The idea for this short film took root early in 1994. Frustrated by formula filmmaking traditions I wondered if I could impose a distinct and original cinematic structure on a film.
A fragile accord between content and form that would, through its design, question the methodology that is replicated in almost every film we see and still entertain an audience.
I decided to design the film around one shot, or to be more exact, a locked off camera that would maintain the same framing for the film's proposed thirty minute duration.
A to Z, for those of you who have not seen the film, tells the story of one car s journey from its factory inception to its crushing demise. The camera is set up so that it is looking through the car's windscreen at its various owners.
This single framed shot would become the cornerstone of the film design.
We fixed the focal plane at the rim of the steering wheel and then as the film progressed gradually decreased the depth of field by reducing the light level around it to make the environment progressively more claustrophobic.
Then a polarising filter was mounted on a rig between the camera and the windscreen.
This rig enabled us, via a remote zoom control, to rotate the polarising filter in shot and thus exploit the reflective nature of the windscreen to create in camera wipes.
I sent a faxed invitation to a few London based advertising agencies to see if any of the creative teams would be interested in writing a two to three minute piece of dialogue within the established structure, character range and outlined events. From the response two writers submitted material that would eventually make it into the final film: Simon Riley and Pat Doherty. This material was incorporated, along with mine and my brother Sean's, into the first of 15 such writes and rewrites. At about draft ten the producers Rosie McFarlain and Billy Payn joined the team.
Getting the crew to commit to a freebie did not appear to be a problem as all of them seemed eager to be involved in the project. Fortunately I had worked with most of them on music videos and commercials through the production company I co-own Why Not Films Ltd.
The 16mm camera equipment was owned by the lighting cameraman Ian Owles. Why Not had accounts with the lighting companies, stock suppliers and post facilities. All the post-production, digital online and copies would be taken care of by my long term post-production collaborators The House. The music was to be composed by another work colleague Sheridan Tongue.
We only needed thirty thousand pounds to realise this project. Unfortunately none of the film funding, development agencies, institutions or television stations were in the least bit interested.
In early 1995 I realised that the only way this film would ever see the light of day was if I paid for it myself. So that's what I did.
We ran an advert ran in Equity's newsletter for the cast and whittled a sack load of head sheets down to the forty we needed. The ten lead actors were then invited to the office to rehearse. Four chairs in the shape of a car and a video camera faced them.
The physical nature of each scene was the first thing we blocked in. Once this was working we rehearsed the dialogue. If the dialogue didn't cut it we would improvise around the basic gist of each scene.
The video tape recordings of these sessions were then transcribed and edited into what was to become the next draft of the script. This continued up to draft fifteen and into shooting.
The soundperson, Peter Gordino, whom I had never met before didn't realise how pressing the situation was for us. He, to my dismay, was initially reluctant to get involved as he had other film school commitments and he didn't feel he could take on the full responsibility of the sound. I must admit I never fully realised how immense the task was or how important. After a little persuasion he committed to record the sound but only for the duration of shoot.
He was later to play a pivotal role in the post-production of the film, taking on all the sound design, track laying, and sound post-production responsibilities.
With hind sight I now realise how tough the shoot was as I have a tendency to lose myself in my work. This can be a bit of a nightmare for those who are working with me. On one such occasion as the dawn broke, Ian, the lighting cameraman, came to me and suggested we had a late call for the crew. We had all been up for twenty hours and even if we went straight home we would only get three or four hours sleep. Every one listened intently. I turned to Ian and said that if he was that tired he should sleep in but if he didn't mind would he leave me the camera equipment so that I could shoot the morning scene without him and he could catch us up in the afternoon. I knew he wouldn't agree to this and fortunately he capitulated. When we returned four hours later for our 8 am call Ian was the first person to arrive at the location but the runner who had taken the van and the camera equipment home with him over slept and did not arrive on set until midday.
The shoot lasted eleven long days, each one from eight in the morning until the early hours of the next day.
The first day of shooting was to establish the pattern that we would helplessly replicate on each and every subsequent shoot day. On the first day the framing and selection of the lens took two or three hours as we needed a shot that was wide enough to frame the action and yet tight enough to keep it personal...