The finished film and the dark arts of post-production

Last night I was invited to a screening room at Molinare, where I was lucky enough to sit with a few of the folks who’ve been working these past few months like hyperactive worker bees on Red Bull as they put the final polish on ROBOT OVERLORDS. The ADR, the sound effects, the sound mixing, the score, the VFX and the grading. All of these dark arts have finally come together to present the finished film. I can’t see into the future, so I don’t know if the movie will be a massive hit, a red-stinger of a bellyflop, or the kind of film that sneaks into cinemas for a fortnight and then disappears forever, only to sporadically reappear on cable TV on Sunday afternoons like some celluloid spectre. But I can tell you that we’ve made the film that we set out to create. A fun adventure for the young at heart. And these final flourishes have elevated it to a whole new level of incredibleness*, making me grin like a loon throughout as I watched. It’s funny, thrilling, moving and a feast for the eyes and ears (see it in a cinema with the best sound system you can find!). I hoped it would be good. I had no idea it could be this good. So many people have worked above and beyond the call of duty to make it happen. It deserves to be seen and enjoyed, and I throw myself prostrate at the mighty gods of cinema in the hope that it will. The very moment that we have any news on a firm release date, I shall shout it from the rooftops. In the meantime, here’s a fuzzy photo of Paddy’s hand on the first day of filming as he prepares to take a pic of the first clapperboard of the shoot (don’t say I never give you exclusives)…

Aaaaaaaaand action!
Aaaaaaaaand action!

*Shakespeare invented words. So can I…

Advertisements

Back to the day job… and no more failing quietly.

I’ve had a pretty incredible 2013. I also have a row of bruises on my arms where I’ve been constantly pinching myself, for 2013 was the year of things-that-do-not-happen…

For example, not only did I get the joy of co-writing a feature script with the incredible Mr Jon Wright, but it actually went into production. Yes, my debut feature is an ambitious, science fiction family movie with some proper stars and incredible VFX, and is based on a spec script. That never happens!

The way it usually works is you get your first job on a low-budget horror, or maybe on one of the BBC TV shows like Doctors, and you struggle for years before getting a break. Or, if it is a ambitious movie, you – the inexperienced writer – are eventually fired by nervous producers and replaced by someone with a better CV.

None of these happened. Well, I’ve certainly done the struggling bit. I’ve been writing for years and failing quietly. But with each dead end, every trip to development hell, and with every new draft, my writing improved and I made new friends in the film community. I have that low-budget horror movie on my CV, it just never got made (yet).

Then, once the film went into production, my day job employers at Orion Publishing were gracious enough to allow me to take a six month leave of absence to concentrate on working on the film. Again, that never happens! Employers might understandably be wary of extracurricular activities, some might even back you into a corner and ask you choose between the security of a regular paycheque, or the risky world of a the freelance writer. Not these guys. They were incredibly supportive, and have kept the door open for my return. I could not have asked for more.

Pictured on set: smug git.
Pictured on set: one jammy bastard…

Those six months allowed me to be on set during production, to be readily available for rewrites, to work solidly on [redacted], and that script about [redacted], and to really get my teeth into [redacted]. All top-secret eggs, laid in 2013 and hopefully all hatching in 2014.

I also got to live the freelance writer life for six months. Writing in solid chunks 9-to-5, instead of sporadically on the train/lunch breaks/nights/weekends. I did not waste a second, and this has been the most productive year of my writing life.

So, tomorrow, I return to the day job. Some friends have asked if I’m dreading it. Not at all. It’s a pretty cool job, it’s not working in a salt mine or anything, and I work with some fantastic people that I’ve missed very much. I will go to work tomorrow with a skip in my step.

But I’ve had a taste of another life these past six months, and I liked it. It’s a world where the work and money is precarious, and there’s no more failing quietly once the general public get their teeth into what you’ve written, but it’s the thing I love to do most, and in 2014 I’ll be working harder than ever to make it a reality again.

Thanks to everyone for their good wishes and support and I hope you have a fantastic 2014.

The loneliness of the on-set screenwriter – Our Robot Overlords set report

Yesterday I had a call from Jon, who kindly took time from his one day off this week (and I know that a director never really has a day off – he’ll be getting calls and emails all day) to give me an update on the first week of shooting for OUR ROBOT OVERLORDS.

Exteriors started with a night shoot in Bangor. Photo (c) Pinewood Films No.6 Limited
Exteriors started with a night shoot in Bangor. Photo (c) Pinewood Films No.6 Limited

The crew are working like a well-oiled machine, up against a tight schedule that leaves little room for error. The young cast – Callan, Ella, James and Milo – have bonded brilliantly and are delivering outstanding performances. Our headliners – Gillian Anderson and Sir Ben Kingsley – are just knocking it out of the park, and our army of extras on Twitter have decreed that Tamer Hassan may have delivered one of the best headbutts in screen history.

It’s fantastic to hear that it’s going so well, and my first instinct is to jump on a plane and see them in action first thing tomorrow, but being a writer on set can feel like being a stranger at your own birthday party.

I was delighted to be present at the very first shot of the shoot on Friday 31st May, giggling like a loon to see the story that Jon and I had worked so hard on finally coming to life. But after an entire morning of shuffling to one side, apologising to make room for various crew members who hustle by with big cables and lenses, you soon realise that you’re just in the bloody way.

The previous week of rehearsals was a different matter entirely. Working with Jon, Callan, Ella, James and Milo to get the scenes on their feet – spotting the bits that work and the bits that don’t, and then tweaking the script to play to everyone’s strengths – that was an incredibly productive time. I felt energised in a way that I’ve not been since running my own theatre company back in the day.

But on set, I’m a fanboy, watching the cool director and cast, buzzing around them a focussed and hardworking crew – this is the kind of stuff you see on DVD extras, and yet here I was in the thick of it… with bugger-all to do, but stand and watch and admire and be first in the queue for the catering (I heartily recommend the chili!).

Would it be different if Jon and I hadn’t co-written the script together? Possibly. Writers are a paranoid bunch, constantly convinced that we’re about to be screwed over (because we often are!). But Jon’s the guardian of the script on set, and I have complete faith in him, and I know that if there’s any kind of problem with it, he’ll be on the phone to me straight away. I am completely relaxed that the show is in very good hands, and I can’t wait to see the first rushes.

I’m hoping to be on set in about ten days’ time, so maybe another update then! In the meantime do follow us on Twitter @Robot_Overlords

PS. Also check out some of our tweeting extras – all wonderful people: 

@DocFourFour

@MichaelStuart69

@TONYJMcGREGOR

@leoniegillen

@mark_simpson