#34 – The Cult Of Nigel: The Beginning

So before this blog turns all things The Cult Of Nigel, I just want to do a bit of housekeeping.

2017 has started off as an extremely busy year. It seems that a few worthwhile projects have fallen into my lap without me even really trying (sorry!). I did promise myself at the beginning of the year that I would look for more paid work within the industry, but because I was busy finishing off Man In A Suit and Punch Bag, I didn’t really find time to properly dedicate myself to it. The showreel thing is going well, and whilst it may never be my sole income, it’s rewarding for my actual soul to finally get paid for the thing I love doing (especially writing), I just have to be careful that I don’t start to resent leaving the house to film, which may happen when I start seeing it as a job, which it is. I’ve got a few more clients lined up, but then I am away for three weeks in April for a feature film shoot with Substantial Films for their next film False Witness. Interestingly, my workflow has nicely coincided with my job-job’s decision to reduce my shifts to just six (six!) hours a week – the reason I suspect is because I didn’t bow to the managers chinese-whisper demands to go and get ice cream so she didn’t have to leave the bar, whilst the rest of us were busy, so I saw my hours dramatically cut. This is the sort of childishness that I sometimes have to deal with in my part-time job, and often I struggle mentally to comprehend it all because I’d rather be at home doing something I enjoy, but unfortunately, it still doesn’t pay the bills. This has made me worry about money over the last few weeks, but the film jobs are picking up nicely, so I should be covered. I am currently editing a pilot episode for a potential television series called That’s What She Said – a sort of Sex In The City/Girls type vibe, and I’ve also been in talks with a local filmmaker (who has produced two features) to shoot his next horror film. Exciting times!

Which leads me on to The Cult Of Nigel.

Avid readers of this blog (I’m assured there is at least two), will know that I have been working towards my first feature for sometime now. Well, the wheels have started to slowly turn. I had toyed with an idea for some years,  which was eventually scripted into something called Brick Wall, but this idea needed a bit of a budget to shoot. I had planned for over a year to launch a fundraising campaign (due this month), but after meeting Phil (producer) through my last Substantial Films project, he was interested in working on something with me. I suggested that we made something for nothing – it was the only way I saw being able to make something a possibility. I was heading towards this campaign-thing full steam ahead, and I actually had little confidence that it would work. So why was I doing it? I had no other plans. So when this idea cropped up called The Cult Of Nigel, it was always intended to be made with little, to no money. So even the script was formulated around the idea that we could have only one central character, and all the B-players would have to be small but dialogue heavy characters to entice the jobbing actor to come and work with us for free. Neil James, who you may know, agreed to take the lead role, and Matt Prior has agreed to shoot the film with me – both wavering any fee. Interestingly, they have both read the script and have told me separately how each thinks I should develop the script – they contradict each other completely. I now have the unenviable task of pleasing them both.

It is apparent through my experience on Three Acts last year how much work needs to go into a feature if it is to succeed (financially or critically?), but whilst they had almost £100k to make the film, I’ll be lucky to scrap together £2k. So whilst I learnt a lot, and will learn a lot on their next feature, the league we are playing in are miles apart. I am going to attempt to make the best possible film in my situation allows (“Budget informs aesthetic” – Barry Jenkins), this is definitely going to be a project of circumstance. But will undoubtedly be an interesting one. I hope you will enjoy the ride just as much as me!

So where are we so far? We have me, Neil and Matt (lead actor and cameraman), and producer Phil. We have a script, which has only received the once going over, and everyone else has read it. Tomorrow I am meeting with Neil to discuss with him the script and character, and then I will hopefully find some time over the next month to start reworking the script – which is going to be extremely difficult, but it needs to be done if we are to start shooting in June. I have £1k of the £2k I hope to raise already saved, but fear that £2k is simply not enough money to shoot a feature for ‘nothing’. When you consider travel and food alone, £2k is going to be a struggle to cover basic costs. I have considered offering actors a free scene in return for them paying the cost for travel (a scene from Daniel Harding Showreels is normally £170 and travel from London to Brighton is £30, but then I’d have to pay travel to shoot the scene, unless we did it in Brighton… anyway! Food for thought). But these are things I have been thinking about recently. Killer Bird cost £2.5k to make, and that was only twenty-two minutes long – but then again, the actors were getting paid. Basically I am going to need to pull in a lot of favours to get this film made. I intend to offer a role to most of the actors I’ve worked with previous – the idea for the campaign video was to have a bunch of actors I had worked with reprise their roles, so maybe The Cult Of Nigel can do the same thing? Names and everything! Maybe not. We’ll see.

I should perhaps tell you a little bit about the story? Skip ahead if you’d prefer not to know. So we are introduced to a character called Nigel who believes he has been abducted by aliens. It is not explicit whether he did or didn’t, but it seems as though he has just been returned to earth by an alien life form – the nakedness is a clue. We then follow him through this road-trip style narrative where he is trying to convince everyone that he meets that he has been abducted and that he has returned with a message. But unfortunately for Nigel, everyone thinks he is crazy (go figure). The Cult Of Nigel is a ‘light hearted, darkly funny, British comedy’ and it has many genuinely funny and awkward moments, whilst also being quite tragic. I’m not sure what else it can be compared to – I like to think Dr. Strangelove and The Big Lebowski, but Phil reckons it’s more like a Simon Pegg and Nick Frost film, whilst in truth, it is probably more like Sightseers by Ben Wheatley. Storywise, there are still so many things that have to be ironed out, because at the moment, they don’t make a lick of sense. This is where the difference between writing shorts and feature becomes gapingly apparent. With a short you can keep the idea firmly in your mind, and know when a change has or hasn’t worked. With a feature, the scope is just that much greater that it becomes harder to keep the story in mind. This is where truly knowing your story and characters will make and break you as a storyteller. If I really, really get to know this story (and I mean, really-really), then I trust my judgment and believe I can tell an interesting and worthwhile feature film story. But that is just a small glimpse into the mountain that I am about to climb.

I am thinking perhaps I should break down each post into segments and talk about specific elements of where I am at, what do you think? Maybe I’ll start with story…

So hopefully I’ve made it clear as day that there is still a lot to do, and I hope to keep you updated with everything I am doing as much as possible. The sole focus of this blog WILL now be The Cult Of Nigel. If I talk or write about anything else, please come and slap me in the face.

Starting now.

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