... or how it took me 745 days to finish an ad and I loved every minute of it.
As you may have already guessed from the title I love what I do. The problem is doing what you love is even harder when so many other people, ideas and money get in the way. It’s the cross commercial director’s have to bear in the ruthless world of advertising, but I’ve realised it only seems to happen on the lower end of the spectrum … the big time is like the wild west … everything goes or at least it seems like it does.
The low down: I wanted my big time.
Directing comedy is a bit like exercising … you need to keep doing it to stay in shape. I wouldn’t say I’m flabby, but I decided to hit the gym and dedicate a lot of my own time, money and other people’s generosity to achieving a new piece of ridiculousness for the reel. It was time to flex the muscle and do something I’d never done before.
Enough backstory … I'll let you dig into this meat and two veg - settle in this is going to be a long chew.
I’m an avid reader and sometimes my reading takes me to some pretty disturbing and intriguing places. Sometimes it leads you to a Huffington Post Article about a man having an intimate relationship with a dolphin [http://huff.to/1H6qWzY] which than leads you to buying his book ‘Wet Goddess’ on Amazon [http://amzn.com/0615334601] and then reading it [links are provided for you the reader to part take in the fun].
After all this reading I walked away with a couple of thoughts:
Dolly was a really great name for a Dolphin.
How would the ‘Sex’ work … this was later explored, but will never be fully understood.
People make some seriously funny comments on Amazon … see if you can find the one about a guinea pig named Fluffy - it had me in stitches.
Finally, all this reading would be a waste if I didn’t make something from it.
Most people would make a 10 minute short film on a shoestring budget and enter it into a prestigious festival. Not me … I did what most people would regard as tasteless or crass and made a TV advert from it. I took all this research and dedicated it to a brand I loved and actually use on a regular basis.
[Update: While writing this piece it appears I’m not the only one who found all of this a bit interesting. See: www.dolphinlovermovie.com]
So, I called up my writing pal Matt Gray and I pitched him a lose as idea …
“So, I read an article about a man who had intimate relationship with a Dolphin named Dolly … now imagine if this relationship continued and she decided to migrate from the sea and they both became characters in spec advert for Zipcar.”
His first response was: "What’s a Zipcar?". After about 3 minutes of explanation we got stuck into a brainstorming session. 5 pints later we stumbled away champions with a bible of ideas and one seriously tight tagline.
Couple of days later we had this:
As you can see it wasn’t good, in-fact it was god awful … like most first drafts should be.
Matt and I continued to massage the script like a Japanese farmer massages a Tajima-gyu cow and in the end we had ourselves something a bit more marbled than your average 60sec script - well at least we thought so.
It's all well and good to write a crazy idea without thinking about how to finance it. This is what I like to call ‘The Filmmaker’s Dilemma’ ... it's a common problem.
I actually swear there is three types of pricing in the world … the ‘oh it’s a wedding’ price, the ‘oh you don’t speak [insert local language]’ price and the most dangerous of all the ‘oh your filming something’ price. People have this hair brain idea that we’re all backed by a bottomless money pit of studio … if only this was the case.
Look I was happy to throw money at the wind, but unfortunately my pockets aren’t that deep.
So, I did the done thing at the time and crowdfunded it. Genius. All I need to do was beg my friends and family to help finance this beast and if they didn’t they would be publicly shamed on social media. And you know what … it worked. I was seriously blow away by the generosity of my friends and family - Kickstarter you should think about doing crowdfunding for birthday gifts, weddings ... maybe even deposits for a house. Missed opportunities.
[On a positive note I’m currently in the process of delivering on my promises / gifts to my backers. 8hrs of Dolphins sounds isn’t easy, but my word is my bond.]
With partial financing in place [aka. a percentage of Grace and my savings] I plotted ahead ... except there was one very large issue. In order for any of this to happen we needed a Dolphin - not a stuffed toy or a cartoon character an actual real to life looking Dolphin. Google "Dolphin Aquarium UK" and you'll come up with nothing. So, stealing a Dolphin wasn't going to work.
Luckily, my Swiss Army Knife of mate Gareth Ward has friends in some seriously high places and arranged a meet-up with Absolute Post in Soho.
A quick sidebar.
With all the people I’ve meet in the London Film Industry I have discovered two very important things:
Everyone will give you all the time in the world and there’s no wadding thru piles of bullshit.
Someone knows someone who already knows you - so behave.
Nervous as hell, but with blind passion, we met with Phil Oldham from Absolute. I wasn’t exactly sure what he did there, but it was clear he was a dude and sounded like he knew his shit. During our meeting it was quickly worked out that we were both close friends with Matt Bennet [a god of an editor walking amongst men] and we both had a thing for off-the-wall comedy.
This was especially apparent when he said he loved the idea and wanted to throw Absolute’s full weight behind it. I was floored. I was effectively asking for at least £200,000 - £300,000 worth of post for free. I felt it was necessary to repeat that I literally had £2 for a budget ... he said he would get back to us.
A couple days past and than we got an email or maybe a call [I can't remember it was so long ago] asking us to come and meet the team at Absolute for a Friday client BBQ. The English use the word BBQ, but what they really mean is pluming smokehouse of charcoaled meat and lukewarm beer.
Regardless, it was on.
‘Don’t get too drunk Jonas’ was on continuous loop inside my head as I walked down Poland St. with Gareth that afternoon.
Phil showed us around, introduced us to some of the people who we'd be working with and we proceeded to enjoy the hospitality for most of the afternoon … luckily the plume of smoke wasn’t to be seen and my drunken behaviour was kept under raps. Anyway, everyone was super excited about the project and we all high five’d as the sun was setting - pretty certain I dreamed this.
Back to reality.
Kickstarter was turning over some nice numbers, casting options we're flowing in - this ship was sailing. Things were looking up ...
... except we had no location.
And this when I was fortunate enough to meet a producer named Jo-Anne Norman. Chris Randak [A usual player on my jobs] recommended her and Gareth repeatedly told me a producer was a must. I tend to glaze over at these types of suggestions, but in this case I caved and I'm dam glad I did.
Jo literarily walked into to Yum Cha Soho grabbed ahold of the wheel and steered this misguided ship to it's intended course. Her first waypoint was a location and she nailed it.
I imagine Producing is a bit of a thankless job and to this day I'm not even exactly sure why an experienced Producer such as Jo was keen to help-out ... she's a unique breed and I owe her.
Thoughts:Is just me or does Gareth look worried in the first photo? And how much latex did Michelle inhale? Look at those homemade Dolphin fins shimmering in the light.
Anyway, two things were fast approaching … the shoot date and my Parents 4 week trip around Europe.
It was looking like we weren’t going to make the original dates - finding a location is really tough with a picky director. So we pushed the shoot. Which meant I had to work while trekking around the continent with my senior citizen Father and spry Mother [I think I broke both of them with that trip]. And this is one thing about my job that I cherish … I can pretty much be anywhere and do my work as long as I have a laptop, iPhone and some half decent WiFi. I honestly can’t imagine how this industry worked before the invention of these three things - that sounds like a scrapbook post in unto itself.
So I walked the sites, ate the food and found plenty of time to approve the location in Rome, review the props in Florence and craft the storyboards while lounging on the caldera in Santorini - which were drawn by a talented Malaysian in KL [see below]. Clearly I'm a "Human of the World" - mention it to Grace and watch her eyes roll.
Pre-Shoot Highlight:Sometimes in moments of intense pressure you get a tiny release from the places you least expect it … an insurance company. I had just submitted storyboards and safety reports, etc. to them and a few hours later I received an email stating that my insurance was in place providing I wouldn’t be using a real life Dolphin in the car. I was beaming from ear to ear … underwriters must have a pretty good sense of humour.
A few days after my parents jetted off we descended upon a quiet suburban street in Harrow.
Like most shoot days it was a early call and the sun was shining ... which in England means it's going to rain.
The sun lasted just long enough for me to grab a shadow selfie and then it proceed to rain for most of the day. All this money, all this time and all these people ... I've felt this pain several times on previous commercial shoots, but this was supposed to be 'my big time' - I was literally pulling my hair out.
This wasn't meant to happen, but it did and I got over it ... quickly.
Michelle [my long time friend and amazingly talented Art Director] dashed to the nearest B&Q and got us some waterproofing material ... we were shooting an actual Zipcar Volkswagen Golf and we had the windscreen removed.
[Please note that we had their permission and they we're totally wicked about the entire thing. I'm not even sure how Michelle convinced them, but serious kudos to Zipcar and their customer service team]
The rain continued and every take the car was wiped down by a team of people - even Barry, our Gaffer, was in there making it all happen. I love it when a team just clicks. Water dripped into the car interior, droplets were all over the rear and side windows, you could see it raining above the car ... i couldn't believe my luck. But you'd never know it cause Absolute 'fixed it in post' - bless them.
Here's a few pics I manage to snap on the day with the old iPhone.
Please take a moment to appreciate the lovely individual sitting next to Riley. Her name is Anne Zander. She played the live action reference for Dolly ... a realistic 3D Dolphin [more to come on that later]. Big ups to her for sporting the silly grey suit and having dots place all over her forehead. Your champ and I love your work.
It was a hard slog with the rain, but in the end the shoot was a win. Dean, our 1st AD, pushed us thru and Gareth, our DP, made every frame sparkle. We walked away with some serious great footage and we didn't have an ounce of overtime.
It was now up to the gods ... or some guy named Christian.
Christian finessing the shit out of the edit.
I'd meet Christian once before at the Absolute BBQ and the next time I met him was in a dark room in Soho. The red light in the photo above makes it look like a brothel - with Christian, and the state of his couch, it wouldn't surprise me.
He was clearly pumped with the footage and was ready to sink his teeth into something a bit ... different. I actually think we opened Pandora's box that evening and both of us haven't looked back since.
Hightlight:We collective struggled imagining a 600lbs Dolphin in the frame so Christian had the genius idea of rudimentary cutting one out from a Google image search and pasting it on-top of Anne.
Who needs 3D ... when you have a garbage matte and a image off Google.
With the offline locked and a deadline of February 2014 in place I was pumped.
Now I've done a few 3D jobs in my day ... nothing on this level, but I have a decent understanding how it works and how long things take - especially with a love job.
February came and February went ... but we were progressing.
Grading with Adam. I call this the Mona Lisa ... everything else after this Dolby Monitor is just a cheaply printed postcard.
Layer after layer Dolly was taking shape - from basic 2D animatics to modelling and rigging.
Each animator I meet beamed with excitement and each of them contributed something to how Dolly looks as she does today - ups to Huggy and Christina. I was amazed at the passion and how detailed the entire processes was. Pages and pages of notes were passed back and forth ... every nuance was questioned and considered. Creating something from nothing takes a lot of patience and hard work.
She was growing before my eyes ... just at an incredibly slow rate.
As time passed I grew more and more anxious. The flowers blossomed, the leaves turned green then to orange an winter begin settling in. I'd just finished Doritos 'NSFW' and Tint-A-Car 'Sunman' with Christian and I was starting to feel like Zipcar was never go to see the light of day.
That's when self doubt settled in.
Thanks for the support Francis ... I knew you of all people would understand.
Suddenly, it all changed after a night of serious drinking. Christian and I watched Zipcar again and we didn't laugh ... not even a peep. So we tore into the edit and trimmed it from a fatty 65 second spot to a tight 45 seconds. Drastic times call for drastic measures.
Suddenly, it was punchy and made us laugh - most importantly it breathed new life into something that I was sure was going to die.
New edit in hand the 3D and compositing ramped up again and I was in almost daily for the month of January 2015.
Dolly was alive and kicking.
There was one more extended hiatus, before I emailed Phil and said I needed it done for Cannes Lion Festival at the end of June - I promised hand jobs if needed. I was heading to the festival to slut myself out (aka get myself signed with a production company) and I needed a calling card - Zipcar was going to be it.
My wrists were primed.
Apparently awesomeiness takes time and lots of rendering ... at one point we reached 45mins per frame even with 66 computers behind it.
The man, the myth, the legend Phil doing god knows what. Notice how you only ever see the back of a post person's head ... it's so they can curse your name in vain without you knowing. Clever.
I'm not sure if it was the deadline or the promise of hand jobs, but it got the motors running.
Phil and the kids at Absolute jammed this puppy into 6th gear and handed me over to a compositor named Carl. For the next several weeks he literally sweated [26° is a serious heatwave here] over every 1125 frames that make up the final piece.
Carl seriously listened to me wank on for hours about how the little black dots around the windscreen needed to look and remained calm when I said I think we need another week ... week after week. Even at the peak of the heatwave when the computer crashed and we lost a render he remained as cool as cucumber.
This guy is a legend ... he was the final push.
Carl sweetening the sweetness in Nuke. Foundry I want to make love to your software. Call me.
We missed the new deadline as I got thrown into a job. Sadly, the only bit of Cannes I saw was on Instagram ... next year I guess.
But I could see the promised land off in the distance.
To be honest I'm not entirely sure how many times I told people it was 'almost finished' ... I think people just accepted the fact that I was most definitely lying to them and carried on.
After a slightly tipsy viewing one Tuesday afternoon the composite was signed off and we jumped back into the grade to tidy things up a little. Adam hit the render button, Phil and I hugged and Carl ran off to Thailand - it was a momentous occasion.
Job done? One would think so ...
But, we still needed the slick 3D end frame I had in my head. Phil was back on the case after a little begging and pleading. Luckily, I didn't need to promise hand jobs again - carpal tunnel is a bitch.
The end frame animations were smashed out at a breakneck pace by the folks at Blind Pig and after 4 revisions I was finally ready to accept that it was done.
So, after this mammoth 745 day effort here it is.
Please enjoy. 🐬
How bout another watch ... a one for the homies kind of thing.
This time be sure to click that heart shaped like button on the upper right corner … come on you know you want to.
So, what’s next?
Well I want to make sure this beast gets seen and not just seen by the cast, crew and my generous backers … I want it to seen by producers and production companies. I’m hoping that I can leverage this and my existing portfolio as a calling card to getting myself signed in the UK and perhaps somewhere in the Americas.
And last but not least I want Zipcar to see it … as I said before I love the brand and in a perfect world they’d ask all of us back to make another one. How bout a IKEA trip in a Zipvan? Or asking for directions in Barcelona … I’m sure Dolly could brush up on her Spanish.
Update: The lines of communication on Twitter have been opened. Watch this space.
But before I go there’s a couple parting words that need to be said.
Making something like this isn’t one of the those art forms that you can do all by yourself. Some people defy that statement, but generally speaking you literally need a small army of highly skilled people working alongside you to achieve your vision. So, I owe a seriously big THANK YOU to each and every one of you who made ‘Gaslighting’ possible.
You know who you are and as always you’ll be on the next paid one. How many times have you heard that?
CREW Writer/Director: Jonas McQuiggin Writer: Matt Gray Producer: Jo-Anne Norman 1st AD: Dean Noutsos Prod Co-ordinator: Camille Wilks Director of Photography: Gareth Ward Focus Puller: Steven Watson 2nd AC: Chris Randak DIT: Ashley Hicks Gaffer: Barry Read Spark: Heath McWaters Key Grip: Ken Ashley-Johns Grips Assist: Colin Brown Sound: Dave Briggs Art Director: Michelle Sotheren Art Department Assistant: Gia Mitchell Wardrobe: Grace Cross Runner: Becky Blount Runner / Unit: Rory Mayfield Storyboard Artist: Liew Lowloader: Bickers Action Grip: Panavision London Lighting: Panalux London Camera/Lenses: Brownian Motion Council(s): The Boroughs of Ealing & Harrow
POST In debt for the rest of my career to Absolute Post and Phil Oldham Producers: Dan Bennett, Caroline Shakespeare Editor: Christian Lyndon Grade: Adam Clarke 3D Artists: ‘Huggy’ Stephens, Christina Castelo-Branco, Jamie White, Phil Oldham, Dorrell Lynch Compositors: Carl Godwin-Alvarez, Phil Oldham End Frame Graphics: Tom Cardo-Moreno ex. Blind Pig Sound Designer/Composer: Pete Jones Music
KICKSTARTER Bigups to Ryan Marshal, The McQuiggin Clan, Peter Carter and all of the other 48 Backers