Man at the clock
The Script was mostly developed during Covid lockdown. On Monday 19 October 2020 rookie writers David Donaldson and Roger McNally met by Zoom to brainstorm story ideas. It was the first of many writing and appraisal sessions. From time to time the Academy’s volunteer script consultant Paul Harker [Harker Screenwriter] helped them refine their initial outline, which had envisaged perhaps 20 actors including a child, a dog and multiple locations, into a practical 30-ish minute script.
It took David D and Roger 26 iterations over 18 months to produce the ‘final’ script. This required only two principal players [David Macey and Grace White Edmonds], four supporting actors [George Cooper, Andrew Tiplady, Nigel Karl Stone and Lee Saunders], voice-over artist [Rosie Alldred], Roger’s dog [Stella] and her handler [Gillian McNally].
Guided by Johnny Edmonds [Executive Producer / Founder Oakwood Film Academy] the team began to plan filming. David Sykes was persuaded to take on the crucial role of First Assistant Director and worked with David D [now rookie Director] on casting, assembling the extended crew, producing a production plan, health and safety risk assessments, filming permissions, insurance questions, logistics for filming at our two locations, props lists and sources, establishing an indoor production base, operating the clapper-board, etc. This included recruiting additional volunteers: Paul Spence an experienced sound engineer; Mark Chadwick sound assistant; Ella Rose Price make-up artist; Thalia Macey script supervisor; Conor Middleton colour grading; and sisters Sharon Donaldson and Ann Prosser catering.
Meanwhile Roger [now rookie Director of Cinematography] and Academy volunteer mentor Tony O’Reilly [the Atom], assembled, checked and prepared the academy equipment [including 2x Sony NEX FS100 and Tripods; 2x RODE audio mics and a boom]. They developed a story board and the methods for sound recording in a difficult background-noisy environment. Academy volunteers and members took on other practical roles: Paul Harker graphic design and publicity; Judith Rothenburg production and continuity; David Barnard assistant camera.
David B was also prevailed upon to simultaneously, single-handedly interview, film and record real-time cast and crew experiences, which he later edited into a 15 minute ‘Making of’ documentary, used to promote the Academy and attract potential new members.
Peer Support Plus David D is a founding Trustee of Peer Support Plus CIO, a Leeds mental health charity first established just as we went into Covid lockdown in March 2020. To shape the story, he drew on fifteen years of lived experience learning to better manage his own mental health [ongoing], and 10 years as a Leeds Mind volunteer co-facilitating thousands of hours of Peer Support Groups, Workshops and Courses – many of which he co-wrote.
The Man at the Clock illustrates some key principals of Peer Support, including:
- sharing lived experiences and feelings within a trusted, equal and confidential environment;
- taking control of our feelings and responsibility for better managing our behaviours;
- not judging or advice giving but listening carefully and compassionately without interrupting;
- learning from hearing your own voice describe difficult feelings, as well as the voices of others describing times when they experienced similar feelings and relating the successes or set-backs resulting from the behaviours they chose in response.
Albert and Grace begin by instantly stereotyping each other based on their superficial appearances and behaviours. Later, a frustrated Grace, as a last resort, seeks Albert’s help. This enables them to begin to appreciate each other’s company and to gradually learn from and trust one another. They engage naturally and kindly in everyday people-watching and in spontaneous intergenerational peer support. During an unforeseen emotionally charged moment they discover they have more lived experiences and strong feelings in common than either had supposed. They realise, they are not alone.
Peer Support Plus CIO’s Board of Trustees were enthused by the script and the charity became nominal co-producer of the film.
At first light on Sunday morning 28 November 2021, it was bright, dry and below-zero. The rookie Academy crew met on location at Oakwood Clock with our two principal actors to film a ‘dress rehearsal’. The crew wanted to practice working together and with real live actors on our first ever full-scale production, learn to use the equipment, gather some test footage and obtain sound samples.
Our principal location was outdoors, near a very noisy traffic junction. Oakwood Clock is a local landmark and popular public meeting place. We experienced all the challenges we had anticipated and one or two we hadn’t, such as crew-reflections in the Perspex-covered metal information panels behind the seated actors, and rapidly changing natural daylight.
Rehearsals were held indoors during late February and March 2022. David D and the actors tested and developed their interpretations of the script and devised the ‘blocking’ of their physical movements. Roger observed and as everyone present contributed ideas he drafted the initial camera shot list ready to capture the action.
Principal shooting took place on Sunday mornings 20 and 27 March, Saturday evening 2 April, and Sunday mornings 3 and 10 April 2022. Johnny had been called away to support family so we were without his guiding light. Tony mentored David D and Roger throughout, offering problem solving ideas, suggesting improvements and sharing his considerable film-making experience.
Despite careful equipment preparation, cleaning and inspection, the rushes from 27 March revealed a slight but noticeable defect on some shots, quickly traced to a lens. Once seen, the blemish on screen couldn’t be unseen. This was a testing moment for everyone. The whole crew and principal actors took it in our stride without the slightest thought of blame or recrimination. It was a proud ‘Peer Support’ moment when everyone engaged with this Oakwood Film Academy project recognised that we really had become a mutually supportive team of good kind friends and that it was okay for us all to be human, fallible, compassionate and to ask each other for help. We learned together, found solutions together, fixed the technical problem, adjusted the shooting schedule, cracked on and delivered even better performances without extending the overall filming schedule. We did it all, together.
Once “in’t tin” it became apparent that The Man at The Clock was exceeding our ambitions and might be good enough to consider entering into local ‘Short Film’ competitions. It was agreed that a necessarily 15-ish minute edit, could only focus on Albert’s story. The later, fuller version, featuring more of the other characters’ back-stories, would be taken by our co-producer Peer Support Plus CIO, into community settings. They would use the longer film to ignite ‘what was motivating each character’ conversations, helping to break down stigma around talking about mental health and improving individual’s and organisation’s attitudes towards compassionately, beneficially, supporting everyone’s mental wellbeing.
Between May 2022 and March 2023 Roger, assisted by Johnny and Tony, catalogued and edited the raw video and sound files. Undetectable visual effects were created by Johnny [Boi]. Colour grading was undertaken by Connor.
As editing progressed, led by the film’s Director David D, the film was repeatedly critically appraised and collectively shaped by all Academy members, including new member David Sellers. This process ensured post-production became a valuable and inclusive learning experience enjoyed by all Academy members.
As a direct result of these appraisals, additional ‘B Roll’ was shot by Roger, Johnny and Tony. The radio announcer and calendar sequence were written-in by David D and recorded by Rosie Alldred – all to better convey the passage of time between ‘Acts’.
Celebration Finally, on Saturday 28 March 2023 the Oakwood Film Academy held a private celebratory screening for everyone involved in making the film, their families and friends. Later that evening it was shown to an unsuspecting test audience at the Oakwood Cinema – immediately before the advertised BAFTA nominated documentary A Bunch of Amateurs, whose Bradford Movie Makers ‘stars’ attended it’s showing then entertained the audience with an informative Q&A.
Resourcing The Man at The Clock was a ‘zero budget production’ but it didn’t cost nothing. Peer Support Plus applied unsuccessfully for a grant from The Arts Council’s Let’s Create Jubilee Fund, mainly so we could pay our Actors basic rates, rent for our PHG Snooker Cub production base at Roundhay Parochial Hall and unavoidable expenses.
In the event, everyone we asked generously gifted us their time, skills, facilities and resources. To date we have spent less than £500 on costume and props, actors travel expenses, catering supplies, publicity, film festival fees, etc. This was mainly funded by David D, Roger and the Academy but all Academy members kindly chipped in towards some props and to help cater the private celebratory screening.
Thank you again Actors, Crew, and every local business and individual who supported us. Your generous practical contributions and goodwill made this extraordinary new experience possible for all of us.
We hope you enjoy our funny, poignant, insightful and ultimately uplifting film.
David Donaldson & Roger McNally