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The making of The Secret

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The Secret received a 4-Star Award at BIAFF 2008

The Secret

A 27-minute drama

The mother - grandmother character in 'The Secret'.A scene from 'The Secret'.Before I moved into video production in 1989, I worked for 29 years in the teaching profession. My third post was a 2,000-pupil comprehensive school not far from Liverpool where my principal role was Director of Sixth Form.

About two years before I changed careers there was a sixth form parents' evening at the school, during which a mother approached me to discuss her son's progress. I told her that he was highly like to attain the A level grades that London University had asked for, just as long as he continued to work to his present standard.

She accepted this, but explained that her reason for coming was to do with something she had to tell her son at the weekend. She wanted me to learn what it was, but not to reveal to the boy that I knew about it. She lamented her failure to tell him when he was younger, but said that there never seemed a right time to do so. She also predicted that he might react badly to her revelation, and this turned out to be true.

Characters of Mathew and Lucy in 'The Secret'.How a 17-year old copes with the news that his mother is, in fact, his grandmother, and that the young woman he thought was his sister is his biological mother is hard to imagine. The prediction was correct, for he began missing lessons and failing to hand in work. This lasted for four or five weeks, after which he slowly returned to normality - largely, I think, because of the support of his girlfriend who also had an A level offer from London University. In the end they both attained the required grades, but I know no more than that about their future lives, except that at university he found another girl and she found another boy.

When we made our two 84-minute films, 4 Days and The Mirror, we invented stories, characters and plot-lines. Although the stories were not bad, we came to the conclusion that the richest reservoir for film stories is real life, and that is why The Secret was written, using this story, but with some necessary additions.

Six of us had three 3-hour meeting to argue through the general storyline, and then we followed our usual pattern whereby I would write the screenplay and hand it to the director, David Town. He would suggest alterations and would re-write some of the dialogue, before the group held a final meeting to agree the script.

Mathew in 'The Secret'.At no point is the script considered "finished", and we always exploit opportunities to make changes right up to and including the shoots. If actors have ideas of their own, these will sometimes be incorporated, and we are always prepared to shoot alternative versions of the dialogue, deciding later which is to be edited in. In particular, we always ask teenage actors whether or not they would say a line the way it has been written, and there are usually one or two teenagers in the development meetings.

The shoot extended over 11 days, including a visit to Oxford to film in the university area and, in particular, at Corpus Christi College where the main character, Matthew played by Alex Moran, was to be interviewed, although the interview itself took place at my solicitors in Southport. Many scenes were filmed at King George V College in the town, and all the location providers were extremely helpful.

The interview scene in 'The Secret'.4 Days and The Mirror were shot on three cameras and, in the case of the latter, a JVC DV700, a Panasonic AG-100 and a Sony HVR-Z1E. As I had to spend days on colour correction, in order to unify the appearance of the shots, I resolved never again to use three different makes, and so The Secret was filmed on two Sony camcorders in HD widescreen. As well as tripods we used a Fig-Rig1, a DVTec rig2 and a DV Steadicam3 as supports. The Fig-Rig is particularly effective for catching unusual angles and, at £180 delivered, is an absolute bargain.

In 4 Days we learned the hard way that using radio microphones on the seafront is a bad idea. When Head in the Sand was shot in the Ainsdale dunes, all audio was acquired by Sennheisers4 on booms - a much better idea, and so this is the approach we adopted for The Secret. Because this film was less than half the length of its two predecessors, we gave much more consideration to shot framing and camera angles, but we did not bother with storyboarding, which some prefer and other do not. Editing of material started on the first free day after each shoot, which meant that future sequences could be amended with reference to completed scenes.

Behind the scenes during the shooting of 'The Secret'.Most of our productions feature teenage actors, but in this case it was 17-year-old Alex Moran who took the lead role. No matter how good the screenwriting and no matter how sensitive the camera work, no good film can be made without capable actors. Alex has the shining quality of restrained portrayal, using minimal movement and facial expression. This understatement is a rare skill amongst young performers, although it is easily recognised in those such as Anthony Hopkins.

The première of The Secret took place in 2007 in a programme that included Behind The Wire, Another Place, and Incident in a Red House. Already completed for the November 2008 première are The End of the Rainbow and Nightmare on Lord Street, and we are currently shooting the next drama Background Figure.

To me, the main reason for making films is the realisation of creative ideas. If there are awards at competitions these are gratifying, but they are not the objective of the activity. However, I must confess to experiencing some pleasure when I read the judge's comments about Head in the Sand, which recently won the IAC Mersey Ten. He observed that "I'm almost sure that the film-maker is younger than others taking part in this competition." Last December was my 70th birthday!

Portrait of Paul Bagshaw.

- Paul Bagshaw (Artworks Pictures)

1 Fig-Rig is the official title of a device looking rather like a car steering-wheel which holds a cancorder where the hub would be. It was devised by film and television director Mike Figgis and is made by Manfrotto. See their website: www.manfrotto.com
2 DVTec rig is a camera support system that fits over one shoulder and has a rod connecting it to a belt round the user's waist. See DVTec's website www.dvtec.tv
3 Steadicam is a range of camera supports from Tiffen. They use a series of weights and balances and two folding arms to steady the camera. The DV version was replaced by the JR version and that is now superceded by the Merlin, see their website www.steadicam.com
4 Sennheiser is a leading brand of microphones and associated kit. See www.sennheiser.co.uk for details.


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Page updated on 07 October 2011
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