Home from home during lockdown shoot
Rather than binge-watch Netflix, vow to get fit or mine a previously untapped love for gardening, director Mark Jenkinson decided to do what he does best during lockdown.
Director Mark Jenkinson, like many of us over the enforced coronavirus lockdown, was a little bit bored, a lot frustrated and more than ready to break the monotony.
Unlike many of us, he didn't just make the decision to sign up to another streaming service (hello, Disney+) or learn a new language (bonjour Duolingo) but instead took it upon himself to make a clever, funny, romantic short film with a limited crew and with himself and his girlfriend, Liliana, in the starring roles.
Below, Jenkinson explains the reasons for embarking on a difficult but ultimately fulfilling endeavour and the challenges involved in doing so.
Why was it important to you to create something during the lockdown period?
It was obviously a very tough withdrawal experience going from working solidly on projects one moment, to twiddling your thumbs and deciding if you even need to get dressed the next. There isn’t really an option to work from home in the film industry but I really wanted to try and remain productive and to emerge from this time with something to show for it creatively. I also wanted to document this experience in a way that might create a lasting memory of it.
How long has this story been percolating and did it alter much from script to screen?
Liliana (my girlfriend) had mentioned a ghost in relation to another idea we had, and I started thinking ‘what would this lockdown be like for a ghost and how might they be affected by these conditions?’. With that nugget, we sat in the Olympic park and fleshed out the scenes in one afternoon.
I wanted to document this experience in a way that might create a lasting memory of it.
The final script came together over a two-week period and we were editing the script right up until the night before the shoot. The only real change that happened whilst on the shoot was the removal of a line where Lily’s character actually spoke the first new rule. It just felt too on the nose and we all looked at each other and quickly chucked the line and did the scene more ambiguously.
Had you ever acted in your films before and how did it feel to be in front of the camera?
I spent most of my youth in amateur theatre so was very comfortable with the acting process and having to perform in front of people. It was the first time I had been on camera though, and the difference with theatre is that you instantly have to get into character or jump to a moment in the scene out of order. Theatre gives you the luxury of telling the story uninterrupted so you can really loose yourself.
The emotional scene I have on the stairs was my favourite because I worked myself up to the edge of real tears.
That being said, it felt pretty seamless for me and was actually quite nostalgic. It reminded me of the feelings I had acting as a child and the process of trying to find genuine emotions in a constructed moment, and on cue. The emotional scene I have on the stairs was my favourite because I worked myself up to the edge of real tears. Between takes I tried very hard not to leave that headspace, which helped a lot. It gave me a greater appreciation for what real actors have to do and how sometimes it can be extremely powerful experience for them, just like it is for us watching.
How was the experience of directing yourself and your girlfriend?
Liliana had never acted in anything, let alone been on camera. We agreed right at the start that if we were asking people to help us make this, we had to give it everything in the hope that our performance did not let them or the film down. She approached it like a true pro and we did hours of rehearsals together. For days we blocked out all the action and she filled her script with notes in the margins. I’m sure our neighbours must have wondered why we kept having the exact same argument over and over! This process helped me get a sense of the shots I wanted and negated the need for any kind of storyboard.
I’m sure our neighbours must have wondered why we kept having the exact same argument over and over!
Once on set it was really liberating because I could direct myself internally. It got to a point where I could tell mid-take that it wasn’t right and I could just adjust my tone or delivery to fix it, so at least half the shot was going in the right direction. Mark Patten, the DoP, was invaluable to me as second opinion for my performance. It was largely just a look he would give me that I knew meant, ‘try one more’, and he knew that I knew what to change. Once a shot was blocked and framed up I rarely needed to watch playback and this sped up the shoot no end.
I tried really hard as an actor, to give myself as a director (and Quin [Williams] my editor) some variation on the performances from take to take in the same way I try to get the actors to do on a normal job. Keeping track of all these incremental performance versions and continuity and the storytelling was quite a challenge, but one that I really enjoyed.
It was a real collaborative effort between friends and colleagues; was everyone eager to be involved and have something to do during such an unusually inactive period?
Absolutely! Everyone on the crew expressed how nice it was to be on a set again and to get out of the house and make something. I think we all let out a collective sigh as we got back into doing something we love. Just seeing the camera being built in my front garden brought a huge grin to my face. I’m extremely grateful to everyone that gave their time and talents to the film.
How challenging was the lockdown situation and shooting within that?
In the beginning we outlined all the challenges before us and quickly realised that if we wanted actors they would have to be us. If we wanted a location it would have to be our house, and so on. We called on friends down the street to play small rolls and the whole production felt very ‘home made’. So, considering the fact that I live with my co-star and we used locations that we live in, our only real challenge was crew safety. PPE was provided for everyone on the shoot and obviously it’s impossible to remain 100% safe the whole time, but I think we did a great job of massively reducing any potential risk by being very careful.
Considering the fact that I live with my co-star and we used locations that we live in, our only real challenge was crew safety.
We decided against having certain key departments in order to maintain a very small crew inside small locations. I was worried that we might struggle without an AD or even a runner but Liliana and I pre-dressed the locations the day before, we tech scouted the light and stocked up on snacks. All this meant there was little to slow us down, and everyone mucking in and helping each other meant we really flew through it. A crew of eight (including Liliana and I) shot 76 set-ups in two, short days. Imagine if we could work this fast on a commercial shoot!