It’s been a while since updating this… More films on the way – next I think is a couple of short films from various times through the years, and after that we’ll start getting into the other features.
In the meantime, if anyone is interested, I’m also going to start – probably just as intermittently - start posting other related things. Today: Some ideas expressed as funding applications, specfically the 3 ideas we applied with for the Escalator scheme, earlier this year. We liked these ideas, and thought with our background in no-budget film making, and a decent, laterally experienced team, we’d at least make the 12 who went through to “boot camp” – especially since the initial description of what they were looking for was people with lateral ideas who could conceive and produce films at a low budget ($250K). Instead they went for familiar names from their short film funding lists who submitted what mostly looked like the same genre films that get made otherwise.
A couple of them can be maybe made for less – with compromises – and have been submitted to CNZ this round. The cricket film is a bit more expensive – but seems to be much liked as well, and is maybe a bit more commercially viable. We think we’d need a bit more for it, though the other two can be maybe done for the 30k each CNZ may give out – though such a low budget for such ambitious films means the same stresses and damages on everybody involved as we always seem to have.
The funding submissions for Escalator required 3 one page story ideas, plus half a page on how they’d be made. This is what we submitted. Any feedback is welcome
Since The Accident
Its right at the end of the relationship – that moment where everything is poised before both Jasmine and Stirling take their last plunge into agreeing that it’s over. They think hard, they look at each with a tired respect, they’re going to do it properly, with love and respect and care…
“Are we finished?”
“Yes we are”
They hold each other for a moment, strong, secure and resolved and then the movie starts and we get to watch it all fall over, violently and messily.
For both of them, it’s been so long since they’ve been single, they’ve forgotten how it works. Jasmine is beaten down and distressed, her self-esteem all gone, as she tries to transform their old flat into her own space. Stirling falls back to his old family home, where he grew up, and is now alone. He tries to rebuild himself from scratch and to sell himself back to the world on his own terms.
They both leap into sexual encounters with new people. Stirling assertively and coldly pushes himself onto others, with an increasingly shaky grip on himself and a progressive loss of his own control. Jasmine starts off tentatively, unable to allow herself to enjoy being with anyone, then slowly builds in confidence and independence.
In the middle of their diverging paths, they meet, at a gig, a band they used to listen to together. Predictably, an initial warmth leads to fucking, and then to a chill. Their bodies don’t fit together anymore, and they each know all too well how to hurt the other. Eventually Jasmine asks Stirling to leave.
They return to seeking solace in others. As Jasmine starts to find new ways she can get around, an increasingly aggressive Stirling is headed for a breakdown.
After an especially harsh encounter, he turns up at Jasmine’s, climbing in through the kitchen window. She’s quietly getting drunk on the bedroom floor, thinking heavily if not well. Seemingly unsurprised to see him suddenly turn up in her house, she launches into a torrent of anxious, drunken, messy catharsis, an emotional purge of everything she can’t get rid of any other way. He sits through it in silence.
Afterwards he asks to hold her. What starts calm and almost sweet turns violent and disturbing. She eventually pushes him off her, and he runs for the door closely pursued by her wine bottle. We end with her staring out the window as he walks down the street to an uncertain future.
Shooting Since The Accident
Since the Accident is about trying to fuck your way out of trouble. It’s different kind of film to make in a culture where “too much information” is the reply to any personal statement about sex, and where our cinema flinches from even acknowledging that sex is a complex and uncontrollable part of people’s lives.
The sex in the film will be relatively graphic, but much more emotionally so than physically. As in real life, its complicated and messy, Violent and ugly at some times, quiet and calm at others, but always concerned with the appropriate emotions for this film of power and powerlessness, fear and failure, anger and grief… but also the search for meaningful emotional connection.
To do this requires time and money – not a lot by film standards, but more than a no-budget process can provide. The most important resource is the actors, and the budget will be based first and foremost around giving them and I what we’ll need. The best way to negotiate this is slowly and carefully, building trust between actor and director in the work-shopping process, taking time to build the scenes in a private and secure environment.
Little Bits of Light, the best budgeted film I’ve made, gives an idea what can be done with two actors in 2 weeks of work-shopping and 4 weeks of shooting. For Since The Accident, we have considerably more demanding roles, and many more characters – there are 8 substantial smaller roles in the film. With the more considerable Escalator budget, we will have time to get it right with all of them.
This is a film that benefits from the techniques I have developed over 4 no- to (very) low- budgeted films – combining improvisation with written and planned elements, getting in close to events in sustained takes when shooting in real locations and real time, complex and concentrated work with the actors in developing the characters and events, a small crew (about 6) fully engaged with the job to be done. Everything is stripped back down to a flexible, responsive unit, because the focus of the film is on drawing out and distilling physical and emotional reality, not on creating a false world from scratch.
Not that this means it won’t be a striking film physically – but an audience is always much more emotionally touched by the change in the expression on an actor’s face, than they are by an action set piece. The film making is about finding, seeing, hearing the emotion in the scene and in the location, rather than imposing a look or a style upon a scene that destroys the ability of the emotion to be expressed.
Untitled Cricket film
Its day 3 of a poorly attended test match. The other side had posted a big total, and the NZ side is characteristically up against it.
First over: Facing is struggling opener Batsman. Poor form, incipient depression, and an inability to get on with others in the team have damaged his prospects, despite obvious talent and intelligence and, once, an unusual degree of patience and application for a NZ batsmen. An unfashionable and curmudgeonly grafter, Batsman is often at odds with the rest of the team, a sarcastic and isolated individual with an old-fashioned attitude to a game increasingly professional and aggressive in its attitudes to fitness, morality, and application.
We watch in real time as Batsman struggles to survive this first over, with a focus on elements of the game we don’t see in television broadcasts – the distances between people, the speed and violence and nastiness of the game, the way in which sportsmanship has obviously been replaced by more pressing commercial imperatives. Ball by ball, Batsman somehow manages to survive at the crease, until an ignominious dismissal on the last ball of the over.
After the long walk back to the dressing room – and the obvious repression of expressing how angry he feels – Batsman destroys his bat, shreds his clothes, and leaves the arena without talking to anyone else in the team.
From here he disappears into a bender of ridiculous proportions: drinking, arguing, fighting, whatever he can hide behind. He’s also hiding behind the fact that no one will recognise him without a helmet or a cap on – the way cricketers, or at least batsmen are always seen and usually remembered.
Through the course of the night, everything he does gets more ridiculous – throwing up in the gutter, only staying in bars where there’s no mention of sport, visiting a brothel where he responds to a moment of recognition by pretending to be foreign, waking in an alley bleeding and bruised the next morning.
He gets back to the game moments before he’s supposed to go out to bat again – the rest of the New Zealand team hadn’t done much better. Stopping only to dress in cricket whites and apply a little makeup to his blackened eyes – the TV audience mustn’t know about his issues just yet – he staggers out to open the batting in the follow on.
Promptly, he gets hit in the chest, falls over and is taken off the field and to the hospital.
At the hospital, while NZ wickets continue to fall at an alarming rate, again, he tries to recover. He makes a scene , gets pumped up with painkillers and returns to the arena in time to return to the crease as last man in.
New Zealand is hundreds of runs behind as he emerges, bandaged and limping. He starts to bat like a wild man – swinging and connecting, scoring runs all around the field, constructing a highly unlikely last ditch defense.
Of course, they don’t make it. They don’t even make the other side bat again. They just manage to salvage a little dignity, take up a little more time. Eventually, Batsman gets out and walks off the field, his career and mental health uncertain… but maybe a little better than at the start of the film.
Shooting the cricket film
This film started from thinking about the famous 1953 test between New Zealand and South Africa where Bert Sutcliffe came back out with a huge bandage on his head, and Bob Blair coped with the death of his fiance in the Tangiwai disaster to defy the South Africans for an extra hour. They still lost, but in the process they defined the way the perpetually battling NZ cricket team is viewed.
At the same time, I was thinking about recent opening batsmen – We’ve had one quit because of depression, another gets into trouble for drinking too much – and the game isn’t anything like it was in 1953. The game story here still is very familiar to any follower of the Black Caps – a test match, a big total, a batting collapse, a follow-on – there’s a test match like this going on as I write.
I also thought about how we construct national identity and celebrity in New Zealand, and the confused and contradictory pressures of being a representative icon whom nobody can actually recognise without a hat, even though everybody can see you have problems.
Batsman is an old fashioned cricketer, a battler. He’d be tailor made for the role of the Man Alone, the last ditch sporting hero, if this was a movie about heroism… Instead he has to do media training and be a good ambassador for the game. He may play “valiantly”, but in this less innocent age, the physical and emotional pressures of his job are destructively incompatible with the very idea of heroism. A hero doesn’t go on benders.
What makes cricket strange and interesting is the contradictions: on one hand, a team game where most of the key moments are solitary; on the other hand a long game featuring extended periods of inaction for most of the players, especially the unsuccessful ones. The very few films about cricket are usually about sporting heroism or about nostalgia – and this film will make passing reference to both those things within the context of the main character. But it also provides a singular yet culturally resonant framework for watching a character struggling with their life.
For something that is so endlessly watched on television as cricket, the first challenge is to find images the audience isn’t familiar with. But the extremely precise, high tech, telephoto lens, super slow motion nature of cricket coverage gives us a low budget but cinematic way of dealing with this story : restore the game’s actual nature to the viewer. Making no reference to anything off the pitch and using wide angle lenses and long takes, will restore the internal reality of the game – brutal bursts of violence surrounded by the player waiting and battling with themselves.
Untitled Road movie
Two bands travel across Cook Strait to play 4 gigs in the South Is, after shows in the North Island. One are well known, have been playing and releasing albums for years, although like most “legendary” “underground” NZ bands, they don’t tour all that often. The other are a new combination of experienced and new musicians, full of energy but not exactly familiar with each other yet.
Our central characters are B, the bass player in the new band, who’s never toured before, and R, the “road manager,” who definitely has.
As they travel, they deal with the usual aggravations and indignities of bands touring with little money and little space. Tensions flare, equipment breaks, audiences are unpredictable.
These are not 20 year olds in their first bands – these are older people, some have been doing it a while, some for too long. Sex and drugs aren’t so important to these people – when those things are there, they serve an almost nostalgic function. Drink is a bit different though, and there’s a strong focus in the film world on drinks before and after the show – and how it can upset the fragile emotional states of performers already struggling with the whole thing.
A fantastic night in Takaka starts the film hopefully, but nobody enjoys the hangover driving down the West Coast to Greymouth. After the Greymouth R and B take two local women back to the backpackers’ where R crashes out and B spends the night listening to them talk about how awful their small town lives are.
Dunedin is always expected to be the best crowd of the tour, but comes after a long drive where everyone is exhausted and sick of each other, and the band doesn’t play at their best. Christchurch is the last show, and the most depressing turnout, and the long drive back up the country to catch the ferry results in the climax of building arguments and recriminations. B’s anxiety and relative lack of skill on his instrument have made him the scapegoat, and R and the rest of the band leave him on the side of the road as the van drives off
Making the film
The central notion of this film is that we organise an actual tour of the South Island for two bands – one will be a real and well known New Zealand band, who will feature more peripherally in the film, and the other will be created for the film from a combination of musicians and actors, but will be forced to function as a band in gig scenes.
We take two or three weeks over it – rather than the 4 or 5 days usually spent on tour – with a combination of planned events and room for spontaneous ones. The crew travels effectively as the bands do – although the budget gives us a bit of room to do things more thoroughly and comfortably than a touring band usually can, so there is a decent margin for error.
The film is drama shot with documentary technique, with a small and responsive crew, so we can seamlessly integrate dramatic set pieces with found events, documentary elements recording an actual tour and a detailed depiction of the process of creating and performing music ,
We run the tour in such a way that what happens is what really happens on a tour like this, both for better and worse – Audiences will only be in the film if they are choosing to come to the gigs we’ve actually organized and promoted. The live sound will be the sound we get in the place we shoot.
But we will also have carefully controlled set ups – like the girls in Greymouth – which provides a strong scene in the middle of the film about how rock ‘n roll expectations never quite work out how you expect, but which we probably can’t rely on to occur spontaneously in front of the camera.
All stories written by and copyright Campbell Walker.
Of course, there’s been more work done on all these outside the formats required… Since the Accident has been in process for a while, and will work well if we get time to make it properly – the other two need more work yet, though in the band film the process means that only a limited amount should be planned too aggressively.
In the meantime, I’ve spent the last week suffering from a fairly major toothache – which kicked in the night before the recent CNZ application was due, which, er, compromised it a little. Its hard to write stuff while in fairly extreme and mind clouding pain, I’ve learned. After a lengthy and almost equally painful struggle to get social welfare to pay for the treament, I’m having two teeth out tomorrow. After the wait to get to the dentist, I think I’m actually looking forward to it…