You can never do enough pre-production. It doesn't matter what type of show you're working on, it could be a short film, a corporate gig, a music video, whatever. You never get to do enough planning. This is pretty much a given in the film industry and with the Stagg Do this was also true, but it was no surprise. I was informed of this from the very beginning, the first meeting I had with James it was made perfectly clear that this was a labour of love on a shoestring budget. Fine by me, everything I've worked on to date has lacked the money to get all the toys and support one would love to have on a project. You have to make the best with what you have, and I've always been a firm believer that it doesn't matter what format you are shooting on, it's HOW you shoot and WHAT you are shooting that counts.
What stood out the most about this project was the enthusiasm and sheer ballsiness of the producer and director. It was never going to be an "easy" shoot. Not by a long shot, but damned if they were going to let that stop them. When people care that much about a project you cannot help but be swept up into it with them. I had nerves, just as any first time feature DoP would have, but confidence that what I had done up until now had made me ready for what lay ahead. Every shoot has it's challenges, like choosing a path on a climbing wall. What we had in front of us this time though, was a mountain!
And fuck me if we didn't conquer it. Other blogs have talked about the struggles and frustrations we faced on our 8 days in the summer of 2011. Other people more eloquent and, dare I say it, tactful than me have covered the dramas behind the scenes so I'm not going to go into that at all here. My own personal experience with this film was fulfilling and positive, no matter the trials we faced. It didn't matter how cold and wet it got, it didn't matter how far off the schedule things went, we knuckled down and did the work in front of us.
Tempers fray, when you are spending that much time with people you hardly know, under the cosh of the elements and when things don't go according to plan, people are going to snap. You deal with it, you move on. The only place I have really revelled in stress of any kind is on a film set. It drives you, it makes you grit your teeth and say "fuck it, let's do this" all the more, and that is exactly what we did. All of us.
Did we make mistakes? Sure for a lot of us this was our first feature. Did we get behind on schedule at times? Absolutely, but when the chips were down we rallied back. In the end we were a team, we started as a team and we finished as a team, even though there were subs along the way. Regardless of all of that I'm proud of what we did. Proud that we took the gamble, looked at the odds and went all in. It's balls like that that gets films made.
I have a lot of respect for the people I worked with on The Stagg Do. The choices that were made in bringing this film to fruition were extremely brave, from the casting of non-actors in the main roles and shooting in woods night with minimal lighting, to having a profoundly deaf production/ camera assistant. I got the opportunity to work directly with some great new people and some who I've always wanted to work with. I got the chance to support two of the most passionate filmmakers I know and help them make the film they wanted to. I'm proud to say I was the director of photography on The Stagg Do.
by Richy Reay
To cut or not to cut
Written by James DeMarco writer/ director of The Stagg Do.
Mainly due to personal budgetary constraints i.e. I shot a feature film this summer and I’m fucking broke, I was unable to attend this year’s London Screen Writing Festival (LSWF).
I was at the first LSWF last year, and I also attended the Comedy Writer’s edition that they hosted earlier this year. For the record, overall I really had a good time, met some decent folk and learned shit loads about screenwriting and the UK film industry.
But today I’d like to talk to you about a different kind of learning. The kind of education you can’t get from books, lectures, speed pitches or even in one-to-one meetings. It’s called ‘just doing it’ - going out and making your own film.
In some ways, I’d have to say that I’ve gained more from my recent experiences of shooting and editing the film from my own screenplay than I could have ever from any screenwriting or filmmaking seminar (Robert McKee eat your fucking heart out!).
The turnaround of the screenplay for my first feature ‘The Stagg Do’ was ridiculously quick. One of the actors and I came up with the idea in late April, and after meeting a few times to work out a basic outline, I wrote a first-draft (75 pages) in about three weeks. From that time, right up to the start of principle photography in late July, I continued to rewrite, e.g. making the dialogue more authentic, restructuring, scene-by-scene analysis - all the things that screenwriters would normally do. Let’s call this phase one of the screenwriting process.
I’ll be the first to admit that the script could’ve done with more development, more rewrites, etc., but once we had set a production date, there was no turning back, everything was full steam ahead. For better or worse, the script had to be shot in its latest incarnation.
The Screenwriting Process Phase Two
Then a strange thing happened during the shoot. For a variety of reasons, but mainly due to time constraints, I was forced to rewrite on the fly. I found myself cutting extraneous lines of dialogue here and there, truncating and even dropping scenes out of the script all together. There were a few situations where the actors, some of whom were non-actors, couldn’t remember their lines, which forced me to completely redesign the scene to make it work.
As the shoot progressed (and we fell further behind) I found myself hemorrhaging gags -eliminating some of what I thought to be the funniest material, but dialogue and description which wasn’t really necessary to move the story forward (hopefully this will turn out to be a good thing, fingers crossed).
The Screenwriting Process Phase Three
Welcome to the edit. For the past few weeks, the editor and I have been spending hours trying to put the film together in a coherent, and, because it is a comedy, humorous way.
Continuity issues have sprung up (those pesky non-actors again) which have forced us to piece together scenes using different takes, resulting in marked differences between the original screenplay and what has ultimately wound up on the time line.
I have been forced to cut more “precious’ lines of dialogue, replace scenes, rewrite others, shoot pickups (e.g. I’ve added two different shots of full moons which work perfectly as transitions).
EXT. FIELD - NIGHT - A full moon shines overhead (never in the script).
And there’s more. Working in collaboration, the producer, editor and myself concocted an entirely new sequence which was never even in the original script; in fact it was never even written, just shot by myself and one of the actors. Ironically, this may be one of the best/ funniest scenes in the entire film!
Experiencing the three phases of screenwriting has been a real eye opener for me. A whole new way of screenwriting: writing from your feet, instead of from your arse. Come to think of it, I don’t I can recall ever hearing anything about it from McKee or any other Guru.
Will try our best to keep this busy during the shoot and post-production.