Sunday, 2 October 2011

Sophie On: The Search for Myles' Typewriter

Hello everyone,

   A couple of quick shout-outs - firstly to Tom and Chrissa, the father and mother of Light Films Ltd (My Director and Producer on Shelf Stackers and Wasteland) who finally brought their baby girl into the world last week. The second shout out is to the wonderful Miss Stephanie Murphy, who I met on the set of Jar of Angels, and is now not only my official Clapper Loader but also now in charge of my PR! (Therefore, look out for a shiny new website soon).

   Apart from one pick-up day at the end of October, Jar of Angels has now wrapped, which concludes one of the most challenging but equally wonderful projects of my life so far (next step for me will be the marketing of the edited film). So, to help promote its post-production, as promised, here is my first blog about my work towards the film.

   As I've said before, there is always at least one prop/set dressing piece which proves difficult to find. On Jar of Angels, as I was not only the Production Designer but also the co-Writer of the script, I set myself a lot of challenges, but there was one prop which I wrote into the script which I thought would be easy to find: Detective Myles' typewriter.

  One of mine and Crash's Taylor's biggest filmic influences for the script was the wonderful film Se7en, and I took a lot of inspiration from it for my set dressing. One bit which really stood out to me was the classical nature of everything surrounding Morgan Freeman's character, Somerset. The film was set in the mid 1990s and it portrayed a world on the cusp of technology but, whilst Brad Pitt's Mills talked of new policing methods and did his research on a computer - like the other detectives - Somerset was very set in his ways and chose to research in a library... and type up his work on a typewriter.

(Mills and Somerset in Somerset's office: note the typewriter on the lefthand side. Se7en, 1995. dir: David Fincher.)


   When I wrote towards the screenplay for Jar of Angels, my goal was to have it reminiscent of a bygone time without being specific (although we made a note of 1996 at the top of the script to satisfy the script doctors), so I made sure that nothing looked too modern. In fact, a lot of the sets and costumes in the detective scenes were suggestive of 1940s film noir detective movies (one scene even had wooden blinds) but the lead antagonist, Wilson, wore a costume that was comparable to that of a 1980s Bother Boy! Therefore, I knew we would get away with having the lead detective - Myles - using a typewriter in one of the film's pivotal scenes.


   I didn't for one moment think that it would be difficult to get a typewriter. At the time of writing one into the script, I knew that my close friend, Josh Peacock, had one in his possession, and I intended on borrowing it:




    Shortly after the script was locked, I discovered that Josh no longer had his typewriter (note to self - always ask people for things well in advance!). By then, the typewriter was pivotal to the scene and so - after finalising my budget and figuring out how much I could realistically spend - I set about searching for another typewriter.


    Although obviously it varies from place to place - and whether or not you are the first bidder on an online auction with a low starting place - the majority of typewriters I found were £30 or over. I always pride myself on spending as little as possible on props and I certainly couldn't afford to spend that much on something which I had originally intended to borrow for free. Although I was tempted by this one in Magpie, Matlock (coincidentally the location for Neil Oseman's next film):




   During this time I was still asking around - by word of mouth and through all the social networking sites - to see if anyone had one that I could borrow. I even put a bulletin in the local Methodist Church in case anyone there had one! I later learnt that Rik Winter (the talented Cinematographer and Editor of Jar of Angels) had one in his possession - although it was a little bit too old and too small - which shows you that you should always ask EVERYONE in your crew before you try and buy props!

   It was less than two weeks before the shoot, and I had put the typewriter at the back of my mind, when I accidentally found one (or rather, two). I had other props/set dressing to worry about and I was also searching for a raggedy arm chair (for free) to put in Wilson's house, for which I travelled to Milford: an elderly lady was moving out of her home and had many years worth of furniture that the family was trying to sell/dispose of, and they said that I could have one of the arm chairs from her living room (which solved that problem, anyway!)

  While I was there, I was also allowed to look around upstairs to see if there was anything else I could use on set that they didn't need. I was picking through old boxes, moving aside some old leaves, and I lifted up a plastic case on the windowsill, then........ TA DA!!!!!!!!



    I couldn't believe my luck! Then, as if by magic, whilst I was rifling through all the old boxes in the bathroom, I stumbled upon a second one (sorry about the blur):


   Although my preference will always be towards things looking as old as possible, it was more realistic for Myles to use the more 'modern' typewriter (plus the family weren't so keen for me to borrow the older one), so I took the first one home with me. I spent most of a day cleaning it, re-threading the ribbon, and playing with its settings (with a little help from the older generation in my family) and eventually I got it working. Sort of. There is definitely a reason we stopped using typewriters (the delete function on a computer is one example) and it was always going to be a bit temperimental. To avoid any risk of it cutting into our shoot time, I pre-typed a letter for Myles to add to on set.

   And so that is the story of how I found Myles' typewriter! Here are photos of it on set, taken by the film's  amazing stills photographer Martin Dance, and starring Toby Bradford as Detective Myles:



(Photos are the property of Martin Dance and Jar of Angels dir: Crash Taylor 2011. Note the green lamp on the desk - another of my homages to the design of Se7en).


  More than words can express, I am looking forward to seeing the final edited version of Jar of Angels. Make sure you all keep an eye out for the typewriter scene - it's a good one! 

  I'll give you more stories from the set soon,



   Sophie

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