This summer I wrote and directed my first feature film, A Bad Penny, which is still in post-production. I’m really happy with how it’s all shaping up – but as to be expected there are a few things I would change if I could go back and do it again.
- Learn to control the weather
Perhaps slightly unfeasible, but this would have made a huge difference! We predominantly shot on location in Cornwall, and I made the rookie error of writing a lot of scenes outside. This had a couple of consequences, most notably that some of my shoes will never be dry again (RIP my trainers – 2016-2017 – survived by my hiking boots and flipflops). Our first day of shooting also coincided with the beginning of a horrendous heatwave, resulting in a lobster-faced crew.
If I could go back in time, I would slap myself the first time that I pondered aloud setting a film in a car park (which didn’t even have a toilet).
- Delete half the script
When I first decided to shoot a feature, I was inspired by Jamie Adams, who I met at a screening of his film Black Mountain Poets. The whole film was entirely improvised with no dialogue written. I then proceeded to immediately disregard all of Jamie’s advice and wrote a 60-page script.
I soon realised that the best moments we made came in the improvised scenes that I had no hand in writing. It was an important lesson for me that collaborating on a project like this one needed me to let my actors do what they did best and to be less uptight about what was in the script. One of my favourite scenes in the film was 99% improvised by our lead actor Kat (Penny) and Craig Russell (Craig)- this scene ended up being so good that we’ve started submitting it to festivals as a short in its own right.
- Concede that I am not a deity, nor physically capable of surviving on 2 hours sleep
I got so hung up on the logistics – like where lunch was going to come from that day, or where we could get a prop cake iced with the words ‘SORRY I CALLED YOUR MUM A KNOB’ – that it took away from time and energy I should have been putting into directing. I had an amazing crew behind me who were all so supportive of the project, but I took on more than was physically possible at times when there were people who would have been more than willing to step in. This was a hard lesson learned in not being a tyrannical dictator.
By the end of the shoot, I was so exhausted I could just about dress myself and drag my corpse to set, and I had to rely on people like my trusty 1st AD Lukas (who I put through hell) to carry me around on his back like a human rucksack.
- Set Kickstarter rewards delivery dates for 10 years in the future
When we were setting up the campaign for our Kickstarter, through which we raised £3,745 thanks to the support of our backers, I remember distinctly thinking “shoot it in summer, rewards out by autumn, this is totally feasible”. This was not totally feasible. It was the opposite of feasible.
Making the film became all-encompassing, all our waking hours were spent planning, writing, and shooting, with occasional 10-minute breaks for hurriedly eating cheese puffs and Jammy Dodgers between takes. We needed far more time to put together the rewards than anticipated, which caused a huge amount of stress for myself and Mike. At the time of writing, we are still putting together rewards for the backers, and I wish we had been more realistic in our delivery deadlines. My sincere apologies to any backers reading this now!
- Eat a vegetable
As mentioned, my diet throughout shooting revolved primarily around children’s party foods. I think if I had eaten maybe one or two carrots, my ability to function as a human may have increased threefold.
Having said all that, if we hadn’t made the decisions we made then we wouldn’t have ended up with the film we have now. I am endlessly grateful to everyone who generously gave their time, energy, and money to A Bad Penny, especially all the cast and crew, and I hope that they all like the finished product as much as I do when it’s all done.