Stories from the Set: Lepidopterist (Part Two)

[Above: Sound Recordist Antonio Muggiano, DOP Will Price and me filming the last scene of the Lepidopterist shoot. Photo by Tommy Draper.]

  In the week since my last blog post, much has stayed the same; Lockdown is still mostly in place, in spite of people's growing frustration (mostly at the UK government, for not following their own guidelines) - but I have visited my family, travelling on foot and from a very safe distance, and I'm starting to think about ways to start filming again. These are two things which have raised my happiness levels massively, although I'm still reluctant to do anything too drastic. If it's safer for everyone to keep lockdown going another month, I'd accept that in a heartbeat. In addition, I've started contacting other filmmakers to ask them for advice, including some from other countries, and it's been so inspiring to hear their tips and insights.

  Also in the last week, the campaign to send my latest film Lepidopterist to festivals has passed the 50% mark. We've still got a long way to go, it has gone a little quiet, and there's less than a fortnight left now - so any donations or shares are really appreciated. We're also only £60 away from releasing the next public reward, an interview with lead actor Charlie Clarke. Can anyone help get us to the £500 milestone?

   So, on with the subject of today. In my last blog post, I started sharing the 'Story from the Set' for Lepidopterist - partly to help promote the funding campaign. It turned out that I had a lot more to say than I thought I did, and the blog post ended up being rather long as a result - so I decided it was best to split it into two.

   So without further ado, here is the story of how we made Lepidopterist, our entry into the Sci-Fi-London 48hr Film Challenge. Part Two...

   (Once again, the below contains mild spoilers for anyone who hasn't seen FIFTY/FIFTY or is waiting to see the finished Lepidopterist in festivals.)

[Above: Today's filming day involved LOTS of van shots, and an endurance test for any crew members standing in the cold! Photo by Tommy Draper.]

DAY TWO - Sunday 14th April 2019

   We had spent the first day of the shoot in Nottinghamshire, but today it was time to move closer to my home in Derbyshire, starting with a University building in Derby which stood in for our exterior laboratory location. The first thing we had to film was the scene where Nic's (Charlie Clarke) van approaches a barrier - and you would not believe how hard it was for us to find a location with a barrier during pre-production, and how much effort it took for us to time the raising of the barrier just right for the shot! It just goes to show that the simplest scenes on paper can end up being the most challenging.

   For this scene only, we were joined by actor Chris Millross, who played a security guard. Chris was recommended to us by filmmaker Emmeline Hartley, as Chris had appeared in her film Keep Breathing (which was also co-written by Tommy Draper). It was great to work with Chris, and I only regret that we don't have many behind-the-scenes photos with him in. He also had the task of saying the new line of dialogue that Sci-Fi-London had given us the day before - "leave it alone; it's all automated now, you don't need to do anything" - which required him to completely change his character from friendly to grumpy. But Chris delivered such a brilliantly sassy performance that some of his takes even had us cheering in the edit!

[Above: Chris Millross, who played the Security Guard, managed to get this selfie
during his scene]

  With that scene in the bag, we moved to another part of the Campus to capture the scene where Nic first gets into the van, along with some cutaway shots of the van to use in other parts of the film. Again, this was a relatively simple scene to capture, but that didn't mean we had it easy; the unseasonably cold weather which had bothered us yesterday was back with a vengeance. It wasn't raining, and the sun was consistently blocked by cloud, but the heavy winds were so bitterly cold that it was hard to bear, and morale briefly took a dip as a result. But then the lunch pizza came - and there is no mood that pizza can't lift!

  After we got one small pickup shot for the forest scene (which we mostly shot yesterday), using a nearby leafy area, it was time for us to leave that location, and hit the road again.

[Above: as part of this competition, our brilliant Editor Theo Vann-Leeds had to take 'editing remotely' to whole other level!]

   While all that was happening, there was some simultaneous filming taking place for us over in Leeds, as 2nd Unit Director of Photography Solomon Rumney-Scriven was capturing shots of live butterflies in a Wildlife Centre. Sci-Fi-London rules meant that everything used in the film had to be shot that weekend, so this was the only way for us to get all the shots that we needed - much as I was sad to miss out on the opportunity to meet real butterflies! 

  Solomon informed me that the butterflies would not co-operate; they moved very quickly, so he had to chase them around with his camera on more than one occasion! In spite of this, he got some absolutely stunning shots, and I really think they add something special to the opening scene of the film.

   Back to the A-team (as that's one of the only times I can accurately use that term!); that afternoon, the core crew reached the second location of the day - another outdoor base in the Derbyshire countryside - so that we could get more shots of Charlie driving in the van. As the majority of the film involves Nic being on the road, we needed quite a lot of these shots, and it was good to get a few different road options in the process. After that was done, we had filmed everything we definitely needed in order to make the film... but then we chose to film a little bit more...

   When writing the screenplay, I added an extra scene in which Nic pulls over to the side of a road, and feeds whatever is contained inside the large box in the back of her van. It was written because of the suggestion that we needed more character development within the script, but I knew that we probably wouldn't have time to shoot it within the competition's time restraints. Unfortunately (or perhaps I should say luckily), the cast and crew all loved this scene, and they fought for us to have it in the film. 1st AD Liam Banks scheduled the scene last (along with another scene we didn't use), because it wasn't 100% necessary for the competition cut of the film, and I agreed that we would only shoot it if we had time left at the end of the day. In the end, we did have just enough time, so myself and a condensed crew relocated to the side of a nearby field to capture that scene.

[Above: The view from inside the box. But which plucky crew member had to go inside...?]

   I am really glad that we filmed that scene. The natural light was beautifully low, and Charlie delivered yet another gently emotional performance. It also resulted in one of the funniest moments of the shoot. Anyone who has seen the film will know that (final spoiler warning) it is Sarah Lamesch's character, Talia, who is contained in the box. But as Sarah had gone back to London that morning, we needed someone from the crew to stand in and accept the food that Charlie's character was feeding through the holes in the box. Cue Tommy gallantly offering his services - even though it meant we had to essentially lock him inside the box with very little light for the rest of the shoot!

  And then that was it - the shoot was over as quickly as it had started. As with Growing Shadows, which was another two day shoot, I felt slightly cheated, like I could've kept going for longer. It was also sad to say goodbye to the wrapped cast and crew like Charlie, Production Designer Charlotte Ball and our brilliant PAs - but there wasn't time to dwell. Because this was a 48hr challenge, the work wasn't done yet. Post-production had to be completed with just over 12 hours to go!

[Above: possibly the most joyous wrap photo of all time, captured by lead actor Charlie Clarke]

POST-PRODUCTION - Also Sunday 14th April 2019!

   For post-production, the unit base became my cottage in Derbyshire, which meant I could help keep the crew fed and watered as well as watching over everything. Editor Theo Vann-Leeds had been assembling the film throughout the weekend, so the edit was pretty much completed by the time we finished filming - he only had to add the butterfly shots and the van scene we'd just captured. We were also joined by Composer Joni Fuller, who had written some gorgeous tracks for us to use in the film (making for one of my favourite scores to date), who came over to see how the film was shaping up.

[Above: Last man standing,
Johann Chipol!]
   It was a lovely evening with lots of creativity, as we were all bouncing ideas back and forth in my living room. The only time we debated was when it came to cutting the film down; with everything included, the film was around 8 minutes long - and it had to be a maximum of 5 minutes in order to qualify for the Sci-Fi-London competition. The feeding scene was of course the first to go, in spite of the crew's protests - and all the other scenes had to be shaved down as well, although we kept the forest scene pretty much in tact so that we had time for the emotion to build. It was clear then that there was the potential for an extended cut, which is something we went on to do - and that is the version we're currently trying to send to festivals.

   Sound Designer Johann Chipol was the last man standing (although DOP Will Price, based back at his own home, also had to work pretty late on the colour grade). Once the edit had been completed, it was handed over to Johann, and the majority of the crew went home. Johann worked into the early hours of the morning, fueled by caffeine and the remainder of the Chinese food we'd ordered, and I set my alarm to go off on an hourly basis so that I could stop napping and check on his progress throughout the night.

   The film was finished and submitted to Sci-Fi-London just in time. It was released to the public a little later, under the competition-given name of FIFTY/FIFTY. When we didn't place in the competition, or receive an honourable mention, it was disappointing but not unexpected, as we knew the standard and amount of higher-budget films we were going up against. What mattered most is that we had a film which we loved, even more than we thought we would, and I could finally tick the competition off my filmmaking bucket list.

   In spite of the odds, the time constraints and the weather, my brilliant team made a film at the top of their game. We were so proud of the film we made within those two days - and we're even more proud of the extended cut, now re-named Lepidopterist. Joined by an extra editor, Arthur Harrison (who also edited Growing Shadows) and additional VFX artists and sound designers, we have taken the time to polish and restore the film, to make it the very best it can be. As Tommy put it so perfectly in his recent interview (below), this version is just the film we intended to make.

[Above: Co-writer Tommy Draper was interviewed about his memories of
making FIFTY/FIFTY / Lepidopterist]

   Festival runs are unpredictable beasts at the best of times, and these are the worst of times. My beloved cinemas have been closed since March, and when they finally re-open, additional social-distancing measures will have to be enforced. This will affect the future of the film festival industry as well, with many of our favourite festivals already forced to cancel this year. After all of my cast and crew's hard work, it would be such a shame to not showcase their efforts on the big screen this time round. Yet I remain hopeful; our industry is full of people who make great things happen in spite of hardship and budgetary concerns. If we all support our cinemas and festivals as soon as they open again, they will come back bigger and better than ever before - because people realise now how much they actually cherished cinemas, and the experience of watching films together.

   So, as soon as it is safe to do so, I have every intention of showing Lepidopterist at festivals and film nights - and if you feel as though you are able to help me do that, please consider donating or sharing the film's Crowdfunder page.



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