Dear Mum: in the can

Every filmmaking experience is unique. It depends on the people you are working with, the chemistry between them, and the story that is being told. Working with my friend Donovan Swart over the last six months to prepare for Dear Mum has been a wonderful creative experience. What I felt I brought to the table was my experience on multiple short film sets as an actress, and also producer on Der Gugelhupf earlier this year. What he brought was this tremendous short story of grief, family and human connection. As we quickly noticed, the characters that he wrote were so full of life that what happens after or before the events of this short film could go in many directions. Donovan’s love for films, books and storytelling as well as excellent people skills were the fuel supporting our experience.

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Acting wise, this has probably been my most challenging role due to the emotion it required. However, by being a producer, I feel like I’d been living with my character Katie for months. This helped me take my time to research her life, make personal decisions and, once the other actors were cast, develop her relationships. Once we got on set, I think the culmination of it all was a big help. In fact, a few days before we started, I was really itching to GO!

I had the majority of my scenes with Daniel Barry, a generous and very friendly actor who I got to know a bit before shooting. He played my husband George, and it was great to have him as a partner. My daughter was played by Lucy Allwood, who had been perfect in the audition already, and I wish I had had more than one scene with her! It was great to act alongside people of different ages on this project. My father was played with so much focus and generosity by CJ Barton. Without lines, he still stole the show in my opinion. My mother Fiona was played by Chrissie Grech, who I acted in flashback scenes with. I became attached to her and it was fun imagining some of our past together.

During the five-day shoot (four in a house in South West London and one in Botany Bay), I often had to pinch myself that people were working tirelessly for this one story. We had a great crew, starting with the brilliant director of photography Ariel Artur, who brought along his great camera team Steven Fairman, Felix Dembinski and Clare Brittain. Our assistant director Andrea Ratti is out of this world, so organised, sweet and strict when needed. The skill of developing a stripboard is a mystery to me. Andrea was assisted by the lovely Rama Amkie. Our sound technician was Lee Viesnik, and our make up artist Joan Karimi, who I was happy to have interesting conversations with, especially on our last day. Continuity was handled by Valentina Marciano (also a runner), Hannah Rogers and Sandra Tomalka. I had not realised early enough during pre-production how important this role was, which is why we couldn’t find one same person for all days. Better next time! Our super duper runners were: Orhan Toprakci (also producer), Cat Scambler (also executive producer), Liam Bland (also acting as the barman and assisting Donovan on script work), Marina Lacoste and Valentina, mentioned above. On set photography was handled by Luisina Fascendini and Ivan Troopa.

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What I care about as producer is that: nothing broke and no one died! Seriously, I feel that that’s the job of the producer: make sure everyone shows up and stays healthy, and that things get done. A film team is a house of cards. Take one away, and it all falls apart. I am so pleased that I could play this role in Donovan’s first film. As a director, he was a great leader and this is definitely only the beginning for him.

Post production has now started, and I will be keeping you updated on edits and more photos. In the meantime, I’m now in rehearsals for an immersive show called The Curious Voyage, so I’m out of here! Toodloo.

It's September!

Temperatures have cooled, international film festivals are in full swing, and we are approaching our shoot for DEAR MUM. With the help of the wonderful producing team Don, Cat, Orhan and Andrea, I feel we are on the right track. Our 2nd AC and gaffer have been locked, which is great news!

Rehearsals: To prepare, I have been taking in text, audio and videos about mother-daughter relationships and bipolar disorder over the summer. I met my fellow actor Daniel Barry this week, and am so pleased that he is even more of a character geek than me! I've been chatting with Lucy Allwood (playing my daughter Lily) and Chrysanthe Grech (playing my mother Fiona) about memories. This is wonderful, and I am in the process of writing my full life backstory as Katie. Next week, actors will be meeting with director Donovan to work on scenes. 

Costume: the next week will be about tone and locking down costume. This is always a tough one for me: you don't want your own taste to get in the way. I am happiest when someone just hands me what I have to wear (this has only happened to me twice thus far) - is that lazy?

Set design: we are meeting with set designer Sunny Jeon this week at the house, the location where we will be shooting for four days.

Catering: apart from the fact that looking at websites of catering menus is mouth-watering, this is an important part of our budget. As an actress, I notice the disappointment when you are simply served supermarket sandwiches and soda - no go!

Toodloo!

Watching yourself

As I wait for the last few adjustments to the 5-minute short film DER GUGELHUPF, I wanted to put on my actress hat and tell you about what it feels like to watch yourself acting on screen.

Let me tell you something: I've never been as self-critical than with this film. Is it because it's a product of my imagination? Because I was involved on more levels than in other projects? Probably!

So far, the first viewings of my films have come with some difficulty - sometimes with my inner voice screaming "stop overacting!" - but in subsequent viewings, I settle in, watch the other actors, notice the camera movements, and take more and more distance from it. I haven't lived with it as long as the director has, so I am able to take a step back and enjoy the story.

People find it strange that some actors don't like watching themselves. However, it actually makes a lot of sense. Screen acting is such a younger craft than the millennia-old discipline of the actor. The original job of the actor is to perform to a live audience. Words are said, audiences react, actors react to the audience, everything's immediate. What's more, the power of the moment means that you have the luxury of not watching your own performance. Therefore, I understand that when you are watching a film six months after actually shooting it, you may feel like some of it is fake: you have evolved, you've done other things, and you are now looking at something that you felt all those months ago. Perhaps today, you would have reacted differently.

Back to DER GUGELHUPF: I'm actually quite grateful, because I've finally found out about a very important habit I have and which appears on screen here. I've either not had it come out this much before, or directors didn't mind it, but I have been watching it multiple times over the last month and it definitely caught my eye. I see it as a lesson! If you want to know what it is, you'll have to watch the film!

On that note, I wish everyone a good week, and thank you for following!

Post-production

And we're back! Things are cooking again for DER GUGELHUPF, which has now been fully edited by Marcell Feher. The short film is just a little over five minutes long. The next two stages, which should be completed this month, are colour grading and sound mixing, which are now in progress.

Colour grading: as we shot outside and that the light changed over the course of the day, we need to adjust colour and light in the film in order to it all to look fluid and real.

Sound mixing: I will know more about the impact once it is fully finished, but this is to make sure all sounds that occurred during our shoot are nicely combined in order for the audio experience to complete the visual one.

There is much less for me to do at this point, apart from coordinating progress with the post-production team.

Next week I will be going into my first impressions of the film.

Thank you for following! 

 

Location, location, location.

This week took me from Peckham to Mottingham and from Victoria Park to Hilly Fields. My legs appreciated being out more than usual, and I’m happy to say that after today’s stroll with producer Hannah Rogers, we’ve narrowed it down to four potential parks for Der Gugelhupf! By the way, we found a peer on a pond that would be so lovely and romantic to film on, but then we realised that this would mean our cinematographer and all the equipment would need to float on water - or stay balanced on a paddle boat - so that crushed my dream!

Self-tape requests have been sent out to actresses, with deadlines for next week-end, so this coming week promises to be more administrative, with date-locking, video-watching and hopefully some more crew-locking in store.

The cinematographer I have in mind for the shoot is the key to the next step of pre-production. She will confirm the dates at which we can use her and her camera, which will then help us fill out applications to local councils regarding the parks. The precise date will also matter to the cast and crew, including the make-up artist, sound recordist and runners.

What will follow will be financial: once the council confirms, we will have to pay them for the permit! 

What I realise I could have done differently:

-        I could have locked the date before asking actresses to self-tape, in case they turn out to be completely unavailable on the chosen date. Fingers crossed that they will be flexible, and not too annoyed at me for this!

Toodloo!

 

Origins

Gugelhupf: a light, yeasted marble cake.

When you are developing your acting career, you often hear how important it is to make your own work, to not wait for it to come to you. A little over a year ago, I started feeling the itch of wanting to be more involved in the film process, more creative, especially in between acting roles. An Austrian fellow actress inspired me to write a short two-person dialogue. The scene takes place in a park which could be anywhere in the world, and two women meet. What’s more, I wrote it in German. I have been involved only in English-language projects since I’ve been in London (naturally), and it’s very rare to see any auditions for German parts in independent projects in England. I felt this would be interesting, going in the direction of my personal heritage and being an opportunity to meet other German-speaking artists. Don't worry, the final piece will have subtitles!

And so, I wrote a first draft and called it Der Gugelhupf. I didn't want it to be longer than 10 minutes, and I knew what kind of scenes I like to watch. Surprisingly, after taking many scattered notes for a few weeks, the writing flowed. I wrote to a few directors I knew, showed the script to a friend for input, but never took that step of really pushing it. As 2017 came to a close, I knew I had to stop talking about it and just move forward. What’s more, who hasn’t noticed how urgent it is to have women writing and behind the camera? I was very lucky to meet director Charlotte Atkinson, also a producer and a really talented young woman who’s already achieved so much! She lived for a while in Germany, and was interested in directing in German. Her interest and input meant so much to me and motivated me even more. When you are alone sitting on your project, it can feel quite lonely, and of course there is the fear that it’s terrible! Subsequently, I got in touch with a talented director I had worked with on a short film last year, Hannah Rogers, and she accepted to produce! Now we’re cooking – well, baking!

My goal is to shoot this 5-10-minute short film before the end of the Winter. The stages we are in right now are 1. Location scouting, and 2. Casting.

1.      Locations: this is one of the aspects that is making me quite nervous, as we will be filming in a public place and need permission from the local council. We have a lead on a private garden, so fingers crossed!

2.      Casting: oh my goodness, there is so much talent out there! Not that I doubted it, I’ve just been pleasantly reminded of it this week! The casting notice is out since last Thursday, and I’m giving myself a whole week to make a shortlist by looking at various profiles, showreels and images. I have a few favourites already. I sympathise with casting directors who need to find actors within 48 hours or less, that must be so stressful. What if the chemistry is wrong, what if their picture doesn’t show who they really are? This process is really enlightening and humbling.

Tomorrow will be a big day as I will be out scouting more locations, and then putting my acting hat back on as I attend a workshop.

Current mood: excited, confident, but also aware of many unknowns! However some will say "Be the unknown". 

Until next time!