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The making of Une Lecon en Affaires ... A Business Lesson

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At BIAFF 2012 Stephen Longhurst won  a 4 Star Award and the Focus Music prize with Une Lecon en Affaires.

The seeds of this film were sown over time spent in France helping a friend refurbish a house in Normandy. Several hot summers and freezing winters had given me an appreciation of the local countryside and the people who lived and worked in it. "Write to your resources" is the advice given to low budget film makers. Fitting well within that category, I decided it was good advice to follow.

Taking stock of the resources to hand, these included:

House in daylight.     House at night.
the house located deep in a quiet setting;
Terry Wiseman(2).     Terry Wiseman(4).
the owner, Terry Wiseman, an experienced Shakespearean actor;

another friend with a French wife, Rachel, to translate the script and provide dialogue coaching.

All that was needed was a story.

Having been a keen watcher of French films over the years and admiring the style set by them, I thrashed out several scenarios. They were all based on the theme of Revenge, as I had read some time ago that revenge is always a popular theme in films, since few people in real life actually achieve it.

Taking time to write and rewrite the script, I initially had the script as a single-hander with insights into the story provided by voice-over when the character thought of past events and present actions. Eventually I settled on a neighbour character to act as contrast, commentator and sounding board. Finding an actor to take the part didn't take long as I decided to play it. Since I was writing the script it was easy to give myself the least amount of lines and screen time!

After handing over the finished script to Rachel for translation, I realised I hadn't mentioned the rather nasty turn of events that ensue. Picking up the translated version I noticed she kept her children in another room and didn't offer the customary cup of tea. But she did happily provide us with coaching lessons for dialogue, including homework assignments for our next lesson.

Intending to provide as much contrast in the film as possible, some initial shots were taken of the Christmas illuminations in the village of Beauchene. This entailed a bladder-testing hour-long set-up at dusk as the temperature dropped, the sky darkened and the lights came on. This hour was compressed to a 20 second pre-credit sequence, but did set the mood for the start of the film.

The next set-up was a convivial Christmas lunch with a "faux" family introducing the grand daughters. This was a great deal warmer and more enjoyable.

With these shots "in the can" (or in present day language, in the little plastic case and then computer hard drive) we learnt lines and waited for Spring time. With the return of the warmer weather the cast and crew returned to the location. When I say cast and crew, as there were only two of us, it wasn't a huge logistical exercise - but several nervous checks of camera, tape, sound-recorder and media were carried out. In the middle of the French countryside it would be difficult to improvise.

Terry Wiseman(1).

At work.

Sleeping.

The deed.

The shoot was fairly much chronological and the first day was spent filming the opening sequence and establishing geography and characters. Terry patiently went through the setting-up of the wide shot, at times playing both characters to help framing and tripod positioning. He is also a master carpenter and produced, at short notice, a bespoke microphone and recorder stand to help record dialogue. The recorder was the workhorse Edirol RO9 and could be easily hidden behind fence posts, buckets, chairs, flowers, wheelbarrows and actors.

I had written the script so that I could be excused acting as soon as possible and get back behind the camera. This was fortunate because as we set up for the second day of shooting I picked up the microphone from a chair and felt the dreaded snap of an elastic band in my back as a disc slipped. The next hour was spent laying on the floor waiting for the pain to subside and re-thinking how to shoot the sequences.

After a quick lesson, albeit basic, Terry stepped in as cameraman and I played the garage inhabitant so that some progress could be made. Later in the day, after consuming all the pain killers I could find, we rejigged the schedule and I could film Terry going about his business and get the production back on track, conscious that we had return ferry tickets booked.

Filming progressed with much thinking "on the hoof" to maximise the use of set-ups at any location and minimise any movement on my part. With the judicious use of a hot water bottle strapped to me, an odd sight in 20c sunshine, some mobility came back and the unique increased speed of shooting that kicks in after 3 days set in.

Some concerns were expressed during the night shoot of dragging the body from garage to orchard. The first was Terry putting his back out dragging my 12 stone+ body along. Next was the possibility of the police happening by, just as a respected resident of the community dragged a moaning, half dead (no acting required) Englishman, with no trousers on, into a corner of his orchard. We thought it would either be ignored or result in an evening filling in all sorts of forms, but filming ended happily without incident, or further injury.

Confrontation.

Terry Wiseman(3).

Trouble.

Digging.

Sitting happily back home editing the film, all I could remember was the discomfort. Fortunately the planning, rewriting and general "stopping to think how to do this" gave me all the material I needed. The finished film was duly premiered to family and friends, luckily only me seeing the mistakes, which by now glared at me.

Terry returned to Beauchene and passed a copy of the DVD onto the Mayor of the community in thanks. He was so taken with the project, it was shown at his dinner for the Community Christmas Illuminations work party. What a room of 100 Frenchmen made of two Englishmen mangling their language and despoiling the countryside we have yet to hear.

In due course the film was entered in the SOCO regional competition and picked up awards and now into BIAFF 2012, again lucky to pick up a couple of awards. Considering it was effectively a two hander, reduced to a one hander when Terry had to step up his input, I can only be pleased and grateful in equal measure.

- Stephen Longhurst



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Page updated on 24 April 2012
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