… author of Escape From Furnace, The Fury, The Inventors, and the brand new Devil's Engine series

Sola Gratia!

So this is what it's like to be a movie producer...

I’m just back from a wonderful trip to Sweden, and I’ll be blogging about that very soon! But before I do, I just want to tell you all about the short film we shot just before I went. It’s called Sola Gratia, and depending on who you ask it’s either a zombie film or it isn’t…  I’m pretty sure it’s a zombie film, and as I wrote the script I guess I should know (that’s also me above, dressed like a zombie for the film, which is a pretty obvious clue). But it’s also not a zombie film, and I don’t really want to say why for fear of spoiling it!

Anyway, I had the idea for this about a year ago, and wrote it without really thinking it would ever be a movie. It was just a nice thing to write. Back then it didn’t have a title, it was just a fifteen-page script about a father and a daughter trapped in their home after the Apocalypse. Outside, the dead roam the streets, and eventually the man and his daughter are forced to run and seek a new shelter. On the way, they discover the horrific truth about the end of their world.

I sent the script to my sister Kate, who is one of the producers of our feature, Stagnant, and she showed it to her hubby Simon, who is a writer / producer / director. And we decided we’d all make it together! I took on the job of producer, and Simon wore the director’s cap, and we slowly but surely pulled everything together. Simon called in his team of super filmmakers: Eben Bolter the cinematographer (a genius, you can see his work here, including some shots from Sola), Daniel Cotton the assistant director, Simon Atkins the sound man, Chris Snelling the production manager, and Emily Kissock the makeup expert. Then we set about looking for the two stars of the film, the man and his daughter. We only auditioned two people, and they were so great that we went with them: Earl Ling and his step-daughter Annaliese Rose Thiel.

The Stars of the Show!

We filmed over three days, starting at about half five in the morning on Friday (that was a shock to the system I can tell you)! Luckily we were actually filming in my house for the first day. It was my first experience of life on set, and I quickly came to realise that the producer’s job mainly involves dashing out to buy things that have been forgotten, and giving people sandwiches. Which was fine by me!

It was so exciting to see a film being made. The house was jam-packed with equipment – the camera, the lights, the sound boom and mic, the smoke machine, the reflector and loads more – and everybody was working extra hard. We also had Annabel Love and Jade Wallis, two actors, on set. I was kind of expecting it to be a pretty stressful, manic experience with everybody getting annoyed at each other, but it was actually extremely chilled out, with the extras lazing in the sun when they weren’t needed, and everybody cracking jokes. Earl, an ex-boxer / ex-bouncer / ex-quite a few other things that he probably wouldn’t appreciate me mentioning, was so funny, and Annaliese kept us all entertained with her robot dances! I wasn’t planning to be in the film at all, but when one of the actors had to pull out I was recruited in as a zombie, which was AWESOME! The day passed in a whirlwind, exhausting but so much fun. The weirdest bit was driving everyone home afterwards whilst I was still caked in blood. I got a few strange looks…

What will my neighbours think?!?!?

The next day we were filming up at the University of East Anglia. Luckily we were away from campus, and filming around the lake and in the woods, although there were still plenty of dog-walkers around. My responsibilities as producer extended to making sure no dogs peed on the equipment, and I think I did a sterling job (although there were some close calls). It was another beautiful day, glorious sunshine, and I was pretty much grinning from ear to ear all morning. There is such an amazing sense of community when you shoot a film, a feeling of collaboration. It’s something you just don’t get with writing. Everyone helps out, everyone works together, you really feel like you’re part of something that extends way beyond the script. The script is the seed, really, and everyone on set helps it grow. It really is an amazing experience.

The crew hard at work! (And Mr Pudding, the star, in the suitcase!)

We finished early on Saturday because Earl and Annaliese had to go to a wedding. We were back at UEA first thing on Sunday, though, and this time we brought zombies! I was a little worried about the Sunday, because I wasn’t sure how people would react to swarms of dead folk roaming around campus. But, as security pointed out, it wouldn’t be too different to a Sunday morning on campus anyway…

Even zombies need a tea break...

I asked Lynsey and Lucy and Jamie to be zombies, and they were so cool. I also asked my good friend, and zombie expert (you can check out his incredible zombie blog here) Chris Farnell to come along, and he brought some brilliant zombie guests with him. Simon had also recruited some walking corpses, including talented actor Danny De Lillo, who had kindly agreed to be in the film even though he didn’t have any words (apart from ‘arghle’ when he is clubbed to death). We filmed in the glorious sun for most of the day, and every single person was fantastic (especially Emily, who had to make up a dozen people all by herself)! Again, my job was mainly waiting by the bags to make sure nothing was nicked, but it was still totally awesome. When Eben shouted “it’s a wrap” it all felt like some wonderful, hazy, summer dream. We all went to the university bar for a drink afterwards, and celebrated a fantastic weekend.

The Crew!

I didn’t have time to enjoy the post-shoot shenanigans too much because I had to get home and pack, then run to Heathrow. But I have to say it’s been a long time since I’ve had such a sense of satisfaction and enjoyment out of what should have been work! The experience definitely gave me an appetite for making films, and I’m really looking forward to the next one. I just want to say a HUGE thanks to everyone who played a part in Sola Gratia, and to all the enthusiasm, generosity, hard work and creativity you all contributed. I cannot wait to see the film that we all made together! With any luck it should be edited in the next month or so, and I’ll let you all know where you can see it!

Oh, and you can find more photos and updates on our Facebook page, here!


‘Ello ‘ello ‘ello…

I’ve changed my job! I’m not a writer any more, I’m a police officer! Jamie and I signed up together and they let us in that very day, even though he’s just fifteen and I’m too fat to get into my police issue trousers!

Only kidding! These are the police costumes for the film, I just wanted to make sure everything was there. It feels awesome wearing it, though, I didn’t want to take it off! I had to go into the police station yesterday to let them know we’d be using them for the film otherwise we could get arrested for impersonating a police officer! Jamie and I did pop round to show mum, though, and I think she almost had a heart attack!

Anyway, where was I… Things are crazy busy at the moment. I managed to squish three massive projects into the same few weeks, so have been frantically trying to get everything done. The first – the edit – is now finished. Yay! Some of you will know how much I HATE editing, but thanks to a really, really comprehensive markup from my editor the Fury edit wasn’t actually too bad. I managed to cut 25,000 words in total, and the story is much faster and leaner as a result. It needs more work, and will get another good brush-up in the copy edit, but it’s getting there!

We start shooting tomorrow for Sola Gratia, the zombie short, which is exciting but nerve-wracking too. Making a film is totally different to writing a book, mainly because of the sheer number of people involved. With a book, it’s usually just you and your brain, which is the way I like it! With a film you need a director, producers, actors, cinematographers, set people, makeup artists, extras, sound people, lighting people and loads more. In short, you need an army, even for a short film. It’s a crazy business! Pretty much everything is in place now, but we’re bound to have forgotten something. Not fake blood, though. I’ve got gallons of the stuff! Aged blood, clotted blood, arterial blood, venial blood, the works! We’re filming in my house tomorrow, and up at the university on Sunday, and I’ll let you know how it goes!

Then, as soon as we wrap on Sunday, I head down to Heathrow for an early flight out to Sweden. I’m doing some events over there, organised by a good friend of mine called Leif who used to be a school librarian. I can’t wait! I haven’t been abroad for ages, and have always wanted to go to Sweden. If any of you are in Mariestad next week then maybe I’ll run in to you!

It’s not all work, though. Last night Lyns, Lucy, Jamie and I went to see X-Men First Class. To be honest, it was more like X-Men Second Class (see what I did there), because although it was a great film with some super action sequences it just didn’t seem to come together very well. I don’t really know why, only that I think it spent too much time on some of the minor mutants and not enough on Magneto and Charles Xavier. Magneto’s story was amazing, a brilliant revenge tale, and I could have happily watched a whole film devoted to that. The other problem was that the film felt a tiny bit lazy. There was a submarine in this film, so of course the X-Men find a young mutant with sonar powers, etc etc. I was expecting a bit more from the team that made Kick-Ass, but all in all it was an enjoyable enough experience! (Well, right up to ten minutes before the end when I had to go and move the car…)

Anyway, I’m off to pretend to arrest some criminals… 🙂