Over the weekend I worked on a short film for the Colchester 60 Hour Film Festival. It’s called This Day And Age and you can watch it here:

Aside from a single VFX shot I contributed to The Splinter Cell last year (some BTS on that here), this is pretty much the first film project I’ve been part of since my son was born three years ago. Which is fine – I’ve had far too much fun helping him grow into something awesome to dilly-dally with making films.

That said. Getting back in the saddle was fricking great.

Which isn’t to say it was easy. In fact, I was very quickly reminded of why I dislike 48/60/whatever hour timed competitions. They are massively over-briefed. We had to fit three elements into our piece:

  1. Title: This Day and Age
  2. Line: A little knowledge can be a bad thing.
  3. Action: Write 5 letters on forearm.

Now, I’ve had worse briefs and none of those three on their own are terrible. But trying to combine them into something decent which is still producible within 60 hours was not easy.

The story team (me,Kirstie, Josh, Andrea, Ryan) sat down at 8pm on the Friday to brainstorm. We wren’t short of ideas. Ideas were everywhere. Practical ideas which all 100% fit the brief…that was trickier. I’d had a grand plan of 1 hour of brainstorming with the whole team, then an intensive 45 minute development session with Kirstie on two of our favourite ideas, then another couple of hours of actually writing the script.

At about half midnight we fixed on an idea that was going to work. Painful. We finished the script at about 2am, and I got home about 2.30am.

Now, the time limit of these challenges is great. That limits the project, means that everybody knows precisely what they’re getting into, and focuses the mind. But I do wish they’d prescribe only a single briefing element. That way you’re given a direction, but no annoying and kinda daft restrictions – the time limit should really be restriction enough.

On the previous two 48 hours I’ve done (Orphan Factory and Temporary Status) I was mainly in a production role – co-directing, shooting, editing, VFX…etc. I was involved throughout the entire weekend on those, and it was intensive. On both of those projects I was working with scripts from Chris Burdett and Wayne Bolt – both of which were decent scripts which gave us lots to play with (possibly too much!).

This time round, I was scriptwriting. Reality is, I don’t quite have the time to dedicate an entire weekend to a project like this at such short notice (Saturday I was off to a 3rd birthday party, Sunday I was taking my son swimming…you get the picture). Combine that time element with my focus this year on writing and it just made sense.

The odd thing about scriptwriting for one of these, as I discovered, is that you’re basically trying to come up with something that is worth the time of everybody else on the project. The production and post team are going to be working on something based in the script for the next 48 hours, so you really hope the script is going to be worthwhile. It’s an odd situation – normally you obviously wouldn’t go into production on a script unless you already liked it; with timed contests, you’re in production whether you like it or not.

As you can see from the finished film, the script was sparse, but it needed to be very precise. There was a story to tell here, in a very short amount of time (both running and production time). Taking a leaf from Atomic Productions’ award-winning 48 hour films, we decided very early to go for a non-linear narrative, jumping around the timeline. As well as turning a relatively simple tale into something that feels more complex, it also adds a level of anxiety and tension to the storytelling and imbues the film with an inherent sense of style before even factoring in actor/cinematography/music/etc.

That’s something which is especially hard in timed contests – getting any sense of style into them. You’re often in such a hurry just to get through the project that you don’t have time to think about doing anything especially clever with the visuals, or editing, etc.

Something I’m super thrilled about with This Day and Age is that the production team, led by Josh Davies, has given the whole thing a great sense of style hitting the tone that I was aiming for in the script just perfectly. Tommy’s wonderful score doesn’t hurt, managing to be epic without tipping into bombast or melodrama.

Special props also to Joe Gould, playing the lead scientist guy (unceremoniously titled ‘MAN’ in the script – sorry, Joe, we didn’t have time for names!). With basically no prep and presumably no real rehearsal, he gives the character a verisimilitude and depth, capturing both the ambition and the creeping fear without overplaying either. There’s something terribly sad leaking out of his performance and it works brilliantly.

I co-wrote the script with Kirstie Tostevin, someone I’ve collaborated with a lot both in and out of work. She’s given me great feedback on A Day of Faces and Millennium Surfing, so it was excellent to finally get to properly collaborate on something. It definitely helped at 1am to have a second writer to bounce ideas around, and the end result is absolutely a combination of both our efforts.

So, good stuff. Well done, all.

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