Shoot Diary: NO TELL

This weekend we (Darwin Reina and I) finished shooting our 6th film together – NO TELL, a gangster film about “what price can buy loyalty?” (In order – we have shot MR CLEAN, SVEN GUNNAR, LOVELY TO MEET YOU, MAI PIU, COMFORT HIM, NO TELL) and got to realise / ‘get it in the can’, our 4th script collaboration together (we’ve co-written DON’T FORGET TO BREATHE, SVEN GUNNAR, LOVELY TO MEET YOU, NO TELL and HUSH MONEY TOWER). I’m exhausted now, but it was worth it. And I think this was our best collaboration yet, to some extent. And to think I almost didn’t get to work on it…

(originally I cowrote the script with Darwin. A good while after, it was announced for production in Sweden in July, and I was going to be losing my job, Covid hit and then all bets seemed to be off about being able to help produce it with him, due to financial issues and lack of time – and as I was busy with my own productions, he already had a crew for that and another writer had come aboard to tweak the script for him. Later, there was talk of a production meeting or read-throughs, and how to do it with social distancing, but nothing ever came of it for me until, I’d later find out that meetings already happened without me despite no contact about them. I was ok with this. But I basically did not come aboard the production until the Sunday before the shoot (4 days prior), once Darwin and I actually had a video chat. And I never saw the script version we actually shot, not until during the shoot when there was no time to read it and I only saw the shot list for day 1. I was still working from my last script version – hopefully that goes to show how last minute / slightly unprepared it all appeared to me, only because I wasn’t updated to the level of everyone else.) – despite that, we did it. We pulled it off! Everyone involved gave it their all.

NO TELL film poster showing a gangster smelling money

This was the second time that I got to work with Toro (LOVELY TO MEET YOU and NO TELL) an amazing stunt performer, gymnast and talented actor from Spain), third time working with Hasse Brontén (SVEN GUNNAR, COMFORT HIM and NO TELL) and Isabella (makeup) the first time working with the remaining cast and crew – Dana, Didrik, Mina, Petrus, Reza, Ricky and Sydney. And I’d happily return the favour and work with any of them again.

Although it was a 11 page script, we managed to get it done in three days (except for one pickup shot that is needed, due to a last minute casting change); despite the heat, Covid, disappearing or breaking equipment and last minute cast and crew changes we did it!

From the first day of rehearsals to the last day of production, every reading helped get each cast member to a much better final delivery and then every read-through and blocking rehearsal then gave us more room to add small details in, to enhance each scene. So the end of the production showed a massive improvement from the rough beginning.

And lastly, it’s great to think that when I first met Toro, two years ago for the premiere of DON’T FORGET TO BREATHE, and Darwin and I first discussed potential casting for this film with him (when the film was potentially going to be produced in Barcelona), that we finally got to do it with him. It took longer than expected, but we got there. 🙂

As with my other shoot diaries – these are written as a stream of consciousness recounting of what happened in the production phase, mostly the entries were written on the way back from set, while it was fresh in my mind, and they are not meant to be overly critical, just to be constructive documentation about what happened, of where certain aspects could be taken as lessons learned to enhance the quality of future productions. But mainly to document what happened, for when the memories begin to fade….

Wednesday of rehearsals – 15th July

After a morning of doing DIY, I headed off to rehearsals. I got lost and went 10 mins in the wrong location, thanks to Google maps missing one digit off the number when I had copied the address into the app. So technically, despite aiming to get there early I arrived second to last, like a bumbling, confused and slightly rain-soaked muppet.

I met Mina (Clapper board, Script Supervisor and helping with Continuity), who I’d not worked with before, but knew her work as a filmmaker. And then Dana (playing Shorty and Co-Producing) came down to take us up to meet Reza (Sound Recording), Didrik (Playing Jimmy), Petrus (Playing ‘removal man’) – and this was the first sight of the cast members having fun with the fake guns, which caught me by surprise as they pointed them at each other and had fun with the blowback – something I’ve never seen on a set before due to respect for gun training, even when purely using prop guns. Then Hasse (playing Pancho) and Darwin (Producer, Director, Writer and 2nd camera) arrived, for us to go up to the roof to do the rehearsal.

I shouldn’t have really needed to be there for all of it – it was good just to meet everyone – as the writers don’t usually get to be there and usually we feel like we get in the way. But it was clear that some of the cast could do with some input into how certain lines were supposed to be interpreted / pronounced and I was happy I could help.

One actor really needed help at first, was mispronouncing some words and didn’t know them by heart yet (even when reading off the page), and another also needed to understand what he was saying in both English and Spanish (he’d not encountered some of the slang before and some lines in another language), despite a few read throughs before, but I hoped we’d get through it ok. I think that where such issues exist, writers can be useful in these instances, to help guide or advise on cuts and last-minute rewrites to fix problematic passages. But I was really impressed with those actors that were new to me, and the more prepared members of the cast, who had done the work on their lines and delivered them pretty much on point.

But I couldn’t help as much, for all of the new scenes I encountered in the read-through, as the script had been changed since Darwin has last locked it. And no one had circulate it to me, so I didn’t have the right pages.

After that, around 1.30pm, we went to lunch and then we parted ways, and Darwin took Toro and I to his place, to say hi to his family and rearrange the place for the future day’s shooting. After that, after moving furniture, and trying to create a set we could use, we went back to my place, to sit in the garden and talk through the plan for some scenes, before grabbing some food.

After the food they headed home. It was 9pm. And what I thought would be a few hours, had taken up all day. F*ck. Not a problem, but there had been no clear expectation that beyond the rehearsals I’d lose some of that time. However, the production needed that discussion I think, to help shape Darwin’s thoughts and try and prepare for any potential problem areas.

However, I was gutted that I hadn’t managed to keep appropriate social distance. I do think a mask and gloves might be needed. People are really desperate to hug and get in your face on film sets. I tried to bump elbows and keep away… but other people…. I feel silly about it, but I am in the risk category due to my lungs… but yet also, how is that going to work if it’s hot and close conditions on set?

I was mentally exhausted. Tried to rehydrate, but despite drinking as much as possible all day, I had a pounding headache. So despite it being 10pm I was already getting ready for bed. I tried to sleep and shake off this head pain. But eventually could only shift it once I took a Resorb.

Thursday Day#1 of NO TELL shoot – Thursday 16th July

I managed to sleep last night. Nice. The resorb helped me sleep and yet, despite drinking some more water I was somewhat dehydrated in the night. However, some sleep was possible. Awesome. This is an improvement on my sleep before past shoots. Huzzah!

I had already arranged everything / all the gear by the front door ready to go. This was before I tried to assemble an instagram account name list for posts on social media for NO TELL. It felt good to achieve a few things before the day’s chaos. Collating lists of social media accounts involved is always helpful to ease sharing once production is up and running.

Note to self: wear a mask, Stay safe and drink a lot of water! Also, would we get the shots we need? would I hold my tongue / keep my head?

Darwin and Toro arrived at mine at 10am I think and instead of us all heading off right away, they stayed for a drink, and we sat in the garden, discussing the plan for the shoot. Then we were off to Hammarby, to Panne Fresco. First, Darwin wanted food, as we got there early, so we went to have Enchilada’s across the street, then Dana told us off when he arrived, as we should have been eating in PF. Oops. Oh well. No one said anything beforehand.

It was a good sunny day, but as we would need air con off, and doors shut etc, it meant for a warm foetid day of indoor shooting mainly (and this was just like every day of the shoot as the weather got warmer again). So we scouted, checked out where to set up makeup, where to aim cameras, and began the tasks of moving all the gear in – which Toro and I did almost single-handedly, once everyone got distracted. They all came out to help as we neared the doors, but by then we were both sweaty and had done the bulk of it, getting from the car to the door. Not a great way to meet everyone and get started, as sweat pours from you and you’re already up against the clock, and being asked to help in multiple directions at once. But it all goes better eventually.

I rigged the camera, tripod, and also helped Mina with the lights and Reza learn the Zoom unit and set up the mic etc and tried to help guide Mina re unpacking the lightstands, filling out the shot list form etc. And then Darwin and I needed to plan the shot and light the scene. We probably didn’t get the first shot in the can until after 2.30pm. I was getting a bit nervous by this point, that we would be going until midnight at this rate. But things picked up, as they always do, once you warm up. And people soon began to pull together as a unit.

This day’s shooting began with shooting Jimmy and Pancho, and the bodyguards, with the briefcase, the all important set up scene; shooting normals and reverses of their dialogue. I really liked how they both played the scene and also especially how Hasse hit the same marks each time and both were happy to cheat things when we needed to do so from another angle. And to anyone else on set, who had no specific role at that moment, they were brilliant helping hold these huge sun umbrellas to block out sunlight and essentially being human flags! Thank you so much for that – because we’d been promised a really dark area with no light, and had the exact opposite. This is where the importance of location recce’s being done right comes in. No recce had been done by knowledgeable crews. But we got through it anyway.

Then it was time to do the dream sequences, Dana’s fun coke sniffing scene in slow mo, flanked by Ricky and Sidney, the bodyguards – having fun with their smaller roles, and Isabella in the background. And then Toro’s kissing scene, with a hastily rigged curtain backdrop, the others as walk-ons in the background, with Mina and Isabella, out two beautiful ladies on set, suddenly glamming up and stepping in as extras to nail the scene and make it seem like a bigger production than it was. Mina was great on camera, very photogenic and nailed the last take of firing the cards. Dana managed to get a great shot in slow motion, as he faked the coke kicking in, from the line he snorted. Darwin and I also dropped cards nearer to the camera and also got the timing better on this last take, to tie up better with the ones Mina was firing-off.

We had some lovely slices of pizza, thanks to the very kind restaurant Panne Fresco. And Sylvia was very helpful and understanding, when we needed some quiet from the kitchen areas nearest where we were shooting, as they do like to shout and pound / tenderise their steaks etc.

From there, after some pictures with Sylvia – to thank the owner / manager of the restaurant – we went out to film the mafia crew, walking along the sea front, in slow motion, to the amusement of those enjoying and evening drink / meal out by the water. And then we all had a little ice cream, also free and very much appreciated from Panne Fresco – a much needed little sugar pick-me-up – and a chat with some of the guys, and bond, before we then went to Tyresö, for the woods murder scene.

We had to decide between two locations. They asked about Rågsved or Tyresö. I knew my area, Rågsved, but said as far as I knew they were mainly actual roads and not paths, but it was nearer. In hindsight I think we should have gone there. Especially as it has a real murder history, instead, we went to Tyresö. I had asked multiple times, previously, ”you know where you’re shooting and you’ve done a recce right?” and had been assured that they knew the area well. It was only when we got there that Darwin was complaining that it was taking too long, and so I suspected that they hadn’t been there, and then when I saw the path that we were to use, I knew no proper recce had been done. It was impossible to drive far enough into it. It was at the edge of a small turning car park on a residential street. It seriously limited our options and light was fading. We’d left it too late. We either should’ve hustled sooner… or I think planned some pickups / do a reshoot??? But we cracked on and tried to fake it as best as we could… However, I think the all important drone pickup shot, that we didn’t get to do on the day will help save that shot and enrich the film…

We hastily grabbed what we could from the car and filmed the car driving down the track, as the bad guys disembarked from the car. Then shooting them as they were checking out their hostage, from the back of the car, for the murder scene, with Ricky wearing a nice head wound and being trussed up in the boot. Ricky did a great job, considering he hadn’t known about it until an hour earlier. The scene was tense, because of lack of time, cramped shooting conditions, as I tried to lie on my side in the back and work the camera, and then the little tripod broke – completely f*cked-broke and lay in pieces. As soon as I took it out of the bag, which it had been in since SVEN GUNNAR, first one of the legs fell off! Some plastic came out of it, and then the tripod head was not fixed and wouldn’t come back off and was almost impossible to hold steady. Given more time I would have swapped to a sand bag! WTF! But it was my fault for trusting it was good and not testing it prior to the shoot.

We also ran out of gas for the blowback gun at this point. Which is a shame as it was key to the finale of the day. But all that previous playing with the guns came at a price. NOTE: always pre-buy more gas cannisters than you need, for such effects.

Petrus was really helpful, holding lights for the shoot, and I rigged some up from the boot too, to uplight the guys, and tried to ignore the mosquitos and the pain of the weird angle I had to lie in to take the shots and work the camera.

Sadly, we didn’t get all of the coverage I felt we needed, not like the exhaust shot etc. But soon by 9.30pm we were done and the light was long gone.

Darwin and I packed up the car again, and he and I walked the location, I found some cable ties that needed to go in the bin, but we’d not lost any gear / left anything key behind… at least, as far as I knew….

Hasse then drove me back and we had a good chat about the day’s shooting, as the others all headed back to their respective homes. He was happy with how things were going, which was great.

Back at home, my head was better than the previous night, due to drinking more water all day whenever I could, I had a drink while we watched some Japanese film about Cherry Blossoms and Lepers, which looked beautiful and moving. But I was so tired, I could hardly focus, then I took a resorb and headed straight to bed. I think I did so at 10.30pm and hoped I could sleep and rest up before the #2nd shoot day began.

Friday – day#2 of NO TELL shoot – 17th July

I woke up to the sound of my alarm, shocked wide awake, feeling like I was only just sleeping properly. It was so hard to force myself to wake up, that it wasn’t until I made it to Darwin’s that I felt I was awake – an hour later! I got there at 8:15.

We hadn’t been given the code. So I called him and he didn’t answer his phone. So I stood there beneath their balcony as I saw the open kitchen door, and shouted up (sorry neighbours!), until Darwin and Tessa heard me and then I was able to get in. NOTE: Put access codes on the shoot schedule. Otherwise even having the address is pointless if you can’t get in. And answer your phone if you’re expecting cast and crew. lol. Some of them later arrived and had issues finding the parking, as that information also wasn’t on the schedule.

Once there, we had a chat while Darwin fixed me some breakfast. That was really kind of him – he really did his best to look after everyone through the shoot and that was much appreciated. I was done with mine by the time the next people arrived. Then I tried to keep my distance (for Covid) and be on the balcony, while everyone else sat close in the kitchen and ate.

It was a hard day, because of the heat and the lack of fresh air in that apartment, Once we blocked off the windows and airways in the living room and rigged up curtains over the empty doorway, to prevent like leakage etc, so we could light the place. In fact, it was a slow start over all. I don’t think we really got anything in the can until maybe the early afternoon, due to lighting, running through and changing lines where needed, to simplify things a bit, where Dana wasn’t getting his / was having trouble. But we were able to finish by 7pm which was a shock to everyone.

The day’s focus was shooting the poker scene, the build up until the gun play starts, shooting the normal angle and the reverses. I think we got some good stuff. Apart from b-roll, Darwin had me on the wider shots (twoers and threers), while he purely took care of close shots / oners. But I like to think that the two cameras was helping us get through things quicker that way, reducing the need for even more setups. Hopefully the captured footage would support that and provide plenty of options in the edit for Darwin.

By the end of the day, we could feel that the actors were in character more. They all relaxed and had fun with it, especially watching Pancho’s big monologue. And the team had been bonding more around food and sharing their love of films. This helped everyone gel better. It helped because when it later gets tense, like when one actor was having issues with their lines and was needing a lot more takes from everyone to get it, it means that people try and pull together, to help everyone catchup.

My only personal low points, were when I realised that one of the small lights was missing (last seen at the restaurant or the woods scene??? – who knows, RIP my lovely light), those ones that I’d been using since MR CLEAN, and the small tripod was properly fucked still, and then my trusty monitor suddenly went on the blink and I was left with the on camera screen. Although it shouldn’t have helped, either it was because I was forced to leave it off for a bit to cool down, or the change of battery – despite running it off mains power – that brought it back to life. However, once it did cool down and then started working, I felt a little better about things and was better able to check focus. But it is a pain when you have to replace faulty or lost gear and it did play on my mind a bit.

I hadn’t felt great all day. My stomach was a little upset and with the heat, the sweat and the effects of the shoot, I ached everywhere. It may not look strenuous doing a shoot, but it is. It is hard work trying to stay in the zone mentally all of the time, and hard to think how it will all fit together etc, think about continuity of lines and actions etc, all while you must be looking like you’re doing very little at all – to anyone watching from the sidelines. Nevermind, worried in case you have to interrupt a take to run to the loo…

After the shoot, we put a few things on to charge, we applauded the team work that day, parted ways, and Darwin, Toro and I went into the public garden area, to enjoy some air, check a few shots while Darwin backed everything up. Then, he drove me home, and the three of us went for food at my local, (just like when we shot the pick-ups for MR CLEAN), and went over the day’s events, the plan for tomorrow, tried to relax and enjoy some food. Oh and shared a pic of Toro eating pineapple on pizza to wind up Andrea, from the MAI PIU shoot, just for a little fun. 😉

After 9pm though, the tiredness had kicked in. They headed home, and I went back to shower and rest, drink in hand, trying to recover from dehydration and tiredness.

Suss and I caught a bit of HOTELL, a Swedish film about people dealing with grief / abuse, but I flaked and had to crash at 10.30pm. I was out like a light.

Saturday – Day #3 of NO TELL shoot – 18th July

It started with a violent dream. And so as I woke – from beating two men to death with my bare hands (luckily only in a dream) – at 5.30am, confused and slightly upset, I was aware that it was down to my stomach, that was upset. This would mean that travel to the set was going to be tricky, if it didn’t sort itself out. I got through it, but I was worried in case of potential public travel drama. Luckily, the carriages were empty as I made my way to Darwin’s.

I managed, despite heat and sweat and no-show busses, to get there early again. I don’t know how. But I was there on location at 8:20. Again the first one there. I made sure things were on to charge / charged, and then had breakfast with Darwin and Toro, before everyone else arrived.

Soon Hasse was there and getting made up by Isabella, while I finished what Darwin had already done, taping up the rest of the black bags in the kitchen to block off the daylight, and we cleared the breakfast table and cabinets, to start shooting the scene with Pancho checking his drugs and preparing to send the text and start the killing.

I think with some experimentation, Darwin and I found a nice lighting for the scenes, using my small lights, strategically placed, with different colours, and their magnets allowing us to attach them under his kitchen cupboard units, instead of the too bright flourescents that they have. This was also more consistent with the warm look used in the living room and other previous day’s scenes. And it gave me the opportunity to help set out the actions I thought Hasse should perform, as suggested blocking to minimise the need for additional setups and practice following him with the camera, to try and give Darwin more of the slick moving camera stuff that he prefers, but with less setups. I think the latest Amaran lights I purchased, with their in-built effects and customisable HSI functions were suitable next gen replacements for lights like the one I just lost.

Sydney arrived and took over audio duties today, to stand in for Reza who couldn’t make the whole shoot. This definitely helps, having a team that is willing to adapt roles when needed, to help out in other key areas.

Then we were back inside to finish the day in the living room again, the continuation of the previous days scenes – shooting the table flip, the killings, one by one, of Shorty, then Popeye and then Jimmy, and then the scene between Pancho and the removal guy – to finish. It was hot. And it was tough going. I think it took two attempts to get the table flip. Luckily, no bottles broke, no cameras were broken, no furniture got broken and no one was injured. However, the mirror that they were doing fake coke off, got broken twice (both sides). I hope noone was superstitious about 14 years bad luck. I did tell him that ideally, they should have procured breakables for such a shoot and protective sheets for the camera lenses – putting safety of the actors and crew first. And I was expecting squibs, blowback on guns and the firing of proper film blood etc as that was the whole point of doing the scenes…. But hopefully it will all work out in the edit and he will add in CG blood hits and gun fire later… yes I probably worry more than I should. But safety of everyone and the gear is my first concern.

It was a tough day I think, mentally, as I had a bad stomach still, and was suffering from the heat and tiredness, but I think Darwin and I worked well, despite my concern over the lack of prep re glass breakables and squibs. I did try to explain to him that I had specifically asked that we had the means to do blood hits, which clearly was not the case. What he had misunderstood was, that we had a makeup person to add hits to people, but not to show the actual hits, with squibs and blood spray etc that I had actually asked about. But I think this is a language / communication issue. I was just surprised, as for me it had been a key aspect of wanting to do the shoot. But overall it was a fun collaboration. Our best yet.

For the death scene, I asked Darwin if he had some replacement wall paper and he did, so we taped that up and covered that in blood, and apart from some marks on the surface in some places – where the tape was later removed – you would never know that a crime scene had been shot there. Much better that leaving a bloody outline on the wall, as luckily it did not soak through to the actual wall layer below…

It was pizzas for food today, thanks to Darwin, and although my stomach wasn’t happy, I was so hungry and in need of nourishment, I wolfed a whole one down in minutes, before being called back onto set. And back into the heat…

I was really impressed with the cast on this day. Hasse was great and listened and was able to incorporate whatever adjustments we needed to enhance the shots. I think Dana pulled off a good death scene (although seemed unprepared to holding the corpse position for so long, to having to be blooded up and have it spill from his mouth etc, unlike the others who took it in their strides), Petrus and Jimmy were all good, pros. And Toro was a star. He really let fly in his rant, and helped the other actors to drop / get out of frame safely, and he also watched and studied everyone’s bits as well as later cleaned up the crime scene – I mean actual scrubbing of blood and hoovering etc – to help Darwin out, as I was packing up the gear.

After the shoot was done, we didn’t have a wrap party, but we said our goodbyes, briefly posed for a group photo, and then parted ways; and then Mina stayed to help us clean up the set, to tear down the gear, and pack it away etc while Darwin backed up the footage. Her help was very much appreciated.

I left all my gear in Darwin’s hall, as we didn’t have the car and so we couldn’t get it back to mine just yet. I tried to keep it together, and organised so it was clear what to bring back. The only concern from my side was that I was still down one tripod (the small Benro hi-hat was dead, unless I could fix it) and missing one USB light, that had seen me through some great productions.

After that, after Darwin and Toro finished hoovering, we lifted the sofa back and then they put it together, while I rested my sore feet. Then we left to go get something to eat. By then I was a hot mess. However, the food was great, as the three of us downed ice cold water, cool drinks and ate nice hot food. But my stomach wasn’t happy still and I had trouble keeping my eyes open, so at 10pm I said my goodbyes – especially to Toro, as he was heading back, but then to Darwin, as other than dropping the gear off, I wasn’t sure when I’d see him next – and then caught the Tbana home.

On the way back from the shoot, trudging home from Vällingby, trying not to fall asleep, I received some lovely feedback on MR CLEAN. It was very much appreciated and high praise indeed. And it made me hope for the future, for NO TELL to receive some similar feedback / praise. One can hope…

I got back around 11.30 I think. I was sweaty and over tired. I dove into the shower. Then we sat and watched a bit of the Crown, with a cool drink, before I had to get to bed just after midnight. I was exhausted.

Sunday – gear back at home – 19th July

Once Darwin got the car back, he and Toro dropped the gear off after 9pm. Once they arrived, I went out to help them unload my gear.

Once we had everything back inside, (still missing that light), we sat in the garden and hung out for a little. In that conversation over a drink, we covered-off some highlights and challenges of the shoot. We also spoke of future bigger projects. And we wondered how things would change, re Coronavirus, and how Barcelona, already seemed to be locking down again. But it was good to hang out with them both again and enjoy what we had achieved.

Then, we parted ways and I spent the night packing away all of the gear, before the next shoot…

Special thanks to Dana for sourcing locations and to Panne Fresco and Teresa Winkler for allowing us to shoot where we did. And thanks to the team for pulling together to help bring this crazy dream to life.

Lessons learned:

  • Do check all gear before the shoot. The only piece I didn’t check, the small tripod, failed on location. But it could have been avoided had I checked it!
  • Make sure shoot schedules contain details of parking (to avoid tickets) and access codes to buildings.
  • Have an assistant / someone on set to help keep track of gear
  • Don’t do hasty unpacking and repacking from the back of a car, on the side of a curb, against the failing light (see above re keeping track of gear)
  • Do proper location recce’s. Actually go to every location, and do a full walkthrough, with knowledgeable crew members. Draw diagrams, take measurements, study the light and sound levels etc
  • Do plan out each key scene in advance, to save time, with camera diagrams and storyboards if possible.
  • If doing a film with gun play:
    • do plan where the blood is going to go
    • make sure cast members treat every weapon / even fake guns appropriately, firstly from a safety perspective, but also to minimise people discharging all of the gas prematurely
    • do plan how you’re going to do blood hits – e.g. add them as CG, Low budget pressure sprayer / blood pumps or arrange for special FX / squibs etc.
    • make sure the cast know what is expected in advance. As we saw, you can’t assume that an actor reads a gun battle scene, where there character will get shot, that they mentally make the connection to needing to learn how to play dead, in uncomfortable positions and they need to be prepared to be cold, wet and bloody…although it would seem obvious. It’s better to discuss it in advance I guess.
Watch the NO TELL trailer on YouTube