Thursday, July 18, 2013

Modern Man, a short film what I wrote

I've written a new short film, Modern Man. Watch it, like it, share it with everyone you ever met - and use the hashtag #VMShortsvote.

But how did it all come about?

I can still taste the cocktails. In November last year, I attended the glamorous Virgin Media Shorts awards 2012, where my film, The Plotters, was shortlisted but did not quite win. There was a lot of free fizz and then cocktails, and I danced with – or at – Hannah from S Club 7. It's a tough old life, showbiz.

Six months later, I had an email from Sebastian Solberg, director of photography on The Plotters. He wanted to enter the 2013 VMS competition, this time as a director, and had an idea for a short. Would I be willing to write it? I thought, nobly, of free fizz and terrible dancing and said yes.

It helped that Seb's idea was a good one, full of comedy potential and easy to shoot all in one room. He came to visit me the next day, we sat out in the garden in the sunshine and I pitched how I'd ruin his idea. 

Looking back at the one-paragraph brief he sent me, the finished film sticks pretty closely to his original idea. That first meeting, I made three major suggestions:

1. The title, Modern Man.

 2. That it should have no dialogue. I'd met Neil Brand a few weeks before and we'd talked about silent comedy (he suggested that Mr Tumble on Cbeebies owed more to Chaplin than Oliver Hardy.) That had got me thinking about writing a film without dialogue. Also, the first cut of The Plotters had been much too long – the VMS competition has a maximum run time of just 2 minutes 20 seconds – and we'd struggled to cut it down, losing lots of great jokes and performances. A silent comedy would allow for more easy fiddling.

3. That it should have an impressive establishing shot, like the CGI 17th-century London we'd had to open The Plotters. It's important to grab the audience's attention from the start and an expensive-looking shot helps the film to stand out. I'd also been talking to my brother about the famous cut between a prehistoric bone and a spaceship in 2001: A Space Odyssey. So, we'd steal that cut and begin our film in the year 100,000 BC.

Seb didn't hate my ideas and later that day he went location scouting and found somewhere five minutes' walk from his home. He emailed me pictures the next day. “I've attached the original version and the final version (which as a bit of movie magic applied to me.)”

Putney, 2013
Location scouting for Modern Man

Putney, 100,00 BC
CGI test for Modern Man
Suddenly it was all looking doable and real, and there was even a filming date (22 June, which I couldn't do as I'd be at a family thing). I sent Seb the first draft of the script later that evening. He sent lots of notes back – on character, on beats in the script, on the whole thing. He also wanted “Clive” to be “Rupert”. I sent a second draft to him the next day.

I also sent that second draft to my brother Thomas Guerrier and actor/writer/warlock Adrian Mackinder – with whom I cowrote The Plotters – and Eddie Robson, whose Welcome to our Village, Please Invade Carefully is so annoyingly good. They provided good notes, honing jokes and emphasis.

On 13 June, Seb sent me emails with designs for one of the props and some notes on the main action sequence following a meeting with the film's stunt co-ordinator. Yes, I had to read that again, too: the film's stunt co-ordinator. Lorks.

The next day Seb was rehearsing with Romy Ahluwalia, one of our actresses. Emails started to come thick and fast, with confirmed names of cast and crew. The messages stopped coming from Seb and came from production manager Katya Rogers and producer Jassa Ahluwalia. It was all fast gathering pace. On 16 June I responded to lots of comments with a new version of the script. We swapped ideas for the lead actor, and on 18 June, Katya sent round a complete list of cast and crew – with Sean Knopp playing Rupert. Excitingly, he was in Doctor Who.

On 20 June, I trekked across south London to a house in Festing Road in Putney where the film would be shot two days later. I went through into the kitchen where three young children were playing. No, wait, it was Jassa, Katya and Seb and I am just quite old. It was a baking hot day and I made the mistake of asking for a mug of tea, so sweated handsomely through the deliberations. Seb went through each shot with director of photography Dale McCready. Excitingly, he'd worked on Doctor Who.

Meanwhile, I chatted to Jassa and Katya and stunt co-ordinator Dani Biernat. Excitingly... well, guess what show she might have worked on.

Once Seb was finished with Dale, we read through the script one last time and picked over some final details. I headed home feeling good, passing an important cultural landmark just a few doors down from our location.
Simon Guerrier @0tralala 20 Jun
This afternoon I walked past Mr Benn's house. The costume shop at the end of the road has gone. #brokenbritain
Mr Benn @therealmrbenn 20 Jun
@0tralala And as if by magic, you get tweet from Mr Benn to say hello! Festing Road? There was a fancy dress shop on Lacey Road, long gone!
I delivered a final, locked script that evening and found myself redundant.

A flurry of emails followed – the callsheet with a starting time of 08:00, shooting script, unit list, movement order, general risk assessment, details of which bits of public transport would not be working. None of it was for me. While the cast and crew made the film, I spent my Saturday on a bouncy castle.

I got to see a rough cut of the short last week, but am thrilled to see the final thing. Well done to Seb and the team. It looks *amazing*. And bloody hell, a mammoth!

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