Conscious Competence: A First Time Director's Journey
By Andrew Bruce Lockhart

Monday, July 21st, 2014

Today's (extremely fun) guest blog comes from Stage 32 member, Andrew Bruce Lockhart.  After years of toiling as a professional photographer, Andrew, somewhat reluctantly, decided to pick up a camera and shoot a short film based on his script, Lucky Charm.

A very active member of Stage 32, I'm happy to report Andrew leaned on the 32 community for advice in finding his way through his first shoot - everything from public liability insurance to shooting slow motion and more. 

In part one of this two-part series, Andrew talks about the perils of putting the Lucky Charm production together...and his love of cake.

(You'll see)

Enjoy!

RB

Andrew Bruce Lockhart

FADE IN:

INT. ANDY’S HOUSE – MORNING.

CAPTION: Saturday 19th April 6:30am.

It’s all a bit messy… I’ve never had quite so much stuff in such an assortment of bags as when Saturday the 19th of April 2014 rolled around.

The GoPro, Nikon D610 and lenses were in there somewhere, along with their various memory cards.  I was putting spare batteries into a biscuit tin when I realized… things were getting out of hand.

All this because I was about to cut my teeth directing a short film I’d written called Lucky Charm.

People have asked me if directing a film is something I’ve always wanted to do. No. Why? It’s because I am impatient. I also hate being late. And I love cake.

So… Why directing?

Two things really; my mom passed away in February 2013 after a long battle with Myeloma. At the same time I was getting married in April and my future wife had just discovered she was pregnant. I didn’t really talk about either my mom or our pregnancy to friends. I internalized it all. Two opposing feelings, so close together and so life changing, were like being in an emotional tumble dryer - complete all-encompassing grief one second, joy and excitement the next. I realized that I wanted to explore the contradiction, but couldn’t then. It was all too raw.

Secondly, I’d written a full-length romcom script and I was in that ‘waiting to hear back’ stage, so I returned to a horror script I’d been developing. I wrote a treatment that started to explore contradicting emotions. The writing was like therapy to me. I had a colleague who was a professional thespian, theatre director and writer read the first few scenes. He suggested that I should turn the first scene into a short film.

…And so, Lucky Charm was born. What I didn’t know at the time is that the crazy ride of being a first time filmmaker was also starting, too.

I wrote and explored contradicting emotions. In the original scene, two young boys play cricket. A shiny yellow Lotus sits on the pitch’s boundary. The boys have their ‘usual’ bet – which one of them can hit a ball through a car’s windscreen? They both try, but kill a young boy in the process. 

…I did say it was a horror.

Eventually I arrived at a version where anyone who read it seemed to think was OK.

Ah, feedback. About that… I must confess I am not very good at receiving it. After revision and polish and revision and polish at some point you have to stand by your convictions and say no more change! That is, right up until you find your producer.

I did a casting call for a producer and a director of photography. The DoP was easy - I selected a DoP that seemed to share my thoughts on the film and who was extremely talented. DoP down, now onto the producer.

Among the applicants for producer was James Highet from a Canadian production company. His credentials were impressive, but I couldn’t possibly afford to fly him to be on the production. ‘No problem, done this before,’ came his reply. Great! He read the script and liked it. Fantastic! We’re on a roll! But… just one little thing...'would I be open to changing it'? 

And the music comes to a screeching hault. Ah yes…welcome back feedback!

Over a Skype call I discovered that the only changes he wanted were driven by his mantra - budget, budget, budget. A mantra any independent filmmaker needs to live by. So, out went the filmed motorbike crash, the dolly, jibs, green screen and slow motion cameras.  And you know what? It made it better.

I was unconsciously incompetent about what it takes to make a film. The secret, it seemed to me, was to surround myself with people who were consciously competent. I had no real idea where to start, but remembered my professional colleague’s advice from a while back, which were his list of things needed to make a successful film: 

1.         A great director of photography

2.         A top sound guy

3.         Keeping the actors and crew fed and watered

4.         Eat cake & have fun

OK – I confess the last one’s mine…

My job as director, I reckoned, was to try and achieve the above and to let everyone get on with what they do best… all while being herded, cajoled and bribed with coffee, cake and fun as needed. But I learned it was so much more.

While Lucky Charm has no real dialogue, sound (and the sound guy) will be crucial. This will go for any independent film that relies on the score. Through networking, my professional colleague introduced me to David Gregory, whose background is theatre sound. We had an initial chat and he was definitely the right man for the job.

The actor playing the Older Brother (Will Douglas) also came via networking from my professional colleague, who’d just directed him on stage. I found Billy Angel, 10 years old (a ‘mini me’ of Will) for the Young Boy, via a casting call.

Progress! We had a DoP, a sound guy, lead and support actors, the lending of a Lotus, and the promise of cake. The wild ride of a film was all coming together!

Then, a week later, I was an unsent email away from giving up. That's how quickly things can change.

The problems started when I began ignoring the producer’s advice about budget.

I’d talked with the DoP about slow motion camera costs. I’d entered the details into my spreadsheet. They looked cheaper than I thought (Yay!), but then budget hits came thick and fast. The prices didn’t include VAT or delivery or insurance; the DoP was bringing extra crew who needed their expenses paid; the public liability insurance quote hadn’t included the broker’s fee… The list went on... I was in budget hell - everything was just going wrong.

I drafted an email to my producer saying I was giving up. I sat staring at it for long time. Then my text message alert sounded. The text message didn’t stop me sending it, but it turned out the person who sent it would.

Several people had applied for a runner casting I’d done, including Marina Michelson. We were due to meet that evening.  It was Marina texting her arrival. I saved the ‘I quit’ email, and went to meet her.

We sat on benches outside a city pub and talked about the film. Marina listened and then asked me a whole bunch of questions. I suspect my deer in headlights impression nicely illustrated my completely inability to answer her. But, whenever I answered ‘I have no idea’, Marina did nothing but say. ‘Don’t worry. I can help with that.’ Hence, an associate producer was introduced. See, surrounding myself with consciously competent people was starting to work out.

As I went home that night, I deleted that unsent ‘I quit’ email. I learned now to always listen to your producer.

Things were all coming together. Then, we were a week away from filming and the DoP suddenly said he wasn’t prepared to shoot everything in two days and quit. He’d originally wanted 5-6 days, but after discussing the budget we agreed it needed to be shorter.  Everything had been organized around a two-day shoot. I tried to remain calm. I asked if we could discuss it further? ‘No’ came his answer, he was done.

I emailed my producers and they both replied quickly. They were both calm. They’d both been here before. The message from both was clear: We’d survive.

We wanted to start the process of getting prepped for shooting, so the producers organized a cast meet and greet. The evening turned out to be a blast. As it turns out, we were surviving. We found a new DoP, Dan Glen, and we hired a production manager, Sarah Farrington, then too. Meeting all these people - everything suddenly started feeling very real. We were actually going to be making a film here!

And then I lost my voice.


Join us in Part II on Wednesday as we find out what happens to first-time director, Andrew Bruce Lockhart as he heads into production on his film, Lucky Charm.

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Richard "RB" Botto is Founder and CEO of Stage 32. He is also a screenwriter, producer, actor, and voice actor.