EYES ON THE PRIZE

I met a director a few years ago, who worked mostly in television. She'd worked on one of the big shows for the BBC, which starred an actress who'd got an impressive pedigree. The character she depicted had all kinds of stuff going on, as protagonists should, and much of it came to the boil in one episode where realisations would be made, catharsis experienced, and so forth. 

The director wanted to portray the impact of all this with a shot in which the actress would be seen at a distance, the details of the setting providing all kinds of information about her emotional state and the point she'd reached on her journey. It sounded like it would have been a beautiful scene. Only, the actress wanted nothing to do with it. In her eyes, this was her chance to emote like a performer has never emoted before, and she wanted the camera to catch that in all its glorious detail.

In the end, the director got a stand-in to be silhouetted in the space where the actress made it very clear she wouldn't stand. It looked great, but the show never really took off. And the attitude taken by the actress helps explain that.

Filmmaking is a team sport. And that's been proven to me once again by the news I woke up to earlier. I scripted a short film, White Lily. And ran a Kickstarter to fund it, and brought on board the director, producer, actors, and sound design team. Note the recurrence of that word 'team'. It'll come up again, I'm sure.

When we started the rehearsals, actors David McCaffrey and Siddhii Lagrutta slipped into the script with ease. After a couple of run-throughs, Siddhii suggested that they swap roles, so she would play Dave's part, and he hers. They ran it again, and there was a distinct and palpable difference to the performances that improved what director Tristan Ofield and I could see and hear from them. That's the way we settled on doing it for the film, because it's the end result that people are affected by and remember, not the ticklist of who suggested what, when, and how they demanded credit for it.

There were other instances like that along the way with White Lily. Dialogue was changed to fit actualities of the physical set. Sentences were snipped out in the edit. A new line was found to finesse the ending. Comparable evolutions happened within the music, visual effects, and other aspects of the film. The result? This morning I woke to find out we'd pretty much swept the boards at the Focus International Film Festival. White Lily won Best Film, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Visual Effects, and Best Sound Design.

Filmmaking is a team sport. It can't be played with people who insist on things being a certain way. I met a guy who'd been involved with a well-loved Christmas feature from years ago. He wanted to work with a writer to develop a new project, but wouldn't let me know even what it was about. I don't think it was coincidental that he didn't seem to have done any film work since the festive favourite a decade or more before. 

I developed a feature project that a director loved. As we talked, his input shaped the story. Of course it would - if you want a director to engage with a script, steer it in a direction that works well for the project as a whole. He didn't want or expect a writing credit for this - it was part of the natural process of developing a film. The producer working with us didn't see things that way, wanting a writing credit for two ideas - one genuinely useful, but by no means comparable to the director's considered and ongoing input. That kind of desire for control is more about power than creativity, which became fully apparent when the producer blew up at me - perhaps due to anxiety about working with a director who'd already made one feature, hence putting him a notch above in terms of status and power. Great way to fizzle out a promising project, and dissolve what had been a good working relationship until that point.

There is no better drug than watching a film you've initiated and helped bring to life on a big screen. That's what happened when I got to see White Lily recently at Mayhem Festival at Broadway Cinema. I was sitting next to the man known universally as Boz, who was undisputed man of the match during filming as he made himself invaluable to the activity unfolding in a cold warehouse on an ageing industrial estate that had been transformed into the interior of a spaceship. Making White Lily was and will remain one of the highlights of my life. I look forward to working and playing with some of the same collaborators in the future, and continue to meet talented and generous people who want to share their creativity and expertise in pursuit of further adventures. Maybe we'll even pick up some more awards along the way.