Tuesday 17th January 2006
I receive the following email from Howell:-
Followup a strange conversation I had with someone today, I'm wondering if you'd be up for making a King Kong parody movie called Big Chimp? Could be fun? I have a few ideas about who could play him - even Steve's friend Arfer the Gorilla (or Steve!?!) About the female lead, I have some ideas. Anyway, let me know - also any ideas for the story?
Saturday 4th March 2006
This afternoon an email arrived from Howell, inviting me up to his friend Jo's 30th birthday in April. He suggested we might want to think about filming Big Chimp that weekend, either during the day on the Saturday before the party, or on the Sunday. He also came up with a casting suggestion for the lead role of Big Chimp - Andrew Purvis - and suggested that he could wear a chimp costume without the head on so people could admire his sideburns...
My response - well to start with I didn't think it would be possible to shoot the entire film in one day unless we went for a really basic storyline, and it might be better to postpone the filming until we have a weekend without a huge party in the middle, which could potentially disrupt the shoot and mean us not getting everything done. Little did I know...
That was the last we spoke of Big Chimp for a few weeks.
Tuesday 27th June 2006
Today Howell dropped me an email reminding me of the Big Chimp concept and suggesting we might want to pick a weekend in September to film it (that being the next month we could find an entire weekend free).
Other ideas he had come up with recently included using Blackpool Tower for the finale instead of the Empire State Building, using a doll for wide shots where Big Chimp has to carry the girl, and having Big Chimp under attack from paper planes when on the tower.
I decided it was about time I put together a rough outline for it.
Saturday 1st July 2006
Andrew's not so keen on wearing the Big Chimp costume with the head in place, but decides he's ok with it as long as he can have another role within the film as well.
Thursday 6th July 2006
We decide on the weekend of September 30th/1st October for filming. I come up with some new ideas for the film - a boating lake for us to film the journey to the island, a theatre for Big Chimp's presentation to the public (and the concept of only two people turning up to see him), and a provisional list of cast members and props we'll need (including the idea of a big gorilla hand for close-ups).
Howell thinks posting a casting call to his hiking group's message board might give us a good selection of people to audition for the main roles in the film.
Tuesday 11th July 2006
Howell mentions that the boating lake in Heaton Park has at least one island. It sounds like a good possibility for the "journey to the island" scene.
Monday 24th July 2006
An email discussion takes place between myself and Howell on how we're going to do the auditions for this film. Neither of us have much free time, and we live hundreds of miles apart, so it could prove tricky. We come up with the idea of people taking short video clips of their audition pieces on their phones or digital cameras and emailing them to us.
I come up with a new idea for the film - the main character Anne doing a crazy dance in front of a board of judges as her introduction at the start of the film. It's when she's told she's rubbish that she goes wandering the streets and bumps into the filmmaker who takes her to the island...
Sunday 13th August 2006
Howell's currently in Thailand exploring "monkey town" which is fairly apt! Yesterday, in London at Mark Stalker's Monument screening, I met up with Peter Kidson who played "Farmer" in Fluffy The English Vampire Slayer. He seemed very interested in being part of the Big Chimp cast, so I've provisionally cast him as the "Sea Captain".
Wednesday 23rd August 2006
Howell sends out "Big Chimp Update #1", a hugely detailed email to everyone and anyone who has expressed an interest in getting involved. At this point we decide to drop the idea of auditions due to lack of interest and just assign people to roles as we get them. We have a few people interested in helping out behind the scenes, so Howell assigns them production roles too. The email also covers locations, props and costumes.
Saturday 30th August 2006
Howell sends out "Big Chimp Update #2" which features information on previous versions of King Kong, links to other Foiled Productions films for anyone not familiar with our work, and all the latest news on the production.
We now have promising suggestions for costume hire and the theatre location, a volunteer for making the giant gorilla hand (Jo), payment for everyone involved (bananas and monkey nuts...), lots of location ideas for city centre scenes, and a rough schedule.
We have most of the parts cast now, except for the lead male role! He's crucial to the film, so we're keeping our fingers crossed that someone volunteers in the next month. The lead female role is also only partly cast - Howell's friend Vanessa has suggested her friend Sharon-Louise Campbell, who she thinks would be ideal. Neither Howell nor I have met her, but she sounds good and has sent a photo over so she's currently our number one candidate.
Jo decides to hold a cocktail party on the Saturday night of the weekend we're planning to do the shoot...
Thursday 7th September 2006
The Big Chimp web-site first appears on the internet, featuring not much more than a simple picture of Big Chimp. The picture was taken during Jo and Andrew's visit to the "Stage Door" fancy dress hire in Stockport. He looks great!
Saturday 9th September 2006
Howell receives an email from Andy, a friend of Sharon-Louise, who is up for taking the lead male role. Again, we don't have much more to go on other than a photo, but we decide to give him the part anyway!
Tuesday 12th September 2006
Howell hosts a "King Kong Film Evening" at his flat in Manchester, where a selection of cast and crew get to watch Peter Jackson's version of the film, play lots of silly games, wear chimp masks, and eat lots of monkey-related food...
Thursday 14th September 2006
I start sending out detailed character notes for all of the main roles in the film. I've decided not to go with a full script for this production - instead I've written up an outline for each scene. The character notes are completely different for each person, and only cover the scenes they're involved in, so they won't get distracted by what's going on elsewhere in the film. There are one or two suggested lines of dialogue, but other than them the actors are free to improvise within the scenes...
Thursday 21st September 2006
The final Big Chimp update is sent out to everyone involved. Thanks to Howell we now have a detailed schedule for the weekend, including meeting times and places for everyone involved.
Thursday 28th September 2006
With only two days to go before filming begins, I finally complete my "shot tick-list". This is a brief overview of all the shots I'm going to need to get over the course of the weekend. Some of them I've marked as "optional", which we'll fit in if we have time. The list for the jungle locations on Saturday is particularly scary - 103 shots in that location alone! And we've also scheduled the boat scenes and pilots for that day too...
The current weather forecast for the entire weekend in the Manchester area is "heavy rain". Oh dear.
THE WEEKEND OF THE SHOOT
Friday 29th September 2006
In the afternoon, myself, Mark Stalker and Peter Kidson set off on our epic journey north to Manchester. Apart from us, the rest of the cast and crew are all relatively local to the area where we'll be filming. The weather is very wet on the way up, and the traffic heavy. In the end the journey (which should have taken less than four hours) ends up lasting over five and a half hours, which isn't a lot of fun...
Many of the people involved in Big Chimp are out and about in Didsbury, celebrating Ed's birthday at a pub and Italian restaurant. We join them and end up staying out way too late. Oh well, we've only got a film to shoot tomorrow...
Saturday 30th September 2006
We're up sometime around 7am this morning. Just enough time for a quick shower, a bite to eat and a last minute check that we have everything we're going to need. Heaton Park, where we're filming today, is not exactly nearby, and our schedule is so tight we're not going to be able to return if we forget something.
We load up the car and set off - Howell driving myself, Steve and Gemma. First port of call is Jo's house, where Mark, Peter and Clayton are staying. Shortly after 8am, they emerge blinking into the daylight (no sign of the promised rain yet!) and, in Mark's car, follow us to the Park.
It's shortly after 8:30am when we arrive at our base for the day, Heaton Park. Our two lead actors - Sharon-Louise and Andy - are already there getting themselves ready. This is the first time most of us have met them - fortunately they seem really keen and appear ideal for the parts! Which is handy, as doing last-minute recasting at this stage might have been a problem.
Latest weather report: no sign of any rain anywhere, in fact the sky is clear and it looks like it's going to be a lovely day. Gemma assures me that the forecast she saw very recently said we wouldn't get any rain today. This is great news!
By 9am everyone who is required for our first block of filming is here, so we head into a nearby wooded area to start on the "jungle" scenes. Some local fishermen sitting on the banks of the lake where we'll later shoot the boat scenes give us some puzzled looks as we pass. I decide to start things nice and easy with a simple shot of the four island explorers (played by Mark, Sharon, Andy and Peter) making their way through the jungle shortly after arrival, as Mark's character "Carl" looks for a suitable location to shoot the film he's making. It takes a minute or two to grab a couple of angles on it, and that's the first scene of the day in the bag! Only about 100 more shots in this location left...
The second scene of the day involves some improvised dialogue between the three male characters as they decide what to do following a vicious and unprovoked attack by jungle natives and the kidnapping of Sharon's character "Anne". Of course, we'd be filming all that later, so Mark, Andy and Peter have to rough themselves up a bit first and imagine they'd just survived this assault. They do a great job, and are rewarded with a rest while we bring in Andrew for his debut as "Big Chimp"...
How do you make a man in a gorilla outfit look like a giant ape?
Good question! In order to get all the shots we need today, there's no time to be messing around with clever perspective effects or anything. It's a shame, as I'm sure there are ways we could at least partially sell the idea that Big Chimp is absolutely huge. Instead, we're relying on low camera angles whenever he's in shot and the actors looking up all the time! Oh, and whenever he picks someone up we'll cut to a lookalike doll in Andrew's hand. Actually, forget the "lookalike" bit, our dolls look nothing like our actors! But hey, that's all part of the fun, isn't it? And we do have Jo's incredible "giant gorilla hand" prop which can be used for close-ups of actors interacting with Big Chimp's hand...
So, for a while, we film shots involving Anne interacting with Big Chimp, including a close-up shot of her being "carried" through the jungle. This one doesn't look right to any of us, so we decide we'll return to it later in the day for another attempt. We just don't have the time right now to be experimenting!
Sharon-Louise does a great job as Anne, then she gets a chance to rest while we bring back the three men for their Big Chimp encounter. Big Chimp gets his first chance to do some real damage as he picks up Peter's character "Captain Matterhorn" and hurls him to the ground. The stunt-double doll is hilariously unlike the Captain.
By this stage of the day we're roughly halfway through our shot list for the jungle "main cast only" scenes, but it's getting close to the time that we've scheduled for the filming of the boat scenes. The remainder of the jungle shots can be grabbed later in the day, but it'd be nice to get the crucial boat shots out of the way now, before our jungle native extras start turning up. We pack up here, and head over to the far side of the lake where the boat hire is, less than a ten minute walk.
The boat hire is closed!
Now when we picked this weekend for filming, Howell rang the Park office and checked that the boats would be available today, and was told yes this weekend was the last official boat hire of the year so it would be open. And the sign on the hire place says it opens at 10am, and it's 10:45am, so where are the boats?! We check, and we're told they'll be available "later today", so all is not lost, just a bit vague.
As we've still got just over an hour before the official break for lunch, we decide to head back to the jungle and film the scene that many people have been waiting for - the "Big Chimp fights Barney The Dinosaur" scene. And we're not disappointed. Steve does a great job as Barney, dancing around as Big Chimp piles in and lands some punches on him.
Scene complete, we head off for lunch. As we pass the fishermen on our way back to the car park, a young kid runs up and has a quick hug with "Barney"... poor old Big Chimp doesn't get any such attention!
Our lunch venue is a local pub. Our jungle native extras are meeting us here, so it's not long before we're taking up half of the place! The jungle native costumes don't exist yet, so the plan is to create them now from some brown curtain material and monkey masks. We'd originally scheduled the scenes involving the natives for immediately post-lunch, but I decide we'll go and see if we can shoot the boat scenes now and give the natives a bit of extra time to perfect their wardrobe.
Back at the lake, we're quite relieved to find that the boats are indeed now available. I hire two - one for the main cast members, and one camera-boat for myself and Andrew who has volunteered to row me around. We've got them both for 45 minutes, which should be long enough to get the shots I need. We row around the lake for a while, filming the scenes and improvising a new one where Carl shoots a scene from his film. He decides to make it a romantic scene, which seems to go down very well with the ever-present fishermen who shout across encouragement and "suggestions"...
Returning to the car park, we're confronted with a bunch of newly costumed jungle natives - they look great! The extra time to prepare has been worth it. We walk back into the woods where we'll be filming - and the fishermen once again turn and stare as we pass. It's a day to remember for them as well as us! The filming goes to plan again - the improvised fight between the natives and the main cast members is complete and utter confusion but should look good on-screen I hope. Our youngest cast member, Annalise, gets a bit scared by all the crazy people chanting nonsense around her! And who can blame her..?
Jungle native scenes out of the way, we spend the rest of the afternoon shooting the remainder of the island scenes. We've got until sunset, and that's easily enough time, although by the end we're all flagging a bit. It's been a long day! We finish with a completely mad scene involving Anne and Jack running from Big Chimp with bats flapping around their heads as they go. This is achieved by having Clayton run along behind them holding a stick from which we've strung a number of fake bats. It might look ok...
Sunday 1st October 2006
Filming day #2.
Monday 22nd January 2007