Geraint Anderson (@cityboylondon) takes us through the making of his debut feature.
It was halfway through shooting my first (and only) short film that I came up with the idea for Trick Or Treat. My brother-in-law Craig Kelly, who’s starred in Queer As Folk, Young Americans and Coronation Street amongst others, had just finished his scene when the director sidled up beside me and said “Craig’s a damn good actor. You should write something for him… maybe even about him”. Within minutes, I visualised a story about an ex-gangster having a mid-life crisis – not that my brother-in-law used to be a hood but, like me and many of my contemporaries, he was most definitely having a mid-life crisis! In fact, it seemed to me that most 40+ men I knew were really struggling with the transition from hedonistic, selfish ‘kidults’ to domesticated fatherhood. I decided that a movie that explored this theme with some humour and a distinctly gritty British feel might just hit the zeitgeist, which would surely help a low-budget film garner a large audience.
I’d written a few novels before writing the screenplay, and had tried and failed to turn one of them, Cityboy, into a film but I was determined that this time I’d prove all the doubters wrong. I immediately started writing the screenplay, and within a month I’d finished the first draft and, after a thumbs up from Craig, set about the first of ten rewrites.
Then, in April 2017, Craig and I, armed with just a script rammed full of twists and turns, our Hollywood pitch (‘it’s a trippy Northern Lock Stock’) and the confidence that only near-total ignorance can engender, sought out investors. It was the late great Orson Welles who said that he spent 95% of his time raising the money for his movies and 5% actually making them, and after being rebuffed countless times (even though our film’s limited company had all the amazing tax breaks that being SEIS-approved delivers) I can see why. You have to schmooze a hell of a lot of suspicious characters who’ve heard about how risky investing in film is before you get any bites. This vital part of filmmaking is most certainly not for the easily disillusioned.
Still, we eventually got our cash and, after hooking up with fabulous co-producer Hank Starrs (crazy name, crazy guy), we set about the relentless admin that is pre-production – 50 crew contracts to be signed, at least 15 locations to be chosen (one of which was my own house – never again!), equipment hire and, worst of all, negotiating with actors’ agents. They’re a breed of animal who surely only chose their career because they were deemed too nasty to be traffic wardens! Admittedly, this last job was made much easier because Craig (and his actor brother Dean Lennox Kelly who plays the protagonist’s brother onscreen) had a bunch of good friends in the industry. Hence, we were able to get fantastic high-profile actors such as Frances Barber, Shaun Parkes, Jason Flemyng, Kris Marshall, Hugo Speer and Jamie Sives involved.
The 23-day shoot took place in November 2017, and was split between London and Blackpool. The decision to set the film in Blackpool was dictated by two considerations. Firstly, that is where Craig and his brother are from, and we were trying to base the film on as much reality as possible. Secondly, we felt that too many films are set in London and, besides, Blackpool offered our cinematographer a smorgasbord of visual delights from the ‘Golden Mile’ to the old-school piers. Whilst I’m really pleased we chose to do this, the low-rent local hotel that we were forced to abandon on hygiene grounds and the force nine gale that set us back a whole day could have been avoided had we taken the simple option. Our choice to set the entire film at night added further complications, though since all the action takes place on a single crazy night (Halloween) at least the costume department’s job was made a tad easier.
It’s probably been said a thousand times, but any filmmaker who thinks their job is pretty much over after the director shouts those magical words ‘that’s a wrap’ is barking up the wrong tree. The editing, scoring and post-production all took a hell of a long time and constant supervision, and would eventually necessitate us nervously going back to our investors with cap in trembling hand.
Still, the film was finally completed in May of this year and, after the ‘cast and crew’ screening I can genuinely say that all those involved are immensely proud of it. Indeed, after having teamed up with award-winning UK distributor/sales agent Evolutionary Films, we are hopeful that what at one point seemed like an absurd, unfeasible dream might have somehow morphed into one of the top ten Blackpool-based gangster-having-a-mid-life-crisis films this decade. I’m also very pleased to say that by the time you read this one tentative step towards this lofty goal has already been achieved: our film will have headlined the esteemed Marbella Film Festival. I like to think that Trick Or Treat was selected for its intrinsic quality rather than because of the inexplicable fascination with gangsters that they seem to have in that neck of the woods.
And what has this whole crazy trip taught me? Firstly, making an independent film has to be one of the hardest and most fulfilling things I’ve ever done. Secondly, you’ve got to surround yourself with good people – not just efficient, experienced workers but pleasant, resilient, positive folk. Finally, as a producer, your job is to fill everyone with confidence and optimism, and to make the whole process as much as fun as it can be even when you’re spending a fair proportion of your time crying salt tears in a wretched, stinking Portaloo.
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