Last Contact Blog

Last Contact : Blog 12 : The Pilot

Last Contact : Blog 12 : The Pilot

Last Contact : Blog 12 : The Pilot

So, it’s now June 2013, three months since we filmed the show. A lot of things have happened, but it’s that duck legs paddling furiously metaphor time, with very little having changed on the surface.

The editor is sending me updates regarding episode 1, and we’re hoping to get a rough cut of the whole episode over the next few days. This has to be okayed, and then the sound and the picture will be worked on. I hope that these won’t take too long, and that they’ll be a pilot episode ready by the end of June.

This means it will have taken a month or so for one episode, which is fine, but it does present me with a problem.

What to do with the first episode (ie. the pilot)?

I’d really like to get it out there as and when it’s ready, but ideally I should wait until we have the majority of the episodes completed before beginning to show them. But I’m just not that patient. Also, having the pilot episode out there may garner more interest for the rest of the series.

I really appreciate the amount of support that people (cast, crew, supporters) have given, and I really want to reward them for that.

But, if there’s a couple of month gap before we show the remaining episodes, will that be a problem?

Hmmm, what do you think?

Posted by jason in Blog, Last Contact Blog
Last Contact : Blog 11 : Why?

Last Contact : Blog 11 : Why?

Last Contact : Blog 11 : Why?

Why do any of this? After all, I work in IT. I sit behind a desk, tapping at a PC all day, 5 days a week, most weeks of the year. I have no formal training in writing, producing, directing or acting. It’s costly, and timely, and stressly.

It’s especially stressly.

I’ve had to organise people and places, props and costumes, get cover for pets, shop for more people than I ever thought I’d shop for, and organise camera and sound crew.

I’ve taken two and a half weeks off of work (and I get paid by the hour), I’ve had to act in another film at the same time (that’s where I was on the first Saturday, when I originally should have started filming Last Contact). We’ve had to change actors at the last minute, manage issues with the property, worry about getting the right insurance, and then hope that I didn’t have to use the insurance (the excesses are how much?).

There’s been a website to create from scratch, maintain, write blogs for. There’s been a Facebook page to attract potential viewers, advertise with, respond to questions, and generally keep the interest levels up.

There’s been last minute costs that have cropped up, facilitating the use of the overdrafts. There’s now the learning of the editing software, and the countless hours that Marielle and I will have to sit looking at the terabyte of film footage we shot over two weeks.

Oh, yes. The whole thing took only two weeks. That worked out about 16 pages a day. Even more than they do on Hollyoaks, I’m told. Getting up at 7.30am, starting filming at 9am, taking 45 minutes for lunch, and finishing filming around 7pm if we were lucky.

So why? Why did I do all this?

Well, if you haven’t guessed already, see above.

Posted by jason in Blog, Last Contact Blog
Last Contact : Blog 10 : Location

Last Contact : Blog 10 : Location

Last Contact : Blog 10 : Location

Wow. There are a number of things I’ve learnt so far on the Last Contact journey, but one of the big ones is how not so easy it is to find the perfect spot. No wonder cats take so long to settle down.

One of the things that was definite in my mind was where the sitcom was set. In a university, in a large room that could house three people’s desks with a kitchen off to one side. Wood panelling would be good, but it had to have a lived in feel, as if our protagonists had been there for years.

One thing I can tell you about locations for filming, they’re expensive. Super expensive. Prohibitively expensive. Basically, unless you know the person who owns it, or you just don’t tell them, you’re going to find it difficult to shoot anything.

And, typical of me, I wanted to film six episodes, around two hours of usable film. And like the 80/20 rule, but much worse, 120 minutes of usable film equates to about three years of filming. All right, maybe not three years, but a while. Two weeks worth of filming almost non-stop. And then maybe a little bit for editing.

So I needed to find a place to shoot that we could have for three weeks. It also needed to have other rooms that we could use for Bernard’s office and Nina’s office. At this stage, I hadn’t put any action in the kitchen. It was just a door that people went in and out of. But I’ll come back to that.

And hopefully, it’d be somewhere we all could stay, otherwise the expense bills were going to go through the roof. It was a long shopping list. Just so you know, when I was enquiring about locations, they were coming in at least £1000 per day. At least.

Not having £21k to spend on locations, I had to think of something else.

I turned to holiday cottage sites, since at least most of them would have accommodation provided so long as they were large enough. I looked at quite a few, and arranged to see one of them. It looked okay. Just okay. None of the others did, and I was getting worried.

So, on a dark evening we drove the hour or so to the place, which was off a country lane, off a country lane, off another country lane. You’ve got to love England.

But we saw it, and we walked around it, and by golly it was exactly what we needed. The main room was perfect, tall ceilings and lots of space. It had a couple of rooms we could use for the other offices, but the best part was the kitchen. The kitchen was great. It inspired me to move a lot of the scenes into the kitchen, which is a good thing.

And whilst the cost of renting it was not cheap, it was far, far cheaper than anything else.

With bated breath, we contacted the owners the next day with the proposition of us filming there, and thankfully, they said yes.

We had our location. That’s not the end of the location story. But the rest I’ll leave till another time.

Posted by jason in Blog, Last Contact Blog
Last Contact : Blog 9 : The Series

Last Contact : Blog 9 : The Series

Last Contact : Blog 9 : The Series

I can’t recall exactly when I decided on the date I wanted to start filming Last Contact. It must have been around the same time as the casting calls went out, as I had to have some sort of sensible answer when potential cast members asked ‘If I got the part, when would I be needed for filming?’

But once it was decided for February, there was yet another, more pressing, factor. Will I have the whole series written by then? Or even half of it? I seem to work best under pressure, but four episodes in a few months was even pushing it for me.

Then reality, like a falling elephant, hit me; I didn’t really have a few months. Sensibly, I needed to have the series finished by Christmas (2012) so we could sit down and have a read through to make sure it was funny to other people who weren’t me.

That left about six weeks. I got to work.

Fortunately, I long ago learned that to write something of any significant length required the ability to just sit down anywhere you are, and write.

This also coincided with a new contract (in the day job) that meant I could journey by train. I like the train, it means I have to think less about what I’m doing, plus it’s not illegal to use a laptop whilst you’re doing it.

So, that’s what I did. I got on the train, sat down and wrote whatever was in my brain. I’m not a morning person by any stretch of the imagination, so it took extra effort (though it’s quite clearly not manual labour, so you don’t have to feel sorry for me or anything). As with everything, some of it was very good, and some of it was very not.

Trains being what they are, there were a few occasions where I missed my connecting train, and so had to wait at Horsham station with my laptop, a cup of coffee and a Tunnock’s wafer biscuit (this is so nearly heaven on earth). I wrote some good lines in the cafe on that station.

It was hard. It was a lot of work. But it was writing. And writing is fun. To me, anyway.

So, a week before Christmas I put the final dot and crosses on the i’s and the t’s of the final episode. I went through each episode several times, adding stuff, correcting stuff, changing stuff so that it was as funny as possible.

And what I was left with was really quite good. I’m very pleased with it. Especially when we had the read through and…

Wait a minute, that’s another blog post entirely…

Posted by jason in Blog, Last Contact Blog
Last Contact : Blog 8: Writing Episode 2

Last Contact : Blog 8: Writing Episode 2

Last Contact : Blog 8: Writing Episode 2

The moment when you’re half asleep, and you fall over a rock and your whole body jerks spasmodically. That’s how it felt when I realised I needed more than one episode to show to people.

Episode 1 had been written for a while. Everyone I knew liked it. Some people I didn’t know liked it. Now I had to do it again. Fortunately, I still had lots of silly one liners to use from my initial line-dump, so I looked down them and selected the one that felt most like an opening line.

I also chose one that emulated the character set up from episode one. I felt I needed to copy it, but wasn’t really sure why. Strangely, in the rest of the episodes I specifically make sure I change the beginnings so they’re not the same. I’m not overly sure what it says about me. Perhaps it says I’m lazy. And inconsistent.

As for the plot, that was fine. I knew what was happening. And that was, not much. A lot of it has to do with the characters purposefully not going anywhere. This, of course, poses its own problems. Mainly, making the same place and people interesting for a prolonged amount of time.

I’m a great fan of the single location films, ‘Twelve Angry Men’ being a particular favourite. As was ‘Phone Booth’. I like the theatre, and I think it has something to do with that, the ability to make one or two locations interesting. Of course, the main way of doing it is the dialogue. No matter how many angles you can shoot from, if the dialogue’s lousy, then it’s not worth getting out of bed in the morning.

Hopefully that’s not the case with episode two. It was written quickly, and on reading it back, I often think it’s funnier than episode one. Will the audience think so? Not sure. Only time will tell.

Oh, and it has an extra character in it, too…

Posted by jason in Blog, Last Contact Blog
Last Contact : Blog 7 : Interest

Last Contact : Blog 7 : Interest

Last Contact : Blog 7 : Interest

Pressure 4: Is a production company going to be interested in the script?

Time, like soap, is a slippery beast (and slightly more dirty). The key to living with it is to give it a bit of room. It’s a leap of faith in many ways. The script was out with production companies, and it would be several months before I’d hear anything. I had a friend at college, David, who, along with me and several others from our computing course, went to an interview at a local large insurance company. This would have been my first interview, and whilst I can’t remember it, I would have stuffed it up royally. I’m better now, but that’s got something to do with time.

Anyway, talk in the classroom (actually, cold and draughty huts that I’m sure wouldn’t be good enough for prisoners to be kept in) afterwards turned to how the interviews went, and if people thought they might get it. David’s answer was that he was ‘quietly confident’. I thought he must have done well if his confidence was that high. A few days later, the rest of us gets a polite ‘no thank you’ letter, and, lo and behold, he gets the job. Impressed by his bravado, I congratulate him, at which point he tells me he knew at the interview they’d hire him, because they told him before it ended it would.

So, the point of this, some people get told things straight away, some people are so good/fortunate/rich to get instant results. Us other schmucks have to wait. So I waited.

I left it three months, sitting on my hands and trying not to get involved. I really am a very impatient person. After three months I sent an email asking if the agent had heard back, and they said no. Another couple of months went by; another email, another no. Then, on the third email, he says that one of the production companies may be interested, but it probably wouldn’t come to anything.

So, naturally, I panicked. Any excitement I felt at even the slightest interest was held tightly in check by one simple realisation.

I’d only written one episode.

Posted by jason in Blog, Last Contact Blog
Last Contact : Blog 6 : Pressures

Last Contact : Blog 6 : Pressures

Last Contact : Blog 6 : Pressures

I thought I’d share with you the stress I’ve felt in creating and filming Last Contact. I hope sharing it helps. Me.

Pressure 1: Am I going to finish writing the first script?

This isn’t confined to Last Contact; any script I start has a precarious journey to the final page. My brain is fantastic at distracting me when I have something I need to do, but since I need it to survive (or so they tell me) I have to stick with it. Last Contact was easier than most because of the way I wrote it, and the fact that I enjoyed what stupid things the characters would come up with next. Some writing is simply creating the characters, and then shepherding everything they come up with.

Pressure 2: Is anyone going to like the script?

I’ve written lots of stuff. That happens when writing is a passion. And it is. I have to write. I don’t do it for the money or fame (although I don’t not do it for that either), I do it because I have to. And some of the stuff I’ve written isn’t good enough. It either requires (more) reworking, or it requires a match and somewhere to watch it burn. Last Contact didn’t seem to suffer from any of that. It was liked in its initial outing. No one smiled nicely that way that says ‘It’s tosh, and you wasted my life’, instead just saying ‘Go for it’ and that’s as good a compliment as I could have hoped for.

Pressure 3: What am I going to do with the script?

So, after having a script that people like, I had to worry about what to do with it. The normal way of things is to send to production companies or agents and see if anyone is interested. That’s the normal way. Of course, I went and started recruiting people to help produce it myself. The first person involved was Martin Gooch, a director who contacted me through Shooting People website. He liked the script, and we went to his agent who agreed to send it out to the production companies. Knowing that this sort of thing takes time, I sat back, relaxed and waited. Anxiously.

To be continued…

Posted by jason in Blog, Last Contact Blog
Last Contact : Blog 5 : Plot

Last Contact : Blog 5 : Plot

Last Contact : Blog 5 : Plot

So, you’ve got some funny characters and some funny lines; what’s next? Well, surprisingly I found, a bit of a plot. When I wanted to send the first episode out to production companies for consideration, I had to come up with what was actually going to happen in the rest of the series.

Looking back at my initial document, it seems I did write down the briefest of outlines for each of the six episodes, but it wasn’t anything I could distribute; not unless I wanted them to realise how unorganised I actually was.

So, I created another document which loosely followed those initial ideas, and expanded on them with what I knew about the first episode. Reading them back now, I’m quite surprised to see that I’ve probably incorporated over 50% of the ideas there.

One of the basic premises for Last Contact, is that it’s a little bit like organised chaos; I’d probably go so far to say that its unorganised chaos, but that would just be chaos, and that lacks something of a punch in the delivery.

So, plotting organised chaos is a little tricky. I would hardly know what was going to be said in the next line, let alone page or scene. Some things came together very well. And other elements I created in the latter episodes, I would retrofit into the earlier episodes.

That being said, Episode One is surprisingly close to how it was first written, surprisingly. And it ends exactly how I planned it to end from the beginning.

It was just the bit in the middle that I wasn’t sure about.

Posted by jason in Blog, Last Contact Blog
Last Contact : Blog 4: Cast

Last Contact : Blog 4: Cast

Last Contact : Blog 4: Cast

The great thing about Last Contact was that I knew three of the main four members of cast shortly after finishing the first script. In that modest way that I possess, I decided to cast myself as Harry, (after all, who else could possibly be so naturally sarcastic?), Marielle as Laura, (who else could be so quirky?) and Griff (who else could be so John?). And with the three of us cast, it took the pressure off a bit.

Then there came the hiatus, where I looked for some crew, then sent it out via a friends agent to see if it could garner any professional interest before I had to fork out the cash to make it myself.

Well, after a year of toing and froing, where nothing very much happened in the Last Contact world, we were back where we started from, looking for cast.

I used 4 websites: CastingCallPro, ShootingPeople, Mandy and StarNow. The good thing is I had responses from all four. A couple of actors applied from multiple sites, which, knowing technology like I do, was a very sensible move. It also showed keenness, that, unlike many people, I actively look for in anyone I have to pay.

Rashmi was the main character I wanted to cast first. She was the last of the main four, as well as requiring an actor of Asian ethnicity, and the lack of responses for the role bore my initial concerns out. Thankfully, and unexpectedly, Bhasker Patel responded for the part of Bernard, and I wasn’t about to turn him down. Bhasker recommended several excellent candidates for Rashmi, and Pooja Shah was cast.

We auditioned for the role of Nina, and saw several excellent actors. Unfortunately, we had to change finally choosing Zoe Harrison who displayed just the right level of unhinged-ness we were looking for.

When we were casting for the role of Nina, we auditioned Helen Jenkinson, and whilst initially we went with another actor, both Marielle and I immediately wanted to use Helen. I thought I could write her in a part, but eventually the delivery man changed gender, and everything was okay.

Then, due to some unforeseen circumstances, we needed to find another Nina, and we immediately asked Helen. The fact that she appears as two different characters is absolutely right for Last Contact, and I think she nailed her performance as Nina.

The icing on our superb cake came in the form of Norman Lovett, Holly from the early Red Dwarf series, who signed on to play Trevor. It was an excellent and fortuitous catch, and one that lends the Last Contact cast with that sci-fi edge I wanted to give it.

Unfortunately, as the shooting dates grew nearer, Bhasker was unable to afford the time to play Bernard, and we were delighted when Norman agreed to play the part.

Oh, and they’re all very nice people, too!

Posted by jason in Blog, Last Contact Blog
Last Contact : Blog 3 : Props

Last Contact : Blog 3 : Props

Last Contact : Blog 3 : Props

By the tender age of 42 I should have learnt never to work with children, animals or props. Especially props. Especially when I have to find each and every one of them. Especially when one of them is a full suit of armour. And a very large key. And a surfboard.

My word, a surfboard! What was I thinking?

Thankfully, the internet had been invented by the time I had to find them (doubly thankful as that’s how I intend to distribute said sitcom), so it was only a matter of (endless, mind-numbing) weeks to Google them all to my front door.

All 120+ of them.

But now I’ve got them, I suppose it’s fair to say that they’re the only tangible part of Last Contact I have for the time being, so being able to see and touch them makes the whole process all the more real.

But if you ever think about writing a sitcom, maybe you should sit yourself down and give yourself a jolly good talking to first (preferably out of view and earshot of anyone else) and remind yourself that props, whilst they may be great on the page, actually have to come from somewhere, and preferably somewhere close (not America, in the case of the large key).

All that’s left to do now is to make or buy the small things, the easy things. Oh, and find a decent sized van to move them all to the location in…

Posted by jason in Blog, Last Contact Blog