Lucy Brydon reflects on the ups and downs of shooting her low-budget debut feature Sick(er).
Shooting a film, especially on a micro-budget, is akin to creating a sculpture on an industrial scale. I’m thinking Ron Mueck – you know, those enormous babies with veins the size of your forearm that tower over you, all their flaws exposed in the glaring light of day as you stare up at them wondering who the fucking hell’s idea this was and try to make sense of it? Yeah, one of those.
And oh, it was your idea. You fool.
When I think back to production now, I am amazed by what we achieved given the resources we had. Shooting took place in London and Canvey Island, Essex, over 16 days and one pick-up day in Seaford over April and May last year. That is not much for a feature film. Not much at all.
Time greatly impacts the creative ambitions of any shoot. What is already a highly pressurised environment becomes 10 times more intense as the number of locations and set-ups per day are increased to fit within a compressed three week schedule. Sick(er)’s Director of Photography, Darran Bragg, once pointed out, this can lead to a ‘Dr Zhivago in the morning, Eastenders after lunch’ scenario as you start with lofty intentions but then you need to rapidly adapt to get what you really need when faced with the reality of your shoot day. He’s definitely not wrong.
Someone clever told me early on to pick your crew as carefully as you pick your cast. I was fortunate to work with terrific creatives across the board, with HODs including Darran, Sarah Jenneson (Production Design), Natalie Humphries (Costume) and Saffron Powell (Hair and Make-up). They all worked together excellently and with such thoughtfulness – no ego problems here – that they made what was a tough job at least an enjoyable one.
I wanted to give them the space to collaborate and bring ideas. That’s just how I like to do things. The notion of the director as creative führer seems outdated and irrelevant. That’s not to say that a director shouldn’t know what they want. But nothing demotivates people more quickly than not being listened to and – when people are not really coming to your project for the coin – you need to give them something back that gives them a sense of ownership and pride in their work. Because the only thing worse than a jumped-up creative führer is a jumped-up creative führer with no dollar.
In production, every day presents profound and surprising moments where you see the material in a new way, usually thanks to input from one of the crew or cast. Every day also presents some unique dilemmas that no-one would never have envisaged happening prior to the precise moment everything goes to shit. But somehow – and it is in this that you must trust – you will find a solution. You will make sense of it.
The cast, lead by Siân Brooke and Amanda Burton, are seasoned actors and were able to turn out excellent performances pretty much straight away on set. I am intensely grateful for that. As a director you want your actors to feel like they have the room to explore as much as they possibly can. Sometimes there simply wasn’t enough time for us to do all we wanted to in the scenes, but we always got the guts out of them. Actors are such fearless creatures; they use the feelings that most of us hide to make an audience understand the bones of a story. You can’t not respect it when you see it there, right in front of you.
My favourite scene in the film is an emotional confrontation between Amanda and Siân’s characters which takes place towards the end. We shot this in the first week. Both women were aware of the significance and power of the scene. On the day they made characteristically intelligent suggestions and amends, we rehearsed it and then we went. Although we had the usual issues it was such a cathartic and beautiful thing to shoot – it felt like so many conversations I wished I could have had in my own life – that I was moved to tears. That’s when I realised how lucky I am to be doing what I do, and to have convinced these amazing people that it’s a good idea.
Of course, you come out with war stories. There was the time a bunch of extras refused to walk through nettle infested fields because of their sandal clad feet so emergency socks had to be delivered from the (far away) unit base as tempers frayed in the summer heat. There was the time we showed up to shoot a scene in the sea only to find that someone had forgotten to check the tide times and it was all the fucking way out. There was the time we weren’t able to find an appropriate corridor in a sports centre to shoot in at short notice and thus had to create one using clever angles and props within about 20 minutes. But we got there in the end.
Follow Lucy’s filmmaking journey on Twitter @brydon_lucy
Published 15 Jul 2019
By Lucy Brydon
In the first part of a new series, Lucy Brydon talks us through the early stages of her debut feature.
Five emerging filmmakers offer essential first-hand advice for how to bring your creative vision to life.