A few years ago I was approached by a good friend who asked whether I would be interested in a film he intended to make during the first week of summer. Desperate to get away from my A Level revision, I gave his script a little flick through. I was immediately entranced by his writing style, his meticulous crafting of a delightfully macabre comical plot and by his intriguing characters. It was like the brain of Quentin Tarantino had somehow hidden itself under my friend’s unkempt haircut.
When you put six young men in a small cottage in the middle of the Scottish wilderness and give them a handful of days to throw an independent film together, you have constructed the perfect recipe for a lot of bickering.
From the get-go, however, there were problems. The least of which was the difficulty of transporting an air rifle from Brighton to Scotland without getting in trouble with the law. Upon our arrival at my friend’s grandparent’s land things proceeded to get worse. When you put six young men in a small cottage in the middle of the Scottish wilderness (many of whom all have the unquantifiable egos that are often innate within a fledgling theatre student) and give them a handful of days to throw an independent film together, you have constructed the perfect recipe for a lot of bickering.
Most of this bickering came from clashes between the director and writer of our film, Strangers by the Lake, and one of the main actors. For the sake of privacy, let’s call them ‘Bert’, ‘Elmo’ and ‘Ernie’. Bert poured his heart and soul into his directing and as a result this left him extremely highly strung for the majority of filming. This coupled with Ernie’s innate compulsion to argue against Bert’s directions, as well as the overall financial and mental strain Bert underwent herding all us cats to Scotland in the first place, often left him a tad temperamental.
As if the sparring of these two teenage divas wasn’t enough, we were burdened with the fact that the boy playing the primary antagonist of our film – let’s call him ‘Big Bird’ – had to leave the film earlier than the rest of us. Every spare minute we were dragging ourselves to a different patch of land. The woods, beaches, fields, morning, noon and night (come rain or shine) there we were, filming take after take to get our scenes right. When it came to the technical side of filming, I was about as useful as a water pistol in the middle of a forest fire. I could just about dumbly hold the boom mic above our actor’s heads. But when I had to submerge myself over and over in the freezing water of the loch so that Elmo could get multiple takes of our film’s opening, I didn’t crack under the pressure.
There was, however, a breaking point for me. It came after we had spent the best part of the day filming an elaborate shootout scene in the middle of the woods which involved taping a hose full of fake blood to my back and pulling a face as red dye spurted out its tip. Myself, Ernie and another boy who I will call ‘Cookie Monster’ ended up lying on the shores by the loch, surrounded by pools of ice-cold water with midges crawling over our faces as Elmo took an hour to set up the equipment. Ernie’s performance was magnificent, Cookie Monster was blowing everyone away with his morbid dialogue and even I was managing to deliver a semi-acceptable bit of acting until we were interrupted by Elmo telling us that the batteries for the camera had died.
I got to film some remarkable scenes from an incredible script, swim in a loch at nine o’ clock at night, set up a camp fire in the middle of high tide, scream, swear and play with fake guns in the middle of the woods like I was a little boy once more.
So I imagine that after all this you probably expect me to say that I didn’t enjoy myself filming at all. Nothing could be further from the truth. I got to spend the week with some extraordinarily talented young men who put their heart and souls into their roles. Honestly, I envied their tenacity and skill at the time and still do. I got to film some remarkable scenes from an incredible script, swim in a loch at nine o’ clock at night, set up a camp fire in the middle of high tide, scream, swear and play with fake guns in the middle of the woods like I was a little boy once more.
Yes, it was hard and, yes, in the end, the film had to be scrapped for some other reason but the experience is something that I relished. I think more people should do the same. Come up with a film idea with your friends, make it as unhinged and strange as you like, find a location and get to work. Even if the film is never finished, even if it does not become a success, I guarantee you’ll be left with a few stories to tell once the dust settles.