Making Memories: On set with ‘Memory Man’
By LondonSWF delegate Danielle Wager
Last week I spent some time doing something that was just a bit out of the ordinary for me. Standing on a film set watching actors saying my lines in front of a camera for the very first time. A short script of mine ‘Memory Man’ coming to life in front of me.
What started out originally as a short story written for Create 50, had expanded over time into a script which was then chosen for Jim Uhls’s LSF script lab a couple of years ago. After a live performance of which a couple of directors came up to me and expressed a possible interest in making the thing. Before promptly disappearing and completely losing interest.
“That’s that then” I thought to myself with a sigh.
Last year at London Screenwriters Festival, I met up with, Chris Armstrong, Director Extraordinaire who just so happened, to be looking for a good short script to sink his teeth into. Something he could elevate with high production values and his excellent direction.
We bonded over our shared love of sci-fi and dark twisty crime stories, so much so that this project seemed pretty much tailormade for him and when he read the script he loved it immediately.
Things moved on pretty quickly after that, and I was actually surprised how quickly and easily everything seemed to come together, which just goes to show what can happen when you work with good people.
As a writer, you tend to spend a lot of time, on your own, in a room, trying to create your world, and make it come to life in front of you, yourself. Obsessively editing, rewriting and tinkering with it. Ultimately, second guessing yourself in a bid to make your script just perfect in a bid to get somebody, anybody, else onboard.
However, what you don’t realise, (or at least I didn’t) is the additional layers of meaning, emotion and inner life that everyone else involved will bring to your script characters after that. Your last full stop, no matter how well-placed, not being the end of the story, but rather the beginning of a whole new one.
The process starting up all over again. This time in a different, more fun, and collaborative way, with lots of other people involved. Like having a whole new group of friends, experts in their respective fields, suddenly appear from out of nowhere to give you help and expert advice on how to bring your story to life. Things that you would never even have thought of on your own which actually do make it so much better.
From the script development notes, that clarify what you can and can’t afford to take out, and what can be done better in a different way, to the props, make-up, wardrobe and set design which help create your world for you and bring it all to life.
We were also incredibly lucky in our choice of actors. Our leading man Joplin Sibtain, fresh from filming ‘Hard Sun’ for the BBC blowing us way with his performance, and taking on the role for free just because he loved the script that much.
Nicholas Anscombe, currently also appearing on the BBC, in Requiem, as his antagonist, was also a revelation, as was our female lead, Sarah Whitehouse who is definitely one to watch in future.
(Her emotional acting so real in the more harrowing scenes that, I kept wanting to go up to her in between takes and give her a hug. Even though, in reality she was fine. Mental note to self: It’s acting Danielle, It’s not real!)
However, I also learned so much more from my time on set than that. So much so, that I would heartily recommend to other writers getting some onset experience on other people’s projects. Both as a way both to make new connections in the industry, and also to learn more about the actual filming process itself. From the practical stuff like who does what on set, to the technical (e.g. the different equipment, and what different shots and camera angles to use when etc.)
Even down to things I’d never even considered before like how and when you strike a set. Or props, make-up, and special effects. (E.g. Apparently glycerine is what you use to make both a flop sweat and teardrops onset, and ‘prop dust’ is a real thing’ that people have to actually go out and make.)
However, more importantly what I have learned is how much I am looking forward to seeing the film, once it is edited and completed, the soundtrack and special effects added in post. (Yet more people contributing towards the amazing finished project.)
And, how much I am looking forward to getting back on set again later in the year for the next one…