Lessons from The Garden

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Every film we make is an education. That’s part of the reason we make them. At the finish of each film we’ve looked back and reflected on some aspect of the experience and said to ourselves, “Well, we’ll never do that again.”

And so it was with The Garden.

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Scheduling issues

We made life difficult for ourselves by shooting in three tranches – in February, June and July.

The first two months were chosen for good reasons. Part of the film is set in winter, the rest in summer when the roses are out (which meant late May or June for the roses in our garden). We added the July shoot because we thought we might be joined by students during their holidays. We weren’t.

This posed some continuity challenges – for example, the two shots below were filmed five months apart, but are supposed to be contiguous in terms of the film’s storyline (it makes sense when you see it). The shots are in the order in which they appear in the film, but the winter one – the lower shot – was filmed first.

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There’s an intervening shot, and therefore a short passage of time, so the slight difference in camera angle and posture aren’t important. There were a couple of issues, though.

During those five months, the actor had lost one of the rings she’d been wearing (most of the jewellery was her own). Trish, who was in charge of costume and make-up, quickly improvised and within a matter of minutes had created a convincing facsimile of the lost ring out of wire and beads.

The other problem was the chair. That belonged to Trish and myself. A month or two after the February shoot the chair collapsed. And as part of a general tidying up and decluttering binge we put the pieces on a bonfire, having forgotten it was a prop!

Fortunately, writer, producer and co-director Clare had a very similar Queen Anne chair.  It wasn’t completely identical – the design and shade of brown varied slightly. And it lacked one prominent detail that the original had – a streak of bird crap. (For the life of me I can’t remember why we left that on the original chair.) This was where a miracle happened. What we needed, we all agreed, was Tippex. (If you’re under 25 years of age and have never used a typewriter, ask your parents what Tippex is.)

Where would we get such a thing? Trish and I have used computers for all our professional writing for decades. Being an IT journalist, I haven’t used a typewriter since, um, well the early 1980s, I think. We’ve certainly never used a typewriter since moving to this house, 20 years ago.

And yet, moments later, Trish emerged with a part-used bottle of Tippex. Not only did she manage to find it, she knew where to look. That bottle had to be 20-odd, possibly 30 years old. It was only half-full. And yet the Tippex was still liquid, still as good as the day I (probably) stole it from wherever I was working at the time.

So, a few lessons to be learned from this:

  • Don’t use the actor’s personal items as costume/props.
  • But if you do, take them off the actor and sequester them between shoots.
  • Put all props and costumes aside – into storage and carefully labelled – between shoots.
  • Marry a woman with an astonishing memory for where things are.
  • Be careful about tidying up and decluttering, because you can go too far … but on the other hand …
  • Seriously? Tippex?

Shooting in June and July proved an issue, too. Zolascope is comprised of eager amateurs (in the best, French, use of that term). The project depends on the goodwill and dedication of a small group of people. Being out in the wilds of France, we’re lucky to have found such a great team. But we all have our own lives and commitments. Some of us even have jobs. Getting a space in everyone’s diary for a week in June was tricky, but do-able. Doing it again a month later … hmmm, not so much.

The result was that – understandably – few people could commit to all the shooting dates. That meant the crew was rarely the same on two days running. It makes for a more fragmented and less efficient shoot.

Lesson learned? Try to shoot in one, concentrated period to which everyone can commit to the whole schedule.

On the other hand, I also learned how great people can be in coming in part way through and picking up a job that was being done by someone else. Intelligence and enthusiasm go a long way, and I’m glad to say the people of Zolascope seem to have those qualities in spades.

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