Making films, although exciting and generally satisfying, is no walk in the park: it takes discipline, organisation, team work, and lashes and lashes of creativity. All of this, usually within a deadline. But what if that deadline is shorter than average? What if you have to write, arrange, produce and edit your film within five days, with no chance of preparing anything beforehand? That’s what some of us did for the Glastonbury Film Challenge.
I was lucky enough to be chosen for Roger Ficq’s team, based in Leicester and mostly consisting of cast and crew from Seven/Five Productions. The French director has a fascination with the West Country and its folkloric mystique, and saw this as a source of inspiration and an opportunity to connect communities and expand possibilities.
The Glastonbury Film Challenge began on 16 May. At 11 am, each team got a random title and genre to work with for the next five days. It could have been anything: horror, action, dark comedy, romantic comedy (we feared this one in particular) or eco-chic — whatever that meant. The genre we got was eco-noir, in no way more common than anything else. A hippie mystery? A private detective who instead of smoking eats celery sticks? A version of Drive where the driver runs his errands on a velotaxi? It was up to us. We were only given two pieces of the puzzle and we would have to come up with the rest. The other piece was the title: Patty Cake, Patty Cake.
The writers team — led by John McCourt, ignited by Mike Yeoman and seasoned by Laura Homer and yours trufax — then had one day to develop a three-minute script. We started with a shower of ideas coming right and left, with some guidance from the director himself and the cinematographer and editor, baby genius Tom Young. By around 4pm, we had a story concocted, a list of quality actors featuring some crew members, and a venue.
Sunday was all about filming. Off the Fence were kind enough to let us borrow Upstairs at the Western, the small indie theatre they rent on the first floor of this beloved local pub. The strident stage lights beaming on the dining table in the pitch black room set the perfect environment for our spooky soirée.
Producer Eve Harding (I’ll Be Waiting) played the cynical chairman of Red Spring V.C.C., a vegan society of sorts. Members had to wear masks, remain quiet and share their concerns one by one. When Vinnie (comedian Vinnie Vitriol, The Wrong Floor) joined the club, his optimism swiftly evaporated as the club mocked him for questioning another member’s (Hinal Karavadra, We The Blind) concern about philanthropist Patty Hannaway cutting down trees to build houses for the homeless and stabbing Mother Earth in her “bounteous bosom”. They may have been stern with their love for vegetation, but as they enjoyed Sophiya’s (Sophiya Sian, A Dozen Summers) homemade cake, Vinnie found out with disgust that they weren’t exactly that strict about their plant-based diet.
Rest of the cast included still photographer Manoj Anand (Pacemaker Productions’ Bully), writer Laura Homer, sound recordist Matthew Leeson, and Karl Cross as the “nosy” butler.
Young did a superb job with a variety of cameras, as well as managing me with a GoPro and Jon Ellison with a camcorder, in order to recreate the surreal and “deform” environment that Ficq was looking for. Grant Paton (The Harms of Hate) led Leeson with sound, and runners Tom Caterer and Hitesh Pandya helped with the clapper board and behind-the-scenes photography respectively.
The following three days where for mastering, editing and collecting the boring administrative stuff, including cast and crew release forms and moments too intense to include on any behind-the-scenes special. Biggest kudos and respect go to Ficq, Young, Harding and assistant editor Natalija Voskresenska for making sure Patty Cake, Patty Cake was admitted on time for the challenge.
One Saturday we were just conceiving the movie, and the next Saturday we were on Ficq’s car on our way to the Glastonbury Film Challenge awards night. To make the hours of driving and long-weekend traffic worth it, we spent the afternoon discovering Glasto and getting to feel the vibe Roger loves so much. Now we love that vibe too. It is indeed a very magical place: while your usual High Street has Tesco’s and Topshop, Glastonbury’s High Street smells of incense and has yoga clubs, white magic apothecaries, ancient pubs and an official Goddess temple.
On the skirts of the Tor, you can drink iron-drenched water from the White Springs before and after climbing the hill for extra energy. Rumour has it this was the mythical island of Avalon, and it’s now a peaceful place where you can sit down and contemplate what could have been King Arthur’s territory.
There are physical highs and there are mental highs, and the Glastonbury Film Challenge screening was the latter. It was like stepping into a parallel universe where you see your usual hideaways and friends replicated into different regional versions. The Red Brick Building is a melting pot of creativity, support and inspiration a bit like our Phoenix Cinema. Veterans guide rookies through the path of movie making like they do here at Seven/Five. Even the Bocabar has a cute and friendly bar staff like in the Phoenix.
We may have not won, but we didn’t come back home empty handed. Getting to know the talented locals and watching their interpretations was a pretty rich experience. Kids as raw and gifted as TOP LOAD‘s special effects master Michael Corrigan. Actor-director adventures in small teams like Marina Hann did for Eternal Love of a Broken Mind. Or people from further north, like Sweden’s Robert Bengtsson and Best Film winner The Rabbit Hole. And what about other people’s solutions to the eco-noir dilemma? The big winner on Best Script and People’s Choice Award was Jon Callow’s blunt and truly scary The Fischer Enquiry, filmed under the same genre. Certainly more eco than ours.
It was quite flattering when Phil Smith, master of ceremony and Challenge organiser called our movie “unusual”. Other contenders said it was “weird” and “dark”. Few things are weirder than Glastonbury, and for this challenge, it was a particular prowess, considering that there was a film about a Psychic Poodle.
If you or a loved one is at the Glastonbury festival this weekend, tell them to go to the Hub. The Glastonbury Film Challenge selection is being shown on loop all day and night, including our dear Patty Cake, Patty Cake. Tell everyone you know to come and see us. If you can’t, we’re on YouTube for your personal enjoyment.