This is my favourite film of all that I have directed. Is it my best film? No. But it’s the one I love the most. It was also the hardest to make as well as being a little painful to look back on.
Most short films are very simple stories well told. Don’t over complicate it, Use a few locations, have a small cast. ORRRRRRRRRRRRR Have one big location, multiple sword fights, an amateurish cast, a kid as your lead, a chess champion who by the way will disappear for a bit to Belgium to represent the country, no heating on set, a disabled director who’s never done action before, oh and an unforeseen disaster that almost trashes the work.
The story. A young girl overhears that somebody died in the hospital she’s staying. The next thing she knows Death is coming for her unless her imaginary friend, a musketeer, can stop it.
I had spent a lot of time in and out of hospital as a kid so I was able to draw on that experience. I handed the script unfinished to a friend at work who was looking for her final project. She read what I’d written quietly in the corner. She liked it and asked me to finish the script. I can’t remember how many drafts there were. I want to say 3 but maybe 7 after tweaks and things.
So we have a script and do a quick count. There are 3 sword fights in the final draft. We will need to train our actors to do this as we don’t have the budget for “stunties”. I contact a guy I know who tells me he can train the actors to do this. COOL! I start thinking about who to cast. If I cast from an agency we can lose them to paid work and then we waste a lot of time training them for nothing. We end up casting newbies and amateurs. (this is not a slight. We cast two tall sisters who had done fencing they weren’t actors. just very nice people).
The cast came together really well. Natasha was our Musketeer. I had worked a bit with her when she was younger in a production of Hamlet. I thought she looked like a hero. Bridget (Zoe) I cast Bridget in 10 seconds, She’s that good. We clicked and she made me laugh. We had one actor drop out and after some emergency phone calling Jen my producer was able to find Kate Vox who was super keen. After 12 weeks of rehearsing, most of this was to allow for the sword training. We were ready to shoot.
Work begins. We are shooting in Devonport. It’s good for Bridget as she lives there. It’s kind of a pain for everyone else. But we are shooting a sword film so that seems to be enough to keep everyone excited. A lot of films being talked about Highlander, Empire, The Princess Bride (Bridget is studying it at school so not so keen on it). We start with some simple dialogue scenes to get everyone warmed up. But we need to move fast as the action sequences will take a bit of time. We have 4 days to pull this off. Mike an assistant has started shooting a little behind the scenes video. Good vibes going into this.
Natasha is very quiet for the first day. She’s either in front of the camera or next to me with her fingernails buried in my left arm. Around 7pm she tells me she really has to go as she’s made arrangements to be somewhere else. I wasn’t quite ready for it but we manage to shoot around it. It’s an easy mistake to make if you haven’t worked on a film before. There is a schedule but you can fall behind. The crew are a little concerned by this. Producer and I assure them it’ll be fine.
The next day Natasha has picked up Bridget and bought her to set. Their on camera roles have kind of morphed in to real life. Again we are moving through the dialogue scenes as the DOP and I know we have a really big challenge coming. Just to keep things interesting and lighten the mood I let Bridget direct one shot since she’s not in it. Ok I let her call action and cut but she got to sit in “The Chair”. She did a good job, so I never let it happen again.
Tomorrow we shoot the big climactic fight.
Day 3 We all know what’s coming. Also my work is having a ball and I am expected to go as I have been there a while. I have an assistant named Campbell he’s extremely tall and I feel really weird telling him “Hey can you pick up my suit at 4?”. Man I never felt more Hollywood.
The fights all work on a number system for each swing of the sword. There are basically six swings. The girls swords weigh about 2 or 3 kg. We start with the opening exchanges. Bridget has a day off school and is in her pajamas in case we need her in the back of a shot. (she’s in 1 shot). By 5pm I am in my suit and still directing. Everything is going well but I’m conscious of resting the actors. Actors won’t always tell you they’re tired or something’s wrong. Also the crew is realising that I am tired. We have shot half the sequence by 9:30pm and resolve to shoot the rest tomorrow.
Christian my DOP and I are sitting outside the location. We are both buggered.
“Don’t worry we’re gonna finish this” he says, I believe him.
The producer pats us both on the back she’s ecstatic it looks great and we are an amazing team.
The producer and I go to the ball at the museum. By time we get there everyone is buzzing. People all look amazing and have had a few drinks. All I want to do is go back and direct my sword fight. I AM LIVING MY DREAM RIGHT NOW!!!
It’s 8am and I am traveling to set. My phone rings. It is my producer, she never calls this is bad.
“The set got broken into. Everything has been trashed. There is graffiti on the walls, there are beer cans everywhere, The hospital beds are broken, the wheelchair, they threw the microwave through a window. We are fucked.”
I tell her it’ll be ok. We’ll work it out. I have no idea what to do. I get there and it’s really bad. Doors are broken there is glass everywhere. The camera with photos and the behind the scenes doco is gone. My mind is racing. I can shoot at these places maybe? I am trying desperately to keep the film going. I can’t freak out if I do the crew will give up, I think I don’t know but that’s where my head is. Then comes the most gutting moment.
Dan our amazing 1st AD comes in and tells me “Bridget’s here. Should I say something?”. I’m the Director effectively the captain. “I’ll do it.” I am really trying not to cry. Dan wants to close the set and call the police. He’s right I reluctantly agree.
I get to the door just as she arrives. She’s 13, has no shoes on, this is her first film and she is about to put on the Musketeer costume for the first time. I ask her to put her shoes on and I tell her what’s happened. We have some outside stuff we can shoot while we think of backup places to shoot. (There are no backup places I am just hoping there are). This is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do on set. Telling Bridget we may not have a film was just a horrible moment I never want to go through again. And yes I know it’s just a film but it doesn’t feel like that at the time.
During our outside shoot a couple walk their little dog without a lead. It goes through my shot and won’t stop barking. I am tempted to introduce it to one of our swords….so tempted. I am cracking jokes to keep my mind off the issues. The scene is good. Yay our film has an opening.
While we were shooting it turns out a minor/major miracle occurred. The makeup team rounded up anyone not working and begun cleaning up. The beds look ok because good old gaffer tape is holding them together. But nobody put any weight on them.
Shooting begins again and we move much faster. I finally finish shooting Bridget at around 8 on Sunday night. She can go home. She doesn’t want to leave. I try to explain she’s missed a lot of school and I don’t think her parents will be happy about this. Jen rings the parents. They allow her to stay. As the night gets longer and colder. Musketeer completes it’s final shots.
I am in bed by 3am. I wake up at 5pm. Getting a call and a hail of texts. Nobody had heard from me and was concerned. We complete the post relatively pain free. Watching the film on a big screen it looks great and the audience is reacting well to it.
Sadly there are no behind the scenes photos of the shoot. There is only the film and the friends I have stayed in touch with ever since.