How I Made My First Film
By Dan Guthrie
THIS IS A TRUE STORY.
The events depicted in this blog post took place in South West England in 2017/18.
At the request of the survivors, none of the names have been changed.
Out of respect for the dead, the rest has been told exactly as it occurred.
My filmmaking journey began about six months ago, when I was sat at my computer trying to write an essay about gender roles in pre-1800s literature. I say trying to write an essay, I was actually scrolling through Twitter, looking for a powerful and moving article about motivation and achieving my own personal goals. OK, I was actually looking for an RIP Vine compilation that I hadn’t watched several times already. The point is, I was procrastinating, and I came across this tweet...
The tweet that started it all.
Hey, I was a #writer (who had once written nonsensical piece about Wannabe by the Spice Girls), I had considered making a #film (but knew absolutely nothing about filmmaking whatsoever) and this was my chance! Obviously it was, as you wouldn’t be reading this if I didn’t make the cut.
So, I frantically scribbled down a few things that were floating around in my head - drag kings, shiny things and William Shakespeare - filled in the application form and sent it off to Calling the Shots straight away. And then thought nothing about it until about a month later, when I was watching Sunday Brunch early one morning and an email popped into my inbox. It said “Congratulations, your application has been selected for production as part of the Random Acts project!” and I said some very rude words very loudly that I can’t print here. Anyway, after a few minutes briefly discussing it with my parents (“Why would you turn this down?” “It’ll be stupid to say no!”) and then firing off a quick reply to that email, I was making a film.
Well, not quite.
A text my mum sent me after I said I was making a film.
Before I properly started making a film I had to go on a weekend residential to learn about how to actually make a film, meet my fellow South West filmmakers and hear about all their fantastic ideas, meet my brilliant mentor Rob, develop my idea into something that actually makes sense, send a lot of emails, make a lot of phone calls, deep breath, run into several problems along the way, contemplate giving the whole thing up, get a pep talk from brilliant mentor Rob, rinse and repeat, write up a script, a shot list and a budget, assemble a performer (the amazing Isabel Adomakoh Young AKA Izzy Aman), a location (the amazing Brunel Goods Shed in my hometown of Stroud) and a crew (the all equally amazing Sam, Gemma, Molly, Theo, Simone and Nielsan) and also y’know keep up with school work too.
In those four manic months, my idea had developed from just a few words on paper into a proper film. Yeah, it was still on paper at this point, but if I closed my eyes I could perfectly picture it shot for shot. All we had to do now was shoot it.
An inspo pic for something that didn’t make it into the final cut.
Note: If you hadn’t pieced it together already, in a nutshell, my film is a drag king performing Shakespeare in a working men’s club. It’s a piece that explores contemporary masculinity by juxtaposing the old against the new, a BAME drag king reciting the “All The World’s A Stage” monologue in front of a gold foil curtain backdrop, a head on collision of what it means to be a man. That might be important for understanding the next bit.
So, skip forward to February, and it’s the shoot day. Isabel popped down the day before, but we were actually shooting on what seemed like the coldest day of the year (pre-Beast from the East and Pest from the West) in a massive semi-abandoned train shed at eight o’clock in the morning. First things first was setting up; putting all the lights in the right places, stringing up the glittery curtain, assembling the camera and tidying the place up a bit. We spent about an hour getting everything ready for the first shot of the day, which was actually going to be the last shot of the film, of Izzy wiping up a bar out of costume.
Tragically, it looked terrible - the bar itself was bright green and there was a giant pink heart painted on the wall behind it - not what you expect to see in a working men’s club. But that was fine, because the number one rule of filmmaking (R. Mitchell, 2018) is to roll with the punches on the day. So we shot another ending, of Izzy sweeping the stage, which we also didn’t use because it just looked wrong. Endings are difficult guys, as you can probably tell from the way I awkwardly finished this badly written sentence.
Izzy having a cup of tea between takes.
We actually shot quite a bit of stuff that day that just didn’t make it into the film, a lot of shots involving very specific props (soz Gemma) and several takes of snippets of the text from lots of different angles. The reason why we didn’t use a lot of it was because Isabel really pulled it out of the bag when she performed the monologue in its entirety for us one time. After she had finished her speech, I knew that the film would have to centre around that one-take performance.
Because the film was mostly one continuous shot, the edit itself wasn’t actually that difficult. However, the edit day was scheduled for early March (during the snowy reign of the Beast from the East and the Pest from the West) so I had to skype into the Calling the Shots office from my bedroom in Stroud. Things will go wrong, we rolled with the punches (number one rule of filmmaking again) and luckily we managed to get the picture lock done thanks to the magic of the internet. Special shot to Molly for stringing all the clips together, having to make the tiniest tweaks over and over again and braving the snow to get it all uploaded!
The final post-production days (post-Beast from the East and Pest from the West) were luckily a lot easier, just adding the final touches in grading and sound design. It’s crazy how much post-production can transform the footage from the shoot into something cinema quality, and I’m incredibly grateful that the kind people at Films@59 (and Theo too!) could turn my film into what I had dreamed of.
And then, just like that it was done.
A picture of me having a celebratory wagamamas after finishing the film.
The next time I’ll get to see it will be when it’s screened during Playback Festival 2018 at the ICA this month, and then after that it's just a matter of waiting until it’s back in my hands. Making this film has honestly changed my life, I’ve managed to blag three more (so far) amazing opportunities off the back of it already - you can catch me on the radio, on a stage and on someone else’s blog in the next few months. I guess the moral of the story is always apply for an opportunity, even if you don’t think you’re going to get it, because you never know, it could happen. That’s it really, just go for it.
Told you I was bad at endings.