Saturday, 28 February 2009

Experiment - My first feature film

As I've only been blogging for just over a year now, I often forget that many people don't know much about the film I made back in 2005 called EXPERIMENT. I'm often asked about it, and I perhaps don't give it full credit or recognition to how it changed my life.
I actually got a directing job
this week because of the impact that the film had on someone I gave a copy to during the interview. It's made me reassess things, and also thought this might be a nice time to write up a little bit of background to how it all came about and a few anecdotes along the way...

The idea came to me in a sudden flash of imagery. A woman gets thrown out of the back of a van onto the streets of a foreign city. No name. No memory. Nothing. She cannot understand anyone or anything around her.
That was how it started.
I then sat and wrote a very rough first draft. It was series of disconnected thoughts that threw down some of the ideas, but lacked any kind of structure or direction. Of that draft, I'd say about 3 scenes found there way in some form into the final film. The woman being thrown onto the streets always remained through every draft.
My dear friend, and erstwhile colleague, John Harrison, came aboard and together we thrashed the story out over the course of six months. Bending and shaping the story , until it took a form that felt good.
It started out as a cold paranoid thriller, but we found ourselves being drawn into a core story about family and the nature of love. Could love overcome everything? If you wiped the memories of a married couple and put them in a foreign city, would they still feel something for each other? Would that bond be unbreakable?
Those core elements gave us the emotional center of the film. Micro-chips, human assassins, evil men, breathless chases... All good stuff. But the emotional center was the exciting bit.

At the end of 2003, with a mixture of public and private investment starting to become reality i decided to make the film independently.
I grew tired of hearing producers and industry types telling me EXPERIMENT was noncommercial. unfilmable. Too difficult. Too ambitious... blah blah blah.
Rather than go sit in the corner and be a good boy, I decided to get on and do it. My film. My mistakes. Or, my success. If i failed, then I only had myself to blame. but you only live once, right?


It was January 2004, i was lying awake in the small hours of the morning.
I had been travelling to Prague once every two weeks over a 3 month period. Meeting people, organising things, making plans.
And, as I lay there, it came to me. DO IT.
And so, I told Clare, the person who was to make it all happen in the UK, and I told David, the man who was to make it happen in Prague, that we were GO!

And then the madness began.

It was a frenzy of pre-production. With the Prague office sending us casting video tapes, location photos, forms to fill in. With our UK office organising the UK shoots, the UK casting and crewing, and me rehearsing with the actors. (I still have all the video footage). It was utterly bonkers.
We were still writing as well. John wrote a brand new scene the day before we left for Prague! it was one of the film's most disturbing and original scenes too, and thank God he did.

February 2004.
Most of the UK crew jumped aboard Easyjet and headed for a very cold and snowy Prague (continuity hell).
The rest of us travelled in a motorhome, towing a load of shooting kit.
We drove down to Dover, across to Calais, through Belgium/Holland and across the whole of Germany! Through the German/Czech border. After 18 hours in a motorhome I still grinned like a child when the border guard said "papers, please". it was like a cold war movie.

We settled in a small hotel in Praha 4, the industrial side of the city, and embarked on a crazy four week shoot.
The snow melted very quickly, thank goodness.
UK and Czech crews and production team worked smoothly and in perfect harmony. Whilst myself and my AD pulled our hair out on a daily basis, hyperventilating at behind-the-scenes nightmares.
To this day, most of the cast and crew have no idea that half-way through the shoot we came THAT close to being shut down by the Czech co-producers due to a silly cashflow problem.
I think it may be safe to say this now, as time has passed enough. But there was actually a threat to someones life that day. And I'm not joking! It was that serious.

We filmed long and hard. Working at breakneck speeds across the most amazing locations in Prague. Cast and crew gave everything to make the film come alive.
At one point in the middle of Prague, as my lead male was floating face down in a freezing cold river, I looked up. saw a bank of lights, emergency services, stunt crews and hundreds of tourists watching from a bridge. i realised that we were making a proper feature film. I think that night everybody felt the buzz.

Because we were shooting in HDCAM, the premium HD format of the time, we could see just how amazing it looked. All financial and logistical problems would always melt away when Gareth the DP would show me the monitor. Art was my life force during that period and kept me strong.
Just as well. On one very telling occasion, i woke up to find myself smacked against my hotel room door. My room-mate tells me I ran at the door full-pelt in the middle of the night, fast asleep. I guess that says it all.

April 2004.
Back in the UK. back to the calming assuring presence of producer Clare. I sat down in a pub and took one look at her and burst into tears. It had all got a bit too much, and she was the only one who really knew what had gone on. It was like someone pressing a release button.

I finally starting enjoying the shoot, as we shot at out "secret base" location. It was under my control now, and in one environment. It was dusty and oppressive in the underground corridors, but it was fun.

and then...

Months of pick-ups, editing, special FX, music composition, sound design, sound mixing, recutting took us into 2005...


May 2005 I found myself in Cannes for the first time. The film had been screened a few times already but i was astonished how everyone seemed so impressed that I had made a feature film.
Next stop. The Winnipeg International Film Festival.
I travelled to Canada by myself and it was all a bit daunting. I got off the plane and was greeted by a young man with a card with my name on it. From this point on, it was very surreal. I was treated like royalty, people wanted to talk to me, interview me, and then came one of the best moments of my life.
I walked to the cinema where Experiment was to be shown. A 10pm screening. perfect for the film.
I stood in the foyer and watched people queuing up to buy tickets for MY film. It was amazing.
When I went inside the auditorium I almost fell over. About 500 paying punters sitting waiting for my film. *gulp*
The film played and I sat watching the audience. First, the quiet anticipation. then the uncomfortable bits. BANG! a big jump and they all flew out of their seats. I loved that bit.
And then as the credits rolled, people applauded. loudly! Whistles and cheers. the whole thing.
I was then summoned onto the stage and took questions from the audience. Interesting and clever questions that made me think. My body clock was shot to bits, but I still tried to give the audience what I could.
As I left the cinema people came up to me and shook my hand and paid compliments. As i walked the streets back to the hotel someone shouted "great film dude".
I called my writing partner John, and tearfully told him every detail. he was sitting in his room at 3:am feeling part of it too. Wonderful memories...
The following day was the award ceremony. I sat there, not expecting anything, when my name was read out. I stood up and floated to the podium where I was handed the award. I looked out and saw only good will. No cynicism or envy. I made a short heartfelt speech and headed home on the crest of happiness.

September 2005.

After winning awards at more festivals I traveled to Los Angeles to attend two more festivals, but more importantly to take meetings to get the film sold.
There were six companies in total. All had seen the film, and all were seemingly very keen to get me to sign on the dotted line. One of them was so keen he took me to dinner, and kept pushing the contract across the table at me as I ate.
In the end, the best contract for the film was chosen (discretion prevents me from elaborating) and my trip was rounded off by winning two more awards.
I also made a good friend too. So, it was a good time.

The months that followed, saw different versions of the film be cut and dubbed and re-formatted and so on. And sales around the world began to take shape.
To date, the film has sold to around fifteen countries, playing on major International television channels and being sold on DVD.
In total, the film won 16 festival awards and has opened many doors for me.
Most importantly, it taught me so much about the whole process, from having an idea, to sitting opposite a man overlooking the Hollywood sign on the 48th floor.

It all seems surreal and strange to me now. like a dream. I still can't quite believe it happened.
I'm very very proud of it. I'm equally proud of those around me who helped make it happen, through talent and sheer belief in me. People like John Harrison, Clare Deacon, John Rand, Hugh Byrne, David Propper, Barry Sage, and Gareth Pritchard. There are plenty of others, and they all were absolutely vital.

I have not watched the film lately, but I intend to do so, and make a commentary with some of those involved. Mainly, for posterity.
I know there are things that could have been done differently, or better. More money, more time, more experience, and so on. Things that you always wish for.
But honestly? I think Experiment, stripped away from anecdotes and behind the scenes info, and looked at as just a film, is pretty darned good. There are things in that film that make me smile like a kid. Moments that make the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.
Experiment is my first feature film, and I will defend it with my last breath. I'm proud to have made it.


Lara said...

Nice post, Dan. Just goes to prove determination, effort, talent and belief can win through. Well done.

Danny Stack said...

Great story, Dan! Rock.

Dan Turner said...

Cheers guys. Really appreciate it.
Felt odd to finally type it all up. Plenty of untold stories still to come about that period of time.

Dean Lines said...

Hey Dan. We met briefly at the story engine last week. I was the BIG dude that mentioned your short film. We talked a little about the HVX200.

Is the Experiment available to buy anywhere?

Wouldn't mind checking it out.

Dan Turner said...

Hi Dean.
Sorry we did not get to speak more, I was heading into a session and was hoping to catch up properly in the evening, but didn't see you when i got to the networking drinks.
Good to hear from you.
Of the many countries that Experiment is available in, the UK is sadly not one of them , except via import. Which, is something of a source of sadness, but, its a tough market here these days without a name cast.

Here's the link to Amazon if you can play Region 1 DVD's.

If not, let me know and I'll send you a copy.

Dean Lines said...

ahh. cheers mate. That linked worked fine. Copy of the r1 dvd is now on its way.

Any extras on the dvd? Hope you plan of making that commentary public one day.

Dan Turner said...

We have two plans.
Firstly to do a commentary as a web event, and secondly, a screening of a new director's cut of the film in Hi-Def, as we've never done a HD screening in the UK.
I'll gauge interest, and take it from there.