RED RIVER – My New Drama for Directors UK

veil

It started with an image. A tiny girl chased by a giant red veil. But it started before that, at a Human Rights Watch talk at the Frontline club, where I first heard about child brides, the number one issue facing human rights campaigners.

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It stuck in my mind. A girl, clever girl, young, still at school, who didn’t want to get married. Not yet. Not to a man much older than her. Not when she was ten, twelve, thirteen. So I carried this idea around, waiting to write it up. And in the winter, just before Christmas, it came out – this dream, this chase, this story. A runaway child bride, here, in London, on the River Thames. And then this story was made real. ‘Red River’ was selected for the Directors UK Challenge ALEXA scheme, sponsored by ARRI.

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We went into pre-production in February and have just shot the film over three action-packed days in March. Alongside my writer-director role, I put my producer’s cap on and started to pull the elements together that we needed. There was a 12 year old girl in a boat on the river, a VFX dream sequence involving a giant veil, a chase sequence on the River, involving mud, more boats and water, and a series of driving scenes across London. It seems I had written a rather complicated ten minuter. But mostly I thought about the girl in the boat. The boat and the girl, drifting away in my dreams. And the Risk Assessment…

muni hides on houseboat

Nikhita Mani and Munir Khairdin

The best thing about producing as well as directing is you get to pick the best people as your team. 90% of directing actors is great casting – and I had an amazing cast thanks to our clever casting director Shakyra Dowling, including  Goldy Notay, Munir Khairdin, Simon Nagra, and our two young actresses – Nikhita Mani and Mia Rolfe.

Goldy and girls

Goldy Notay with Mia Rolfe and Nikhita Mani

So I do believe that directing a crew depends on – well – that crew being something special. Which of course they turned out to be.

crew on houseboat

Abigail Berry at Directors UK provided invaluable production support while ARRI gave us an Alexa XT camera with a set of Master Anamorphic lenses and a generous lighting and kit allowance – plus a terrific amount of goodwill and technical know-how from Milan Krsljanin and his team of Challenge Alexa camera trainees (and all trainees are Met Film School graduates!).

So we hit the River running – and then God gave us the weather.

Em by camera

Light on the water, captured on those beautiful lenses by expert cinematographer Patrick Duval.

Em and Patrick

Footfall and dialogues caught by our very own Sam Cousins.

Sam on sofa

And production design by creative dynamo, Sam Sharma.

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Then 11 year old Nikhita Mani ran on screen and became that character I had dreamed of all those months before. That clever girl, that girl who didn’t want to get married so soon, so young…

  Nikhita in boat

So now we are in the edit, with my old friend Alex Morgan, and in a few weeks time I will have to let her go – to the composer, the VFX compositor, the sound mixer and the colourist, ready for our Challenge Alexa screening in May. And then she will be off again, across the screen, running for her life, towards a new life.

Catch her while you can…

For more updates on RED RIVER, you can like our Facebook page here or follow us on Twitter: @emlin32, @golday_notay, @Nikhita_Mani, @ShakyraDowling, @Directors_UK

HUGE THANKS  to everyone who has worked with us so far! Emma xxx

Emma and Nikhita

 All photos by Doris Zajer..

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How to Shadow a Director

Shadow_cat I’ve just spent a week shadowing a director on a popular BBC1 pre-watershed drama series and as a way of seeing how you create a big primetime show it takes some beating.

Directors rarely get to watch each other work.  A director needs a second director on set like a fish needs a bicycle and it’s hard not to feel like a spare wheel when you’re just visiting a set.  But if you make it your job to really follow the action, you can learn what you need to step up to the next level.

So how do you shadow without stepping on anyone’s toes?

1.  Persuade a Producer.  Asking to trail anyone on a production is a delicate negotiation.  Producers (rightly) have to protect their cast and crew from distractions.  You have to make it clear you won’t disrupt the flow.  Let them choose a time when the pressure is less and find a friendly director who is open to the idea.  Shadowing is an unpaid gig so be prepared to pay all your own expenses – it’s worth it.

2.  Stop, Look, Listen.  If you follow closely enough you can see the mechanics of a show without having to ask a load of redundant questions.  The series producer generously gave me access to all aspects of production.  Be aware that folk are working fast and time is money.  However –

3.  If you don’t understand something, ask.  People enjoy explaining their job, and, if you show a real interest, you can find out how different members of the team solve problems and work more efficiently.  You can learn how to work smarter and adapt to the changing demands of each day.

4.  Learn from someone else’s style.  David, the director I followed, was supremely relaxed on set and created a great atmosphere for cast and crew to work in.  Watching how he achieved a variety of shots with elegance and economy in a limited time frame was fascinating and he was happy to explain his thinking and share his prep methods too.

5.  Be your own person.  When people asked me why I was shadowing, I just said I wanted to learn how the show worked.  People will respect your desire to understand what they’re doing and why.

6.  Be positive.  On most sets the workflow is similar – rehearse, watch with crew, light and then shoot. But every set has a different dynamic, an energy that shifts according to what’s thrown at it, or who comes on board.  You are part of that so always bring energy and enthusiasm and be a positive reflector for those around you.

7. Be realistic.  Being an over-reaching breed, we directors tend to think we can shoot anything.  So watching another director take on a role you covet is the best preparation for actually doing it yourself.  That way you are aware of what’s actually required and can prepare for when you get the chance to go for it yourself.

8. Enjoy it!  It’s not often you get to be on a shoot without all the responsibility that comes with directing one.  It was a real pleasure to spend time with David and the crew, cast and production team and an experience I’ll remember with gratitude and affection.

Who have you learned from by watching them work? Leave a comment here or find me on twitter @ emlin32.

Happy Shadowing…!