HAPPILY EVER AFTER

Production Diary

I aim to document the journey of producing my first feature film from start to finish - so welcome to that journey! This feed will consist (hopefully) of my sporadic progress through production, somewhat in diary form - which may change, I don't know yet.

 

Thanks for stopping by! - Daniel

Post #8 - Time On My Side

Tuesday 9th June 2020

I went ahead and did it. Honestly, I didn’t mean to, but it just happened. Typically, with feature-length scripts (I’ve written three) I do a bunch of note taking and ‘working out’ before I even think about writing the script. But I guess, as detailed here previously, I had been working on the script in my mind’s eye (ever since it popped into my ideas-net) by taking mental notes, and jotting down ideas. I practically knew the structure already, so all I had to do was flesh it out. Well, once I started doing that, whole scenes started to unravel in front of me. I had no choice but to pursue them. It was tough at times, and I did write myself into a few corners, but I think I got out of them alive. Admittedly and inevitably, a couple of important questions have been raised. Firstly, did I get the idea down successfully? And secondly, is it any good? The reassuring thing about taking tonnes of notes before writing is that you do have a good idea what you have before you start writing. Once you sit down to do it, you’re following a clearly trodden pathway. You can see the potholes and dog-turds waiting for you, but not if you haven’t been this way before. I do think the idea is good and I do think I want to spend some money on it, but it needs a lot of work. A lot. I am trying to see the first pass as the bottom of a large pyramid – with each subsequent draft moving slowly, slowly towards the tip. That’s the aim at least.

 

I was surprised how quickly the characters changed. I had a clear idea in my mind how I envisaged them, but from the off things quickly went off on their own tangent. Nothing drastic, but just little moments and beats that informed me of what I was actually dealing with. This is why you can never be sure whether you’ll end up with the idea you started with. But as long as you’re open and truthful to what you want to do, you are just a vehicle for your characters to express themselves. There are certainly some good surprises, as well as the bad, and I hope a good redraft is going to weed out all the bad and emphasis the good (hopefully, at least). I haven’t looked at the script since finishing the 91 pages a few days ago, and I don’t intend to for at least another week or so. I’ve been keeping myself busy by looking over some other work, as well as some other bits-and-bobs. I will probably try and turn my mind away from it by writing something else – which I find helps to see things fresh when you eventually return. I also have time, with no immediate deadline or producer breathing down my neck, so why not, eh?

 

I want this script to be fun. I want it to be accessible. And I want it to be good. There are so many things I want (and maybe need) it to be, there is a little bit of pressure riding on it but not loads - just enough to encourage me to carry on with it. For example, writing this production diary and then posting about the project is probably one way I've self-inflicted that pressure on myself (even though I assume only my Mum is reading it). The script does need a lot of work, but I know the idea is in there, which is exciting, right?

 

Another thing I’ve realised is that the diary is going to be noticeably fractured now, especially because I cannot go into full production with it until I’ve saved up enough money to pay for it. I’ve toyed with the idea of begging friends to be involved unpaid, but personally, I know most of the time it ends in misery - I want to avoid the attitude of "I'm doing you a favour" at all costs. So instead, I aim to save £500 a month for the next year so I’ve got a budget of £6k come this time next year. But unfortunately, we are still in lockdown and work is nowhere near picking up to the level where I can afford to save that sort of money each month (unless I want to starve). So I am not making any definite plans in my mind as to when I can shoot this. All I am concentrating on at the moment is making sure the script is the best it can be – which I should be encouraged and excited by. But luckily, I have time on my side.  

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Post #7 - Phew!

Friday 5th June 2020

First draft complete. 91 pages of pure mess. Now comes the fun part, the dreaded re-drafting! 

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Post #6 - Short and Sweet vol.3

Thursday 4th June 2020

I've written 70 pages! That is all.

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Post #5 - Short and Sweet vol.2

Wednesday 3rd June 2020

I've written 46 pages! That is all.

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Post #4 - Short and Sweet

Sunday 31st May 2020

I've written 27 pages! That is all.

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Post #3 - The Idea

Saturday 23rd May 2020

As you can see, almost two-weeks have passed since my last post. In my defence, it was my birthday, so I felt it was only right to spend last weekend doing fun things. Sue me. 

We’re still in lockdown, so there isn’t much else to do but think, yet I’m still not finding time to work on the script/project. Whoops. Last time I said that I was ‘probably’ ready, but what’s the rush? It's not like I have an opportunity to film it any time soon, is it? Little tid-bits and ideas keep arriving, so technically I’ve still been working on the project, even though no electronic-ink has hit the metaphoric blank page yet. Over the last couple of weeks I’ve written five new short films, which I intend to produce at some point when I’m both socially and financially able to. I want to build a specific showreel for each role I am able to fill (i.e. writer, editor, sound recordist etc.) so that I can start looking for small roles in productions – I’ve got plenty of material to do this, but I want new, fresh footage. I want to do pursue this more in the coming months and years because I enjoy being on set, which I haven’t done a lot of recently, but also to network. Most of my time is spent at home, alone, working on my own projects – which is great, don’t get me wrong. But I like to have many fingers in many pies. I know it’s a tough industry to crack even when you’re aiming for one discipline, so I don’t fancy my chances being able to work if I spread myself too thin. Perhaps I’ll start working for free again, on projects that sound worthwhile and exciting – the only worry is that these types of projects typically don’t get finished because the producers lose interest, mostly because there is no financial burden or incentive to finish the film if it goes slightly wrong or becomes difficult in post. I’m sure there is a way to get around this, but it’s something I’ve been thinking a lot about over the last couple of weeks.

 

I do feel history is repeating itself slightly now, and I am coming up against a lot of the same problems that ultimately killed my previous attempts at making a feature film – which I need to avoid. Namely, the biggest hurdle I face is budget. Do I save up, save up, save up and then save up some more, to produce a project that will return me roughly £0 into my bank account there or thereabouts? Or do I try to make a project for next to nothing, begging and stealing as I go, so that even if it goes nowhere, I haven’t really lost anything? The obvious answer is to spend the money. But I also want to have a life. A lot of indie filmmakers I’ve watched over the years have poured themselves into projects that end up feeling like a waste of time and money, and I really don’t want to do that. Yes, they made a film – woohoo! But for what end? For bragging rights? For improvement? To look good on social media? All are pretty unconvincing reasons in my mind. The only one I sort of agree with is the improvement answer, but I feel like I get that from making short films (for much less risk) and producing showreel scenes (which I get paid to do). But at some point I know I am going to have to do it. Hopefully Happy Ever After will be the one, because I genuinely think the idea is good enough – I’m certainly interested in it as it keeps popping up in my mind and it feels like there is an audience for it, and perhaps with my previous failed ideas it felt like I was only doing it for myself.

 

To answer the previous question about budget, I am probably sitting somewhere in the middle. I can’t make it for nothing, it’ll be too stressful. And I don’t want to spend tens of thousands of pennies on it, because I want to have a life and do fun things like eat. I think the aim (again, history repeating itself) is to try and build a cast of actors who I know personally and can trust, but more importantly, want to make a feature film. I know two, and I’m 95% certain they’d do it if the role was good enough and production looked like it would be professionally handled. Which leads me onto another stumbling block. Crew. If I’m debating whether I can afford to pay cast, how on earth am I going to afford to pay for crew? I can’t, is the simply answer. So is it possible for me to shoot a feature film on my own? I mean, entirely on my own. Write, prep, film, edit, release, all on my lonesome? It seems somewhat impossible, improbable and idiotic, but there is a small chance that I could. But perhaps the question is, should I?

 

It’s about time I divulged a little info about the idea, eh? It’s called Happy Ever After, but you know that already, and it’s evolved from an idea I’ve had for a while, ever since my partner and I took a four-week trip around Scandinavia. We camped for most of it, driving day-to-day to different locations, choosing what we do pretty freely, without much of a plan, but just seeing where the day took us. It was an incredible experience, but it was certainly challenging. I had this dream of doing the trip for years (years!) and never thought I’d ever get a chance to do it. It challenged a lot of fears I otherwise have of being unprepared, and living day-to-day. I like to be organised, knowing what I'm doing. Setting targets, achieving things, working hard. Modern life has formed us into responsible adults, with everything geared towards making sure you’re safe next week, next year, next century. Get a life, get a mortgage, get a career. Be a human-being. But this trip (albeit a four-week one) was an attempt for me to try and break away from that. What would it feel like to wake up and not know what you were going to do today? Or tomorrow - in a foreign country, driving on the opposite side of the road, camping in the wilderness. I know a lot of youngsters do this sort of travel, but I have the added burden of being much older and much more aware of potential dangers – it was scary, and I worried a lot, both before and during the trip. Obviously, we survived, but only just. I remarked to my partner at the end of the journey that anyone thinking of getting married should go on a similar sort of trip that we did. It teaches you everything you need to know about each other and whether you are actually suitable long term. It challenges you in ways you won’t ever get in your own, protected, comfortable, normal lives, not at least, at the beginning of your relationship. Maybe after many years you’ll start to feel that challenge I'm eluding to as the honeymoon-personalities wear off, but then it’s too late. Damn. 

 

The idea for Happy Ever After is that a couple have been sent on a romantic countryside B&B weekend trip away as a pre-wedding gift by the guy’s father - a seemingly generous gift but with darker, ulterior motives. The weekend has been designed by a company which employ actors to play the roles of your typical, horror-film, hill-billy, cliché villains, all totally hidden from the unexpected couple who arrive thinking only amazing, perfect things lay in store for them. They are then challenged with a series of ‘events’ aimed at either building or breaking the relationship. The big difference with this weekend is that the guy’s father wants the relationship to fail and has paid the lead actor extra to ensure that his wishes are fulfilled – so he goes above and beyond to make sure the ‘happy’ couple fail. Unfortunately for the actors, the couple are determined not to break up. What ensues is a game of cat and mouse between the two sides, ultimately ending with a dramatic, horrific finale.

 

So that’s the idea, what do you think? It still needs a lot of work, I know, but that’s the basic structure that jumped into my minds-eye fishing net several weeks ago. What I’m spending my time doing now is filling in the gaps, thinking about the characters, adding padding and personality, and figuring out whether it’s an idea I can actually produce. I want it to be a classic horror but with a healthy mix of dark comedy - the expected and unexpectedness of the genre, playing on known tropes and clichés. Winking at what I know you expect to happen next. I love the idea the ‘villains’ turn out to be a bunch of actors putting on a performance, the further twist is that the couple think they’re in a horror film too and behave accordingly – perhaps never breaking away from that idea until the very end when they see another couple arriving. There is so much room for me to have fun and play with, that I must, must start working on the script this week. I must. Or maybe not. I don’t know.

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Post #2 - Palette of Colours

Sunday 10th May 2020

Progress is a funny thing. How do you even begin to measure it? For us filmmakers and creatives, it’s something of an abstract absence that we have to learn to accept before it cripples us, because creative-progress is not something tangible or easily observed. If you finish an exercise class, or sit an exam, you know you’ve done (or achieved) something by the end of it (assuming that you actually tried and/or broke a sweat). But with anything creative, it’s hard to know when you’ve done something, or anything, to improve. So this week, after the initial surprise of catching an ‘idea-fish’, it has been somewhat slow in regards to the uptake of the project. There are several reasons why I think I’ve slacked, but the truth is, I haven’t slacked. Like, at all! I’ve actually had a surprisingly busy week. If anything, I’ve had too much to do and so I haven’t been able to concentrate on or find time for this new project. But rest assured, I’m not defeated. I know that I have been doing a lot of prep-work in my mind, thinking of ideas and daydreaming. I watched the Spike Lee Masterclass this week and he talks about writing ideas down on little cue cards and then re-ordering them until it begins to feel like a film. So in other words, he doesn’t just sit down and start writing a feature script, there is a lot of preparation work that goes into it – for me, this consists of just allowing my brain to throw ideas into an 'ideas net', which I then have to sift through to see if I've caught anything worthwhile or interesting. As long as you write those ideas down, by seemingly not doing anything, you’re actually doing a lot as you’re allowing your bigger idea to grow, stew, bubble up or any other adjective you can think of that invokes progress. So that’s what I’ve been doing! Patiently allowing my ideas to mature whilst getting on with some other things, and not slacking... Right?

 

I’m an ideas guy. I have too many ideas, if anything - too many, and not enough time in the day to do them. So I have to prioritise what I decide to do each day – I feel very fortunate that I’ve got that freedom, but I have been working hard towards it for a number of years and it hasn’t always been this way. The top priority is always paid work. At the moment we are in lockdown due to the coronavirus – which is a dumb observation to make if you’re reading this in the present, but if you’re reading this from the future, it might help you with some context. It’s been a time of restriction and freedom – it’s weird. Personally, I’ve enjoyed the slower pace to life – I don’t have clients emailing me at all times of the day (although, I still have a handful, which I’m grateful for as they’ve helped pay the bills), which has afforded me the time to work on some other projects that have been on the growing-list for sometime. Namely I’ve spent most of my time working on a new website, implementing loads of small ideas on how I want to organise and display my work, as well as buying some new equipment to hopefully further improve the standard I can produce. I’ve always wanted my own platform to offer up my un-produced scripts for free in case someone wants to produce them, so I’ve done that too. I’ve made portfolio pages, blog posts, and a news thread – all the things I’ve thought to do, but haven’t had time (I’ve even started up photography again) until now. But whilst I’ve been doing that, keeping myself busy, I’ve also been doing battle with this new feature film idea. It’s a weird analogy, but it kinda feels like pregnancy. You’re pregnant, but the baby isn’t ready to be born yet. You have to be patient, and wait for the baby to tell you when it's ready. I don’t want to go ahead and start writing the script yet, because if it’s not fully realised and/or I don’t have a clear enough idea about what it is, then the script will be a mess. A total mess. With short films (which is where most of my experiences is) you can write quite freely without much prep work, or at least, I can. It doesn’t really matter if you make a mistake, or if something doesn’t work, because it’s easily fixable – especially if you’re only working over 10 pages or so. For example, if a motivation doesn’t feel right on your proof read through, or if something drags, it’s easy and quick to fix. With a feature film, if something doesn’t work on page 10, it’s a nightmare to then go through the entire script and implement that change. I’ve written 3 feature film scripts now (Brick Wall, The Cult of Nigel, and The Burglars), and I know this from experience. I don’t want to begin writing the script until it’s practically already written inside my mind – unless of course, I love re-writing and re-drafting, which I don’t.

 

I was excited by the idea last week because it felt like a lot of the story fell into place quite quickly. I probably could give the script a go now if I wanted to, but it wouldn’t be very good. For example, a couple of ideas presented themselves to me this week which improved and built upon my original idea – without that time, I would never have thought of those ideas or allowed them to surface. Often they come in the form of motivations for the characters, or little moments that could be fun, because once you have your overall idea, then all you need to start doing is filling in the gaps and dressing the idea up a bit - the ideas present themselves to me, especially once my brain is tuned in to that project. So this week has consisted of me watching a bunch of horror films and getting my teeth stuck into that genre. The classic horror film isn’t something I am particularly experienced with, even though I've probably watched most of them. But truth be told, I never think of ‘horror’ ideas, nor do I get particularly excited by the new hot-horror film on netflix – I am much more into dark comedy and psychologically minded, as opposed to anything scary, jumpy or monster based. But as I’ve said previously, I know that this is a horror-comedy, so I need to make sure I am aware of the horror genre and study it a bit – giving the genre and it’s fans some respect. I’ve made notes on the 5/6 films I’ve watched, paying particular attention to the common tropes and clichés I’ve noticed – I am probably going to try and subvert expectations with a lot of them, and spin them into something new and fun (if I can). I plan to keep watching and making notes next week, and building the ‘palette of colours’ that I am eventually going to need and use for this film.

At some point I should probably write about the idea itself, because at the moment I am just rambling. But perhaps I’ve typed too much already today, so I’ll keep it for next time. 

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Post #1 - Let's Start Again, Shall We?

Saturday 2nd May 2020

It just happened! Literally thirty minutes ago. A new idea for a feature film! So why is that so important I hear you ask? Well, let me explain! I’m a filmmaker, so it’s good to get ideas every so often, right? But also because it’s been almost seven years to the day when I first set about trying to make my first feature film. As of writing, I still haven’t managed to do it. Surely it’s not that hard?! What is it? Some filming, and some acting, and some editing? Piece of cake! Well, unfortunately (and somewhat, fortunately) it is quite difficult, especially if you want to do it properly. Now, doing it properly, is obviously a subjective thing. I personally have no idea what it means. I guess if the film is a success, in terms of both box-office and critical response, then yes, you have done it properly! If not, then well, you probably need to get back to the drawing board – which I’ve done several times already, but more on that later!

 

Why I want to make a feature film is a pretty longwinded, and probably boring, story. So let me tell it to you! I’ve loved films ever since I could remember. Loved, loved, loved them. I use to fake stomach-aches in my early years (sorry, mum) just so I could stay at home and watch films. We would hire a video from the local rental store, and I’d watch the same film at least 2 or 3 times before we had to take it back the next day. But in all those early years, I never thought that actually one day I would aspire to make them. I’m thirty-one now (at the time of writing this chapter), so it’s been some years since then, and I’ve learnt a lot about films and filmmaking, but there is still a lot I haven’t. I am still a beginner in many ways. But I’m eager, and determined. 

 

There’s obviously more to it than just wanting to make a feature film – lots of people I know have done it, so what’s the big deal? I come from an independent background, and to date, all my own projects have been self-funded. So to even imagine or plan a feature film, is a huge undertaking (most people would say impossible). But it's not impossible! It's just a really, really big mountain, and I need to climb it. I’ve always thought that there is something strongly spiritual about creating art. It’s ever-lasting, right? If it’s any good that is. Watch a film from the early 20th century and you are watching dead people! Most likely they died long ago, but yet, we still watch them and their art - their souls live on through their work. To the viewer, they are still living in many ways - to create something that will go on living after I’m dead, may well be the best way to sum up the drive inside me. Because why do it otherwise? That's a pretty grandiose idea, and I doubt I’ll ever be in a position to claim any seat at the masters-table of unforgettable film-makers, but if I can make a film that people enjoy, that people lose themselves within, even for just a few minutes, I’ll be happy.

 

Several attempts at making a feature film have come and passed. My first attempt (as already mentioned) was almost seven years ago. I wrote a script but quickly realised I didn’t have the know-how or the money to make it, so I wrote another. This time I convinced an actor-friend to be the lead, but I still didn’t have the money to make it. The third time I wrote a script that was self-contained with minimal actors and expense, but I still couldn’t afford to make it! See the pattern? The fourth time was it! I was sure of it. I was going to make a series of inter-connecting short films that made up one feature film – I could film it in chunks (when I could afford to) and stitch it altogether in the edit. Unfortunately, the coronavirus epidemic has just put an end to that idea, so I’ve either got to start again (after filming two of the stories) or scrap it altogether. I’ll likely come back to it at some point, because I think the concept and structure is interesting enough, but at the same time, I always knew it was not a proper-proper feature film, you know?

 

So where was I? Oh, yes! I’ve just had an idea. Literally, thirty-five minutes ago now. And so the journey starts again. I’ve quickly scribbled some initial notes down on my laptop to flesh out the idea to see whether it has legs or not, and I’m excited to say, it does! There are things that simply work about it and they excite me to begin writing. I can already see the beginning, middle and end of the story - which is a huge win when it comes to ideas, because now I just need to get it down on paper. I’ve had plenty of ideas in the past that only got me to the middle of the story. I then had to painstakingly work, redrafting and redrafting, to try and figure out what happens next. But admittedly, the more I tried to force it, the more I lost the passion for the idea and once that happens the idea is pretty much dead. So to see the roadmap set out in front of me already is such a relief, I just need to flesh it out (and hence why I’ve started writing about it here!). The idea will likely change a fair bit during each stage of production, and I’ve still got a lot of punching to do to get it into shape. But I’ve got the start of something. The start of something exciting!

 

The film is titled Happy Ever After. So, let’s get going, yeah?

Founded in 2011 by award-winning filmmaker Daniel Harding, 23½ Films is a South East, UK based creative film production company striving to make unique and  original  stories