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A still from 'Chocolate Moon'.

The making of

Chocolate Moon

by Mike Donaghy & Alex Moran

A still from 'Chocolate Moon'.

Inception

After watching the likes of Big Train, Brass Eye and Monty Python's Flying Circus, I really really really wanted to make a comedy sketch show.

The origins of the sketches were always unpredictable and peculiar.

The Pope sketch was the result of an online chat with a friend (thanks Jebby). We were chatting about how strange it would be if the Pope endorsed men's fragrances, posed in Calvin Klein jeans etc. Other sketches were conceived through simple mistakes.

The Batman sketch came about when I was watching the trailer for The Dark Knight, and there was a shot of Batman on a skyscraper with his hand by his ear. It looked like he was on a mobile phone. This sparked a few silly ideas in my head like: maybe he's trying to get signal? What about the bat signal? Hang on, why does he need the bat signal if he can use a phone?

Still from 'Chocolate Moon'.
I also found inspiration in things that annoyed me (the Hollyooks sketch). I vented my anger through cynical, therapeutic typing.

Personally my favourite sketches are the ones that, from inception, struck me on a personal level because there was a message in them I really wanted to express. When I wanted to make a point, for some reason, it just worked more. So obviously the sketches that, in my opinion, don't work so well, lack this. As a result of this, I have learnt to keep my writing as personal and honest as possible so I can engage with the material more and express myself better.

Still from 'Chocolate Moon'. Still from 'Chocolate Moon'.

Production

Then we had to make the sketches. We started off with a lot, but many were dropped over time because they didn't stay with us, we ran out of time, we couldn't afford it, or we realised that we didn't like them.

Luckily Mike had won a local film competition the year before. He was commissioned to make a short sci-fi film, Pinnacle Man, which went partially viral for several hours, and can be found on Vimeo here.

The experience was invaluable, and Mike learnt a lot about the filming process that made the production of Chocolate Moon run a lot smoother.

Still from 'Chocolate Moon'.
We advertised in the paper for actors, held a couple of open castings and several other castings. For each sketch we would, on average, have two or three sessions of auditions. The sheer number of brilliant actors auditioning was both encouraging and daunting. It was a real taste of the competition that people face in the industry even when it comes to making a short. I gained a real respect for the discipline and patience in the acting profession.

We also met likeminded filmmakers at Southport MovieMakers (the film group through which me and Mike met) and through the advert in the paper. We couldn't have made the film without these people. Special thanks must be made to Paul Bagshaw, another filmmaker and friend who helped us throughout the production. We also received support from the Sefton Youth Service, a local youth centre we approached who helped us out with props, crew etc.

Still from 'Chocolate Moon'. Still from 'Chocolate Moon'.
There were problems we had to deal with that I'd never thought about in filmmaking. Simple things like finding the right location, securing it, hoping the weather would be okay. But the biggest problems were the cows. In the 'Science and Cows' sketch they seem like the most docile, accommodating creatures when they're standing behind the scientists, but we eventually had to use special effects to make them look more stationary than they actually were. They ran after us, ran away from us. We had to learn how to deal with them very quickly. The secret turned out to be potatoes, their favourite food, according to the farmer's wife who had kindly allowed us to use her land. They were hypnotised by them. We ended up using several wheelbarrow loads of potatoes to lure the cattle back to their 'mark' just so they could stay still for a couple of minutes. Still from 'Chocolate Moon'.

Post-Production

Post-production went in hand with production, and I think this approach made us improve as we went along. We'd edit a sketch, re-edit it, watch it and think: we can do this better next time, and so on. It was a learning curve, and I think this is evident, in a good way, in the film.

It also helped us to work under pressure, especially with Mike having to learn After Effects on the day of the premiere to create the inflated behinds of the cows.

Still from 'Chocolate Moon'.

Premiere

We eventually drew a line underneath it and premiered Chocolate Moon at the FACT centre in November 2009 in Liverpool. FACT we're very supportive and enthusiastic and we owe them a great deal, so thanks for all the help.

In the one night we had two screenings. Both screenings were a mix of cast, crew, strangers and friends. In the first one, there was raucous laughter, even with the sketches we had reservations about. In the second one, there was silence, which was occasionally relieved by a wave of tepid laughter, even with the sketches we thought were a hit. So we still don't know how funny it is. It's probably a cliché to say, but we just made stuff we thought was funny, and hoped for the best.

After this we promoted the sketches on Youtube, on Radio Merseyside, sent it off to festivals then carried on making films.

Still from 'Chocolate Moon'.
We're very grateful for Sharona Prior's brilliant animation sequence, Tom Percy's cheeky theme music, all the actors for their shrewd, dynamic performances, and the local community for being so supportive. It's because of them we won this award. Thanks guys!

-  Alex and Mike

The film won 4-Stars and the Best Youth Film Prize at BIAFF 2011
Watch it in Bijou BIAFF 2011 | Visit Mike Donaghy's website (www.mikedonaghy.co.uk) which includes clips from the very wide range of films the guys make including a couple of scousers in Mumbai slums and a forthcoming thriller.


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Page updated on 01 October 2011
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