The Making of an amateur zombie film: Part 2

AUGUST 2018 – Day 66 cast expands!

After the morning excitement and violence of the first zombie shoot, the afternoon of 25th July involved two scenes shot near Day 66 soundtrack composer Mat Hasker’s house in Titchfield Park.

The first was an introduction to acting for Mat’s seven year old son, Joseph.  Helen Warne returned to play Jack’s wife, Alice.  Joseph played their young son, Arnie.  No prizes for where that inspiration came from!

The scene will serve as a flashback for main character Jack, just before he takes on the hordes of zombies.  Joseph only had a couple of lines but nailed them perfectly – no mean feat for a seven year old who, only a couple of years ago, would run and hide the minute I walked in the Hasker household!  Well done Joseph – awesome work dude!

The second scene was another flashback, where Jack and Alice moved house, following a tragedy.  I commandeered Mat’s new car for the scene, in which Helen sat in the front whilst I loaded the last of our boxes into the boot, before getting in and driving off.  How to make this more interesting?  Film in a single take, with cameraman Steve Launay walking round the car, following the action.  Steve did brilliantly in ensuring he didn’t make a cameo in the paintwork.  I however, realised on watching the footage back I still had blood up my arm from the morning’s brutality!!

Thursday 2nd August saw Iain Hamer join the cast as a funeral director.  Elliott Honey kindly provided the use of a hall at Sarisbury Green community centre for the shoot, which would only last an hour.  Steve was on hand for camera once more and we took advantage of the location by completing further scenes involving Jack using an exercise bike, which will form part of a montage where he recuperates from injury.  Many thanks once again to Elliott for providing the location – greatly appreciated and we hope to return in the near future for more Day 66!

Saturday 4th August saw filming occur at my house, with my kids, Ella (10) and Lincoln (6) playing the children of Sarah Miatt’s Susan Farley.  Ella (Sarah Farley) only got to shoot one of her scenes that day but has more to come.  Lincoln (Brody Farley) saw more action and should be very proud of his performance, which involved throwing up and looking feverish.  Molly Savery joined the shoot to ensure Lincoln’s ‘injury’ looked suitably realistic and concerning!  Molly also took on the role of boom operator for a couple of scenes.

Long-term Beacon member Sarah, as expected, did an excellent job with her lengthy dialogue.  I, however, need to familiarise myself more with the ‘zoom’ sound device, failing to realise that if a certain button was accidentally pressed it meant sound recorded through the device itself as opposed to the boom!  Fortunately, where we were indoors, the sound quality is sufficiently good!

On Thursday 9th August we headed next to the Locks Heath district centre to film a news report, by famous reporter, Jim Hooper.  Sorry, Tim Cooper!  Jon Leech also made his Day 66 debut, covering sound for the shoot. 

The rear of one of the main shops doubled for Sandford hospital, at which the public were arriving in droves for treatment, following the outbreak of a mysterious illness.

Steve returned knackered from his ‘business trip’ to Amsterdam but willing to see through his camera duties, also finding opportunity to be “hospital extra #3’!  Extras 1 and 2 were played by my parents, who came armed with their B&Q dust masks bought on “Wrinkly Wednesday”, which they wore sheepishly whilst standing in a non-existent line waiting for treatment.

Tim was predictably brilliant in the role, bringing a sense of needed realism to the scene, which briefly explains what is occurring on what is essentially Day Zero.  A sequel one day, perhaps?!

We had hoped one of Steve’s travelling companions would play Tim’s cameraman, however, neither fancied it given their lack of sleep.  I desperately phoned round people two hours before the shoot, finally securing the services of Stevie Waight only half an hour before filming commenced!  Given her lack of acting experience and the late involvement, Stevie impressed those present with her performance, for which she had to learn lines at zero notice.  Stevie – you can come again! Thank you! That would be the last filming day in August, with my holidays following the shoot.

SEPTEMBER 2018 – braaaaaiiiiiiiins!

Sunday 2nd September saw the arrival of five more zombies!

The largest Day 66 cast and crew to date gathered at Steve Launay’s house at 9am.  The three make up girls returned, this time accompanied by newcomer Tash Smolerek.  Make up took the best part of two hours, allowing Steve and I time to recce Addison woods to choose our location.

Once make up was complete, our five zombies (James Bint, Emily Phillips, Thomas Rawlings, Lorinda Laing, and Mairi Campbell, visiting from Australia!), four make up girls, Steve, runner Daniel Farmer, cameramen Giorgio Cavacuiti and Luke Foley, production photographer Liam Low Ying and I gathered in the rear garden for a quick briefing. I read out the ambitious scene to all present, which would see Jack attacked by a mini-horde.

We then headed to Addison to create the mayhem!  Stab wounds to heads ensued, along with a brilliant bit of gory brain detail, courtesy of Rhianna Kingdon.  I also found a really good use for some reduced to clear turkey mince…

After a brief pause for lunch, filming resumed and continued until about 5pm.  It was a long day but well worth it – the footage looks great!  Many thanks to all involved – it was often a lot of waiting round but I’m confident it was all worth it.

On Tuesday 11th September, we headed to a work colleague’s house to film, as I’d realised the land there was perfect for the ‘country house’ I had in mind when I wrote the script.  I met cameraman Connor Cleary at Steve’s house to collect kit and the two of us headed over to start proceedings. Within five minutes, Connor unfortunately lost the majority of the camera rig in long grass.  We retraced our steps but were unable to locate it.  We got by and made good progress.

We were met by Steve and former ‘stick-in-the-eye’ zombie, Luke Goble, around 11.45am, followed by another work colleague who was on hand to move vehicles about on the land as required.  In fact they proved their worth very quickly, by driving the off-road vehicle round the field, managing to somehow locate the rig! 

My favourite bit of the day was the unveiling of a new Day 66 themed number plate for a vehicle Jack finds whilst he recuperates at the house. 

I’d over-estimated the amount of scenes we’d get through, leaving more to film there another time.

Saturday 22nd September saw James Farmer join the cast, as father Chris Farley.  Chris is the father of the children played by my kids, Ella and Lincoln.  Sarah Miatt was sadly not available, so we could only film one of James’ scenes, but managed to get through all of what else I’d scheduled. I was really impressed with Ella’s acting – I’ve been totally out-acted (not hard) by my 10 year old daughter! Steve took camera, while Jon Leech was on hand for sound and we welcomed Chris Wilkes to the crew to provide his expertise with the lighting.  I have learned lighting can take a long time to set up, so need to take that into account when scheduling future scenes.. TOP TIP! – When writing a script, DO NOT set any scenes on stairs or anywhere near banisters! 

On the afternoon of Sunday 30th September, I popped over to Steve’s to film a few hallway-based scenes, with Steve on camera and Jon Leech covering sound.  Despite more stair-lighting issues, we finished ahead of schedule and managed to get a few more montage scenes filmed, along with some footage of the M27, which may be inserted into the opening credits. 

With four shoots completed in September, it was our most active month since filming begun. 

With four shoots completed in September, it was our most active month since filming begun. 

OCTOBER 2018 – Day 66 nails it!

Ok, so it’s been a slow month for Day 66.  We haven’t exactly nailed it but as you will come to realise, this was an appropriate title for this month’s piece…

The only filming day in October was on Tuesday 2nd, when we returned to my work colleague’s property in Titchfield, intending to complete all non-zombie related scenes set there.

We consisted of me and Steve Launay, who has joined me on almost every Day 66 shoot so far.  We also consisted of newcomer Jack Pimbblet, who responded to the Daily Echo article, keen to get involved in any way he could.  We needed a runner, to lighten the load of prep work and carry the kit about.  Jack jumped at the opportunity!  Turned out Jack also has some camera experience, and was keen to advance these skills wherever possible.

We met on location and discussed the shoot.  I soon realised the garages that were supposed to be left unlocked, were in fact locked, so contacted the key holder to bail us out!  We got on with external scenes in the meantime.

We started with scenes of my character, Jack, running outside, which forms part of his recuperation whilst lodging at the country house.  We experimented with one shot, whereby I held the camera, mounted on the rig, filming myself whilst running.  This paid off and the result looks great!

We took full advantage of the great location by filming a scene by some eerie-looking outhouses. 

When the key holder arrived, we moved indoors to film garage-set scenes.

Some of these form part of a montage, where Jack is preparing for battle.  Jack finds a baseball bat and decides to hammer nails into it, creating a weapon Negan would be proud of.  Lucille Mk2 if you will.

I had a GREAT idea.  A POV shot of the bat as the nail was hammered in.  This is when we should have realised this was NOT a great idea.  We should have weighed up the pro’s and con’s and realised there were hardly any pro’s and a shitload of con’s.  We proceeded…

We realised we’d done it directly under transparent roofing, meaning I was a silhouette and nothing could be seen. 

This is when we should have re-evaluated the necessity of the shot and abandoned, realising that actually a camera lens is a pretty expensive bit of equipment and that a damaged camera lens could have significant ramifications on not only the club’s finances but also this and other scheduled productions!  Also, this was such a tiny, insignificant shot, that we may end up binning.

We proceeded…

Fuck. My. Life.

This time, I hit the hammer a tad too hard, and the nail dinked the camera lens.

Bollocks.

“Oh shit, I did it”, I said.  “What are you doing?!”, Steve replied.  “I didn’t do it on purpose mate…”, I replied, “…I brought it up, so that when I hit the nail with the hammer, it wouldn’t do that…”

But of course that had happened.

Steve checked the lens for damage.  Had we got lucky or was there a scratch?

But of course there was a scratch.

And herein lies the root cause of my PTSD.

Realising a small scratch would equate to a big circle on screen, we halted use of the short distance lens.  With 80 Degrees filming scheduled that weekend, Steve was understandably starting to fret.  Poor Jack didn’t know what to say but did Google the scenario and discovered ‘rubbing alcohol’ and a microfibre cloth may be our salvation.

We completed remaining scenes as best we could given our predicament, and then I took Steve to B&Q, hoping to find this weird sounding alcohol, even contemplating whether I would drink it should I find any.  They didn’t sell it, but said the chemist would.  So off we went to the chemist but were informed it’s really difficult stuff to get hold of.  Amazon Prime it was then.

To cut a long story short, I received an update a few days later that the scratch had buffed out sufficiently to no longer be an issue.  No word of a lie, I slept awful those few days and had flashbacks.  I could barely bring myself to watch the footage. 

Needless to say, now I can look back and (almost) chuckle, but a vital lesson has been learned.  Don’t fuck with the camera.  No shot is worth the fallout. Hopefully next month I won’t be reporting that a POV shot of a zombie’s head being run over resulted in the complete pancaking of a camera!

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