FIX FILMS RETROSPECTIVE #3 – THE TWO MINUTE SILENCE (2007) By PAUL LAIGHT
Once again I look back nostalgically on the production process of one of the shorts I made and the creative decisions around it. Indeed, in 2006 the Fix Films bandwagon continued with abandon; well, I’d managed to get some money for our next low-budget short somehow; and it was to be known in Internet-land as The Two Minute Silence!
After the arduous creative endeavour of A Far Cry (2006), for our next short film, me and Gary decided it may be better to stick to something slightly more contemporary. Thus, I pitched an idea for a group of office workers and their behaviour during a “Two-Minute Silence”. I assume everyone knows what this is but basically the whole nation contemplates a tragic event or international loss; IN SILENCE. Quite rightly the companies or organisations put this convention in place in order to respect those who have lost their lives due to a terrorist attack or some other horrible tragedy. It’s an interesting and important part of the bereavement process and used to be a minute but when writing the script I’d noticed they’d been increased to two minutes; possibly due to grief inflation or some such reason.
My idea stemmed from a couple of situations that I felt could be rinsed for comedic and dramatic purposes. Firstly, from personal experience I recall a number of “silences” in the office environment I worked in. As awful as this sounds my mind wandered quite quickly from the tragedy to my own mortality before moving swiftly on to what I may be having for dinner later. Consequently I felt if I had that thought then others must do too. Secondly, I also had a sketch idea that during some pursuit or chase it may be funny or suspenseful to have the criminals and cops have to stop, out of respect, while a silence is occurring. So rather than something serious, that was the tone and angle I was going for.
The chase sequence was the most interesting idea for me, but I kept coming back to an ensemble idea of eight or so characters in one room with their thoughts projected by voiceover to the audience. Thus, I set about writing the screenplay with archetype characters in the first draft simply named: the Romantic, the Bitch, the Penitent One, the Actor, the Slob, the Boss and so on. The key was to establish the characters quickly and give them each a recognisable situation with which to bounce the humour and pathos off. Indeed, I went for punchlines such as: the easy humour of a guy needing a shit; a romantic couple; the slimy Boss deciding who to give a promotion too; a religious person praying; someone actually respecting the silence; and a more complex situation of a potential madmen planning on killing his colleagues.
Once the script had gone through a number of drafts and I was satisfied there were enough pay-offs in the brief slice-of-life structure I started the casting process. Now, this is something I am very proud of as a producer because, as the film was self-financed, I pretty much handled all the castings and location scouting and worked really hard in my own time to find the right people and places. In terms of location we needed a conference room that could be used WITHOUT any interruption thus I paid for an expensive meeting room in Holborn, I think. The casting wasn’t so simple though. Thankfully there is so much acting talent out there I whittled the forty or so candidates I individually met down to these brilliant people: Faye Barber, Richard Cambridge, Chris Crocker, Enid Gayle, Chris Polick, Suzanne Rabia, Animesh Rawal, Joel Stubbs and Philip Wolff.
Ironically, for a film which intrinsically dealt with a specific two minute period it actually ran for ten minutes, and the two-day shoot was fantastically helmed by Gary with me on board as Production Manager, runner, caterer, cigarette wrangler etc. It’s always our rule that we pay the actors and while it certainly wasn’t big bucks we got so much hard work from the cast I was very proud of everyone. Ensemble casts could arguably be fraught with egos or prima donnas but we had none of that and the filming was a joy. The added bonus that it wasn’t outside in the pissing rain and mud, miles from civilisation in a field – like A Far Cry (2006) – also sweetened the whole deal too. Special mention to the brilliant sound guy Oli Cohen and simple but precise camerawork of James Abbott.
What I learnt most from this experience was that if you cast your film right then you will have a positive product. I don’t necessarily mean just good acting but decent people too who understand the script and work well as part of the ensemble. Pretty much 96.7% of our castings have been right on all our short films and The Two Minute Silence especially benefited from a good premise, a witty script, professional direction and quality actors. We had a mild drama when filming at the Cenotaph for one scene as we did not have permission and the police moved us along. However, looking back the project was an utter joy and we would get some great feedback and screenings in film festivals and on TV including: Angel Film Festival, The Big Chill Festival, Eastnor, Blue Light District, London Filmmaker’s Convention, Non-Multiplex Cinema Film Group, Portobello Film Festival, Propeller TV/Sky Channel 195, Reading Fringe Festival and Rotoreliefs.
Looking back on it now I think it stands the test of time as a decent character comedy that holds an honest mirror up to the nature of humanity. It’s economical and punchy and still makes me laugh. Plus, I had a wonderful experience making it too. Thanks to all involved; here’s the film: