We shot Weaverfish back in July 2011; a 95-minute film over a period of 16 days. During this time, we kept a live blog – which, at the time, was for our families and friends to check in and see we were all still alive (just!) For anyone that’s interested, this is the blog that accounts for those insane 16 days. For ease of reading, it appears here in chronological order. And we won’t be adding anymore to it!

This blog documents the shoot, and the shoot only. It tells the story of the most exhilarating 2 weeks we have ever experienced. Enjoy :)

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Day 0: Pre-production Mania

It’s 2.15am on Saturday 9th July. This is the day we are due to start filming.

My intention has been to blog everyday leading up to the shoot. But as expected, the unexpected always takes place – meaning that our hard work is never enough! I won’t lie, it has been an incredibly stressful last few days for reasons that I won’t go into. However, the good news is that very soon Mark will be arriving with our three first cast members. Josh is due to start filming with us at 8.45am – 6 and a half hours time – so we are throwing him in at the deep end.

When they arrive, it’s going to be a long few hours of unpacking the minibus, which is packed out with lighting kit and edit equipment. The next step is to then set up the Avid editing suite so that we can preview all the footage that we test shot today (which is now yesterday). Then maybe – JUST MAYBE – we will go to bed tonight. Let’s see.

First day on the shoot. Welcome to production hell. The follow up to all the pre-production mania you need to keep your shoot just that little bit more exciting.

Just keep smiling =] and telling yourself it will all be OK.

Harrison x

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Day 1: Chickens, Cranes & Cycling

Let’s just say it was a long night for Harrison and Mark in the end – or a short one if we are talking in matter of sleep. It therefore comes as no surprise that after four pathetic attempts at blogging, Harrison has temporarily given up on it for the duration of the shoot. In typical Director fashion, he has “got someone else to do it for him”.

Let me introduce myself. My name is Karen and I am the Producer of the Electronic Press Kit that will be accompanying the release of Weaverfish. My job will be to document everything that is going on on set and keep all followers updated. This will come in the form of text, photos and video.

So where do we begin?

After a good breakfast and shower, last night’s late end seemed less hindering, even if the wake up call was 7am. The first morning de-briefing went smoothly, with everyone squeezing around the kitchen table, munching on cereal and toast whilst Harrison briefed today’s scenes.

One of the film’s opening scenes was first on the agenda – numerous cycling shots of the character Matt (played by Joshua Ockenden) swerving along the roads of the quaint Hamble village (known in the film as the fictional town of Huxley Wells). In an attempt to capture the cyling motion in the best possible style, Harrison and Mark arranged to film from the back or a car, with Josh in tow. They wanted to demonstrate early on that this indie film was going to go the extra mile to captivate its audiences by placing them within the action.

Shane O’Meara (who plays Reece) soon joined to cycle alongside Josh. You may question the contrasting clothing from the image, which was used by head of Makeup & Wardrobe Naomi to visually reflect the contrasting nature of the characters; Reece being more shy and conservative; and Matt being more self-confident. Fortunately for Shane, he got the warmer outfit for a day that did not scream July through its weather.

The car’s boot was secured open for the duration of the shoot and the seats were mostly removed to allow for the camera and tripod, which with it’s added lens adapter left little space for the camera operators. The Sony EX3 performed well with the new Flash XDR unit, recording at the higher bit rate of 180Mb/s in order to meet the broadcast standard. The camera was operated by Tom, the DOP, whose team are schedule to arrive later this weekend. Not one for paperwork, Mark ditched the Producer stereotype by getting stuck straight in on the technical side of things, keeping all of the equipment in good check and backing up the footage from the Compact Flash Card.

Unfortunately after a few good takes, the Flash Unit stopped working and we had to divert back to base camp. Mark soon identified the cause as a faulty battery. It was one of the smoke alarm batteries that were being used to save on budget, however, this was immediately replaced, and off on the roads again we went again. With problem solving out of the way, we were able to go on and produce some high quality images that helped set the mood and tone of the film.

Equipment is one of the most expensive assets to a film budget, and with Weaverfish on a tight leash of under £10k, the crew needed to think creatively. Today a crane was needed to establish Reece’s house, and Tom had just the answer. He had built a fully working crane out of a sailing mast, allowing for the swift and smooth movement Harrison wanted in the shot. It even connected to a remote control to pan and tilt the camera as needed as it rose to follow Josh cycle past the house.

The one downfall, however, was the setup time. Operating such complex devices is something that is never going to fit into the schedule of a two week shoot. The Dollhouse team were effectively aiming to shoot 6-7 pages of script a day. When you consider that a crane is being used just for one shot, and that it took around three hours to shoot this, you may question their decision to use it in the first place. However, the answer is simply production value. Even if this provides just one large-scale shot in the opening scene, it immediately encourages the audience to take the film seriously. As a big Spielberg fan, Harrison always wants to create a sense of wonder for his viewers to experience. Whether or not this shot will fulfil what he had in mind is another question. We can afford to be critical at this stage.

And more critical we became. As the end of daylight drew nearer, and the production became slower, so did the morale drop. Having had little sleep the night before the first day of principal photography probably didn’t help matters, but mainly the crew were still learning to work as a team. And set ups were becoming more and more tricky.

So where do the chickens come in? In the afternoon the crew set up in the back garden to film the first reveal of Shannon (played by Ripeka Templeton), casually chilling out in a hammock. A day for complicated shots, a track and dolly were needed for more flowing movements continuing from the bike scene. This one took a lot longer however, and we were running two hours behind when we finally wrapped the first shot. Now, filming chickens? Not too much of a problem. Rounding them up? That’s the hard part, and why we only had two takes. Taking the EX3 handheld, Tom tried framing all the chickens and Josh as he ran up the stairs to the house. This was the first handheld use of the camera, which as demonstrated within the photos is very heavy, especially with it’s lens adapter.

Now inside the warmth of the house, Harrison is directing a scene in Reece’s bedroom. Most of the crew have turned in for the day. The scene shows Reece developing celluloid film in a dark room, which will raise a challenge for Tom as the actors still have to be clearly visible – especially with this being Reece’s first appearance in the film. Here, we have our first dialogue of the two week shoot, where Shane, from Scotland, and Josh, from Australia, will both be out of their comfort zones talking in English accents. The whole crew is confident in their abilities though, as they have proven themselves in rehearsals and auditions.

Did the day go to plan? Apart from the ambitious schedule and the need for more lighting stands, Harrison and Mark were happy with the footage they obtained, and the equipment (both rented and made) shone in it’s creative uses.

Saying that, Harrison has just wrapped early on the scene upstairs. Tiredness, he says, is blocking his actors from performing at their best. This means that the scene will need to be rescheduled for tomorrow. Running behind on the first day. This is going to be a tough few weeks.

Tomorrow brings the first scenes by the water, down by the jetty and involves more characters being introduced. Let’s hope for better weather and a quicker turnaround!

Posted in Production Blog

Day 2: Quiet on set!

Did I say things may get easier? Perhaps even trying to say that today had it’s challenges is an understatement.

Exhausted by last night’s filming and with a lack of an alarm clock, the main crew were a little behind schedule at the start of the day, but soon got set up down by the jetty. We had to move four boats along the walkway to make room for our own, meaning that Harrison had some near misses with the water whilst hopping around tying ropes off. In the rain we waited for the new arrivals to finish make-up before clambering onto the boat to film Lucy-Jane Quinlan (playing Charlotte) and Jessie Morel (playing Abigail) conversing on the edge of the jetty. The EX3 was handheld after much discussion between Harrison and Mark last night regarding the set up time speed. They appear to have agreed not to get too carried away at the sight of so much equipment. At least the handheld style will provide a more raw and authentic feel to the film; yet they are adamant that handheld means the modern Gareth Edwards approach and not the classic Blair Witch.

Whilst camera technology appeared to work fine, sound was the main problem, however. And it was not technology causing the issues, it was the general public. No more than half an hour into shooting, a jeep revved it’s way up and down the slopes next to the jetty to guide a boat into the water – a nightmare for Mark and Trudy trying to record clean dialogue. Harrison was determined to keep filming though, and produced good takes from rare silences in the area around us. Unfortunately his two cast members, who had trained to perform the scene in one take, kept on being interrupted, and we could all sense his frustration at this. Once the jeep’s boat was in the water it caused even more trouble. The incompetent driver was unable to prevent the craft from drifting and crashing into the set, causing Lucy, Jessie and Tom to dive out of its path. Tom’s dad, Charles, an experienced boat owner, came to the rescue by resolving the man’s problems and sending him off out of our way for good.

Silence at last? As if we would have that much luck.

Now a working marina is full of loud children and people taking their boats for a spin. Mark (our Producer, today heading the sound department!) decided that with all the microphones in use the background noise could be covered up with wildtrack and we could keep filming. This is a fine solution until a folk band begin playing their cheery, but very loud, music next to the jetty. The crew kept calm, even as we fell behind schedule more, and thankfully the band moved on to play their music elsewhere. Before they circled back around we acquired a couple more takes.

After a quick refuel of baguettes and doughnuts – thanks to Tom’s lovely family who have put such time and care into the meals – we gathered up six of the actors to film a scene overlooking the jetty – so not too far to move the heavy and substantial kit. A very sleek, white, convertible Mercedes was borrowed from Tom’s neighbours to be Mike’s car in the film. Mike (played by John Doughty) is the eccentric party organiser and therfore needed to arrive in style. The characters of Jo (Jeannine Simone), Kayleigh (Chloe Williams) and Gavin (Duncan Casey) also joined on set as Mike’s crowd, meeting the characters of Matt and Reece.

Public locations are always a problem, especially when the weather turns nice in the afternoon. Oh wait? Nice weather now? It’s easy to moan about the weather but with the sun beating down, and the number of locals that started to turn up as a result, we couldn’t help but pity ourselves. Line Producer Ruth dove in and politely persuaded visitors to take different routes rather than walk into our shots. This was with the help of Alex, our Data Wrangler (don’t you love how everyone gets stuck in?) Apart from the heat, and a noisy but thankfully brief reappearance from the jeep, this section of the shoot actually went smoothly in the end and ran on time, allowing the cast and crew to have a well-earned rest before the evening.

It was an evening that required shooting the carried over scene from yesterday. Again, cast and crew were kept to a minimum in order to allow people a chance to rest. The scene was filmed suspiciously quick and within a couple of hours, Harrison reemerged downstairs with a smug look on his face. He claimed that he had shot what he wanted. And not only that, he had found his filmmaking style for the film. With the wafting smell of roast lamb coming from the kitchen, Harrison, Tom and Mark are giving little away right now about their secret ingredient to producing high quality footage in such a small space of time. Having visited the set, I can reveal that the scene is flooded with the creative use of red light, which will be sure to add to the film’s eerie and sinister feel.

Done for the night, the cast and crew are now rehearsing for tomorrow, which brings us to the first scenes out on the boats. It will be a tight squeeze to fit the essential crew and equipment needed for the day onto just two boats but, after today, if any team can make it work, it will be this one.

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Day 3: Not quite plain sailing

A later start to today meant that a well-rested cast and crew were raring to go down at the jetty this morning.

The necessary equipment was packed up and taken to the boat after rounding up the cast from their make up base. Some had earlier starts than others; however, no one had quite the early start that solo Make Up Artist Naomi had, preparing eight cast members by herself. And this figure is soon about to increase!

Once down at the boats, the blasting heat made it feel like an actual camping trip, helping everybody to fully immerse themselves in the film’s narrative. It made a positive change to see the sun out, although we were all sure to reapply suncream – even under all the layers of lifejackets and high-vis vests.

Working in the sun can often make everyone feel uncomfortably lethargic, yet the team battled to finish loading equipment and people onto the correct boats.

The crew used two boats to film the water scenes – one as a crew vehicle, and one as a set. On the crew boat was Tom, Tom’s brother James (our driver), Mark, Dave (Sound Mixer / Boom Op), Andy (Camera Op) and Naomi. But where was Harrison? Of course, he hopped onto the cast boat to direct and liase with the actors, ducking out of shot when he needed to. There was a lot of switching around however, where cast and crew had to swap between boats out in the middle of the river.

Back on land, the second camp was set up by the remaining crew – a few tents at the beach location, ready for tomorrow’s early start. There was even a toilet tent, kindly supplied by Dollhouse Pictures in special consideration of the female species.

Whilst I personally spent the afternoon with the second unit, Shane, who plays the film’s lead role, has kindly filled me in on the happenings of the day:

“Today’s shoot was long, but the most fun since the start of filming. We went out on the two boats, one for crew and gear and the other for cast. Everyone was smothered in sun-cream as the heat was intense! We went through some of the conversations on the boat for the first few hours before pulling up on the peer to have lunch, then went back over the scenes getting the reaction shots.

After that we headed up river to start on the fence scene. Due to the amount of time spent on the other scenes and complications we never got round to completing it, but we did make a start. We also saw the location of the beach scene, I think everyone was excited about that and is now looking forward to doing the scenes of the boat arriving there. After wrapping, the cast and crew headed back to the house to have shepherd’s pie and a drink, now everyone is heading to bed for a 6.15am start!”

If the weather is the same tomorrow we’ll have to watch out. Suncream, shade and lots of water will certainly be on the checklist. Check back to see how we get on as we venture to Fountainhead Creek for the first time.

Posted in Production Blog