That was Craig Newman, my co-director, convincing me that if we were ever going to get serious about making a film, we might as well drop everything and make one. So we did. Craig and I had been dabbling with no-budget shorts for a couple of years and they had played at a few film festivals but outside of that did nothing for us really–mostly because they were garbage, but hey, you gotta start somewhere, right?
I had just begun my Master’s degree in Film, and I convinced myself that the money I would spend on my education was better spent investing in the film, which goes against the first rule of filmmaking for many: never use your own money. I had been working as a freelance camera operator, so I felt I was familiar enough with ‘set etiquette’ (set-iquette?) to get this project off the ground and get the film made. Again, a huge mistake on my part.
We wanted to explore the nature of casual violence and depict the horrifying reality of it in the unflinching style of the French extreme films that had captivated the two of us during the noughties–only with a fraction of the budget afforded to those films. This came about due to a news story I had read about a couple of young boys who had burned a homeless man alive after being ‘dared’ to by some older kids. Craig had been haunted by a news report, from years previous, about a group of kids who went camping and tortured a supposed friend for two days. Both are barbaric crimes that would be unfilmable, but it allowed us to ask the all important question: “how did that happen?”, and CRUEL SUMMER was born.
I had written the first draft in under two weeks under the title THE BOY IN THE TENT, which I dug. I thought it sounded unique and had a haunting ring to it. Craig didn’t, however, and he was ultimately right. But coming up with an alternative name was tricky. So we threw it on the backburner and went into production. That’s when shit got really real, really fast.
Coming up with a shooting schedule is the easiest thing in the world when you’re an ignorant 29 year old wannabe filmmaker. In the real world, however, it’s what makes or breaks your movie–along with your cast and crew. We put our finger in the air and took a wild guess that ten days would be an ample amount of time to shoot a feature film in, because why not? We allotted another two days for rehearsals with the main four cast members, and this is where having a co-director was a real blessing.
Two days before principle photography and we had everything in place, or so we thought. We had our excellent cast, our amazing crew, our permits and, of course, our terribly thought-out schedule. All was good with the world, except for the fact we hadn’t secured our main location yet–which was the woodland. You know, the place where MOST of the film takes place! So, the independent filmmaker wears many hats, and myself and our First A.D/Gaffer/last-minute-location-scout, Ian Smyth, hightailed it around South Wales looking for an area we could use as the main location while Craig ran the cast through their lines, We thought that would help save time while onset. Low and behold, we were wrong about that too.
Ian and I finally found a location that was perfect for us. It was secluded and far away from the major road networks and main flight paths–which I figured would earn me brownie points with our sound recordist, Dai Rees. However, it was miles away from our production base, but the owners of the area were lovely and offered us the run of the land for an incredibly generous amount. It was a no-brainer, and we finally had our main location secured… the day before principle photography began.
Now, there’s something else you need to know about Wales: It has what you’d call ( if you want to be polite), a maritime climate. It basically rains all the fucking time, so it’s the perfect place to shoot externally… if you want your film to have a damp, SEVEN-esque, look; which was the polar opposite of what we wanted, unfortunately. I mean, who factors in stuff like ‘weather’ and ‘distance to travel’ into a film’s schedule anyway? Not us, that’s for sure.
We shot for ten days straight, and we lucked out on the first day. It was a gorgeous August Saturday, and most of the crew even got sunburnt. We shot in my home area of Ely, which gave the film the required gritty backdrop for our inner-city youths, and as per the expected standards of Ely, we were propositioned (twice) for the chance to buy drugs. This was all before lunch too, but that doesn’t phase the entrepreneurial dealers of Ely from trying to make their money.
By day five however, the unexpected heatwave that blessed us took a turn for the worse and the heavens opened up –royally. Of course it had to be the day we planned for our climactic chase scene. Five hours went by, and the rain didn’t let up. It soon became apparent that our ten day shoot was about to become a nine day shoot, and I was really regretting not buying some narcotics from those shifty blokes back in Ely. Luckily for us though, our director of photography, Lucas Tucknott, is not only a genius but an incredibly relaxing individual. When he sat us all down and told us it was all going to be okay, we believed him. Not because we wanted to, but because we needed to. After five straight days of working sixteen to seventeen hours, the cracks were starting to show.
As punishing as the shoot got (and it really was a grueling experience), our cast and crew dug deep and carried us through. A filmmaker can only be as good as their team, and I think the finished product proves just how true that is. CRUEL SUMMER has garnered some very favorable reviews and has even landed a spot in the prestigious genre festival, FrightFest. This is largely thanks to the people who stuck by us as the shit went down and helped to deliver a film that we are so proud of and are, frankly, still amazed that it’s in existence at all.
So to wrap this up, I guess the money I would have spent on my Master’s degree may have prepared me better for the project, but truth be told, the crash course in filmmaking that came with CRUEL SUMMER extends much further than what the classroom could provide. The making of the film truly was the easiest part; no matter how painful and exhausting we found it to be at the time. In comparison to navigating through the world of post-production and modern day film distribution, it was a walk in the park. But that’s another story.
Oh, and as for the name change, we originally wanted to go with SUMMER SCARS; it was such an incredible title and perfectly embodied everything we wanted for our film. So imagine our disappointment when we learnt that there was already a feature film with this title… which is also about teenagers getting into trouble in the woods… and just so happened to be shot in Wales too! We eventually decided on CRUEL SUMMER as it conveys the beauty/horror conflict that’s a running theme throughout the film just as well as SUMMER SCARS would have–or so we like to think.