meandering in my mind as we drove about different parts of London, sat on numerous hill tops at different dawns, to the idea that whilst the 34 members of the crew were clearly, gloriously collaborating, there was no sense of compromising.I’d lost sense of the (I’m sure to you obvious) distinction between the two concepts; We can collaborate on something without me agreeing with everything you say. Collaborating doesn’t necessarily mean diluting an idea, but sharing it. Doesn’t sound like much when I put it like that but that’s okay, I know it was worth realising.

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– There was a great line on the call sheet for Monday. “Please note that we will be asking for a 9 hour morning”.
So breakfast is at 5am at Unit Base. Work starts at 6am. And the morning lasts until 3pm when lunch is served- because someone ASKED for a 9 hour morning.The process shifts to suit what is needed by the act of making. Because the most difficult thing we are doing today is MAKING ART. That’s the hard bit. All else should be facilitating the MAKING OF ART. So everything can shift around that to ensure it happens. Even the length of the morning.
Absolute singularity of focus.
Slung Low should start doing Sunday evening performances- we’re a Sunday evening sort of a company. That’s what I thought whilst sat on top of Primrose Hill before dawn laughing at the idea that in film a producer can decide how long the morning is.

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I spent one long day stood on top of a hill in freezing conditions, looking down on filming. My job was to charm the nearby builders to stop smashing concrete during takes and guard the kit from wandering hands but mostly it was a long day of watching filming from afar not really being able to get involved as I couldn’t leave my post.
But it did mean I could see everything from above, the whole team laid out before me.On this morning things were starting to run away from everybody. It was raining which didn’t help. And things were moving slowly and with difficulty. Actors missing, voices raised.
Sat on top of the hill for 6 hours it became obvious what it was. The vision was still there, the artistic intent and clarity. Adrian was still directing with a steady hand, Tom Brooke remained the same compelling actor as he had been yesterday. The script was as terse and moving as it had ever been.
We were filming out on the heath and over a large area- far beyond what could be convincingly shouted across. The Unit Base (where actors are held in readiness, where the producers were based, where the hot water was) was a 9 minute walk from shooting, not the 2 or 3 minute walk it was every other day. It was out of walkie talkie range.That was it- that simple.Actors were thought missing when they were actually in the bathroom, we didnt get hot drinks to the crew so they got cold and uncomfortable, the producers got stressed, the AD’s got stressed. Now I want to be clear- the shoot continued and I am sure the footage was great- this is a great crew and creative team. But it was much harder bloody work than it had to be and energy spent solving problems as mundane as this is energy not spent on the art naturally. It was my little epiphany.

Doing anything of real ambition, real reach is primarily, in simple terms, a matter of imagining what it is (in forensic detail) you want to achieve, writing the list of actions needed to achieve that vision, and then doing everything properly in the right order. That brings me great comfort and energy.
It isn’t very glamorous or sexy but the disasters I have had making theatre have mostly been because I didn’t do what I said I would do when I said I would. A deadline missed. An accommodation budget overspent and a production snipped to compensate. Insurance not secured and an experience reduced. Something mundane, something considered ‘logistics’ not ‘artistic’, that has seriously reduced the scope, scale and impact of an audiences’ experience.

Stood overlooking it all in the cold and the rain I thought it amazing that all this artistic potential, the quality of the script, the talent of the cast, the experience of the crew could be put at risk, reduced in some way because of something as simple as a slightly removed unit base; the range of a walkie talkie; the size of a loading door; the lateness of a taxi. Something small, something that might have gone unnoticed, but for the fact that- domino after domino- it leads, within a Slung Low context in any case, eventually to me leaping up on stage on the occasion of the first preview and delivering a speech that traditionally begins, “Ladies and Gentlemen there is a risk in being the first to experience something etc etc”

I know for many that this will not be a particularly inspiring conclusion but for me it is the stuff of renewal.What with quitting smoking, a surprisingly stressful funding application process and the general sense of the country going to the dogs I’ve been finding it quite hard to kick start with a sense of purpose in 2011.But driving a van around London for a week has renewed my belief that it is in the combination of little things that brilliance is made. That ambition and vision must be accompanied by competence in order to achieve anything. That almost anything can be achieved as long as you have the vision and courage to imagine it, surround yourself with brilliant people and then break the whole thing in to a list of shit that needs to be done.
At the beginning of the week the idea of producing a short film lay as a terrifying unknown mountain of difficulty to my dear friend Lolita. She surrounded herself with brilliant people, mapped out what was the achievement at stake, broke the
whole in to a list of things to be done- and then knocked it out of the park. Now a 14 minute short film with a crew of 34 shooting on 2 cameras is the back stop of what she can achieve as a film producer. Last week it was an everest to climb, today it’s a whole heap of stuff that she’s already done, and that in doing prepared her for more, better.

It was nice not being in charge for a week. But it’s not really for me, van driving.
So I’m going to imagine me an Everest. And then write a list of the steps needed to climb it.
Back to it.

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PS for those wondering. Yes I crashed it. Twice. Neither time was it terminal for the van but still- definite collision with unwanted object.

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