The Making of Blue Widow, Part 1: Pre-Production
Updated: Jul 5, 2019
Earlier this year, on four days in January and February 2019, I made my first short film: Blue Widow. I wrote the script, produced and directed it. It was a fabulous, strenuous, fun adventure, and over the next few blog entries, I will share some of my experiences.
I’ve been writing for many years now but have rarely exposed any of the results to the wider world. That simply had to change. About a year ago I talked to my friend Simon Cox, creator of INVASION PLANET EARTH, about wanting to direct, possibly one day, in the distant future, but I didn’t know anything about directing... Simon waved me off and said, “Just make sure you have a good cameraman, he’ll tell you what to do.”
So one day last November, I contacted Leo Dorian Stiebeling, a cameraman I knew from a theatre project, and proposed filming this little script I had, “a simple affair, no dialogue, hopefully we can throw some good visuals at it.” Leo read the four-page script and liked it - and I had my DP, who brought his team on board. We were good to go! Well, almost.
Learning the basics
Despite (or rather, in addition to) Simon’s advice to simply rely on my DP, I wanted to know at least the basics of filmmaking, and this is where years of networking in and around the London Screenwriters Festival came in handy. Simon and another experienced filmmaker friend, Phil Peel, both of whom I know through the LSF, gave me a “directing 101” session each, and that was hugely useful.
Then Leo and I went on several location recces together and afterwards brainstormed how to shoot which scene. In these sessions I discovered two important things: you don’t always need to use the “right” terminology (ours was mixed English and German anyway), all that matters is that director and DP agree on what terms to use. And stick figures work just fine for storyboards.
Challenges and solutions
There was, of course, loads more. Endless emails and phone calls. Costumes, which really is not my department – thank goodness my actresses were so engaged and went on countless shopping scouting trips, with and without me. Getting props, coordinating schedules for about 20 people over 4 shooting days (one of which had to be postponed twice). And, just to list a few more challenges:
Writer-me: “I need a castle!”
Producer-me: “Where the hell am I going to get a castle?”
I got a castle. For free.
Writer-me: “I need a red Ferrari!”
Producer-me: “I’m never going to get a Ferrari, never mind the colour...”
I got 20 Ferraris, 2 Maseratis and a Lamborghini. For free. (I was also offered a helicopter but declined. For this film.)
Writer-me: “We need to shoot at a cemetery!”
Producer-me: “I’ll have to jump through a thousand hoops to get a permit...”
I found a very picturesque cemetery, called up their admin and within 15 minutes (!) had a permit! This just does not happen. Not in Germany. But it happened.
Lessons learnt: when leaving your comfort zone...
I aimed for so many things first-time filmmakers are advised to avoid: a large cast, multiple locations, filming the luxury look, wearing too many hats (producing, directing, location liaison, costumes and catering). But I had a fantastic team, and it all worked out.
Lesson #1: It’s all about the people!
I really don’t like asking people for anything (even less so for free). That was a huge internal obstacle for me. But luckily I have good people skills – and I found, to a degree that really astonished me, that people are happy to help and be part of a project like this.
Lesson #2: It’s only 10% about WHAT you ask for and 90% about HOW you ask.
It turned out that we had to bring the shoot forward due to absences of both DP and lead actress. So prep time was cut down from three months to six weeks (which included Christmas)... and this was the best thing that could have happened. Because I had no time to think and worry. I just had to get stuff done.
Lesson #3: When leaving your comfort zone, go at full speed!
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