Roll Your Own!

Lights, camera... aaaaand corpse! Martin suggests home-brewed alternatives to see us through the writers' strike movie drought...

Another genre masterpiece...if the lead actor can stop laughing

With a withering vine of TV and movie content threatened as the WGA strike truly takes hold, I was horrified to have my sensibilities assaulted by the notion that I might end up watching Friends on a loop, which will happen the day that I give up dental anaesthesia.

The other suggestion mooted was to plunder the deepest archives of my local video shop and catch up on the likes of Zombie Assault Squad 9 (1986). Fine with me – I don’t think you can really put the new stuff you like in context unless you are familiar with the now-vintage output that inspired current talent (often with the thought ‘Jesus, I can do better than this shit’).

Trouble is, what if there’s no Zombie Assault Squad 10? Even shit comes in finite amounts. How will we get our fix of mind-rotting fantasy narrative?

The answer is to do it yourself – call up that annoying git you know that happens to have a swish DV camcorder, gather up your mates and plant yourself irremovably in the director’s chair (even if you’re not the best person amongst your group for the job, it was your idea!).

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Zombies, vampires, alien invasion, slasher…whatever sub-genre you choose, the experience itself is likely to be either a gut-busting comedy or a tragedy. Often the one segues into the other, with no telling which will come first. Here’s some advice based on my own experience…

To begin with let me tell you here and now that your movie will end up about five minutes long, whether your script is five pages or five hundred, because five minutes of edited film takes looooads of time to generate, and just as you are wrapping scene one after three consecutive evenings of filming, the first cry of ‘Does anyone fancy a pint?’ will herald a rapid session with the blue pencil; these guys have just realised that you’re not going to make them famous after all, and they’re getting thirsty and restless.

So keep it to five minutes. An additional advantage of cinematic brevity is that when you mail everyone the YouTube link, there’s a reasonable chance that your viewers will get right to the end of your film-making premiere.

Next, use a rehearsal slyly for casting purposes, because that good-looking mate of yours who would be great in movies can’t actually act his/her way out of a paper bag, whereas that quieter one you were gonna put on boom mike duty might be Olivier, at least by comparison. By the time you’ve shot footage, you’re already committed to your principals, since an impromptu public re-casting session may find you at the locus of a nasty little punch-up. You need mates to make these films, so do try and keep them. That’s the tragedy part.

Thirdly, keep the cast small and avoid two-shots and over-the-shoulder pickups. If there is any way you can have your actor do their half of a conversation while the other respondent is out of the room (and ideally out of the house/borough), do it, because you don’t need to be making a zombie movie to suffer from corpsing, and it will plague your production from the first shot right up to the wrap. In an advanced case, the two actors involved need only walk into the room and see eachother, and before you know it they are both on the floor convulsed, and pretty fucking far from ready for their death scene. And that’s the comedy part.

Next. Don’t make Voyage To The Centre Of My Arse – it would be a remake anyway, since it is the film that every single co-operative group of media-studies students makes on their film-making module. The unvarying plot is that the prettiest of the female students involved plays the lead role of a young student who is somehow deprived of her boyfriend and makes a successful or unsuccessful suicide attempt after walking through every pirated After Effects filter that Bittorrent can provide. It’s a rotten film, even if you put zombies in it (and many have), so take Ed Wood’s advice and try and be a ‘cut above’.

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Finally, give your credit card to somebody you trust for the duration of the production. It’s only a movie, and even your most reliable fan and supporter –your mum- will take a dim view of it if she ends up footing the bill for the rental of key-lights that were necessary to take the production ‘to another level’.

Anyway, let’s hope that a WGA settlement will re-boot production on The Devil Ate My Space Baby (2009), and save us in time.

Martin writes his (mostly) sci-fi column every Friday at Den Of Geek. Check out the complete list of his columns.