Long time readers of this blog will know that I’ve been looking back at my diaries from ten years ago, just as we were prepping to shoot Robot Overlords. From now on the diary entries you’ll see are the ones featured in the back of the film’s novelisation (and if you want a signed and dedicated copy of the paperback, then please step this way and click here). However, there were a few things that I left out of those book entries, that I’ve reinstated here (mostly me moaning about money!). We’ve got three entries in this post, just as we started rehearsals with our young actors including one new addition to the cast, James Tarpey, who brilliantly played Nathan in the film…
Sunday 26th May 2013
Staying at the Crescent Townhouse Hotel, ready for the start of rehearsals tomorrow. Met with Jon tonight to run through the schedule and work on ideas. We’re both still smarting from not getting our deferred fees, but at least the extra money we need for VFX is now in place, and the movie won’t look like a bad episode of Doctor Who.
In the paperback diaries I changed that last line to “like a bad episode of Blake’s 7”. I clearly thought I was in with a shout of getting a Doctor Who writing gig and didn’t want to offend anyone. Looking back at interviews from the time I say that I’m a big Doctor Who fan. Actually, it turned out that I’m a big Russell T Davies fan, having lost interest in the show after he left as show runner.
Monday 27th May
Belfast – rehearsals
Read throughs. We’re in a room in the production offices in an industrial estate on the edge of town. It’s bare, but we can work in relative peace and everyone’s raring to go. I had already met Ella and Milo at the audition stage, and was probably more excited than they were to start rehearsals.
Met Callan (McAuliffe) for the first time. Nice guy, and our new Nathan, James Tarpey, fits right in. For him, today was as much an audition as it was a rehearsal. Happily, Jon offered him the part at the end of the day. We needed a couple of adult actors to read-in the other parts, and we got the fabulous Jo Donnelly and Lalor Roddy (who would also play Swanny). Jon loved working with Lalor on his previous film Grabbers. He’s huge fun, and, it turns out, worked with Declan Mulholland back in the day (an actor/director I worked with at Unity Theatre about 20 years ago, and was the actor who originally played Jabba the Hutt in the first Star Wars movie). Jo was terrific, such a good actor and a delight to be with through the long days.
I was taking notes throughout the day and we have some minor tweaks to make to the script, which I started tonight.
One fly in the ointment. A guy called REDACTED brought in the prototype for the implants and, frankly, they were shit. Bulky, with poor illumination and not at all what we need. They look like roller disco earrings from the 80s. Jon wants to investigate a CG solution, if we have the budget.
I know creative types bang on about this all the time, but our cast really was a lovely bunch of people who had an excitement and energy about them that comes across in the film. It was important for the four kids (Callan and James were adults by this point, but they’re playing kids in the film, so I’ll refer to them as such: sorry, gents) to feel like real friends, so the next few days were crucial.
Having Jo and Lalor around was such a great help. And Lalor returned to play Rory in Unwelcome where he gives one of my favourite line readings in the film, ‘Big feckin’ hole in the roof.’
And yes, the implants aren’t great. The ones in the film are a slight improvement, but not much. Not at all what Jon and I imagined — we needed something small, battery-operated, that could flash and change colour — but it all came down to the lack of time and budget in the end. I think we’d definitely do those differently if we were making it today… That said, when people talk to me about the film now they almost always mention them, ‘Oh, yeah, that film where they’ve got those lights plugged into their necks!’
Tuesday 28th May
Belfast – Rehearsals
Read throughs. We got to the end of the script today. James is really making the part of Nathan his own.
There’s still no easy solution to the implants issue. We might resort to single colour devices that we can tweak in post. Not ideal.
Got to the end of the script today and finished around 4:30, giving me time to visit the Belfast Titanic Museum.
Belfast is a beautiful place to film. Having grown up in the 70s/80s I’d always associated it with the Troubles, but you could not ask to meet more friendly and welcoming folks. The city is a great mix of old and new and yes, definitely take the time to go to the Titanic Museum. The real awe comes from going around the back where they’ve marked the slips for both the Olympic and the Titanic. The sense of scale was quite moving.
It was great to see James take ownership of the role of Nathan, as you’ll see from the next entry (coming on Monday!), this was a big deal for him…