Chapter 10: A Bit On The Side
By this time in the production, I literally had a bad shoulder from handing over cash. The movement of lifting my shoulder up followed by the dipping movement to get hold of the cash, ending with the outstretching of the arm, had been so frequent that it now physically hurt .
The need to hand out cash was so constant that you couldn’t help feeling that your presence here was only tolerated for one reason. This wasn’t helped by the fact that so many people would come up to me to quietly inform me how someone else had just ripped me off. Then I would get the exact same story from someone else about the previous person. People would tell me that the petrol receipts I was given for the vehicles were often faked. That the technique was to slip the pump attendant a small slice-of-the-action to double or even quadruple the amount shown on the receipt, which would later be collected from me in cash.
This may well have been true, as the cars did seem to run out of fuel alarmingly quickly sometimes, but, apart from being there when the vehicles were filled, I made a calculated decision never to bring this up. Even if we were losing a bit here and a bit there, we still needed the workforce on our side and accusing them of such things would have been the end of it.
I was even fed stories like this about people I had known for some time but I could not allow myself to be convinced. The burden of believing this to be true would have been another weight on the shoulders and it would have caused me to lose focus on what we were here to achieve. I had to accept that some people might find a way of making a bit more on the side and there is not a thing I could have done.

Waiting for dailies
I also couldn’t understand why every time we stopped for fuel or something to eat, the locals would point and laugh at our van. I had just thought it was an unusual vehicle for the area but I didn’t think that would provide the amount of laughs that it did. I came over to Chamberlin who was laughing with a man on a bike.
He could see my quizzical expression and he said ‘you know you have ‘penis’ on your car?’.
He pointed to the logo on the side of the van. We had bought it on eBay and the previous owner had been a furniture company called Pine Direct and we hadn’t bothered to re paint it as we were saving every penny we could to go on screen.
‘Pine’, he said ‘is Penis, like cock’. ‘So this whole time we’ve been driving around the country with Cock in big letters and that’s why everyone is laughing?’ ‘Yes, it’s funny no?’. I couldn’t quite stretch to a laugh; I just didn’t have the energy for it. I smiled and nodded and thought how suitable that logo probably was. 
 
ROLL OVER & DIE
Tonight there would be something that I hoped would take our mind off everything. A little ‘treat’ - our first DVD of the rushes (footage we had shot) had arrived, so we made a night of it, gathering around with Pizza to see what we had done.
Normally, Jon and I would attend the grade (transfer from film to digital) so we could tweak colours and nudge it in the right direction for the final look we were trying to achieve. This, of course, wasn’t possible considering we were thousands of miles away so the lab had suggested what they call a ‘safe grade’, where they would transfer at a setting that was neutral, to be graded later.
The trouble is, this made the shots look terrible. Totally flat and uninteresting and there was no sign of any of the subtleties we had tried to inject into the shots where we could.  Whilst there was some enthusiasm from the rest of the crew, Jon and I thought it all looked terrible. I had never been so disappointed in a rushes screening since a roll of Super 8mm film we got back in 1988 that was underexposed.
Not only that but, mysteriously, one roll had not come out at all and this was, perhaps predictably roll number 13, a full roll of 35mm film which was a very elaborate steadicam shot, a two minute shot of Rob exploring a deserted village and finding a car he would revive. We had gone to particular effort to shoot this scene and it had taken 2 days as first we had waited for rain that never stopped. I had been looking forward to seeing this sequence more than any other. We were gutted it had not come out. We hadn’t had a roll of film not come out in over 20 years. To this day we have no idea how it happened and both the lab and the camera department felt it was impossible. If I ever do this again I will label it as roll 12a.
We had to re shoot which was painful not just because of the fact we had been forced behind schedule already, but upon going back to the village we discovered that the corn once surrounding it, was almost all gone, therefore it would not match our sequences that followed. We either re shot all the surrounding footage, or re put up the corn. The latter was mildly less painful so all of us set about finding tall corn from elsewhere, bringing it to the village and re planting it. It wouldn’t have been so bad if this sequence had been taken from one angle but it was a 360 degree shot so we had to re plant the whole area.
Everyone mucked in, even the villagers who by now must have thought we were nuts. Luckily, we had left this village on good terms. Everyone in the village had been paid and we had even given the village a gift of a donkey and some new tyres for their cart. This would save them an incredible amount of labour in carrying things by hand and allowed them to be able to generate a regular income for the future. We didn’t go round doing this all the time, the donkey had originally been Barbara’s idea as she had discovered their need for one. Barbara had always been a kind hearted and generous individual, that’s why everyone called her auntie Barbara, much to her annoyance.
By the time the corn was up, we were all pretty knackered, and it was already two in the afternoon. We then had to re position the car, take its wheel off and re cover it in dust and mud as it had been before. By the time we were rehearsing the move it was 3pm. Then we discovered a new problem that would not be fixable.
We had all weakened from consistently being ill and Jon now discovered he could no longer hold the steadicam for the period of time required for the shot.
It was a 2 minute take and after about half of it, he had to put it down. That thing is far heavier than it looks, especially with a fully loaded 35mm film camera. It looked like this sequence was not destined to be shot.

Jon steadicam roll 13
It was now 3.30 and the sun was low which meant the shadows were getting to the point where you would see the camera shadow on Rob and anything else the steadicam went near. I felt yet another day slipping through my fingers. Jon felt he had one more go in him if he were to pile a load of glucose down him just before the take. So I carried the steadicam over to the start position of the shot, then with everyone ready and all the villagers hiding behind the huts out of view, Jon would eat a banana at hyper speed and down a bottle of coke just before he attached the steadicam.
It worked, and I watched the camera shadow on the monitor just hover below the frame line as Rob looked inside the car. Another five minutes or less and it would not have been possible. Although we both felt it was not as good as the original shot that had mysteriously not come out, it wasn’t bad, and ‘wasn’t bad’ from this point onwards, would have to become a qualification which once achieved, would mean moving on.

Chamberlin in the corn
 
FACING OUR FEARS
Our new found weak and feeble status affected us all in many ways and Rob would further feel the frustration of this on the scene where he would climb a tree to spend the night sheltering out of the reach of potential Zombies. Coincidentally, Rob was into tree climbing, or ‘tree swinging’ to be precise and you can even find footage of him doing this unusual activity on you tube (Just search; Rob Freeman tree swinging and all will become clear!). I remember when he read the script he cited the tree climbing scene as one of the ones he would most look forward to.
Early on in the trip he almost couldn’t bear to walk past a tree without swinging on its branches. However, by the time we got to this scene, he was not only extremely weak but his arms had been injected with so many saline anti-malarial drips that one of them had been in a sling. He now had great difficulty cutting open a melon, let alone climbing a tree. It was extremely painful for him and he only just managed to get up before getting stuck half way with the humiliation of having his ass wedged at one point until he could be pulled free. We only just got enough footage for us to cut around and in editing I would later have to jump-cut it a little more than I would have liked to.
In some strange way, this shoot had to put us all in a position where we had to face our worst fears and accept our inability to stay in control before it would let us leave. I honestly think there was a mysterious force at work around us and if I had ever uttered out loud that I had, say a particular fear, that would be the fear I would have to face. Or a particular love for something, then I would have to experience losing that too.
 
CRASH
I had never been on a shoot where a camera had been smashed. We were always extremely careful with equipment and had never dropped or scratched a lens or even a filter before. This particular day had already been a frustrating one and we had been stopped again by the police in the morning and then had to wait a further 5 hours for the prop car to arrive which was essential as it was not only in the scene but happened to be full of props and other equipment. It had broken down yet again.
News had come back by phone that it was now fixed and would be there in twenty minutes, so I suggested we set the dolly and track up, get Rob and Prince into costume and take the shot the moment the car arrived. It was just a scene when they pulled up at a farmhouse and we had already positioned a scarecrow and cleared the scene of unwanted items. It felt like a reasonable suggestion at the time and within fifteen minutes, an Arriflex 35mm camera with the chosen lens was up on a reasonably high angle, with video assist and all the required items. We were ready to go.
Suddenly, out of nowhere the wind picked up around us and a huge gust causing the camera to start tracking on it’s own away from us, I can still see it now in slow-motion picking up speed towards the end of the track. There were shouts and we were up and after it but CRUNCH.
The camera had reached the end of the track and smashed on the ground, it was literally split open and the magazine broke off exposing the film. It was dented and bent in so many ways, it was clear that this camera would never shoot film again. I won’t even bother explaining Jon’s reaction, this camera was one of his babies, he had probably spent many an evening tinkering with its wires and each ‘magazine change’ was probably deep down a fatherly experience.
By now, I was so used to the unthinkable happening that if someone’s head had fallen off I would just have to accept it. I had decided I could no longer feel emotional about anything or I would not survive. I could not have taken on board the sheer amount of upset people or aggressive situations I would face on a daily basis.
I had taken to almost having out-of-body experiences in those moments. If something traumatic was happening it would be like I was outside myself watching and deciding what the best course of action might be. My physical self was just a puppet that I was operating from afar. I would also do strange things like feel my pulse whilst I was witnessing the unfolding of some great problem, so I could be sure that it was not affecting me emotionally.
It was time for another call to Amir. I had never even claimed on insurance before but by now, he was probably on first name terms with them.  Luckily Amir and his wife Kerry had received the lab’s ‘office’ copy of the rushes and seemed to really like the footage from the shoot.
Probably with all the bad news filtering back they were expecting there wouldn’t be much to look at, but of course, the challenges of the shoot don’t show on screen. At least to those who don’t know what the shots looked like in your head. So Amir remained very encouraging and reminded us that all these things would be forgotten one day when the film is done. Even though I felt part of him must have been protecting his investment with his pep talks, I always appreciated his injection of positivity. It was a world apart from what was going on up close.
I had to cut the call short as the battered old prop car had finally arrived and we still had a scene to get before dark.  I tried to enthuse Jon by passing on Amir and Kerry’s enthusiasm over the footage but Jon was so devastated by the mashed up 35mm camera that he personally owned that it was hard to get him to carry on at all that day.
In fact, he is so p**ssed about the entire situation that he will not let me take the hand-held shots I want looking into the window of the farmhouse. I assure him they will be creepy and add tension but I can feel while I’m saying it this is not re igniting his passion, so instead I go to the van and set up the ‘B Camera’ myself.
While I’m in the van setting up the camera, I look over my shoulder and Jon has laid the broken bits of camera, spread out on display in front of him and is in a sufficiently sombre mood, staring at them rather like an open casket at a funeral. .
I want to ask him a technical question as I’m not even sure how the magazine goes on but I avoid it, as I know it will cause an eruption. Instead I select the lens I want and I slip out of the van and over to the farmhouse pretending to be Rob’s eyes looking in through the windows. I’m desperately trying to keep at least a small percentage of me on the creative side amongst the chaos.
Between Dan and I we guess what the light reading might be and I shoot the shots. A POV shot through the bloodied sticks across the window. A shot of a darkened doorway with nothing happening and Rob’s POV of a stick on the floor with some guts next to it that Max quickly put together. I get away with it and rightly or wrongly I’m much happier about the sequence.
As it turns out, I could have done with Jon’s light reading as the shots came out very slightly underexposed and Jon always gets his exposures bang-on, but I remember that ‘sneaky’ feeling every time I see the shots and I’m still happy we have them.m.

Max Van De Banks and Dan Rickard
Not even having some of the basic essentials during this shoot, or even an assistant director, let alone the lack of money made the whole process far more laborious and one of many things I would never do again.
We had tried to raise more money from product placement. I had directed a few Guinness commercials before and Guinness is big in Africa too so we attempted to get them to come in with a little money for ‘Product Placement’. Jon and I had written a scene where the two leads find a fridge in the farmhouse still working, and to their delight a single bottle of Guinness still cold.
It would probably have been the only happy moment in the film where one white guy, and one black guy (brand colours – we knew the commercial drill!) would sit silently together and refresh their energies with a Guinness. It was a real ‘Ice cold in Alex’ moment.
We even knew all the on-set ‘foam head’ requirements from our last commercial shoot and we would have made it look gorgeous – all on 35mm, beautifully lit. Had they gone for it, for Guinness this would be a ‘commercial’ that would have played to millions all over the world in perpetuity, particularly in Africa where we knew this film is going to be pirated like crazy. It would have cost a fraction of what they pay for a commercial but despite about 10 emails to a lady who was our ‘Brand Manager’ contact who had asked us to send the script following a call, which we did, all we got was no reply.
In the end, it was probably a good thing but the money would have increased the ‘production value’ of the rest of the film and we really needed the money.

Lucy Harding and Dan Rickard as Zombies
 
PRODUCT PLACEMENT
I believe that product placement is the future of advertising as people have so much control over when and how they watch content – on personal devices or mobile phones they will not choose to watch commercials or will have the ability to skip past them so the adverts will probably appear more and more as part of the plot.
IE, big close ups of the lead actor tying his brand-name pumps in the opening scene or sipping away on a particular brand of coffee that is annoyingly too much in focus but is the only reason the filmmakers were able to shoot the movie in the first place.
You may not like the idea, and I personally don’t like the idea of making a movie to be watched by someone on a mobile phone whilst juddering about on a train – to me it’s like saying ‘isn’t this brilliant, you can now have this wonderful meal on a toilet seat’. It’s just not the right context or environment.
I want to make movies for the big screen but unless you’re a big Hollywood blockbuster loaded with ‘A-List’ names it’s nearly impossible for an independent film to succeed ‘theatrically’ or to get backing in the first place.  So ‘home’ or ‘mobile’ entertainment with plots full of brand names is probably the way its heading.

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