‘Molly’ begins with sinister and decaying images of a young family. What follows is a temporal stream of moments from the lives of two lovers. The film culminates in their future together.
The aim of ‘Molly’ was to present a fictional filmic study of two lovers, surveying pockets of their life and enabling the viewer to deduce his or her own reasons for the choices that the characters make. These ‘choices’ prevalent in the viewers mind, should create a very fluid and deeply personal narrative; the audience of ‘Molly’ should make this narrative their own. Ultimately there are certain feelings that I want to put across as the director, yet as with life, feelings are ambiguous and in a sense the images should be also; to a degree. It is this ‘degree’ that is the most interesting facet of the cinema for me. The margin for ambiguity is at the discretion of the films creators and filmmaking for me is about striking a fine balance between the feelings you want to put across and depicting the ambiguous nature of human existence. In this sense the aim of ‘Molly’ is a little ambiguous.
In the first year of university I started a film society and presented its members with the ‘Molly’ script at our first meeting. It was met with approval in the sense that it was based heavily on images as opposed to plot, however, I’m afraid that people couldn’t visualise it. This spurred me to make it, and most importantly, on 16mm colour film stock. The film was imagined in colour and the digital medium would not suffice for this story. By choice of location and keeping the number of actors on screen simultaneously to a minimum, the film attempts to dip in to key memories or emotive moments from the character’s lives. These scenes needed a photographic quality and it was essential that they reminded the viewer of celluloid. My childhood photographs are generally 35mm colour stills and on a personal level, digital photographs of families today do not have the same exposed and natural quality. I felt the film would be more emotive and timeless with 16mm.
The genus of ‘Molly’ was quite unproblematic. There were about ten short scripts I could have made for this project but ‘Molly’ has always been my favourite due to its seminal nature. It was not the case that the locations I could arrange altered what was possible in the script. With a little persistence, even the most difficult to attain locations on paper were filmable. Most of the film is outside in public areas, yet there were some key scenes, written for artistic reason as opposed to ease of production, that were in private establishments. The first location to be confirmed was the Crypt Café near Elm Hill in Norwich City Centre. This is an almost gothic setting with incredible stone arches and architecture gleaned from a ruined cloister now converted. It serves as a location for a scene where ‘Molly’ meets a second lover and there is something transient and ambiguous about the footage we shot there. It is hard to know whether or not you have hit the mark, until you see the developed footage. Due to financial and time constraints, I didn’t see this footage until a couple of weeks later. This was one of the shooting days that I had a cinematographer present. Ross Turner has been making films since he was nine years old and impressed me with his work on two films with UEA Filmmakers, of which I am a member. He was very excited to work with real film. Although at first he was a little unimpressed by my own inexperience with the medium, he did an excellent job and the two scenes he shot are two of the best looking in the film. Initially at least, he had agreed to be my director of photography. It turned out that due to other commitments this cinematographer would change later in the schedule. In fact, over half the film was just the actors and myself on location.
I booked the above location to make myself move faster with production, personally meeting the manager even before I had actors. Posters were erected around campus and I have enclosed an example of one with this document. I was aided by a lady at the university named Mary Waters, who emailed all of the relevant schools with a call for actors on my behalf. There were a good number of responses and sixteen people came to the auditions in Union House; six male and ten female. What gave me confidence was the fact that none of them had even seen the script; they were all just very interested in taking part in a film on real stock. My casting director Seth Mitchell, another UEA Filmmakers member, filmed and made a DVD of the auditions. This came as an invaluable aid as I was essentially torn between two for the role of ‘Molly’, the male roles were much easier. The female participants had to read a transcript of a scene form Ingmar Bergman’s ‘ Persona’ and the males an extract from a play called ‘Five-Fingered Exercise’ by Peter Shaffer; both are on the theme of physical love and its emotive consequences. The original script was a little more explicit in its love scenes; however, artistically this wouldn’t have worked with the addition of the montage at the end of the film. The film perhaps implies physical love instead of showing it, but essentially it is an innocent film. The only risqué moment comes with the priest and the young ‘Molly’. A girl called Jennifer Kirby was the best at the audition, she is theatrically trained which is usually something I recoil against but she didn’t overplay the Bergman script, her performance was impressive. However, a blond girl entered and at the beginning of her audition her phone went off and she looked a little flustered. Her audition was good but not the level of Jennifer’s. At the end of the reading I would ask questions to gauge the actor or actress’ personality. It was when I asked this girl what her favourite role was, that she came out of her shell and displayed to me exactly the personality I was looking for in the title character. She was the first participant that I felt had been genuinely open and honest with us. This actress is just a vibrant and normal girl who is how I envisaged ‘Molly’, she also looked startlingly like my mental picture of the character. The film has no audible dialogue, therefore an actress’ reading skills, no matter how impressive, should not be the foremost reason for casting them. Some roles are destined for certain people and I believe this actress, Jessica Hamilton, was always going to play ‘Molly’.
After I had informed the actors of their roles I met with the leads Jessica Hamilton and Paul Heath who would assume the role of ‘The Young Man’. My search for a child to feature at the end of the film took me to a roving local youth drama academy run by a woman called Jane Ashdown. She runs seventeen sessions a week going in to various schools in and around Norwich and told me she could get me any age group. I owe her an enormous debt of gratitude because it was looking unlikely that there was going to be a child in the film for a while. It is an image that is important for the closure of the film, in a way; the child is the point of the film. This invaluable contact was very willing to help and she put me in touch with a woman called Nicky Blake who I took Jessica and Paul to see on our first coming together. She has a large barn on her property full of costume of all kinds. Although we had to travel over ten miles to get there it was a good experience and she is going to help us on future projects. I also think this trip put my actors in the right frame of mind psychologically, as I believe costume always does.
Budgeting for the film was something that I was very amateurish about. The film budget and my own funds for living became one. Essentially there was no budget and I would have kept going until I ran out of money. Hundreds was spent on transport; this was probably the most costly facet other than the film stock and processing. This was partly down to my refusal to back down on locations I had in mind. I paid for all the actors transport as a gesture of goodwill and this is why I spent a lot more than I had envisaged, along with some extravagances such as a filming trip to Paris. Not only was there travel to and from locations, but the numerous train journeys to and from London to develop and pick up stock to deadlines imposed by my actors’ schedules, were prohibitively expensive. Not to mention the cost of stock and processing. A very valuable gift of thirty minutes stock really made the film what it is.
The first shooting day in the Crypt went well Jessica arrived early even though she had phoned me the night before saying she was ill and couldn’t make it. An actor called Chris Proops who I knew from UEA Filmmakers played the ‘Second Young Man’ confidently and my cinematographer Ross was still present and enthusiastic. We were filming on a Sunday when the establishment was closed but there was a concert going on later in the hall upstairs so we could gain access at the manager’s discretion.
At the Courtyard Bar and Grill Tombland, Norwich on the second shooting day there was a little miscommunication with the management as to our legitimacy but they eventually phoned the woman I had arranged things with. Jessica arrived early once more, a habit I am fond of. A second cinematographer I had met recently called Oliver Kember was present on this shoot. Ross Turner arrived late and I had to phone him and wake him up for the second time in two shoots. Paul and Jessica waited very patiently whist we spent extra time setting up. I wanted to get the lighting right with him and because we had been delayed it was fading quickly. The logistics of filming in winter mean there is a comparatively small window of daylight with the rest of the year. This location was chosen because of its glass roof and abundance of natural light, also its décor seems to fit with a couple of the other interiors. The opening shot of this scene is one I wanted very much and again with Ross to follow my directions this shot looks magnificent. However, this turned out to be Ross’ final participation in the making of ‘Molly’.
The third shoot was at the University of East Anglia’s Norfolk Terrace accommodation and Oliver Kember was cinematographer. I like working with Ollie, although he doesn’t have the safety and experience of Ross there is freedom and imagination in his style. This day was a chance to work with the actress Jenny Kirby who came close to being given the role of ‘Molly’. Paul Heath was also involved on this day and an actor called Ed Powell in a minor role. I was impressed by Oliver’s use of close-ups and the imaginative ideas he had for the bedrooms scenes. I must admit that I was not too enamoured of these scenes on the day. They were first written as explicit sex scenes and I felt that in changing them I had to compromise my vision a little. Now that I have seen the footage I don’t mind it as much, but the final ‘Molly’ film will not be the same as it would have been with paid actors. However, by implication the scenes do suggest something perhaps more powerful than a visual assault. I particularly like the final take that Ollie took of Ed and Jenny in the shower. Although I wrote the scene, the cinematography for this particular take was down to Mr Kember. It is one of my favourite shots of the film.
The hospital scene was the next and last for Oliver Kember. If it had been my choice, I would have stuck with both of these cinematographers, it was they who had other commitments and even when they weren’t turning up on time I still would have preferred to have someone else there to help. As it turned out, every scene after this point was to be set up and filmed by me alone, this is not how I wanted it but no one else was there, just the actors. Roger Hewins looked better than any younger alternative for the patient and it gave the scene authenticity. I like Paul and Jessica’s acting in all the takes and it was hard to choose. Ollie framed everything very well. The hassle of getting everyone to this location for a small amount of footage seems worth it when I revisit it. It is integral to the images I wanted to present.
The trip to Wells-Next-The-Sea might have come a little bit too soon in that I didn’t have any help filming and therefore had to direct from behind a lens, which is far from ideal. In the forest I attempted an ambitious zoom through the trees but was too far away from my actors to get exactly what I want. This coupled with technical problems involving jumping and flickering frames on the dailies totally ruined the concept I was going for. However it has actually made for some intriguing and sinister footage which makes up an eerie montage at the start of the film. It suggests transience, which is one of the key themes I am keen to get across with this picture. A lot of the beach footage is over exposed but I am trying to incorporate some of it in an interesting fashion. There were a couple of nice shots to come from this day, in particular an over-exposed train shot, Paul and Jessica standing on a ridge, the birds leaving and even though it is partially ruined, Paul and the little girl Hannah at the rope swing is a nice image.
My actors were very dedicated and this was illustrated magnificently when I asked to meet them at six in the morning to film the park scene. It was freezing cold and mostly we were rehearsing because it was still dark. We captured the dawn breaking behind Paul as he enters the park and I know the early start was worth it. This is the successful proposal scene and although they look cold I cannot fault the acting for this heartfelt scene. The most interesting part of how the narrative constructs itself is the sentimental nature of the images in conjunction with the music. There was no sentimentality in my direction and yet these actors exude something seminal and the first cut of the film I’ve just seen puts across those photographic memories I talked of with a good amount of success. I owe a lot to my actors and Arve Henriksen’s stunning music, because they represent the narrative drive of the film.
Controversy it not something I am seeking with the priest sequence. The omission of the second priest sequence which I no longer intend to film will greaten the value of the single image in my opinion. It is important that this sequence does not come across as a gimmick. Yet, the more I look at it I am considering presenting the sequence in a sepia tone to emboss it in the past tense within the film, this is something to consider. I like the location very much. My manifesto at the outset was to effortlessly film these local locations that seem to follow an architectural trend: the abundance of churches, the Crypt, the Plantation Garden’s, all these elements build up an almost classical picture of their environment. It is that timeless quality again.
The Paris trip was a bid to splice some truly memorable and unique images into the piece. To this end however, the Eiffel Tower may well find itself out of the final cut of the film because it sets the film’s location a little in stone. As does the Champs-Elysées but I don’t find this image as obtrusive as the clichéd tower which seeps into everything from James Bond to romantic comedies. Aerial footage and Paris streets give the film something unique even if the final order of the images is not yet fully determined. Some of the city footage came out a little bronzed, like it was filmed in the seventies. The 16mm medium changes an image and I believe these scenes are reminiscent of some of the bronzed English footage. The current cut of the film is missing two scenes filmed in England and one in Florida which have not yet been developed. They are an option for the end of the film to replace the zoom through the trees which was ‘Molly’s’ previous climactic premise. There is the first proposal scene in there, which will make the earlier part of the film longer and a scene in which Paul and Jessica’s characters are surrounded by white birds in motion. The final scene of the film takes place at Lenwade’s Mill House, which again was quite a distance to travel. The child Hannah runs out of the gate and towards the water, Paul and Jessica’s character calls her back to them and they proceed to the car. It is a very nice scene visually and my pulse raced a little when filming, I think it could be a memorable image providing there are no technical problems; we were still on the old, jumpy camera I believe.
The discovery of Hannah and the experience of going into schools and talking to kids about my film is one of the abiding memories of this project for me. Indeed, one of the classes split into small groups, took the basic storyline from ‘Molly’ and acted out small scenes. Some of them acted as girls who didn’t know whether or not they wanted to get married, others were Paul’s character, hopeful and rejected, and subconsciously these little dramatizations are bound to have influenced me in some way. Hannah was chosen because she is eleven and quite sensible but still retains what was needed for the role, the freedom of youth and she is small for her age. This is the piece of casting I am most happy with even though there won’t be close-ups of her. She is supposed to represent an ideal, a distant memory in the future and I am anxious to develop the final footage to see if it came out safely.
A scene was filmed in Ocala, Florida at Christmas at the Silver Springs Memorial Garden. My uncle died out there recently and the film is dedicated to him. I filmed some memorials and also his. I want to perhaps incorporate part of this around the hospital montage. Not many locations were appropriate to film in Florida because everything looks very different to Europe; however this Garden is large, unique and wouldn’t look out of place.
I would say that so far the film has accomplished seventy percent of what I set out to achieve. This was considerably less until I saw the first cut and realised that I have a good number of appropriate images and do not need too much more to realise somewhere close to my vision. I cannot stress the importance of Arve Henriksen’s music to my work, especially since I am veering more towards having the film silent with only non-diegetic sound. Enclosed is an email from his record label Rune Grammofon.
Although my dedication with regards to contacting actors, chasing down locations and costume was very successful, it was more tenacity that made the film what it is beginning to be as opposed to good organisation. I still don’t feel the edit is quite right but that is inevitable as there is still undeveloped footage waiting to be spliced in. There are a few open festivals I am considering entering the film in, however I think ‘Molly’ could seriously benefit from some slow and measured fine tuning over the next couple of weeks, especially when the new footage comes in. Filmmaking is not like poetry in the sense that you have to be much more organised. There were times during filming where I found myself stuffing little notes into my pocket. Indeed, during the height of shooting these little notes littered my room. Had I been working with a substantial crew, or indeed a crew of any kind, better organisation on my part would have bred confidence in them. Perhaps if I had badgered Ross and Ollie more they would have turned up regularly and on time. I’ve always stated that you cannot rely upon anyone, but I could rely upon some talented and supernaturally dedicated actors who were as anxious to strive to make the film good as I was. Indeed, they are ready to do more scenes presently, yet I believe we are close to the mark with what has been filmed already. One of my greatest influences for this piece is Andrei Tarkovsky. Particularly his free-flowing film ‘Mirror’ (1975) gives me confidence to believe in my own ideals that narrative can be born from pretty many any images you want to depict. Audiences are intelligent and I don’t think you have to lead them with a finite plot. I think the future of cinema is that the viewer will make his own narrative on a personal level. The cinema has a propensity to get inside of you when filmmakers adhere to such philosophies. This is my intention.