It was January 2019, the same month I finished my first short film and I was pretty disappointed with myself. I had no idea my half-assed, fun foray into filmmaking would take 8/9 months in total to complete. I was a year older, wiser and ready to take it seriously next time I translated a script to screen. So, I began writing. Perfecting my structure and manifesting a suitable engaging story to fit. I had already decided my canvas would be serialised. A complete story that would yield a heavy emotional reaction not just from me but from my actors, the audience and everyone involved. You can write like that, if you set out to begin that way.
It took a couple of months to write the first two episodes and I quickly found myself stuck, it took over 6 months to figure out what should happen next and how the story would end. Eventually, on a 13 hour flight to Toronto. The idea caressed the shuddering plane window beside me. Excitement tickled the palms of my hands. I wrote the last two scripts during my trip there.
Within the hour I returned to my flat in London, I had a job interview. If my broke freelancing self hadn’t gotten this same job two weeks later, Visions of a Vivid Life would not exist today. In fact, another coincidence occurred, apart from my recent cash injection - my collaborator and girlfriend, Amber, met someone on her new course: Sayna, both of whom I had already talked to about working with that summer. The two were now randomly living within 10 minutes of each other. I knew I had at least 10 months before I would be shooting another film and it had already been 18 months since I’d shot my last film. My body ached. When all these things came together, that’s when Visions of Vivid Life, was ready to be made.
Pre-production of 'Visions of a Vivid Life'
Let’s talk about money. Everyone wants to know where the money comes from. Visions of a Vivid Life from beginning to end, cost less than a Macbook. Pre-production is where the work really hits you - it’s exciting and terrifying. You start to realise the workload will go on for another year at least. Casting means you scan hundreds of faces, watch a handful of showreels, start shortlisting and discussing who ‘looks’ right, who ‘sounds’ right, who’s not a crazy person. We spent 3 months prepping, making costumes, props, doing rehearsals, blocking scenes, revising shot lists, revising the screenplay, simply doing research, moodboards, colour palettes, lens tests, camera tests, scheduling and having at least one meeting with every member of the crew before shooting. Course, some members require more than one, it becomes the time where things outside of the filmmaking process become neither chores or holidays, but a bit of both. Quickly, you get used to the cast and crew being the only people you talk to, you have to, they take the place of your family or closest friends; in this case many became my closest friends after shooting.
(E) Motion of shooting
Everyone gets nervous. Especially me. Why wouldn’t I be? I hadn’t shot a script going on 2 years at this point, and only 2 members of the crew Matt (Kafka) and Josh (Editor 1+2) had worked on my first short film.
This was my second time sleeping on set, It’s something I enjoy; there’s nowhere to rush to and everything is already next door. A handful of the crew slept on set because it just happened to be where they lived. It was funny waking up to Matt brushing his teeth before sunrise, waiting to see who would be the first person to make it at call time. It was usually Dylan (exec producer/assistant camera). Weary walks to and from Wetherspoons for dinner after wrap, would hopefully provide the energy to make those dark mornings easier to wake up to. They didn’t.
There was something of a special atmosphere that manifested on the second day. By that time, I would walk into Lily (Charley) laying on set in the fetal position between shots. We had almost everyone together and that weary feeling of being on your feet for 12 hours straight had set in from the day before, your mind now used to answering 800 questions a go, popping off from every angle. I’ll say, nothing has ever driven me to the edge of exhaustion like directing and being on set. The most palpable moment was shooting a scene in episode 2. I told Sayna (cinematographer) to take a break and prep the afternoon scenes with Amber, I would shoot and direct. Less than 5 takes later, my head was spinning out of control, we had guests on set and that didn’t make it any easier. That magic I was looking for in the shot never came. I begged Sayna to return, Jacob (assistant director) re-jigged the plan and we shot inserts before we got to the important mid-shots with the actors. When we did get there, we did 10/15 takes each side. I pushed and pushed, in search of something I didn’t know myself. After 10 takes on Nicole’s side, we stepped out, away from the crew and well; I asked her how she was doing. I know no-one knows what we talked about, what notes I gave. I didn’t really give any. We talked a little bit, I probably did give one note but it was probably unimportant. We hugged for about 30 seconds, took deep breaths. Tried to re-align ourselves, then went back into the scene.
By day three, I was spent. We had half of episode 1 to shoot and pick ups to catch up on. When Jacob called ‘wrap’ on the last shot - also the last shot of the series. I felt my shoulders yield, my chest relax and my face become wet with tears. I rapidly found the couch to lay down and I bawled my eyes out. I was sad to no longer be spending time with these people I’d grown to love and become very comfortable with, yet relieved to know... it was in the can. All four episodes. Probably 250 takes in total. I had only cried once on set, the day before, after I shot the dance scene with Nicole (Mako), truly, she was a rock solid stone of confidence. Her presence always calmed me during those three days.
Still from 'Visions of a Vivid Life'
As it goes, post-production is a very different arena: it’s just the editor and I, watching hours of footage, with a few collaborators, our composer and sound mixer adding their work into the flow. It’s been 6 months since shooting in January and here I am, writing this as we come closer to our final cut on episode 4, the finale. Many people don’t realise when a film/project is truly finished, it’s really just you, or you and the sound mixer. Not your actors or your cinematographer who were by your side on almost every shot. It’s quite lonely.
Two months later, I had final cuts on the first two episodes. I had to, I had deadlines after all. Film festivals and awards to submit to. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t too keen on the idea considering my previous failures as a filmmaker (quite a few). Nevertheless, the work, the atmosphere and the level of love that went into the series was too much to forego on my account. I had budgeted a small amount for this in prep just in case. Always budget some of your money for this. It’s expensive. When we won our first two awards for Best Drama and Best Rising Director, I was washing the dishes and was very skeptical. It seemed a fluke, me? Surely not me? Online previews had meant people did in fact vote for me and our series. Then the next two came, for Best Series and Best Screenplay, this time a panel of judges from Hollywood decided and it felt impossible to ignore, and so on… it still takes me by surprise when I think about it. On my first film, I think I would’ve liked the attention. Now, it’s just odd. I haven’t changed at all but it seems people’s wider perspective of me has. A new label as it were. There’s always those you love that are eager to call you an ‘award-winning director’, but it makes me cringe. If there is a difference between a filmmaker and an award-winning filmmaker, it’s how you’re treated. Somehow, people expect you to have all the answers, or think that you’ve ‘made it’. It took about a month for me to not feel like a fraud or liar. But, no matter which way I go about it, we did win. That’s just a fact that must be accepted whether I like it or not. There will be many more situations like this I’ll have to deal with in the future if I want to be any good at this. The most valuable aspect is everyone else involved having something to show for their hard work. Making a film is a miracle, and a miracle is made up of smaller equal miracles isn’t it?
Still from 'Visions of a Vivid Life'
Finally, here I am, it’s June 2020. With Visions of a Vivid Life set to premiere next week and see the world from next month. It’ll commemorate the 9 months spent creating the series from a pile of paper. It’ll commemorate the first time as an artist I’ve actually felt fulfilment from making something. By that time, I’ll surely have started work on my next short film I originally wrote in 2017… ready to embark on another soul-destroying life consuming 9 month journey, all for the sake of art.