In the writing of his micro-budget manifesto and screenwriting ‘restrictions’, David had already identified that he would need to integrate a distinctive audio-visual style into the narrative mode of the screenplay. Having worked in his early twenties as a photojournalist, David was already very familiar with SLR cameras and realised that rather than try to make a DSLR shoot look like film or hi-res digital, it would be preferable to incorporate the strengths of the DSLR camera system into the aesthetics of the film. He therefore contacted photographer and filmmaker, Simon Hipkins who had worked as the DOP and colourist on his short ‘Head on Backwards‘, knowing that Simon would completely understand the aesthetic opportunities presented by the DSLR camera system to realise an intense and claustrophobic film.
This DSLR driven visual system would not only be important in giving the film a specific look and attitude so it would gain media attention, it would also be critical to budgeting, scheduling and determining the precise number of pages to be shot per day and the number of shots for each set-up in advance. Restricting both the number of shots and the type of camera movements permitted, would be imperative to enable the crew to hit their daily target of shooting 8.5 pages each day without going over the maximum 10-hour days. While this pace of shooting is not untypical in soaps like River City and Doctors, it is worth remembering that a standard continuity approach to filmmaking would see the crew looking to shoot between 1.5 and 2.5 pages per day.
It is clear that deciding to restrict the number and type of shots one will be allowed is a potentially risky strategy, so to try and prevent problems in editing, David decided to storyboard the film from the screen story before writing the screenplay. Though this is unusual today it was a standard working practice for the master, Alfred Hitchcock so it seemed like the perfect approach to take. As David would readily admit, he is not a great draughtsman, so instead he invested in some practical storyboarding software which he used to create geometrically accurate storyboards. The fact that these action man style images are artistically uninspiring in themselves proved a benefit in that it forced David to focus on the montage rather than be seduced by the look of any individual cells from the storyboard. Only when he was happy with the flow and pace of the storyboard, did David finalise the story outline and begin writing the dialogue for the screenplay.
Here too, David decided to diverge from standard practice by improvising scenes with the lead actors, John C. Gilmour and Alton Milne from a very early stage. For speed of shooting, it was vital that the actors should know the screenplay inside out and be comfortable with every line of dialogue. What better way to ensure this than to involve them directly in the script development.
Having provided the actors with his rough draft, David then work-shopped every scene with John and Alton, filming each performance on a regular compact camera on a tripod. Together writer-director and lead actors were able to road test action against proposed camera position to ensure that the screenplay was as strong as it could be and that the actors would be able to deliver compelling performances within the restricted locations called for in the manifesto. The raw footage from these screenplay/acting workshops was then reviewed by David Griffith and cinematographer, Simon Hipkins before further revisions were made. It is interesting to note that thanks to this rigorous preparation, David Griffith and cinematographer Simon Hipkins (with a bit of help from our excellent first AD, Matt Wilkins) were able to stick closely to David’s camera system throughout the shoot and only twice overran the shooting schedule by one hour.