DAY SIX – SNAPPER’S TRAILER: Snapper is a character who appeared in an earlier draft of the script, and much to Alan and my disappointment was quickly killed off. However his domicile has remained and we found ourselves on a beautiful bluff North of Sitges pretending we were in Malibu. How strange film-making is: you fly 6,000 miles to shoot a place and then make it look like your home town.
DAY FIVE – AT THE SCLUB HOTEL: We’d hoped to shoot the S-Club hotel sequence in Guadi’s famous Casa Battlo but it was not to be – so we decided to shoot in the Ritz hotel instead.As a true romantic I’d always aspired to renting the biggest suite in the Ritz in some foreign city so I could enjoy breakfast there with a beautiful girl. And so my wish came true but not with just one girl but a whole host of them: there I was sitting in splendour with Hannah, Jo, Rachel, Tina with a bacon sandwich on my plate and an entire film crew watching! Not quite what I had in mind perhaps but it was a fun day. We shot the waking up scene as one continuous shot and Hannah’s endless scream was the most hysterically funny thing I’ve seen for months.
DAY FOUR – SCLUB SEE THE CLONES FOR THE FIRST TIME: Not every day goes according to plan and today was always going to be tough. Our big scene was the one where SClub see the clones of themselves for the first time. To acheive this we were using a motion control rig – a device which memorizes a move and then executes it over and over again exactly. The scene involved all 12 members of SClub (!), 40 extras, 3 special extras and Joseph who’s playing Alistair, the band’s manager. Apart from the fact that Joseph was doubled over in agony with some stomach bug the weather was not cooperating. In some takes it was sunny, in others dull, in others drizzling. In the end I hope you’ll never notice though maybe you’ll wonder “How did they do that?” The answer will be: “With great difficulty.”
Lie in till 730 having dreamt about Stinker my cat. I start working on my shotlist for next week on the long journey out to the castle where Victor, the mad scientist who will change SClub’s lives, will be found. There’s precious little violence in our film but what little of it there is takes place in the castle’s wonderful cathedral and the owners and caretakers of this magnificent pile won’t allow guns or violence, even if fictitious, in their hallowed space. I am full of admiration for their determination to stick by their…er…guns but it means we’ll have to come up with some other tomfoolery. While everyone sits in a tiny cafe in Cardonna discussing Spanish political history I sit on my own so I can work on the scenes for next week. I watch dailies before bed and Jo makes me laugh out loud everytime she tells Jon she wants to change her call sign. There’s a film-making maxim which goes: “Never as good as the dailies, but always better than the first cut!” I wonder if this one will be making them laugh next Easter?
DAY THREE – BACKSTAGE AFTER THE BARCELONA GIG: Daniel is back on set at 630am, arm held to his side, but smiling and ready for action. Wow! The first dialogue scene of the movie and I have a tough time blocking it to my satisfaction but it gels nicely – the band are starting to play the scenes and their characters with truth rather than for results and I am full of optimism for the weeks ahead. Rachel is moved to ask me about the numerous re-writes this scene has undergone – all for valid reasons I should add – however I wasn’t going to give her my perspective so what makes you think you’re any different? After lunch we use one part of the Olympic Plaza for Los Angeles and another for Barcelona – hope no-one notices the red-tile flooring is the same! We finish with Hannah up a tree in her coloured socks and a tiny skirt but the blue skies have evaded us today – and that was my brief: shoot loads of palm trees and blue skies.
DAY TWO – THE CLONE HOUSE: I think the rehearsals are paying off. Clone Bradley, Clone Tina and Clone Jo embrace the chant we have invented and repeat endlessly: “We are SClub, we formed a band, we make records, we release records, we tour!” It works wonders and I sense they might be enjoying themselves. In the afternoon I’m listening on the headphones when they start talking between themselves about the scene – they’ve forgotten their radio mics are on and I can hear them. Ha-ha! My joy turns to dread as Daniel our first a/c falls to the floor screaming in pain having somehow dislocated his shoulder, the band are noticeably shocked. Within minutes he’s in an ambulance and speeding away to hospital. Someone says we won’t see him again for two weeks.
DAY ONE – THE CLONE HOUSE: Ping, ping, ping! It’s no microwave but the alarm that wakes me at six. Help! I’m making a movie today. I remember the time I arrived at the set of my first movie on Day 1 and was furious when I noticed that someone had parked loads of trucks next to our location. The fury soon switched to panic when I realised the lines of vehicles were there for us – me – the film. I’m past that naivete now but there’s still a frisson of fear as I enter the clone house. There are nervous smiles and exchanges. What do you do? Nice to meet you? How will I ever remember your name? The morning goes great but I panic in the afternoon and go home with my tail between my legs. I sit alone in my room and give myself a talking to. Must try harder etc…
D day minus 1. As I lie in bed I’m reminded of the title of a favourite Van Morrison album: “It’s too late to stop now.” At our last rehearsal I introduce the band to Joseph Adams who will play Alistair their manager – he seems quite bemused by his new charges. The day flashes by and I end my last night of freedom watching Amelie again for inspiration, laughing out loud when M. Bredoteau (or is Bretodeau) tells the fat barman that the phone box called out to him. The fat barman rolls his eyes as he rescues a pizza from the microwave: “Just like the microwave is calling to me!”
The Production Meeting. Set in a hotel room somewhere in Barcelona we plod through what is possibly the most tedious yet important meeting we’ll have for the film. All departments are represented including our newly arrived sound chaps from London, Tim and Will, who have just finished working on a movie which is being edited by my cousin-in-law – small world. Guillermo guides us through the script scene by scene and we make sure that all the things we need to make the movie will be available for that scene: 100 extras on the day in front of the Fuller Center means 100 extra meals; much to Alan’s surprise (dismay?) a Fire Eater has been requested for the chase through old Barcelona (my fault); a motion control camera is required for scene 43; a steadicam for scene 10. It goes on and on. My day ends with the delightful task of approving four sexy outfits for Susan Sealove the beastly dame who will kidnap Alistair the band’s manager in scene 8.
I ride into the hills that overlook the Maze where Rachel will lose her sweater (calm down lads – there’ll be a T-shirt underneath) and try and seize the moment. It is an astonishingly beautiful morning and deathly quiet. The streets were completely deserted as I set out and I heard a parrot squawking at me from one house and noticed again how strange it is that Spanish people like to drive to a nice spot and then wash their car. It makes a lot of sense when you think about it. Back in my hutch I try and focus on the shotlist – we will shoot parts of 16 scenes in the first two days. John and Guillermo are doing wonders with the schedule – I try and keep up but in truth I’m living in denial on how much we have to do. Re-read my SClub diary so far. Note to self – must stop calling people ‘valiant,’ ‘stalwart’ etc. even if it’s true. Watch this space for more imaginative character assessment of fellow crew members.
I must start on my shot list. I must…
We are on a technical scout when the good news arrives that my new collapsible travel bike is in Spain. The bad news is it’s still in Madrid in customs. I’m about to lose it (unreasonably as this has NOTHING to do with making a movie) when I check my machine in LA and hear from a mutual friend that Warren Zevon has been diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer. Warren’s feisty reply on hearing he will soon be arranging a personal tete a tete with St. Peter? “It’ll be a drag if I die before the new James Bond movie comes out!” Does the phrase REALITY CHECK mean anything? For the first and only time (I hope) I wish I wasn’t in Spain so I could see Mr. Zevon. After not seeing him for many years I bumped into him a month or two back and he said “Let’s get together.” His smile was wide and broad and without a trace of sadness – did he know then I wonder?
My guitar arrives. I annoy Guillermo, astonishing Spanish AD, with some tired blues licks while he asks me important questions. How do you get a guitar players attention? Take his guitar away. Our favourite location for the hotel where SClub wake up managerless is taken away from us. Alan is very decent about breaking the news to me. I’m prepared to deal with it until I realise the last 3 hours spent working on my shot-list were wasted.
While the rest of the world remembers I start a meeting which never ends. As everyone here smokes and I have been yacking non-stop all day my throat is raw and painful by the end but much work has been accomplished. My biggest fear is that I have made some decision today that will irrevocably alter the delicate balance on which making a movie constantly dangles.
My bag arrives. My guitar is still missing in action.
After 2 hours in London happy to arrive back in Barcelona – if only my bags had joined me I would have been ecstatic. John Agoglia (stalwart production manager and man of steel) did the same journey and came via Frankfurt and together we ignored our jet-lag and set off for Sitges to scout locations – this is where the Club will realise that things are not as they should be in SClub land – what Robert McKee would call the Inciting Incident.
6 hours to pack and then dash for the airport. Watched Unfaithful on the plane and found it very disturbing – not in the least because watching Diane Lane doing it with a Frenchman while we flew high above Greenland still provided me with some ideas for the movie we’re making – which has no sex & no Frenchmen though, I can reveal here, all the SClubbers will get naked – ooh er!
We complete first 2 days of shooting – drive-bys in LA. The long suffering SClubbers have patiently dealt with me yelling at them from a distance as they drive through town packed into the back of a Buick Skylark – the only cool car we could double in Spain. Of such things are artistic choices made! AJ and Howie from Backstreet Boys would be happy to learn that I called Rachel Hannah, Jo Tina, and Jo Rachel. It doesn’t matter what kind of band you’re in I’ll still get the names wrong!
Week 1 pre-pro…
Monday…By 830 I’m scouting a sunny cove where SCLUB might make their first cup of tea as Act 2 unfolds. It’s a gorgeous spot and a fine morning to be taking location pix but I can’t linger as I must race back to Hollywood to meet the band for the first time. I have spent so much time studying them recently that I feel I know them already but of course they must view the meeting differently – I’m just some director person sent to bellow at them for a month!
Tuesday…A frustrating morning sorting out why it’s taking an hour to download one lousy picture from Spain on the web. The computer doctor rushes across town to rescue me and concludes instantly my DSL is in the toilet. At dance rehearsal the band are flopped on the floor like rag dolls – there is no a/c at the rehearsal room. I promise Priscilla (valiant choreographer) I will wield some directorial muscle and get them a new room. It’s not a matter of me showing off but pure selfishness – dancers are athletes, if they sweat too much they can dehydrate or chill off fast and get sick: I want my team in full health for the next six weeks.
The band and I start our first acting rehearsal and it’s a particularly important moment for me – I need to show them who’s in charge and also engage their trust for the weeks ahead. I decide to tell them what I want to achieve with the film and ask them what they want. To my delight they all express excitement about doing a movie and are refreshingly honest when we discuss who the characters of Hannah, Jon, Tina, Brad and Rachel are and how the characters differ from their own personalities.
Wednesday…We’re scouting in the South Bay by breakfast and the weather is cold and miserable – so different from Monday. My second rehearsal with the band starts well but is soon heading for disaster. I have ambitiously started showing them some exercises to help with dialogue and one by one each attempt inexplicably crashes in flames like a Russian jet at an air-show. I’m hanging on by the skin of my teeth and starting to panic. Then we do a sense memory exercise where we all imagine opening up our front door at home. How does the key feel? How does it fit in the lock? Which way does the key turn? Somehow we are soon discussing an infamously strenuous weekend in SCLUB history which culminated in the gig from hell. The band’s shoulders slump, their eyes become listless and they visibly shiver and huddle together for warmth from the terrible memory.
It’s a victory – this is the way they should feel when they approach their first dialogue scene in the movie! I’m so relieved I finish rehearsal early: quit while you’re ahead etc. But down in the parking lot I climb into my car like a defeated man – I have so much still to learn. I go home and work on my shot list. The DSL is still broken.
Thursday…I’m also making a video for SCLUB next week and spend the morning looking at clubs. Some are well thought out and fascinating – others are tawdry, smelly sheds with a bar and a sound system. In the afternoon, scouting for the movie again, I receive an excited call from my old assistant Jill. The video I directed for Chad Kroeger and Josey Scott singing “Hero” from the Spiderman Soundtrack has just won an MTV award. I’m so deep into the movie I didn’t even know the awards were on. I scroll through the cell calling all the members of the crew to share the news – it was a team effort and we all bask in our brief moment of glory.
Friday…Breakfast with Judy, my one-time acting teacher who combines her endless enthusiasm with honest and tough criticism. We discuss my near escape on Wednesday night and she let’s me know I was too ambitious. She advises me to start working on how SCLUB will play the clones and I finish breakfast excited about tonight’s rehearsal. At lunchtime I go for my medical – the Bond people want to know if I’ll make it through the coming weeks and apparently they’re optimistic. I meet Jo for the first time – she flew in last night and is still jet-lagged.
At rehearsal we all start out by jumping up and down and making stupid noises like zombies, robots and ghosts. Brad refuses to make a noise and Jo won’t stop giggling – I think they were both embarrassed – I share their pain as I’m doing a bad zombie impression too. We do some Clone improvs which start out well and get better and better. Amongst the favourite moments was Jon taking Clone Bradley to the video store – Brad wound up at the Adult Section (SURPRISE!) and Tina showing Clone Jo how to brush her teeth which was very real and touching. I make a note to include some of this work in the movie.
Saturday…It’s been a week of early starts and so I get up at 6 to get in a 22 mile ride along PCH before our script meeting at 930. I ride like the wind and so the endolphins (sic) are jumping when I finally get to meet Kim Fuller, our valiant scriptwriter, for the first time over bagels and coffee in Alan’s house. We spend 4 hours examining the script line by line and some good work gets done. It’s not till I’m racing back to Hollywood that I realize that one of the scenes we ripped out and trashed was the one I spent those hard hours storyboarding on Wednesday night. Rats!
I arrive ten minutes late for the casting session for the video in a foul temper: the room isn’t big enough, the music isn’t loud enough and I act like a prick who needs to take a large chill pill. 130 dancers later I’m energized and stunned by what appears to be a resurgence in 80’s fashion and new dance moves which seems to allow male dancers to provocatively stroke their female partners along the inner thighs. I have to admit I’ve tried it a few times myself in the past but usually got a slap in the face and a bottle of beer poured over me. Progress is a fine thing!
As I drive west into an extraordinary sunset I conclude it’s been a very useful week. But there’s no time for laurel sitting yet. This has just been the opening prologue: the time trials and the important mountain stages are still ahead.
The waiting is over. Tomorrow work on the movie begins in earnest. The last weeks have been a rest period for nearly everyone on the cast and crew who was working on the series. Meanwhile I have been pedalling around in increasingly small circles feeling guilty about taking a break I don’t deserve and trying to prepare for a schedule which has not yet been drawn up.
What is a director to do? Well this one goes and watches a shed load of movies to see what ideas he can steal, borrow and avoid. I’ve even been inspired to invent a few of my own! From whence cometh my inspiration? Try: Amelie, The Hit, The Italian Job, Austin Powers: Goldmember, XXX, Sex And Lucia, All About My Mother, The Commitments, The Mexican, Bandits, Spy Kids, K:19, Tadpole, A Hard Days Night.
Of course you lot have no clue as to what the story is about (and I’m not about to tell you either) but you might reasonably draw this conclusion from the above list: S Club, on a quest to find a missing vintage weapon, travel by Russian submarine to Paris where they meet up with a waitress who, deciding she no longer wants to play in a soul band, hitches a ride with them in three Minis to Prague where they meet a new kind of secret agent in a Pontiac GTO who is then knocked out by some members of the London crime scene who hand them over to another secret agent with bad teeth and a Jag who takes them through time to Madrid for a meal in a restaurant with another waitress who likes to get naked a lot. After dinner they catch a train to Barcelona with a woman who’s lost her son, and all the while they are whistling Beatles songs. That might be your conclusion but you’d be wrong!
What I can tell you is that from Amelie I learnt everything I need to know about how to make a movie. The Hit told me how I should shoot Spain if I had any sense; The Italian Job showed me how to let the essence of a wonderful old city inhabit a comedy; Austin Powers showed me that clones can be believable with over the shoulder shots; XXX let me know that it’s still hip for nasty men to hatch world dominating plots in dank caves; Sex And Lucia taught me a lot of Spanish words for naughty bits; All About My Mother showed me that we’d better shoot more of Barcelona than Pedro did; The Commitments reminded me that non-technical actors can still deliver memorable and funny performances; The Mexican and Bandits showed me that the critics can be wrong; Spy Kids taught me that there’s no shame in making a movie for kids; K-19 introduced me to the concept that accents are not always a good idea; Tadpole alerted me to Robert Iler’s promising career and A Hard Days Night let me know that I’ve got my work cut out to try and improve on what still remains one of the all time great music movies.
As I said. Tomorrow I’m back to work.