Devon Calling is this month's review, a story filmed partly on location in Devon, and written by Chris Wilkes and myself. I have noticed that the camera styles in the 9th Man are more fluid and inventive than those in the Adventures of Stephen Brown episodes that I review. Interesting when you realise that the camera is being handled and directed by pretty much the same people in both series. There's a lot more location work in the former, and this affords more freedom of movement.
This story kicks off with Jameson arriving in Devon, something I'm not sure we get the purpose of in the teaser sequence. There's lots going on out and about in Devon, and the weather is really good to the cast and crew, it makes me want to hop on a train and go on holiday.
I hadn't realised until now that the caravan park where Jameson is staying is actually the very same one I stayed at on my honeymoon. (when I say 'I', I wasn't alone). In fact the description of the meeting place for the drugs handover of 'on the beach, in front of the green cafe' is a reference to the green beachfront cafe (I believe it's called Chapples) on Beer beach - which makes an appearance in the background shot while Stephanie Fielon and Stewart James figure out what to do with their ill gotten gains. Small world eh ?
One thing that did strike both Chris and myself when we were writing this story (much pacing, role playing and tea at my semi subterranean flat in Cosham) is that there's an awful lot of time spent on the phone - hence the title. Perfectly normal thing, but doesn't necessarily make for good viewing. Most of the phone calls cut back and forth to show the person talking, which may be a choice of the editor, however does work better at the end of the episode one, when we stay on Jameson's reaction and hear the other side of the conversation as an overlay. This contributes, it has to be said to a very well executed end to the first episode. The picking up of Jameson's face in the reflection of 'Dealer's sunglasses a really nice touch (where do we get these names from).
I'm sure there's something you can do on youtube to get it to autoplay your next video after one has finished. Perhaps one of our resident webmasters can point us in the direction of which button to click, and where, as moving seamlessly to the next episode will make for a more enjoyable viewing experience.
The believability of the action and the sound effect of our fight scenes is something again that doesn't quite gel for me. Sound effects when hitting things, and the choreographing of hitting people (without actually doing so) is something we do have a weakness for. Having said that, the sounds are not over used in this story, as in previous things we've done, so it doesn't enter into slapstick territory (or looking like a recreation of a scene from heavily dubbed 1970s series 'Monkey').
Episode two's scene in front of the green cafe with Chelsea and Jake (Stephanie Fielon and Stewart James) we lose a bit of the conversation because they are standing on shingle, and the sound of them pacing about on the stones overpowers their voices. There are ways that could have been compensated for, or dealt with on location, but hey. Hindsight is a wonderful thing.
There's a couple of things I'm not a fan of, the sound effect for Jameson's phone ringtone, doesn't sound like a digitisation of an old style phone ring, it sounds exactly like the ringing of one of those old rotary telephones I love so much, but as a sound effect - it's too clean and perfect. The snap zooms into 'Dealer', and the speeding up, then slowing down during the chase through the streets don't work for me. Worth trying, but no.
The chase scene itself, (if you excuse the fact that James Farmer looks for all the world like he's a middle aged man out for a jog) is a sequence of really good shots, giving us a flavour of local life in a rich variety of locations. Running not just down the usual empty streets we'd normally see in Beacon, but through festivals and carnivals. Really contributed to the atmosphere.
I'm not quite sure why Kenny (Alec Harkness) is 'skipping' down the back streets only to suddenly tell himself off and that he has work to do. Again some really interestingly shot footage, through the railings as he walks along, but perhaps the rest of the footage could have been trimmed somewhat. Maybe he's happy because he's managed to get away with putting an Apple logo sticker on his Dell laptop. Steve Jobs would be spinning in his grave, if his ground up remains weren't being used to finish the case of the upcoming iPhone 5 that is. True. You read it here first.
When Jameson catches up with the two ne'er do wells of Devon, he pulls a gun on them to convince them to give him back the money. This scene isn't really that plausible, neither the way it's shot, acted or written give it a chance of working. Having said this, it does in no way form a blockage in the audience enjoyment. Although I do wonder if there's any outtakes of Stephanie and James trying to, ahem, make things stick out of their pockets.
'That there money see, it belongs to the British tax payer'. Really ? I'm so sorry guys. Maybe Chris and I were waiting for the kettle to boil at that point. Mark that down as a
shall we ?
There's some wind (and not from Chris) when shooting outside the warehouse, something obviously causing a bit of a struggle, as the mic makes a sneaky appearance, from below no less, in this shot. It has been a while since Mike appeared in something.
Now I'm a fan for lighting that throws interesting shadows, these and the sounds in the warehouse, of Chelsea and Jake recovering the money, I really like. The 'fridge' shot from inside the case, also good. The 'foley' footsteps of the 'Quake' like gunman's eye view of their killer don't match his walking pace, and the gunshots of their execution sound like a snare drum being hit really hard. There's a great deal more blood from Stephanie, but I think Jake will be okay as he's only gone and spilt Ribena on his t-shirt. This may be because he tried to make Launay drink some.
The camera angles here have pace, and are rather fluid. I think I might have edited some of the shots a bit tighter, but this may be a personal preference thing. After all, some like it tighter than others.
Farmer entering the warehouse and discovering them murdered is all one shot. I've never seen us do this before. Jameson's panic, desperation all really well conveyed by Farmer, and well caught by the cameraman. I have no idea how many takes this took to get right, but hello was it worth it ! The siren sound effect adding to the tension here as the episode draws to a close. That's the second very well executed end of episode cliff hanger in this story. Something we often blow, but in this story has been done brilliantly. In the original script a further twist added here was that Jameson was to find his tag in the warehouse with the bodies. Over complications and the desire to add more twists than a bag of pasta is something I'd readily criticise in other scripts. Whoever's decision it was to remove this unnecessary element, good call.
Jameson's escape from the warehouse, leads to him nearly being run over by the escaping murdered of the two Devon scallywags. The only thing I wish had been included here, would have been a way to throw some blue flashing light onto the outside of the building, to go with the siren.
The 'Devon Air' radio spot on the car radio was brilliant, I'm sure I recognise that voice..... It was nicely shot to hide the driver of the car, unless you can identify them from their knees. Another really good ending, with Jameson being left by the roadside, the patience of the driver finally exhausted waiting for his hitchiker to finish making another call.
Is it me, or does the sound of someone breathing on the footage of Reet (played by my good self) having been strangled make it sound like I'm just taking a nap ? I look surprising peaceful for someone who's been murdered most horribly. Strangled with a stretch of ethernet cable. Always thought the internet would be the death of me.
Despite being part of the writing partnership that wrote this story, I really enjoyed watching it. It has to be said that's not the emotion I'm normally left with when watching back anything I've had a hand in creating. Always making a further edit in my head. Not the first time I've felt like this from something Chris and I have worked on together, for me that creative partnership works really well. We have differing styles and tend to lean toward differing types of content, but I think this works itself out in a very complimentary way. You'd have to ask Chris for his views on that he might say 'that bastard Sansbury, he's always getting up and flapping his arms about when we write together, and the tea is below my normal standard'. He might not.
Sure there are things that could have benefited from a little more attention in the editing and sound department, but it's hard to get good sound on locations like a windy, pebbly beach. This is another 9th Man episode that leaves me wanting more. I really feel that I've watched a drama unfolding, and this is after all, what we're after, no ?
Now if you don't mind, this middle aged man is going to take himself off for a jog. Yeah. Right. More chance of John Barrowman coming out as a closet heterosexual.