Filming G.R.I.D

This past week has been quite an emotional one for myself as a writer/director as we commenced filming on G.R.I.D which I have already mentioned on the blog. But with post-production now under way, and having had a few days to reflect on the magnificent experience, I finally feel I can comment on how it all went and my feelings about the whole short. And it exceeded by wildest dreams, and was made with tender love and dignity.

So, what is it about?

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SYNOPSIS Set in the mid 1980s, the virus that would eventually be known worldwide as AIDS, has already struck fear into the medical profession as well as the LGBT community. As large numbers of this populace are being unmercifully struck down by this horrid and mysterious/insidious killer virus, in one hospital there remains hope. As Angie Wordsworth (Charlie Clarke), a cover nurse, meets Daniel (Steven Salt), a patient who has been cruelly afflicted with the virus and who has had no-one but Doctor Andrews (Ernest Vernon), to care for him, having being abandoned and left with nothing but his ever diminishing memories. As Angie and Daniel, two complete strangers, comprehend their situation together, a bond is lovingly formed between patient and carer, no matter what the consequences and without prejudice. A bond that will prove, that in our darkest moments, humanity & love, will always find a way to shine through.

As you can see, the film itself deals with the delicate subject of the AIDS/HIV epidemic, which even today, despite increased preventive medicines, is still seen as a credible threat. With this in mind, I had to approach the story I wanted to tell (& like any other I would),  with care and dignity. As a gay man myself, and having experienced in my past, the pain of losing someone to this severe virus, as well as growing up in the 80s, in the UK reading about the ‘gay plague’ that was sweeping through the community, as well as seeing people such as Freddie Mercury sucumb tragically to the disease, I remember all that like it was yesterday, and feeling scared. Because I was exploring my own sexuality at the time and worrying that I would catch it (the news certainly would have you believe that was 100% inevitable at the time!).

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aids-is-wrath-of-godAs the decade rolled along, more people were lost to the virus as well as whole communities seemingly disappearing because of it (I recommend the documentary We Were Here to see a brave, honest and emotional account of the San Francisco LGBT community trying to survive those early years when it stuck). And not only that, but you heard the horrendous stories of gay men who had been abandoned by their families and friends, leaving them to suffer alone. But as well as this, you heard the positive stories (although more difficult to identify in the negative spin the press were printing), of the small numbers of nurses’ working around the clock to tend/comfort patients, of select doctors/medical professionals  giving up everything to stive to find some kind of cure and quickly before more lives were claimed. You also had the volunteers from all walks of life helping howeer they could. It is true that when things are bad, only then do you see the best in humanity, even if just through a small keyhole. And that is where G.R.I.D. came from.

I researched everything I could about those early years as well as the current climate and how medical advances have halted the virus’ ability to steeply decrease a lifespan. I read statements and recollections from those who lost friends, from those who are still (and thankfully), with us today, and I also read about Ruth Coker Burks, a wonderful lady who cared for hundreds of dying men. I felt that these stories, all these experiences needded to be told. And so I wrote G.R.I.D (- Gay-related immune deficiency (GRID) was the name first proposed in 1982 to describe an “unexpected cluster of cases” of what is now known as AIDS), as a sort of accumulation of all these ideas i had in my head. 

I knew immediately that for the role of Daniel, I wanted an actor I had worked with previously, simply because of how amazing he is at what he does, his own dedication, passion and committment to bring a role to life are second to none! And so I approached Steven Salt a few months back, with the idea, which he was interested in, and then presented him with the script. 14022112_10157350962525241_5439101874100279901_n He immediately wanted to do it, and so we met up, discussed the character while I also shared with him the research and notes I had collected so that he could also get an idea of those early days, to help him bring Daniel to life as realisticially as he could and with great care.

Doctor Andrews is played by another actor I have tremendous respect for, Ernest Vernon, who I have worked with numerous times in the past and when I wrote the part, it was always with him in mind. Because I knew he’d portray Andrews exactly as I had in my mind. Lastly, but in no means least, is the incredible Charlie Clarke, who 13934791_10157350962715241_8059606552233712041_nI had worked with on HOSD, in Troy Dennison’s Lady In Grey segment. I approached her with the script, desperately hoping she would be interested, and thankfully she was! I was so happy, because she completed a dream line up for this project.

Production would require a small crew and those involved were Joshua Baggott (DOP), Suki Sandhar (1st AC), Kaush Patel (2nd Unit & Photographer), James Hall (Sound), as well as Troy Dennison (on special FX duties), and we filmed over the space of two days, wherein we had access to a small hospital suite which we could rearrange at will to suit the narrative best. We set up shots, blocked scenes and then ACTION.

And my goodness, they were all stunning. On the first take between Steve and Charlie, we were all in awe. No one said a word for a while after I said CUT, we were struck by the emotions being acted out, the raw compassion being displayed. The humanity coming through the words and how the three actors all delivered them. Some of us, myself included, had to take in some air between takes as it felt too real at times.

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(Charlie & Steve on set)

This is one of the most important films I think I’ve ever tackled, and I feel a strong responsibility for getting it right. I wanted to make sure the story was told correctly, and further the notion that when everything looks bleak, love will still be there in the end and always will be. Sounds sentimental and cliche you may think, but I know thats what I’d want to see if I needed reassurance. I cannot wait for you all to see this, and I hope you each know eventually, that we were careful, considerate and made the film with lots of respect and love.

Dedicated to all those we have lost. You were always loved, no matter what x

(For Joss x)

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Introducing ‘SUSTAIN’ By The Amazing Nick Allen

As a independent filmmaker and a team working pretty much voluntarily full time to get a film like SUSTAIN made, it is really wonderful how it can bring people together. You get to meet so many wonderful actors, other filmmakers as well as other artists. And everyone comes together to only do their best with what we have to offer. It really is wonderful that so many people think that you have a vision that is worth the time and effort to give too.

So with that in mind, I was absolutely overwhelmed when a really talented local artist/singer, Nick Allen, asked if he could provide some original songs for SUSTAIN, and whether we would want to hear a demo track of something very special and specific to the film’s themes/narrative. Of course was the instant reply, and after a few days we had the wonderful track which I’ve included below!

Not only is the track amazing, it completely captures the tone/atmosphere that we’re going for, the lyrics echo lots of what characters will be feeling/going through in the film, and immediately upon hearing it, I knew it had to be in the film! In any way it could be!

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This lad is an exceptional singer, and with everything I have, I thank him so much for this! It is beautiful and is a credit to him as an artist! Not only is this track now the official song of the film, but we’re also hoping you’ll be hearing more of Nick’s work within the finished film too when it’s out!

Right, I need to sort out a time and place to buy Mr Allen a well-deserved drink!

To see more of Nick’s work (and you really REALLY NEED TOO), you can follow him on his facebook page! So head over there and keep up to date with this exceptionally gifted talent!

And again, THANK YOU so much Nick you superstar!

 

SUSTAIN Minisodes, Posters & More!

Right, as you’ve probably guessed, we’ve been crowdfunding on Indiegogo the past month, and with that we’ve been releasing LOTS of new content for you all! Not only posters, but exclusive minisodes that have delved into some of the characters you will be seeing more in the final film, both the good and the bad. They give you a little glimpse into each of their mindsets and how the events of the film have affected them.

Cast & Crew Interviews: However, before we get to them, first up is a round of interviews with some of the key players both in front of and behind the camera (except me, I’m notoriously camera shy, hence why I love writing this blog up!).

Minisodes: It was an incredibly rewarding avenue to pursue, because the minisodes allowed us to work with each actor and develop their characters at this early stage, planting seeds for them to work on. Doing this kind of prep now is valuable and allows us all to get an idea of how the characters will play out on the later dates, and saves time too on a day’s shoot when everyone knows what they’re doing (something producers Troy and Keiran will be happy to hear!).

With the minisodes, I would write up something that would be presented as an inner monologue for the actors to record which was great to do, because it allowed me to develop how I want them to appear and behave in the film next year when production actually begins. It also allowed the actors to work on ideas about what they wanted to try with their roles, something I love to discuss and encourage!

Posters: As well as the minisodes, we have released a massive amount of brand new posters all of which can be found below! Again, specific character or characters were featured in each so that we could start laying down the foundations of who is who, and how all these lives exist in the universe we are going to present.

And maybe, how they will be ripped apart by the McKenzies!

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Music: Also, we revealed a few weeks back that composer Chris Armitage will be scoring the film and as an extra treat, he has produced a suite of music for SUSTAIN which we have been using already in the various minisodes. As you can agree with us, his score is amazing and captures the raw, grittyness of the film’s narrative which is more than I could have ever hoped for.

When Chris (pictured above), first invited me to listen to this, I wasn’t nervous in the slightest because after he’d already scored our teaser trailer, nailing it immediately, I knew he would just find the rest of the tone needed for the eventual feature. Thanks Chris!

And to cap off, here are our final principle cast members!

Until next time, thank you everyone for the continued support! We appreciate it so much!

GRID Begins Filming Next Week

Next week sees the second short film I will be directing over the August month (holidays, what holidays), and I am very excited to be bringing this particular project to life. However while producing any film is lots of fun, I think this short, along with the Pete & Aaron segment from ‘Checking In’, will be one of the most difficult to make, as I have a very strong personal connection to the themes and characters we are going to present. Having lost a friend to AIDS a very long time ago, I will be very conscious of what we are attempting to do, that we are treating the subject and characters with the respect they deserve, while at the same time hoping that my friend, wherever he is now, and who also wanted to “just make movies” himself,  approves of what we will be producing next week on set.

Speaking of ‘on set’, wow, you have some amazing actors to look forward to seeing in GRID. First up is Steve Salt, whom I met through HOSD, and my goodness, he is just one of the best actors I’ve ever had the pleasure to see perform and know as a friend. After Screaming Death, I knew I wanted to work with Steve again, and after presenting the script to him months ago, we met up and discussed the project and I was so happy he agreed! (It won’t be the last time we work together too, I’ve already nabbed him for a future feature film after Sustain too!). Steve has been working on the character of Daniel for the past few months and I am certain he will break your heart in the film.

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Next up is the stunning Charlie Clarke, who again, I met through HOSD (she appears in Troy Dennison’s segment, The Lady In Grey as Jenny). Charlie will be playing Angie, the nurse, a loving young lady who happens to come across Daniel when he needs someone the most. Charlie was the perfect actress to ask to bring Angie to life, and her determination to the character is second to none and as with Steve, she was pull on your heartstrngs. I cannot wait to work with her!

Finally, the last member of the cast is the marvellous Ernest Vernon who I have worked with multiple times (and he always comes back, even when we’ve had him being harrassed by manaics on Halloween). Ernest is playing Doctor Andrews, and provides the context for the film’s overall storyline. The character is a kind man, fighting prejudice in a time when the AIDS virus was on its initial rampage, and no-one knew how to handle it. Fortunately, some Doctors were not deterred and put all their energies into making the lives of their patients as comfortable as possible. Andrews is dedicated to those wonderful souls and Ernest will bring him to life beautifully. I know it.

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I will keep updating you all next week once the filming is over (we have a 2-day window), so watch this space! And if you’re wondering, why call it GRID…? – Gay-related immune deficiency (GRID) was the name first proposed in 1982 to describe an “unexpected cluster of cases” of what is now known as AIDS.”

CLONE Short Film

The first of two short films I am directing this month is based on a wonderful script by my very good friend and great actor Charles O’Neill. Storywise, it’s very touching, forward thinking, dare I say timey-wimey, and at points, a little cheeku and funny. Charles is a wonderful writer and has poured his heart and soul into this and I’m very honoured that he asked me and Kaushy if we wanted to help him bring it to the screen. Charles also stars in the film as Prof Adrian Jennings!

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(above – a teaser of what’s to come…who is Adrian Jennings speaking too?)

Technically, the film will be a challenge as Charles is playing…well complex characters (or is he? You’ll have to wait to find out!), and filming was scheduled over a 2-day period in one location (the folks’ kitchen and dining room). However, we decided to see it through and instead of finishing at midnight, we went through to 4am, and got it all filmed.

Now the editing begins, and…well that’s all I can say really, cuz’ spoilers! So I will leave you with some pictures from on set taken by Kaushy (as per usual)

Sustain Rehearsals

This past weekend, myself and producer Troy Dennison spent time with The Flank Family from SUSTAIN aka actors Brett Dewsbury (Kieran), Joshua Sewell (Toby) and Dawn Butler (Jayne). It was a fantastic insight to watch characters you’d poured your heart into writing to script form, now become fully fledged out and made live by these wonderful talented actors! To see them coming off the page and made real is a marvellous feeling for any director, not just me I imagine.

Saturday we met up with the lads and went through crucial scenes with just them. It was the first time the guys had properly met, so it was vital that we worked on the scenes they are together in which are littered throughout the story, and to make sure this relationship they have as brothers comes across on screen as realisitically as possible…and my goodness did they do it! With relative ease I may add! Below are some screen captures from the filmed rehearsals we did.  We discussed ideas about how their characters would behave on their own as well as working on how they interacted with one another in the scenes together. One of the main themes running through SUSTAIN is the idea of this close brother bond, and starting work on that now with Joshua and Brett was vital and very rewarding.

On Sunday, the lads were joined by their on-screen mother Jayne, played by the magnificent Dawn Butler! Again, a scene with them all together was run through at the actual location we will be using in the film, which was of great benefit since I’m currently shot-listing the hell out of the 100+ scenes we have to film! So not only being able to visualise how the scene will play out in my head, but also working with the great trio to block the action, work on mannerisms and little traits of each character was wonderful to do. There are some great interplays between them, and the lads were really getting to grips with their characters and the bond they have together (like any brothers, they were teasing one another, which is actually in the script too!).

As you can see, they are simply acing it, and we haen’t even begun proper production yet, this is all pre-production work. On the 27th August, we will also be doing the first of numerous cast read throughs, so we will be able to work as a team to see how other characters work together, give them their own personalities and see how the script will flow with them all bringing their immense and wildy talented acting skills to the table (literary, its a table read through!). So when that happens, I’ll update the ole’ blog and keep you informed!

See you then and don’t forget to keep up to date on the film through Facebook, Twitter and Instagram as well as the newly live website!