Making of ‘Epitaph’

Epitaph 06 wpEpitaph was originally written back in 2005 shortly after the completion of shooting on Amy’s first film ‘The Fairweather Girl’. As is often the way with short films it remained on her ‘to do’ list for some considerable time. In the intervening years Amy directed another short ‘A Little Bit Country’, as well as producing several others. She also directed her first feature documentary ‘Little Stars of Bethlehem’ for Elfin Productions.

When an opportunity presented itself in 2012 to direct another short film, Amy jumped at it. Directors UK and Arri liked the script and offered the film ‘in-kind’ support as part of the ‘Challenge ALEXA’ competition.

IMG_1189_smlThis consisted of an Arri ALEXA 4:3 Plus camera package with Hawk anamorphic lenses, as well as some ancillary kit and a small equipment ‘slush fund’. Whilst the camera kit forms an essential part of any production, it is only a small part of the overall cost so the remainder of the budget would need to be raised independently. The catch was that the ALEXA was only available on very specific dates so the whole film had to be set up in just a few weeks. At that time, Amy was in the middle of producing & directing a brand film for Skype, so it was decided to ‘piggyback’ the Epitaph shoot on that, and shoot immediately afterwards.

Trevor Coop (DoP) suggested using some old fashioned techniques ‘in camera’ to give the film a softer more nostalgic look. This entailed ‘netting’ the lenses, essentially stretching silk stockings across the rear of the lenses to diffuse the light and ‘unsharpen’ the image.

IMG_0978_smlThe casting of Claude would be vital to the success of the film, after all, the only other character featured was dead! After much discussion with Associate Producer Cat Cooper, the filmmakers approached film & theatre veteran Karl Johnson (Hot Fuzz, The Deep Blue Sea, Lark Rise to Candleford). Amy had worked with Karl previously in her days as an Assistant Director, and was delighted when he agreed to take on the role of Claude.

Although set in modern day, Claude lives in something of a time warp, stuck in the past and slowly fading away along with his threadbare carpets and careworn clothes. This presented something of a challenge to the filmmakers as the interior of the house needed to be evocative of a particular period in time, and still be practical to shoot. After an exhaustive search for a suitable location, the decision was made to built the interior of the house in the studio. This is ambitious for any film, but for a low budget short it was a huge challenge. Not only did the budget not really allow for a traditional set build, there was neither the time or manpower to create it from scratch in just a few days. Through some very long days and the hard work and determination of the art dept crew and production team, the set was finished on time and shooting began in early December 2012.

IMG_1610_smlThe second day of filming, on location in Watford, didn’t begin well with blizzard like conditions arriving without warning on the morning of the shoot. Fortunately the bad weather passed as quickly as it had arrived and shooting could commence.

IMG_1351_smlAmy had a couple of fairly specific shots in mind for the cemetery sequence, which would involve filming from a camera crane. Again this is usually the preserve of big budget productions, but fortunately specialist grip company Alpha Grip came on board and supplied a Moviebird crane for the day. The other complicated sequence involved shooting on a moving bus…

One of the other challenges of shooting daylight exteriors in december is the distinct lack of daylight hours. With only a small number of hours between sunrise and sunset, the crew needed to work fast in the freezing cold to achieve the required shots.

The final shots were completed just as the sun dipped behind the horizon, meaning the filming was completed but the crew had to pack up in the dark. In a cemetery.

Epitaph_Storyboard-1 Epitaph_Storyboard-2As the film was very tightly storyboarded, the edit process was relatively quick and a first edit was produced in just a few days. With the Xmas holidays fast approaching, everything stopped for a few weeks, kicking off again in early january with the Directors UK delivery deadline looming.

Amy arranged the picture grade with a long time collaborator, Darren Mostyn of Online Creative in Brighton where they spent the day with DoP Trevor Coop tweaking and grading each shot to help give the film it’s distinctive look.

IMG_1152_sml

The filmmakers approached Composer Tandis Jenhudson, who had previously collaborated on ‘Little Stars of Bethlehem’ with Amy, to create the original score. They spent several sessions at his base in Twickenham studios trying out different ideas and instrumentations for the key score elements before settling on the haunting and melancholic feel that is featured in the film. They also needed to find two pre-existing ‘period’ pieces of music for the opening and closing sequences of the film. These needed to be evocative of the Music Hall heyday of the 30’s and 40’s, but also lyrically relevant to the story. After some serious research, and listening to dozens of potential tracks, Amy and Tandis decided upon ‘Take another Guess’ by Artie Shaw & His Orchestra for the opening, and ‘Hitting the High spots’ by George Formby for the closing sequence and end credits.

With the final elements of the post production falling into place, Sequence Post came on board to help finish the visual elements of the film, with Wise Buddah offering to create the sound design and foley tracks. As the film had been shot MOS (mute), every sound had to be created or recorded especially and mixed to create an audio environment that sounded and felt entirely real.

This was then combined with the beautiful new score to create the overall sound of the film.

The film was premiered to a private audience at BAFTA in London in March 2013 and had it’s public world premiere at the Tacoma Film Festival, USA, in November 2013. Amy was nominated for Best Writer for Epitaph at London’s Underwire Film Festival in 2013.

There will be a full EPK video coming soon, but in the meantime you can check out some of our behind the scene’s pictures from the shoot.

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