Recently at Studio 279 we’ve been focussing heavily on the present and the future. These are noble enterprises of course, but it would be remiss of us not to delve into the ancient past every now and then. Particularly, as in this case, for an anniversary. For you see, it was on this day, 18th December 2007, that my short film Sensitivity, future winner of the BBC Blast Comedy Bursary award 2008-9, sprang to life, being as it was shot in my local park with the very best of my friends. It seems fitting then, coincidentally the day before my own, to celebrate the birthday of this titan of short film cinema. So gather round children, and I’ll spin ye a yarn, bout how said film came to be. An epic tale of endurance, patience, and imititation harmonicas. Are you sitting comfortably? Then we will begin…
The film started life, as many films do, as part of a university assignment. As part of the University of Worcester’s HND film course, one of our first assessments was in writing a script. No problem there, I thought, and bashed out two exceedingly brilliant short film screenplays, each displaying my customary love of language (by which I mean, lots and lots of big words). However, my plans were scuttled amidships. The brief, when it came, called for twenty five words of dialogue or less. The intent? To get us putative filmmakers to focus on the visuals, not on the monologues. Curses! Execute Plan B.
After a little thought, I decided that with such few words to play with, what we were essentially being asked to do here was a silent comedy. As such, the brainstorming began. I had also been interested for a while in telling a story using sounds. I’d never had much of a chance to play around with sound and thought this was a good opportunity to do so. With both these thoughts in mind, I crafted the story for the film that was the once and future Sensitivity.
The piece followed the screenwriting maxim of ‘write about what you know’. In this case, the tale of a men desperate to read his new book only to be thwarted by the noise of others, was based in my own lack of tolerance for noise making. Legend has it in the Poole family that my first complete sentence as a child was ‘what’s that noise?’ and so, in film, it was one of my first complete works. When watching a film at home, the slightest rustle of a digestive biscuit packet puts me on edge, and the less said about the noise in the local cineplex the better. So armed with this biographical detailing I penned the script, met with approval and storyboarded the darn thing. Things looking good, very good.
Then snag! My lack of self confidence blows a hole in the strategy. The original intention was to use people from my film course as the acting talent, and shoot it around our campus. A cursory look at the storyboards will show that the figures bear scant resemblance to their on screen incarnations and more like my fellow students. Although, that said, they bear scant resemblance to anything passing humanity in sketch form anyway, such are my bubble head and snowman eyes pictures. And yes, I have an A-Level in Art.
Back to my scuppered casting choices. With the Christmas holidays approaching I had not asked anybody to appear in the thing. I was too shy. Awwww! So everyone returned to the four corners of Great Britain, and I had a camera, but not a cast. Curses! Part II: Revenge of the Curses. So I did what any good filmmaker would do: corral and bully their friends into appearing in a film for free. And it turned out to be one of the most inspired decisions I made.
Like the best film, it is impossible to see anyone else in the cast. Who but Anthony Crutch could have played my neurotic book reading counterpart? Who but Dave Allport could raise a laugh with his own? Would another individual than Timothy James have been able to bring such acting greatness to the MP3 obsessed blind man? (Incidentally, the original script had that character distract the Book Man with a loud barking dog rather than an MP3, but not having a dog or knowing anyone with said mutt necessitated the musical do-over.) And who but Mr Neil Iwanicki Esq could have made rustling a crisp packet and being chased by a book wielding maniac so effective? Special praise too to my younger brother Stephen, whose role as a noisy prisoner is also exceptionally well drawn. Trivia fact: the harmonica he plays is nothing of the kind. It is in fact, a Kit-Kat (or delicious biscuity chocolate thing, to avoid advertising). While we did have a harmonica at Casa Del Poole, it couldn’t be located on the day of the shoot. As such, a trip to the fridge created the grand prop, and when the instrument was found months later I was forced to pull a John Williams and score the movie (along with my kicky keyboard beats) by playing along to the pictures on my TV. Note to readers: playing the harmonica vigorously several times is not a good idea. It cut up my mouth something rotten, and for about two days I looked like the Joker.
Naturally the film has passed into the Pantheon of myth owing to its winning the BBC Blast Comedy Bursary award. After the film was shot on that cold December Tuesday, so cold in fact the battery life on the camera died very quickly and my hand nearly fused itself to the freezing tripod, and after the prison portions were shot in the new year, it had to be submitted for the marking deadline (it got a merit grade, thanks for asking), and then it sat broadly forgotten for several months. Then, when an advert appeared for the BBC Blast Bursary awards, I submitte
d the film in the hope of winning the chance to get the short on the tellybox and get the £3000 bursary to make a new film, mentored by professionals. A month or so passed and not a sausage; the contest was swiftly forgotten. Until on one Friday evening at 6pm I missed a call on my mobile. I never get calls on my mobile, fyi, so that was an achievement in itself. The message was from a nice woman at the BBC. As it was the week of Sachsgate, so I joked later that they presumably wanted me to replace Wossy and Brand (I didn’t say it was a funny joke!) The message said they needed to ‘discuss my entry’. I assumed this meant production paperwork, making sure music was cleared for broadcast e.t.c. before going through to the next stage. To my surprise returning the call on Monday I found I had won. It was shown on BBC 2 on Friday 28th November 2008, and was projected at the BFI Southbank’s National Film Theatre during the BBC Blast Future Films Festival on Friday 13th February 2009. And the rest, as they say, is history…