In the beginning – Part Four

When things click, they click.

Geoff and I were finding working together ‘worked’ and I was throwing tons of other script ideas at him. With some of them I think he was probably humouring me, as looking back on some of the ideas – ouch – but some of them, hopefully, are there to be made in the future. Working with Geoff on Dead Air certainly made me more prolific a writer than I had been in a long long time.

My quest for puppets led me down various paths, including chatting to various twitter people, Andrew James Spooner among them, but these were people that I did not know, and really I didn’t think they’d want to humour us with a little comedy horror on hand.

I work at a college, so I thought I’d use some of my ‘contacts’ in speaking to students about whether they’d want to be involved in the project, harking back to the amazing times working with students on the Scrawl project. One of my colleagues pointed me in the direction of Wimbledon College of Art, where they ran courses that involved the construction and use of puppets. One email later, I was busy talking to a bunch of Wimbledon Art students about the possibility of working on a small horror film, called Dead Air.

This was really exciting, puppet makers and designers who shared our inspirations and in some ways were ahead of us. Lots of love of Henson and Labyrinth, Dark Crystal, Peter Jackson’s Braindead; even down to the kind of real creatures our creatures would be based on.

We commissioned a bunch of lovely students to design and build the puppets, they were working around their studies to create them and as I’m sure you can see from the pictures these are pretty special. Exceeding our expectations in many ways.

Whilst the puppets were being built we kept thinking about the script, revising odd lines that didn’t work or sequences that we thought we could improve, whilst we also thought about what we could do if we made the short into a feature. In my eyes, and in Geoff’s, the short needed to stand on its own two legs, but we believed in it so much that we thought it had potential to go further (the short essentially is the middle section of the feature film idea).

Whilst we already had Stacy Hart on board as the Drummer, we also, very early on had James Hamer-Morton on board as the Co-Pilot. He had offered up a couple of suggestions for adding the odd lines or sequences to the film, which I did and remain there to this day, but we needed to start to think about cast.

Initially when we had the band as male and female members, various cast from previous projects we had individually worked on came up in conversation and we kept lobbying for various people to be seen, to be considered; but once we made the decision for the band to be female, a lot of potentials went out the window and we had to find an ensemble that worked together. Each had to compliment one another, and that meant lots of interesting and strong cast that on any other day would have walked it had to fit together, in the right roles, and this led to lots of sad faces from Geoff and I when we had to say no to some exceptionally talented actors and actresses.

Johanna Stanton was always in the mix but the character of the guitarist came to her because of her audition & the fun she had with the character. She had mentioned in her audition that she was very ‘method’ on the last film we worked on with her (our last short ‘Smile’) so I am intrigued to see how ‘method’ she’ll be with a loopy comic character. Excited to see how that comes to life.

Kate Marie Davies came to my attention via twitter, my social media of choice, I had seen her trailer for Escape from Cannibal Farm and threw it Geoff’s way, the rest is history. Again, Kate was in line for various roles, but as the puzzle pieces started to fit together, the Bassist, who delivers one of Geoff’s favourite lines eyed up its actress, and that was Kate.

Charlie Bond was someone who we almost missed out on, eventually tying down to a last minute Skype call audition. Thankfully we did because she turned out to give us that spin we needed on the Singer to make her the perfect choice for the role. She’s lovely as well, which always helps when you are playing the antagonist of the piece.

Stacy Hart, as mentioned previously, had the role of the Drummer written with her in mind. This however was not a request from Geoff, who had worked previously with Stacy on numerous occasions but something I had done from the word go when first being asked to write the script. I did not know Stacy, but felt I could write a character that would fit her. A very early outline had her struggling with keeping her humanity for her daughter who was waiting the other end at the gig for her, but that was thrown to one side for a much simpler take.

The other cast were the boys that surround the female characters, the crew and the manager. The crew were made up of James Hamer-Morton as the co-pilot and David Schaal as the Pilot. 

James was on very early, someone Geoff really wanted to work with, but someone I didn’t meet until the auditions for the Monster Kitten band members. 

A fantastic writer himself (his script ‘Wishes’, a must read, and hopefully someone will snap it up to make it) meeting James and watching him perform the audition pieces alongside the actresses made me want to write more for the guy, and the feature script started to allow me to do that. When we didn’t meet our initial Kickstarter, I went back to the short script and made revisions that gave James more to do (we initially hit £16k of £20k so didn’t get any as it was an all or nothing campaign) In a way, not hitting our goal was a good thing, it forced us to go back to the script to see if we could do it for less. Making it completely plane bound I think really helps the short, as the feature will allow us to expand ‘what happens next’ and reworking the short allowed me to think on more about what to do with James as the Co-Pilot character moving forward.

James had worked with David Schaal before on the upcoming ‘The Fitzroy’, which Geoff had also worked on. and James and David seemed to have a chemistry that would work for the roles of Co-Pilot and Pilot. In watching James’ doc ‘Bid for My Life’ and the BTS stuff on ‘The Fitzroy’ shown, I could see what Geoff meant when he said they would work well together. 

Finally, the Manager went through numerous hands before falling into Dan Palmer’s. Dan was someone i really wanted to work with and lobbied for the role of the Guitarist when the Guitarist was still a male character. When we changed the script to make the band female, it seemed working with Dan on this wouldn’t happen. But when the role of the Manager came up again, I rewrote it with Dan in mind and then approached him. Thankfully he said yes, and now I’ve piled my Dan Palmer DVD collection up ready for signing. 

The final cast member is a secret weapon. A Hollywood star that we tried our luck with, by asking the question. They read the script, liked the script, and said ‘yes’. Now all we need to do to secure their services is make our indiegogo targets. We live in hope, as to have them on board would be AWESOME in every conceivable way!

With the cast in place, the puppets on the way, awesome crew who we had worked with before, like Dan Hall doing music and Tom Allen DP’ing, we approached a local sfx company, Tank Full FX about doing our practical special effects. A company that are very keen on practical fx felt like a match made in Heaven and we look forward to seeing what they bring to life. We had by this time discarded the ‘zombie’ aspect (yesssss), our creatures would infect & turn the unfortunates into human creature hybrids, our own kind of monster. We also took to Black Hangar Studios to check out whether a bigger plane would make our lives easier – so we went to check out our new plane, a Boeing 737. 

When we realised that the AN2 was too small to accommodate the vastness of the script I wrote, Geoff spoke to the guys at Black Hangar Studios, who he had got to know via another project (Exit 6 Film Festival) and we started to look like the 737 was the only way to go. 

Oh, I forgot about Erica Nockalls. Geoff had been in contact with Erica as a huge Wonderstuff fan, as Erica is part of the Wonderstuff as well as being a solo artist in her own right. There was talk of Erica being more involved but US tours beckoned. Still we are delighted to be able to use Erica’s original music as the sound of our band and it’s also put us in contact with the likes of the band Fuzzbox, all very exciting to add to our overall feel of the film.

So this leads us to our first shot at crowdfunding, where we failed to hit our goal despite a valiant effort and a lot of support. Of course, to not hit the target was disappointing but what did happen was we found our way to working with a bunch of people we may never have had we not attempted the crowdfunding the first time round, we also realised how big a draw the creatures would be, which led Geoff and I to discussing their use in any future Dead Air venture, Including the following conversation that happened during February as we were busy putting our crew together.

‘We need puppeteers for our puppets Geoff’ I said ‘There might be a guy who might be worth talking to’

‘Ok, great, who?’ Asked Geoff.

‘His name is Andrew and he’s worked with Kermit…’

To be continued…maybe in ‘real time’

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