FIX FILMS RETROSPECTIVE #6 – THE CHESS GAME (2012)
TITLE: THE CHESS GAME (2012) – short film (15 mins)
TAGLINE: “Not all of us are destined to be Kings!”
DIRECTOR: Gary O’Brien
WRITERS/PRODUCERS: Paul Laight and Gary O’Brien
CAST: Philip Delancy, Bill Thomas, Tyrone Atkins, Bobby Freeman and Andy Davies
I haven’t written one of these short film retrospectives for a while but I thought I’d look back on my sixth short film – The Chess Game – and how it came to be made.
We hadn’t written or produced a film since 2008 when Elephant Trunk (2008) was released. Looking back it was for a mixture of personal and financial reasons. I mean making short films is a passion but sometimes the amount of work you put in can sometimes be the only reward. It is pleasing to complete a film but then what do you do? With Elephant Trunk (2008) I should have tried to get it into more festivals but ultimately I did not market it well enough. Moreover, I’d started doing more stand-up comedy as a creative hobby so decided to commit to that for a few years. I basically did not have enough time for filmmaking, especially with other family and work commitments.
In 2012, my filmmaking partner, Gary got in touch and quite rightly said it was about time we got back on the horse, as it were, thus we began working on the script that would become The Chess Game (2012). He had a basic premise of a seemingly harmless person living in a village fully integrated into the community. However, that said individual was actually hiding a secret past. We wrote the screenplay and, in terms of its length, became an ambitious thriller focussing on themes of guilt, revenge and war. It starts simply with the offer of a ‘friendly’ chess match between two strangers and spirals into a game of cat and mouse culminating in a deadly end game. Arguably, the story would probably have suited a Tales of the Unexpected half-hour length but we felt, given the lack of budget, we could do it justice at fifteen minutes.
Once we were happy with the script we raised the very low budget from independent sources and set about casting. We decided to use the talented Phil Delancy, who we’d worked with before and could be trusted to deliver a great performance. We also cast three excellent actors I knew from the comedy circuit in Tyrone Atkins, Andy Davies and Bobby Freeman. With regard to the lead role of Viktor, we knew we’d have to cast someone of great experience. Here was a character with charm keeping a dark secret close to his chest. Eventually, we cast seasoned professional Bill Thomas; an experienced screen actor who had been in many television and film roles including: The House Of Eliot, Cutting It, The Bill, Doctors, Holby City, Pusher (2012) and Alice Through the Looking Glass (2016) etc.
The rehearsal process was fantastic as myself, Gary, Phil and Bill really stress-tested the story and characters. Conversely, it was a script which changed a lot prior to production; not in terms of structure but rather the development of the characters’ motivations. Ultimately, the production would be a very successful shoot over two weekends in Oxfordshire. The story itself stands up to a re-watch as it twists and turns to a big reveal. My only regret is the end of the shoot was a bit rushed, however, the cast and crew were amazing and I think the film is not too bad, despite being shot on a shoestring budget.
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My third directorial short film effort went into production this year and the weekend shoot took place in the last week of July 2018. Thus, a small crew and two cast members put all of our preparations and rehearsals into action, in order to produce a compelling work of fiction. I am now at the editing/score stage but in the meantime here are some cast and crew details, on-set photos and story pitch.
Sadie Cort is out for revenge. Her ex-boyfriend Stephen is coming to dinner and she has prepared a beautifully set candlelit table. The wine is uncorked and chilled before Sadie pours poison into it. As it drifts slowly to the bottom of the bottle, the doorbell chimes. Stephen is here but will he drink the wine? And why does Sadie want him dead? All will be revealed in the short horror and darkly comedic film Tolerance (2018), inspired by Roald Dahl, Inside No. 9 and Tales of the Unexpected.
CAST AND CREW
Written, produced, catered and directed by: Paul Laight
Fix Films are a filmmaking collective consisting of dynamic duo Paul Laight and Gary O’Brien. Since 2005 they have been involved in the creation of many short films and promos. They self-produce, write, direct, edit and score their own films to a very high standard despite the low budgets. They are true independent filmmakers. Flatmates is Paul’s first directorial effort.
As well watching loads of films and television programmes I also write scripts and produce low-budget short films. This year and last was quite productive. My horror short Flatmates (2018) was shot and completed and having got a couple of festival screenings it still awaits an online release. In the meantime I shot a 90 second micro-budget science-fiction thriller called Don’t Trust Me (2018) which can be seen on my YouTube channel HERE.
Furthermore, my short film C’est Fini (2018) was produced by the Northern Film School and our Star Trek Fan film The Holy Core (2018) found a backer and is currently in pre-production. Finally, myself and actress Melanie Gayle decided to work together again to produce a script for another 90 second short film competition Depict! This competition screens micro-shorts at the Encounters Film Festival and so we shot MISDIRECTION (2018), with that in mind.
MISDIRECTION (2018) was shot in June in a day with a small crew; not that they are short but there was only four of us! The crew were great and so was my leading actress Melanie Gayle. My wife also provided wonderful voice work as the SAT-NAV. The 90 second version was edited and then submitted to Depict. Yet, I also had a slightly longer version cut and I think, despite the low-budget, it works well as a little twist-in-the-tale story that’s both funny and sinister too. There are obvious homages to the works of Philip K. Dick, 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), Black Mirror and Tales of the Unexpected. Here it is – hope you enjoy:
A short, low-budget science-fiction comedy film with a twist.
Valentine Ford is meeting her boyfriend, Dave, for dinner. However, her SAT-NAV has other ideas.
(Contains mild spoilers – nothing you may not already know.)
I write reviews for a number of reasons. Firstly, I love cinema and TV and music and culture in general and enjoy writing and thinking about the things I have seen and why I liked or disliked them. Secondly, as a writer myself I enjoy considering aspects from a screenwriting perspective and analyses what did or didn’t work for me. Thirdly, I guess from a narcissistic or egotistical perspective there’s a part of you that wants the attention or simply just confirmation that one’s opinions are being read or listened too. Ultimately, it’s a pastime and a bit of fun.
Every now and then a film comes along which is hard to place and it makes you think and you actually have to apply yourself. You can fall into certain traps of structure or at worst formula when writing reviews. But with David Lowery’s majestic A Ghost Story (2017) he has delivered such an original work of cinema art it is difficult to follow one’s established reviewing rules.
For starters it is difficult to even give you a brief synopsis of the film because it is so simple in its concept that the title itself sums up what the narrative is. It literally is a Ghost’s story! However, after establishing the accessible drama of the loss of a loved one, the characters move into a whole new level of complexity in regard to the supernatural, temporal, philosophical and metaphysical.
The main cast are Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara and they brilliantly under-play a loving couple who share a property in a nameless place. Their characters are also seemingly nameless (referred to as ‘C’ and ‘M’ in the credits) and their normal lives are then torn apart when he dies in a car accident. In a beautifully haunting scene at the morgue ‘C’ “awakes” as a GHOST IN A SHEET! Yes, his Ghost is shrouded in a sheet with two eye-holes cut out. My feeling about this initially was how would the director make it work without possible derision? But, due to his sheer confidence in the idea and choice of shots, music and pace we are quickly enveloped by ‘C’s pale figure and his drama.
From then on we see everything from the Ghost’s perspective and it truly is heart-breaking. I mean it takes guts for the filmmaker to cover his leading actor for the rest of the film but it genuinely pays off. My feeling about the sheet idea was that in death we lose our identity via our body, yet our soul lives on in the space where we existed. Our Ghost here is a genuine lost soul unable to move on and he literally haunts his home in a desire to stay with the one he loves. I also enjoyed the spirituality of the piece without once there being a reference to religion. It’s not about dogmatic belief systems but the purity of life and love.
David Lowery has created one of the most original stories of the year and his handling of composition; editing and temporal structure is a masterclass in pure cinema. This film is hypnotic, tragic and one of the best of the year. It echoes the work of Bergman, Kubrik and Tarkovsky. I for one do like my conventional genre films with well-formed characters and clear plot-lines, but this film transcends cinema conventions and delivers one of the most poignant and melancholic experiences of the year. Plus, the score by Daniel Hart really augments the minimalist approach and often dialogue-free sequences. Overall, this is a meditative joy which is both unconventional yet in its unpolluted filmic poetry had me transfixed throughout.
FIX FILMS RETROSPECTIVE #2 – A FAR CRY (2006) By PAUL LAIGHT
And thus I continue my look back to the past short film projects I have made with Gary O’Brien under the Fix Films umbrella.
A FAR CRY (2006)
A FAR CRY (2006) was our second short film. It was also our most expensive. I admit I got myself into some debt on a credit card/overdraft for this film. I’d finished my Master’s Degree a couple of years before. I had hope that if I made a great short film I could possibly ignite a career as a writer or producer or both within the British Film Industry. At the very least I had hope I would have a show reel piece and even if I started at the bottom I could work my way up within a reputable production company. I was wrong. But I was naïve and ambitious and that drove the whole production. I have no regrets though as A Far Cry is — despite its many faults — is a brilliant short film.
It all started one drunken evening in Ascot somewhere and myself and Gary had enjoyed the process of making our first short film — the revenge comedy Getting Back Mr Hunt (2005) which you can read about HERE — SO much we crazily thought let’s do another one. What followed was a crazy, stupid and wholly memorable experience as we put A FAR CRY into pre-production. I cannot quite recall why we chose to do a war film. I guess because we both love war films; and didn’t think it through properly in regard to the amount of work that it would entail.
I know we definitely wanted to do something involving a moral dilemma where the main protagonist had an impossible decision to make. We wanted the audience to ask themselves: “WHAT WOULD I DO IN THAT SITUATION?!” Moreover, as it’s a war film it obviously had to be bad. Really terrible. A decision that would haunt the character and the audience. I think with THAT ending we achieved that. So, eventually we spent months on the screenplay batting it back and forth until we’d moulded something we were happy with. Only then did we dip our toe into the casting and crew side.
This, for a small group of creative and deluded fools, was a massive undertaking. We were making a 15 minute short film set in World War II which involved: a big opening battle scene; a baby; marauding German soldiers hunting down our protagonist; AND it was set in FRANCE!! To put it in perspective the budget for Saving Private Ryan (1998) was $70 million; ours was a one-hundred-thousandth of that. Did that stop us? No! We managed to source a baby via Gary’s great mate Toby and to him I will be eternally grateful as we could not have made the film otherwise. Likewise, we needed a massive location somewhere in the middle of nowhere where we could recreate the big opening battle scene and others. Sometimes in life opportunity just comes knocking and we were at a party on a farm in Watlington, Oxfordshire and the owner — who I only ever knew as Murray — said we could use his land for a bottle of booze. So, for free we had a baby and for some scotch we had a farm and a few acres with which to continue this creative folly.
Next stop was sourcing some Germans. I was sure the whole venture would collapse. But DID YOU KNOW there are groups who recreate WWII battles as a hobby! I didn’t but we met some cracking guys from the WW2 Re-enactors Group led by Mark Craig and Jason Lavene and they were incredible. They loved dressing up as Germans and rather cheaply gave us the use of all their guns, uniforms, props and most importantly themselves and their time to make it happen. We had some ups and downs while making A Far Cry but when I look back I think that through sheer will and hard work everything went amazingly well. The WW2 Re-enactors were brilliant and I had to laugh on the first day of shooting when they woke up in the morning expecting their to be a Catering Truck serving hot food only to be told that there wasn’t a budget for that. Did they complain? Not at all. We had a laugh about it; well me and Gary did. While I imagine they were cursing us they soldiered on and gave their all in the production.
Filming of A Far Cry was done over a couple of weekends. One in Watlington, Oxfordshire. The other in Ascot, Berkshire. We shot quickly and economically and looking back at the film now I have to say Gary did a brilliant job of crafting some very memorable set-pieces throughout. As the producer it was my job to keep things steady and moving along and manoeuvre all the units into place. Oh, and I made A LOT of sandwiches. I think the whole project worked because everyone was pulling in the same direction and enjoying the experience. The opening battle was a lot to take on and we did overrun in regard to timing but due to Gary’s excellent storyboards and a script we knew back to front we were able to keep on track on the whole.
The pouring rain on the Sunday, I think, really put us back but we managed to pick up the scenes we lost during the first weekend when we shot in Ascot. Often we had to improvise and compromise but we did it inventively to make the story work. I recall the filming process being one of very long days and buzzing urgency with all manner of friends and family helping out on different days. It was incredible feat to make this film for so little money. Even stuff like recreating the barn in a garage in Ascot came off; Gary actually hired bales of hay from some random rural folk who then came and collected them the Monday after shooting. Of course, our cast were awesome and special mention for our lead actor Phil Delancy who gave a great performance and anchored the film with gravitas, physicality and emotional depth. Without him the film would be nothing.
Once the shoot was over we had a hell of a lot of sweat, time and insanity in the can and it was down to Gary to edit it into a cogent whole. That he did with tremendous endeavour as the film flows brilliantly with a fine combination of action and suspense. We had a great script in our view with a brutal subject matter and even darker ending. I was very happy with what we had and when I started seeing the footage I was elated. I was, by day, an office clock-puncher with a dead-end job but over those two weekends I had lived the dream of being a filmmaker. I WAS a filmmaker; albeit on a budget that wouldn’t pay for Robert Downey Jnr’s on-set beard stylist.
I re-watched the film again yesterday for this little piece and it stands up very well as a story. I also think Jasper Drew’s score is wonderful. I think we clearly aimed high with this production and it’s the lack of budget shows, however, everybody involved with this film worked REALLY hard to make it work and I think we did the script justice in the time we had. I thank everyone who assisted in making the film become a reality. What started on a crazy, drunken night in Ascot became one of the biggest projects I’ve worked on. You may say I’m and idiot for following a dream. But I’m a very proud idiot. No one can take that or this film away.
The film was very well received by many of those who saw it. A lot of people were shocked by the ending but in terms of the war-is-hell theme we feel we were justified and while it is heart-wrenching I think it is in context and not gratuitous. The film was screened at many film festivals and short film nights and on the whole we got some great feedback online and by word-of-mouth. For a list of screenings and film details please visit my website: http://www.fixfilms.co.uk/a-far-cry