Stories from the Set: "The Dress"

Hey Guys,

   There's two things I'd been meaning to do for a while. One was to take part in the Five Lamps Films 24 Hour Film Challenge. With the majority of my films taking a long time to complete (when you include the months, if not years, of pre-and-post-production that goes into making a film) I've got a bit of a reputation for releasing one film every two years, commissions aside. So I liked the idea of creating a short film with a quick turnaround time - but I always seemed to avoid taking part in this local competition. 

   Last year, for example, I booked the competition day off work, but it fell the day after we'd finished filming Night Owls. So I bottled out, claiming exhaustion. It might have been the same this year - I'd had a busy month with the day job, travelling to Hamburg and then London on corporate film business - except that I'd booked the actor and bought the costumes in advance, forcing me to stick to my plan.

   The second thing I'd been meaning to do was to fulfill a promise I made to a dear friend. Claudia Salina (who I met at University and lived with for two years) once said to me, "you should make a film about a woman who dyes her wedding dress black." I said that I would, as the idea sounded fun. That was over four years ago. Time flies when you're busy!

   Finally, on the 2nd May 2015, I achieved both goals. I shot and edited a film in less than 24 hours (we actually managed it in 17 hours) and I brought Claudia's idea to the screen:

So how did we do it?

On set with Aislinn
   Casting was simple. I'd been meaning to work with Aislinn De'Ath for a while now (something else I hadn't gotten round to!) after meeting her in London through a mutual contact. She had a great energy, and I knew she'd carry the film well, even if we'd had to cut corners with the cinematography due to the time constrictions. The final scene of the film alone is testament to her acting talents.

   I wanted to keep the crew small because of the tight schedule (and also due to the fact we were filming in my house - something I've tried to avoid), so I was fully prepared to shoot the film myself, keeping it simple as my skills are poor-to-basic in that area. Then, luckily, three days before the shoot, my regular collaborator Christopher Newman announced that he was free. He now runs the film department of a company called Team Wild -  a more-than full time job fully immersed in promotional film - so, like me, he was chomping at the bit to create a piece of fiction again - even if this meant climbing inside my bath to get a certain shot! He supplied all of the wonderful kit and, as ever, did an incredible job with the cinematography, adding polish to the simple story.

Laura does battle with the dress!
   The script was two pages long (we had to keep it fairly loose because Five Lamps set us a line of dialogue and action on the day, both of which fit perfectly, thank god) and we only had two locations. The only challenge was costume-based; the eponymous dress had to go from white to black in 24 hours. I'd originally planned to get two identical dresses, one black and one white, but then I heard that you could get penalized for making things too simple. So that left us only one option...

   I got the wedding dress from a charity store for £40. There were some simpler, easier-to-dye dresses in the shop, but this huge 'princess dress' had the most visual impact, so I let my creative heart rule my head. £40 is a bargain, but buying a second hand dress also meant we couldn't buy a duplicate (and we didn't have any choice of size) so we knew we'd only get one shot at dying it.

   I was editing the film as well as directing it, so I had to hand over costume duties to the rest of my team. Cue superstar Laura C. Cann - part of the Triskelle Pictures marketing team, and 1st AD on this project - as well as Aislinn herself, who both worked themselves ragged and risked inhaling toxic paint fumes to get the dress to turn black.

  We did dye the dress in the bath using fabric dye, as seen in the film, but only after Aislinn had taken it off. The shots of her lying in black water were achieved using food colouring to avoid irritating her skin as much as possible. 

   Due to the synthetic fabric of the dress, it was unlikely the dye would take fully. It did turn a surprisingly uniform blue colour (see below), but then it was up to Laura, Ais and a few cans of spray paint (and even shoe polish) to get the desired effect. It turned out better than we'd ever hoped - although, once again, my bathtub is stained, and I doubt Laura's nails will ever be the same colour again.

The dress transforms from white, to blue, to black... all in less than 24 hours!
   Everything was shot and edited by midnight. Then it was left to Edward Harvey, my darling boyfriend, to do the sound mix. He wasn't planning on entering the challenge this year, having won it in 2014 - and we've avoided working together on film shoots, so that we never 'take arguments home'. And yet he was the only one still working at 2am, while I watched over his shoulder and made perfectionist comments about how a phone vibration should sound. He's definitely a trooper!

  The music was planned in advance to save time. Moby has recently released his back-catalogue to independent filmmakers through a site called Moby Gratis, and I knew this would be the perfect opportunity to use that resource. The track we chose worked well - although, of course, our usual composer Ian was missed on set.

That's a wrap for one sleepy, paint-stained team!
  A film made in 24 hours is never going to be a perfect thing. There's a couple of prop errors I'd change if I could go back, and I want to re-edit the film to sort out a few flaws I didn't notice at the time (and to make room for some beautiful slow-motion shots Chris captured which we didn't have time to include). But, those points aside, we did come away with something we can be proud of.

   And even better - on the night itself (the closing night of Derby Film Festival 2015), The Dress was awarded second place amongst a seriously strong line up! I wasn't expecting to have to leave my seat that night, let alone bring home the team's first award.

Victory pose! Me and Edward (far right) with the other winning teams.

  So that's another filmmaking ambition or two ticked off my list. Time to tackle a new goal!


(Behind-the-scenes photos from The Dress by Aislinn De'Ath, Christopher Newman, Laura C. Cann,Sophie Black and Tommy Draper. View more photos from the shoot here.)


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