Today is 13 weeks to the day since we wrapped principle photography on The Stagg Do. It seems as good a time as any to reflect on the shoot, enough distance has passed to dull the raw emotions that we experienced during those mad, mad 8 days in the summer. And now that Lucas has finished serialising the shoot and all of the mishaps and mistakes that almost resulted in our first film being a clusterfuck, I think it’s a good time to look at the positives - because as much as this was a NIGHTMARE shoot, and it really was, there was a ton of great stuff, too. As ever, the great stuff doesn’t always make the best drama or get talked about, so in an attempt to redress the balance, here goes.
Yep, full disclosure, even though it ended badly, Jennifer was a massive plus point in preproduction and her enthusiasm for The Stagg Do was a big help in getting the film made. Without her initial belief in the project and without her cheerleading from Bristol - we probably would have bottled it and pulled the plug before we even started. She also brought Ben Moseley and Jen Saguaro with her, and they filled valuable crew positions on the film, not to mention her help in sourcing our bordello room location on Couchsurfing.
The Sound Department SNAFUS
We had a disaster in prep (which I blogged about here) when Dave, our original sound recordist, had to drop out a few days before the shoot. At the time it felt like a major problem - but as is often the case - the cloud had a silver lining. We couldn’t find one recordist who was available to cover at short notice - but we did find two who could split the shoot between them - Xander and Jerry who both brought so much to the table. Especially Jerry who has a big old white van full of all sorts of weird stuff that you always find yourself needing on a film shoot. Dave’s injury and Xander and Jerry’s unavailability for the big reshoot night brought us into contact with yet another locally based recordist - Aris who was great on that night. Hopefully sound will never be a department where we are lacking in talent ever again. Three mighty finds - all because of a mishap to the original incumbent.
We Broke Lots Of Rules
I’m not talking about those rules, the ones that breaking can (and almost did) destroy the film, rather I’m talking about the unwritten rules that often result in the safe and sanitary fare that is available in cinemas these days. So what do I mean exactly?
Well, first off we used non actors. Loads of them. Pob and Staggy, our two leads, aren’t actors. Pob, who has been in a few of our films before, works in the public sector full time. And Staggy has only done one little thing with us before - he works in the oil and petroleum industry, and is out of the country for half the year. I know that their on-set difficulties in remembering lines was frustrating for the crew at times - but looking at their performances in the edit, I think it was a risk that more than paid off. There is an honesty and rawness in their acting that I haven’t seen for years, and personally speaking I find that both exhilarating and refreshing.
Also we shot in the middle of Northumberland, outside in the middle of nowhere. In the night. This was almost our undoing as the weather decided to be even crappier than usual - and although for the most part there was no rain forecast, it did rain. A lot. Except of course on Day 7 when we were filming indoors… Ha - just typical really, the result is worthwhile though I think - as the film has a real outdoorsy feel to it. It’s not constrained by the usual ethos of one location in natural light (or better still indoors) with only a couple of actors.
Not A Near Mutiny
I’m not sure there ever was a near mutiny - from all of my conversations with crew during and after the shoot, other than the defections that you’ve read about - nobody was close to walking. And actually, as a direct result of the shoot I have found a whole new group of colleagues and mates - people whom I’d never have met if not for the film.
I'm sure the whole shoot reads like a total balls up where the press ganged crew narrowly averted disaster and somehow managed to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. But in reality I think that other than the disgruntled couple, everyone on the shoot learned something about filmmaking. The thing with this film was for most of the crew it was a first feature, James has directed a few shorts but this was his first feature, same with Richard, our DoP, who is primarily a director and me - I’ve produced a TON of shorts and corporates but this was my first feature film. So apart from giving them a fully rounded introduction in the ways of filmmaking - the tantrums, the drama, the tears - I think most of them really enjoyed the shoot - at least that's what they told me LOL.
And of course you’ve already read how a few of our cast were noobs too. We had two runners who had never been on set before - they were half decent runners by the end of the shoot. It was a small crew, but still the biggest production many of them had been on, also I have to say, we discovered a couple of real diamonds in Simon Herdman and Tina Frank.
The Generosity Of Others
Filmmaking is always a team effort and in that respect The Stagg Do was no different from any other shoot, where it might differ though is in the sheer levels of generosity that we experienced from friends, family, colleagues and crew - and actually even people we don't really know well at all. So many people and businesses went above and beyond the call of duty to help us get this film made. That for me is the real story of this shoot, whether it was Dawn Furness who so kindly let me house about 10 people in her 3 bedroomed semi (we were originally going to camp) or whether it was Andy Simpson's mum and dad who didn't kill me when I turned up at their house at midnight with a load of Tesco ready meals. Then there's the locations - people letting a film crew take over their house (and toilet!!!) - I think I still owe Chris and Deanna about 2 dozen rolls of Andrex! Anyway look around the Special Thanks Page - everyone on there went an extra mile to help James and I get this film made. So thank you... We owe you man.
We made a fucking film man
Yep - the most important positive of all! It’s only taken 9 years - but we FINALLY MADE A FUCKING FILM! And that can never be taken away from us. We had a film (Pissheads) that we were supposed to shoot last year - but thanks to some dodgy politics - the financing fell apart… If we’d waited to refinance Pissheads or tried to raise money for one of the other films on our slate, I reckon we’d still be waiting! But through a series of fortunate breaks and a bit of great timing we came up with The Stagg Do and managed to put it together in about 3 months. James and I are still chuffed to bits that we managed to pull it off - and I really hope you all like the finished film.
So all in all it was a mixed bag of a shoot - but you know what? We made a fucking film! Did I tell you that???
Every now and then in my life I read about something and go - what an absolutely great idea... damn I wish I had it first!
When I first heard of A Year Without Rent, in January 2011, I immediately thought: This could be a superb project, what a great idea, stupid head why didn't you come up with this idea? In truth the current me would never have thought of this and even if I had, I could never have done it (two kids and a mortgage are kind of binding).
I know I was one of the early contributors - was trying for 13th and ended up being 12th! From that moment on, I thought well I might not be doing the whole "AYWR" thing - but it would be great to get Lucas here - let's hope we get Pissheads off the ground in time.
Fast forward to late April and Pob and James telling me they'd come up with an idea that we could film this Summer... They were pissed, as they often are after these meetings, and I immediately thought - yeah right, I'll humour them... "No, no - you don't get it - we've come up with the whole idea and we can film it for just about nothing." "Okay then" I said - "what's the 25 words or less pitch?" Pob raised his eyebrow as only he can and said "Pissheads go camping." That was it, three words that would change everything. Plans for the summer needed to be made - I KNEW we could do this.
You see, I had first come across Lucas on Twitter - he's one of the first people I followed and definitely the first "stranger filmmaker" with whom I connected. That was more about his love of the Boston Red Sox and New England Patriots than anything to do with filmmaking. Generally I find filmmakers to be very solipsistic and self obsessed - here was a filmmaker, who like me, had interests beyond film! Anyway, I digress, Lucas was making a film called Up Country, set in rural Maine about a fishing trip that goes wrong, it was one of the first projects I backed on Kickstarter - so I knew someone had done it - ie made a film in a remote location that involves camping and fishing in under 10 days.
And that really was the most important consideration in deciding whether or not we should make The Stagg Do - could we shoot it in less than two weeks. You see trying to get people to give up their time for nothing is always difficult, and it's getting more and more difficult as everyone's cost of living is rocketing at the minute. People have mortgages or rent to pay, they have kids and pets to feed and all that real life stuff that has a great way of interrupting the important things - like making a film LOL. So once I'd had a brief Twitter chat with Lucas I felt confident that we could shoot the bulk of the film in that sort of window. Then I had to speak to Staggy to find out his availability so that I could block in the time and start fitting the pieces together. Once these bits of information had been looked at, we chose the prospective shooting dates which were 30.07.2011 - 7.08.2011 - this meant people with other jobs would only have to give up 5 weekdays of work. That's the problem with Pissheads - we need at least 18 days to shoot that film, which means people need to be paid for their time... I mean who can work for three weeks for no money in this day and age?
So the dates had been set and loose plans were beginning to formulate in my head - could I persuade my friends Chris and Deanna to let us film on their farm in Northumberland? That would give us two advantages over filming in the middle of nowhere: electricity and a toilet! Would I be able to get a decent crew together? There is so much filming happening in the North East at the moment that this proved easier said than done. This is where Jennifer our Assistant Director came into her own. I had met Jennifer the previous year at a seminar in London. I felt we got on really well and that she'd be a really good AD for The Stagg Do. AD has been a position we have struggled with since the start of FNA way back in 2002, so it was great to have someone onboard in whom I had complete confidence. On top of this Jennifer was going to bring with her a grip, a sound recordist and boom operator and a production designer. In many ways Jennifer's enthusiasm was instrumental in giving me the confidence to move the film forward. Which brings us back to Lucas and A Year Without Rent.
As soon as we decided that we could and would film The Stagg Do, I set about trying to work out how I could bring Lucas and AYWR to the UK to work on the film. His experience would be invaluable, the press would be useful and most importantly I wanted to meet the guy!
To give him his due, Lucas was up for it immediately, I didn't want to commit too soon as so much of the film was still up in the air, I knew once we had bought his ticket then that would be the point of no return!
I spent a lot of time discussing with James and Jennifer the best way to deploy Lucas's talents to help the production and after much deliberation we went with Jennifer's idea of having him gaffer. This proved a masterstroke - even though we had an American who was completely unfamiliar with British electricity in charge of the lighting department!
I'm sure Lucas brings a lot to any production he is involved in - he certainly proved a very valuable, knowledgeable and capable crew member for us. Some people may be reticent to have Lucas on their film because, as well as his talents, he also brings a fucking big spotlight to a film - as he covers A Year Without Rent and the productions he is involved with for Filmmaker Magazine, Film Threat and Film Courage as well as a number of other high profile filmy publications. Now after the shit he witnessed on our film (and believe me we had more than our fair share of crises) I could try and cover my ass and ask him to censor what he writes, I could pray to some deity that I don't believe in that he isn't too critical - but you know what, I won't. In the words of the inimitable Bill Belichick (whom I know we both admire) -- "It is what it is".
I would love our production to have been problem free, mainly because it would have cost less money and I wouldn't have quite so many grey hairs, but it wasn't and in many ways c'est la vie or it is what it is. You know, life is all about how we deal with problems. We can cry and get upset or moan about problems or we can confront them head on and try to solve them. I very much fall into the second camp. At the end of the day the important thing is ending up with a film that meets your expectations and at the minute - The Stagg Do does just that.
Onwards and upwards - oh and BOOK LUCAS on your film - you won't regret it - believe me and whether you book him or not, support A YEAR WITHOUT RENT, it's a great project that shows there is a decent side to the indie filmmaking community.
Will try our best to keep this busy during the shoot and post-production.