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The making of Addict

To BIAFF 2014 results | To Full Making Of Index |

At BIAFF 2014 Geoff Harmer won  5 stars for Addict .

Still from 'Addict'.
Paul Anthony

Still from 'Addict'.

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Jenny Mitchell

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Neil James

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Hannah Aine Smith

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Learne Forsyth

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Still from 'Addict'.

Watch the trailer.

I was asked by a local budding film maker if I would help with his first project. It was a cold evening in September 2010, where I met the team working on a short feature called A Darker Shade of Red. The lead actor in this production was newcomer Paul Anthony, who really got under the skin of his character. I spent a couple of days over the coming weeks with Paul as I helped shoot and edit their film. Paul's performance really stuck with me and whilst editing the film I decided I had to create a project to showcase his talent. The Addict seeds were sown.

Fast forward to April 2011, the final touches were being added to my short film Room 4 ready for its premiere at the Red Carpet Screenings International Film Festival. I had a treatment and basic outline for my next short film Addict on paper. The premise was to show brief glimpses of the life of the addict, with the viewer not knowing what the addiction was to be until right at the very end. My intention from the start was to cast Paul as the lead, with an improvised style of acting required. I intended on providing the framework for the content, whilst allowing Paul to perform in a naturalistic way.

I took Paul out to a few locations that had an interesting backdrop and then shot a few sequences of him smoking. In the edit suite I put together a short 30 second sequence from the footage and then added various video filters. It wasn't until I desaturated the image totally and then altered the contrast and brightness that I found something striking. In enhanced black and white with, Paul's face just came alive. Every crease in his skin was amplified, every twitch and muscle movement became obvious. In B&W the warmth from the scene was stripped away, I was now totally concentrating on Paul's performance, nothing was over complicating the scene. I had found the look that I wanted. I've done lots of comedies in the past, but with Addict I wanted to go to the other end of the spectrum. I wanted to make something without humour, fun, happiness, etc… I wanted something brutal, nasty, and gritty. Taking away the colour from the image, allows the viewer to concentrate on the performances and gave me the look and feel I was after.

We started shooting the first scene in July 2011. We set out to create 5 days in the life of our addict, shooting each day in its entirety, with the structure of the film coming together in the edit. I knew the film wasn't going to be presented in a linear fashion, but I sat down and edited the scenes we had shot as though it would be linear. The rough cut of the scene lasted about 3-4 mins, I did some basic grading and added a temp score, my opinion on the film I was making started to change.

We shot what was known as 'Day 2' in early August. I again put a linear edit together of the day's work, with some basic grading and adding a temp score again. It was at this point that I realised I was on to something bigger, I needed to tell a bigger story with these characters. I contacted my friend and colleague Mark Brennan, a very talented writer/producer at Pork Chop Pictures. We sat in the local pub over a drink and worked out a bigger story arc for our characters. Mark went away and came back a couple of weeks later with a really good script. A few revisions later and we were ready to continue making our film.

One of the main issues about making our film was organising the cast and crew. No one was being paid to work on the film, we were relying on everyone's loyalty, generosity and devotion to the project. Organising people with no incentive other than the joy of being involved, can often be a daunting task. What I ended up doing, was to create a spreadsheet within Excel with Scenes across the top and Assets (cast/crew, location, etc) down the side. I then put ticks in the relevant slots as to which asset is needed for each scene. I could then see which scenes had the same list of assets attached, and after grouping these together, I would then know which scenes could be filmed back to back, etc. I would then email out to all the "assets" and organise the shoots. With people often only available at weekends or evenings, this became a very long and drawn out process.

One of the most controversial aspects of the film is the use of the Piece to Camera/Video Diary sequences. From the feedback received, these moments have definitely divided the audience, some love them, some hate them. I always intended to use them to show a more down to earth character. They were all improvised, to ensure they have a naturalistic tone. What I did was give a camcorder to Paul, with a list of subjects and phrases I needed him to say or talk about. He then went away and recorded his video diary excerpts at random moments whenever he felt it was a good time. He recorded hours of the stuff! This was fun to review and pick out the moments that were relevant to the story and the character development.

Nearly a year after we started to shoot the film, the first cut of Addict was ready and ran to 1 hour and 46 minutes. I invited a group of fellow film makers to my house including Mark Brennan and Carl Austin from Pork Chop Pictures and I gave them all a notepad and pen. I turned down the lights, cranked up the sound and played the film on my 40 inch TV. We all frantically made notes about what was good, bad or needed more work. I ended up with a few sheets of A4 filled with changes and additions that were needed to make the film we all wanted to see.

All the changes were made and what I thought was going to be the Premiere of the film was organised by Seb Hall of Red Carpet Screenings at a local theatre. 8th June 2012, around 150 people piled into the theatre to see our 1 hour and 42 minute cut of the film. I sat to the side, heart pounding, palms sweaty. This is what making films is all about… presenting it to an audience. After the screening I got a lot of kind and complimentary comments about the film, which is great of course, but the critical comment is what helps a film maker. Having watched the film with a large audience I could now see areas that needed more attention. I decided to get a second opinion.

I contacted a professional film maker, Keith Wright, who has recently had some great success with his feature film Harold's Going Stiff. It was entirely shot on a Canon 7D, has been released theatrically and is now on DVD in your local HMV. He sat and watched the film and then provided me with an essay on both the positive and negative aspects of the film. He also supplied me with ideas on how to solve some of my problems. This was unbelievably useful, so cut number 3 was started.

Cut number 3 came in at just under 1 hour and 33 minutes, it was a much leaner and streamlined beast. I thought I was happy with this and began to show people. One question that was repeatedly asked was with regards to the audio mix. As I was the editor of the film, this was something that I picked up as part of the edit. It was ok and did the job as far as I was concerned, but there were moments where it could have been better. But this was beyond me. So I placed an advert on www.mandy.com asking for someone to do the sound mix for me, for free. I thought I wouldn't get much interest, but within 2 days I had over 75 responses from around the world. After a long process, I ended up with 2 people working on the sound, James Bell based in London working on the mix with help from Claudia Contreras based in Madrid. She helped with recording the Foley. After a couple of months work the final audio mix was ready and it sounded amazing! Finally, I felt ready to unleash my final film on the world.

A few weeks later, I was sitting with a friend watching the final film, when he turned to me and said how he liked the film but wished it had ended differently. We discussed how he would end the film at great length. During this conversation I realised that the ending I had was really for the short film that I envisaged and wasn't really fit for purpose for the feature that it had become. I had fought so hard to keep the ending as it was and now the film was finished I realised it had to change. I pulled a little meeting together with Mark Brennan and some other colleagues and pitched them my idea of an alternative ending. They all agreed that the idea resolved the film better than the current ending and helped to tie up a few loose ends. Mark went off to his PC and a couple of days later presented me with the new and improved ending.

So nearly a year after the film had finished production, I called the cast and crew back in to complete the reshoots. Not only did we shoot the new ending, we had to shoot two very short scenes to give the ending weight. The reshoots took one day and one night to complete, and the final edit was locked a week later. I passed this cut to James to complete the final audio mix, and a week later we were done.

I sat down and watched the film a number of times, now running at just under 1 hour and 32 minutes, finally, the film was finished. Almost two years in the making, it was a roller coaster of an experience and one that I would do anything to avoid experiencing again. I feel it has taught me many lessons, all of which I will put good use to further productions. Roll on the next one!

Geoff Harmer June 2014

Still from 'Addict'.
Geoff Harmer

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Still from 'Addict'.


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Page updated on 23 June 2014
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