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Working on Communion (Updated)

Film shoots always do this to me. Leave me feeling like 'what the fuck just happened?'

Usually, it's my own project. But this time, on the morning after a seventeen day stretch, it's somebody else's project that has left me with the notion that we did something great.

Just under a month or so ago, I was stumbling around randomly between Edinburgh, Glasgow, Amsterdam and Berlin. Knee-deep in a few book projects, trying to hide in the lead-up to my birthday, hoping I might find someplace to wait it out. But then, one morning, as I walked along, aimlessly thinking through some sticking plot-points in my head, I got a message from my friend and peer, Greg Hall.

Just a couple of weeks left on the prep-time for his upcoming fourth feature film, Communion, Greg wondered if I was free to get involved with the shoot of his film. Like a lot of the messages I get, it started with 'where are you?' So when I told him that I was in Berlin, and that I'd take a few days to get back, I wasn't too sure I'd be of use. To be honest, I'm not a crew-guy - I didn't get into being a director via the on-set runner route - I sort of hacked it out on my own - pretty much like Greg in a lot of ways. 

We agreed to let him and his team - producer/actor Becky Finlay-Hall, and co-writer/producer/actor Paul Marlon - figure out what was best. After all, I was hundreds of miles in the wrong direction, and they needed to get busy asap. So I decided in my head that if the production team at BBMF (Broke But Making Films) wanted to get someone else in, that I would probably head to Italy for a while, then onto Toronto and New York. But if they wanted me there, I'd head back.

The following morning, Greg invited me aboard and it was done.

When I walked right into the rehearsals, I literally had no idea what I was doing there, or even really what was expected of me. By this point, the film was just a few days away from a start, and I was one of the last names being added to the call sheets. There was no time to hang back or to ask too many questions, I just simply had to get into the circle and join in. 

And after a day of assisting and observing on the rehearsal process, I knew I'd made the right call. 

I was coming aboard because of my own experiences as a no-budget filmmaker, used to scrapping away and shooting on the fly. This project, even though it had managed to raise a helluva figure through crowd funding, was still being shot on a lean-beans budget. And so stepping into my role as a Production Manager, aka Fixer, I knew this was going to be a new space to apply my skills.

Initially, I hoped to write about the shoot day-by-day, but it was simply too immense. From the first morning, as a few of us collected at London Bridge, readying to drag our bags to Dartford for the initial meet, I knew it was going to be tough work. But quite simply, there's no other filmmaker I would have done this job for. Greg's work has a quality that outshines the budget, and I knew that I would be able to glean as much as I would be able to share - so it was all going to be of value.

I could wax lyrical about the Communion team for a long time (and I probably will if you ever ask me in person), but I suppose I'll try and sum it up by just saying that they were all incredible professionals. Every single soul brought a sense of love and community that made the shoot just a great experience. For someone like me who can be prickly if I'm not at ease with lots of people, I found the whole thing inspiring.

I don't know how to describe some of the moments - from the surrealness of stumbling across a 'glamour photographer' in the woods and having to pay him to go away (after he'd shown me his shotgun), to sweet-talking travellers in a pub into not wrecking our shoot and beating the life out of me, or using Jedi mind-tricks to convince a landlord to not throw us off his patch, it was all rock n roll. 

The locations were inspired, the young guys on the shoot just fantastic, and the cast, incredible. I've got a lot of love for everybody involved.

Seventeen days in a sweet cottage, eleven of us living side-by-side, as we planned the shoot, cooked together, laughed, grafted and shared our stories. It was the way films should be made. I would (usually) get up first and go to bed last, just to ensure that the unit was tight and together. I took joy in cooking en masse, and I loved the meals rustled up by the others. Mexican Night, for me, hustling together enchiladas and margaritas, with a genuine-Mexican in the cast (also on guacamole duty), was a big highlight for me.

Of course, there were too many highlights to recall, let alone recite. But the biggest? Just watching a fellow filmmaker bring his project together with the immeasurable support of beautiful people. It has been a pleasure - and there's still a little more to do. 

Working alongside another filmmaker is both a humbling and inspiring thing. You realise there is a value in what you can bring, but also in what you can learn. To be a part of a team that was all A-game, that's all we really strive for as filmmakers. We hope that everybody loves the project as much as we do. Oftentimes, that's sadly not the case. But in this instance, it really, really was.

If you're not already a fan of Broke But Making Films on Facebook, you should be. Along with everything else, I took a ton of photos, and you can see them there. I'll be sifting through them for a while, but there are some gems that really catch the verve of what happened.

I've curtailed my disappearing trick by a few extra weeks, just so I can be on-set for the next phase of the shoot in October. After all, being invisible for a while is easy, but having experiences that are bigger than real life? You really have to show up for that. 

Update - October 22nd 2012

Initially, I was going to write a fresh post, talking about the last few weeks on Communion - basically everything that had happened since this post first went out. But then I realised I'd run a helluva risk of repeating myself, so I've decided to drop the dimes here instead.

Yesterday was the final day of principal photography on the entire shoot. So after the 80% we shot through September, October was the final 20% being served up.

The logic had been simple enough - September was the road movie, October was the back story. But of course, when you get down into the mix, that means essentially a fresh new cast (cherry-picked just after the September shoot), and a whole slew of new locations.

But again, the team delivered. Back in an interview I gave to Write Shoot Cut a while ago, I touched on collaboration and the role of a filmmaker in scrapping in a war, or running a supermarket. I suppose now, after watching Greg and everybody else at work, I should also scoop in a metaphor about being in a zen garden or something. Either way, the experience of working on the Communion shoot as a whole has been bigger than any of us could have imagined. I'm proud of everyone involved, and humbled by what we've collectively done.

I'd also like to add some thanks to everyone I've been working alongside these past two or so months. You've all reminded me of why I do what I do, and you've all become a part of my crazy-horse story. This charmed life just keeps getting better. On top of that though, masses of thanks to the producers (and subsequent stars) of the film, Becky and Paul - for trusting Greg and letting me sidle on in. You guys couldn't have had a clue on whether or not I had half-an-idea of what I was doing, so the blind faith was something special. And finally, love and thanks to Greg. I know we've got an easy-speak dialogue, so I don't have to add too much, but seriously, it's been a gift to to tag in to the film, and a joy to hustle through the shoot.

Now, it's all in the can. And there's not much more to add in terms of how good it feels to have been to be a part of it all. Of course, it's onto the really hard work now - and for that, well, it's a whole new adventure.