BL&F 14: DANIEL HUTCHINGS INTERVIEW - PART II
"An Open Letter"
The Filming of Django Away!
Hutchings the dutiful father takes his daughter on her first location reccie to do some test shots.
Hugh Moir: In Hutchings' Half Hour, your comedy character checks how many views the previous Hutchings' Half Minute has had online and sees it has had zero views. How close is that to the reaction the web-series had and how successful was Huchings' Half Hour as a pitch video?
Daniel Hutchings: It wasn’t (laughs). It didn’t raise any money for Django so I pulled the campaign. The Half Minutes didn’t quite get zero views, but none of them went viral, most of them stayed in the low hundreds.
And this didn’t discourage you from making Django Away?
(Laughs) Of course not. I was making my own comedy shows! What could possibly be discouraging about that? (Laughs) I was developing and exploring and, most importantly, I didn’t feel I was mis-comminucating. And the videos did get a lot of very good responses from people I knew, friends and family and people I’d meet on the comedy circuit. But there was some nice response from web-viewers too. My favourite being from one John Addy (Hutchings pulls out his phone and checks the videos comments) who said “Wow. This is exceptionally good. I don't know whether to be angry at the injustice of its obscurity or feel privileged to have seen it. Mr Hutchings if you read these comments please accept my thanks for a creating such a wonderful video. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Smiley face.”
Wow, that is a very considered and celebratory comment.
Yeah, that’s enough for me to consider Hutchings’ Half Hour a total success (laughs). But don’t forget, I was embarking on making my first feature film! I was so very, very excited about that in itself! I’d always wanted to go straight into making feature films, as opposed to short films first, as I’m totally in love with how the feature film length allows us to see the dramatic development of a character in one sitting. The journey, the emotional arc, the adventure, all taken in in one go, in a cinema, away from your life, is such a special thing. And I knew the idea for the Exifestern was something that I wanted to explore in a feature.
How did you find the transition of making a feature after your Half Minutes?
I relished it! (Laughs) I did do kind of a trial run with ‘Allo ‘Allo Basterds where I tested out shooting quickly without coverage.
'Allo 'Allo Basterds (spelt wrong, not sweary).
Is that like Inglourious Basterds?
Yes, it’s a straight up Tarantino parody. It’s a comedy short that mixed the characters of Inglourious Basterds with the dynamics of ‘Allo ‘Allo. It’s the first scene of Inglourious Basterds written as a sitcom basically. Very Brooksian! (Laughs) I’d written it as a two-hander for Craig Cunningham and Alex Flitcroft after being inspired by their live act.
How did it turn out?
It was great fun making it with Craig and Alex and I do like the result. But the main thing about it was that my shooting method worked for me and I understood why. I did have pangs about making light of the subject matter though.
Inglourious or ‘Allo ‘Allo?
No, World War II! I mean, I had in my head the kind of rationale you’d expect like (adopts snotty accent) “Its subject matter is not the war but the representation of the war in popular culture” (laughs). I had also designed my own version of the swastika called the silly-stika.
Flitcroft and Cunningham get into character, Flitcroft enjoying himself as Cunningham looks on in mock shock, Hutchings in thought before a take as Flitcroft waits patiently, a prop poster hand drawn by Hutchings and featuring the "Silly-stika". Hutchings and cast with Assistant to the Director Lydia McFerran once filming wrapped, Flitcroft sad to complete the shoot.
(Laughs) Very good.
Yeah, it was inspired by The Three Stooges costumes in their Nazi send-ups. But I knew in my heart that no matter how I distanced myself from the core material of WWII, it did feel like it wasn’t really my kind of comedy, wasn’t my vocabulary yet. But it did confirm to me that I could write, design, cast, direct, film, edit and score a film for no money with talented actors in a suitable location. And once I knew that, I knew the challenge was there in my Django Away! script to do it on a bigger scale.
You Nazty Spy! The Three Stooges film made in 1940.
So, how did you make Django Away with no money?
Well, I didn’t have any money but I wanted to make it. So, what do you do, not make it? No, you find a way, especially if it’s a story you really have to tell! And this was a story I really, really had to tell. In short, I based everything around resource instead of budget. As a professional filmmaker, I had a camera. As a performer and writer, I’d always collected clothes for shows and possible film projects, so I had costumes for most of the film’s characters. I live in quite a rural area, so I knew of plenty of landscapes that didn’t have anything modern in sight for the Exifestern scenes. So, the question was: what else do you need to start filming your script? The answer was, a shooting method that could give me any scene within a few hours of shooting, that a professional actor would find exciting and that would give me footage that could be easily edited in post-production. I factored in all these elements and defined a model for zero budget shooting where I could take a scene from the page to it’s first edit within one working day. So now, when the question was: what else do you need to start shooting? The answer was nothing! So I simply began filming.
An early wardrobe still of the Django costume still with the sleeves on the jacket.
But you did provide food refreshments?
Yes, but that’s just like inviting some friends over for the evening so that doesn’t count as budget (laughs).
(Laughs) I see. So where did the cast come from? Were they friends?
Well, no! (Laughs) No, I mean, friendship didn’t really come into it because I wanted everyone to feel like they were my first choice. But some people I did already know, some were recommended to me and some answered adverts. I mean, I cast people who I thought had star quality! (Laughs) People were cast because they could bring the character to life with a presence I wanted. To me, the film is an ensemble where everyone gets a star turn.
But how did you get them to commit to the film for no pay?
(Laughs) You’d have to ask them that. I did have my Django Away! Bible with photos of all the costumes and locations and diagrams about the film and the filmmaking and I'd just meet them for a brew and tell them about their part and project. And, of course, I had a full script which I think did a lot too.
Possible costumes for the male characters from Hutchings' clothing collection.
Reccie photos for possible Exifestern and London locations.
But the cast is made up of actors with varying degrees of experience?
Yes, but it is up to me as a director to get a performance no matter how “legitimate” a cast member is. A track record does not result in a certainty. If I feel someone has a quality I’m inspired by, and I can see how to handle them to get the performance, then that's most of the decision made. Obviously people who act for a living have a wealth of experience and discipline to draw on, which was essential for many of the characters, but for some characters, this discipline wasn’t necessary. Also, as I wasn’t shooting many takes or shooting coverage, the stamina and discipline required to execute such things wasn’t required.
So did you rehearse?
Yes, we had full script read-throughs and rehearsals over two day. One half of the cast on one day and one on the other.
Why was that?
Just availability. It was great actually because everyone got to read other parts as well as their own so it was a lot of fun.
Rehearsals after a table read-through. Hutchings, McGowan, Flitcroft, Ryan and Gilligan had fun exploring their characters.
How did you approach directing a cast performing your material after Half Minute and Half Hour which were essentially one-man shows?
On a person-to-person basis. Everyone’s different. But while I wrote the script and saw it a certain way, I championed all of the actors to bring their own ideas of the performance to it. I wanted performances that were larger than life for the Exifestern scenes and ones that captured a certain domesticity in the reality ones. I feel there’s an immediacy in the performances, palpable reactions to my comedy character and his stories, that are more poetical than realistic. I would have “getting what I want” as the prerequisite and aim for “getting something special” that would come from the reaction between myself and the cast member and the thrill that another little bit of my little film was getting a chance to be played out.
Tell me about the dual casting in the film. What inspired the decision for everyone to play two characters, one in Reality and one in the Exifestern?
That was another extension of exploiting the relationship between the reality and fantasy sequences. If I cast each actor in a role in each, then there would be an implicit meaning to how they had inspired my comedy character’s imagination. It would also subtly undercut the linear nature of film plot by implication. For example, we meet Craig Cunningham’s character Spud in the second Exifestern scene, after my comedy character has been talking to a potential private financier in Dr Anderson, and after Spud demands the contents of Django’s pockets, Django presents him with pocket fluff. But when we meet Craig’s Reality character Jim, he refers to a time when he and Pete mugged Hutchings and all he had was pocket fluff. This implies that Hutchings is not starting at the top and working his way down, but rather the narrative is only a selection from his life, implying the film follows the storyteller’s story, not the storyteller. It was also a good way of needing less people to complete the cast (laughs). But no, really, these qualities, as well as undermining the sequential cause and effect of it’s own narrative, are some of the things that can be explored in a feature.
Were there any other influences on the dual casting?
O’ Lucky Man! It’s such a wonderful film with its casting because it's got such depth with its notions of archetypes in social and work structures that not only push the humour and terror of Mick Travis’ journey but also contextualises and defines Mick too. It’s a wonder performance by McDowell because he plays Mick as a leaderless follower rather than making it about innocence into cynicism. I also love the idea of having The Presents Inc Players, a regular cast where I can extend and explore these ideas of archetypes with the same actors playing different characters, and the familiarity that comes with it, to create a Daniverse within my films. I think that comes from the Carry Ons again. I mean, Joan Sims doesn’t play the same Joan Sims in each film, but she’s always Joan Sims.
Lindsay Anderson's O Lucky Man, with it's dual-role castings, influenced Hutchings casting methods for Django Away!
Joan Sims' various characters through her Carry On Career. The Carry On franchise was also a influence on the dual-role casting of Django Away! but in a different way to O Lucky Man.
Now, you had an idea for some guest stars didn’t you?
(Laughs) Yes! It was the idea that Joe King and Django’s Mentor could be played by guest stars.
Why? Was it so the film would have a name or two attached?
Well, it would of course be a real kick to work with actors whose work you are extremely interested in, but it was more to give a link between how my comedy character would be inspired by the actors work in Reality and how they would figure in his Exifstern.
Who did you have in mind for Joe King?
Paul Kaye. Mike Strutter was a character on my mind when I was thinking of who Joe King was before I wrote him. Roger Lloyd-Pack I think would’ve been great too, I could really see that. Ben Chaplin because I could see him as an extension of his Matthew Malone character from Game On. And Stewart Lee, who I think would’ve done a brilliant dressing down of Django.
Casting Wish List. Paul Kaye (as Mike Strutter), Victoria Wood, Rik Mayall, Ben Chaplin (as Matthew Malone), Roger Lloyd Pack and Stewart Lee.
Wow, impressive list! Who did you have in mind for Django’s Mentor?
I coyly approach Victoria Wood but she wasn’t free to do it. My second choice was Rik Mayall. I sent him the script, with a cover letter explaining how I would shoot the scene, to his agent, first class. I really thought he would be up for it! But the very next day it was announced he’d died.
Hutchings' cover letter that accompanied the Django script sent to Rik Mayall via his agent.
Some things are not to be. What did you think would convince someone like Victoria Wood or Rik Mayall into working with you in the way you did on Django Away?
It seemed entirely possible to me at the time that someone would be so enamoured with the script, which is to say that they would see in the writing all the things I had in my head, and the possibility of working in a different way, that they would happily spend half a day filming with me (laughs).
Why would you think that?
Well, because I was that in love with the script! I mean, I’m sure I’ll try the same thing with my next film for exactly the same reasons! (laughs). I don’t think it’s that ludicrous. I had designed the role of the Mentor so I could film it within half a day, wherever was convenient. I think it was also taking at face value what John Waters said about casting stars.
What was that?
That he’d just call up people he wanted to be in his films and offer them the role (laughs).
You don’t he did that in hindsight?
No I think he did, but he’s John Waters (laughs) and I’m not (laughs).
The Incredibly Strange Film Show episode on John Waters where he discusses how he successfully cast Tab Hunter.
Well, yes (laughs).
But I was lucky with the lack of success I had because as I got more and more scenes filmed, I began to see that the film would become unbalanced if it had a “name” in.
In what way?
In the way that people would expect the film to be in keeping with that person’s work. It would draw attention to the difference between what was happening in Django Away! and what people would be used to in a comedy film, rather than Django Away! just having a logic of its own. The film became an ensemble art-comedy instead of a cheap comedy with a recognisable name in for a few minutes.
So, back to Django Away! How did shooting actually begin?
Well, I had a cast, but still no-one to help me behind the camera. Then I met Dave Birtles while I was doing a filmed interview of his partner Emma Clarke. I was shooting it at their home and Dave popped his head round the door while I was setting up to shoot and we hit it off.
How did Dave get involved in Django?
I told him about it and how I was on the lookout for crew members. I gave him the script, he read it and he said he’d like to run camera for it. So to get rolling we shot the “desert” scenes which are soundless scenes with only me in.
Where did you shoot those?
We shot them at Lytham St. Annes' beach at 5am on a very cold September morning. It has a very flat beach and when the tide is out, which it was at 5am, you get a totally flat landscape. We shot so early because we had a lot of wide shots to get and we needed to beat the dog walkers, of which there are many at Lytham, and I of course wanted the over night time-lapse for after Django collapses.
Location photos of Lytham St. Annes' beach, where Hutchings and Britles shot Django in his desert, and Hutchings and McGowan in costume prior to shooting the Dead Funny chapter with Dave Birtles.
Yes, that shot looks very fantastical. How much of it was done in post?
I did spend a lot of time to make it look the way it does (laughs). The sun bobbing down and up in the sky is an overlay which is copied, flipped and reversed after it’s set so it comes up the other side and stays symmetrical. But the change in light on the landscape was pretty much captured in the shot. I accentuated it a little, but it was pretty much there. We arrived about 20 minutes before sunrise so we just about had time to set up. I flopped down and we captured the change in the light. The shot is actually about thirty minutes, which was an hour after it’s been copied and reversed, and was speeded up to what you see in the film. Which runs at about 20 seconds, if memory serves. Once the sun had broken, we shot the rest of the sequence, managing to beat the dog walkers by doing all the wide shots first (laughs).
Hutchings' storyboard for the desert sequence. Hutchings storyboarded the entire film so he could show cast and crew alike what framing they were working with with each shot.
"One of those speedy-up-things so it's morning really quickly" took thirty minutes of lying down at the crack of dawn on a windy beach on a cold September day. After twenty minutes Birtles did wonder whether Hutchings had fallen asleep but waited for Hutchings to shout "cut none the less.
What did you film next?
We shot the street-bound performance sequence where my comedy character’s progress has run it’s course and he’s asking random people in the street if they want to help make “dan go away” and telling some knock knock jokes and doing some dancing for pennies.
Was that filmed in London?
No, it’s cut together within the London Trafalgar square sequence, which was shot about nine months later, but native Mancunions will notice that it’s at the top of Market Street in Manchester.
How long did you have to shoot to get those responses? They’re all strangers?
Yes, none of them are staged. I did two sessions of about half an hour with a break in between to review the footage and check the sound. Pretty much anyone who responded to my “act” is in the film.
What came next?
We shot Shaun McGowan’s scenes. The water scene and the Jokeaholic scene. That was me Shaun and Dave again.
Why those scenes?
Shaun was free (laughs). But I thought it was very important to get the water scene because I felt it was the scene that summed up the film and I wanted it to show to possible cast and crew members. It's got the long wide shots, the slapstick as well a the set-up for the Joe King character. I had also done the Jokeaholic routine quite a few times live and I wanted to film it with those experiences in mind.
You did the Jokeaholic routine live? Like a ten minute set?
How does it go over with a live audience?
Different every time! I can never tell what the reaction will be. It’s a funny premise, but delivering it sincerely, more often than not, really pulls the audience in and, by the end of the set, you can feel them willing you on. I think it’s because it becomes allegorical for any crutch an audience member might have without it being about confronting that crutch directly so it becomes something that gently champions through sympathy.
Now by this point it’s late 2013 and you broke filming?
Yes, I went to storyboard for Victoria Wood on her film That Day We Sang which took me from October 2013 through to the end February 2014. But when I came back to it, Dave had set up a business so he wasn’t available for filming anymore.
Was it a shame to loose Dave?
Yes it was. Dave Birtles is a wonderful cameraman with a great eye for composition and a very keen understanding of visual vocabulary and it’s effect on the character and on the audience. He also understood what I was trying to achieve visually and had a wonder knack of finding it very quickly.
And you didn’t find anyone to replace him straight away?
No. I couldn’t find anyone else so I continued by filming all the scenes that only had me in with the aim of building momentum and finding people as I went.
Hutchings' design for a lightweight scarecrow he could carry on-foot, along with the rest of his equipment, to the rural location where the scene was shot.
The storyboards for the scarecrow sequence. The shot selection also shows the sequence they were shot in. This was chosen so there would only need to be one costume change during the shoot, and one hat change, to maximise the actual shooting time at the location.
The Scarecrow scene was one of many scenes that Hutchings shot solo to get the film rolling. If you're wondering who took these pictures, Hutchings took it himself to refer to for continuity between set-ups.
Hutchings' notes and storyboards for the Trafalgar Square sequence and the jumpcut to the scarecrow he'd filmed months earlier. This cut encapsulates that his comedy character feels more like a dummy than a statuesque hero like Nelson above.
How would you describe these early shoots?
Like an open letter. It felt like tapping my material right at the point of inception, creating as close to my imagination as possible.
How did you approach playing Django?
Well, as you can read in the directions in the script and in my Half Hour, Django was originally a kind of slapstick innocent, a la Stan laurel, but as the visual vocabulary began to grow along with my vision of the weight of Django’s trauma and the libido of laughter in the Exifestern, I began to feel Django would only work if his inspiration appeared paralysed by trauma. He is the man with no sense of humour.
And, eventually you, of course, played Joe King.
Yes. The more I thought about it, the more it seemed to follow the film’s logic. That Joe King would be another manifestation of my comedy character rather than a reflection of someone he’d seen on tv or in a movie and that the person he’d find after all this would not be an abstract interpretation of someone else but an abstract version of himself. It’s also in keeping with the notion of being your own worst enemy and also implies that Django’s trauma is a distancing mechanism for Hutchings’ trauma, trauma that you think is explained a la Psycho's Epilogue in the Jokeaholic scene. Of course, this is revealed to be another part of Hutchings' act, undermining the notion that every creative gesture is caused by childhood events (laughs).
What were you going for with your performance of Joe King?
I was thinking of the gleeful feeling you get when you think of an observation about something and how you relish telling it to the nearest person. I was also thinkning of a shark and the notion of having the scent of blood and knowing that it’s a matter of time before you feast. I wanted him to be savage, but my comedy character’s idea of savage.
Yes, because he’s still within your comedic rules, he doesn’t burst the logic of the film.
Yes, that was intentional because it was about being the counterpoint of Django. If Joe King swore or called Django less erudite names, the dialogue they engage in and, by implication, the trauma that my comedy character resolves through the Putdown, would cease to function.
We discussed that the Hutchings in Django Away! is different to the one in Half Hour, who “performs to himself”.
Well, I think they’re the same, he’s just out of his comfort zone in Django. I think the essence of the relationship between my comedy character and his Django character is summed up between the two frames at the end of the Mid Lands Drifter sequence when it jumpcuts to him playing out the scene to Susan the barmaid. Django seems subtle, determined, but Hutchings' smile is more like a smirk, barely restraining his mirth.
These two frames illustrate the jumpcut that defines how Hutchings' comedy character imagines Django and the difference in his performance of the two characters.
Was that a happy accident?
No, I worked very hard to capture the character's expressions and also to get the compositions as identical as possible.
How, on a practical level, did you film these scenes?
I got a monitor (laughs). No, I did lots of location scouting, lots of storyboarding and rehearsal shoots for most of them so when it was time to shoot them, I had to only consider my performance, not whether the footage would work.
So how did you get from filming these scenes solo to having a crew for the scenes with a fuller cast?
As I filmed my excitement grew and I advertised for crew. When I met people who’d responded to the adverts, I was very excited about the project because it was already in progress so they got inspired by my excitement and wanted to work on the film with me. And before I knew it, we were a small group of people all making a movie for the sheer fun of it! It’s amazing how ideas grow when creative people are inspired!
Early tongue in cheek adverts for cast and crew.
Who ended up behind the camera with you?
Ryan J. Harrison answered an ad and we met. He is one of the most talented sound designers I’ve ever encountered. He really understood the subtexts in the film and the script and carried them into the aural landscape to accentuate each scene and the overall effect of the film’s dynamic. With Lauren Adams, Ryan designed some really fantastic soundscapes and provided dialogue driven scenes with a sense of intimacy and atmosphere. I met Sophia White the same way. She ran camera and I also gave her an Associate Producer credit as she has an excellent eye for seeing what needs to be done and doing it as well as getting Dr Anderson a great location. She was a great influence on set and kept the scenes she shot running smooth. She was in two of them! I mean I think of it as a miracle that I found the people I did!
Production Sound Mixer and Supervising Sound Designer Ryan J Harrison and Boom Operator and Assistant Sound Designer Lauren Adams.
We’ve already talked about your ideas for using timelapses and jumpcuts to suggest lengths of time between the chapters, but how did you implement them?
Well, I did the old Serpico, I grew my hair out and shot the film from the middle out to the start and the end, where my hair was to be quite neat and tidy. I’d shoot some scenes, trim a little, then shoot some more, and so on. I also had several pairs of jeans that were worn to different degrees, so you can see in the film that the seat of his jeans wears away and holes appear in the knees.
The Hair Scene Schedule was inspired by Lumet's choice to shoot Serpico's scenes in revere chronological order, cutting Pacino's hair as they went. This meant they didn't have to use wigs and the finished film has a palpable sense of spanning many years.
Hutchings' storyboards and notes for the Django training montage, another section Hutchings shot solo. As well as showing the shots of the sequence, it also shows scheduling considerations such as what needs to be shot before he had to trim his hair for the Hutchanory scene which would be shot “when the McFerrans visit”.
It seems to cover several seasons too.
Yes, I paid close attention to the weather forecast and would film when there were extremes in weather.
What was the time-frame for this main section of the shooting?
From the middle of May to the end of July, but I think it looks longer.
How did you go about shooting in London?
My wife and my daughter visited the capital for a day when we visited my brother-in-law and his wife in Kent. We spent half an hour at Trafalgar Square and visited Soho to get the establishing shots with my wife operating the camera for the shots I was in.
The various jeans Hutchings wears to suggest lapses of time between chapters. The first three are worn by Hutchings' comedy character over the earlier scenes. The forth is the pair that Young Django wares through at the knee as he practices falling over in front of the scarecrow.
Now there is a tracking shot which is slowed down where you are walking forwards and the crowds of London are walking backwards. How did you do that?
I did the old De Palma-Carrie shot. I walked backwards and we reversed the footage. But we got a tracking shot, the only actual tracking shot in the film, because I built an extension to the handles of my daughter’s pram and bolted my camera onto it. My wife just pushed the pram, keeping and eye on the composition, and hey presto!
It’s very effective.
It’s the shot that is the closest to visualising how he actually feels in reality I think.
The shot where the crowds are walking backwards was filmed with Hutchings walking backwards and reversed in post-production.
Do you have any rules for your films like you do for your live act and your material?
Well, the same rules to the material apply but, yes, I do. I’m always developing my visual vocabulary but I do have core beliefs. I’m a great believer in using a deep depth of field and group staging because it gives the audience more than one thing to look at in a shot and, of course, something different to look at each time they see it which, of course, makes it a different experience each time they see it as the narrative will have different nuances. I also like it because it contextualises the character with greater detail which gives the comedy a better chance because the laughter comes from the space between the character and their surroundings. And I do believe that cinema is where the visual vocabulary tells you about the character, rather than just the character’s dialogue. I also think a lot of cinema is about being omnipresent and I often think of how great comedy somehow makes that omnipresent eye mortal along with its characters. I think about this because I want the audience to be another cast member in my movie. It’s my way of trying to include the world in my film!
There seems to be a colour palette at play in Django. Can you tell me more about this?
The colour palette, which was as much a part of the film as the costume design and the location choices and set dressings, has several themes. There’s the Hyperreal, which is typified in the Producers scene. The colours are saturated to accentuate the heightened and poetical performances I was after. There is the Savage Laughter pallette which has a relationship with reds and firey yellows. It's a palette that is used when characters are getting Joked or when being joked is the topic of the scene. And there’s the Mirror pallette, which favours blues and purples, which is used when a scene has a subtext of performance or an inner emotional conflict.
The three main colour palettes as described by Hutchings. Left column: The "Savage Laughter" palette is used to soak the Exifestern laughter with hot sweat and panic. Centre column: The "Hyper-real" palette is used to accentuate scenes which have a more sit-com dynamic to their dialogue and blocking. Right column: The "Mirror" palette which is used to unify scene where characters have the opportunity to confront themselves and their impulses. This is used when Hutchings performs Comedy Makes Me Cry to give a feeling that his fantasies have been assimilated into his "act" and thus no longer needs to make the film.
Are there any other elements in the visual vocabulary?
Well, it’s also a film of mirrors. The Reality characters are mirrored in the Exifestern. There are mirrored compositions, inverted compositions, as well as mirrored and inverted landscapes. The Exifestern’s vast landscapes are shot to reflect that it’s the street environment that has influenced the Exifestern’s baron terrain, not previous rural experiences. I had a lot of fun building an internal logic and a visual vocabulary.
"A film of mirrors." Django Away! has compositions that reflect Reality's effects on Hutchings' fantasies and vice versa, such as Django's desert and Hutchings being "alone" in Trafalgar Square. But it also uses similar framings within each narrative to suggest subtexts. Hutchings' paralysis when meeting Dr Anderson and Mr Patient's actual coma as well as Hutchings being inspired by one of his "Hutchanory" audience members are two examples. There are also more overt reflections, such as the reflection of Django in the river after he has accidentally killed his mentor. This suggests a psychological split within Django that could be seen as giving birth to Joe King as a character within Hutchings. Young Django uses a hand mirror to spy on his Mentor and Hutchings is praised for his performance by Francis in the reflection of a car window. This distances Francis from Hutchings and implies she is complimenting his image/stage persona rather than him as a person.
You’ve mentioned shooting without coverage. Tell me more about the shooting method you used to realise these ideas.
Well, it’s a filming method that combines the filming with the edit, which I have come to call the Fedit Method. You only shoot what you use, no coverage shots, no whole scene as a wide, then a mid, etc. This makes the most out of your shooting time. It reduces the amount of time spent on each set up as you will not need to repeat action for your different shots. You define your shot construction, not just a shot selection, but how your scene will move from one shot to the next, and you film to your intended edit. Your set-ups are put into a practical order for the shoot, which will give you a non-chronological but practical shooting sequence. This is why rehearsing the scene is good because that will give your actor an emotional continuity without going through it in full on the shoot.
How do you know if an edit will work?
You feel the dynamic of the scene and, if you can do that, there is no reason why you need to delay the creative decision until you get on set. It’s all so you have the most amount of time with your actors to explore the scene and find the performance and get right what you will actually use in the film. It will also cut your post-production time right down because you have directed to your edit rather than to the shot.
How did you come up it?
I'd done it on ‘Allo ‘Allo Basterds but I really began to explore and relish it on Django Away! It was inspired by the freeing realisation that I was the only one who had to be pleased with the results (laughs). No-one had commissioned it. I didn’t need options when it came to post because I didn’t have anyone else working on it with me at that level. I didn’t need to delay any creative decision making so working with no money freed me to make decisions and choices at the speed of thought. But I developed the method through necessity and with the mantra to keep it smaller than a farce (laughs).
Smaller than a farce?
Smaller than a farce (laughs). It’s amazing how even the smallest of teams can break down if not everyone has something to do that is vitally important to what the team is doing.
How did the actors feel about working within this shooting method?
After the initial culture shock, they all loved it! They loved it because they had as much control over the final edit as I had. We only shot what I would use, so when we agreed a take worked they knew that was the only angle I had of that piece of the scene so it would definitely be in the film in that form. Once they clicked with that, that they were working to the edit, you could see them getting more and more into it.
The cast of Days of Work find something humorous. From left to right: Sophia White, Ellie Murphy, Nina Gilligan, James Allcock, Rowan Smith, Jack Titley and Steve Titley.
Were there any other advantages to working on such a small scale?
Yes. Once I’d filmed the early scenes on my own, I knew I could shoot anything at anytime I liked. For example, there was a particularly beautiful sunset one night so I grabbed my camera and got myself to a ruin on a hill and shot the sunset that you see in Django’s Mentor flashback. There was also a day where we had record pollution levels and I was able to get all the beautiful landscape shots you see at the start of The Big Putdown without any telephone lines or buildings. That was announced in the evening and I got up at 4am the next morning and got all these amazing shots. So having a documentary-self-shooting readiness is very exciting!
How did it feel during these shoots?
They felt like legitimate creative movie environments! I made a huge effort to try and make it feel like a real film set, a place where everyone got to express themselves and that everyone’s performance was very important to the overall film. Nothing felt “work-a-day” about it because it was so small and no one was working for money, we could pretend it was whatever we wanted it to be. These little shoots made up of people who had turned up either to “do their best”, however ill-organised the environment might be, or just out of morbid curiosity to see what the hell it would actually be like to film the scenes I’d described to people, but when we rolled camera and I said “Action”, the magic of the cinema intoxicated us and we transformed from a small group of people with a camcorder to a manifestation of imagination.
Shooting Seriously Funny. Alex Flitcroft and Craig Cunningham discuss the wild west and alternative realities across Hutchings while Ryan J Harrison booms around passing trains and river barges and Sophia White runs camera.
So once you’d finished shooting, the edit must’ve been pretty close to being done if you’d been editing as you went?
Yes, I locked the edit and gave it to Ryan and Lauren in August for them to mix the sound while I did the grade and the score. We were working to a completion date of a cast and crew screening at the start of September. They did the Foley, the atmosphere tracks, some ADR, and the mix as well as mixing the score when I’d completed it in time for the screening. A little over four weeks! Phenomenal!
How close was the final edit to the script?
Apart from some additional dialogue inspired by late castings, like the beginning of Andy Burke’s scene and the additional characters in Days of Work, most of the scenes were very close. Some dialogue was shaved for pace, but not much. The main difference was the development of Mid Lands Drifter and The Big Putdown. These developed because I shot them solo, like a rolling stream of ideas. It was the only part of the film where I did speculative shooting. The process of going out by myself and filming was very inspiring and I think is the reason that the core of the Exifestern and Reality is tactile and emotive as opposed to genre parody or going for a little-man appeal. I think this emotive core unifies all the performances to give what I consider to be a tapestry of contemporary characters and archetypes.
As Hutchings used equipment he owned and could operate on his own, he was able to shoot at the speed of inspiration. This meant he could take advantage of weather conditions such as a picturesque sunset or a day of freak air pollution that hid all modern buildings and wires.