My idea for this directing and performance assignment is to do a short film chronicling a gangster and his un-trustworthy “employee” who’s incompetence and selfishness could potentially ruin the business, therefore the boss takes matters into his own hands. This will be a short ten minute piece which hopefully could be a potential feature length film, but what I want to do is produce a single part or scene from it.
The story revolves around the boss character, who is very well grounded and focussed on keeping his drug business operational and a secret, using his main business; a bar/club to launder his drug money and keep everything legitimate on to the outside. but when one of his “employees”; Jimmy, drops the ball, he has to put professionalism aside and unleash a part of him that hasn’t been seen before.
Jimmy works for the boss doing street drug deals and brings in x amount of pounds into the bar per week. Jimmy is a whacky character and drug user himself which makes him unpredictable and potentially dangerous. When the boss notices a progressive decline in money he is bringing in, he soon pieces together that Jimmy is using all the drugs himself instead of selling it on.
I have had an idea for a film like this for a while now, and its only until now do I really feel I could produce something like this well, mainly for the fact that my best friend Tony Longcake (20 years old) has been appointed manager of The Live Lounge bar on the barbican and having a location like that to build the story around was the perfect opportunity.
I want to do a story like this because my work and my style has been heavily influenced by films that tackle this kinds of stories and characters. Films like; Goodfellas (1990) Directed by Martin Scorsese, The Untouchables (1987) Directed by Brian De Palma, Casino (1995) Directed by Martin Scorsese, Reservoir Dogs (1992) Directed by Quentin Tarantino, Pulp Fiction (1994) Directed by Quentin Tarantino, Jackie Brown (1997) Directed by Quentin Tarantino, American Gangster (2007) Directed by Ridley Scott.
I love how these films create characters with such tenacity, fury and brute force, but also characters we can relate to and engage with on a personal level. All these films bring authentic and real dialogue out of the characters in their films, and I have always connected to that and been interested in that aspect of film. It’s amazing how these films have such voilent and shocking stories, with characters that are essentially cold blooded killers, but they talk about real things, real life, they’re not just talking about the next person they’re going to kill or the next bank they’re going to rob, they talk about sex and tv shows, celebrities, stuff real people talk about and I have always loved that.
“Quentin realises that hitmen dont just talk about the job, I think that was the thought prior to that, that when hitmen are on the way to a job they’re busy cleaning their gun, you always see people checking their guns, counting their bullets, spinning the cylinders on their guns you know sharpening their knives and doing whatever, talking about how much they hate the person they’re about to kill or why the boss wants them killed… They have lives like everybody else, you know you’ve been out the country, where did you go? I went to so and so, do you realise they eat, you know, french fries with mayonnaise, eww nasty, you know it’s just normal kinds of banter…” – Samuel L. Jackson on Quentin Tarantino’s writing style.
Quentin Tarantino. Miramax. “Pulp Fiction” (2012) Blu Ray. Special Features. “Not the Usual Mindless Getting to Know You Chit Chat” 16 minutes 21 seconds.
For my boss character in my film, I wanted to draw aspects from the “Casino” (1995) character “Nicky Santoro” and “Goodfellas” (1990) character “Tommy DeVito” both played by actor Joe Pesci. I love these two characters, it is interesting how the most voilent and intimidating character in both these films are played by someone who is very small and not your typical looking gangster. Here is a scene from “Casino” that shows how unexpected his small and somewhat normal looking character is, showing how explosive he is in minor disputes and situations.
For me that made both these characters so engaging and intimidating, you’re on edge all the time and you have no idea what is going to happen next, and I wanted my boss character to have these qualities.
For the boss character I asked my good friend Tom Dixon to play it, I chose him because he possessed the character traits I was looking for in the character; he’s average height, he’s big built but not too big, and he has rugged and quite intimidating looks. I also knew he could play the character really well as he is very focussed and a natural performer, taking roles and responsibilities very seriously.
On the 15th January 2013 I went over to Tom’s house to run over the film and what was needed from him, my ideas and running over his character. We did a wardrobe test (above) to see what his character looks like and at that point I knew I had chosen the right person for the role, he looked great and was exactly what I was looking for. On that day I took all of my rough paper work and rough scripts with me to give him a clear idea as to what I wanted the film to be and what he was going to do. Here is the paper work:
CELLAR SCENE SCRIPT DRAFTS:
JIMMY’S ENTRANCE SCENE IDEAS:
CELLAR SCENE “OLD SAYING” SPEECH IDEAS:
CELLAR SCENE FINAL DRAFT:
On the 23rd January 2013 we were ready to shoot, I had my production crew and actors ready and we got down to Live Lounge to set up at 9:00 am that morning.
The Crew and Equipment:
Writer/Director/Cinematographer: Aden Barwick
Tom Dixon (The Boss)
Joshua Ayres (Jimmy)
Tony Longcake (Tony)
Robert Smith (Accomplice)
Daniel Waldron (Extra)
Amie Brown (Girl at Bar/Extra)
Faye Elliott (Extra)
Tom Donachie (Extra)
Grant Lang (Extra)
Aden Barwick (Extra in one shot)
Josh Carter (Extra)
Sound: Joshua Carter and Grant Lang
Hair and Make-up: Amie Brown, Faye Elliott and Tom Donachie
Lighting: Robert Marshall
Clapper: Joshua Carter
Camera: Canon 7D
Lenses: Canon L Lens 16-24mm f/2.8
Resolution: 1920 x 1080 Full HD 1080p
Frame Rate(s) 25fps, 50fps
Lighting: Arri 300W x2, Arri 150W, LED Panel Lights x4
We began the shoot with the opening scene, with the boss in the black lit office checking over the financial paperwork and noticing the hole in the earnings Jimmy is supposed to be bringing in, he then asks the barman (Tony) what is going wrong, with Tony responding with; “it’s Jimmy again…”
I gave Tony total freedom with his lines, rewriting them whilst shooting, but I wanted him to improvise and say what he was feeling, whatever felt natural and it worked very well.
We filmed around three to four angles of Tom’s side of the conversation, we shot all of that first, and then filmed from the other side to get Tony’s dialogue which was done in one angle.
I really like the black lit office, it gives everything a cool neon glow and it establishes the Boss character in a cool way, that opening scene he is very much hidden in the darkness and we don’t see him very well at first as all his is being lit by is the paper and whatever bounces light onto him.
After completing the opening scene, we shot Jimmy’s arrival scene. This was a really fun scene to shoot, it introduces the Jimmy character perfectly, it shows him as light hearted, reckless, obnoxious, and excited. Although he has done wrong, he brings a fun quality that keeps the tone of the film light, and hopefully the audience connects with him and finds him humorous.
This involves Jimmy entering the bar, all hopped up on god knows what, and excitedly explaining to Tony about a deal he has just made with an unknown party. Tony, knowing the Boss’s plans with Jimmy, keeps up normal conversation and seemingly acts normal towards Jimmy. When Jimmy demands to talk to the Boss about the deal he is involved with, Tony lures him down to the cellar, telling him the Boss is down there when he is really in the office listening to everything.
This scene was an attempt of showing how important loyalty is to the gangster world and that they keep their friends close, and their enemies closer, that their killers come with a smile. I wanted to create the feeling that nobody is safe and your number could be up without you having the slightest idea.
During this scene, when Jimmy enters and sits at the bar, I wrote in a little moment when he gets distracted by a young woman sat next to him at the bar, he slides his stool closer to her and tries to seduce her, failing miserably, I really liked this moment as it introduces Jimmy in a fun loving way, I want the audience to instantly fall in love with the character so his fate becomes naturally devastating to the audience. This part was completely improvised by Josh (who plays Jimmy). I basically told him to sit down next to her, move in closer and be really crude and obnoxious whilst trying to hit on her. He took that and ran with it, he came out with a different line every take, with Amie (girl at the bar) reacting completely genuine to his comments.
As Jimmy walks down to the cellar, Tony looks on and we get the feeling he feels bad for Jimmy, shortly after, the Boss comes out of the office watching Jimmy walking to the cellar, with a cold stare he pours himself a drink and Tony asks; “You sure you want to do this?” getting no response from the Boss. this then leads to the next scene.
The next thing we shot was the slow motion sequence. This scene follows the Boss from behind the bar, drinking his drink, walking through to the office, coming out of the office door and walking to the cellar. This was a really fun scene to film, I assigned little actions for the extras to do whilst the the Boss was walking through the environment.
- Tony pours customer (Daniel Waldron) a drink
- The Boss drinks his drink, paperwork in hand
- Customer (Josh Carter) walks past camera and sits at bar
- Customer (Tom Donachie) walks over to his table with drinks for his girlfriend (Faye Elliott)
- Guy and girl (Aden and Amie) dancing together on dance floor
- Customer (Grant) walks upstairs past the Boss, presumably coming from the toilets
This was the only shot in the film I did not shoot myself, I gave the responsibility to Robert Marshall, as he was good with his own personal steady cam rig he brought along, and I could then be out there with the actors during the scene giving them their action cues.
I felt all the extras needed to be doing something whilst Tom was walking through to bring the environment to life, like a real bar, I didn’t want everyone just stood still like robots not doing anything, I wanted things and people for Tom to interact with during the scene, and I think it makes the scene flow so much better and breathes life into the bar.
I chose to have the song “The Beast in Me” by Mark Lanegan playing over this scene, I like it because it is a very slow, eerie sounding song, and the lyrics in particular fit the scene perfectly, “god help the beast in me” echoes through the scene and gives you the uneasy feeling that Jimmy is in serious trouble and that the Boss could have something terrible planned.
The next scene filmed was the second scene in the film, which involves a suited man (Robert Smith) entering the dark cellar, and laying newspaper down on the floor and placing a metal chair in the middle of the room. This scene was filmed to show the audience that the Boss had words with his accomplice and planned Jimmy’s demise without actually showing it, I like this way of showing that, as the audience has to connect the dots themselves which I think is a lot more effective way than to simply have a scene with it all being explained. This was filmed very quickly, filmed with four shots, a shot of the old flickering light turning on, a wide shot filming the entire scene, and a close up of the newspaper being laid down and the chair being placed.
THE CELLAR SCENE:
The final big scene we filmed was the cellar scene/Jimmy’s demise, this was the scene that the most writing and effort went into. This was quite a daring scene to film, I felt I was asking a bit much of my actors and that I was biting off a bit more than I could chew, but I went for it anyway and we got the scene light and ready for a take. I hadn’t heard Tom (Boss) go through his lines properly in character before, to his request, and I really didn’t know what to expect, it was very nerve racking and I asked Tom (Boss) if he could do as much as the scene as possible in one take so I could film it all in one wide angle shot. We got the audio levels ready and I got everybody out of the room so it was just the people that we needed in their during the scene, in the room was; Me on camera, Grant and Josh C. on sound and the performers Tom, Josh and Rob.
When I yelled “action” for the first take, my heart started racing, I had no idea what was about to happen, this could be perfect, or a complete disaster. Tom entered the room and he brought the words I wrote down on paper to life, everyone was in shock, for a brief moment I was totally engaged in the moment and I forgot I was filming for a second, it was such a magical moment, it was raw, pure authenticity playing out infront of me which was the most important aspect to me. Tom (Boss) and Josh (Jimmy) got through 90% of the whole scene on the very first take, improvising in moments when they felt it was needed and when they felt it in the moment which I kept telling them to do before hand. The rest of the crew were outside the door listening and when I said “cut” after that first take everyone started cheering and applauding everybody was floored. I was so impressed with their performance it was beyond anything I ever expected from them. The second take was filmed in the same spot, the same wide angle and we basically picked up where we left off, filming the last 10% of the scene; Tom’s closing piece of dialogue to Jimmy before wielding a knife and brutally stabbing him continuously in an explosive display of violence. All that was needed now were close up shots of both actors during certain lines of the script which were done very quickly and close ups of Jimmy’s horrific death. I had my practical effects team; Tom Donachie and Faye Elliott make two batches of blood for the scene; a thick batch to put on the knife and clothes, and a safe batch for Josh to have in his mouth.
Filming for this entire production took one nine hour day, this was done very quickly and I think that all goes down to the extensive planning I did before hand. I made sure all my actors knew what they were doing, where they were doing it, I gave them scripts to look over and get familiar with weeks in advance of the shoot. I also told my production team the kinds of shots I wanted to get and how I wanted the lighting to look in certain scenes so we could all pitch in ideas on how they could be achieved. All of this planning made the filming process very enjoyable, there were no snags during production, everyone was focused and very professional, which made life a lot easier for me as I was quite concerned before filming because I had a proper location rented out and the last thing I wanted was to run into a mess of problems during the shoot which could possibly effect the outcome of the final product.
Editing the film was surprisingly relaxed, the use of a clapper board in the shoot made pairing the video and audio so easy a quick, I will definitely be using a clapper board for all of my future projects. I edited the film on CS6, it took one 14 hour day to edit the first draft, I was so keen to edit the film that I started the day after we filmed it and I was glued to the computer screen, I just loved how everything looked and I just wanted it all finished right away. Since then I have re-edited and cleaned up pieces of the film around five times, making subtle changes in audio and scene arrangements, that was the advantage of filming so early that I spent my time making it as good as it could be and get other people’s opinions and feedback.
A week after the shooting, I had an edit of the film that was ready for a group viewing, so I gathered the cast and crew, and a group of my friends and we had a screening at my friend’s flat on his projector, almost like a red carpet premiere.
Screening the film was great, it got a good reaction and I got a lot of critical feedback which overall helped me update and make changes to the film.
Below are two alternate videos I made of the film, mainly because I finished so early that I had a lot of time on my hands, they are an outtakes/blooper reel and an interview with the main character in the film, discussing the process of planning for the role and filming.
Film Title: “Juste Affaire”
Format: MPEG-4 movie H.264 HD 1080p
Running Time: 8 minutes 30 seconds
Aspect Ratio: 16:9
Description: A short film chronicling a modern day gangster and his untrustworthy “employee”, whose incompetence and selfishness could potentially ruin and expose the secretive business, therefore the boss must take matters into his own hands.
The Film: http://www.vimeo.com/58465126
Contact Details: firstname.lastname@example.org
Directing & Performance has been an important assignment and personal challenge for me, it has helped me hone my skills as a film maker and director, but has also helped me become more confident and comfortable with writing dialogue and scripting. Hearing the dialogue I wrote and seeing the scenes come to life on camera really got me excited for the potential the film has and for my future projects. It was amazing having such a great location and group of people to work on this with, it really made it an amazing experience and helped me grow as a film maker.
Being focussed on what the actors are doing and directing them was a nice change of pace from past film projects I have worked on, I didn’t have to just worry about what the camera was seeing and the technical aspect, I was getting right in there with the actors and putting myself in these scenes before hand to really help the actors get the vision I had in my head out on the table for everyone to see and work off of. At times it did all become slightly overwhelming, I didn’t realise how much work and responsibility goes into directing, it was a nice insight to what it will be like professionally on a very very small scale.
Shooting this film, in such a short amount of time, went better than I ever imagined, I had a lot of people helping me, I had a great location, an idea that I thought had potential but I knew I had to get it all done in one day. I knew if I didn’t finish filming it would be nearly impossible to get everybody back to shoot for a second day because they all have they’re own lives and things to do themselves, and to be honest it was an absolute miracle that everyone who helped were able to all on the same day. Having this notion that if I didn’t finish it today I probably never will finish it just pushed me further and made me work harder to reach my goal, and having everybody who helped out understand what I wanted and were all on the same page made everything so much easier.
Writing dialogue and creating characters is something I have never explored before, and I was nervous to see and hear how my dialogue sounded when being spoken by the actors, I didn’t want it to sound unnatural or cheesy, but thanks to my over-powering obsession with pretty much anything Tarantino has ever made, the dialogue was written and felt natural and genuine, researching into how he writes scripts helped massively.
Editing this film was probably the easiest and most laid back production I have ever edited. Seeing as I have never planned a production like this and so thoroughly before-hand, it was really easy before I knew exactly what the film looked like before it was even film, I just had to piece it all together, and the fact that I finished filming on the 23rd of January, I had a lot of time to experiment and build the film with a natural progression and not just rushed out for a deadline like a lot of my past projects.
There are a couple of things I would of done differently looking at the final film; as everything was shot handheld, next time I would definitely use a tripod for most of the shots, as there is a really ugly shake to some of the shots I got, which I did try to fix on CS6 with warp stabiliser but it didn’t work how I wanted it to. Also during the scene where Jimmy is being stabbed repeatedly by the Boss, I wish I had got a shot of the accomplice (Robert Smith) looking away, finding the killing too disgusting to watch, I think that would have flowed very nicely in the scene but I couldn’t get back to the location on another day to shoot a pick-up shot which I am quite disappointed by.
Overall I am very proud of this film, it took a lot of hard work and cooperation from others, it has definitely built my communication skills as that was absolutely vital to producing this film. It has also helped me build my understanding of my directing style and what I bring out on screen.
Here is a little sitcom edition I edited together in a couple of hours, it was all for fun and works surprisingly well actually, give it a watch if you’d like.