Last year he made a move into directing with Pulp – a fun crime caper which revolves around a comic book convention and the assortment of quirky characters who inhabit that world. Below he shares his inspirations and struggles in trying to craft a feature-length film with a minuscule budget but a wealth of dedication.
Truth is Stranger Than Fiction
I was talking to my co-director, Shaun and producer Phil, for months about making a film set in the world of videogames and I visited Los Angeles in July of 2010 and had a week there at the studios taking about various projects I was developing. I also spent a week after that at San Diego for the Comic Con, and when I got there with two colleagues we encountered some strange experiences. We rented a house and had a warm welcome from a number of eccentric and unconventional characters. We also found ourselves in a (comic) booth opposite a publisher who had lost $1.4m dollars producing his own comic.
I’ve been going to conventions for years and these incidents were the icing on the cake and got me thinking how fun it would be to do a film set at a comic book convention. Witnessing the guy who had lost all that money, I thought it would be fun to focus on a struggling publisher who is heavily in debt following his dreams and the idea that he would be co-opted by the police to unearth another comic company who are laundering money for criminals.
I’ve always been fascinated by the idea that comic companies would be a good front for that kind of activity and it turns out, after we finished the film, we found that there was a British comic company who was alleged to have laundered money back in the 1980’s.
I emailed my producers and suggested that rather than going out to find money for the videogame film (which had a much bigger budget) we should instead attempt to make this film in a guerrilla-style and see what happens with it. It could act as a showcase for our abilities (or otherwise) in producing a feature-length film. I got in touch with a friend of mine who organises the British International Comics Show and asked if we could get permission to film there, and he gave us a thumbs-up.
I returned to the UK, met with Phil and Shaun in a pub and we decided then and there, it would be a good idea to make the film. We had two and half months to do everything – script, casting, crew, art director, and it all needed completed in time to shoot during the convention. The pre-production process, which in normal circumstances happens quite sensibly in some kind of sequence, had to be all done in parallel with each other, and nothing could fail otherwise the whole production would collapse. Needless to say, it was a very challenging and arduous process!
We went through thousands of acting showreels as we didn’t have any money to hire a casting director at the time, so we had to do it all ourselves. We were very active in seeking out new talent and we were very conscious that we wanted to do something which felt fresh and different, and this offered us the opportunity to give someone new a shot. We didn’t have any agents or financiers advising us on whom to cast because of their bankability in certain territories.
An Unconventional Convention Shoot
We shot at The Think Tank in Birmingham. I’d visited it a number of times in the past and always thought it would be a great location for a film as it has so many colourful and stylish environments.
We took up half an aisle and created a fake set which we built at the convention and reconstructed parts of it at a later date. We got permission from some of the comic distributors there to film themselves and their work. Naturally, we ran into crowd management issues as we were shooting around aisles in which a large amount of visitors were present. There was one shot I’m particularly proud of but we had to really work at our skills in diplomacy to achieve it. It’s very hard when you’re in a live environment, as when people see a camera, they’ll usually gaze into it. It’s difficult to make those who aren’t being paid as an extra to appear natural and unaware of the camera and go along with all. However, on the whole, we were very fortunate and the majority of visitors were pretty co-operative.
It was all hands on deck for the production. I was involved in designing and building sets, in fact the only department I didn’t get involved in was make-up. The biggest challenge was just keeping it together. We had an idea in theory of what to do but we ran into both practical issues, like was how much access we had in the convention, and even emotional ones. One of our lead actors suffered a serious family emergency the week before shooting was scheduled and it was touch and go whether he could do the film or not, which in all honesty, would have killed the whole production.
The large part of filmmaking is problem-solving and dealing with all the issues which arise on each day. That starts from the moment you enter pre-production and doesn’t end until you’re out there in the big wide world following the post-production. The trick I found was to be over-prepared on the things you can plan for and hopefully you’ll have the scope and the capacity to deal with the unforeseen problems.
More information on the Pulp, visit the website.