She came in like a cockroach, bold as hell, icky as a wad of somebody else’s gum on your theatre seat, unapologetic about trying to co-opt our movie and turn it into her movie. And, like a roach, she was nearly impossible to kill. They called her…
A seemingly harmless porcelain doll that surely brought some little girl great joy back in the blessed pre-Barbie world. Rescued from a bin of her mates in a provincial French charity shop. Chosen, like so many women, for her blonde hair and innocent blue eyes. She was meant to be a companion and a comfort to Lauren McQueen’s Sophie. Alas, Bambolina had other plans.
She did the rest of the film with her head balanced revoltingly on her broken neck, attached only by a few threads of her disgusting hair, staring accusingly – unforgiving - at all of us. Lauren didn’t say it, because she’s a trooper, but I know she cringed every time she had to hug that smelly creepfest close.
At least it was for a purpose. The Wasting isn’t a creepy doll movie, as much as Bambolina tried to make it one. But her role is important. Best Supporting Actress important. Not going to say more, because I want you to watch the movie.
We threw the body in a sack and left it in a field. Our gaffer, Bryan “McGyver” Gavigan, took her head as a trophy. Fool!
The next day, everybody went home. I went to the crew house to see them off. Bryan had hung Bambolina’s head from his rearview mirror like a pair of fuzzy dice, or a pine tree air freshener. (She smelled as rank as those air fresheners.) We all questioned the wisdom of tempting doom this way, but Bryan laughed it off. Just like they do in scary movies right before the doll/clown/amusement park ride kills them. As he drove away, we noticed it, sitting in the boot of his car: Bambolina’s headless body. Waiting.
Nobody has seen Bryan since. If you find him, please let us know. But don’t touch the doll.
Everywhere we went in Upton, people wanted to know if we were making a movie about the notorious Captain. Or if we’d seen any sign of him. We heard his name so much I feel like he’s one of us, and so it behooves me to write about him. I’ll try to find something good to say, but really, Captain Thomas Bound sounds like he was most unpleasant.
In time, Captain Bound committed suicide, drowning himself. Maybe guilt caught up with him, but death didn’t let him off that easy, as he’s still seen galloping around Upton, possibly looking for another Mary. If he was looking for a Jenny, he could stop galloping, as every second person I met in Upton was called Jenny. No Marys though. Maybe Upton's parents caught on - don't call your daughter Mary.
We were hoping that, what with all that bounding about, we’d have seen him. We shot on Rectory Road, where he lived, and where his ghost is often spotted. We shot on The Ham, the riverside meadow that’s another of his haunts. Didn’t see him, but we did see a lot of really nice Labradors.
And then - on Friday the 13th - we shot in Old Hall, on Rectory Road, in a flat that one of the poor murdered Marys is said to haunt. Our makeup artist Sian and I were minding our own business, sitting near the window where her ghost is sometimes seen standing, when something suddenly moved behind us. (Sidenote to Gray O’Brien: It was not a cat!) I thought Sian did it and she thought I did it, and when we compared notes, we realized neither of us did it. But it definitely moved, and made a noise, and freaked us out.
And that was it. It was good enough. Really, I’m not that keen to see a ghost, especially a misogynistic one, despite my many years of writing about them. And we did have other brushes with Upton’s ghostly mythology, but I’ll save those for another post.
We're in Playback, the Canadian version of Variety, for lack of a better layman's description. A few little errors in there...Equity UK is an actor's union, not a camera-procuring union...but overall, a nice story. Thanks to Jordan Pinto and Playback.
Here's what we look like, all written up...
In the immortal words of the saddest man in the world, Chris Isaak: “Things Go Wrong.” They especially go wrong on film sets, or in pre-production, usually in the last week before you go to camera, when you’re past the point of no return and all you can do is shut your eyes, put your head down, and bull forward. It happens on every film, in some form or other. As in life, we all have our issues to deal with, our challenges to overcome, our fires to walk through. If you’re really fortunate, blessed, and have thought to save the right people’s phone numbers, when things go wrong, a guardian angel steps in to turn it all around. If you’re the lucky recipient of a miracle that day, the catastrophe becomes a gift, and your film turns out to be even better than it would have been.
That’s what happened to The Wasting. We got two angels, both called Webb.
And oh, what a plan! It’s hard to fathom now, because our original location was so amazing it seemed irreplaceable. But Peter and Rosemary replaced it, in grand style. They called on everyone they knew (aka everyone in Upton) and before you can say “Roll camera” we had access to houses, buildings, woods and spooky cellars that put the original to shame. They were BETTER than what we'd lost, logistically, creatively and visually. Our production value went from zero to sixty in four seconds. And that was only the beginning.
And so on. And so on. Etc. Etc. They never got tired of us knocking on their door or ringing their phone. End result: When things went wrong, our shoot went right.
Thank you, Peter and Rosemary.
There’s this thing about onscreen chemistry. You gotta have it. No matter what else you have going for you – giant budget, A-list stars, whatever. If your cast doesn’t have chemistry, well…I think we’ve all seen at least ten minutes of Gigli.
The Wasting hinges on its relationships. Between Sophie and her parents, certainly, but especially between Sophie, her boyfriend Liam, his brother Kai, and her best friend Grace.
Those four young adults are at the core of the story and for any of it to matter, the audience has to buy into their friendship. So, in a kind of anti-Big-Brother move, I figured the best way to create chemistry was to chuck the actors into a house together for the duration of filming, and let them bond. In retrospect, it could have been a disaster. They might have hated each other, driven mad by one another’s living habits. One tube of badly squeezed toothpaste might have spelled doom for the film.
But, buoyed by the eternal optimism that has guided us thus far, I didn’t even consider that. I went looking for a four-bedroom cottage where Lauren, Sean, Alexz and Brendan could live during the shoot. I didn’t find one. I found a freaking mansion. It's called Malt House. An enormous Queen Anne showpiece on vast well-manicured grounds with outbuildings, a river view and a million bedrooms, at least one of them the size of my entire house. There’s even a music room, a perk that did not go unnoticed by our cast, who all happen to be musicians. Oh, what joy was mine! And theirs!
Lauren arrived first, so she got first choice of the impressive array of rooms. She chose wisely and got her own ensuite. Brendan was next. He took the room that was big enough to run laps in, which I think he did on his days off.
Alexz and Sean did okay too – there’s not a bad room in the joint. But the house was more than just spectacular surroundings – it really did exactly what I’d hoped it would. The four of them hung out every day, going for workouts and dinners, running lines, watching Band of Brothers, bonding. Creating chemistry.
They became the friends I’d hoped they’d become, and it shows up in spades in front of the camera. The onscreen chemistry between Sean and Lauren – as Liam and Sophie – was so powerful it prompted Twilight references from everybody on set.
Sophie and Liam’s innocent love is balanced beautifully by the sexy, fun and more worldly relationship between Grace and Kai, as played by Alexz and Brendan. Those two became such good real-life friends that sometimes I just let the camera run on their banter after the scene ended, and it became an integral part of their characters’ relationship and their dynamic with Sophie and Liam.
Mission accomplished. Bonding complete. Chemistry created. Watch out!
And by the way, did I mention the Malt House is for sale?
The last shot of the film. In a perfect world, it is leisurely, unhurried and we crack open a bottle of fizz after we cut, pat ourselves on the back, and savour the moment.
Alas, this world isn’t perfect. Our last shot was in near darkness and pouring rain. The clock was ticking, the sun was setting and the house where our gear was stored was going to be closed up for three weeks in a half hour, our stuff locked inside if we didn’t finish and retrieve it in time. Our actors, Gray O’Brien and Sean Stevenson, were soaked to the bone, like the rest of us. Our lead, Lauren McQueen, was enroute to set, picking her way through the muck as fast as she could, which felt not nearly fast enough. We only needed her hand for the shot, so we used mine for a quick rehearsal, finding the right placement that would make the shot perfect. At the last second, Lauren stepped in, I called action and away we went.
Thirty seconds later it was over. And it was a stunning shot.
“Cut!” I yelled.”That’s a wrap.”
“Of the movie?” asked our DOP Michal. “Are you sure there’s nothing else you want?”
“The movie,” I said. “There’s nothing else I want. We got it all. Cut. Wrap. Done.”
And like that, everyone was gone, sprinting to the house to pack up before our van turned into pumpkin. I started to follow them, and then stopped as it hit me:
We got it all. This was the end of filming.
There was no time to savour, but I took it anyway. I turned around, stared out at the bleak, wet, beautiful meadow of sodden sheep, down the rising river, took a deep breath and sent up a prayer of thanks.
This was it. We did it. We did it. We did it.
Then I ran to the house.
Saturday dawned to dire warnings of wind, rain and the river rising. And us, shooting outdoors all day, mostly down by the river, with all sorts of grand plans involving boats and people in the water and Lauren running around barefoot. As we rolled camera in front of a mossy fishpond, the weather started in full force and we knew we were in for a day of it. But in the fashion that has become the hallmark of this unbendable crew and cast, everybody just got on with it, and said “It’ll be miserable to work in, but it’ll look great for the film.”
Everyone rose to the challenges the rain brought. The cast jumped in and out of their coats without complaint, Lauren schlepped through muck in her bare feet, dipping them in a bucket of warm water between takes, and never whined about it, and Gray O’Brien did his tumble to one knee into goopy shloop mud repeatedly like the pro he is. Our makeup artist Sian was undaunted by the enormous challenge of keeping everybody’s face from dripping away forever, and Lauren looked absolutely outstanding in her final scene. Our 2nd AC, Jack, found a way to write on the slate when the downpour threatened to wash away his ink. As director, I knew I had to lead by example and ignore my increasingly frizzy fright-wig of hair to focus on shooting the scene. And when we all scurried inside for a dry lunch, gaffer Bryan and DOP Michal went back out into that miserable cuss of a day to get the boat in place that we were going to put the camera on after lunch.
When I saw that boat, I didn’t care how wet I was. Sitting in a red rescue boat (thanks to Mercia Inshore Rescue) in the middle of the river in a big yellow rain coat and wellies, shooting a scene on the riverbank, rocking on the choppy water, is so cool and so much fun that you forget all about your drippy nose and soaked jeans. By the end of the day we were wet to the bone, muddy and we had made our day, getting every single shot in a glorious, atmospheric, Wasting way. And the footage looks incredible. We were right – the rain really was worth it.
Day 13. One that will live in infamy as the day the gods of sound tried to defeat us, and failed. We were shooting outdoors, and as this isn’t our first rodeo, we were prepared for some random sounds coming from the neighbourhood to disrupt the odd shot or two. We knew there’d be the occasional plane passing overhead that would make us go again, or the possibility that a sudden gust of wind would be met with stern disapproval from our sound recordist, Pietro.
But we forgot it was Day 13. And in the spot we occupy in the time-space continuum, at the junction of the 13th day and the ghosts of Upton, the gods of sound were priming to beat us over the head with something more than the occasional drone of a faraway plane. Here, in no particular order, are all the things that kept interrupting the shot, over and over, until all one could do is laugh.
That was the bad.
Here’s the good: We got the shot, got the scene, hit our 300th slate, and made our day.
Take that, gods of sound.
I love my crew. I’m so proud of them. Day Four – which we just wrapped – was huge. It was long and ambitious. We jumped back and forth between two locations, chasing the sun in one, and shooting complicated horror scenes day-for-night in the other. On Halloween. In a house that we’re told is actually haunted.
And they pulled it off. They were brilliant. Today was the day they gelled perfectly as a team and achieved things that might have stopped another crew. It was a day of long dialogue scenes involving four characters, intensely emotional scenes, and horror effects created in camera. Everyone did their job flawlessly, and everyone pitched in to go the extra mile – like our grip stuffing himself into tiny spaces to create a creepy variety of ghostly FX.
We shot nearly seven pages, none of them simple. Film people will know how monumental that is, but for the uninitiated, let me just say it's like painting a five-bedroom, four-storey house, including woodwork, all by yourself, in a single day, without going outside the lines even once. We haven't gone outside the lines - the footage we are getting is gorgeous.
It takes an amazing group of people to pull that off. They need to be talented, clever and able to think on the fly. But most of all, they have to be able to work as a team. And that’s what we’ve got. Team Wasting. They rock. I love them. Let’s go to Disneyland.
Alexz Johnson’s songs are going to be all over the soundtrack of The Wasting. But they also feature big in the soundtrack of so many people’s lives. That’s why there’s a lot of excitement this week over the release of her gorgeous new music video for Heart Like That.
Like the songs that punctuated the coming of age of countless Canadian teenagers when she sang them as the eponymous lead in the hit TV series Instant Star, the Heart Like That video tells a story about leaping from one stage of life to another.
The leap isn’t just a metaphor – Alexz hurls herself off a pier and into one frigid looking ocean. That’s not some stuntwoman making the jump, it’s Alexz, true to her trademark, going at this story full tilt with passion and soul and that voice that melts like a chocolate chip in a blob of hot batter.
Remember what I said in March about badass?
I'm the writer-director and more or less the mother of this film.