It seems to have been a long time coming and for much of this year it has felt that, between the pandemic and the various political situations across the globe, there has not been much to thank 2020 for. However as we begin the week of American Thanksgiving I can reflect of a year of opportunity and positives as I prepare to launch my first film: A Christmas Carol.
When last we left the saga I had wrapped filming in the ancient city of Rochester and left the entire project in the talented hands of Oscar-winning editor Emily Walder. During the days of filming in Cooling Churchyard, in Rochester Cathedral at The Six Poor Travellers House, in Eastgate House and around the streets of the ancient city, I had told Emily directly, and indirectly, what my vision for the film was, so when we said goodbye in a Rochester car park I was saying a temporary farewell to the project and leaving the next stage to her.
A few weeks passed and from America Bob Byers of the Byers’ Choice company, who not only book and manage my annual tours but also who had commissioned the film, got in touch to ask if there was anything he could see yet? I contacted Emily to ask if there was any way she could create a short trailer for the piece – a few scenes possibly, just to show how the end product may look. I hadn’t been prepared for the amazing production that duly arrived!
I had told Emily that I wanted the tone of the film to be dramatic, dark and sombre – capturing the innermost fears of old Ebenezer Scrooge and as soon as I watched the trailer I knew that she had succeeded. The music she had chosen was exciting with a racing heartbeat of a rhythm, and with lots of fast cutting together of various scenes from all of the locations it served up a tantalising glimpse as to how the film would look. As I watched I just smiled: Emily had created something very special indeed.
The trailer was circulated to all who needed to see it and the response was always the same: ‘Wow! I can’t wait to see the full film!’ Of course that is the point of a trailer but the superb reaction heaped the pressure on Emily to get the entire project completed as soon as possible, whilst juggling her other work which was beginning to make greater demands on her time.
Eventually after many emails back and forward she announced the there was a preview to be watched which she duly forwarded via WeTransfer, and which after an hour or so of gradual downloading I was able to watch. Actually I prevaricated for quite a while as I hate watching and listening to myself, but in the end I opened the laptop and began.
The film is everything that I had hoped it to be, Emily had been true to my wishes and used the specific shots that I had suggested, but also given it so much more. Her use of balancing the colour and the sound, of including carefully selected sound effects and music, of using special cinematic effects sparingly but very effectively turned the production from one man telling a story to a completely immersive film experience. As I watched I laughed and I cried, which considering that I am quite familiar with the book is quite surprising and a testament to her skills.
I am not arrogant or narrow minded enough to suggest that this film is a fully finished perfect piece of work, for there is plenty within its 70 minutes that I would like to either touch up or re-film but of course that is out of the question for now (although I would love to come back to the project next year for a second release!) However my main disappointment could be corrected and that was the opening sequence. Rather than using the dramatic music from the trailer Emily had gone with a melody that reminded me of the famous Hedwig Theme from the Harry Potter franchise, and somehow it didn’t bestow the menace and sense of doom that I wanted. The scene wasn’t helped by my voiceover narrative: ‘Marley was dead to begin with’ which I had recorded in slightly conversational, almost jovial, tones. I asked Emily if it was too late to make a change and she said she would indeed be able to do what I wanted, so I quickly set up my microphone and laptop and recorded a much darker version of ‘Marley was dead….’
Within a few hours Emily sent the new beginning and it was transformed: crows squawk and flutter among the silhouetted branches of a skeletal tree and as the (original) music plays. The viewer flies through the graveyard around ancient tombstones as my voice intones the opening lines, almost spitting out the final ‘Marley was as DEAD as a doornail!’ The screen fades to black and the title A Christmas Carol fills the void. We are off on our journey with Ebenezer Scrooge.
Frustratingly there are also a few moments in the film when we should have done better with continuity as well as ensuring that the numerous ‘Fire Escape’ and ‘Mind Your Head’ signs didn’t feature in the story, not to mention a stack of very modern chairs that I don’t know how we manage to miss on the day.
There are other moments which having seen the end result I would like to re-shoot from a point of view of my own performance, I would like to play about with characterisations a little more at certain moments, and use a few more of the cinematic tricks that we learned were possible as we filmed, but that is all for another time.
For now I think that with a crew of only three, all socially distancing in masks, and on a very short timescale and on a limited budget, Emily, Jordan and I have produced something that I am very very proud of!
On Thursday 26 November you can see for yourself for that is when the finished product goes live. To view the film go to the dedicated page on my website, Films (geralddickens.com) and click the button! Once you have paid for the rental and clicked to watch you will have access to the film for seven days, during which time you can view it as often as you like. From the launch date there is month until Christmas – so why not rent the piece as a gift for family, friends or for colleagues in lieu of a cancelled office party?
Yes 2020 has been a hard, difficult, and frightening year for us all but through it all rose the opportunity to make this film and that is something that I am truly thankful for!