I briefly mentioned before that I recently produced a short film. That sounds kind of cool doesn’t it, ‘I recently produced a short film’. The film in question is an Arts Council-funded experimental artist essay film that will be shown in galleries in Brighton and London and then, hopefully, the rest of the world. It was devised and directed by a talented young artist and filmmaker I met through Blast Theory, and I was massively flattered when she first asked me to come on board as producer. Particularly because I had never produced anything before, other than things like cups of tea.
The film was shot on location in Anglesey on 13 and 14 July, which meant I had to drive 350 miles to North Wales the day after my birthday. If I’m completely honest, driving all that way was pretty much my biggest fear and worry about the whole project – I might dedicate another blog post to that! Anyway. In anticipation of this, I went out the day before my birthday so I could get an early night on my actual birthday and therefore decrease my chances of failing to check my blind spot on the M25 and causing a major road accident. I can be sensible when I have to be.
I had started my new job with South East Dance the week before my birthday so that week was, to coin a phrase, fucking busy. A few hours of film production stuff before work, then another few hours after work. Crew contracts, rental cars, accommodation, risk assessments, maps of the site (spending an hour on the phone to Ordnance Survey because the online mapping tool I had just paid to use wasn’t working, was a particularly enervating experience), insurance, budgets…
My birthday almost seemed like a bit of an inconvenience in among all of that – but given the fact I have only really started celebrating my birthday properly in the last couple of years, I decided that I wasn’t going to let last-minute film emergencies and my growing anxiety over having to drive a car all the way to Wales get in the way of me marking the fact that I was turning 35. Thirty-five, bloody hell. That’s probably one for another blog post too (or perhaps I can fit it in these parentheses: five years till I’m 40, should really have kids soon, ovaries not rattling yet, should start to act my age a bit more, oh sod it I’m enjoying myself, pass the prosecco).
Much as I would have liked to have spent the Saturday of my actual birthday recovering from the night before, lying on the beach in a semi-comatose state whilst Oliver passed me sunscreen and foodstuffs, it was inevitable of course that the equipment rental place in Brighton had given us the wrong filter clips and the replacements were in their London branch which was closed but we just managed to get hold of someone who said we could pick them up at his house so I had to arrange an Addison Lee cab and organise with one of the crew members in London to ask his girlfriend to be in and take delivery of it… Oh, and I had to pick up my scarily big and shiny Vauxhall Insignia from the car hire place (I left this till 4pm and only drove it round the corner to park it somewhere, in case you were worried). And for various reasons we didn’t have shoes yet for the actors to wear with their amazing futuristic costumes, so I had to dash in and out of Offspring and Footlocker whilst trying to send pictures to the director so she could tell me if the ones I had surreptitiously snapped on my phone were ok. I’m not going to lie, I did have a wee meltdown when it was five minutes to six and the shops were about to close and my iPhone was at 1% battery and I couldn’t get it to send the last six photos of trainers and I felt tired and hungover – but, as ever, everything worked out fine, I bought the trainers in Sports Direct (which, although being a bit like what I would imagine Purgatory would look like, is open until 7pm and as an added bonus stocks trainers that don’t cost £90 a pair which was definitely beneficial for our budget) and Oliver took me to eat a burger at Coggings & Co which made everything better.
It took me a LONG time to drive to Anglesey, with one of the actors as my precious cargo, but drive there I did. The location, an abandoned copper quarry called Parys Mountain near Amlwch (you know you’re in Wales when the consonant/vowel ratio is about 6:1), was absolutely stunning in a strangely other-worldly way. Beautiful hues of rusty red, grey-blue, moss green and ochre, and rocks – lots and lots of rocks. Not the easiest place to carry to and set up £140,000 worth of rented camera equipment, as you can imagine. But the cast and crew maintained a fairly impressive arc of positivity over the two days, aided in no small part by the excellent and creative mobile catering.
The weather went from every shade of terrible to the most glorious sunshine and blue skies – not great for continuity, but everyone was grateful that the torrential rain we experienced on Monday morning didn’t last for the full two days. Having little idea of what producers do, and virtually no idea what producers do on set, I basically did whatever I deemed to be most useful: from grating a pile of carrots and courgettes in gale-force winds (the grater blew away as soon as I put it down), to driving to the local builders merchant to try and sweet talk the ruddy Welsh lad at the counter into giving me a discount on two sheets of tarpaulin, to bringing coffee and tea and bananas to the actors and crew down in the quarry.
At the end of the two days, I looked like some kind of primitive human that had spent most of its time living in a cave in the quarry. But due to the formidable Assistant Director we were lucky enough to have, we wrapped just 24 minutes behind schedule on the Tuesday (you see: I use words like ‘wrapped’ now, like a proper film person) and by 6pm we were all on our way home to London and Brighton.
Now, a mere three weeks later, it almost seems like the shoot never happened – so weird and alien and remote did it feel to be in that environment for a couple of days. As with a lot of the experiences I have racked up over the past year, I learnt so much from it and if I were to do it again, I would do so many things differently. It definitely fit the bill in terms of being way out of my comfort zone, in lots of different ways. I’m really happy that we got the footage we needed; that everyone got on with each other and no one threw a hissy fit; that I now know what it’s like to be on a film set; that I drove to Wales and back without crashing the car. And that someone trusted me with yet another thing I had never done before. I can’t wait to see the finished film and follow its trajectory – and I’ll be pretty chuffed to see my name in the credits next to the word Producer.