Baby On Board
A production diary
Andrew David Barker shares this ongoing production diary charting the making of the short film Baby On Board, written by Stephen Volk and directed by Andrew…
This is an ongoing production diary charting the making of the short film Baby On Board, written by Stephen Volk and directed by me, Andrew David Barker. With each entry, I will detail the production, from pre to post, and beyond. This will all be exclusive content to Horrified, and as we go on, it will include production stills, interviews, and more. I hope you will join me on this adventure and enjoy what’s to come.
If you would like to support this project, I have a BUY ME A COFFEE page. Any contribution will go directly into the film and would be greatly appreciated.
Andrew David Barker
Thursday 9th November 2023
The day came. I picked up my friend Cassie Leedham at half five and we drove over to Coventry. An old closed-down pub called The Litten Tree has been turned into a pop-up art centre and heritage and cultural space managed by a great guy named Alan Denyer. Cassie, an artist herself, knows Alan and put me onto the place for the cast and crew screening of Baby on Board.
Tom Williams arrived early and set up the film on the big screen in the centre of the large space. Cassie became our barmaid and photographer and I think had a blast meeting and talking to everyone. Thanks, Cassie.
The first to arrive were Stephen and Patricia Volk.
So, let’s be honest here, my nerves were on edge because, well, Stephen hadn’t yet seen the film. I’ve kept him informed, of course, but he wanted to hold off actually watching it until this screening. Here I am, entrusted with a major screenwriter’s material, which I’ve made into a DIY short. He has worked with Ken Russell, William Freidkin (although I’m not sure he likes to bring that one up), and Nick Murphy, to name but a few. What will he make of my skills as a director? And a director operating on no money, as well. Jesus.
Anyway, it was great to see Stephen and to meet his wife, Patricia, who everyone adored. Jason Adam arrived, along with crew members Maya Taylor, Charlie Cooke, Luke Sloan, and Claire Lapworth from Leamington College. A few of them brought family and partners. Andre Pierre brought his mum, who was awesome. Danielle Beckner brought her family, including her son Roan, who appears in the background in the film and acted as a runner. The only ones missing were Amelia Rizzo, who, via Jason’s phone, watched the screening from her holiday in Barcelona – I don’t know how much she could see or hear – and co-producer Jack Norris, who couldn’t make it, nor could Demezla O’Sullivan, who appears off-screen in the film.
We all chatted for a while, and then around 8pm we screened the film.
Tom and I watched from afar. We didn’t sit. I’ll admit, I kept looking at Stephen Volk.
I felt while it screened that people were really engaged. 15 minutes later it was over and everyone clapped, then…
Stephen Volk hugged me and said it was really good.
Jason and Andre were also very pleased. In fact, it took Jason a little while to process it. Cassie said it made her cry. In fact, Tom and I found, after keeping this film to ourselves for the past four months, that it was a joy to let it go and have people embrace it. And it seems, by all accounts, everyone embraced it, which, I’ll admit, felt good. I felt relief.
I want to thank the cast and crew for coming on this journey with me, and to Stephen Volk for entrusting me with his words. It’s been a great adventure.
Now comes the next stage, the slow process of entering into festivals and seeing if we get accepted into any. I hope we do. I want people to see it.
Let’s see where this little film takes us. The adventure is just beginning.
Thank you for reading,
Andrew David Barker
Tuesday 25th October 2023
Here’s a short teaser trailer for Baby on Board which Tom Williams cut together last week…
Wednesday 18th October 2023
Tom and I completed the film last Thursday. Like done done. As always with these things I felt relief, pride, and a strange sense of anticlimax. Always happens. You visualise the moment of completing a project for so long that when it actually happens, you do get a bit like, ‘Oh, is that it?’ Nobody cares. There is no party, no bells and whistles, and no cake.
The flipside of this though is a stronger sense of personal achievement. This is my 6th film as a director, including the feature I made (probably my 50th if you count all my mess-about films with my mates back in the 90s and early 2000s) and with this one, I feel a real sense of growth. I’ve made all my films and written all my novels in obscurity, really. Outside of a handful of people, I’m not really known. Nothing I’ve done has really advanced my career. I’ve always had to start all over again on the next project, self-generating, self-financing, and, more than anything, just betting on myself, again and again, in the hope of something breaking through and having someone see the talent I have. Having that project that will finally push my career to the next level. Maybe this film is that project? Maybe, who knows? Time will tell, I guess.
We’re arranging a small cast and crew screening at a location in Coventry in early November. Jason and Andre will be there, hopefully, and most of our wonderful crew. We’ll also invite a few people who have helped us with this project, plus Stephen and Patricia Volk may also attend, so that won’t be nerve-wracking at all, will it? After that, it’ll be a slow process of submitting to festivals. I think I’ll also approach a few agents with this one, for directing. That’s something I’ve never done really. All my agent attacks have been for my writing (no dice yet), so I’ve never really tried to get an agent solely based on my skills as a director. We’ll see what happens there.
In other news, Tom Williams and I created a series of posters for Baby on Board, which I think are pretty cool, and I did some maintenance on Baby’s IMDb page and Letterboxd. All the little things a filmmaker also has to keep on top of. Please add the film to your Letterboxd account if you have one…
Outside of Baby on Board, filmmaker David Bryant and I are close to completing work on a feature script. A low-budget horror film which we’re having a huge amount of fun with. It’s something we’re thinking of trying to get off the ground next year with both of us co-directing. I do think it’s time I try for a feature again. Perhaps I’ve gone as far as I can go now with these DIY shorts. It is time for the next level. And as much as I’ve loved making these short films over the years, I know that it is a feature that will really push things over. It’s daunting to think about a project that large, and after the trial by fire that was A Reckoning, it is something I’ve probably resisted. But if I am going to keep on this path, I know I’ve got to do it. And man, have me and Bryant got something cool. But first, to get our Baby out in the world…
Thursday 5th October 2023
Stephen Volk first mentioned Baby on Board to me on the 23rd of January. Ten months ago, more or less. From that date to this I’ve done everything I can to get this film made with my limited resources, connections, and budget (well, no budget, really) and this evening Tom Williams and I put the finishing touches to the edit.
Tom spent the last week working on the sound design and has done a wonderful job. Rhys Morris’ music was placed into the film – subtle, haunting – and works beautifully, and then we put all the titles on, which is always fun. There is always a thrill in seeing your name on a film. We just have the grade to do now, which Tom will work on next week, so by Friday the 13th (somewhat fittingly) this film should be done done. Phew. It’s been quite a journey.
I want to thank Stephen Volk for entrusting his beautiful story with a scrappy nobody like me, it’s been an honour. Only hope I’ve served him well. Time will tell. But for now, I’m going to enjoy this (probably brief) moment of feeling like I’ve achieved something. Plus, on Monday the 16th of October, the first block of filming should take place on The Wilding – the feature I’m a screenwriter on – so things feel like they’re moving again. Long may it continue!
The thing to do now is find a small venue for a cast and crew screening and then start the (often long) process of getting the film out into the world. I’ll try the festival circuit first and see what happens, but really I want to try and get as many folk to see this one as possible. But one step at a time. First, we get the grade done and then get ready to show it to the world.
Monday 2nd October 2023
Baby on Board is so close to being finished. So close. But still, a bit to do. The edit has been locked for a while and Tom Williams has been busy working on the sound design. Jason Adam had to do a little ADR and I added a couple of lines to Demelza’s side of the phone conversation. Also, Rhys Morris has composed a haunting, minimalistic score. All that needs to happen now is to put all these elements together.
What’s frustrating about the way I work, or have to work, is that I can’t just sit down and edit myself. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve worked with some wonderful editors over the years – Tom on this film, Mick Walker on Shining Tor and Two Old Boys, and my old mate Adam Krajczynski on A Reckoning – but back in the early 90s when I first started messing about making films I used to do all the editing myself. I went to Wilmorton College in Derby from 91 to 93 – now torn down – and I spent most of my time there in the editing suite making zombie films and comedy skits. Back then, I would edit tape to tape. Yes, VHS tape to VHS tape. That’s how old I am. I would spend hours, days, editing stuff together. I loved it, and I got pretty good. After college, I didn’t make anything again until 2002 (I was having far too much in the 90s), and by then, technology and editing software had moved on, and I never relearned how to use it. And now we’re in 2023. A long way from then and it’s all passed me by. Or at least, it feels like that. My mind, however, works in edits and I know what I want. When I’m writing and designing a film, I can see it all. It’s the sitting down and physically doing the work myself that I can’t do. Maybe I’d be more productive if I could do it myself? I could be completely self-contained.
These are dangerous thoughts. That is the ego talking.
My mate Ash Price is self-contained. He can shoot and edit and has all the gear to make whatever he wants (within reason, of course) and I’m a little jealous of that. Yet, even with all that, he’s still trying to finish a short film called Glory Days he began shooting in March 2022. Indecision and a fear of finishing has become his own worst enemy, so maybe there is some kind of lesson there? It’s a strong film as well, but he’s blocked for some reason. Too many choices and no one to bounce ideas off, maybe? Although I’ve tried and tried, that’s another story.
Maybe the key to filmmaking really is collaborating with others. If a film’s credits read, ‘written, produced, directed and edited by’ maybe you should take a step back. Maybe. I don’t know. I guess, like writing, it works differently for everyone. But perhaps, for me, this is how I work best: with others, collaborating, guiding, and directing my vision with a team of like-minded creatives, and, if I’m honest, although I like the idea of hiding away and doing everything myself, I know I’d miss the joy of working with others. I have writing for solitude. Filmmaking, however, is definitely a group activity.
Wednesday 30th August 2023
It’s incredible how quickly creative projects can derail. A month ago, I was riding high from shooting Baby on Board, plus I had the horror feature I co-scripted – The Wilding – about to shoot in September, and I had my name on a ten-part music documentary I’d written for a (very well-known) company still on the table. Then, little by little, things started to go awry. First, funding issues halted The Wilding. The September shoot is now out the window. The film was supposed to be shot in the, err, wilds of Scotland, and so, missing this late summer window means that the main shoot can’t now happen until the spring. Director Adam Park is still planning on shooting other sections of the film before then, but it means a longer game on that one. I really hope it happens. I think it’s a pretty cool, zeitgeisty script and has some great names attached to it. So, all is not lost there, but I really wanted it to go into production. I’d feel I was finally making headway as a screenwriter then.
The real kicker though was a Notice of Termination on the music documentary. A new production company is coming in to ‘rework’ what we’ve done so far and, well, I’m out. My first real kick to the kerb as a screenwriter. I’ve asked about my screen credit, but no answer yet. Man, I think it’s time to join the WGGB.
Always seems like when I think my career is finally moving, like it’s all going in the right direction, the promises never actually materialise. One step forward, three steps back, always.
Sorry to go on about this, but I wanted to write it down because I think it’s important. It shows a little of what goes on in the background of an artist. Any kind of artist. There are constant stop/starts, constant disappointments and setbacks, and the age-old human factor of people saying they’re going to do something and then going back on their word. Often, it’s out of people’s hands, but not always. The only person you can really rely on is yourself if you want to do this stuff. The cavalry is not coming.
The only good thing – creative thing – is Baby on Board. Tom and I now have a locked cut and I really feel like it is the most grown-up, professional-looking film I’ve made so far. And the performances are so good. Tom is on holiday next week and while he’s away Rhys Morris and I will get the music nailed, then once Tom’s back he’ll be able to tear into the sound design. Plus, I’ve got to get Demelza O’Sullivan (playing the Policeman’s wife) to record some ADR. Might need Jason to pick up one or two lines as well. All that will hopefully happen in the second half of September (now there’s no Wilding shoot), and all being well, the film will be done by the beginning of October. That’s the plan, anyway.
All of this has taken its toll though. I can feel how creatively drained I am. Very much running on empty. Think I’m going to get Baby done, have a small cast and crew screening, and then start the process of submitting it to festivals for next year. I’ve got a couple of film festivals to attend with Here Lies… in the autumn, but really, I plan on hiding away for the winter and writing. I can really feel the pull now. The need to write something.
That something should really be a low-budget feature script. Something I could direct myself next year. One of the ideas is to adapt a short ghost story of mine called The House on Lidderman Street. That’s a possible, anyway. It could certainly be made on a low budget and be pretty effective, I reckon. But we’ll see. I’m also burning to write a new novel, which might be a kind of sequel to my 2015 novella Dead Leaves (which was set in the video era about a group of school leavers hunting down a copy of The Evil Dead). I need to try and get another screenwriting job as well.
But for now, I need to recharge. I need to finish Baby and then go to ground for a while. I also need some good news.
I need something to happen.
Thursday 27th July 2023
Somehow, Tom has managed to put together a very solid rough cut already. I’m not sure if he sleeps. It currently runs at 13 minutes and if you’ll allow me one bit of indulgence, I reckon I’m getting better at shot design because it all cuts together really nicely, even in this rough form. I say this because the first cut of Here Lies… was very sketchy, so this makes me think I might have learned a few things since the last one.
Anyway, it looks great, the performances are really strong, and I think once we’ve tightened it and sorted the sound, we should be pretty close. I sent it straight off to my composer, Rhys Morris, who has composed music for A Reckoning, Two Old Boys, and Here Lies…, and who I’ve known since 1984 when we were 9. So yeah, one of my best mates and one incredible musician. Other filmmakers should think about hiring him.
I’m now recovering from the shoot, doing some DIY on the house, and getting ready for a holiday with the family in Pembrey, Wales. Feels good to have the film shot and cut before I go away. I’ve given Tom a few notes to crack on with while I’m away and Rhys will start in on the music, so we’ll see where everything is when I get back.
Phew, what a ride.
Night 2 - Monday 24th July 2023
Night 2 was all the exterior stuff, so we were all praying for no rain. We’d had some rain the night before, but luckily this night would remain dry.
Danielle had arranged with local company Dodo Pizza to bring us all free pizzas and these came around 9 pm and we all got to sit and chat and eat for a while before the work began. Thanks, Dodo.
Tom and I set up the first shot and we again got rolling at 10 pm. The big thing this night was the police car, which we’d arranged to arrive at 10 and Sergeant Thompson from Warwickshire Police came ahead of time and allowed us free use of his vehicle for a few hours. He just set up his laptop inside Lina’s Place, did a bit of work and chatted with the crew. Top guy.
We cracked on. Jason had completed most of his scenes the night before, so there were only a few things to do with him. It was mainly Andre who had scenes to complete. Mainly a phone call which will be a two-way conversation with the policeman and his wife – who I named Sophie as she isn’t specified in the script – and whom I will get my friend Demelza O’Sullivan to read the lines in Post (I worked with her on Here Lies…, which she’s great in, by the way). I also got her to send me a picture of herself for us to use for a shot of the policeman’s phone.
We got all the police car stuff done around midnight and let Sergeant Thompson get back to work. Then we just had the opening scene to shoot. Yep, we ended on the opening.
We wrapped at 3:30 am. I then drove Andre and Jason back to Birmingham (as the first train to Brum wasn’t until 5:45) and got a speeding ticket for my trouble. Then I returned to Lina’s Place to make sure everything was set back in place and tidy. Only Tom was there still, having just packed everything away. I locked up and went home; the film shot.
I had about three hours sleep, then got up and returned to Lina’s Place with my wife to give back the keys. Danielle had arranged flowers and a card as a thank you and Lina and Elias were just lovely and welcoming. My wife Kate and I had a cup of tea and chatted with them, I looked around the cafe and thought about what we’d all just done and I felt an immense sense of gratitude and inner calm.
This film came to me from Stephen Volk, who entrusted me with his story, and his words, and I hope I’ve honoured that. I know that Andre and Jason have delivered great performances, that the location is perfect, that Tom’s lighting and photography are beautiful, and that I was blessed with a great and willing cast and crew. Baby On Board is the third short film I’ve directed since the beginning of 2022, after How Would You Like to Pay? and Here Lies…, and I feel this is another step up from what I’ve done before. It feels more grown up, more nuanced, and sophisticated. I hope, anyway.
But we’re not done yet. Post-production now begins.
Night 1 - Sunday 23rd July 2023
The thing about making films on this level – that of the no-to-low-budget, beg, borrow, and steal level of filmmaking – is that you never truly know whether or not the film is going to happen until it actually does. At least, it seems that way to me. On every film I’ve made, I’ve fretted until the last moment that something would derail that entire thing. An actor dropping out, a location being pulled, or crew members not turning up. Anything that could collapse the already teetering house of cards that is film production. And yet… none of these worries have ever actually happened to me. Yet. They will, one day I’m sure, but up until now, from A Reckoning to Here Lies…, every production I’ve somehow managed to pull together has always seemingly gone to plan. Every one of them surely some kind of miracle.
And so it was that on the evening of Sunday 23rd of July, 2023, at 7:30, I drove down to our location, the Portuguese restaurant Lina’s Place, just at the back of Leamington train station, and half expected something bad to happen, but Tom Williams, my DOP, arrived shortly after me, then came my producer, Danielle and her son, Roan, followed by my other producer, Jack Norris. I’d picked up the keys the day before – Idalina (Lina) and her husband, Elias, were gracious and trusting enough to allow this privilege – and so I opened up and we got all the kit in.
Tom was shooting on a Sony FX6 which has all kinds of bells and whistles. Plus, some fantastic lights. I also picked up some tracks from Leamington College and a few other bits and bobs. Around half 8 other crew members started to arrive. Runner Charlie Cooke, Costumer Amelia Rizzo, Sound Recordist Luke Sloan, Camera Assistant Maya Taylor, and Liubomir Lissitchkov, who I worked with on Here Lies… and who is fast becoming my go-to guy for just getting shit done. A great cameraman in his own right, Liubomir oversaw the sound with Luke and shot behind-the-scenes footage on Baby on Board, and also took the wonderful stills attached to this entry.
So, with all the crew in the building, I just had to have my cast arrive. Danielle went with Roan over to the station and at about 9 o’clock Andre Pierre and Jason Adam came walking into our location having come in together on the train from Birmingham. First time I’d met them both in person. Both have a lovely, easy-going way about them and they came wanting to tear into it.
Two weeks before I watched Stephen Volk give an intimate reading of the short story version of Baby on Board to about 20 or so people at The Dolphin in Derby, now I had to do justice to that story. No more thinking about it. We had to get it done.
The main bulk of Volk’s script is set in a service station, which I’d changed to a late-night cafe (after Lina’s Place became an option) and the one long sequence is broken up into three as there are cutaways written into the script to give the piece its structure and sense of pace. This gave me three distinct scenes to work with. To save time I suggested to Tom and Jack that we set up the master shot – a side angle framing both Andre and Jason – and film all three scenes back-to-back before re-setting for the singles. They agreed as did Jason and Andre. This meant they would have to perform one scene after the other, then we’d change the camera set up onto the singles on each actor and they’d have to do it all again from the top, one scene after the other. Then again for the single on the other actor. Doing it this way did save time on lighting changes and camera setups, but still took us most of the night.
As soon as darkness fell at 10 pm, we started turning and Andre and Jason were locked into their characters. What’s incredible about watching great actors is the layers and textures they bring to the text. The inflections and the reactions. Andre and Jason brought it all and then some. They made my life very easy because there was little directing required on my part, just the odd suggestion here and there. That’s the real trick to directing really. Cast well and the battle is almost won.
We shot into the night. The crew was great. The script is dark and grief-stricken, and although the takes could be tense, the shoot itself wasn’t. We had fun. Andre and Jason were laughing between takes and the crew remained in good spirits, even when the hour grew very late. The lighting and location looked fantastic – Tom shot it beautifully, and Jack Norris, being a director himself, was a great sounding board and right hand.
We finally wrapped at around 5 am, having completed the main bulk of the film, and we started packing away. Andre and Jason got the first-morning train back to Birmingham at 5:45 and I left Lina’s Place at around 6, having made sure we’d left everything as we found it.
I crawled into bed around half 6, shattered but happy, and ready to do it all again the next night.
Thursday 20th July 2023
I’ve been pretty bad at keeping up to date with this production diary these last few weeks, but things have been hectic, to say the least. Outside of the film stuff, I (re-) launched my first novel The Electric at this year’s Edge-Lit in Derby with a new 10th-anniversary paperback, featuring a lovely new Introduction by some guy called Stephen Volk, and a new Afterword by me (you can buy it here!) Also got to sit on a panel about screenwriting for genre films with Volk, Jeremy Dyson, and others (nice guy, that Dyson chap).
Then, to keep the wolf from the door, I’ve been doing Unit Moves on the BBC series Father Brown and Sister Boniface. This means that once they’re wrapped for the day and are having to move to a new location, I ferry the HGV drivers from one unit base to the next, back and forth until they have brought all the vehicles over. It’s nice because they shoot all over the Cotswolds, so the locations are always beautiful, but it can be very tiring driving back and forth all night. Got in at 3:30 am the other night.
To add to all this, we’re doing some fairly major renovations on our house. So my days are bricklaying and plastering. My life is nothing if not versatile.
Oh yeah, and I’m making a short film!
So now here we are. After a few touch-and-go moments, we are four days away from principal photography. This morning, Danielle and I went to meet a Sergeant at Leamington Police Station about using one of their vehicles in the film. The Sergeant (a cool-looking guy who was younger than me) basically wanted to know that we are going to represent the police in a positive light. Luckily we are. Volk has written a very tender and kind police officer, so looks like we’ll be provided with a car on our second night of shooting, on Monday.
Then we drove over to Princethorpe College to the set of the aforementioned Sister Boniface where we borrowed a police uniform. Thank you to Costume Designer Claire Collins for that! Jack Norris has scheduled the shoot and is sorting the Call Sheets. I picked up some tracks from Leamington College which my DOP, Tom, is excited to play with, and Danielle has worked miracles in getting local food companies to donate food for all the cast and crew, for both nights of the shoot.
So here we are. The train is on the tracks and there’s no stopping it now. I’m in my usual position in the days before a shoot, feeling both excited and full of dread, but I know that once I’m on set Sunday night, I will be loving it.
Thank you to everyone who has helped and supported and even donated to this short film project. It really means a lot.
See you all on the other side!
Tuesday 4th July 2023
Got the Shot List written. I don’t do storyboards, I’ve always preferred to write each shot out. It makes more sense to me. On every film, though, I always seem to put off actually sitting down and doing it for as long as I can. It’s pretty dry writing, but it is essential. It’s almost a case of rewriting the script purely in shots.
About a week ago my DOP, Tom, and I went down to the cafe and talked through shots and logistics. Lina and her family were so wonderful and accommodating to us and wanted to help in any way they can. They couldn’t be nicer. Tom and I talked our way in and around the building, going through each sequence, how to light them, and how to shot them. We both decided that for this film, simple is better. This is a slow, considered story, and the camera has to reflect that. This film is about the actors, their faces, their reactions, their dialogue. Much of it can be played with very simple shots.
After I recce, I had a clearer idea of how to approach the film and set to work on the Shot List. Here’s an example, from the opening scene:
INT. PARKED CAR – HARD SHOULDER – MOTORWAY – NIGHT
Open on a tight head and shoulders on the DRIVER’S face. He is sitting in his car. Low lights. The frame tracks back opening up the shot to having the Driver on right of frame and his back window (and baby seat) left of frame. Camera set up across the bonnet of the car, of course, shooting through the windscreen. Policeman car pulls up behind the Driver (Driver doesn’t notice). Flash of blues, then hazards on. Light harsh in the darkness. A figure (POLICEMAN) comes to stand behind Driver’s car – his frame cutting into the lights from his car. Then the Policeman walks around Driver’s car. Cut to:
Camera positioned in the passenger seat with a tight side view of Driver behind the wheel and the Policeman coming to knock on his window. Giving a rotary motion with his finger. The Driver presses a button and the window comes down. Policeman leans down and we see his face. In their exchange, we cut between this shot and –
Wider shot from outside the car – an almost over the Policeman’s shoulder shot looking down on the Driver.
Also want to include a low-angle shot from the front of Driver’s car taking in both the Driver and the Policeman at his door.
Also need a shot from Policeman’s POV as he looks past the Driver and into the back seat and we glimpse the baby seat in the back.
End of the scene on a CU of policeman saying ‘Good lad’
As I’ve found on other films. I often end up using about half of what I write in the Shot List and the rest seems to happen on the day, in collaboration with the DOP. Plus, you have to be flexible to change. A location can sometimes bring about unforeseen problems, which you have to think around. On the other hand, they can also bring opportunities, and very often, they can be a blessing. So basically, I have the Shot List as a guide which I can always come back if needs be.
Everything kind of seems to be in place now. Costumes are sorted, Police car is almost sorted, equipment all (almost) ready, and so on. There’s still a few weeks until the shoot, so still plently of time for something to go wrong (and it probably will), but for now we seem to be on track.
It’s all happening.
Friday 16th June 2023
Me and Danielle went down to Lina’s Place to try and nail down a shooting date. Jack Norris had drafted up a simple agreement and I took that along. Unfortunately, they were pretty busy, so didn’t have much time to talk, but I met Lina’s husband (and co-owner) who was warm and friendly, and very accommodating. He and I signed the agreement and locked in shooting over two consecutive nights on the 23rd and 24th of July.
So we have five weeks to pull everything together.
Now we have the location and dates, I can start the shot list. Tom (DOP) and I plan on visiting the location for a bit of a lighting and camera recce in the next week or so. Amelia is sourcing the costumes. I plan on meeting up with Andre and Jason in Birmingham in a couple of weeks, just to hang and get to know each other a bit more. Danielle’s asking local food places if they’d be willing to donate some food for the shoot. I’ve got to finalise the police car with Vic over at BBC Doctors, and I’ve also got to get one or two extras to have in the background while our two main characters have their dark conversation. Plus, all cast and crew have to constantly be informed of ongoing developments, keeping everyone in the loop at all times. Oh, and I need to find some more money.
It’s amazing what goes into even the simplest and smallest of films. Does make me wonder. With the amount of work that goes into a short, should I just shoot for a few extra days next time and try and get a feature out of it? As long as I keep the film simple, of course. Setting up such a production would pretty much be the same amount of work as I’m doing now. You just end up shooting for longer, with a few more people.
It’s definitely time I tried to make another feature. It’s been far too long. But first, Baby On Board, and I’m getting pretty excited about it
Monday 12th June 2023
Had a couple of weeks off from Baby On Board, which was good for me. You often need to decompress sometimes when working on a project. Downtime is very important in my book. It’s not always possible to go 100% all of the time. That’s very difficult to sustain and I find a few days away (or weeks) helps considerably. There’s not always the time to do it, but if you find a cap, which I did, I find it’s really good to give yourself a bit of time away.
We’d got to a point where the cast and crew were in place, the location had been found, and I was waiting on the first payment from my screenwriting job on The Wilding, the found-footage horror which is hopefully shooting later this year. So this gap allowed a little breathing space.
So what did I do? I flipped back to a short novella I began a year or so ago entitled Sweet Dark and wrote a couple of thousand words on that (a few more thousand and I should have that one nailed. 1st draft anyway). You see, even in downtime, I NEED to be doing something, and I find writing – especially writing prose – is very good for maintaining my creativity and fuels the other projects I have on. I also find writing to be very good for my mental health. I just feel better about myself once I’ve written, and although writing doesn’t come easily to me (does it for anyone?) I do love the process.
Sweet Dark is a kind of anti-ghost story about a group of Railtrack workers (I used to be one) working on a line one night who believe they see something strange in an old Victorian train tunnel. It’s about working-class blokes and how they react when faced with the strange and uncanny. It’s also about the ripple effect of fear and how it can often bring out the worst in human nature. I think it’s shaping up to be a pretty cool little story and writing it has helped re-charge my drive to get things done. It’s another in the long and ongoing game of sustaining and maintaining creativity.
I’ll be honest though, when I’m writing prose, I do wonder whether or not filmmaking is really for me. Writing comes from the interior and I feel very comfortable there. I have to go inward in order to write a story, and it seems different somehow to when I’m writing a screenplay. I don’t know why, it should really be coming from the same place, but for some reason, it doesn’t feel like that. Screenplays are very much the in-between: there are the books and then there are the films, and in the middle of the screenplays. Film is absolutely external. They are the complete antithesis of an inward way of creating. Films are open and busy and full of people and equipment and actors and that takes a completely different mindset. At least, it does for me. Directing is nothing like writing a novel, yet they are both ways of telling a story. And when I’m writing prose, if I’m really honest with myself, I do feel more complete than when I’m making a film. Yet, I can’t stop doing both.
Anyway, after a few weeks of working on Sweet Dark, I felt rejuvenated and did feel excited to return to Baby on Board (although it is niggling me that Sweet Dark still isn’t finished). The other thing I was doing was working with a small press called Northern Republic – run by author Dan Howarth – on an all-new paperback edition of my first novel, The Electric, to mark its tenth anniversary.
Me and Dan have struck a deal. The press, as it stands at the moment, will be a platform for us both to release (and re-release) our work. We’ll help one another get our books out there and have editions we are proud of. Dan has already seen his excellent short story collection, Dark Missives, and a short novella, Territory, released, and has plans for more in the coming year(s). I’ll have the tenth-anniversary edition of The Electric (launching at this year’s Edge-Lit in Derby on the 8th of July), an all-new paperback of my horror novel, Society Place, later in the year, and also the never-before-published, Mick & Sarah At The Pictures (which I was awarded an Arts Council Grant to write), and Aftershocks.
The reason for this rush of activity on the book side of things is twofold. The first reason is that both me and Dan are just sick of waiting, sick of agent rejections (as our stuff doesn’t seem to tick any of the boxes those entities seem to be after), and being messed around and often disappointed by other small presses. The other reason is the deeply worrying prospect of A.I. In the next few years, all art and entertainment (not to mention education, law, finance, the list goes on and on) will potentially be completely upended by this rapidly advancing technology. And before that happens, I just want all my stuff out there. I want my I.P. to exist, for better or for worse, while it can. Pretty bleak view, I know, but I’m just trying to future-proof myself in the only way I know how. If the books exist, then they exist in their original forms before strange new technologies begin to take hold.
Am I being overdramatic? I hope to god I am. I really hope I’m wrong. I hope that the things I’m reading and the predictions I’ve seen predominant people make are wrong. I truly hope that this entirely new (possibly someday sentient) alien race of our own making will not happen at all. Even writing that sentence down felt somehow ridiculous, but it seems that is what’s happening. There is an A.I. arms race happening and nobody knows where that will take us, what that will mean for… well, everything.
(Go check out The Diary of a CEO Podcast with Steven Bartlett interviewing Mo Gawdat about this subject. I found it to be profoundly moving and terrifying. Even if Gawdat is only half right, it’s still a massive worry.)
Anyway, this entry seems to have been about where my head’s at at the moment. A lot of noise and distortion, balanced by the insular and quiet pleasures of writing. But I am ready now. I’m ready to head out and make this short film.
I got my first payment for The Wilding screenplay last week, so I now have something of a budget, although could do with more, but that’s always the case.
Dates are being locked down now for a late July shoot and all cast and crew are in place. Just go to draw up the agreement with the location, get that signed off, and then it’s action stations.
Baby On Board is happening.
Wednesday 24th May 2023
There’s been a lot going on. Firstly I met up with Jack Norris, a local filmmaker who is on the rise with his company Press Record Films. He also made the acclaimed short, Irish, Blacks & Dogs, which I’ve mentioned before and which co-starred Andre Pierre. Jack is also working with Baby On Board’s DOP, Tom Williams, on a number of projects, so we have a lot of connections.
We met on a late afternoon in a local pub (best place to do business, I reckon) and traded a few filmmaking war wounds and talked about various projects and ideas before getting onto Baby On Board. Jack told me he loved the script and was interested in getting involved. I snapped his hand off and asked him right then and there if he would be up for being a producer on it and bringing Press Record Films on board.
Next, I had a wonderful Zoom call with both Jason Adam and Andre Pierre and did a read-through of the script. Both of them absolutely nailed it. They became the characters right before my eyes. That’s the magic of actors, they can elevate a script immeasurably and bring a nuance to their characters that you didn’t even think of.
Watching the script come alive was wonderful, but also made me realise that this short will be somewhat different from most shorts I see. Whereas most short films have to, quite rightly, grab your attention straight away and move like lightning in order to tell their story within a condensed time frame (if done right), Baby On Board won’t feel like that. By design, this is a thoughtful, somber, and very considered piece that will need space and time to tell its story. And it’s a pretty heavy story at that, certainly if you’re a parent, as I am.
I will have to make a comedy after this one, which fits because I’m trying to line up mine and Matthew Waldram’s crime comedy Empire Amusements to do after this one.
Next bit of business this past week was finding a new location. I’d noticed a small eatery at the back of Leamington train station, so me and Danielle took a walk down there and tried our luck. It is called Lina’s Place and bills itself as a Portuguese Restaurant, but also serves as a lovely old-style greasy spoon, which is what I’m after.
We talked to the owner, Lina (obvs), and explained what we’re looking to do – two consecutive night’s filming in the summer – and outlined how it would all work, etc. Danellie turned on her American charm as an added bonus and also had the good fortune of knowing a little Portuguese, but then for reasons only known to Danielle, she tried to say to Lina, “You are a fat pig” in the woman’s native tongue. Why this was the phrase Danielle learned to say in Portuguese, I cannot say, but it did provide me with much amusement, so it was totally worth it. However, Danielle got the words completely wrong, thankfully, so we dodged that bullet.
So anyway, after laying down our pitch, Lina said, quite simply, “Okay, you can do it.”
So looks like we have a new location.
Thursday 11th May 2023
Back in January, I wrote the first draft of a found footage horror feature entitled The Wilding. The project is the brainchild of director Adam Park, whom I met last year. He has made a great short film called The Drowned and a whisky documentary called The Amber Light (which you can find on Netflix) and he first told me about The Wilding in late 2022. Without wanting to give too much away, Adam pitched me a unique spin on the found footage sub-genre which tapped into the zeitgeist of tech billionaires (and all the crazy shit they’re getting up to) merged with good old survivalist horror.
I wrote a draft based on a treatment Adam wrote with Canadian writer Chris Wilson-Smith and then Adam wrote on top of me and pretty soon a cool movie began to take shape. So much so that investors are now coming in and some fairly well-known actors are attaching (although I can’t say who they are yet) and it’s all starting to look like it might actually happen later this year. Adam’s been scouting locations up in Scotland and crew members are being put in place and I think soon I’ll be writing a shooting script for the project. It’s all pretty exciting.
If the planets really do align on this one then it’ll really help Baby On Board. For one thing, I should get paid for my work as a screenwriter and I can use some of this to fund the short, or at least partly fund it. Moreover, if this film happens, it should give me more standing within the industry itself, and that can only help Baby On Board’s chances when it comes to putting it out in the world. It should also help me get some more screenwriting gigs, hopefully.
But these are all maybes. Nothing is for certain in this game (perhaps even more uncertain as AI begins to rapidly disrupt and upturn everything), but dare I believe that this is feeling closer to actually happening than any other feature I’ve been connected to over the years (bar the one I actually did make).
Time, as always, will tell, but at the moment, it’s looking pretty good.
Tuesday 9th May 2023
Went up to Manchester to film a small cameo role in Hayden Hewitt’s forthcoming horror film Cara. I’ve known Hayden for about a decade and I mentioned a while back that if and when he got to make a feature film, I’d come and do a small cameo role and he held me to it. Hayden’s been making short after short for the past two years, has found investment, and is now making his horror debut. It’s been inspiring to watch him. And, of course, I’m also dead jealous.
Once in Manchester, I found Hayden at his small studio space surrounded by a great cast and crew and I got to see some of the footage they’d already shot. It’s going to be a pretty twisted and brutal horror, this one. Might make a few waves when it comes out.
We drove across the city to a leafy suburb for the afternoon shoot and I met the actors I was sharing a scene with – a young lad named Tom, and Johnny Vivash, a lovely bloke who has been in loads of stuff and seemingly knows everyone. We even found we had a fair few mutual acquaintances. I got on well with Johnny, possibly opening the door to working with him on something of mine somewhere down the line. It’s always good to meet great actors who are up for making stuff, particularly someone with Johnny’s list of credits and experience. Plus, he’s a great champion and advocate for UK horror.
It didn’t take too long to shoot my scene (I’ve got two lines!) and then I was on the train back home feeling inspired and encouraged. You see, doing anything creative, particularly when you’re doing stuff off your own back, is often a pretty lonely business and so I believe it’s sometimes important to go and see other people out there doing it. It shows that there is a wonderful filmmaking community up and down the country, making stuff against the odds. Moreover, being around dedicated casts and crews is positively infectious.
As the train cut through the English countryside on the way back to Warwickshire, the sun low in the sky, I thought hard about Baby On Board. I’ve got a great cast and a great script. I can’t sell this short. I’ve got to somehow push this as far as I can. So with that in mind, I decided that I want to change the location. The college just isn’t quite right, in look and feel – plus they want me to pay to have a Warden on site and yet still haven’t given me a cost for this – and so I want to find somewhere more fitting to what’s in my mind (and what’s in the script). This might push the filming back to later in the summer, but if that’s what it takes, then so be it.
Sometimes you have to take a step back to move forward.
Wednesday 3rd May 2023
Me and Danielle had our first production meeting with the crew the other day. Met my costume designer, Amelia Rizzo, and talked through each character’s wardrobe, and allocated specific roles for some of the students. Then we talked dates, trying to pin down a day for the test shoot in early May, and the actual shoot, over two nights in June (the latter proving difficult to pin down).
I maybe waffled on too much and kept thinking about the production meeting in my favourite documentary American Movie – “… the film starts… check it out… beautiful, stunning black & white shot right now at the magic hour…” – love Mark Borchardt.
The real trick now is how to pay for it all. The ball is rolling down the hill and picking up speed and although myself and Danielle have managed to pull a lot of this together on nothing but goodwill and people’s generosity, there is still the police car to hire and the fact that the college won’t let us film overnight without a Warden being present, who, of course, needs paying. Plus, we’ve got to feed everyone, pay for people’s petrol, train, etc. It all starts to mount up.
I reckon I need about a grand to pull this film off, and even though I’ve got a Buy Me a Coffee page (see above), I really dislike asking for money. Yet, I think I’m going to have to as I’ve only raised £13 so far. The whole crowdfunding thing seems like a bit of a minefield to me, but guess it’s time to bite the bullet if I’m going to have any chance of pulling this off. And I haven’t left myself much time (as always).
If anyone out there can help with a few quid via my Buy Me a Coffee page, I would be incredibly grateful. Plus, I’d thank you in the end credits.
See, felt wrong writing that, but it’s something I’ve got to get over. And fast.
Monday 1st May 2023
If you want to expose all the flaws in your film, real or imagined, then just watch it on a big screen with an audience mostly made up of other filmmakers. That’s the fun that awaits the intrepid director as they embark on the festival circuit. The film you were proud of moments before, the film you’ve laboured over and thought was as tight as a drum, suddenly feels like the longest, flabbiest, most boring film ever made. The sound is suddenly bad, the story weak, the shots boring. Only the performances save you from completely giving up.
This was what happened to me as I watched Here Lies… on the big screen for the first time at the Coventry Phoenix Film Festival, which was held at The Box, FarGo Village, on the 21st of April. Slotted in amongst several other shorts, Here Lies…, which I was excited to screen just moments before, became something of a trial.
Now this, I know, is IMPOSTER SYNDROME kicking in. In big block capital letters. And it’s a right little bastard. It can sneak up on you without warning, often spoiling what should otherwise be a celebratory occasion. I sat next to my co-writer, Matthew Waldram, and inwardly groaned for most of the film’s 12-minute run time. The screening at the Phoenix Film Festival was attended by several of the crew members, and one cast member, Demezla O’Sullivan, who unfortunately arrived late and just missed our film (the cast were the one thing I continued to love about the short).
Of course, I was being extra hard on my film, but things didn’t improve when the final short during our screening was Jessica Henwick’s Bus Girl. Henwick, who wrote, directed, and starred in the short, has also appeared in films such as The Gray Man, The Matrix Resurrections, and Glass Onion (Rian Johnson was thanked in Bus Girl’s end credits). Her short looked like it cost about three million, with an army of cast and crew, and was like it had been shot by Christopher Doyle and Wong Kar-wai. It looked incredible and my little no-budget, shot-in-a-day short seemed even more insignificant. Hell, every other filmmaker’s shorts shown at the festival suddenly seemed insignificant.
Now, this isn’t a slight on Henwick’s film itself. It was very good and, of course, very high level, and if she is forging a path as a female director with a great eye for design, character, and story, then hat’s off to her (as well as having an ever-rising career as an actor), but watching her film alongside mine only highlighted how far I’ve still yet to go, and in that moment, I wasn’t sure if I had it in me.
You see, doubt is a bad seed and once it takes root it can grow out of control if not snipped off at the root, quickly. If not dug out completely. But how do you do that?
Well, there’s no easy answer to that, but I find that writing helps immensely. Writing heels most things, in my opinion. It can sharpen and focus the mind, but also, it can remind you who you are and what you have to offer as an artist. Distance also helps. A few days away from the film (or weeks, months, whatever it takes) can do the world of good. After a week, I rewatched the film, and guess what? It wasn’t so bad. In fact, I thought it was alright. Stupid brain.
(I would add though that some doubt is a good thing, just to contradict myself somewhat. It gives you an edge and makes you push harder to try and better yourself. I’m very suspicious of those who don’t doubt themselves, and I’ve met a few, although I never fully believe them.)
I was talking to author Mark West briefly on Twitter the other day about Imposter Syndrome and the idea of self-sabotage (because I definitely have that in my nature as well) and Mark said he thought all creatives deal with it, in varying degrees. He tweeted: I wonder if it’s a curse of creative people – “why bother doing (whatever), it’ll only be rubbish” and that is part of it, but I suggested it is also that you’re battling the mindset that if you don’t finish the thing then you don’t have to deal with it being any good or not, and you also don’t have to have people judge it. This is why I often put myself into situations where I have to finish the thing I’ve started. I give myself no choice.
You see, doing anything creative is hard, and putting yourself and your work out there is even harder, but it’s all part of it. Of course, not everyone will like what you do, but creating a piece of work you set out to make, warts and all, and then standing by it, is what it means to be any kind of creative person. Even if you do have a few wobbles along the way like I did at the Coventry Phoenix Film Festival. The sheer act of writing this Production Diary and charting the process of making Baby On Board is either a really good idea or a sword I will fall on. Same goes for making the film itself.
I guess time will tell.
Tuesday 25th April 2023
I asked Stephen Volk if he would possibly write something about what sparked the idea for Baby On Board (mainly because I was interested) and he very kindly agreed. A few hours later a wonderful piece of writing arrived in my Inbox, so I’m giving this entry entirely over to Mr. Stephen Volk:
Writing Baby On Board; the story of the story….
By Stephen Volk
(May contain SPOILERS)
I once read an extraordinary short story by A. S. Byatt called “The July Ghost” (from Sugar and Other Stories, 1987). It describes a man, an academic writing a paper on Hardy’s poems, who, sitting in a summer garden at his lodgings, finds he has a ten year old boy as a companion. When he describes this young boy to the woman from whom he has rented his room, she tells him—unable to see the ghost herself—that it was her only child, killed two years earlier, knocked down by a car on a hot July afternoon.
Aside from additional poignancy that comes with knowing Byatt’s own son died this way, so imbuing the weight of personal experience to the writing, the story, for me, presented an aching, almost unbearable, contradiction and dynamic, one that certainly influenced the creative process when I was developing Afterlife, my ITV drama series (2005-6)—which I always paraphrased as being about a troubled psychic medium and the even more troubled psychologist studying her. In my series, avowed sceptic Dr Robert Bridge (Andrew Lincoln) is paralysed by the loss of his son, Josh. Alison Mundy (Lesley Sharp) can see him, but he himself cannot.
Since ghosts are about presences but also absences, I find the symbolism of who can see and who is psychically “blind” one that returns to my writing again and again. What is gone is often as important as what remains. And if you can see nothing, does it really mean there is nothing there? As Alison says to Robert in Afterlife: “Who’s to say I’m mad and you’re sane?”
And so to Baby on Board.
Which first came to me as a short story idea, the catalyst being a request from Holly Blades for a late night ghost story to be read aloud at EdgeLit, the bijou genre convention at The Quad in Derby, upcoming in July 2023.
As many genre writers will tell you, sometimes a creepy story is sparked by something quite innocuous in life. In this case, it was the ubiquitous sign or sticker you see on the rear windows of cars—Baby on Board—which somehow, to me, with its catchy alliteration, and its implication of a fragile cargo, has a sinister, or potentially sinister, ring to it. With the title firmly in mind, I pictured an empty baby seat, something we see every day with no attendant anxiety, imagining that the parent must have extracted said child for some undefined period of time after which the occupant would be returned. But what if that isn’t the case? What if the child is gone forever?
Presences and absences.
I wondered if I could use a baby seat as a totemic object and one to which a grieving father must cling. I knew of many instances (we probably all do) where a treasured possession or piece of clothing comes to symbolise a lost loved one and the bereaved person is understandably loath to part with it. This seemed one such instance, albeit an invented and bizarre one.
The set-up of one father enduring loss meeting another, expectant, father in the dead of night struck me as an eerie one, but this tale needed to be about sadness; taking it in an overtly horror direction would have served to cheapen it, I felt, so I pulled back from that.
No gag. No twist. When it comes to horror stories, I often ask myself: “What’s the least I have to do to make this horror?”
And so it was written, and became accepted as part of a new collection—all ghost stories by me—which will be published later this year. Details TBC.
It will also—as you know by now, dear reader—be a short film directed by the excellent Andrew David Barker. As soon as it was on the page I thought, this is basically a two-hander which could be realised on film without bursting anybody’s bank balance. I thought it was performable—not all stories are—and, importantly, I thought it might, for all its brevity, stick in the mind of the viewer if we got it right. In my opinion, many short films are beautifully produced but sometimes feel like show reels for the director’s next job. I wanted this to be a film the director wanted to make, not the next one.
And so, it seems, it is.
God knows, using the ghost to represent a projection of inner psychological turmoil isn’t new, but nevertheless it’s one of the most potent metaphors I know. Ultimately, I think, and hope, embedded in Baby on Board is something a little different in a supernatural story—if it is a supernatural story, even. The idea that hurt can be painful to the point of being unbearable, but to continue without that hurt, perceived as a kind of betrayal of the deceased, can be more unbearable still.
Thursday 20th April 2023
A few years back, my short film Shining Tor was doing the rounds at film festivals. It’s always fun to go and see other filmmakers’ films, meet people, and hang out. They’re always good places for networking (a necessary part of this game) and the films you see can be inspiring, thrilling, at times frustrating, and yes, sometimes, poor, but most are made with real heart and determination.
The Midlands is pretty ignored when it comes to filmmaking. The North has a lot of funding schemes and incentives – which is fantastic – and a lot of stuff gets made up there. The south – primarily London – of course, speaks for itself (is it possible for a city to be over-filmed?), but the Midlands often feels like a bit of wasteland. However, there’s quite a cool little film scene in the Midlands (East and West), with some really talented actors and filmmakers. Talent that isn’t necessarily wanting to run down to London to “make it”, but who want to stay true to their roots and make films on their home turf. I am one of those people.
Doing the local festival circuit provided me with an insight into what’s being made, by who, and with whom, and I got to know a few very cool local filmmakers and one or two actors. And there was one actor I kept seeing at almost every festival I attended. Not in person, but on the screen:
Andre Pierre is a striking actor who I saw in several shorts, most notably Number 23, directed by Jack Veasey, and Irish, Blacks & Dogs, directed by another local Jack – Jack Norris. In both cases, I was struck by Andre’s powerful screen presence. Also, he appeared to have a kindness about him – a natural calm that resonated on the screen. Yet, he can also be dangerous and volatile. Going into Baby On Board, Andre was at the back of my mind right away for the role of the kindly police officer. But I didn’t actually know him.
A few weeks back my DOP, Tom Williams, said that he’d connect me to Jack Norris, as he thought we’d get on, and we got chatting. I happened to mention that I’d been thinking about Andre for a role in Baby because I’d been so impressed with him in Irish, Blacks & Dogs, and Jack said he was, indeed, a great actor and a really good guy. A big tick in my book.
And so I DM’d him on Twitter. Said a bit about the project, was honest about the film’s lack of budget, and asked him if he’d be willing to read it. He wrote back and said:
Hey Andrew thanks for reaching out would love to look at a script and know more about it.
So I emailed him the script. A day later he wrote back:
Hey mate I’ve had a chance to read the script and really love the story and how strong it is. I don’t usually take on projects with no pay no more but for this one I’ll happily be on board!
We then spoke over Zoom and I found Andre to be warm and friendly, kind and thoughtful (perfect for the role of the policeman – not to mention, perfect for life in general!) and we worked out a plan going forward. I told him about Jason Adam playing the Driver, how and when I’d like to shoot, and we talked through the character. He’s in.
I’m thrilled with my cast. Both Jason and Andre embody the traits of the characters; they are young and up-and-coming, and I feel lucky to have them both for this project, before they rise to bigger things. Because they will.
In my next entry, we will hear from Baby On Board‘s writer – Mr. Stephen Volk.
Tuesday 18th April 2023
And just like that… we have our cast.
The day after I sent an email out to Rasmas Hardiker’s agent, I received this message in my Twitter DM’s:
Hi Andrew, just thought I’d message as a Midlands actor to a Midlands film director. Just seen your production of Baby on Board is going to happen. I’m assuming it’s already been cast? Messaging anyway just to introduce myself for future collaboration… hope you’re well. All the best for the film.
The profile picture was of a young lad with a soulful face named Jason Adam. He seemed to possess a similar kind of haunted quality to Rasmas Hardiker. I checked out his showreel and… he was good. Very good.
I wrote back thanking him for getting in touch and explaining where I was with the project. I was honest and upfront about working without a budget as such and that I was also emailing agents about possible other actors, but also added that I was very interested in him.
Jason is a Birmingham-based actor. He’s done a lot of theatre and has appeared in a low-budget independent film entitled Bluff (Sheikh Shahnawaz, 2022) where he plays a gullible, yet loveable junkie named Cooks. This role has just nabbed him a Best Supporting Actor Nomination at the Midland Film Awards (great film fest, that one), and he seems like he’s got a lot of range. He can do dramatic and comedic, vulnerable and intense. In short, I knew he would be perfect for the role of the Driver – a very haunted and grief-stricken man.
I set up a Zoom call and we talked it through. He loved the script and had some great ideas, but the main thing is I got a good vibe about him (an important factor for me). He said that he has a three-fold mantra when deciding on what projects to take: 1) role – is it meaty enough? 2) Director – what’s their credibility and their previous work like, and 3) pay/location. He said that if a project hits two out of three, then he’s interested, and with Baby On Board, the location is close; he watched Here Lies… and liked what I did, and most importantly, the role is excellent.
I offered him the role during the Zoom call and he accepted. I guess the moral is, always put yourself out there and ask, because you never know…
In the next entry, I will introduce you to the actor co-starring with Jason, playing the role of the policeman whose life crosses paths with the haunted driver.
Friday 14th April 2023
Not been as productive over Easter as I wanted to be and now kicking myself. I planned to have the shot list done but I only managed to make a start and a tentative one at that. As it was Easter and half-term, there were, of course, my kids to entertain each day and other bits and bobs to do, and to be honest, by the time the kids were in bed each night, all I wanted to do was crash in front of the TV (currently loving Bill Hader and Alec Berg’s jet black comedy Barry. NoHo Hank is the greatest character on television!).
You see, this is the thing barely touched on in the writing books I’ve read: how to stay in the zone, creatively speaking, especially when you’re managing that creative life with your day-to-day life. Now I’ve read a few excellent and utterly inspiring books on writing – Stephen King’s own On Writing being perhaps the very best, but also Chuck Palahniuk’s Consider This, Hampton Fancher’s The Wall Will Tell You, and Stephen Volk’s own Coffinmaker’s Blues. Plus, a few really inspiring books on filmmaking – Edward Burns’s Independent Ed being the best of the recent ones I’ve read. All these books are insightful, brilliantly written, and incredibly inspiring, but rarely do they touch on staying in the zone. Most take it as a given that the creative impulse, the drive to make, will always be there, but as I’ve learned, it is a mysterious entity that comes and goes. It needs care and attention and proper nourishment in order to stick around. After all, the world is full of noise and distractions, worries and anxieties, and all these things can crush the will (the need) to create into the ground.
Does that sound melodramatic? Perhaps, but true nonetheless. I am fairly disciplined and love to write and make (and I really love to finish projects), but it all takes a lot of work, a lot of evenings carving out time once the day job is done, dinners are made, and the kids are in bed. Through all this, I’m trying to stay in the zone. I’m trying to compartmentalise my real life and the fantasy world I’m always trying to figure out. At the moment, that means I’m thinking and planning out shots in my head while I’m loading the dishwasher. If I was working on a screenplay or a story at the moment (and there are writing projects on the horizon) I would most probably be thinking up scenes and characters and trying to break the structure every moment I can. I do this so that when I sit down at night, I am in a place where it should come (fairly) easily. I try to never go in cold. I’m always trying to stay in the zone, but it takes work, and sometimes, like over the Easter break, I just wasn’t feeling it.
The real trick is how to sustain creativity, day by day, month by month, year by year, and I’ve been doing this in earnest now for around twenty years, either putting filmmaking as my primary focus, or writing (I find they take slightly different ways of thinking, one is external, the other, internal). That’s not to say I’ve always been in the zone during that large expanse of time; downtime is very important. I always have Friday and Saturday nights off. No writing, no organising, no anything, unless I happen to be filming or at some kind of event. Friday nights are for chilling out, watching films, having a few beers. I find it to be all the recharge I need, usually. Sometimes I might need a little more than that, but not very often. I find if I don’t do something every single day, certainly every weekday, then I start to feel a little lost. Deflated. You see, creativity is the best drug I know of.
If I do start to lose focus and begin to feel a little lost, I have tricks to get back on track? YouTube videos of writers and directors I admire help, behind-the-scenes documentaries help, film scores help, but of course, the best and most sure-fire way to get me back in the zone is to watch a great film or piece of television, or just by reading a great book. Films that make me want to make films. Books that make me want to write great things. It’s that simple.
The two films that I’ve watched recently that made me want to go out right away and make something are Keith Fulton & Louis Pepe’s documentary He Dreams of Giants, about the (final) making of Terry Gilliam’s The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, and James Hankins’s beautiful 41-minute music video for Richard Dawson’s aching epic The Hermit. Pretty much anything by John Carpenter will also set me straight as well.
Anyway, I’ve got to get firmly back in the zone now, whether I like it or not, because things are about to ramp up with Baby On Board. Casting has now begun and I’ve been talking to one or two actors, but more on this soon. Also, I’ll be nailing down the production dates in the next week or so, and setting up a lighting and camera test. I have to have everything in place by May.
Tuesday 11th April 2023
Got a response back from Rasmus Hardiker’s agent:
Thanks so much for sending this through. Ramus is delighted to be thought of but is going to pass on this occasion. We wish you the best with the project.
Well, it was worth a try. You don’t ask, you don’t get, right? But in this case, I didn’t get. Interesting that there was no reason given (maybe I was too honest about the film’s lack of budget?). This came from his agent’s assistant, so I wonder if they even told Rasmas about it. Also interesting that they spelled his name wrong.
I think Stephen was a little surprised by this response. Not because he expected Rasmas to say yes, but by the agent’s lack of detail, but I’ve found, on my level, this is a usual response from agents. Whether I’m sending out my books, screenplays, or films, I’ve yet to have a really good response from an agent. Some have been better than others, but on the whole, it’s either a very brief straight NO (which is fine, I suppose, at least I know where I am) or worse, no response at all.
Matthew Waldram and I have a comedy/crime series we’ve created called Empire Amusements and we’ve been sending it out to agents and production companies. To be fair, it has been getting a very good response so far and even got us talking to a few people, but the other day we got this back from an agent:
I’m afraid we’re actually already in development on a series that shares some overlap and so we wouldn’t be looking to add another to our slate.
Now, whether or not this is true, why be so vague? Now we’re left wondering what is similar: the setting, the tone, the characters? What? Why discourage us like this, without any context or detail? Maybe I’m being too sensitive about all this, but as far as I’m concerned, this doesn’t help us at all.
Oh well, onwards.
I have two other actors in mind (one of which contacted me) and I’ve sent them the script to see what they think. We’ll see.
In other news, I rang the vehicle guy over at BBC Doctors. He manages and controls all those police cars and ambulances and main character cars you may see in the show. He remembered me from when I worked in the Art Department on the show in 2018 (got to drive a few vehicles in the show). I told him I need a police car for the short film I’m about to make. He said sure and that he wouldn’t charge me for the vehicle hire itself, but would, of course, have to charge for the driver (to bring the car down from Manchester) and the petrol money. This would work out to just over £200. His not charging for the vehicle hire is incredibly generous, but still means I’m going to have to find the two hundred quid to pay for the driver. Still, at least I know I can now get a police car.
I told my producer, Danielle, and she said she’d been talking to the police in Leamington and they may be able to help. This sounds promising, but we’ll see. Should give us some options though.
Friday 7th April 2023
A few weeks ago I said to my wife that Rasmus Hardiker would be good for the role of the Driver. You may know him. He was Steve Coogan’s naïve assistant in the sitcom Saxondale (big fan of that show) and was in Jack Dee’s Lead Balloon, the feature-length ‘White Christmas’ episode of Black Mirror, and also turned up in David Gordon Green’s Your Highness, as well as voicing many cartoons, from Thunderbirds Are Go! to Hilda. He’s from Sutton Coldfield here in the West Midlands and has a kind of haunted quality that would be perfect for one of the two main roles in Baby On Board.
I kinda forgot about it after I said it, thinking that Rasmus would be out of my league for the level I’m currently working on, but then, a few days later, completely unprovoked by me, Stephen Volk wrote this to me: “Do you know an actor called Rasmus Hardiker? He’s from Midlands and was in ep1 of my Afterlife years ago, lots since: I always liked him. Soulful and odd. He might be great to play Driver.”
Now, if this isn’t the universe moving into alignment on this project, then I don’t know what it is.
I did a bit of digging, found his agent, and then spent a few days working out the right approach. I feel I have a big IN with Stephen having written this film, and the fact that Rasmas has already appeared in an episode of Afterlife is certainly a plus. Surely? The only question is, how honest should I be about this film’s budget? Or my current lack of one.
I mulled on this for a few days, then decided on being honest. This was my email to his agent:
Hope you are well?
I am interested in Rasmus Hardiker playing the lead role in a new short film I’m shooting in the West Midlands. The short, Baby On Board, will be directed by myself and written by Stephen Volk. It was Stephen who actually recommended Rasmus for the part of a grief-stricken father, haunted by the child he lost.
Stephen worked with Rasmus after appearing in the first episode of his series Afterlife, with Leslie Sharp and Andrew Lincoln, and remembered his performance from back then. Stephen is also the writer of Ghostwatch, Gothic, and The Awakening, among other things, and the last short film he wrote, The Deadness of Dad in 1998, won a BAFTA for Best Short (no pressure on me!).
As for me, I’m still carving my path after having directed several award-winning shorts as well as a low-budget feature, A Reckoning, back in 2011. Now to be completely honest and upfront, I make shorts on very low budgets, and Baby On Board will be no exception. I plan on shooting with a small crew over two nights in Leamington Spa in June. For what it’s worth, here’s a link to my latest short to give you an idea of what I can do on no budget – Here Lies…
I have attached the script just in case you think Rasmus would be open to this. I think he would be truly wonderful in the role of the driver, the haunted father.
Thank you for your time.
All the best,
Andrew David Barker
A day after I sent the email I got a message on Twitter from a Birmingham actor expressing interest in Baby, and he looks really good…
Let’s see what happens.
Tuesday 4th April 2023
I went to the Cannes Film Festival in 2009, just after I finished shooting my debut feature, A Reckoning. I was still editing at that point (and would be for another year), but I’d cut a trailer and was going to show it to everyone and anyone. I was still pretty green and even though it was my second year in Cannes, I really didn’t know what the hell I was doing.
On my first night there, I met Marc Price. He had just made a zombie film called Colin. We got on well, had drinks, chewed the fat, and then went our separate ways. I went off and hawked my trailer around, almost got knocked over by Harvey Weinstein, tried not to buy anything in the Hotel Barrière Le Majestic for fear of completely wiping out my already depleting bank balance, and somehow managed to have a one-to-one conversation with Jean-Claude Van Damme about low budget filmmaking (he was very kind and generous with his time), and spending time with Charles Martin Smith talking Trick or Treat!. When I next saw Marc two days later, he was famous.
Marc and his team had played a blinder to the press. They said they’d made Colin for £45. They didn’t, but who cares about the truth; it made for a great story. It became the breakout hit of Cannes, the 45 quid zombie film! Marc couldn’t believe how the world’s press had picked it up and ran with it and he now had everyone talking about his little film.
I returned to England having achieved very little with A Reckoning other than collecting a stack of business cards and continued with the edit. Marc on the other hand saw his film explode. George Romero was talking about it, admiring it, even Martin Scorsese gave it a big thumbs up, and Marc began to travel the world screening the film at festivals.
I finished my film and for one reason or another, the film ended up in legal limbo, and I walked away from filmmaking. Me and Marc kept in touch and he began developing new projects, some he made, some he didn’t, but he was doing it. I on the other hand found myself in so much debt (without even a film to show for it) that I had to take agency jobs. I remember working as a pot washer in the back room of a restaurant trying to figure out what happened. Now I freely admit that yes, I did feel sorry for myself, and I most probably did mope about not being very much fun to be around. But eventually, things did begin to turn around.
It was writing that saved me (that and my wife, anyway), and the books I wrote, The Electric, Dead Leaves, and Society Place, all led me back to filmmaking. The need, the drive to make, may have lay dormant, but it certainly never left me.
And now I find myself at this point. Baby On Board will be the third short I’ll have directed in less than two years, and I want to keep this pace going now. No more massive gaps in my filmography. I’m on this track now, more focused, more determined, than I’ve ever been.
I’ve made a lot of mistakes on my filmmaking journey (the most were made on A Reckoning: I think I learned about four films worth of knowledge on that film), but I feel in a good place after Here Lies... (by far my most accomplished short, I believe), and as I head into production with Baby On Board, I want to truly show what I can do as a director.
No more looking back now. Time to get very serious about all this stuff.
Tuesday 4th April 2023
My cinematographer, Tom Williams, came into college. We viewed the Bistro and talked about the pros and cons of using the location. Danielle joined us. Tom is knowledgeable, enthusiastic about making films, and, frankly, has great hair. Danielle said he had Tintin hair, whereas Tom referred to himself as having Johnny Bravo hair. That’s a generational divide right there.
The Bistro has plenty of space and given the right lighting, could really be interesting. We discussed equipment, the crew needed, and logistics. Tom agreed that if we shot at the college, we’d have everything we needed, plus we’d be left alone. We’d be able to control the environment more and have the time and space we’d need. This all eased my mind somewhat.
How I like to approach planning a shoot is to write the shot list. I don’t storyboard but essentially rewrite the entire script but in shots. Then myself and the cinematographer – in this case, Tom – go through it shot by shot, see what works, what doesn’t, and together come up with a final plan. Then we always have that shot list as a guide. Things can and will happen while shooting that will force us to change the shots, sometimes for the better, sometimes not, but at least we’ll always have the shot list to fall back on. The important thing is to have it, but not be shackled to it. Be flexible, be adaptable.
I do like to get all this worked out beforehand with the cinematographer so that once we’re shooting, I can more or less let Tom get on with it and I can concentrate on the actors. This is the plan. I’m going to spend Easter writing the shot list and then we’ll see what we’ve got.
The other thing Tom and I spoke about was locking in a date in either late April or early May and doing a lighting test. That will mean getting all the equipment and a couple of the crew, setting up all the lights, the cameras, and filming a couple of stand-ins in the location itself. Iron all the kinks right up front. Try to, anyway.
The next thing to do is me and Danielle have to sort out a police car. Then we’ll be on to casting.
Friday 31st March 2023
Stephen Volk has given me two very memorable viewing experiences in my lifetime. The first, of course, is the one that aired on Halloween night in 1992. I would have been seventeen, and I, like millions of other viewers up and down the country, had no idea that what I was watching wasn’t real. Ghostwatch (Leslie Manning) had Michael Parkinson presenting it, after all. It had Sarah Greene from Blue Peter and Going Live! and Mike Smith from Top of the Pops. These were faces from my childhood. Plus, it had Craig Charles from my favourite show at the time, Red Dwarf. And it was on the BBC, no less, so this thing must’ve been real. Right?
What followed was 91 minutes of absolute terror as Mr. Pipes led the family (and presenters) at Foxhill Drive through a merry little nightmare. I already knew about the Enfield Poltergeist and at the time, still had a belief in the supernatural, so Stephen Volk and Lesley Manning’s pseudo-documentary worked like a treat on me.
Rattled, was probably the word for it. It really rattled me. It’s so clear to me still, such a memorable viewing experience, that I haven’t seen it since that night (although as we’re about to work together, I’m going to rectify that. I’ve just ordered the Blu-ray).
The second memorable Volk viewing experience was 20 years later. I got married in 2012 and as we didn’t have much money – and other reasons I won’t go into here – we didn’t really have a honeymoon. Well, we did, but it was a small affair (and probably the better for it). A family friend allowed us use of their holiday cottage on the Isle of Anglesey. Secluded and surrounded by wetland that ebbed and flowed with the tide, the cottage was dripping in atmosphere. One evening, after a walk over lonely marshland, we returned, got the open fire roaring, and put on a ghost story. It couldn’t have been a more perfect setting to watch The Awakening (2011), a wonderful film co-written by Volk and directed by Nick Murphy. It was one of those moments where everything felt right and as it should be.
And now, 11 years down the line from that moment, I am about to direct a short film written by the same man who gave me these two fantastic memories. Life can take strange and very welcome roads, sometimes.
I do wonder about my reverence for Stephen’s words though. When I’m directing one of my own scripts, I’m pretty loose with them. I can throw them around, change this and that on a whim, and generally kick them into shape however I wish. With Baby On Board, I won’t have that freedom. At least, I don’t believe so, anyway. Stephen has entrusted this film to me and I feel the responsibility to tell the story he’s written. This discipline, this different way of working, should be good for me. After making independent films for years, and working to my own rules, Baby will be a step in a more professional direction. This will really show whether or not I can work in the industry, once and for all.
I have to begin work on my shot list soon. That will really show, especially to myself, whether or not I can do this.
Monday 27th March 2023
Monday 27th March 2023
Danielle has got C. Lapworth involved. She runs the film course at the college and has said that if we use some of her (best) students on the projects, then the college will waive the £150 per night fee for the Bistro.
I used students from Derby University on my feature, A Reckoning, and some were great, and some were… not so great. But still, they all showed up everyday (on a 2 week shoot) and were enthusiastic, even in the freezing weather, and that goes a long way in my book. Still, I am wondering if I’m doing the right thing by using this location.
The director of photography on this project is named Tom Williams. A young lad with a great eye and a real hunger to get stuff done. I’m going to have him come over to the college and see what he thinks. The space is great, but we’d need to alter the lighting and dirty (age) the place up a bit. I think I need a production designer on this one. Tom and I have already discussed Robby Müller’s beautiful work on Wim Wenders’s Paris, Texas as a guide (a wish).
What I like about Baby On Board is that it really feels like the natural progression from Here Lies… as both come with a certain kind of British sensibility, particularly in depicting the supernatural.. Here Lies… was my Tales of the Unexpected or Inside No 9, and Baby is A Ghost Story for Christmas or Volk’s very own Afterlife. It’s a modern M.R. James story (although our ghost is far more subtle and suggested than anything in James), or Ramsey Campbell, or perhaps the later supernatural novels of James Herbert. Volk’s ghost is implied. Is it real or not? A true haunting or a haunted head? That will be up to the audience to decide, and this suggestion of the supernatural, a dread that brims beneath the surface, as the two main characters talk in a late night eatery.
If I can nail the atmosphere in the location, I think it could really work.
Friday 24th March 2023
Like many creatives, I also have a day job (along with quite a few side hustles). I’ve always said that if you can get up every morning and solely do whatever creative pursuit it is you do and manage to pay your bills (with pocket money to spare), then you’re a very lucky person. The rest of us have to hustle.
And I have to hustle. I live and work in Leamington Spa, in the heart of Warwickshire. My day job is as a learning mentor at the local college. I support and guide struggling students through their courses. It can, at times, be quite rewarding, but can also be frustrating, boring, and often, draining. But it’s a job and in these times, I’m lucky to have one. That said, it isn’t what drives me. What excites me when I wake up every morning is the writing, the networking, and the filmmaking I do. The hustling. That’s what invigorates me. That’s what makes me feel alive.
And I love juggling all these different lives. I’ll give you an example of a normal week – take this week: I have two young daughters, 3 and 8, so they, of course, are priority number one – school runs, clubs, family outings, dinner times, bedtimes, all the tears, and all the fun. There’s my wife who has a busy job as an assistant producer on shows such as Father Brown and Sister Boniface, a house to run, all that jazz. On the creative side, Ashley Price (co-owner of our production company Bricks & Mortar Films) and I are working on a feature screenplay for a gritty rural revenge thriller called Wrecking Machine. My Here Lies… co-writer, Matthew Waldram, and I are working on a crime comedy series (and a short film version) called Empire Amusements (think Martin Scorsese’s Casino, but set in Skegness with two rival arcades) and I’m also looking at adapting a short ghost story of mine, The House on Lidderman Street, into a feature script as something I can possibly direct myself on a low budget next year. And this is all on top of pushing Here Lies… out into the world and starting to prep Baby On Board. Lots of spinning plates.
But this is what it takes.
Back in February, I did a talk and panel at Spark: Ignite 2023, a one-day event in Leamington Spa, celebrating artists from in and around the region. The talk/panel I did was called Creativity Against The Odds, and I spoke about how I approach writing and making films on limited resources (and money!). OUTRUN THE DOUBT is my mantra and was the centre of my speech. Start and finish your project quickly before you start to talk yourself out of it!
After the panel, an American woman approached me to say how much she enjoyed my talk and that she used to be involved in movies back in the States, back in the 80s. She said her father used to be Robert Mitchum’s driver and that she worked as a PA on the movie Mr. North (co-written by John Huston and directed by his son, Danny). I know, crazy, right?
The American woman, Danielle, didn’t realise that I already knew her and out of context, she didn’t recognise me. You see, she also works as a learning mentor at the college (although we hadn’t actually spoken to one another until that moment). Once I told her how we already kinda knew one another, she laughed and we made plans to meet up at work and chat. Which we did a week or so later.
I told her my plans to make Baby On Board this summer and she said she would help in any way she could. We had our meeting in the Bistro at the college and as we talked and I took in my surroundings, I began to wonder if it might be a good location for Baby On Board. The screenplay is set in a motorway service at night (which might be a tricky location to get to) and thought that with a bit of dressing, lighting, and atmosphere created, the Bistro might work. Danielle said she would enquire about how to get the location straight away. You see, if I get a good vibe about someone and can see they’re passionate and want to go out there and make stuff, then welcome aboard. She started putting the wheels in motion right away. This is how Danielle became my co-producer on this project, going under the name D.F. Beckner.
I’m always looking for ways to utilise the people and places I have access to. I think it’s important when making films on this level. You have no choice really. Find good, enthusiastic people to work with and utilise places and locations you have access to.
Danielle came back a day later and said that the college would want to charge us £150 a night, plus the cost of a Warden, to rent the location. But Danielle, becoming a producer right before my eyes, said that she was going to talk to the college film department and see if there was another way of getting the location without having to pay so much.
Let’s see what happens…
Tuesday 21st March 2023
After a fair few delays since shooting back in October 2022, my new short film, Here Lies…, is finally completed. On Sunday night, my director of photography, Luke Collins, exported the short and today I submitted it to the Cannes Film Festival. That’s a roll of the dice, I know, but thought I’d give it a go. You never know…
Here’s the brief pitch: A widow visits a graveyard on the anniversary of her husband’s death only to discover he has escaped from Hell. It’s kinda like a condensed episode of Inside No. 9 (BBC, 2014-) or a Tales of the Unexpected (ITV, 1979-88). Stories with a sting in the tale, often featuring nefarious characters up to no good who get their comeuppance in very bad ways. It stars Ian Midlane (BBC Doctors), Demelza O’Sullivan (Fear the Invisible Man), and Maria Forrester (Silent Witness) and was shot in the graveyard at St Mary’s Church, Temple Balsall in the West Midlands. It is believed that the Knights Templar built the church in the 13th century and the place definitely has a vibe.
Anyway, the film is going to go out into the world and we’ll see what happens. I know for a fact that there will be a screening at the Coventry Phoenix Film Festival on the 21st of April, but beyond that, we’ll have to wait and see. It’s early days.
But still, now Here Lies… is actually done, I can fully turn my attention to Baby On Board. This project will mark the first film I’ll direct that I haven’t also written, or co-written. Now, let me be honest here. For a brief moment, I almost considered not making this film because of this. My stupid ego almost got the better of me, but then I quickly saw sense.
First and foremost, it’s a great script, and for that reason alone I’d be a fool not to do it. The fact that Stephen Volk wrote it is also a major factor, a screenwriter and author I greatly admire. Seeing myself as a writer and knowing how hard it is to make a film, even a small short like this, why would I make someone else’s ideas other than my own? I had to take a step back from this way of thinking. Going into this film, I’ve reassessed what it is I want and how I see myself.
Yes, I’m a writer, but I’m also a filmmaker, and filmmaking is a collaborative endeavour. Being a director takes a different kind of mental discipline to writing. It is a social activity, whereas writing is not, and where I’m at in my life at the moment, I just want to make stuff. I want to be out there working with crews and actors and spearheading opportunities for people. I want to create moving visions, not necessarily visions on the page. This is not to say that I’ve fallen out of love with writing, absolutely not, but just that I’m keeping my ego in check and wanting to forge a wider path. I’m opening myself up to new opportunities, new stories, and new collaborators.
I believe Baby On Board is absolutely the film I should be making right now and I’m excited to see where it takes me.
Tuesday 14th March 2023
That’s it then. No going back now. The agreement between myself and Stephen Volk has been signed and a fully executed version has been sent back via Volk’s agent. Looks like my next short film will be Baby On Board, written by the same man who wrote Ghostwatch (1992, Leslie Manning), Afterlife (ITV, 2005-06), Gothic (1986, Ken Russell), and The Awakening (Nick Murphy, 2011), not to mention a host of brilliant short stories and novels (Whitstable being a personal favourite – I would love to make that one). The man has written films directed by Ken Russell, William Friedkin, Pen Densham, and Nick Murphy, to name but a few. And soon, one by, err, me.
I know, nuts, right?
So how did this happen? The first time I was aware that Stephen Volk even knew of my existence was when a filmmaker friend of mine told me he’d seen Volk leaving a writing event at Derby’s Quad carrying a copy of my book Dead Leaves after it first came out in 2015. Now I don’t know if that’s exactly true or not, but I do know that he did later read another book of mine, The Electric (2014), and got in touch to say that he really liked it. Like, really liked it. He even gave me a quote to use. As you can imagine, it was a bit of a pinch-me moment. From there we started talking, before finally meeting in person at Fantasy Con in Chester in 2018. He was there for the release of his Dark Masters Trilogy (2018).
And so over the years we’ve kept in touch and he’s always been very supportive and gracious with his time towards me. Moreover, when I returned to filmmaking in 2018 and began making short films again, he took an interest. Skip to the winter of 2023 and I was telling him about my latest short, Here Lies… – then in post-production – and he just happened to say this: “How’s it going? I wrote a short story and thought it might suit a short film for you to direct. or are you concentrating on features now?” Then added, “Two hander. One location”. This was on the 23rd of January.
I immediately replied and said I would be very interested and asked to read the short story. I read it that night. Now I don’t want to say too much about the actual story of Baby On Board, but I responded to it right away. It was pure Volk: heartful, emotional, with great characters and dialogue, and that old suggestion of the supernatural brimming beneath the surface. Moreover, it was indeed makeable on a small budget with a small crew.
I wrote back to Stephen saying that I would love to make it and suggested a couple of minor changes and he went away to write the screenplay. A week later, I had the script and he’d taken on board my notes, including a slight addition to the ending I’d suggested. After that, I turned my attention back to Here Lies… while Volk’s agent worked out our agreement.
Ok, you’re gonna need a bit more, aren’t you?
Baby On Board is about a grieving father and a police officer talking in a quiet, late-night eatery. The father is a haunted man, the policeman is an expecting father, and their lives merge during one unnerving conversation. It’s simple, but very effective, not to mention beautifully sad and filled with an underlying dread.
I asked Stephen why he asked me if I wanted to do this. He said it was because of a short film I made in 2018 called Two Old Boys. That was the first film I made after stepping away from filmmaking in the aftermath of making my micro-budget post-apocalyptic feature A Reckoning in 2011 (that’s another story entirely). Two Old Boys was simply an experiment in getting something done. It was the simplest, easiest kind of film I could think of to make on no budget – two working-class fellas talking nonsense in a pub. It turned out alright for saying how we made it, and the two old boys themselves, Phil Molloy (Ripper Untold) and Mark Tunstall (McKinley) were wonderful and great fun to work with. It was this film that Stephen said he watched and thought I’d be a good person to make Baby On Board.
Now that is generosity in itself. I make films on a very small scale using like-minded cast and crew who are willing to just go out there and make stuff. I have essentially been slowly and steadily building back up after the failure of A Reckoning. I went off and wrote novels and it took about five years before the drive (need) to make films came back and when it did I only wanted to work on my terms. What I mean by that is I make films that are doable on very small budgets with people I trust. Here Lies…, my most recent short, has been a step up from my last few shorts in terms of the size of the crew and its ambition. But I’ll talk more about that one in a later diary entry.
In short, someone as known and as celebrated as Stephen Volk entrusting me with one of his scripts, at this stage in my film career, is a great honour and I feel very excited and positive about this project.
I’m going to need all the help I can get, so if you like the sound of this short film and are willing to support us, please consider BUYING ME A COFFEE. I’m thinking about a small crowdfunding campaign as we get closer to production, but for now, a few quid here and there (if you can) would be greatly appreciated and most helpful. I’ll give anyone who throws in a big thanks in the end credits.
Right, in the coming diary entries, I’ll introduce you to the crew I’ve begun to put together and give a little more detail about the film itself…