Thursday, September 20, 2012

Darren Flaxstone and Christian Martin on “Buffering”


What was your filmmaking background before making Buffering?

DARREN: I’ve spent the past 20 years or so as a freelance film editor working on a huge variety of projects, to date near on 200 documentaries, many for the BBC, Nat Geo and Discovery Channel. There were a couple of award winning short film dramas along the way as both writer and director as well as our previous feature films, Shank and Release.

CHRISTIAN: I’ve had an eclectic career to date –and to try and give you a potted history – I started out on the usual path as runner many years ago and then moving into post production coordinating projects for Miramax and New Line that were posting in the UK.

From there I moved into development and production, starting out as assistant producer on Bent with Ian McKellen and Clive Owen.  After the film was delivered MGM (who acquired the film for the US) wanted a pop video with Mick Jagger (who starred in the film) and some additional promotional films and paid me handsomely to put it together. I used the fee to start my own production company and went to work for a film financier (Graham Bradstreet) who taught me a huge amount and financed a film for me called Fever written and directed by Alex Winter.

I promptly moved to New York to produce the film. It got selected for the Director’s Fortnight in Cannes and Alex and I went straight into development on another project called Acts of Charity written by Chips Hardy (Tom Hardy’s dad) which Alliance Atlantis picked up to finance and distribute. For various reasons the film folded partly as a consequence of studio re-structuring its finances after the financial turmoil and world uncertainty following the tragedy of 9/11.

Re-grouping I sold my production company along with my development slate and I set up a distribution company specializing in arthouse/world and gay cinema and became a company Director of another UK distributor (Peccadillo Pictures) and remodeled their business plan for them. I’m very proud that my expertise has seen them become one of the most successful specialized distributors in the UK.

Whilst distribution can be rewarding, it’s difficult sometimes to acquire a title after all the creative work has been done and really act as a sales person for someone else’s work. So I had to scratch the itch to express my own ideas and produce them for myself. I moved from London and took some time out to write.

Having moved to Bristol, I reconnected with Darren (who I’d known from film school days) and showed him my outline for Shank. Darren expressed an interest in writing it with me and so a script and project was born. This was our first low budget venture and all my past experience served to get this film made and sold internationally. It caused quite a stir and played in over 80 festivals across 120 cities worldwide. It’s success lead to Release followed by Buffering.

Where did the idea come from and what was the writing process like? 

DARREN: The idea was to make something significantly more lighthearted than our aforementioned previous films. I’d read somewhere that our home city of Bristol was the UK porn filmmaking capitol, (as well as a world center for wildlife documentaries!), with many people setting up ‘studios’ in their own homes. So the basic premise sprang from there really. We were also intrigued by the idea of a gay couple living in suburbia, (as many of us do of course…), and not having the usual dramatic hurdles as coming of age and homophobia to deal with.

The writing process was actually very quick, a few months really. After mapping out the basic plot together, I’d bash out a first few drafts of the script and between the two of us it would evolve from there really.

CHRISTIAN: We were looking for something that was a lighter subject to work on and Darren told me about this brothel in Prague that allowed men to have sex with any women in the premises for free on the understanding that the sex sessions were filmed and all rights signed away to the brothel to sell on line as porn.  We then started to formulate an idea around that with a gay bent.

From that we started to look into a quite dramatic treatment for the subject, which was not the original intention.  I then hit upon the idea of whittling it down to a loving couple who were in dire financial straits who had to turn to selling self made porn to make a living – add into that mix that one of them doesn’t know that the other is filming their sex sessions and a plot is born.

The whole global credit crunch was in full flow at this point and hitting everyone and that in-of-itself is a very serious subject but we wanted to go more humourous with the subject – in the end we think we’ve ended up with somewhere in between – a dramedy of sorts. 


 How did you two divide up the directing responsibilities?

DARREN: I think we both know the areas in which we’re good at and the ones where there’s room for improvement! I for one don’t have quite the experience with actors and lighting as Christian does, but my experience in editing and storytelling meant that I can piece the film together in my head while it’s being shot, which helps to know we’ve got the coverage for a scene or not and sometimes even eliminate the need for extraneous scenes, quite a help when you’ve only the budget to film for 12 days! Also, I think in advance in quite a musical way, which sort of helped this production a bit…

CHRISTIAN: I spend a considerable amount of time watching films – everything and anything – looking at edits, plot construction, shot composition, camera angles etc. I like to think about how to replicate shots and ideas formed from films I’ve seen with the lower budgets we operate with.

When we’re directing, I have a more hands on approach than Darren with the DoP and Operator and will grab the camera and see if a shot will work or not. Sometimes there is conflict with Darren’s role as editor as in the first scene in Buffering – I worked with the grip and cameraman on covering the whole establishment of the scene in one movement – a jib on a dolly round the bed over the bed, picking up a prop, jib back to the centre of the bed, hold, then dolly round to the side of the bed and jib down to the actor as he reveals his face from under the covers. Darren as we got to the centre of the bed on the jib shouted cut as he’d decided in his head that he wanted to cut out at point in the edit. I insisted we shoot as I intended and then in the edit he got his own way and cut where he’d wanted to.  Sometimes however, as producer I get my own way on shots by over ruling. Having the film edited in your head like Darren does isn’t the way I do it but we find a way to work it out. It’s certainly helpful though that Darren does work like this because all the small cutaways and establishing shots I leave to him to do whilst I work out the bigger stuff.

What was your post-production process like and how did it have an impact on the finished movie? 

DARREN: As previously mentioned post is my day job, so there weren’t any real surprises in the cutting room, apart from tightening the odd bit of dialogue and identifying the need for a pickup or two.  In fact I think we kept every scene in some shape or form. The fact the film was sort of pre-edited in our heads helped a lot to get the edit done swiftly and on schedule.

What did take a bit more toing and froing in the edit were the graphic elements, which were great fun to play with, but logistically fairly time consuming.

CHRISTIAN: I like post as it gives me a chance to sit back a little. Darren edits and I wander in and out of the edit suite with cups of tea and snacks. When he has something to show me I go in and watch a sequence and give him my thoughts. After he’s left for the day I think about it some more and maybe watch it again and then end up giving him more notes the next day.

On Buffering I very much left Darren to the music as he’d determined very clear ideas for the edit with the music from the band “Nancy” who we’d been introduced to by our co-producer (and actor in the film) Bernie Hodges.

Once we lock I like to get stuck into sound design and with this being a more humourous film I wanted to be creative with some of the additional sounds that could be added to underscore some of the humour. Knowing that I wanted a 5.1 mix on this film I knew where we could place some subtle sounds to augment and enhance.


 What was the smartest thing you did during production? The dumbest?

DARREN: The smartest thing for me was including the music of the group “Nancy” at such an early stage, as it really helped drive the flow of the script as they were writing the songs in tandem. For me it was an exciting collaboration and one you don’t often get the chance to do. I think their music added immeasurably to the feel and pace of the finished film. Also involving our good friend Bernie, (who played the shopkeeper) is always a smart move, as he brings a second wind of enthusiasm and acting know-how at a stage when I for one was starting to flag!

The dumbest thing? Mmmm, that’s a difficult one as generally the production went fairly smoothly. I’d have to say with hindsight it would’ve been good to have had more time to develop a few subplot ideas that we were toying with. Also, although I’m very proud of the work of our exceptionally young cast, I believe that a few more years maturity would’ve helped ease the pressures we were piling on our actors during the intense 12 day studio shoot.

CHRISTIAN: The smartest – I was asked to come in and act as a production consultant / exec producer on a feature film shooting in Bristol just before we were scheduled to shoot. They had secured a long lease on a warehouse that they turned into a studio. I waived part of my fee in return for using the studio and production office facilities after they had finished for Buffering.  This gave us a clear 12 days in a studio where we could build sets, house costumes, have a green room and make up room and most importantly leave all the equipment at the end of the day. Just wrap and walk away – heaven. All our previous films had been on location and wrapping and dissembling kit, doing movement orders, transportation etc every night was a real strain. We only had to do 4 days on location whilst returning to the studio as a base which was a dream.

The dumbest – doing everything….writing/producing/directing/marketing the film, selling the film….seriously I envy Darren’s position – when we’re writing up until the last minute I’m putting together the finance and the crew and prepping the film, then production has it’s stresses whilst juggling numerous hats and all Darren has to do is direct then edit and then after delivery Darren walks away whilst I carry on…this all engenders a control that I’d love to give up a part of to someone else! 

Because of the various hats I wear I always feel that the script suffers to some extent and proper development doesn’t tread it’s true course – as Darren points out a little more time on some subplots we were toying with would have been useful – also when I’m juggling all the balls ultimately things can slip and I know there could have been wittier, funnier lines if I’d just had a moment to do a polish on some scenes…but hey – not sure that’s dumbest thing just life really!

And, finally, what did you learn from making the film that you have taken to other projects?

DARREN: I personally learnt that one needs time to get the script right and to have as much critical feedback on a script as possible. I’m pleased with what we achieved with Buffering and indeed all our previous films, but I could’ve done with more script ‘fermentation’ time on all of them. The body becomes stronger, the process more fluid and it’s ultimately more pleasant on the palette! It’s free too….

CHRISTIAN: More time – on a lot of things – including script and casting. I think you pick up things from every film that you would do differently on the next – it’s always about evolving. I certainly know for example that whilst it was the greatest idea for me to market Shank on the youthfulness of the director and to play on the fact that he was straight (and it was quite a gritty gay film) it was also stupid to have taken my name off the credits as director in order to market the film in this way. I learned not to do that again! Credit where credit’s due!  I think also that with each film I learn to be more confident of my ideas and the execution of those ideas.

What are you doing next?

DARREN: A total left turn for me. I’ve been ‘fermenting’ a very British Horror film script entitled Dark Vision over the past year or so. Think The Office meets Blair Witch and you’re close. We shoot in The Fall…

CHRISTIAN: When I’m not making my films, I spend a lot of time working on polishes of scripts for other people and consulting on projects seeking finance etc. So since Buffering I have been quite busy with this. For my sins I am also really involved in politics and was elected last year to the local city council as a city councillor - which is quite rewarding if not time consuming. I’ve been tutoring undergrads on film production/finance and development.

I’m currently writing a thriller to shoot next year here in Bristol and in Bulgaria. I’m also adapting Shank for the stage. And I’ve also just completed a new feature that I wrote/produced and directed on my own called Cal – a youth drama exploring the plight of a young man dealing with his dying mom and his fight to survive and to find work in an economy that is flat lining.  It’s my most mature work to date and the politics and drama of it I am very proud of – should be out in the fall. Trailer here: https://vimeo.com/44539890


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