The idea for ‘A Plaster, a Paper and a Cheese & Pickle Sandwich’ AKA ‘Accidental Murder’ was born in spring 2004. It was coming towards the end of my final year studying Theatre, Film and TV at York St John University and I was about to begin my final project; making a short film.
Adam Greenwood and I had shot a short documentary together the previous summer, so when he approached me to work on the final project I agreed straight away; we had established a good, equal, working relationship, which was a rare thing for me to find amongst all the ‘egos’ at university. I asked a good friend of mine on the course, Emma Clover, to produce.
The story itself was inspired by a real news report Adam’s parents gave us. We began to piece together a darkly comic tale of the relationship between two men – Murphy and Frank. Adam and I had what we believed to be a great story, and we were all very excited about making this film for our final piece at university, but when we pitched it to our lecturers they didn’t agree and wouldn’t green light it. The same day I sent the script to Steve Piper at Coffee Films. I needed the opinion of someone I respected who wasn’t involved in the film to offer some objectivity about it.
I got in touch with Steve originally the previous spring when I was looking for work experience. I wanted to work with an independent film company and one of my web searches came up with Coffee Films. Being a fan of drinking coffee I thought it was a sign and contacted Steve. Unfortunately because they were such a small company they didn’t take on work experience people very often, plus they weren’t doing any filming at that time so there would have been nothing for me to do. However we kept in touch and he said he would help me in whatever way he could. Then one day out of the blue he said I could go and help out on a days filming in Kent! I was very excited and even more so after I read the script (which eventually became “How To Disappear Completely”). It was a bit of a trek from York to Kent for just one day but I thought it would be worth it and it was!
The day after I e-mailed ‘A Plaster…’ to Steve I heard back from him. He thought the script was “Wicked!” and was keen to develop it as a Coffee film. We decided to make another film for our uni piece (‘Like A Charm’) and saved ‘A Plaster…’ for our first post uni project to be made with the help of Coffee Films; people who respected and encouraged us.
Uni finished and pre production started on ‘A Plaster’ with a regular flow of positive and constructive feedback from Steve. We spent summer 2004 reworking the script, going through actors CVs, and arranging auditions.
Steve put a posting on Shooting People for our main actors; due to our non-existent budget it meant we had to get local people from Yorkshire. I was quite amazed by the response we got; about 30 people interested in the parts of Frank and Murphy, including one woman! When we requested actors for ‘Like a Charm’ we got about 3 people wanting to audition. It’s amazing the difference having Coffee films involved made.
We still felt we should keep looking, as no one was really perfect. Steve pointed us in the direction of various casting websites that we found our ‘Frank’ through; Phillip Collins. We also enlisted the help of the York Evening Press who had been following our story from the beginning and they ran a piece on us asking for actors from York. We had a great response and found our ‘Murphy’; Steve Joiner, who applied after his mum had seen the article! Both men were very close to what we had pictured and both came with great attitudes, we couldn’t wait to start filming.
We wanted Alasdair Beckett-King, who had shot ‘Like a Charm’ to do camera again as he had impressed us so much. The only issue with this was that he didn’t have his own kit so we had to find someone willing to lend us one. Steve pointed out that if we had advertised for a cameraperson with their own equipment this would have solved many problems; but we were adamant about using Alasdair, and after seeing his work on ‘Like a Charm’ Steve agreed to put out a call for charity!
By some twist of fate all our problems were solved when we were offered the loan of all the equipment we needed; lights, camera, monitor, sound gear, tripods and everything else you can imagine by the Angel of this production; Carol Taylor at Media4You, who lent us her equipment for the simple reason that she liked our project and wanted to help us. She’s a true gem.
Another couple of gems that turned up around this time were our production assistants Brian Smith and Simon Ghorbani, they more than deserve a thank you for all their unpaid and unwavering help and support during the shoot, without them it wouldn’t have been possible.
Although we had no budget we had a lot of expenses and put our heads together to think of ideas to raise funds. Adam wrote lots of letters to companies asking for free food – Golden Wonder gave us a big box of Nik Nacks, and Yorkshire tea a box of tea! We also had the support of Nick Mason from Pink Floyd who gave us a signed copy of the album 'Pulse' to help us raise funds. Adam came up with the great idea of eBaying an extras part in our film! The winner Andrew Betson couldn’t actually be on the shoot due to working in Iraq disposing of bombs in the RAF, but he helped us no end as our ‘Specialist Technical Explosives Consultant’!
We finally scheduled the shoot for November 2004 but still needed a ‘lived in’ flat interior. We got one offer of a flat in a newly built block. It was brand spanking new with wooden floors and an open plan kitchen/lounge; it was pretty impressive but didn’t fit with the idea we had of where Murphy should live, so we got started on trying to make the flat appear ‘lived in’. We were lucky enough to get a free loan of all our furniture from Banana Warehouse in York; who even delivered it and lugged it up to the third floor! They were stars! There was also the small matter of the large luxurious glass balcony doors, luckily Brian and Simon were on the case and constructed a fake wall complete with skirting boards and peeling wallpaper! We put the fridge in one bedroom to make a kitchen and the wardrobe was put in the other bedroom and we moved around two sheets of wallpaper to suggest a bedroom wall.
We planned to shoot everything in one week due to us all having to take time off work. We ended up working ridiculously long days as things began to run over. To make things even worse by the second day we were all ill! This wasn’t helped by the amount of footage we had to shoot outdoors in the cold. I remember a particular low point one afternoon mid-shoot outside the block of flats where we’d been since 8am. The next scenes involved two dogs and dog walkers, and had to be shot quickly as the dogs and one dog walker had kindly driven all the way from Louth to York for this one scene under the impression it would take an hour maximum. It was at this point that it started to rain. We managed to get a take before it got too heavy and quickly rushed the equipment under a shelter. However as we watched the footage back there was rain on the lens so we had to wait for the rain to stop and do another take. Which we did, it started raining again, we all sheltered, watched back the footage and there was rain on the lens AGAIN. We needed another take. By this point everyone was pretty unhappy but the worst thing for me was that this had to happen when people who had given up their time and driven all that way out of the goodness of their hearts were there. We were making them wait around in the cold with only a flask of tea and a bag of crisps to offer them.
One of the requirements of the script was that Murphy and Frank lived in a seaside town. While it would have been nice to use an actual flat at the seaside for the film it wasn’t possible, and York is not a seaside town. This meant after spending all week filming the scenes in York we had to make a trip to Cleethorpes to film at the pier. Knowing this would be the most miserable part of the whole shoot, due to being by the sea, very early morning in mid November, we decided to leave this to the very last day so as not to dishearten cast and crew too soon! We left York on Saturday evening and very kindly were offered a place to sleepover by Emma’s flatmate Hannah. Upon arriving at the flat we found it was above a pub! Cast and crew rejoiced!
6am Sunday morning found us at Cleethorpes Pier. The first few hours went well but on the very last scene we had to shoot, we found ourselves in a situation we had been in before. We had a dog, a small boy, and some extras, who had kindly given up their time to spend a miserable Sunday afternoon on Cleethorpes beach to help us out - and it started to rain. This wasn’t as bad as it could have been though because although the actors did have to be exposed, we could shoot from under the pier and still get the shot we needed, until the wind began blowing the rain under the pier and straight into the lens. We tried without much luck to get a useable take before the rain got too hard and we had to admit defeat. We disposed of the fake body parts we were filming in a bin on the sea front (which on reflection could have caused a bit of a stir in Cleethorpes!) and went home.
With shooting wrapped we turned to post. All the way through writing the script Steve kept telling us it was too long, and when we came to editing we realised he was right and our defense of ‘they’re all quick shots!’ wasn’t quite accurate! Luckily since we’d decided already to tell parts of the story through black screens this gave us one easy way to cut some stuff out.
One of the highlights of editing was adding the sounds of films that Murphy and Frank were watching. On the last day shooting in our flat, Alasdair and Simon recorded themselves speaking as characters in films that Alasdair came up with! Listen out for ‘The Last Geordie in the West’ and ‘The Race for Hitler’s Brain’ among other cinematic masterpieces!
If we thought that pre production for the film had taken forever, we were certainly ill prepared for the AGE that it took us to edit the film. Two years! Not that we were editing the whole time, but for a number of reasons we kept coming across setbacks. This was partly due to mine and Adam’s work schedules and mainly due to sound and music issues. We were under the illusion that because there was no dialogue in the film we wouldn’t really need much sound. We were wrong. Not only did we need to find sound effects for the films Murphy was watching, but we also needed basic sounds, which we had overlooked while shooting. For example seagulls, which are a really important part of a story set at the seaside, but for some reason we didn’t think to record them at the seaside.
Throughout the editing we had a clear idea of how we wanted the soundtrack of the film, but we had trouble finding something that sounded right. A friend of mine Rob Hughes and his band ‘Idle Jack and the Big Sleep’ came to our rescue by letting us use some of their tracks, but we still needed the most important track ‘Murphy’s Theme’. It was in the last stages of editing when Rob agreed to write it for us. It was getting to the stage where I was completely despairing that the film would never be finished so we needed the track fast. Rob was working full time, doing gigs and writing with his band but it is to his credit that he managed to get the track done and recorded in about a week.
There were quite a few times during the editing when I really thought the film would never be done. Whenever we bumped into friends we hadn’t seen for a while they would always ask how the film was going and be amazed when we said we were still working on it! It really touched a nerve one day when a friend of Adam’s said that it was turning into our ‘Life’s work’. There were so many ‘niggly’ bits to edit that we couldn’t just do because we needed this and that etc and there was a very dark period where the film turned into the enemy. The trouble with having no real ‘deadline’ except to get it done as soon as you can is that it can go on forever. There is always something else you can change or improve.
In spring 2006 we decided the time had come to see how it went down with an audience, so we arranged some test screenings with friends, family and co-workers. Editing amendments were made and finally the end was in sight... or so we thought! We spent a further 6 months working on the credits and black screens! This was another in a long line of tedious little bits that we couldn’t just get 'done'!
However finally, two years to the day we began shooting, the film was finished! Hooray! It was then parceled up and sent to Steve where he began entering it to festivals...
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