Four years and 10 months ago, a drunk French guy told me that Strange Company, the production company I run, and the company that made BloodSpell, had "lost the punk edge". I agreed and decided to knock out a quick six-month film project to get that edge back.
About two years ago, I was sitting in the 8' by 10' room I'm sitting in now, with two other people crammed in behind me. It was about 33 degrees Centigrade, and we were frantically forcing a computer game to shoot a huge, complicated action scene. And nothing was going right. We were swearing, shouting, panicking, and, although I probably wouldn't have believed you if you'd told me at the time (and would have paused in our conversation to describe our external hard drive as something anatomically impossible), having a hell of a lot of fun.
I don't really know what I'm going to write here. This is probably going to be my last ever blog post on BloodSpell, aside from a quick housekeeping post to round everything off. I've been writing here for nearly five years, chronicling the ups and downs of making a truly huge project like this one; not to mention making it. By "truly huge", I mean I've got about three terabytes of video sitting in my cupboard, from which it was constructed. It has around 3,000 shots in it, perhaps more, with about a 10-1 shooting ratio, meaning that we probably shot 30,000 shots to make the film. Approximately. I'm not going to check right now.
Was it worth it?
So I guess the theme of this post will be "BloodSpell changed my life".
BloodSpell was hell from time to time. It was made easier by a fantastically cool and supportive crew - one of the best things about BloodSpell was the number of people I met who are now amongst my closest friends. This week, I've been filming a cookery show with two of them, I've been chatting away with another one (whom I wrote a book with) and I'll be playing World of Warcraft on the weekend with another couple of 'em. If all I'd gotten out of BloodSpell was the friendships, it would have been worth it.
But it was hell occasionally. Admittedly, that wasn't helped by my personal experiences during the filming - several unconnected business deals went through some tough times where by tough I mean "I have my lawyer on speeddial", my love life could, shall we say, have gone better, and my father died of a heart attack. I wasn't going to be in great shape anyway after that. But bits of the shooting time on BloodSpell were stressful to the point that I don't remember a great deal about the months in question - notably the time around the release of the final episode.
All those filmmakers who say "wow, making a feature film is brutally tough"? They're not wrong. All those stories of people developing allergies, anxiety syndromes, nervous exhaustion? I think a lot of it can be avoided, but frankly BloodSpell wasn't good for my health, at least in the short term. I had a conversation with Gordon McDonald a while ago - whom the old-school Machinima people may remember was the co-founder of Strange Company, over 10 years ago - and he mentioned that after he left SC, his main desire was to find a less stressful job, "like air traffic control or stock trading".
And I wish we could have achieved more. I wish that the animation had been smoother, I wish that I'd managed to smooth out some parts of the plot, I wish we'd been able to use a more attractive engine and that we'd figured out all the things we figured out about filming earlier than we did.
So, I sound pretty down on the BloodSpell experience, right?
I needed a holiday after it, I should have taken more holidays during it, and frankly I need to employ someone to slap me around the head every morning and say "stop worrying and enjoy what you're doing", but BloodSpell showed me one thing: I'm right. At least, I'm right about that most important of questions, "what the hell do I want to do?"
Having now gone through the hell of production - and it was really was hell at times - I now know that even in spite of that, this shit, it be fun.
The days in the office with Johnnie, Murray, Steve, Ross, Ben, Erin, Dragal, all laughing, joking, swearing, discussing, creating this amazing piece of work one second at a time, creating the environment in which we'd do it from sweat and virtual gaffer tape, inventing new things and discovering new ideas every day. The running jokes that developed. The Blue Ring of Death. Gad's Spooge Gun. Steve's terrifying discoveries on the Internet. The support that everyone gave each other when it wasn't going well. The electric feeling of having my flat filled with creativity, with an edit suite on the living room table, a filming crew in the spare room, Justin dropping in with awesome new animations...
The days spent drafting, writing, redrafting the script. Sitting at a table near King's Cross with a laptop and a thick sheaf of paper, chipping away at the sculpture of the film to be, nothing but me, my knowledge of how to tell a story and create a world, new craft, new techniques, and most importantly the characters - the people - I was making live.
The recording sessions, just pure storytelling, having great actors take the characters I'd written and making them come alive in ways that at the same time weren't what I had envisioned and were. Being able to be my own audience and direct the story at the same time. The joy of waking up in the morning to see a new sound draft from Phil Rice, and hear him make our world come alive.
The meetings, the planning stages, the sitting around my living room table with a whiteboard. The cartoon turtle Barry drew on the side of the planning board. The review meetings full of smart people and smarter comments. The twenty-four-hour marathon to get the trailer up and running. The moment when Laura first suggested that Jered had to die.
The release days. The adrenaline. Three people in an office sending out emails as fast as possible. The joy and fun of marketing, pushing something that you really, really believe in. And seeing the responses. Reading Ken Thain's reviews, full of balanced insight and comment, seeing the commentary on the website, hearing that thousands of people I'd never met had entered this world that lived in my head, and liked what they found.
Seeing the feature film on a big screen, and realising that I'd forgotten I was watching computer game characters, and had been caught up in my own story, even though I knew it like the back of my hand. Experiencing the characters and their adventures myself.
I can't explain it. I still can't fully explain exactly why it's so much fun, so fulfilling. But whilst there were very tough, scary, stressful days when I felt like something was pressing on the side of my head with a medium-sized estate car, frankly even those days I felt I was doing the best thing I could be doing. And then there were the other days, there were days when what we were doing was the happiest, most fun thing in the world. And I've never been happier than then, working side by side with incredibly cool people to make something wonderful. Not sublime, perhaps, not classically beautiful. Fast, and fun, and real, and wonderful.
I want to improve on the way in which we made this film. I want to use new technology, I want to have smoother production processes, I want to spend less time wondering why our USB2 hard drive is transferring at 56k modem speeds, and I want to realise earlier that brown-on-brown is not the best look for a room. I want to fix the nasty annoying bug at the start of the filming process, not the end. But, fundementally, I want to do that again. Because it was awesome.
I'm glad we made this, and I'm glad you enjoyed it.