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The making of Purity

To BIAFF 2013 results | To Full Making Of Index | watch Purity

At BIAFF 2013 Rochdale Movie Makers won  5-Stars and a Carlin Production Music Award for Purity
directed by their wunderkind, Tommy O'Connor.

Still from 'Purity'. In the middle of July it was a glorious sunny day, which is rare for Rochdale. What a wonderful day to write a film, I thought - so I did. However what I wrote did not match the mood of the day. It turned out to be the most challenging, yet the favourite film I’ve ever made.

For those who have not seen, Purity (the film I wrote that sunny afternoon) it is a thriller following lead character, Mark Donohue, as he hunts down a teenage girl to whom he feels connected. Nothing will stop him getting what he wants.


The writing side of the film for me was very easy. Once I’m really into what I’m writing, I can fire out a script pretty quickly and then make small adjustments as I go - even on the day of filming! I often get asked, “Why would you write something like this?” The answer is quite simple - because I just did.

Some people may have a subject matter in mind pre-writing - however I simply pick up a pen (yes, a pen and not a keyboard) and let my head do the rest. Sometimes I will write an upbeat comedy, a dark psychological horror or a kids’ fairy-tale. I frequently find myself writing about offbeat characters as I find them most interesting. I will often be influenced by what music I have on whilst writing - as a massive Post-Rock music lover I can sit imagining all sorts to a song and then it is often written down as a short story.


So the story came out, I presented it to my club at a meeting and then I planned the shoot to go ahead. This is where I know a lot of the clubs struggle. I go round many clubs who mention how difficult it is to organise a shoot. Hopefully this approach may help.

The first Job was to organise shoot dates. We started with the easier locations that were outside and where access was simple. However as I had written the script to be bleak, dull and cold, we were shooting in the middle of November - always a good idea Tommy!  So we started with various scenes set outside. I tried to run the film scenes almost in order, to help the cast develop their roles as they went along.
Still from 'Purity'.
Still from 'Purity'.
Still from 'Purity'.

Casting and Working with Actors

I have worked with a lot of actors/actresses so I naturally had an idea of who I wanted within the cast. There were, however, a couple of additions I made to the cast, who I hadn't worked with before. I find actors through general contacts, but there are websites all over for actors, where you can advertise your character needs. The first thing I always do with my actors is explain how I want everything underplayed. I see so many local clubs with actors who seem to think they are in a Shakespeare Re-enactment, which infuriates me. Natural acting is the way to create real characters. Another method of mine is that I send the scripts very late to the actors, so they don't learn lines “off by heart.” When they do this the acting becomes mechanical - you can almost see as they recall lines as opposed to being the character.

Another method I have is Line Improv - this means I take the actors in the scene and talk them through the main points. The start line, end line and sometimes a line or two I definitely want within the scene … but then I let my actors come up with the dialogue themselves. This way you get a more natural flow of conversation as each actor is listening to the other as opposed to thinking what their next line is.

Sometimes I may have to re-organise after a dry run/first take – but this is the best way for me without a doubt. This is something I did in one of the final scenes where Mark is in front of Emily in a house alone. I simply said to the two actors to do as they wished and I stepped back and watched. The room containing around 8 different members of cast and crew fell silent as the dry run alone gave the horrible goosebumps we were aiming for. After the dry run I stepped in and made some alterations as to where they should be positioned, how to use his arms to block in Emily and little tweaks - this still remains one of the favourite scenes I’ve shot ever!
Still from 'Purity'.
Still from 'Purity'.
Still from 'Purity'.


Within the production, shooting schedule was pretty fast. I try to shoot projects quickly to keep the momentum up, so the script doesn't fall flat. We shot around three quarters of the script in only a couple of Saturdays - however our luck was to run out as we arranged to shoot the farm section four different times and each time the weather was absolutely awful! We had snow, sleet and hailstones it was almost as though we wouldn't do that scene. However on a very cold, drizzly December the 23rd we managed to shoot from 10am until 10pm completing all the farm scenes.

We generally worked with a small crew, three maybe four at times. However on the farm day we had around eight members of the crew along to help with production and they were all needed!!


The equipment we used for Purity has since been upgraded all round, however I used a Canon 550d and 60d for the camera side of things. As everyone knows they are DSLR cameras that shoot beautiful footage. I have my own original rig set up for my camera with shoulder rigs, tripods, matte boxes, focus puller and various lenses.  I have since upgraded however to 5D Mkiii whilst also having a Sony A99.

We used different types of lighting for indoor scenes from softboxes to redheads to small LED panels and so forth.

Our dedicated sound man for the film, John Bracewell, used different sound recorders for the shoot however was mainly using a Sennheiser mic for the sound.


As the film went into the edit I already knew what I wanted per scene, so whilst using Final Cut Pro as my editing suite I very quickly assembled the film. I didn't do anything fancy with the edit, I simply cut it gently and concentrated on the timings of scenes, not cutting too fast or to too many different angles etc. I wanted a very slow pace to the film to create more tension as it goes.

I colour-graded the film in Final Cut and Apple Color and added in occasional moments of sharpening within the scenes where needed.

I then sent the film to a good student friend of mine who did the score and main musical structure of the film. I knew what songs I wanted in places and he worked to create that in a way I am over the moon with! If you listen closely to a section of the film where Mark is singing Al Jolson’s old tune “I’m sitting on top of the world” - we used the original track and re-mapped it to fit exactly the timing as Mark sings it slowly. I also made different aspects of the music such as the cello section around 4 minutes in.

The editing stage did take a good couple of months to complete as there were so many sound issues, we had to spend a lot of time sorting these out.


Still from 'Purity'.The film has now been shown at many different festivals, short film nights and when we visited clubs around the country. The reception is always mixed.

I have had very positive reactions from people who watch it and tell me they were engrossed in the film, that it made them feel uneasy and that the production and acting was top standard.

I have also however been told I need therapy for writing it (!) that people couldn't watch it cause of its subject or that they felt ill after it.

I love all reactions to my films as any of the listed good or bad mean that the film had an impact. A lot of small clubs make the regular middle of the road, soft comedy almost Last-Of-The-Summer-Wine-like films however I challenge myself to make something different that will have an impact and stay in people’s brains after the film has finished.

Someone once said to me “I don't know why you make depressing films. Nobody likes depressing films.” This comment made me laugh as I then asked him to name the three biggest films he could think of. He said: Titanic, The Shawshank Redemption and Schindler’s List' - incredibly I think he gave my side of the argument for me!

The Future of Film Clubs

Still from 'Purity'. However I do still see a lot of near-animosity in some clubs towards a challenging serious film. I was at a festival late last year and my film was followed by two others with serious subjects. Some members of the audience actually started moaning out loud as it began as it was set in a graveyard. It wasn't all the audience, but a fair few, which I felt was incredibly rude to that film maker. People were moaning about his film because “it wasn't a funny one.”

I do think some people need to remember that a lot of time, effort and pride has gone into every single film shown at these festivals and there needs to be more respect for film makers within the clubs making films of a different nature.

However what I do like, is that now more and more clubs seem to be raising their game and producing films of higher level, with more interesting themes and really showing progression in what they are making.

What's Next for me and Rochdale Movie Makers?

The next challenge some of us are undertaking is a feature film - which I aim to get shown in some cinemas. I have been writing the film for around a year now. The script is completed and is now in pre-production and funding stage. The film is called  Candyfloss and is an offbeat comedy with some romance thrown in too.

We are aiming to shoot it through the summer from July. It is the most exciting project I have been involved with and I can’t wait to start it! We are also doing a crowd-funding type of thing, so anyone can get involved, donate a fiver and get their name in the credits. That fiver goes towards the film’s production and getting it into cinemas.

We have a Facebook page for it: www.facebook.com/candyflossRMM and a website is soon to follow! Go on get involved guys!

Outside of Rochdale Movie Makers

Outside of RMM I actually run my own small production company. We make music videos, commercials, live sessions, virals etc etc.

The main bulk of our work is Music videos however and live sessions. This is another fantastic outlet for me to release my creative mind, which once our club chairman Geoff Alexander, described as “his head is like a volcano just bursting with ideas.”

Doing this side of things has helped me film wise dramatically!

Alongside the production company I also teach kids forms of film making and acting at various youth clubs, schools and colleges.


If anyone would like to contact me about anything related to Purity, the feature film, Rochdale movie Makers - or just have a good natter you can email me at toconnor@rochdalemoviemakers.co.uk

The relationship between Tommy (aged 25) and the other members of Rochdale Movie Makers (rather older) works remarkably well. Both parties say they enjoy the connection. Tommy accepts that the club wants to restrain his film experimentation a bit and the club welcome his idea, enthusiasm and energy.

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Page updated on 29 April 2013
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