Even though my Gaelic film 'An Sgiath Nan Treubh' (The Tribal Shield) was entered into the FilmG short film competition back in February in Glasgow it wasn't until 28th May when it had it's premiere. The Highland village of Drumnadrochit was host to the 2nd Loch Ness Film Festival in the Craigmonie Centre and it was there that my film met a public audience for the first time. There were 12 other films showing in the same slot as mine and it was satisfying to see it not only for the first time on the big screen but also alongside other films from aspiring filmmakers. I thought it was at least as good as many of the other films but then I would wouldn't I?! It was as if it was 'foreign' language film with its subtitles and this was brought to my attention afterwards when someone remarked that he saw it in a different way to the other films and enjoyed it in the way you might enjoy watching a French film with subtitles. The great thing about film festivals is getting to meet like-minded people in the industry and the LNFF was no exception. It was a delight to meet William and Andrew Doig - father and son organisers of the festival, Paul Bruce organiser of the Edinburgh Short Film Festival, and several actors and filmmakers - local and from Brighton! We're a small (even micro-) community of filmmakers in the north and it was brilliant to meet some of them. It was heartening to learn that they felt the same as me: that if we work together we can be a group worthy of International recognition. We agreed that by networking and working together we can achieve much more than we can individually.
As this is my first blog for a great while I should really do a resume of my activity. (I don't know about you but it takes a lot of effort to sitting down to write a blog and then when I'm actually doing it it doesn't seem that hard!)
I must start by mentioning the MG Alba Visions award that The Tribal Shield won at the FilmG awards in the Old Fruit Market in Glasgow in February. It came straight out of the blue and reacted way over the top when I got the phone call from MG Alba the week before the event. I attended the awards with good friend and filmmaker Ronnie B Goodwin from near Dumbarton. The evening was very entertaining with music from Manran, and guest presenters Peter Mullan and David Hayman, as well as Gaelic speaking hosts.
Secondly, a little behind the scenes piece from the Tribal Shield. I had about six months warning to make a Gaelic film for the FilmG competition. Anyway, with about 6 weeks to the deadline I had all but dismissed the idea. Then I met Amanda Millen in Thurso and she encouraged me to make one. Andrew Josey, my writing partner, and I started writing it with 3 weeks to go. I advertised for actors by going round the local schools and had an article in the local papers. With two weeks to go my main actors pulled out! Fortunately I had a phone call from a girl in Skye (Anna McMullen) and we arranged to film it in and around her house (thanks to her parents!). Meanwhile I was on the phone solidly finding other cast and phoned schools, members of amateur dramatics groups, and just about anybody that would answer the phone(!) to find the other 'family members. To cut a short story shorter I ended up with 3 boys, a mum of one of the boys (Angie Lamont), and a friend of the mum (Norman MacPherson)! Phew. I drove to Portree and arrived 10 minutes early - even after changing a flat tyre! The three boys auditioned at the same time as doing the read through with the cast. Although the other boys were good Euen MacDonald was the clear winner interpreting the script incredibly well with such short notice. We followed the read through with a rehearsal of some of the crucial scenes. The following day Norman and I filmed a couple of scenes. The very first was a great wee scene that was eventually cut due to getting the film under 5 minutes. It’s where the ‘Dad’ played by Norman is chopping wood and a ladder falls over and nearly hits him. It was in the garage and we spent a lot of time on it getting the light just right. Shame that it was cut but I look upon it as good practice in the lesson that sometimes you need to kill your ‘babies’. Norman was so into helping that we did some set ups for the following day’s filming, which undoubtedly saved loads of time. I have a lot to thank Norman for. The next scene we filmed was where ‘Dad’ is driving and almost hits a hiker. One small issue to take care of because at that point - we didn’t have a hiker! Norman to the rescue! He phoned his cousin (Stewart MacPherson) who fortunately immediately came round and we set out in the car to the country roads out of Portree. This was perhaps the most memorable bit of filming on the shoot. I got myself seat belted in and hung out of the back seat window whilst Norman drove at about 20-30mph towards Stewart, who was to walk out in front of the car. Apart from nearly hitting him once with the camera it went smoothly with no ‘hitches’ (no pun intended lol) apart from a little faux pas. Because we were the other side of blind summit from Stewart at ‘first positions’ when a camper van past us we couldn’t let him know that it wasn’t us that was approaching him for a take. Needless to say the camper van driver’s face must have been a picture as Stewart stepped out from the bush, oops. That night I went home to attend my son’s parents evening and I was up early the next morning to come back to Anna’s house for filming day 2. I’d love to go into detail with all the filming unfortunately exactly what we did and the order we shot it is a little bit hazy in my memory as it is now 6 months after the event. Things that stick out in my memory include: the excursion away from the main house set to Anna’s school where we filmed another (now deleted) scene involving pupils and one of her teachers; and with about 15 minutes to Anna needing to leave for work we all headed out into the pitch black night to build a bonfire with a few sticks, cardboard and fire-lighters. The result, I think was stunning considering we so little time and it was spitting with rain! I think all in all it was the most pleasurable shoot I’ve done. The actors were such a pleasure to work with over the four part days of shooting.
Then of course came the editing. The 5-page script was written in English. This equates to the maximum 5-minutes of screen time for the competition. When it was translated into Gaelic it turned into about 7 pages. I had cut out a lot of the descriptive passages from the script and made it 5-mins. Unfortunately, I had far more footage than I could fit into 5-minutes. Some scenes needed to be cut; already mentioned. For the accompanying music I used some songs from my album ‘Love in the Sun’ that I wrote and recorded with Terry B Small in 1988/89 and put them into four scenes as if coming from a radio. Other music I bought on the Internet. Needless to say it was finished on time and I uploaded it to FilmG with no minutes to spare.
This was the first self penned film I'd made for two years. The previous film in 2008 was the perhaps slightly over ambitious (on the budget we had) ‘555’. Co-written with Scott Burke it was sponsored by HG Helicopters from Inverness. We had a mentally short shoot time of 4 days, starting 6 hours late on the first day waiting for the plane to bring our cinematographer and assistant from London. All five actors and 16 crew worked tirelessly into the night on that first day’s shoot and some had only a one hour sleep! I think we managed 3 hours the next night. I employed an editor from the south, and Jim C Pettigrew from near Manchester composed the music. The whole cast and crew did themselves proud and we finished on time and under budget.
Earlier in 2008, I worked on New Town Killers, a full-length feature film directed by Richard Jobson, one time lead singer of the post punk band the Skids. It was a 5 week shoot (3 of which were night shoots). I was a minibus driver and set runner. It was a brilliant experience.
I promise I won't leave so long till my next blog!