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Frugal Filmmaking in London

A short tell-all about the production of the micro budget film 'Forever Tomorrow.'

'Forever Tomorrow' now streams on Amazon Prime in the US, UK, Japan and German regions.

It starts with an idea. That's how all films are made after all. With 'Forever Tomorrow' the idea was simple, I wanted to focus on mirrored narrative arcs - creating a film which was more like a piece of music, than an act-by-act plot. 

The three main characters of the original script were supposed to act as musical themes, each with their own arc. These three, Alice (the party girl), Aaron (the rent boy), and the AA meetings (which consisted of monologues mostly), were designed to balance against each other both in production arrangements, as well as in post-production organisation of the film's scenes. 

Furthermore, by splitting the 90 minutes between three main arcs (generating around 30 pages each), the production could 'start and stop', working around the actor's availability; as well as work around the availability of 'free' locations. This is a key factor of frugal filmmaking I've come to understand as essential, as many people are unreliable, and when you are cutting corners on the budget side of things, it is easier to design a project that can fit around the difficulties you will face, rather than one which creates difficulties for you before getting to set.

At the time of making 'Forever Tomorrow' I was earning around £500 per month from part time work. This meant that the longer the project spread out, the more 'drip financing' it would benefit from. By the end of the project, including festival costs (which tallied around half of the budget), the film had clocked in at around £3,500. The majority of the non-festival related cost (around £1,250) was split between equipment costs (Canon 1DC, harddrives, editing suite, CF cards), locations (we rented the hall for the AA meetings), and on-the-day expenses (travel costs and food).

Returning to the arcs, as there's a story there - the final film actually features four main plots, not three. Early on, during the production, we shot the AA meetings, resulting in the realization that this particular arc would be the toughest to edit, as it was very realist, and quite slow. We then went about focusing on ticking off of the scenes with Alice, whilst our lead for Aaron was busy with other commitments. 

Everything was going well with the shoot at this point, however cast interest was wavering. Thankfully we rejigged some of the scenes, reordered some material, and recast our lead for Aaron with Daniel Garcia (Daniel was originally cast as Andy, a role later taken on by Ethan Chapples). This recast, and plot reshuffle, resulted in the addition of a new arc around Parker (a young adult who runs away from relationship problems to drink in the park). Ultimately this compromised saved the film, as had I let the previous situation continue to fester, the completion of the project would have been impossible, as we had already been in production for around four months.

Nearing the end of the production, the project had thankfully had very few production nightmares occur. Our shoots often ran smoothly (I say often, as one day ended with us literally finishing the day in the streets, having had our location kick us out for running late), and had never really gone over budget - something my previous effort had done. Part of this was down to actually compromising more often than one would openly suggest - I often decided that it was more about getting to the shoot, finding some sort of organic moment, and capturing this version of what was on the page, rather than forcing something scripted, which would take much longer, and yield less.

The major difficulty was actually finishing the project - with the 'start and stop' motion, the cast had often gotten distracted with other projects, forcing ours to always appear as the 'we will have another day next month to fix this' project. Eventually I declared it over, and attempted to assemble what I had shot into a neat edit. 

Thankfully a last minute addition of voice over narrative from our lead allowed me to tie the ending together very nicely. After his voice speaks a short gasp of very self reflexive commentary - a silent scene of self reflection plays out with music as Aaron walks the streets of London, leading him to find a moment alone in a park (this is one of my favorite scenes I've ever produced as a filmmaker so far). This ending to me both harks back to silent film, as well as the Sofia Coppola type of 'witnessing' a character in a moment of their own self, which I love in perspective based cinema. Also, this is the only real scene we see Aaron away from his clients, and his various bedded scenes, making it distanced and emotional - and perhaps even contradictory, as the entire film has been incredibly intimate with its 4:3 presentation... and yet distanced in terms of character revelations of Aaron's persona.

Ironically, said silent scene was our first shooting day for the project, and it acted as a kind of 'camera test' with Daniel, as we didn't require any crew on that day (no sound, one runner to help with equipment), it allowed for a very immediate shoot after casting him - jolting the project back into swing after months of waiting for our previous Aaron schedule wise. Days like these are great on this kind of project as they help the main team - actor and director - form a bond with chatter, something that is often lacking on dialogue shooting days. And bonding days are essential, because on short shoots (Forever Tomorrow took 15 days in total, across 3 months of production), there's never any time to talk on set in a friendly nature.

Bouncing back to the post-production workflow, I'll admit, upon reflection (a year and a half later), I accept that the soundtrack, which often relies on an old recording of The Four Seasons by Vivaldi, doesn't really sit well with me. However, it does feel like something that would have been done with melodramas of this film's nature. In fact, this film was very much inspired by that particular melodrama high-octane flavor which fills Rainer Werner Fassbinder's work - hence the rather dramatic and close 4:3 ratio, which always has some sort of 'old school' classical music sound. So, to a certain extend, I am pleased with it, as it is true to form.

Jumping forwards, upon release of the on Amazon Prime, we discovered the ratio was not to their systems liking, forcing the film out of its HD crispness and into a standard definition. This is was entirely due to the film lacking 'progressive scanning' of the image in widescreen (meaning, if I was to remove the 4:3 ratio, the film would be in widescreen HD). Being true to the art, and the we decisions made during the production in terms of artistic choices, I've left the film in 4:3, figuring that Amazon Prime will either one day embrace the 4:3 format in HD, or simply people will tolerate the standard definition.

Forever Tomorrow on IMDb & Amazon Prime

Watch 'Forever Tomorrow' now on Amazon Prime in US, UK, Japan and German regions.

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