1 March 2016

Watcher Wrap!

Hello, Watchers.

I’m pleased to tell you that The Watcher Self is now complete! It’s been a long time coming, but that’s the nature of filmmaking on a micro budget when you have to scrimp and save.  It’s been a particularly long journey for me, starting as far back as 2005, and the last four years has been particularly intense since I started writing the script in January 2011.  Lots of changes, lots of evolution, and now we have a finished feature film!

Last month I screened the film to the cast and crew at the Ritzy Picturehouse and everyone seemed to have a jolly good time.  It was quite a nerve-racking experience for me because it was the first time I’d seen it on the big screen in a fully-finished form, so I was glad to have the cinema screen to myself the week beforehand.  This was essentially a technical run-through to make sure the DCP was working properly before the main screening. The projection team at the Ritzy Picturehouse asked me to supply a Quicktime file and kindly made a DCP as that is their preferred exhibition format.  Officially, the film’s exhibition format is Quicktime and Blu-ray as creating a “proper” DCP is time consuming and extremely expensive for a humble, penniless filmmaker such as myself!  I would like to thank Events Coordinator Becky and projectionist Karl for being so accommodating.  It is a great venue for a private screening.

I have already begun submitting to film festivals which is an enlightening and, at times, frustrating experience in itself.  Making life a bit easier is FilmFreeway, the new kid-on-the-block submission platform which I was lucky enough to stumble across.  It’s completely free to use, has a jolly nice and clean interface, and you can upload a secure screener as large as 10GB.  As it is relatively new, I’ve found a couple of niggles that still need ironing out and it doesn’t have as many festivals in its listings as that other platform we dare not mention, but I’m sure this will all change and improve as time moves on.  So far I’ve been able to get away without making any DVD screeners, and I’m going to see how far I get with my festival plan before I need any!  I would recommend that any filmmakers or festival programmers sign up to FilmFreeway as soon as possible.

It’s also something which can become very expensive, and I’ve found all the time and effort I put into devising The Watcher Self’s festival plan is starting to pay off.  There are literally thousands of festivals out there, and I’m finding out about festivals I was previously unaware of all the time, and it is all too easy to stray from the plan and lose direction.  Indeed, some of these festivals are suitable for The Watcher Self and I’ll drop them onto the list, but only after a great deal of investigative research and consideration.  Each one has to be assessed, previous years’ programmes reviewed, and, ultimately, a decision made based on the kind of films the festival screens and whether The Watcher Self falls into that general category.  How beneficial a particular festival will be to your film is the most critical consideration.  I’m sure there is a lot of pot luck, too, but I’ve tried my best to go with the festivals where I think we have the best chance possible of being accepted.  We shall see later on down the road whether my hunches were correct!

In the meantime, stay tuned to Facebook, Twitter and, of course, this blog where I will let you know about everything happening with the film – which I hope will include news of a public screening or two!

14 January 2014

The Watcher Score

Hello, Watchers.

Well, we’re now in the latter stages of post-production and I’m pleased to say that The Watcher Self is nearly complete.

I’ll talk a bit more about what’s been going on — and what is currently happening — in a future post or two sometime soon, but I wanted to talk to you about music.

When I originally conceived the film — it seems such a long time ago! — I never intended it to have a score.  It was a much more ‘gritty’ down-to-earth story which evolved as time went on.  A new identity began to form and it soon became apparent that it was the kind of film that needed a very unique kind of sound. I didn’t want it to sound too ‘conventional’. Musical, yes — to an extent — but something complemented by a unique sound palette.

Enter Paul Sumpter at The Futz Butler.  Paul contacted me in response to my callout for a composer.  I was instantly attracted to his approach to creating music primarily through ‘found sound’.  I am a big fan of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop — some of the greatest pioneers of electronic music and musique concrète — and I think my intentions for the score are an extension of that.

We had a good old chat in Caffè Nero in St. Martin’s Lane about what I was looking for, how Paul intended to approach it, and how much music might be required.  Ultimately, the score turned into a much larger beast than we had originally thought, but the time and effort Paul has put into creating it has resulted in something that I personally think is outstanding.  You can hear a suite of highlights from the original soundtrack, specially created by Paul for our Soundcloud page:

I’ll now hand over to Paul and let him pick up the story of how the unique score for The Watcher Self was put together...

The Watcher Self: Delivering Our Latest Feature Film Score

9 September 2013

Blazing the Trail

Hello, Watchers.

I’m pleased to show you the fantastic trailer for The Watcher Self today which has been constructed with a great deal of care and attention by the film’s editor, Alex Weeks. So, without further ado, have a look at it and then I’ll talk to you a bit more about what went into making it.

Did you like it? Good. Go on — have another look before reading on. You already have? Well, OK then!

Building the trailer was, comparitively speaking, a fairly straightfoward process. This is mainly due to the fact that Alex cuts trailers and promos for a living — so he really knows what he’s doing. It is not uncommon for him to cut a 12-hour television series into 90 seconds.

Like the film, I actually wrote a ‘script’ for the trailer. It was more a series of notes on the kind of structure I was looking for along with the captions that you see in the final few seconds. I was very specific about how there should be no dialogue. I wanted the trailer to be as enigmatic as the film itself — quite literally a ‘teaser’.

I had a general idea of the kind of shots we could use, but I mainly left that to Alex. In fact, there are one or two shots in the trailer that I originally felt we shouldn’t use, but after seeing them I realised it was absolutely the right decision to include them.

Alex also chose the music. It’s a track called Time to Climb, composed by Grayson Voltaire, from the Extreme Music library and I think it’s perfect. A lot of time was spent looking for just the right track and there is a perfect symbiosis between picture and music. This side of the process was particularly fun for me as I’m one of those people who is a real fan of library music, such as the legendary LPs from KPM, and it’s the first time where I’ve found myself licensing a track for my own project.

It goes without saying that the importance of a trailer cannot be overstated. In today’s online world, it is critical to have something that can be shared around and ‘go viral’. I’m sure there will be comments from some Watchers that the trailer doesn’t really tell you that much about the film, but then that was always the point. I don’t want to tell you what happens, I only want to hint at what’s going on and make you ask yourself a few questions. And if watching the trailer makes you want to look for the answers, then the trailer has succeeded.

Share and enjoy!

20 August 2013

Matt Cruse on The Watcher Self

Meet writer, producer and director Matt Cruse who talks a little bit about the production of The Watcher Self, a small cast and crew, and why he looks so dishevelled.

Share and enjoy!

7 February 2012

Watching the Writer

Hayley McKenzie is a professional Script Editor who has worked across both film and television.  Here, she talks about her involvement with ‘The Watcher Self’.

As a Script Editor for over ten years my passion is helping writers to make the very best possible version of the story they want to tell, and doing it in a way that develops a strong relationship between Writer and Script Editor.  I’ve always prided myself on giving writers tough notes that really address the problems in a script but doing so in way that is respectful and diplomatic. Sometimes, that’s not easy.

Having worked with Matt many years ago I knew he had great story ideas, an understanding of characters’ psychology and a real passion for film.  However, I was nervous when Matt brought me on board as Script Editor for The Watcher Self – if the script was bad, could I get it into shape and keep our friendship?

After I’d read the first two pages all my worries disappeared and I knew for certain we were onto a winner.  I was hooked, intrigued, fascinated and didn’t look up from the script until the final page.  Sure, there were problems; some scenes that didn’t quite work, some characters and relationships that hadn’t quite been nailed down, but the basic story shape and Matt’s execution of it in the script was thrilling.

We met and talked about the film at length.  Matt talked about his vision and I came to a better understanding of what he wanted from his film.  With that in mind, we were able to come up with changes and improvements that addressed my concerns and notes in a way that kept the script true to Matt’s vision.  As Matt goes about rewriting the script I’m on hand to help as and when he needs me, though not always as instantly as perhaps either of us would like!  Matt sends me revised scenes which I read and give notes on.

As we head nearer to production the script will become a working document for a whole team of people.  Matt and I will keep refining the script to make it editorially as strong as we can but we’ll also have to make compromises.

As a script editor with many hours of produced television drama under my belt, I know how to make a script work for others and still keep the vision of the film intact.  We may not be able to get all the locations that are in the script at present so we’ll have to find ways to merge scenes, or relocate them, or cut them. We may find that the schedule or budget put pressures on us to make further changes.  Matt’s already anticipating possible problems and coming up with changes he can make if he needs to.

Working on a script that’s going into production brings its own set of challenges but it’s exhilarating and the reward is huge.  No one works tirelessly on a script with the desire to see it gather dust on a shelf — we all want to work on scripts that become the foundation for a terrific television drama or a brilliant film. The best bit about being a Script Editor is seeing the script that you and the writer are proud of, brought to life and enjoyed by others.  Bring on the screening!

Find Hayley and all the development services she provides at her website, Script Angel.

8 January 2012

Suddenly I See

Hunting for a crew, concrete deadlines, shooting dates, and a script which still isn’t finished. ‘The Watcher Self’ moves into pre-production.

It’s been a busy week at the Watchtower.  Pre-production for The Watcher Self officially began on Tuesday 3rd January 2012 with the hunt for a crew.  Being the writer of this film makes it easy to forget that time can pass you by very quickly when you’re working on some dialogue at the keyboard before suddenly realising you have no-one to make the film with, let alone appear in it.

I’m pleased to say that I have three new members of the team: a Director of Photography, Location Manager, and Make-up Artist.  All of them exceptionally-skilled in their fields when you look at their CVs.  So far, so good, but crewing can be a slow and disheartening process sometimes.  But I try to remain positive!

The nerve-racking part of this process is when you realise that you actually have to set concrete deadlines.  People need to know when this film is to be shot.  Dates have to be set.  Shooting days have to be arranged.  And everything else has to be sorted well in advance.

‘Well, you know, we’re sort of, er, kinda shooting the film in April.  Possibly May.  It needs to be finished by the end of June, or maybe the beginning of July.’

Yes, that’s the sort of thing I’ve been mumbling up until now.  But when a potential crewmember asks you for shooting dates and the number of shooting days required to translate your vision into moving pictures, it’s like a mini shock to the system and a huge wake-up call.  A good one, nonetheless.

Three months of preparation sounds like a long time but it isn’t, especially when you’re working with a shoestring budget and maximising your resources as much as possible.

But the more people who join the crew, the less nerve-racking it gets.  Because these are all professionals with a passion for making films, and they are there to help you — there to help me.  It helps if they believe in the script, of course, and I think, so far, they do!

My first key meeting was with the Location Manager in Central London last Thursday. We discussed the various requirements of the script — which is still only in draft form — and the logistics of some of the locations.  For a long time, the final scene in the film was set in an airport.  I’d known all along that the possibilities of pulling this off were remote, but I simply couldn’t think of another way to do it.  That is until a couple of weeks ago when I discussed it with the Script Editor.  A new idea suddenly popped into my head: a low budget idea using one of the existing locations.  It’s also a better ending.  I’m happy.  The Script Editor is happy.  The Location Manager is ecstatic.  It’s all about creative collaboration whilst still retaining the integrity of the script without too many compromises.  No-one likes compromising on locations, but sometimes you have to.

My next scheduled meeting will be with the Director of Photography.  It’s a conversation I’m hugely looking forward to.  We have exchanged several emails already about the visual look of the film, the most creative ways of covering certain scenes, and just seemingly sharing a common love of the same genres.  The Director of Photography’s visual view of the film is the first opportunity for me to start considering options other than those I’ve had in my head all this time.  I know some people find this difficult.  I find it exciting.  I’m looking forward to discussing ideas, whilst at the same time still knowing what I want to convey with each scene.  If I can communicate my ideas effectively and clearly enough to the cinematographer, I think we’ll get excellent results.  I’m also pleased that we’ll be shooting on some nicely compact digital gear; I’ve seen a number of films recently which were shot using similar equipment and they looked stunning.

But all this is academic when you consider that the script is still in draft form.  Admittedly it’s a very healthy draft, and it has a Script Editor attached who really ‘gets’ it, but it ain’t no shooting draft — yet.
When the time comes, I’ll write a bit more about the development of the script’s later drafts up to the shooting draft, and how writers work with Script Editors.  Script Editors are a critical and vital part of the development process.

But, for now, I see deadlines.  Sudden, proper, fixed, in-yer-face deadlines.  The film is due to start shooting in April and the script still isn’t ready.  So I’ve got to get my skates on because I’ve got work to do.  As time passes by, more and more people are going to need to read something, including the cast.  And I don’t even have a Casting Director yet!

It’s suddenly become all very real.

29 November 2011

Generation Self

Writer and director Matt Cruse talks about the origins of the idea which eventually became the script for ‘The Watcher Self’.

The Watcher Self is a film which has been through a number of generations of ideas over many years. To discover its roots we need to go way back to 1993 when I was still a young probationer at the BBC. In those days it was possible to harness the excellent, and sometimes beautifully hidden, resources and facilities and get some kind of personal film project off the ground without anyone caring. This is exactly what I did. I was living in Leytonstone in East London at the time and I spent many late nights working on a 10-minute script which ended up being a half-hour film.

I knew nothing about filmmaking in those days and was making it up as I went along. So I pinned up some notices (no email or blogs in those days) and pulled together a crew comprising of both BBC professionals and enthusiastic ‘non-professionals’ (I refuse to use the term ‘amateur’). I funded it myself, we shot it on something called ‘film’, and the genius Production Designer secured the loan of a standing set at BBC Elstree studios, transforming it into a dark, ominous basement which the cast accessed through the magic of cinema via an under-stairs cupboard in South London.

It was a lot of fun but also a case of trying to play permanent catch-up. I had scheduled seven days to shoot a picture which, by rights, should’ve taken eleven. But somehow, through the cliché of blood, sweat, and a knackered grips van, it all came together and we eventually finished the film.

Nearly 20 years on, I can barely bring myself to watch it anymore. I see it as my own personal ‘film school’ where I made lots of mistakes. It ended up being a case of two rock-solid actors straight out of drama school, and a quite excellent and dedicated crew, making the best of what I now realise was a rather naff script. But the idea was good. And the film’s production values were stunning, thanks to the DoP and her lighting team. But I’d learned a very valuable lesson: the script sucked, and I realised that that was something I needed to work on if I was ever going to make a feature film.

We jump ahead a few years. I’d messed around with a few short film scripts, tried a couple of unfinished feature scripts, and then began writing a film which I felt was the one I wanted to make. It was some cock-and-bull story about a guy at work who had a nervous breakdown. It was a load of rather self-indulgent twaddle and not very good (I was having a bad time at work back then), and I didn’t take it any further than a treatment.

Some of the themes in the script were interesting, though, and they stayed with me. I became fascinated with exploring the state of the human psychological condition and soon enough started to write another feature. I preferred this one and even became quite excited at one point. This was going to be the one to turn me into an established filmmaker. It was some cock-and-bull story about a housewife who, for implausible reasons I’ve forgotten, became addicted to television soap operas and ended up having a nervous breakdown. I did a couple of drafts of the treatment and wrote the first third of the film. It wasn’t very good and I abandoned that one too. Another story better off dead.

And yet I was still fascinated by all this ‘psychological’ stuff and why the people I was writing about were behaving in such extraordinary ways. Yet again I found myself developing another script around these ideas. This one was centred around the controversial subject of domestic violence. Now this was going to be the film that would launch me into the big time. I was sure of it. I wrote the treatment — several times, in fact. I completed a full first draft screenplay — things were looking good. I even took the script to a second draft — things were looking better all the time. I was convinced I had my first feature film project in hand. But then I read it. And I read it again. And it all just felt a bit ‘meh’. I couldn’t put my finger on it. The characters were fine. The story was — well, okay-ish. But there was just nothing that really lifted it above everything else you’ve seen about domestic violence. And so the files on my writing computer were moved across to the ‘Abandoned Projects’ folder where I keep everything I’ve ever written.

It was around that time that I started what has probably been the most enjoyable job I’ve ever had. I joined the script unit in the BBC’s entertainment department. Eventually, due to lots of comings and goings with the script editors, I found myself running the thing single-handed and soon harnessed the rather swanky job title of ‘Script Associate’ which I’ve always been very proud of. It’s here where I started to have a bit of a revelation.

It’s a sad industry fact that the bulk of material received via the ‘spec’ script inlet is pretty unusable. You get the odd spark of genius from time to time, a promising ‘voice’ here and there which is worth following up on, but on the whole the writing quality of unsolicited scripts is like reading a manual on how not to write. I was primarily dealing with spec sitcoms for television and radio, but that’s not really important. A good script is a good script in the same way that a bad script is a bad script — comedy, drama, factual, or otherwise. The more I read the scripts being submitted, the more I started to understand my own weaknesses and why the short film and subsequent screenplays hadn’t really worked. I continued to write during this time, but it was more about developing the craft rather than penning ‘the big feature film project.’ And I could feel myself getting better and better. I owe an awful lot to those thousands of writers who sent their masterpieces via my office only to have them returned with the standard ‘thanks but no thanks’ letter.

It was inevitable that, at some point, the idea that had already been through a number of generations would pop up again. And it did. I started developing the script and could see straightaway that it was the best execution of the idea so far. By now it was 2004 and my time at the BBC was drawing to a close. I felt more confident than I’d ever felt about the film, and so I told myself that this would be the script to make into that feature film I’d been promising to make all these years.

So I left the BBC around Christmas 2004 and at the beginning of 2005 began writing the first draft of The Watcher Self (although it was called something else at the time — more on that in a minute). I was feeling rather good. I knew the beginning. I knew the ending. I sort of knew what happened in the middle. So I wrote the first 25 pages… and then it all suddenly stopped.

An horrendous personal family crisis happened and it was something that I had to deal with. I tried to juggle this with writing the script, but after about a year I realised that balancing the two was completely impossible. So the script — and the whole idea of making a feature film — had to go on the back burner, and I made the terribly hard decision to withdraw from the industry entirely until the situation had settled down. It ended up dragging on for six long years, and I had pretty much resigned myself to the fact that the whole filmmaking thing was now a pipe dream, and so started concentrating on other things.

I’d felt very low and deflated for an awfully long time but, gradually, the crisis began to sort itself out and the pressure began to lift. Then, in 2010, I was sitting in one of the cinemas at the BFI Southbank during the London Film Festival when, completely out of the blue, I told myself I was going to make this damn film. It’s as though I’d been plugged back in or my batteries had now fully recharged. So in January this year I began working on the script again.

The first thing I noticed was that my attitude had changed. Something had happened to me during those ‘dark years’ which meant I needed to approach the script from a different angle. Not so much change the idea, but just come at it from an alternative perspective. That’s when the title changed, and the philosophy behind the script changed too. It still went through a monumental amount of work — and it’s still not fully ready to shoot while I write this. But I was exploring different ways I could take the story, bringing new characters in, sending them out; that’s how I write — slowly!

The state of the human mental condition is still in there. It’s very different to that first generation idea. And over the last few months I’ve come to realise that, in some ways, I am — to use an industry buzz word which I absolutely hate — ‘reimagining’ that short film from 1993. It’s almost as if the idea has matured; it’s become what it should’ve been all along, the irony being that I had to go through that very dark period of six years for the film to be the one I want you to see. I’m convinced that the reason none of those other scripts worked is because I simply wasn’t ready to write them.

So here we are. We’ve come full circle. It’s hard to believe that I’m sitting here writing the first entry of a ‘production diary’ of a big grown-up film that I hope you will be watching in the not too distant future at a cinema, on a DVD or Blu-ray, or even using that young persons’ format: streaming media. At this stage there is only myself and one other confirmed crew member on this project — the stills photographer — and pre-production is feeling frighteningly close as it is due to start in January 2012. It’s a very tight budget and I’ll be working with a small crew, but that’s how I like it. I also like to share the behind-the-scenes process, hence this blog, and I’ll be posting about it over the course of the production (I promise future articles won’t be as long as this one!). We also have a Facebook page, Twitter feed, and even a YouTube channel! How far we have come since that short film in 1993.

The Watcher Self isn’t autobiographical or based on anything specific I went through during those bad times, but it certainly draws upon some of the feelings and emotions I experienced. I survived and came out the other side. I wouldn’t say it was a happy ending, but that chapter of the story resolved itself. Cora, the woman who is the main focus of The Watcher Self, is a survivor too, but in a very different way. Whether or not her story has a happy ending is a question I will be raising in the film, and one to which I hope you will bring your own conclusions.