“The majority of us had worked together before on short films, Numbers Up, Conscript and The Pitch, so it meant there was a natural collaborative feeling right from the very start”
Having the script and the vision of how Brian wanted to direct the film was one thing, now we needed absolutely everything else. With a list of amazing people we’d worked with before, we started to put out feelers to see if they would be interested in working with us again, on this new (and slightly ambitious) project.
We explained from the very outset what we wanted to achieve and the fact that it would be an independent, guerilla style production. One by one, people started jumping on board, ready to make a feature and have an adventure along the way.
It’s fair to say without this brilliant collective of talented individuals who shared our ethos of filmmaking, we definitely wouldn’t have achieved what we did in six short days. The majority of us had worked together before on short films, Numbers Up, Conscript and The Pitch, so it meant there was a natural collaborative feeling right from the very start.
However, life doesn’t always follow the rules and abruptly, the world came to a standstill when Brian’s father unexpectedly passed away four months before we were due to shoot. With the turmoil and emotion hitting home, we could have postponed but it didn’t feel the right thing to do. After much discussion, we knew we had to continue and make the film as planned.
Next on the list was finding our cast and we knew that we needed exceptionally strong performances. With no budget for a Casting Director, it was a case of starting the search ourselves. (Remember, this is graft not glamour). Thankfully, working again with regular collaborators paid off, as our editor, Maj Jukic had begun working with Instinctual Acting, led by Michael Duvall. This meant there was a pool of talent waiting and showreels to be watched.
When we saw Luke Christian, Isaac Money and Abbie Steele, we knew we had found our trio. Brian made the final decision (of course, he’s the Director and we bow to whatever he wants) but we all saw that Samuel, Dan and Charlotte would come to life in their hands. Their enthusiasm for the film sealed the deal. It’s not necessarily easy to work on a low budget indie production, so positivity and belief are key and they brought that with them in droves.
With our actors on board, it was time for a script readthrough. Securing some office space after hours, Brian, Sinéad, Luke, Isaac and Abbie grabbed their battered scripts (or ipad in Isaac’s case) and put it through its paces. Dialogue was tweaked, certain words dropped altogether and scenes polished. Moments like this make you realise it’s all in the fine tuning.
The readthrough had acted as a basis for rehearsals so when we saw Luke, Isaac and Abbie together, dialogue flying back and forth, we knew we had something great. By this point, each actor had been given character fact sheets for their own character and spent time individually with Brian discussing the story and their role within it. With chairs set to mimic the car interior, the more physical aspects of the script came to life. Having to double up on time scales, our Art Director Elena popped in to meet the cast, talk costume, props and set design. How we crammed this all in, I’m still not quite sure.
Time sped on and there was still quite a lot to do. Not least actually find our car (within which the entire film was set). Pretty integral when you’re about to start shooting, right? Given the fact we also needed transport to take us out to our countryside locations, the most economical thing seemed to be to buy a second hand car. Try doing that when you’re fast approaching your shoot dates and are under pressure to find something cheap and reliable. After scouring the internet and a few garage trawls, a green Citroen (who we decided to name Murphy) caught our eye. A day later, we drove him home, destined for his starring role.
During this time, Director Brian and DP Ben were finalising the shot list and shooting format. Given the timescale and nature of production, Brian pitched Ben the idea of using GoPros, knowing they would be unobtrusive, allowing the actors the freedom to lose themselves in the story world. They would also be compact, quick to set up, offer flexibility and deliver a 4k image, allowing us to crop and punch in to scenes during editing. After some test set ups and interesting conversations, the decision was made - we were shooting on GoPros.
Now we needed to figure out where we were shooting. Similar to casting, we had no location manager but thankfully, our First AD Charlie had some great locations in mind. With those suggestions in hand, Brian and Sinéad set out on a location recce, finding the filming route and the perfect (and most accommodating) petrol station in Hampshire. We headed further afield to Salisbury to find a cafe for one of the final scenes and the fact is was called The Haven seemed serendipitous.
Now it was a case of, Crew - check. Cast - check. Location - check. Shot list - check. Enter Charlie to work on the shooting schedule and call sheets that were going to keep us all on track. Like a powerhouse, she pulled everything together, keeping Brian focused on what he would need to shoot each day to hit our target. With our fingers crossed for good weather, we set out to start filming.
Day one is all about finding your feet. With nerves running high, it’s important to get the first shots in the can. Due to some technical issues we started the day running behind. At one point, we got as far as four hours behind. The monitor didn’t work which meant Brian had no visual link to the acting car and was totally reliant on trust and the radios. This is where the rehearsals really paid off. After Mike’s (sound recordist) brief battle with the mics, we finally got up to speed and ended the morning with a sumptuous car park lunch. By the afternoon we were flying and barr a few traffic issues, we soon got back on schedule and finished the day with an amazing twenty pages under our belts. It was then just a matter of the one hour drive home to get a few hours sleep before beginning day two in Salisbury.
With the longest drive to our location ahead of us, we set off in three cars to Salisbury and the amazing Haven Cafe. Page wise, we had less to shoot today, but the scene at the Haven Cafe had two of the most complicated setups of the film. This meant the morning schedule was still extremely tight as we only had three hours to ensure we captured all the footage we needed. Our Art Director Elena even managed to fit in a small cameo as the cafe cleaner. After what felt like a luxurious pub lunch, it was Luke’s (Samuel’s) turn to take the wheel and we were back out on the country roads covering as many scenes as we could. Again, Charlie smashed it and we finished on time and on schedule before beginning the long drive back to London.
London’s clutches seemed hard to escape as we battled through traffic before arriving on location. After being trapped in our ‘favourite’ car park for over an hour (due to set up and weather problems) we hit our loop once more. The morning flew by and soon it was lunch. Whilst we all ate, Maj had the unenviable job of transferring the footage we’d shot so far. This involved the terrifying task of deleting the previous days footage from our stock of memory cards so that we could use them in the afternoon. Our schedule then saw us heading to our petrol station location for one of the pivotal scenes of the film. Unfortunately some overrunning repairs to the pumps delayed us even further but we knew with our multi camera set up we could claw the time back. Brian knew exactly how he wanted the scene to be played and in just three takes, Luke and Abbie nailed it. Again, thanks to the team effort we finished on schedule and were ready for our night shoot the following day.
Day four was set aside mainly for the night shoot where we would be capturing the final climactic scenes of the film. Having secured a location on Chobham Common, we headed out earlier to grab some extra scenes before our late lunch. Fuelled by our second pub lunch of the week, our Make-Up Artist Camile worked on Dan and Samuel (Isaac and Luke) in preparation for the scene. Our DP Ben was now suffering from the flu and had the tricky task of shooting on a pitch black Common. His expertise and Australian tenacity means that very little stops him and we rolled on to set confident we would get what we needed. Again, the actors were incredible and following Brian’s direction, they captured the scene in a single take. Once Brian had checked the footage with Maj (knowing that this was our one chance to shoot in this location) he was happy to call it and we finished in the early hours of the morning. The final scene was in the can.
Rain! Today was meant to be our final shooting day but mother nature had other plans. No sooner had we reached our car park, than the heavens opened. Undeterred we waited, hopeful it would clear up shortly. After a few false starts and trying to battle through, it was clear that the weather had won. Discussions began between Brian, Charlie, cast and crew and everyone decided they would return the following day to finish the film. Fingers crossed for better weather.
Step up Maj Jukic. With our DP Ben unable to make the extra, unexpected shoot date, Maj stepped into his shoes. After a good night's rest and with the sun now shining, we were back on set and ready to go. Today was all about Charlotte's big scene and the pressure was on. Maj had been Assisting Ben so knew exactly what Brian wanted, which gave him time to run through the scene with Luke and Abbie. Before we knew it, the film was done and we were calling ‘wrap’ on The Passenger. Unbelievably this group of amazing people had managed to shoot a feature film in just six days. The only fitting reward was a few pints down the pub.
With 36 hours of footage to go through, it’s a good job that Brian and Maj are good friends. Using door slams and claps to synch sound, Maj needed all his expertise to reduce the footage to a viewable amount for Brian to craft the story from. After hours together in a darkened room, with the word ‘closer’ being the most repeated, the pair finally knew they had a film everyone would be proud of. Using footage from just three static cameras, shooting in 4k had given them the flexibility to move around the scene as Brian had always believed it would. Brian’s vision with Maj’s technical knowledge produced a startling result. The script was captured on screen and the rest of the post production process could now begin.
The Grade, the Sound, the Online edit
After a few phonecalls and a meeting in their Soho offices, Timeline Television took on the post production process of grading, sound and online editing of The Passenger. With Billie Craven organising, Brian was soon in the Soho grade suite with Luke Jin, crafting the look of the final film. With a clear vision of what he wanted, the challenges of using GoPro footage soon became clear. However, with Luke putting in many hours of preparing the footage, it meant that after a mere 11 hours of discussion, alterations and tweaks, Brian finally had the film he was looking for.
After finishing the Grade it was time for the sound edit. Every filmmaker knows that sound will make or break your movie and Brian was determined that the sound would make The Passenger. Asking for a 5.1 Sound Mix, Dan and Brian began work on the soundscape. Dan did all the magical things that a great dubbing mixer does and cleaned and levelled everything to the standard of a big budget film. With our Composer (Matt) in the room, the three guys worked together to build something that would make the story world immersive and believable. It was an incredible experience.
Once the sound mix was finished, Josh stepped in and took on the Online edit. This is the final step of the post production process where all the separate elements of the film are pulled together. Josh’s eye for detail, along with his willingness to work with everyone in the team meant that the final product was amazing. Every penny of the process was money well spent.
Once the deliverables had been exported, we had our Feature Film.
Music in any film sets the tone and tells the audience what to expect, so Brian wanted an instrumental score that would unsettle and thrill the audience. When Composer Matt asked for influences, Brian referenced John Carpenter, Bernard Herman and The Shining. He wanted a string heavy score that would warn the viewer of the dark storyworld they were about to enter. Because of the hyper real structure of the film, the music would be sparsely used at precise moments. These would be the moments where the audience is allowed to breathe. The music not only had to maintain the tension of the previous scene but also forewarn of the dangers yet to come. Matt came up with an initial score that Brian instantly fell in love with. The two then worked together to create the theme and set pieces you hear on the final film.