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|A lot of groundwork went into making "The Shoot", a comedy
that started life as an entry in a competition where movie clubs had to make
a movie on a specified theme. The film has gone on to be successful
in movie festivals round the world. Terry Mendoza tells all.
Birth of an Idea
With the deadline for the North Thames IAC first round interclub Triangle competition only six weeks away we still had no set theme category entry. I was was soaking in the bath when inspiration struck. Staring at the little yellow duck bobbing about it occurred to me that "Ready When You Are" must be an actor talking to a director.
Unbidden, an image from our last film floated into my head. We had been shooting a Willing Partners sequence in the High Street. Now the pedestrian precinct is well-supplied with seating but one actor, I'll just call him Dave, had carried his own folding chair (replete with his name on the back) much to the ribbing of the others which he proceeded to use between takes. David has a great sense of humour and we always have great fun when he is around, even if shooting takes a little longer as a result!
Then it clicked - our 'actor' could be keen, but unintentionally disruptive; this would introduce conflict to the story. To make it more amusing, the actor would be a star in the making, but only his own mind - in reality he would be portrayed as a small, somewhat wooden, bit-player. There was little time, so it had to be easy to shoot, preferably in one day on a single set. By setting it in the silent era eliminated dialogue recording problems and by using black and white eliminated white-balance problems . In addition to the actor and director, there had to be some action for him to disrupt, so the minimum cast was set at four - two actors, their director and Dave.
But how should he be disruptive? Well, he could blunder into the middle of a take to start with. Then the big brainwave - the actor could interact with the film medium itself. Once I had the first gag along these lines, other ideas just flowed,one after another. The story was too good to forget, so I bashed away on the word processor and four hours later the treatment/script emerged. Then I slept on it - things have a habit of looking good when fresh, yet humourless a few hours later . I found myself smiling at the mental pictures conjoured up as I reread the script the next day - yes, it would have to be made.
The incidental actor would be a key role, yet every time I tried to picture what he might look like the image of David replete with folding chair floated up. I rang him up and described the video. His first reaction was "You're sending me up" (only it was not put quite so politely!), but, yes, he would be happy to take part. Rick Fiore and his girlfriend Vanessa Osborn also agreed to take on the roles of the other two actors, and no sooner had I sketched out the outline to Roger Diss than he was describing the clothing he should wear as a tyrannical 1920's director. Rick then casually mentioned that he was leaving for America after that weekend.That really put the pressure on - we had to get it all shot within the week!
I had a clear idea of Dave's role, but only the sketchiest thoughts on what the film that he was interrupting was supposed to be about.
A midweek meeting of cast and crew proved very productive, as Rick suggested how the other character parts could be fleshed out - he would play a soldier back from the war, eager to get back to his true love - totally unaware that she was seeing someone else - Dave.The film was as good as made, barring three slight problems - we had no props, location or costumes.
I scouted round the area and found a big empty showroom in Leigh. However my request for help it was turned down flat - the premises was owned by a church and they disapproved of such an activity on a Sunday. Every enquiry for alternative premises met a brick wall until I recalled that my son's school had recently moved to new premises. I contacted his teacher, whose family own the buildings, and he was delighted to assist. I went and did a recce of their dining hall, which threw up another problem - too modern. We needed scenery - and fast. It was supposed to be a film set, so the scenery did not need to be realistic. Roger contacted a local drama group, and they said we could borrow their scenic flats, as long as we had transport. Thing were looking better. Most of the cast had some suitable costume items - for example Rick had an authentic trenchcoat. Unfortunately it was two sizes too small - without complaint he endured a very uncomfortable day hunched up like Quasimodo!
We ended up hiring the 1920s flapper costume, and Dave's blazer and boater - by this time the project had developed such a momentum that it seemed silly to spoil it for the want of the correct costumes. Martin Paterson turned to and gathered the props. All was going to plan.
Don't make a scene!
John Eaton, who had agreed to do the photography, volunteered to pick up the scenery in his car. Then I got a phone call from him at work - the flats were huge - far too big for his car. Thinking fast I remembered an acquaintance who had a large van. He agreed straight away, and I left it with John to coordinate transportation. An hour later John was back on the phone and I could sense the panic down the line. My van contact had been called away urgently, and had let us down. There was nothing for it but to hire a van, so this is what we did.
And so it was that shortly after 7am on a crisp clear January morning two vanloads of furniture, props and equipment were unloaded into a school dining hall in Westcliff. The hall which was bitterly cold, but Elaine Brackstone appeared cheerily smiling with her 'meals on wheels service', vital to keep us warm ...and so shooting commenced. That evening the excercise had to be repeated in reverse, returning our film set back to a school hall. As to what happened in the intervening 14 hours - that will have to wait to another time!
* This piece first appeared in October 1995 edition of Rough Edit - Westcliff's club magazine.
Experience is something you don't get until just after you need it.