There’s an old saying that goes: you’re only ever as good as the people you work with. That’s certainly true, but in my experience those words multiply in value when you’re talking about working in the area of low-to-no budget filmmaking.
I’d already had a glimpse of this with my first short film, The Appraisal. On that shoot - with just one room, three actors, two crewmembers and their trusty iPhone 4S’s at our disposal – a hard working company managed to transcend limitations of both time and (no) money to turn out an entertaining genre short.
Pleased with the reaction and response to that film I started wondering about what to do next. Again, time and lack of budget would be a problem, but if you picked the right collaborators…well, surely anything was possible?
Unusually it started with the cast. I’d worked with my leading man David Knox-Williams on a number of occasions and we’d been talking about getting something off the ground together for years.
The Appraisal – on which David served as co-producer – was the first time we’d actually put our (lack of) money where our mouths were and, while stressful, we’d loved every minute of the experience. Little did we know that during the prep for that shoot we’d just met our fellow future co-producer.
Heather Darcy entered our lives about three weeks before shooting started on The Appraisal. We’d been looking for an actress to play the small – but crucial role – of the Supervisor, but hadn’t found anyone suitable until an actor friend recommended her. Coming in and filling a thinly written part with a lot more life, wit and menace than ever existed on the page, Heather also had a terrific rapport with David that became evident the more we rehearsed.
And so I made a suggestion to them: what if I wrote and directed another short, a more ambitious film, that put them both front and centre and which all three of us would co-produce? Luckily for me they both jumped at the opportunity.
But what would the film be about? Luckily I already had a few ideas bubbling away. After brewing on things for about a month I ultimately wrote the script for Testimony over two days between Christmas and New Year of 2012. It wasn’t the final draft (when is it ever?), but the basic shape of the script was there, so we could begin prep.
As this was a more ambitious film we decided to be more ambitious with our crew this time out. Thanks to the Shooting People forum I was lucky enough to meet various talented individuals, but finally settled on Fabio Guglielmelli as our DOP and Michael Clayton Jr. as our on set sound-recordist.
It wouldn’t be overstating it to say that choosing those two guys was the most important decision I made during the whole process. Why? Well, in Michael’s case he delivered some of the cleanest, most efficient and downright best sound I’ve ever been fortunate enough to work with. As we all know bad sound can kill a low-to-no budget short, so it’s testament to Michael’s sensitivity and professionalism that we never encountered a single sound problem either during production or post.
As for Fabio, aside from the quality of his photography - which was superb - he was key in bringing together several other elements of the film that helped give it such a strong visual identity.
Firstly, we shot the film in locations in and around where he lived. These locations really amped up the themes of isolation in the script and helped add a fabulous mood to the piece. Maybe he’d been thinking about shooting those locations for a while, but whether it was by accident or design the fit between material, characters, location and photography ended up being pretty much seamless.
The other major contribution from Fabio came in the form of personnel. Thanks to his connections our on-set art director, Emily Taylor and our superb picture and sound editor, Alessandro Inglima, both ended up joining the project. The contribution of these two was immeasurable, with Emily’s attention to detail adding so much to the various set ups we shot, while Alessandro’s taste and precision in the edit gave the film both a real potency and an odd kind of grace.
As you can probably tell, I’m very proud of the short we made and – unusually for something I’ve been this intimately involved with – in the eighteen months since we completed the film I’ve revisited it many times. Even now I still pick up new details on each subsequent viewing. I’d like to claim credit for that, but really it’s just the excellent work of not only the people I’ve mentioned, but also the ones I haven’t had time to talk about, shining through.
Whether it be our superb third cast member, Alex Walker, our composer Stuart Peaty, our two make-up designers Jules Ferreira and Sasha Aleksandar, our invaluable 1st AD Ant Poussa or our digital grader Adam Clarke, everyone gave above and beyond what was asked of them and to this day I’m still astounded at what we were able to achieve.
But then maybe I shouldn’t be. After all, if you’re only ever really as good as the people you work with, then on this film we were truly blessed. I really hope if you’re about to embark on a similar type of project you’re as lucky as we turned out to be. People are the most important resource on any film set and, as I found out, with the right group at your back…well, anything’s possible!
- Written by James Peaty, Director of "Testimony"
Watch the trailer: