After working together on RIP and Justice Room Colin Bradley (musician and sound recordist) and I entered a very short film into the Celluloid Screams Festival Competition 2017 in Sheffield. The competition rules were: less than 1 min long and on the theme of ‘Inside’. The product was OVERLOAD. We were chosen to support the first feature film in the festival (The Endless – highly recommended and currently available on Netflix) which we were really chuffed about:
So, excited on the back of that ‘win’, early in 2018 Colin and I conceived an idea for a longer short which extended the story idea to explore the background to the character and why he ended up in the state he did in the first film. I wrote the script in March 2018 and we added our lead actor Simon Alexander Mark‘s poetry from his alter-ego A General Discipline to it soon after.
The longer film has just been finished (late February 2020) and was an odd experience to put together. Skip to the end if you don’t want to read about the process and pitfalls.
For a start, I (Phil, director/editor/producer), lost confidence in the whole idea of it (if I’m honest). I could see all the mistakes I’d made directorially in the edit – which I’m sure is the same for all filmmakers who wear both editor and director hats (which I wouldn’t recommend now). My heart would sink a little each time I opened the project in Final Cut.
So it was put on the backburner while I worked, did various other projects and messed around with it, seemingly endlessly. I even got a sound designer onboard in 2019 to try and breathe some life back into it (which he did, to an extent).
Ok, so, here are some takeaways from the process:
- don’t try and do everything yourself. Please. Your Svengali-like control-freakism may seem like a good idea but it isn’t. Even a relatively simple 13 minute film of is a lot of work for one person to organise, direct, shoot and edit. And then there’s the distribution…
- work out how you’re going to do things beforehand. Then adjust and address your expectations/limitations at this point, not when you’re on set. Obviously there’ll be some adjustment on set but it’s not the place to ‘work things out’. Do this on paper or on the computer. Don’t keep everyone hanging around.
- write lines for your actors even if you think you might not use them. We had the idea that the Headmaster in this film would just ‘wah-wah-wah’ like a Charlie Brown adult so I didn’t write any words. I had to change my mind on set because he had to be saying something to make the scene work visually. Thank god our Headmaster Omar had little trouble improvising ‘angry’!
- rehearse your actors. This is a note to self. We spent so long dressing the set for the single day we had at Meersbrook Hall that the actors were pushed to the sidelines to some degree. Separately, Zowie and Chris were unbelievable troopers on a very cold November day with next to no rehearsal and Helen was the consummate pro with very few words of direction. And finally a shout out to Simon who picked up what I wanted very quickly. I was lucky that it all worked.
- get a decent sound person. Colin was a joy to work with; always prepared, flexible and top quality results. The old filmmaking adage is: you can get away with shonky visuals but if the sound is bad, people won’t engage.
- be organised (see 1.). I so wanted some of the scenes and locations to have a lot of people in them to compound main character Ben’s confusion and overload at each point but I just didn’t organise myself well enough and we had to get Simon/Ben’s scenes done before he disappeared off to Japan for a year (hello, green screen!). 15 days to shoot tall of that in-between working for a living, life and organising locations wasn’t ideal.
Anyway, all that said, it’s now finished! In the end I just took the view that it needed finishing – all my consternation, wavering and prevarication had to be put aside. Some of it I’m very proud of: I like the way the (written and improvised!) dialogue translates well to the screen and some of the visual ideas really pop. The green screen works surprisingly well. It isn’t really the film I envisaged and diverges from the script a fair bit but I’m not sure that matters; it’s (was always going to be) a film that was made in the edit and I did love the process of piecing together a disparate jigsaw to make a whole at first. It was just hard to keep the momentum going flying solo.
Collaborating inevitably creates momentum. Working on your own not so much (for me at least). That’s not to say that a lot of it wasn’t fun – we had an extraordinarily beautiful summers’s day shoot in 2018 (baby POV scene) and there was a lot of daftness and laughs along the way. It was also a hugely beneficial learning process, I just bit off more than I could chew on my own.
So this is the film. I’m not sure I would say ‘enjoy it’ exactly – it is rather unsettling – but here [sound of trumpet fanfare] is the full version of OVERLOAD: