"The best laid schemes o' mice an' men / Gang aft a-gley" ~ Robert Burns, "To a Mouse"
Updated: Apr 2, 2019
Above is my shooting plan for the scenes in my film that would take place on location at the Stirling Old Town Jail. Once I learned of this location, and heard of their wonderful accommodation of student filmmakers, I decided to give it a shot. David Kinnaird, the jail's Assistant Director, was a vital part of the planning process. David assisted with historical accuracy, explaining how prison systems operated during the time period of my film, lighting and electrical requirements we may have, allowed us the use of the costumes from his ghost walks, and even volunteered to act in the film as the independent contractor that would be transporting Catherine to the Americas! The key part in all of this being successful however, was that this needed to happen quickly; They were coming up on tourist season, and once that hit, we would not have the freedom of scheduling or costuming. Because we were working within such a time constraint (2 days of shooting, 9:00 am - 4:00 pm) I needed to make sure that all things were planned out in detail. All crew members were given a copy of the shot list, the story board, and the script, and were asked to review these prior to the shooting day. I posted an urgent casting call on casting groups for student films on social media and was blessed to find two incredible actors - Joe Maitland and Linda Welsh. I made the conscious decision to act in the film as well, which I am still on the fence about. My background is in performance - I have had extensive training in acting, and have supported myself for years solely as a performer, so acting is not new to me. What I discovered when acting and directing these scenes was that I definitely needed to secure an assistant director. I had one lined up, but unfortunately the AD needed to back out at the last moment - but thankfully the crew was so well versed with the project that everyone mastered their roles and collaborated beautifully.
The tricky part about acting and directing, is that you can never be wholly present in both roles. Perhaps this wouldn't have been the case if an AD was there, but for the most part I did not have the time I needed to fully work with the actors the way I had hoped, and I myself did not have a sufficient amount of time and space to prepare for my role as well as I had hoped - thus resulting in a performance that could have held a bit more depth and heightened stakes in the scenes. All in all, we did the best we could with what we had, and allowed space for "happy accidents" along the way.
Above is the shooting schedule for the "dreaded" Thurso shoot. I say "dreaded" because I cannot tell you the amount of sleep I lost over this. This is a prime example of what I would call "getting too big for your britches." This idiom is used more in the sense of me getting ahead of myself, more so than thinking that I could achieve more than I was actually capable. I was slightly jaded by how well the Stirling shoot went, and thought "If I could pull that off, I can pull this off too." I planned three times as much for the Thurso shoot - I scoured cottages online that might fit the vision I had for Catherine and Johnathan's cottage, I looked for remote beaches that fit the landscape, I rented a car, bought train tickets, and reserved the winning cottage quickly so as to snatch it up before tourist season hit and everything doubled in price and availability was gone. Through my research I was led to Thurso as the perfect location because of the cottage, the beach (Farr Beach, Bettyhill), and the Laidhay Croft Museum. The Laidhay Croft Museum were also very accommodating to me as a student filmmaker, just as Stirling was. However the same issue with the time frame was there - this trip needed to happen fast before the tourist season came and the Laidhay Croft Museum was harder to film.
I was able to find props and costumes relatively cheaply through charity shops, amazon.co.uk, and through costume and prop sales at local theatres (Tron Theatre in particular). I researched appropriate attire and props of the time period, and along with David's vast knowledge and generosity, as well as resources such as the book "Clothing the Poor in Nineteenth-Century England" by Vivienne Richmond and the expertise from my theater costumer colleagues from back home, I was able to know just what to look for and where to find. Having gathered all costumes, props, planning materials, film equipment, location plans, incredibly talented and helpful crew members from class, shot lists, and shooting storyboard, we were ready to head to Thurso. The night before our journey a crew member alerted me to the weather advisory up north. Storm Hannah was about to bring 8 inches of snow and 70 mph winds to our area for the duration of our shoot. I had no other choice but to cancel - I wouldn't put the crew in danger, and none of our external shots would be usable anyway (which consisted of 70% of the shots I had planned). I thought ahead and had put trip insurance on everything - the train, the rental car, and the cottage. I was able to recover much of the money I had invested in it so I was incredibly grateful. However, this left me with none of the shots I was planning on using for my trailer.
On to plan B! This was a blessing in disguise. I had allowed the project to get away from me. The location was too far away, the transportation and accommodation costs were too great, and the risks were too high - but I hadn't seen any of that until I realized how relieved I felt after cancelling it all. I had always wanted to keep it small, and the weather forced me to stick to that plan whether I wanted to or not.
As it stands now, I have found a closer alternative location for the external shots: Ayr Beach. About 45 minutes by train, at around £7 a ticket, this location is the better option. I can still utilize the shooting plan I had organized for Thurso. The weather may still be a bear, but we will do what we can with what we've got.