Looking Back at Ashes

Hey Guys,

Directing in the Dark. Photo: Rena Kalandrani
   Well, it's a week since Ashes started filming, and since we wrapped there have been photos popping up online, and Neil has already released a lovely blog about how he lit scene four (with another post in the works for scene two). Yet I have been very quiet about the whole thing - I did a couple of status updates but that's not much for saying I've finally directed the film I've been dreaming about, and which I worked so hard to get made.

   A lot of this has probably been down to exhaustion. Thankfully not physically; although my back still twinges occasionally, I am fully mobile and didn't break it by being on set (although I feel as though other parts of me got broken along the way). So I'm healthy enough at the moment, yet the Ashes shoot left me feeling rather drained, and ever so slightly crabby.

   In spite of the wonderful performances from both my cast and crew (including a wonderful A-team moment from the camera crew, which I'm sure I'll talk about at some point), I was worried I hadn't enjoyed the shoot as much as I'd expected. I experienced something similar to a post-Christmas crash, and I think the following are reasons why:

    1) The subject matter was always going to be difficult to shoot. It was such a challenge for the actors that I had to face it with a clear, somewhat stoney face and not let it affect me (at least not so that they could see). And even though creating something so raw was a good challenge for everyone, it was never exactly going to be fun.

    2) We were behind schedule, and not just a little bit. Like, a lot - and although we powered on through and clawed back the hours without getting too stressed, it did mean that I couldn't dedicate as much time to honing the performances as I'd planned. Adam and Sarah nailed the scenes as I knew that they would; I just feel bad for not being able to give them hours worth of direction. Still, what director gets that chance?

Shooting cutaways with a bad back. Photo: Jenna Cataldo

    3) Due to the fact that we were behind schedule, we had to keep going (on the most difficult scene in the film) through lunch, and members of my team were getting exhausted. A director is never more happy than any members of their crew, and I felt responsible for putting them all through it - and hoped that I was giving them enough motivation and support.

    4) We had some technical issues. Combining my luck with getting Ashes made in the first place and all of Neil's misadventures on Soul Searcher makes me think that we are a cursed couple of filmmakers. Because, seriously, every member of the crew had some of their kit break - some of which couldn't be replaced, so we had to carry on without them. And having to work without parts of your ideal kit is always so disappointing because you can't silence the voice that says "what if...?" or "would it've looked better...?"

    5) Personal problems do not belong on set, but that doesn't mean people don't have them. I had some news which affected me, but I had to shake it off and pretend I was fine for the sake of my cast and crew. The director should never be the weak link, after all! My only advice in such a situation is make sure that you have an amazing 1st AD (like I did) who finds time in the schedule to let you have a quick cry, and a quick cuddle, and put you back on set looking right as rain!

   When we made Stop/Eject, I was left feeling a sense of accomplishment, mixed with sadness that it was over, so I knew that we'd made something special. After Ashes, I didn't feel that, and I was worried that I'd fallen out of love with a project which had been so dear to my heart.

   And then I watched the footage back...

Screengrab from the ungraded footage of Ashes

    ...and now I know that I've directed a stunning little film, which I will love tomorrow and through all of next year's festival season, at least. I am so, so proud of what everyone achieved in this film. And now I'm starting to feel a little bit proud of me, too.

Sophie x


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