Ghosthunter | Director's Diary

  • Saturday 8th Jan, 2000 - Read Through

  • Saturday morning at Ealing Studios was the venue for the read through with the cast. I'd talked on several occasions with the various cast members individually but this was the first time we'd all met. I'd asked several crew members to be present to help break the ice and act as an audience for the actors. After a nervous start, I introduced Frank to everyone as Freddie (I think he's since forgiven me), we got on with the reading. The script read extremely well and afterwards we had a long discussion about the story and the characters. We read the script again and I went home happy that we were all thinking along the same lines.

    We arrived home to find our house full of camera gear. Our main location for the film was in East Grinstead on an Old Convent. We needed an abandoned church for the main scenes in the film and we lived very close to one. Consequently our house was to become the production office for the week. Also, for insurance purposes, we had to keep all the camera gear in our house overnight. A lounge full of 35mm camera equipment doesn't leave much room for anything, let alone anyone, else. Fortunately all the grip equipment and props could be left in the church. We'd also set up a crew room in the church (Heated, the only warm room in the whole building) and that was now full of drinks and snacks. All morning Jacqui (Production manager) had been receiving these deliveries and the Art department was hard at work preparing the main body of the church for our first interior scenes on Tuesday.

    Gavin (DP) and I spent the evening at work on the shot list for the film.
  • Sunday 9th Jan, 2000

  • We'd hired a conference centre 100 yards from our location that would accommodate the crew during the week and people arrived throughout the day to check in. The centre was also to provide our catering for the shoot and the meals they served us were excellent.
  • Monday 10th Jan, 2000

  • The first day. I'd slept better than I'd anticipated and awoke to the perfect day for our exteriors. I'd been hoping for a sunny winters morning with a hard frost on the ground and this is exactly what we got. Gavin bounded over with a huge grin across his face. We'd discussed the weather for the exteriors many times and so to be given exactly what we'd wanted was more than we'd hoped.

    Unit call for the morning was 11am but as most of the crew had arrived the night before and they were up and about from 9am. The 32ft combined lighting and generator truck arrived and we began to look like a film set.

    Rod (Camera operator) arrived and I took him over to our first location. Luke (Production designer) had already dressed the scene with various gravestones and Rod, Gavin and I talked through the first tracking shot that would establish the character Sarah and her entrance into the abandoned church yard. All was coming together nicely and it was looking more and more likely that we were to turnover well ahead of schedule - this wasn't to be.

    All was in place, the camera was set, the crew standing by, Alison (playing Sarah) rehearsed and ready. We'd had a little welcome and introduction for the crew when it was found that the Varicon, a device that fits in front of the camera lens and pre-flashes the negative, wasn't working. There are two bulbs in the Varicon and one of them had blown, the same was true for the spare. Whilst a new spare was biked down from London the Camera crew and Sparks got together to see what they could do. They actually managed to fix the bulb but didn't have confidence in it to use it. Whilst we waited for the spares to arrive, time ticked on and we had yet to turnover on the film. We had to do something. We decided to go ahead without the Varicon and look at the shots when the rushes returned. If we had to film these shots again, so be it.

    The rest of the day went extremely well and we only dropped one shot due to failing light. I'd wanted a point of view of the exterior of the church silhouetted against the night sky, we had a narrow window to get this shot and we missed it by minutes. When your DP tells you the light is going fast, believe him. Due to our late start we only got two shots without the Varicon before the spare bulbs turned up, how those shots will work we had to wait and see.
  • Tuesday 11th Jan, 2000

  • Matt Twyford our digital effects supervisor was with us for the day to supervise the first of the effects sequences in the film. Also with us were our documentary team. They would spend the day snatching interviews and filming behind the scenes. They managed to get an interview with Maurice Gillett our executive Gaffer. Maurice has been in the business for over 40 years and has worked with Freddie Francis our Cinematography Consultant. The material the documentary team got from Maurice is worth a programme all by itself.

    We got the shots for the effects sequence and these will be worked on in post production in Newbury at the headquarters of Quantel our effects sponsors. The effect I wanted was to animate a shadow that we establish behind Sarah, when she's inside the church.

    During lunch Gavin and I were able to watch the previous days rushes. There is always a moment of anxiety just before the first rushes are viewed but we were very excited to see that all had gone well. We were particularly interested in the non Varicon shots and we were happy that the two shots concerned could be graded later and so would save us a re-shoot in an already busy schedule. We could report back that the rushes were looking good.

    The afternoon was spent shooting the flashback sequences for the film. The church we use for the main location was built over 130 years ago and is almost completely empty inside. During cold weather it seems to refrigerate and always feels a couple of degrees colder - we were to spend a further two days inside this location. We used all of our scheduled time for these flashbacks, big setups for what will amount to small moments in the film. However, we were unable to shoot the fire and destruction flashbacks that Frank's character, Charlie, sees at the end of the film. We hope to pick up these shots when we go back to the church, on Thursday.

    The crew worked very hard and we wrapped on time. To thoroughly thaw out we ended the day in the local Indian restaurant.
  • Wednesday 12th Jan, 2000

  • 9am unit call for the first day of warm interiors. The crew have settled into Neale House the conference centre and have been enjoying late nights in what have become known as the kitchen parties. After our 8.30 breakfast and production meeting it was into the guest house location to talk through the first setup.

    We were to spend the whole day shooting the lounge scenes of the guest house. Once rehearsed the actors were released for costume and make up and the sparks set about lighting the set. We didn't turnover until close to 12 o'clock as Gavin was keen to light the entire lounge to save setup time later. I was getting nervous that so much time was being spent setting up for the first shot. The previous two days were relatively light compared to what was scheduled for the next three days, also Frank Finlay was with us for the first time and I couldn't afford to drop shots that included him.

    There were other problems. Later in the afternoon we ran into a potential stock problem. I'd shot far more on the flashback sequences than anticipated and we were running a little low. More had been ordered but wouldn't be with us until the next morning. It was this moment that things seemed to conspire against us. The floor of the lounge was wooden and it was proving difficult to get the camera to run silently on this creaky surface. The local train station seemed far more busy than usual, which was strange given that they were in the middle of an industrial action and were in fact canceling most services. It also felt as if Gatwick had suddenly diverted all aircraft to our vicinity. One particular shot was to be confronted with all of the above issues, a slow track into Frank during one of his speeches. We couldn't afford to keep running this long sequence and there was a moment when the entire crew turned to look at me for a decision.

    Before we started shooting Alison and I had visited all our consultants and asked them what they'd like from us. Mark Auguste (Consultant sound editor) had asked us to try and wildtrack all dialogue. An unusual request as most people would assume there would be syncing problems with the wildtrack and the picture, but he was confident that as long as the dialogue was clean then they could work with it. Brian (Sound mixer) was about 75% happy with Franks dialogue on this shot but requested another take, we couldn't afford the stock. I was very happy with the take, Frank was excellent and the track into him just right, the crew waited for the decision. I decided to wildtrack Franks dialogue. I asked Frank to run through the scene in his mind. He closed his eyes and ran the speech again, it sounded great and the dialogue this time was clean. We moved on confident that the shot was covered in all aspects. I was very grateful for that meeting as it saved us time on set and will save time and money in post and a potential looping session.

    Despite all this we ended the day on schedule, having dropped one shot but added several others. Gavin's plan to light the entire set had caused us some grief in the morning but helped us speed through the setups later. There is inevitably some tweaking of the lighting for each shot but the general and major lighting setup for the room was already in place. A fine plan but it didn't do much good for the heart rates of the Director and 1st AD, Philip Shaw.
  • Thursday 13th Jan, 2000

  • Back to the guest house location for the dining room scenes. Frank was again with us for the whole day as was June Watson (Audrey) and Jacqueline Phillips (Anne). I was particularly pleased with the casting of June and Jacquie in the mother and daughter roles. Everyone said how alike they were and they quickly established themselves on set as "The Bookends".

    I was confident that today would go smoothly. I felt that today's schedule was lighter than yesterdays and we'd be out of the guest house location and into the next location, the Retro-Chapel of the Church, within good time. Yesterday and today were to be Franks heaviest days and we were all concerned to get what we needed and release him as soon as possible.

    We also started to receive the first of our VIP visitors. John Rendall from Panavision and Anne Guidera from Kodak. Both spent much of the day with us and we were able to show them rushes from the previous days and talk to them more about the project. Both were impressed with the footage we had got so far and it was lovely to spend some time with them on set after the help and support they have given us in setting up this film. That they were encouraged meant a great deal and was another indication that the film was actually coming together.

    This wasn't to mean that the dining room scenes lived up to my earlier optimism. By 5pm we had to wrap this location for the day and in so doing drop two whole scenes and the fire and destruction pickups from the days schedule. The two scenes involved were set up as one shot scenes, which is why the decision was made, they would be easier to pickup, possibly tomorrow. June and Jacqui were released and we moved over to the chilly church.

    We had just the one scene here but again a noisy tracking shot helped put us slightly behind. It was nobody's fault, it was just that the scene was a quiet moment between Frank (Charlie) and Alison (Sarah). We were crammed into this reverberating room and the tiniest sound echoed around the walls. We were now under pressure to release Frank and so concentrated on getting his shots in first. We also delayed supper for the crew to enable us to do this. Once Frank was released we broke for supper. We were also at official wrap time but the crew were happy to continue to finish this scene. It was an anxious moment. I didn't want to take advantage of a crew that had worked particularly hard during the week. The support in the crew for the film was a great comfort. We shot the reverses on Alison and I read Franks lines, this is not an ideal situation for the actor concerned. I asked Zoe Norfolk our stills photographer to stand in for Frank for his eyeline, as she was closest to his height. I also asked her not to look at Alison. She needed to play the scene with the memory of Frank still fresh in her mind, asking Zoe to look away gave Alison that opportunity without having someone stare blankly back as the lines are read off camera.

    We got the scene and wrapped for the evening and Zoe subsequently became Frank's stand-in for the rest of the shoot.

    One of the scenes that we dropped from the day was a Cine Jib shot in the main body of the church. This gave us greater concern. We'd set up the shot earlier in the day and the equipment and track was already in place. I'd also asked the Art department to set up an area in the main body for the pickups of the fire and destruction flashback sequences. They had done an excellent job and had an area ready, containing burnt beams, debris and a burnt body we managed to get hold of, that was used in the beach scenes of "Saving Private Ryan", (The body became known as "Crispy Kevin"). It was also all set up, lit and ready to go. We just didn't manage the time and now they would both interfere with tomorrows shots, scheduled for the same location. Gavin and I went away to think of a way round this problem. I wasn't about to instruct the Art department to clear away all their work or the Cine Jib grips to take apart the crane. We still needed these shots so it seemed appropriate that we should look to work around the problem before before making a hasty decision.
  • Friday 14th Jan, 2000

  • The solution to yesterdays conflict of setups actually helped us out with the day's schedule. We just needed the time and space away from the set to be practical about it. I asked the Art department to somehow include the fire and destruction setup into the abandoned church scene we were to shoot that morning. With the help of various dust sheets, a chair and some leaves the area became as much a part of the scene as if it had been planned all along. It was also a simple task to return the area to the original setup for the pickups. The Cine Jib was also worked around. That we now intended to keep it in its place for the whole day enabled us to add two unscheduled shots for the crane. I'd been up late the previous night with Gavin and we'd amended Friday's shot list. By shooting around the crane we were well ahead by lunchtime and the Cine Jib was still in place to pickup on the dropped scene from yesterday.

    We were also visited on set by Peter Lamont (Consultant production designer). Luke and I had a meeting with him prior to production so it was good to have him on set to see our work come to fruition. Ian Lewis (Writer) and Focal Press were also present and Peter gave us an interview for the book. The Art department were thrilled with his visit and were able to talk to him about many of the films he has designed.

    The afternoon was, perhaps, the busiest part of the whole shoot. We were to film the biggest scene of the film and were to go on long after our official wrap time. For this I have to honour the entire crew. The whole scene was to be shot in 12 setups. Within these setups were lighting changes as the ghosts appeared, the extras themselves, the blocking of our two main actors and the individual effects shots. Philip Shaw (1st AD) handled the extras wonderfully leaving me free to discuss the effects shots with Matt Twyford (Digital effects supervisor) and make sure we got all that we needed. That we achieved all this is tribute to the crew and the spirit within the project. Once wrapped we arranged beer and wine at Neale house. It was almost the end of the location filming and the party that evening went on till about 3am.
  • Saturday 15th Jan, 2000

  • After the late night all the crew were on time and ready to work by the unit call of 9am. We had only half a day scheduled today, with only two scenes, (Charlie's house) and the pickup in the dining room of the guest house. The scenes went without problem including the final effect shot for the film. We wrapped just after twelve. After lunch the last piece of business was the crew photograph. I gave Maurice Gillett the honour of holding the clapper, he'd been with us the whole week and offered much advice to the lighting department. He was very active around the set and the source of many anecdotes. Not bad for a man in his eighties.

    The afternoon was spent on the fire and destruction pickups that had been dropped earlier in the week. We were able to set up a small camera unit that consisted of Gavin, Adam White, our camera assistant and myself. The Art department had re-established the pickup area in the church and we got various shots for the end sequence in the film. We were also able to pickup the shot of the church silhouetted against the sky that was dropped from the first days schedule.
  • Sunday 16th Jan, 2000

  • The cleanup of the location began today. The camera gear and grip equipment will remain with us until tomorrow. The crew room in the chapel and the church itself is in much need of a good clean.
  • Monday 17th Jan, 2000

  • The Panavision truck arrived to pick up all the gear. As all of the crew left us on Saturday there was only Alison, Claire (Unit manager), myself and the truck driver available to load all the equipment. Once done I needed to get to Pinewood and go over the shot list for tomorrows shoot with Gavin. Alison, Claire and Tanya (Runner) got on with the cleanup.

    On arrival at Pinewood there was much activity. It appears that a day and a half were lost in the build of the set (Sarah's bedroom) and there wasn't much to look at. Philip Shaw was now construction manager, not what he'd expected on his day off, but he got on with the job. His help during the build really saved the day. Luke was looking at an all night stay to get the set dressed in time as all the Art department worked late into the evening. Peter Lamont visited the set in the morning and again in the afternoon.

    I reviewed the scenes with Gavin and left to put together the shots for tomorrow.
  • Tuesday 18th Jan, 2000

  • Alison and I were up at 5.30 to get to Pinewood for the unit call of 8am. We arrived just after 7am. Luke had been there all night and the transformation from the previous day was amazing. We now had a set, wallpapered, painted and dressed. We also had Trevor Coop as our camera operator for the day. Rodrigo had started a feature this week and so was unavailable. Trevor was approached and was happy to help us out.

    The day went extremely well. There was a complicated setup that I was worried about involving symbols that mysteriously glow through the walls of Sarah's bedroom but all went smoothly and we got all we needed. We also had various visitors to the set throughout the day. Maurice Gillett was again with us as was Freddie Francis. Freddie had been away in New York during last week picking up an award for his latest film "The Straight Story" and so was unable to spend any time on location. Peter Lamont arrived again in the afternoon. Jenny from Focal press and our documentary team interviewed all our visitors regarding this project. Illumina TV were also there for their own documentary on the film and will be following us through post production. They plan to feature the film in a series called "Short Attention Span Cinema" for FilmFour. They also interviewed our consultants as well as the key crew. Quantel were on set to see out the final days shooting and Gordon Hayman, camera operator on many of Freddie's films also dropped by. As the day progressed Luke was to be found sat on various camera boxes fighting to stay awake. Once wrapped it was decided he needed a lift home for fear that he may fall asleep and awake two days later in a remote part of England. He did make it home for a good nights sleep but was still at Pinewood early the next day to break up the set.

    It was a lovely atmosphere at Pinewood and everyone was very relaxed. I felt much more at ease despite the attention from the documentaries, the book and our visitors. That it had all come together was very rewarding. We'd had some problems but in retrospect they now seem minor. As the whole project has developed over the last eight months the solution to all our problems always exceeded the original plan. We'd had a real mix of experience on this production, from some of the industry's most respected filmmakers to those who'd never set foot on a film set before. There was a great spirit of openness and co-operation and this was summed up for me on the second day of the shoot, when I turned round to see the camera crew instructing two of our runners. Tanya and Vicki were being taught focus pulling and camera operation and tracked up and down on the dolly whilst the scene was being lit. All of us took something from the project and for me it was the privilege to work alongside Rodrigo and Trevor, these two have worked with some of the great directors in the business and what I learned from them is worth years in the classroom.

    Post production is the next phase and and I can't wait.
  • May 2000 Update - A Postcard from Cannes

  • The following is an extract from Producer, Alison Reddihough's diary about our 1st experience of the Cannes Film Festival in May 2000.
  • We arrive in Cannes mid-afternoon on the 15th, dressed in our best, ready for an evening drinks do at the Kodak pavilion and clutching our postcards, packages and treatments. We’ve got an hour to kill beforehand. OK. Where now? Time to get a feel for the place….
  • First, we register. To be able to walk around the pavilions and hotels you need a Unifrance pass. This you apply for way back in March, or you can get it on the day (but be prepared to spend half the day doing it). They’re very strict registering and you have to be able to prove that you are in the industry very thoroughly, stopping short of providing your blood group. We have registered in advance, however we nearly get turned away because we left our passports at the hotel. After much sweet talking (even offering to supply our blood group) the very nice French girl processing our registration relents and we get our badges (with the obligatory dreadful passport photo on them).
  • We wander around, soaking up the atmosphere (and the sun!). Our first impression is that Cannes is crowded. Hundreds of hopeful filmmakers mingling with stars mingling with tourists from all over the world. We bump into the All Saints (or rather their very burly 7ft bodyguards) leaving a Press Conference. We start to explore further. The film festival stretches along the whole of the Croisette. The core of it centres around the Palais (a rather depressing concrete bunker shaped building) where all the competition films are screened. An assortment of Pavilions are grouped around this area and most of these you can freely wander into. We tended to gravitate towards the British Pavilion and the Kodak Pavilion, although the American one looked quite fun. The Marche (the main film market) is actually in the Palais building, however you need another pass to get in there, which costs a few hundred pounds. Having said that, towards the end of the festival they let us in with our Unifrance pass. The rest of the festival is dotted in the hotels along the Croisette, which are completely taken over by different film companies. This is where you go to if you want to do business.
  • It can be a little intimidating at first. There are groups of filmmakers huddled wherever you go, who glance briefly at you when you enter, then resume chatting when they see you’re not famous or important to them. However, we keep a positive attitude and confidently proceed to our drinks do. Once inside the Pavilion, we discover another reason why the film industry flock to Cannes. Free booze. And lots of it. The wine flows freely and as the week goes on we meet several people who spend their whole days drifting from one cocktail party to another, in a constant alcoholic daze. The drinks do is interesting – we meet a few other filmmakers and compare experiences – but uneventful. We collapse back at our hotel and plan our strategy for the next few days.
  • And that is one of the most important things about going to Cannes. Knowing what you’re going to do when you’re out there, and preferably having a lot of appointments and parties lined up before you go. Otherwise, it’s easy to wander around rather aimlessly, with a sinking sense that you’re missing out on something good.
  • So, clasping our plan of action, we successfully spend the next few days renewing some old contacts and making some new ones, as well as squeezing in a couple of parties. We spend a lot of time with Paul Watkins on a luxurious yacht, which has been jointly hired for Cannes by Quantel, Fuji, Panavision and Lee Lighting and, as promised, he shows our trailer. He also introduces us to a few people who could be useful for “Ghosthunter” towards the end of post-production. We then bump into Hugh Whittaker from Panavision and finally meet our contact at Technicolor, Kishor Ladwa, who is instantly likeable and very friendly. He promises us a screening of “Ghosthunter” sometime in the future.
  • Amongst others, we have a good chat with David Webb at Kodak and discuss our films in development and the plans that Kodak have for helping to finance features. We meet Paul Howson from the British Council and discuss the possibility of their help with a print grant and distributing “Ghosthunter” when it’s finished. We introduce ourselves to FilmFour. We suss out all the various ‘dot.com’ Internet companies that are vying to show your short on their site. We meet up with some other filmmakers and actors who are in the same boat as us and swap experiences and business cards. And, OK, we have the occasional drink...
  • One night we wangle an invitation to the screening and party of a new British Film called “Dead Babies”. It’s a popular event, so popular in fact that the club where the party is held is jam-packed so tightly that no one can move in or out. Simon and I last 5 minutes and then decide to move onto the Quantel boat, where another party is in full swing. There’s plenty of room on the boat, however, there’s some surprise entertainment… The boat next to Quantel’s has been hired by an American billionaire who is throwing a live strip show on the open deck. Only in Cannes! (Can you imagine this happening in Eastbourne?) I try and have a serious conversation with Simon and Paul, only to see their eyes keep wandering over to 2 skinny, naked girls doing strange things with a bottle of champagne. It was the most popular boat in the harbour and even the policemen ended up lined up on the dockside cheering them on. Needless to say the party was one of the most talked about the next day.
  • Eventually, we’ve had enough of Cannes. Also, as the festival nears the end of it’s second week, there’s a feeling that everything is winding down, and that everyone is heading home. It’s been a worthwhile trip. We haven’t raised any more funds (yet), but we’ve done some valuable networking, and spread the word about “Ghosthunter”. And importantly, we now know how Cannes works and the best way to navigate it – firstly, make sure you’re going with a strong purpose, or even better, a finished film to show; secondly, try and arrange meetings and parties before you go, and thirdly, be bold, be confident and be prepared to sell your project in a positive way at anytime. So, until next year, we scoot off into the sunset in our hired Fiat Punto, and spend the last day and a half exploring the beautiful Cote D’Azur, before returning to cold, damp England.

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