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
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?
So I lied… what you gonna do about it? I really wasn’t going to do another blog about ADR, but we had so much fun earlier this week in the sessions with Si, Staggy and Pob that I just had to mention them.
Tuesday morning was Staggy - he got a bit lost on the way to the studio and rang to say he had just gone past the “Middle Club” -- took me a few seconds to remember that St Peter’s is the bottom club (ask Pob about the time they had strippers in there on a Sunday!) Anyway by the time I put 2 and 2 together Staggy and his daft big red car showed up. It’s been months since we all last saw each other - so 10 minutes of catch ups before he headed into the booth to do his lines. He had a fair chunk to redo, but he did remarkably well - after a shaky start… His first line was “I spoke to Pob today” - but he said “I spoke to Bob today” - haha!
Next up was Si - what a bloody find Si was. So glad we cast him - what a coup for a casting session in the Royal Quays! He had the least lines to redo and every one he managed in 1 or 2 takes - amazing, really. Talking to Si about the film’s release also gave us some interesting ideas about screenings - for the summer… stay tuned for more info.
Then came the main man, Pob, the next day. Pob had LOADS to do, mainly because he also has the opening voice over and what we had in place there was always temp. Also Pob has this crazy knack of not actually moving his mouth in a way that resembles what he’s saying when he talks! We really worried it might end up looking like a badly dubbed Japanese film. Plus, to further complicate things he speaks at a million miles an hour and rolls all of his sentences into one another. GREAT. Anyway we cranked through it all and managed to finish early, which is always a bonus, plus James, Rich and I were absolutely howling with laughter during the session. It was Pob and James who came up with the idea for the film you see, so in many ways it’s a part of him like it’s a part of us. We’ve come a long way since their pissed afternoon in The Cluny.
Anyway enough about ADR - seriously the end… well maybe a sentence next week when we have Ian Mac from the Suggestibles in! This week has also been full of digital delights getting WAVs (a high quality audio file) for all of the songs in the soundtrack. Got the last ones through on Thursday and I spent Friday afternoon listening to a playlist called The Stagg Do - and I LOVE it. More about the music in the next few days - it ROCKS and just goes to show how many talented musicians there are in this part of the world.
As the more observant of you will be aware, on Saturday June 9th 2012, we released the promo for the film (g'wan - check it oot again here). We've had TREMENDOUS feedback from people and loads of views, tweets and likes.
Anyway in keeping with the independent, DIY nature of the production so far we've encouraged a word of mouth push using the cast and crew's personal social media channels - anyway I woke up this morning to this message from Staggy on Facebook! I love the simplicity and honesty of the message. LOL.
Anyway after much laughter and reading of the comments I got on with my morning's work; then this afternoon I logged back on to Facebook to see what was happening and to see if we'd had any more views or likes of the trailer and page. And this is what I saw.
Staggy back on fine form. It's great because I had tried emotional blackmail and that clearly wasn't working - I could write all day on how much I hate Facebook - and many of my so-called friends... but I won't. Suffice to say - is it *really* to much to click the fucking like button??? Unfortunately I'm too polite to call people out on it (and I know I am here - but really who reads this shit anyway?) - particularly if you fricken worked on it! Or if we've pushed your stuff - reciprocity anyone??? Aah whatever - it's never been easy - why would it be now? Anyway enough of my rants... Look what Staggy did next!
I have nothing more to add.
Yesterday we shot the credits sequence for the film, and once again by all accounts a laugh was had by everyone on the shoot. We started out in Deep Nightclub in Whitley Bay, and really massive thanks must go to Johnny and all the people there for giving us the run of the place... Also thanks to Sarah Tennick, our second unit make up and art department queen for putting us in touch with the people at Deep. Our crew for this shoot was teensy weensy and somehow this enabled us to crack through a ton of stuff quite quickly. Tina Frank was back helping out the art and production departments, Aris handled sound-recording and Richy Reay DoP'd and op'ed which seemed to work well. Clooney (Nic Pringle) rounded off the team and was his usual versatile self. James and I made up the rest - so you can see when I say teensy weensy I'm not exaggerating in any way!
Another crap photograph by me
There's probably two things you can tell from the pictures - I am a totally crap photographer and the scenes yesterday were all about a hen do. As someone who has only every been on one hen do I had to do a far amount of asking around to help with this scene - as it happens my mate Stephanie who plays Elizabeth in the film is in her own words "the Hen Do Queen" so most of this research involved trawling through her many hen do albums on Facebook - LOL!
After Deep we had one more shot to get - of the hens outside, mid pub crawl. We decided in a rather impromptu fashion to shoot this on the Newcastle Quayside. We'd just completed the first take when two security guards asked us to move on... Who knew that the section near Malmaison and La Tasca was private property? Ho hum. We got the shot and you can't tell where it is - so that's all that matters. It's only the third time in 10 years of shooting that we've been asked to bugger off - and it's always been by private security guards! What is it with these over-zealous uniform wearers that makes them want to shunt filmmakers on? Nevermind - like I said - we got the shot!
Not by me (by Simon Herdman)
With the wrap on that sequence it means we have only one little bit of the film left to shoot - the opening of the movie - a flashback sequence. This is proving a bit of a mare to cast - I mean where the hell can I find two kids who look like Pob and Staggy as kids??? ===>
So if you know anyone who knows anyone who may have access to two kids who look like these two reprobates then please do drop us an e-mail info AT fnafilms DOT co DOT uk
In the meantime - keep coming back here for updates and if you like what you see please spread the word! We will soon be at picture lock and then comes the fun of the grade and sound mix; once these are completed we will be doing a few screenings to test the water and see if this film has any appeal beyond the North east of England.
Thanks once again to everyone who helped yesterday, especially the girls who showed up to be the hens (Jo Dutton, Sophie Blacklock and Naomi Mayfield), Therase Neve (Charlotte), Stephanie Gray (Elizabeth) and the wonderful Will Stevenson who played "the entertainment".
Finally a special thanks to Jamie at Picture Canning North and Ashley at Pinball Films.
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???
The last week has mainly consisted of doing second unit pick up shots of the Judge's Audi driving en route to the campsite.
This has involved me (the producer) being the stunt driver, I use the term stunt loosely as really there isn't much in the way of stunts in this film. My driving is pretty shit though, particularly in an unfamiliar car - even a kick-ass unfamiliar car like Staggy's Audi, it IS nice to be able to overtake people - just for the sake of it though, I must admit!
The second unit/ b-roll stuff can often be a massive part of a film. Take the Hangover for instance - all of those shots of sunrise and sunset over the Vegas Strip. The shots of the car on its way to Vegas (and home again). I would hazard a guess that there is about 5%-10% of the Hangover that is this kind of "filler" b-roll stuff! These shots can add considerable "production value" to any film - ie they can make it look like it cost more than it did. And when you've made a film for circa £3.50 like we have with this one - then you need all the help you can get with improving production values.
This week has also seen us come up with an extra comic set-piece to add to the film - involving Pob and a badger... So if you see any tweets from either @TheStaggDo or @fnafilms then you know what they are about, I really think it will add a little something extra special if we can pull it off... so keep your fingers crossed!
Also had a great idea for a little contest involving you, our dear audience, just finalising some details and then we'll announce it - so keep checking back both here and on our Facebook page.
Will try our best to keep this busy during the shoot and post-production.