Latest update on The Ditch

For those of you who thought nothing was happening, here’s some great news! We’ve been editing The Ditch, and the first cut is complete! Now comes the hard part – trimming it here and there, maybe moving scenes around, choosing different takes, editing out fluffs in the soundtrack… The list is almost endless, but it all goes towards making the film as perfect as it can be.

Because people’s availability is so limited, it’ll probably be another couple of weeks before we achieve ‘picture lock’ (the point at which we decide we’re not going to make any more changes). Then we send it out to the experts to have the visual effects applied, the sound mixed and the whole image graded. Once this is done we put it all back together and start sending it out to the festivals.

Expect more news on this very soon!

It’s a wrap!

After almost three years of creation, planning and production, we have finally shot all the material for The Ditch.

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It feels a bit strange writing that. Sheena and I still can’t quite believe it’s true, even though it’s exactly what should have happened and shouldn’t be anything remarkable. There have been so many times over the years that it’s seemed like an impossible task, a mountain too high to climb – too expensive, too complicated, not enough people, not enough equipment, a story too reliant on good weather, or on the audience’s ability to grasp the subtext. But all of those doubts and difficulties have just melted away.

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The shoot itself went remarkably smoothly, thanks to an excellent team. Every department, from cast through to camera, lighting, makeup and sound came together efficiently and co-operatively to make this shoot a pleasure. It wasn’t all plain sailing – no shoot ever is – but I was amazed at how the production just seemed to flow and things just happened the way they were meant to. I suppose this is partly good planning, but it’s also about goodwill. Everyone in the team wanted things to go well, of course, but it was remarkable how much goodwill we encountered from other people as well – the staff at the hotel were fantastic, the staff at the pub where we lunched were really friendly and even some of the horse riders passing us on Wimbledon Common gave us a friendly nod. It was like a perfect storm, only in a good sense – everything coming together in just the right way to make it all work.

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This isn’t the end of the road, not by any means. There’s the edit to do, the music and the sound mix, the grading and the final output to digital movie files, Blu-Ray/DVD, etc. Not to mention the festival submission paperwork and publicity material. In some ways, once the camera stops rolling that’s when the real work begins. But this is a major step forward and it’s such a wonderful thing to have got this far at last.

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There’ll be more news as we go along – we hope to have everything complete by the end of September. But we’ll keep you posted along the way.

Why does it always rain on me?

Last September I was sitting at my computer, right where I am now, flicking through a number of online weather forecasting sites – the BBC, the Weather Channel, the Met Office, Weather Online, Metcheck, etc, etc. and they all showed a consistent prediction – heavy rain for Saturday. It was to be the first Saturday of our shoot. The summer had been unusually good by recent standards and of course we had all been hoping this would last. And so it did… right up to the week before the shoot. Then things went downhill suddenly, the prelude to the wettest winter on record in the UK.

As you will know if you’ve been keeping up to date with the saga of The Ditch‘s production, we had to cancel the shoot at a couple of days’ notice. Then we went into our holes a bit, engaged in other projects or in our real lives. After a little while, Sheena worked out how the film could work if we moved the action indoors. It meant a completely different story from the one we had set out to tell; but this new story was closer in many ways to the idea we had hoped to bring across in our original script. And it meant we could set the entire thing in a hotel room – problem solved!

Well, nearly. Truth is, there was just one thing missing. We hadn’t actually filmed a ditch, and the film’s title is… So we found ourselves a ditch, and it was very conveniently located, much more so than the one we had originally planned to use. It was even more ditch-like. And it’s the ditch you’ll see in the film. But of course it means at least one exterior sequence still needs to be filmed.

So, once again, I’m looking at weather forecasts and seeing the same thing – a lovely spell of weather, which we’ve been enjoying this spring, brought to a sudden end by showers, cloud and thunder. The exterior shots we were hoping to get this Saturday will almost certainly have to be postponed. However, Sunday looks a lot better and we hope to catch them then.

Thank God for weather forecasting and thank God for creative ingenuity! (Not necessarily in that order.)

By Monday it should all be done – at last! We’ll let you know how we get on via Twitter (@onthetrainprods) and we’ll post an update to this blog as soon as possible.

Shooting starts again in a week!

Yes, at long last, in just over a week we recommence filming of The Ditch. We are fully crewed again, and raring to go!

This has been an incredibly long haul for a short film – most shorts are shot over a week or so, not over two years. In our case we were hit with a huge dose of bad luck: unable to use the location beyond a certain time, hit by bad weather, continuity issues, having to deal with complicated logistics on a tiny budget… But, with a bit of ingenuity and a lot of pulling together, we’ve put all that behind us and the story will all be in the can by the end of Sunday 25 May – no matter what!

Back from the dead

Good news! The Ditch is back in business!

Of course we were never really out of business – production was only temporarily halted last September because of the rain. Sheena has now rewritten the script so that the action takes place indoors, and we actually think it makes it a stronger film. It means that we can use all the stuff we’ve shot and, although we have had to change the order of events in the story, it’s much closer to the mood and style we originally hoped for.

Shooting takes place next month, and we’re getting everything together for the last stage before we go into post-production. So it’s very likely that you’ll be getting to see the film this year! (Remember if you donated £10 or more in last year’s highly successful fundraising effort, you get to see the film first – it’ll be just after the cast and crew screening; all dates will be announced in due course.)

We’ve not been idle these months. Sheena has been working very, very hard on several productions with her company Drunken Chorus. These have included live performances at the Battersea Arts Centre, the Rich Mix venue and pubs in the City of London and Croydon, as well as performances in the north of England. Drunken Chorus, which has secured Arts Council funding, has a number of projects in the pipeline and has come a long way from its early days. Henry has been making music videos, and as I write is about to co-direct the videography at Adam Ant’s 2014 live tour show in Hammersmith. And me, Stephen? Writing, mostly, and researching. And blogging, elsewhere. Life doesn’t stand still; it’s alarming how quickly the last seven months have gone.

Anyway, it’s going to be great getting the team back together, though inevitably there have been a few changes in personnel because of availability. More about that as we get closer to the date. In the meantime, we look forward to keeping you up to date with how things are progressing!

One week to go, and the rain is falling…

It’s been quite a good summer, hasn’t it? Certainly in London we’ve had a pretty good few months – dry, sunny, warm, sometimes very warm. Often too hot for comfort, if truth be told. But let’s not complain, especially after last year’s washout.

Yes… last year. After a summer when it looked like the jet stream was going to bathe us in its gentle/stormy waters for the entire season, the weather unexpectedly improved towards the end of August and everything was dry for the two days of our shoot in September. This year, the summer has been (mostly) glorious and now, as the next shoot approaches… things are going downhill. As I write, the skies above are so grey it’s like someone took a dark pencil and scribbled all over the air. The rain has been falling (well, that’s what rain does, it doesn’t go any other way) in varying degrees of heaviness and, while the flowers are enjoying a respite from the recent baking heat, I’m sitting thinking I’m glad we weren’t shooting today. But I’m obsessing over forecasts, all of which are as much use at this stage as a cardboard gazebo, and which ALL SAY A DIFFERENT THING. It’s going to pour down on Friday. It’s going to pour down on Saturday. It’s going to pour down on Sunday. It’s not going to rain at all (thank you, BBC Weather, keep it up).

This had better be right.

This had better be right.

Obviously there’s no way of knowing what’s going to happen until we’ve turned up, set up, started rolling and sat back (what am I saying? You never sit back on set, there isn’t time). But we have to pack anoraks, umbrellas, covers, tarpaulins, tents, all kinds of wet weather gear – none of which might be used. But we have a lot to get through – this is only a short film, but it’s a sophisticated one with a lot of set-ups. The schedule is very tight already. We can’t afford any delay. There’ll be none of the cheery British, “never mind, it’ll stop in a few minutes, let’s go and sit in the car.” The sensitivity of a shoot like this to the rain is greater than a cricket match – not because of people being worried about getting wet (far from it, they’re a resilient bunch) but because of continuity. We can’t have Donna getting out of a dry car in one shot and then cut to her standing in front of a wet car.

So, dear reader, although you can have no influence over natural events at all, please help me – watch the skies!

(I see I wrote an almost identical post this time last year…)

Production Diary No. 6 – why it takes a year to shoot a 15-minute film

We’ve gone a bit quiet, haven’t we?

There’s a reason for that. Several reasons, in fact. The first is that we’re exhausted – me, in particular. Running an underfunded but fully professional operation (single-handedly for some stretches) isn’t something you can do on a regular basis unless you’re an exceptional human being, or you’re being assisted by regular inhalations of a by-product of a crop found prevalently in Colombia (so I’ve read… Anyway, as a chronic sinusitis sufferer I don’t ever plan on inhaling anything stronger than the scent of pine candles this Christmas).

The second reason is that we’re in an unusual limbo. Normally short films are shot over a weekend or a few days, all the material is captured and then the post-production is swiftly (or slowly) processed and the finished product is shown to a grateful cast and crew over beer and nibbles in a Soho screening house or a specially hired movie theatre, before being bunged up on Vimeo and (all too often) forgotten about. We’re not making that sort of film. Continue reading