Less than a year has gone and I’m at the wheel again; driving that slow, peculiarly articulated contraption called, ‘making another art film’. Why I do it is something of a mystery, given the amount of effort and energy involved. And no, it isn’t like writing although writing is part of it. I mean, there has to be a script, hasn’t there? Only in the case of a film script it isn’t so much about finding one’s own voice as finding the actor’s voice. You think it’s easy? Think again. I needed an actor, not just any old actor but one who was right for my script, in possession of a rich, not to say, mellow voice, just the right amount of a Sri Lankan accent (later, desperation got the better of me and I was prepared to settle for almost any accent), male, of course, and of a certain age. Where do you find one of these?
The answer came after an early morning phone call to an actress friend who reeled off a series of possibilities.
‘Yes, he’s used to doing accents,’ said the friend, making it sound like stir-fry cooking.
I’ve never hired a real life actor before. Weren’t they difficult people to deal with? Wasn’t it all about their ego?
‘Oh for goodness sake,’ the friend said. ‘He’s a professional. Talk to him; tell him what you want. You’ll both know, soon enough…’
So I went, script in hand, to meet the unknown actor. Off the train from Paddington. At Reading station. How do you find an actor in a crowd?
The truth was I had, as usual, embarked on this project in completely the wrong way. Whoever heard of the director looking for the voiceover after the visuals were shot? But last summer I had stumbled on a superb location, crying out to be filmed. So, in the shimmering Italian heat, blinded by glimpses of the Adriatic, I set to work with no forward planning. No, no, I didn’t have a script at that stage. No, nor a clear idea of what I was doing. What? Permissions, did you say? No. None of that, yet. Just me, and my camera. Okay?
At some point during that blissful first day, as I rushed, hyper-ventilating with excitement, across the ruined building, my phone rang. I mention this merely because I was using my phone to do the filming.
‘Where are you?’ asked a voice I recognised.
From the lack of preamble I guessed it could only be a member of my family.
‘I’ll call you back,’ I said, breathless with anxiety over the angle of the sun.
‘What, next week?’ grumbled the echo across the Alps.
It was true.
In circumstances such as this, I am liable to forget the time. The day. The week, even…
All this happened a year ago. Before Conrad, the editor, got his hands on the footage...
Meanwhile I spent the winter writing a script. But, like a badly designed kitchen, nothing fitted.
‘God!’ Conrad said, when I handed him my camera work. ‘Were you drunk at the time?’
‘I’m not a cameraman,’ I yelled.
‘We could have told you that,’ said the family from the depths of their variously busy lives.
‘God!’ Conrad said again.
He seemed unable to utter any other word. With zero budget, six months to go and a prestigious venue, I decided I’d better get a move on. And find me a Voice.
The Voice was waiting for me beside W.H. Smiths and the, no-VAT-on-cold-pastry-yet, shop. He appeared normal. I handed over the script in an impressive undercover manner and was surprised that he had so many questions to ask about the character he was about to play. He was the one taking notes in an orderly manner.
‘Well, what did I tell you?’ the actress friend, said, when I reported back. ‘He’s a professional, love!’
Meanwhile Conrad was battling with my drunken footage.
‘There are some nice bits,’ he said, surprised.
‘I love the script,’ the Voice, akka Rob, said.
And followed it up by a series of sharp questions.
The character he was playing was a man who had lost touch with his daughter. On a trip to Italy, he writes her a letter. That's it. But Rob wanted much more than that. How much of an accent did I want, anyway?
'Oh...erh...about two spoons?'
'Oh...erh...about two spoons?'
There were now five months to go, and a serious cash flow problem. Time, suggested Conrad, to go ahead with the recording, perhaps?
‘Wednesday 25th then?’ Conrad told me, booking us into the studio.
Part 2. Coming soon.... Robert Mountford ventures into the underworld of Fine Art film.