I was kindly asked by new collaborator theatre director Ahmed El Alfy to be his designated scriptwriter for the 48 Hour Film Challenge in London. And of course I took him up on the offer. All the actors involved were Mountview graduates and from a theatre background, some had even graduated that same day. We met at Alfy’s flat.
FRIDAY 9:30pm – We’d been given the following elements to complete for our entry:
GENRE – Drama
PROP – Cream
LINE – “Let me tell you a secret”
CHARACTER – Charlie Cipriani (a minor celebrity)
Faced with 6 actors we then set about meandering our way to a story. I got everyone to take a few moments and think of something that had happened to them that day which they considered a drama, no matter how large or small they were. This opened up discussion from each story and then it was rapidly approaching midnight.
SATURDAY 12:00am – Straight into an improvised ensemble scene. I wrote down an intention for each actor to have in their pocket that only they would know and got them to interact in small groups. It was interesting to watch (I only knew one of the actors) and to grasp people’s abilities and strengths. I sat at the sidelines and scribbled anything that caught my eye and ear.
1:30am – We sent the actors home to return at 7am. Then it was up to me. The more I thought about it the more I realised I didn’t actually have that long. With such an early call time for the actors I needed to get a move on and fast. I definitely decided that it would be a collection of vignettes rather than a standard narrative. With 6 actors to juggle I wanted everyone to have a balanced story and I was never going to get that with everyone and keep it under 7 minutes.
2:30am – I sketched down ideas. I listened to Spiritualized (Let It Come Down). I listened to Nick Cave (Abattoir Blues). I listened to PJ Harvey (Is This Desire?). I didn’t know the password to the Internet connection at that point which was probably for the best. I had grasped a rough template of what I wanted to achieve and I nudged Alfy who was tweaking his first short film next to me. We discussed it and he asked me questions about the moments I had chosen to explore. Then I went back and fleshed out the story. The sky is an odd colour.
5:30am – Sitting at the computer I tapped, typed, took my time but ended up finishing a script. I woke Alfy from his slumber and we were both happy with the end product. I tentatively point out that I’ve written two exterior scenes, I ask what the weather’s going to be like later today.
7:00am – People start arriving and trickling into the living room. I’ve still not slept but don’t feel tired. I’d gone to bed late Thursday night and slept in till Friday lunchtime to conquer this.
7:40am – First read through of the script. It was a real treat seeing people notice some of the moments and dialogue they’d crafted from the improvisation seep into the script. Everyone seems happy with what we’re going to be working with.
8:30am – Actors are tasked with being off book asap. Most of them, if not all, do this within half an hour.
9:00am – Some folks have the brilliant idea of cooking sausages and fried eggs with bread rolls en masse. We are beginning to not be so concerned about the mammoth task ahead. Eggs and sausages make everything alright. This fuels us to chat more about individual scenes and character motivations and collectively scout for locations. I’ve written one pub scene, one park scene and one street scene. People soon realise they will be multitasking throughout the shoot.
10:45am – We arrive at the pub where scene two (and a small scene three) are set. The landlady’s been nice enough to let us in before the pub opens for business and this is through one of the actors who works there (and is also in this scene).
12:15pm – The pub opens for the general public and there’s football on. The locals are inquisitive and accommodating and surprise us all. They creep around like mice and watch the actors work. This amuses me greatly and I smile knowing there are nice folks. Things are taking time because the pub is next to a main road which meant lots of excess noise. We sit outside in the sun. It is sunny, my interior monologue high fives Ra.
3:15pm – Second location for us to find – a park with a free bench. We stroll to one near the pub… Which is small and filled with children. We walk to the other one close by and find a football match happening and a free bench just past them. We walk. Someone asks about the props for this scene… No one’s bought them. Off someone goes to the shop. People are beginning to feel more tired. I’m surprisingly awake still. I wasn’t even going to stick around the filming but I’m glad I did. We start shooting scene four, the last scene of the film.
4:00pm – One elderly jogger runs around us several times making sure to avoid the camera. Another younger jogger runs straight through shot each time on every lap. He does stupid arm exercises each time he gets to our patch. I laugh as I say that Alfy and Jack look like French auteurs as they smoke whilst working – they clamp the cigarettes between their teeth.
4:45pm – The squirty cream used as a prop has no squirt left in it. The strawberries look mushed to fuck. I buy Red Bull for myself and Alfy.
5:30pm – We head off to the last location to film the opening scene for the film. A dodgy street to film a mugging where in real life it’s known as a mugging hotspot. Great, authenticity. At one point we have to wait for two policemen to walk past before rolling.
6:30pm – It’s cold and I wish I had a coat. Still not slept, but still not feeling the need to. Everyone is so lovely and there’s no tension at all. One actor has to ‘mug’ the other actor many times and be shot from different angles each time. The last take he stacks it and falls to the ground, rolls it out and pegs it down the street as planned. The scene carries on and he jogs back. We don’t shoot that segment anymore (we don’t need to.)
7:00pm – It’s a wrap. We head back to one of the actor’s for well earned cups of tea and congratulate ourselves for the hardwork. Alfy looks like death and it’s only then that I feel my body stiffening with something that can only be described as reluctance to move.
9:30pm – I’m still at Alfy’s because I can’t be bothered to make the trek home. My gait has slowed and my eyes look like I’ve been crying for days. Still not slept.
10:00pm – I leave Alfy and Jack to start the long process of logging everything and syncing sound to start the mammoth intense session of editing. I’m on a bus heading to St. Pancras and sleep and nonsense are beginning to invade my limbs.
10:20pm – I stand at the ticket machine for a good 5 minutes before realising I was trying to buy a ticket to St. Pancras and the reason that wasn’t happening was because I was standing in St. Pancras. I buy a single journey ticket for St. Albans.
11:00pm – Dad comes to collect me from the station. I warn him that if he keeps the car this hot that I will fall asleep.
SUNDAY 12:01am – I’m emailing Alfy and Jack (producer) some music to be considered for the film and clambering into bed. I’m finally tired.
We then get word Sunday afternoon that there’s been technical difficulties. We won’t be able to hand in a version of the film to be considered for the competition because there’s no time to amend and edit before the cut off time. No one is angry, we’re all respectful of the hardwork we’ve all put in and are still excited by what we created. We’re all happy to have been involved in something great in a short amount of time and even though it won’t be part of the competition, we made a film and had a brilliant time doing it. A film is still a film and once it’s done and ready for folks to see, you’ll see it. I loved every second, shot, film roll, sound roll, and sleepless hour I got. 36 hours with no sleep and a bunch of new friends and a film. That’s not bad going considering we were all doing it for the experience… I think we’ll have to credit the sausages and the eggs.