Alexander Gordon Smith

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!


Rambling in Redbridge!

I’m still suffering from an accidental four mile hike yesterday. I was doing a Chainsaw Gang event in Gants Hill as part of the Redbridge Festival, and my edit-addled head (I’m half way through the edit for The Fury and my brain doesn’t seem to be working any more) managed to get off the train at Stratford – instead of Ilford. (Don’t blame me, they both end in -ford!) I thought it was only a short walk from there to the Library, but it took an hour and forty minutes of power-strolling down the Romford Road before I finally arrived (late and very sweaty)!

It was a lovely event, and the audience almost didn’t fit in the room. Okay, it was a small room. Okay, there were eight people there, but they were a fantastic bunch! It was me, Sarwat Chadda and Stephen Deas, and we all chatted a bit (I chatted a LOT because I thought the event finished later than it did) about books and writing and inspiration. Afterwards Sarwat, Stephen and I popped to the local for a drink, then went for a fantastic curry. It was great to see Sarwat, and to finally meet Stephen – his books look amazing, they have dragons – and all in all it was an awesome day!

My legs are still aching from that walk, though…

Today I took a break from the edit to work on the script – we’re shooting in a couple of weeks. I was trying to make up a shot list – a list of every single different camera shot in the film. I never realised how many shots there were in a film before. This one is only about fifteen minutes long and there are nearly 250 of them! Next time you’re watching a movie count how many times the camera cuts to a different shot, it’s incredible! I’ve been ordering in gallons of fake blood and other gruesome props, which is all very exciting!

And this afternoon Lyns and I got stuck in to Gray Matter, the game we’re playing. It kind of reminds me of the mystery rooms you used to see in the Crystal Maze, with loads of puzzles. It’s great fun!

Anyway, I’m off to London tomorrow to do a couple of events for the Kingston Festival, which will be great! I hope you all had a brilliant weekend!!