The challenges of shooting a road movie spanning the entire length of the country (OK, it’s not Route 66, but still) on a micro-budget required the crew to be inventive, flexible and above all dedicated to the cause. Much of the film was shot in Kent, within driving distance of the unit base, around which the cast and crew were stored in a variety of holiday lets, hotels, and the houses of supporters and well-wishers, where they cooked and ate together, partied and went on long walks on their days off.
The shoot began with a series of interiors of the house where Charlie, played by Naomi Morris, lives with her parents. The garden shed was transformed into an art studio, flowing single-take Steadicam shots criss-crossed the ground floor, and the house was turned upside down as kit, makeup, costume, craft table and props moved from room to room to make way for the shoot. The characters came to life and the laughs came thick and fast.
With Charlie’s parents’ scenes wrapped, we said farewell to Glen McCready and Cordelia Bugeja, and hello to Andy Murton, who was playing Oz, the other half of our central odd couple, who would be with us for the rest of the shoot. We also said hello to his beard, practically a character in its own right, heroically applied at the beginning of each day by Make-Up Designer Helen Currie.
With Oz in the picture, we began to shoot on a series of micro-sets, our tiny studio space transfigured at the end of each day ready to be dressed by Production Designer Zoe Seiffert into a succession of detailed and elaborate locations - a prim dining room, a low- rent motel, a flat-above-a-shop, a filthy bathroom, as well as other locations too wonderful (and spoilery) to reveal here.
The production then moved to a succession of locations within driving distance of the unit base, including A-road laybys, a forest car-park at night, several garages, a charity shop, a pub and a working roadside café, where truckers and pensioners ate Full Englishes and watched curiously as a film crew took over a corner of the café and filmed a homeless man in a fake beard biting repeatedly into a lonely sausage. The café, who were supplying the prop sausages, were rubbing their hands as the takes racked up.
We also began shooting in and around our key vehicle, the little yellow car in which Charlie and Oz make their odyssey to Skye. As it turns out, fitting an Alexa Mini camera (which isn’t all that mini!), DOP Neil Oseman and Camera Assistant Max into the back of a Fiat 500 is quite the physics problem.
A few days later we were in the village of Lydden (home of the famous Lydden Hill race circuit) at an auto repair garage, doubling with a little VFX magic for the edge of the Scottish highlands. The owner’s eccentric approach to tidiness meant very little set dressing was required, and Gordon Kennedy gave a barnstorming performance as Tim, the mechanic, and even a torrential downpour in the middle of the day couldn’t affect continuity. The appearance of a prop ambulance (complete with prop paramedic) caused a fair bit of rubbernecking by passing cars – a running theme, as cars slowed down when they saw our fake policeman by the side of the road in an earlier scene.
One of the biggest logistical challenges was our day at the Turner Contemporary in Margate, where Charlie works at the beginning of the film, and where she and Oz first meet. Not only did we take over the gallery for the day, we had to build a free-standing wall and hang two large canvases on it. We also had to wrangle more than thirty extras and film four different scenes in two locations. By making maximum use of natural light (of which the Turner has plenty) and dressing one location while the other was shooting, we were able to finish the day on time, while still getting spectacular shots of the gallery, the artworks, including an installation by Yinka Shonibare which Oz passes in the lobby, as well as the sea views through the windows.
The end of this phase of the shoot came at Longcross Studios, where we had hired a winding section of the test-track to shoot our infamous Gridlocked Road scene – another challenge on a micro-budget. All of the crew vehicles, and a few more besides, were lined up on a curving forest road to simulate a traffic jam, through which 2nd AC Max’s motorbike cut a sexy swathe. The next day, the Alexa was mounted on a car rig, and Oz and Charlie were towed around the main test track at Longcross, as TV crews screamed past filming the latest supercars.
But you can only shoot so much of a cross-country road trip in the South-East, and after a few days’ rest it was time for a skeleton crew to make the long journey up to the Isle of Skye, while the talent flew to Inverness and drove to meet us in a hire car. Nothing but the best for them.
Tracing the real-life journey taken by Charlie and Oz, we left Glasgow behind and ventured along the side of Loch Lomond and into the highlands, and it was generally agreed among the crew that we were not in Kansas anymore. We made it in time to our first location, the Skye-Glenelg ferry, one of the last turntable ferries in the world, which crossed the narrow strait between the island and the mainland. Nothing adds production value like a glittering sea and a backdrop of rugged mountains.
Our time on Skye was spent filming Oz and Charlie in a series of spectacular locations for some of the biggest and most intense scenes in the film, and Andy and Naomi, who had become fast friends and partners in crime during the shoot, gave it their all, as did the crew, despite having to stay in a holiday let that had neither Wi-Fi nor running water – such luxuries being, presumably, the preserve of namby-pamby southerners.
There were a few spectacular crew lunches surrounded by mountains, and not a few local beers in the evening. The next day, we shot our final scene on the island, which was also one of the final scenes of the film, occasioning not a few tears, explained away as being because of the brisk sea-breeze. And with that, we were done.
The crew and key cast reunited in October for a few days of car-based pickups, using a slimmed-down camera rig and a few pretty neat trick shots to film some daytime and night-time driving scenes. If you’ve never crouched and rocked a car in the middle of a pitch-black paddock at 1AM while a man windmills an LED panel over your head and a donkey stands looking at you through a nearby fence, then you have not lived.
The last major scenes of the film, when Charlie finally reaches her destination and discovers the truth about her father, were shot in February, at Halliford Studios in West London, where we were joined by Poirot and My Week With Marilyn star Philip Jackson, who brought the roguish charm we always dreamed of for Charlie’s real dad. Two spectacularly detailed sets were built, including a gloriously orange retro kitchen and a messy photographer’s darkroom, and it was emotional to call a wrap on our lead actor.
As the edit began, a motley even-more-skeleton crew grabbed B-unit shots of our yellow Fiat driving through the kinds of landscapes that make regional tourist boards come over all fuzzy, as well as interstitial footage of a toy car crossing a handmade found-object map of the UK to show the progress of the road trip. After a test-screening of a rough cut of the film, and with picture locked, Post-Production moved to Pinewood Studios, where Oscar-winning Sound Mixer Richard Pryke worked his magic, and to FreeFolk, where colourist Duncan Russell made Oz’s coat (and every frame of the film) just the right shade. Selected preview footage of the film was played at the 2017 Edinburgh Film Festival as part of the Works in Progress strand, and the film will soon have its festival premiere in 2018.