While SUSTAIN is a very dark and gritty film, we couldn’t help but not make ourselves laugh on set, so please enjoy a few of our more lighter and funnier moments – all presented by our hilarious cast/crew.
This past week, I’ve been overwhelmed by the extremely positive and humbling reactions GRID has been receiving in its first initial reviews.
It was our aim, to make sure this film spoke to everyone and highlighted the plight of those in the early 80s who unfortunately we lost to the virus as well as send a message of hope and to salute those who are still fighting today.
Thank you to everyone who has reviewed the film and take it to their hearts so far. As writer/director, and I’m sure I speak for the rest of this wonderful cast/crew, your kind words mean the world to us all.
MIDLANDS MOVIES – Kira Comerford
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 LGBTQ 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 Cole (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.
After spending some time working on feature film, The House Of Screaming Death, Midlands writer and director Dave Hastings has decided to turn his focus back to short films. GRID is a project that is pure drama and one that is also very close to his heart – something that I think shows in what is a very moving watch. Hastings has stated that this was perhaps one the most difficult films for him to make due to his personal connections to it, but also because he had to make sure that a film with AIDS as it’s subject matter dealt with the issue in a sensitive manner. It was a privilege to be able to see the film recently, and I think it’s only fair that I share some of my thoughts with you.
The performances are what make this film so moving in my opinion. Steve Salt’s appearance as Daniel Cole was his second collaboration with Hastings, and while I haven’t seen their first project, I can only assume that this pair bring out the best in each other when they work together. Hastings created a beautiful character in Daniel, and Salt brought him to life in a way that was perfectly in line with the tone of the film. What initially caught Salt’s attention was the weight of the script and the themes that could be drawn out of it, and I think that it is these aspects that make the performance feel so authentic.
Charlie Clarke’s role as Angie Wordsworth was reminiscent of Elisabeth Shue’s performance as Sera in Leaving Las Vegas for me. She has said that she felt a huge responsibility taking on the role, and she carried that responsibility very well if you ask me. Her character was loosely based on an incredible woman called Ruth Coker Burks who would be by the side of many AIDS patients in their final days and hours when nobody else would look at them. Clarke paid a wonderful tribute to a lady who I had known nothing about prior to watching GRID, and after seeing her performance I have only admiration for Burks.
Alongside those awe-inspiring performances, however, I also loved the fact that the film paid homage to two groups of people – those who had battled, or are battling, the disease, and those who worked with sufferers, especially at a time when there was very little understanding about it all. It worked well in showing both sides of the fight against AIDS and added another layer to the film in a way as it showed that it wasn’t just sufferers of the disease whose lives were affected by it.
On the whole, GRID is a truly amazing short film that deals with a difficult issue in the most tasteful of ways. It was a pleasure to watch the film and I wish all the people involved the best of luck as it is due to be circulated to a number of film festivals over the coming weeks.
GAY ESSENTIAL – Francesco Cerniglia
In the ‘About’ section of his production company’s website, filmmaker David Hastings wrote that “he loves making films for the simple joy of it rather than the red carpets or the showbiz glitter and that he’s passionate about creating and developing films that can bring people together and allow them to appreciate the world through a lens.” It’d be too easy to dismiss the idealism of an emerging talent with cynicism but upon watching Grid – his latest, heartfelt, short film – and after chatting with him on Skype, it’s evident how this promising, young British filmmaker actually embodies his mission statement.
Based in the Midlands, just off of Birmingham, Hastings studied Film Theory and Production at Manchester Met University, although he immersed himself into filmmaking from an early age. He grew up with horror films, which hugely affected his imagination, especially the Hammer ones, but he has developed a versatile taste in all sorts of storytelling: “I love horror films – they are a guilty pleasure to me – but I do love dramas as well. I grew up with films like ‘The Remains of the Day’ and I’m kind of a sucker for a good love story too, so I want to do as much diverse stuff as possible because it widens your scope as a filmmaker and shows what you can do.”
In 2007 the young filmmaker formed Lightbeam Productions and has been writing, directing and producing numerous projects within a wide range of genres ever since – his short Halloween Night Terror won best film at the Phoenix ComicCon Film Festival. In 2014 he worked on his first feature, Checking In, an anthology film he did with some filmmaker friends, which includes 5 stories set in a hotel over 24 hours, each one directed by a different filmmaker. It was Hastings’ first proper foray into LGBT characters as his story – the last one in the film – dealt with a guy who would indulge in gay one-night-stands whenever he’d go away for work, leaving his girlfriend behind.
Grid is a delicate piece of filmmaking set in the mid 80s during the AIDS crisis, back when doctors were still trying to figure out what the horrible virus was all about. Yet the stigma plaguing gay men as much as the disease itself had already started to get them ostracized by society. Albeit fictional, the short film is inspired by true stories that Hastings researched thoroughly: “I usually do a lot of research when I write my scripts and I certainly wanted to do justice to such a delicate subject and telling an intimate story within that period. I read a lot about the virus itself and what it does to people, which was horrific and upsetting to read and to see pictures of people whose lives were devastated by this dreadful illness, yet I wanted to make sure that my characters was portrayed authentically on screen.”
Hastings likes to find little known stories and being a gay man himself and a British filmmaker, he’s always been interested in the AIDS crisis and the fact it hasn’t really been addressed that often in British cinema: “Despite being a horrendous time, there are actually so many amazing stories that are full of hope and love, showing how people came together. The fact that many of these little stories had never seen the light of day really intrigued me and that’s why I thought it was a good idea to pursue for this short. I guess the British perspective was something else that interested me since we haven’t seen it represented so much over here and also trying to find something new to say about it and portray the time when the lack of information made it even more terrifying. I guess the first big newsworthy case in our country was Freddie Mercury and even then of course the press wasn’t being kind about it with AIDS having become a stigma and some sort of righteous punishment for homosexuality. I remember this advert about the illness in the 80s, which had a gravestone and a voiceover and was terrifying for 8 years old me. So I thought it was important to tell a story that would highlight how in such a difficult time there was still hope and love and solidarity out there.”
In Grid, the filmmaker follows a young female nurse (Charlie Clarke), who is assigned a night shift to care for a special patient whose peculiar condition has scared off her coworkers. Whilst getting debriefed on the case by the kind-hearted doctor (Ernest Vernon), who has the young man under his care, it becomes promptly clear to the viewer what mysterious virus the clueless doctor is talking about. It’s actually eerie to imagine what it must’ve felt like back in the day, when the merciless disease broke out, leaving everyone baffled about its nature. Our nurse though doesn’t seem the kind of person to get easily intimidated and if anything, her overwhelming empathy and altruistic spirit fills our heart with warmth as we see her tend to the ostracised patient (Steve Salt).
Hastings reveals how the source of inspiration for this character was an American woman called Ruth Coker Berks, otherwise known as “The Cemetery Angel” who back in the early 80s when the virus broke out, ended up caring for those patients who were disowned by their families and left to die: “She had no medical training but she would spend a lot of time with these men and become like a sister to them. She would even pay for their cremation and bury them in this little graveyard not far from where she lives and she basically became the only family they had left. I found that to be extremely moving and reading all about her and all these men’s stories hopefully helped my short to feel authentic. I actually was lucky enough to get in touch with Ruth and send her the script to get her approval before I even shot anything. She loved it and the other week, I showed her the finished film and she was overwhelmed by it and by the fact that I dedicated it to her. She said that we got the visuals right and that’s how she remembers her experiences, which of course meant the world to us since we partly based the film on her stories and we wanted to do right to the people that were lost and those who are still fighting today.”
There’s no denying the filmmaker has achieved his goal – Grid showcases his great sensibility at tackling such a challenging topic that despite the progress medicine has made, still is an open wound in the gay community and mankind in general. Speaking of how gay-themed cinema may eventually become an integral part of our cultural fabric, Hastings notes that it’s no easy task: “A film like ‘Brokeback Mountain’ was fantastic and definitely opened the doors for LGBT issues to get more visibility but unfortunately, after the hype of the moment, I feel it all died down a bit and it went back to being alternative cinema.”
Meanwhile, speaking about what’s next on his slate, the filmmaker is currently in post-production on another anthology film, although a horror one this time, called The House Of Screaming Death, which is an homage to Hammer horror films and hopefully it should be out in the next few months. But he is also shooting another feature film at the moment, called Sustain and it’s about the repercussions of a crime when one of two brothers is murdered in a racial attack: “It’s a pretty diverse filmography because I don’t necessarily like sticking to one genre although you could say I’m intrigued by those kinds of stories about an event that disrupts a community or certain lives within that community and the repercussions of that and how people respond to such events. It was the same with ‘Grid’ in that respect as we see the repercussion of the virus and how people cope with it but since we tend to always hear the negative stories or stories about celebrities, I thought I’d rather focus on stories of hope and about everyday people with no resources.”
Given his passion, dedication and work ethic we have no doubt that David Hastings will keep making movies one way or another and we can only wish to hear his name alongside some major British talent as well.
FILMORIA – Darryl Griffiths
Gay Related Immune Deficiency: the original name of the vicious virus we now know as HIV and AIDS. At the height of the epidemic back in the 1980’s, as the health of many spirited young men deteriorated, so did the moral fibre of others with the perception of the gay community mired in malice. Even in the year 2017, the stigma firmly attached, and the lack of education staggering. A deeply disheartening consistency of rendering the feelings of those who are positive redundant, when we never fully know the real circumstances behind them contracting the disease, as they simply want comfort and understanding.
A personal passion project for West Midlands-based director Dave Hastings, Grid is a beautifully performed, emotionally charged tribute to those still fighting and to those we’ve sadly lost. Mirroring the heartbreaking isolation suffered by Steve Salt’s ill protagonist with all around him unnerved by a red ribbon tied to his patient room door, the film harnesses its focus on the sympathetic efforts of Ernest Vernon’s Doctor Andrews and Charlie Clarke’s nurse Angie Wordsworth.
Long into the night, the strain etched across Andrews’ face speaks volumes, as he finds the sense of failure difficult to shake. Like his fellow medical specialists who are scrambling for definitive answers to the cause, he finds no comfort in the rhetoric that the condition is ‘the gay plague’ or ‘God’s way of cruel punishment’, reinforcing his desire to help regardless of age, gender or circumstance. Resuming a role which her fellow nurses have been reluctant to undertake, Angie’s calming and caring influence is merely solidified as she sits at the bed side of Daniel (Salt), creating a tender dynamic and juxtaposition through their philosophical and grounded outlooks.
The power of Grid is truly defined through its visual palette and the subtlety of its direction. The desaturated and muted opening frames that compliment the varying fears and anxieties these characters exude, shifting into the deep melancholic blues of its poignant late stages, becoming transfixed by Daniel’s story. Intertwined with the slight, considered delivery of its dialogue, the film never feels intrusive or gratuitous, as director Hastings impeccably observes over the enveloping beauty of his cast.
Gracefully allowing his co-stars to take centre stage, Ernest Vernon’s turn as Doctor Andrews undoubtedly makes a lasting and deeply saddening impression, almost dumbfounded by the desperate fact he is unable to make a significant difference to Daniel’s well being.
A performance that brims with authenticity and stifling intimacy, Steve Salt is outstanding in conveying the simmering pain inflicted by those who’ve abandoned him, along with a soulful, sweet nature through the delicacy of his figure movements. Never feeling burdened or weighed down by her duties, the sheer sensitivity instilled into the role of Angie by Charlie Clarke is superb, with her closing moments reading the contents of a particular letter truly overwhelming.
In poignantly touching on a topic that undoubtedly still needs better representation in the modern climate, whilst acknowledging the horror and fear of the unknown that broke many hearts three decades ago. Grid is remarkable proof that even in one’s darkest hour, love and care does indeed trump hate and prejudice. Simply stunning.
We didn’t even know GRID had been nominated for the Midland Movie Awards, but it was a thrill to hear that not only was the film up for BEST ACTRESS to accompany the wonderful Charlie Clarke’s amazing perfrmance as Angie Wordsworth, but that she ultimately took the award home and WON!
So many congratulations to Charlie, who is a wonderful, magical and inspiring actress and I’m so very glad that she has been recognised for the role she brought to life more than I ever could have dreamed!
This week has been quite a frantic one! I’ve always said a writer/filmmaker’s head is like busy rush hour traffic, with cars, lorries and vans all screeching past one another, horns beeping, city sounds thumping around and almost complete chaos, but the traffic regulations help bring some sense of order!
With filmmaking/writing, It’s the same thing. You have ideas racing about, some going faster than others, all jostling to be heard and seen, while the background sounds of life can be heard, sometimes also thumping as they need attention too.
You can imagine that this week, what with still directing/producing a feature film, and finding time to sleep, as well as look after half the cast who are ‘crashing’ at my house on all floors and levels has been quite an adventure! So while it has been hectic as well to try and cram in some writing, especially on a script that needs to be at least 20 pages in length, it’s been bloody amazing to start it too! Suppose it’s a bloody good job I enjoy it all then!
Despite not being able to get a full first draft complete for the next session, I spent a lot more time the week after (and once another week of filming had completed), to get a first draft complete! I got to about 16 pages in the end, but I was happy. The first draft of any script is what I call “preachy”, because my brain races along with lots of ideas, lots of dialogue, lots of actions and themes you are desperate to not forget to write down on page (or celtx!). I find this happens alot to me, like that rush hour traffic analogy, ideas screaming to be heard as they drive fast quickly, so you have to listen out and hope you hear what they say before they disappear off into the distance. Which is why I refer to a first draft as preachy, because all this dialogue, all this exposition is there, lots of fluff, that you can begin to wittle down in future drafts.
But I put it all into a first draft because I’m terrified I’ll lose it. So typos reign supreme, because my brain is working faster than my typing fingers, and characters have different names, while scenarios sometimes don’t work as well as they hopefully will in future revisions.
Feedback wise from my tutor is his identification that my writing is very novel based at times, and I agree. My past experience of writing a script is from the provision that I usually end up directing them myself, and I keep a lot in there siimply so I don’ forget it on the shoot (remember that crazy flowing traffic!). And with this being a spec script I do look forward to trying to minimise the descriptive nature so that it plays less like the novel, and more a shot by shot rendition. More emphasis on the shots and what is on screen…as well as fixing some of those bleeding’ typos!
In my defence of being quite descriptive, and having read lots of scripts, it is fascinating to see how different writers approach their work. If you look at the likes of Remains of The Day, an Academy Award Winning script, the content and actions are very minimal! It’s frightning actually! And yet, an early draft Doctor Who script by Steven Moffat is so very detailed, and every part that is written eventually ends up on screen! Marvellous comparisons! And one actor once remarked that he loved how detailed my scripts were, because as an actor, he felt confident that I had a vision, and he didn’t have to ask any questions about the character they were playing because all the answers were there on the page in front of him.
In the lesson we looked through the script and the ideas (it is very rough, what I call the preachy stage where you throw everything at the kitchen wall so to speak in terms of dialogue, ideas, settings, themes (because as I’ve mentioned before, my brain runs faster than I type, so I don’t want to forget anything). There were some good suggestions from everyone which I took on board and made a note of. Some were the following;
- Very wordy and descriptive which again I understand, as I do like to write scripts like this. It is more for me as a director so that I don’t forget a specific piece of imaery sometimes on a dat of production (especially as I am already planning to produce and film this script in Auust time). But yes, the opening can be cut down considerably, and condensed, but not in a way that dilutes the introduction of the setting, especially as it is a cell both practically and metaphorically for these two characters of Alexander and Willem.
- More subtle descriptions for the characters, that allow for a response to be read quicker. It allows for the script to almost act as a shot list in a weird way, which is a new way of writing for me, so I believe it will be a process of elimination as I redraft that will.
- ‘Confessor’ – there was a bit of confusion over whether this word existed or not so we’ve googled it and discovered it, so it works as a piece of dialogue within the script.
- Don’t use italics to highlight and emphasise certain words, instead underline them to help an actor when looking for direction and how to express a sentence.
- There needs to be more emphasis on Alexander, on his reactions and get him more involved in the conversation, as Willem leads at the minute and I don’t want it to be one-sided, because then the ending will lose the emotional impact and payoff. At one point, Willem discusses how thirsty he is, so in the next draft I want Alex to go for his water at the same moment and then stop, because he’ll feel guilty. Moments like this will allow the bond and relationship between these two strangers to develop and have a more meaningful lasting legacy.
- No ‘we hear’…change this approach. Or the “two men are heartbroken” – how doe we see this on screen – have to be more specific such as ‘a sadness across his face as he looks to Willem’, or ‘Willem’s hand still trembles, but not as much’, for example.
- Make the connection between how their eyes are the same – was mentioned earlier, make it more specific and of importance here.
- The ending is overstated as Phil remarked which I agree with. It was me again throwing everything at the kitchen wall, so that I don’t lose an idea, but can condense them down later on. And it will be through future drafts.
Scriptwriting is a fickle old thing! But I love every part of it, and this project is so very exciting to me! And I cannot wait to try and tackle the suggestions and ideas given to me….
….oh and this first draft takes place over one day. Just under an hour, to help increase the tension, the ticking down of the clock.
But what about if I spread it over three-four days? As suggested by my tutor. Challenge accepted! I really enjoyed the feedback and it has helped immensely with how I approach the 2nd draft. This is the big change in structure I want to play about with and will be the biggest revision for the 2nd draft. And I’m really looking forward to that and how I can play about with the dynamics more so for the characters and their stories.
See you on the other side of draft 2 and it’s massive restructure!
This past Thursday, while on the last day of shooting for the week, Jason Forrest and WCR radio broadcast live from the set of Sustain, interviewing various cast and crew!
And here are the shows below for you to listen back to! Thanks so very much again to Jason and WCR radio for wanting to do the show live from our location as well as highlighting the film to those around the West Midlands further!
Throughout the last week I’ve spent a lot of time reading up on Willem Ardoneus, again as before, trying to get a idea of the man himself, what he was like, his hope’s, ideals, dreams even. I feel I have to take precious time to do this before I fully commit to a first draft of script (not that I haven’t been writing down little nuggets of dialogue and scenarios and getting an overall narrative structure together in my mind), but with this being a real person, I owe it to him, to take time to craft as realistic a portrayal I can through my own words with this project, as well as feeling the need to him justice as a lost seemingly unknown importznt figure in LGBTQ history.
I have been reading through more websites on the subject, while I also purchased a book through Amazon entitled Who’s Who In Gay & Lesbian History (Edts Robert Aldrich & Garry Wotherspoon), which also has a small segment on Willem (scanned below)
I found the above to be quite informative, and helped me almost reconfigure the specifics in my narrative (how he was a painter, where he had been living further, but more on that in the next blog entry with the first OUTLINE), while some complemented the research I had already been gathering (another part of me was fuming I’d spent out dosh on the bloody book, when I could have got the information scanned above from googel books website! Bloody captialism!).
I have also found some more pictures of Willem, which for a writer can be a blessing as well as a curse. This is because, if you have an image of a real person in your head, you are almost bound by that appearance and subsconciously you begin writing around that image (or set of them), instead of employing your own vision, even though the two are wrapped around each other ironically at the same time. It is a weird feeling. But I’m finding I have to be very delicate with my ideas here at the same time thus, becauseby seeing images of the man himself, of Willem, that duty of care shines through, and makes me determined even more to get this story, his story right. And to expose it to as many an audience as I can.
Finally these images also do one other positive thing. Yes, as I mentioned, that do form a grip/set of constraints around your own vision, but at the same time, I’m also seeing different mannerisms and looks for Willem. You almost begin to project what you think he is thinking in each of these pictures; pride, happiness, maybe even determination, all these based on the conditions in each picture, his clothing, his hair styles, his location (is he poor in one picture? Why is happy more so in other pitcures?). And these are equally as important to me, because I can use those questions and my own projections on him to write his story in my short script.
(Pic 1 – Where is he? A sense of poverty? Yet still a hint of pride in difficult circumstances).
Pic 2 – Reflective? A hint of sadness, of looking forward to an uncertain future?
Pic 3 – Among friends. Happier times. Socialising.
Pic 4 – His clothes here are in direct opposition to picture 1. A wedding. A grand social occasion?)
Looking at these photos of him remind me that his life was a sad one, and it wasn’t overall happy. I’m sure he had moments of pure joy (which I will attempt to incorporate into the script as well, to give a balance to proceedings), but I’m forced to think back to a quote by writer Russell T. Davies in this context.
“Drama’s not safe and it’s not pretty and it’s not kind…You’ve got to do big moral choices and show the terrible things people do in terrible situations. Drama is failing if it doesn’t do that”. Russell T. Davies
I completely agree with him. I want this story to be raw, I want people to expect a happy ending. I want them to have to confront basic harsh, uncomfortable truths, and real history. To understand the turbulent circumstances that we eventually find him in, and how we can further relate them to modern societal indifferences/themes that are still in the world. Maybe this can help audiences realise the importance of not only Willem, but also his story and why it needs to be told.
Mostly, I want people to really meet Willem. And perhaps for the first time in their lives too. I hope I can do that most of all.
Jason Forrest is a fantastic supporter of not only us making Sustain but also House of Screaming Death/Checking In and all the other wonderful projects we’ve been working on and before we hit our 6 day shoot schedule, he asked if I’d be ok talking a bit more about the film with him.
So here you go folks. Thanks again Jason!