The Making Of The Amazing Healing Machine
(Or What The Hell Did I let Myself In For?)
A personal account of the OVFM Coaching Evenings film project
Part One can be found HERE
Part Two – With A Little Help From My Friends
I didn’t sleep well on that Monday night as I found myself the sufferer of a very painful twinge in my neck, presumably from having to strain to look upwards for hours on end at the viewfinder on Barbara Darby Mk 1‘s camera, which was cranked to full height and Barbara herself was standing on a chair in order to operate it, putting her in the rare position of being taller than me for once! Suffice to say this lack of sleep coupled with my own inherent pessimism made me a rather fraught character heading into the second day of filming of our Coaching Evening film “The Amazing Healing Machine”.
Despite this there was a small flicker of optimism dancing around inside of me after we had managed to get quite a bit of filming down on that first night and I had hopes of us being able to pick up where we left off and hopefully not have this session drag on as late as the first did. However, I never could have imagined that a good 90 plus minutes of our afternoon would be lost due to a simple red light bulb.
For the uninitiated, part of the titular healing machine was a flashing red light bulb on the top which made for a great effect. But some members of the cast complained that the brightness and heat from the bulb was uncomfortable and distracting and therefore we needed to suppress the glare. A fairly straightforward problem to resolve, right? Wrong! Over the course of that 90 plus minutes we tried everything from plastic cups, to glasses to sit over the bulb, to wrapping it with toilet paper (!) to hiding behind other bits of equipment but elevated slightly so it could still be seen and none of these ideas worked. Some of the cast and crew were beginning to get impatient, so to say I was feeling the pressure much earlier into the session than I had envisioned is an understatement – though I guess that comes with the territory of being director and this was supposed to be a learning experience for all of us, including myself. But at least I didn’t hit anybody! Eventually thanks to Barbara Walker and my long suffering chauffeur and longer suffering father, a resolution was found and a glass tankard covered in black gaffer tape in the design of an old lantern (i.e a grid pattern) covered the bulb and dulled glare to the satisfaction of everyone. Phew!
So we finally started shooting a bit later than I had hoped and things were going well enough until we ran into another problem – the curtain we were using wasn’t high enough and would expose our fraudulent stage set up. Only then did we learn that the frame supporting the curtain (which is the club’s green screen support frame) could go higher so we had to stop filming in order to adjust the height. Like the day before, people jumped right into the tick of the action to handle this task which also meant some making some alterations from the previous set up which meant the job took longer than we had hoped. But with everyone co-operating the curtain was finally set to the new height and filming recommenced – until the kids club next door started making noises! If ever there was an argument for birth control….
Now, I don’t want to embarrass the poor fellow but after a fairly smooth run of shooting we hit another roadblock when Val Pinkerton, who was playing the man with a stutter, kept forgetting his line. It was important he delivered the line as written because it was the feed for Mike Shaw’s next line but Val couldn’t get the line right. To paraphrase Eric Morecombe, he was saying pretty much the right words but not necessarily in the right order! We tried everything: making Val repeat the line over and over, leading man Roarke Alexander made a musical mantra out of the line, and we even tried the threat of physical violence but Val would trip up at the last moment. Eventually Roger Wheatley wrote the line on a piece of paper and held up for Val to read from and eventually he did it! Yay Val! I only bring this up, not to humiliate or belittle Val as I know acting is not for everyone, and Val is to be commended for volunteering, but because it was another instance where we all rallied round to put Val at ease and to coach him into delivering the line correctly which he did and earned a deserved round of applause afterwards. Before you ask, no I didn’t get angry with Val. How could I? He was not a pro actor and despite what should have been a huge problem, this was one of the more amusing moments of the shoot!
And lo it was but a while afterwards that we took the final shot and I was able to utter those immortal words “And that’s a wrap!” to weary applause before most of the cast and crew got their coats and bolted for the door! I jest of course but now came the tidying up and again, the set became a hive of activity as bodies were everywhere stacking chairs, coiling cables, dismantling camera tripods, the lights, the curtains and the frame, gaffer tape was removed from the floors and walls (and glass tankard) and everything was returned to normal. When it was all said and down and we had said our collective goodbyes to the people we had been locked away with for hours on end for two days, I took a moment to reflect on how this now empty Garden Rooms in which I stood in had just moments earlier been a film set bristling with energy and activity, where a group of people had come together for a common cause and in the process not only gained an education in filmmaking but integrated with fellow club members they had hitherto never conversed with.
Until I see the captured footage I will remain apprehensive as to whether I successfully conveyed my requirements from the cast or not but from what little I can recall, they all seemed to understand and interpreted my ideas to the best of their abilities and I can honestly say that no-one let anybody down over the two days we spent together working on this film. I must confess to having some regrets in that I didn’t get the time or chance to learn more on the production side of things, i.e: setting up the cameras (white balancing, zebras, etc) and the lighting and sound, but others did benefit from this and I learned so much about directing a larger cast and crew, so we can safely say that the project has achieved its objective and I hope that this experience hasn’t put anyone off from wanting to make their own fictional film in the future.
So, I once again offer my sincerest gratitude to everyone who gave up their time for the sake of this project and for their hard work and support over those two frosty days of January 23rd and 24th. And here is the roll call of all who participated or contributed to the project:
Mike Shaw (Mr. Wiggins)
Basil Doody (Caretaker)
Val Pinkerton (“Man with Stutter”)
Richard Pugh (“Man with Twitch”)
Barbara Walker (“Woman with Limp”)
Roger Wheatley (“Dozing Man”)
Brenda Wheatley (“Dozing Man’s Wife”/Light bulb operator)
Ian Menage (Producer/”Coughing Man”/Behind The Scenes” Filming)
Barbara Darby (Cameras/Set Design/Props)
John Bunce (Cameras/Healing Machine)
Bob Wyeth (Cameras/Healing Machine)
John Ransley (Lights/Sound)
Sue Ward (Poster/Clapperboard/Notes and Continuity/Set Design)
Sylvia Snipp (Camera Assistant/Set Designer/Props)
John Epton (Technical Advisor)
Chris Coulson (Equipment/Technical Advisor)
Anna Littler (Costumes)
Freddie Beard (Catering)
Simon “Snapper” Earwicker (Photographs)
Roarke Alexander (Dr. Jape)
Fiona Ward (“Pregnant Lady”)
Tony Relph (Chauffeur/Notes and Continuity/General duties)
Liz Carter (St. Augustine’s Rooms Booking Officer)
In closing I would just like to make one final but what I feel is a crucial point about this project. All too often this has been referred to as “Lee’s film” or “Lee and Ian’s film”. This is incorrect. It is an OVFM film and thus is the film of everyone who contributed. Ian and myself may have been the major driving forces behind it but ultimately this is a group project and I don’t anyone to forget this fact, so everyone feel free to say “This is a film I made” with confidence and conviction.
Once again a huge thanks to everyone involved and I’m now off a very long lie down….
Photos courtesy of Simon “Snapper” Earwicker