accept no substitutes.
35 months ago Pob and James went for a pint to The Cluny, there's nothing in that - at the time we were talking about working together on some comedy sketches. Anyway, when I when to pick them up, they were like a couple of kids on Christmas Eve.
"We've come up with an outline for a feature film - something we can do on NO money" they babbled. "It's Pissheads Go Camping - but it's not just a camping trip, it's a stag do. We've even got a title The Stagg Do." You see one of our characters in Pissheads is called Staggy… he'll be the one getting married in the film!
I was instantly on the hook - "yeah this is possible" I thought - it was finally an opportunity to take what we had around us and craft a story and film from that - we already had the characters, they had the plot - we had the kit… what were we waiting for?
Fastforward 3 months, and 6 drafts later, we entered principle photography… which was HELL. Proper old fashioned hell, I could go into detail - but what's the point in raking over old ground? If you're really interested, read the archives from July and August 2011 as it was all blogged about at the time.
Anyway we got through it and then some. I had my right knee reconstructed - we shot new scenes, scenes we dropped and scenes we fucked up the first time around. David (our editor) busted his balls to get us a decent cut, James and I spent hours and days shooting extra footage. Richy corralled some mates to help with a big reshoot/ shoot night and on we went. Ashleigh and The Kid (Chris) slogged their guts out on animations and visual effects, music was found and replaced, musicians were contacted.
We edited, reedited, experimented - laughed, cried, pulled our hair out and generally got stuck in… And finally in December 2012, we had "picture lock". Then we ran out of money. Literally. James and I were flat broke and everything in the house decided to die at the same time.
We had had so much momentum and then we stopped - dead.
We didn't give up though, determined to get it finished and get it out there. As much for our own sanity as anything else. Stephen at Fantomeline kept grading - we kept praying for a lottery win and then came another kick in the teeth. An Irish film - The Stag was premiering in Toronto and it sounded remarkably like our film. How was that possible? What could we do? Without money not a lot… So we cried to ourselves (swore a lot) gritted our teeth and went on with our lives. In January though we learned that The Stag was getting a UK release in March… And we decided - let's beat them. Get out before them.
But there was still too much to do. I reckoned we had 5 weeks, Aris (our sound god) said we needed 6 to sort out the sound - which of course was recorded by 3 different people! He wanted to ADR - I didn't think the lads (Pob and Staggy - non-actors) would ever be able to do it… We STILL had no money.
Anyway a load more favours were pulled in, Richy agreed to finesse Chris' VFX (he'd now moved to Leeds), Aris persuaded Rich to help us with the ADR sessions and to let us use his studio for the mix - and so the madness resumed…
We're going into the mix next month, and we'll be going for our BBFC soon after and then finally we will be ready to release the film. It's rude, it's crude, it's insanity to the max. It's experimental both in storytelling and in filmmaking - if it were a drama we wouldn't need to explain ourselves - but apparently you can't make experimental (almost arthouse) comedies if they are chockful of low brow nob gags! Who knew?
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.