Casting sessions

So the next stage is to get the casting right. You get that spot on and 80% of your film is pretty tight.  I have always felt that any movie can get away with lots of things from dodgy costumes, cheap sets or a questionable plot but the only thing that is truly unforgivable is a performance that is not relatable or believable. A film can be carried on the performance alone at the same time many a character can fail and be as flat as the screen it's projected on. Just look at anything Philip Seymour Hoffman has done. Not all great films but he brings an honesty to his characters that is just natural, every move might be carefully considered or thought about but in the moment you feel that person is alive with free thought. It's one thing to know how to act but the beauty in acting is when you are not acting, that's the skill. 

So what am I looking for? The story will require intensity from all three characters in the film. It starts off intense and the baton gets passed on to the next character to have their moment. 

I am holding open casting sessions as there aren't any agencies here in Sri Lanka. The industry is not fully fledged and the only full time actors on the island are the Sinhalese/Tamil speaking actors that are part of the daily soap scene. However, there are lots of actors on the theatre scene here with multiple productions from various theatres companies. Only problem with that is the stage requires an actor to 'GO BIG' while film requires a, 'go small' approach and express yourself in smaller movements and speech.  Having this casting session will be a challenge not only for actors but also my skill as a director to guide and encourage out a something that the film requires. I will be recording all the actors sessions and reviewing how it goes.  Thoroughly looking forward to this as I haven't really done major casting sessions since I was part of the casting team for 'Charlotte Gray' back in 2001. I have shot several commercials here in Sri Lanka but the casting sessions here were not great as no one really reads the brief of each part and they just ferry as many models past you as they can. 

What is next? A place to hold the session. 

How easy is it to make a film in Sri Lanka?

I have been here on this beautiful island called Sri Lanka for nearly 4 years now, on and off.  I was approached by a representative from Canon at a launch of the new C500 Cine Camera.  They had heard of me being a film maker and asked if I ever want to use their camera on a project for a test run that I was more than welcome to. What a very generous offer from the kind Canon guys. 

After I left the launch it got me thinking and one thing that stood out was the capabilities of the Canon C500 in low light situations. Only one problem, I didn't have a project that required that look, so I decided to write one, problem solved. I wrote the film 'HIGHWAY' and it all takes place over one evening on a highway with minimal light, job done. 

Over the next few months I am going to try and make this film here in Sri Lanka. Things work very different here with such a small film industry and, let's say, the sense of any kind of urgency is non existent. As a foreign film maker I will have to stay hidden when all the deals are to be made. There are two prices for everything, the local rate and the foreign rate and it's quite a difference. 

I am going to highlight all the great things about shooting here and all the pitfalls. It will be amazing at times but incredibly frustrating. I am used to working in a certain way and have been privileged to have worked along side some of the best film crew in the world. I have been here long enough not to compare or judge, just work differently. 

First on the things to do list: 

1. Budget and script breakdown.

2. Talent scouting for my lead actors.

3. Finding finance. 

That will do for now.

So, the journey begins for the film 'HIGHWAY'. 



Jurassic Girl

Jurassic Girl

Having just celebrated my daughter's 8th birthday I wanted to give her something special. As she has received a present of a NERF Bow and Arrow I thought of this idea so she could be an action girl. I did the composite using many elements from Sri Lanka including the historic rock of Sygiriya. I always thought it looked pre historic and works quite well. 

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The next step...

The next step...

Having recently assisted a photography legend, David James, he taught me so much about lighting just by observing. The main thing was to constantly strive to bring yourself out in your work. Don't be afraid to experiment and try new techniques. Also, learn to trust your instinct and your eye. We had a full studio of equipment and all the light meters and all the other things you would have on a photo shoot but that was just a back up. He works by eye and knows exactly what he's looking for. Watching David watching the light was a lesson all in itself. I felt like a brand new photographer after day 1. I just remember thinking I can't wait to get back and shoot some photos.

Since I have returned I have been out and bought a few things to add to my photography arsenal, not new lights, not new lenses but just everyday things like ply wood and 8 x 4 ft pieces of white poly board. I have painted one side black of each board to change the look when I need it. 

The image above was one of the first images I have tried with my new skills and looking where the light is and more importantly, where I want it to be. I wanted to add drama into the picture and make it cinematic. A bit of post processing but not as much as you may think. Get the lighting right in camera and you're 90% there. 

All there is to do now is let my imagination go and see what else I can come up with. Another world has just opened up for me. 

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The fear of waiting.

It's a freelancer's worst feeling of all, the waiting!! Whether it is the phone to ring or the contract to come through or the email informing you that you got the job. All that hard work has paid off. they liked the treatment/pitch/presentation and you have succeeded where others have not.  It doesn't matter what kind of freelancing service you provide you are completely dependent on others and it is a terrible feeling to be handing over all that control into someone else's hands. 

What shall I do? Do I remind them? How? By email or phone call? They must be busy so I don't want to come across pushy, might lose the job?

Everything comes down to confidence and a little bit common sense. If they don't want you and make their minds up because you made an enquiring about a job or a follow up about one, then you should ask yourself a question, is this a company you really want to work for anyway? Great companies don't make rash decisions based on keen people. I mean, if you are phoning everyday or sending a 100 emails then you might come across as being slightly unhinged and that might influence them but just the normal stuff? You shouldn't sweat it. Saying that, there are no real rules. I once worked on a couple of films and some guy was sending out the same psychotic cover letter and CV to all the top Assistant Directors he could get the address of. He basically said he loves film, will dump his girlfriend or anyone who gets in his way. He wrote a very disturbing letter about LOTRs and how it had influenced him and he'd be the best runner they would have ever worked with. Then one day a curious AD decided to give him a chance to see what he was made of and he came in for a few days. I have no idea what he's doing now but he did work on a major feature film and made his own chances. I just hope he sorted his priorities out or it will be a lonely life for him. 

However, when you really want a job that badly it can be all you think about. It gets built up in your mind of how good it will be. The challenge and the experience will push you and your creative talent that bit further as well as the soft pillow of the short term financial security, until the contract ends. Life isn't easy as a freelance creative person but you just have to do what you have to do. One thing is for sure...If you don't do it, the next 10 people will. 

I will continue to wait for the big phone call. Nothing major, just my dream job of a lifetime!! 


Time moves pretty quickly if you're not looking.


Trying to crack the asian market is a tough one. On one hand it is easier as the agencies in this region i.e India, Singapore and China are more welcoming and will allow you to put your foot in the door without the usual hoops to jump through. Every agency around the world is always looking for new talent and a different perspective to offer their clients. On the other hand, here in Sri Lanka it is a small industry with a handful of photographers who know what they are really doing. Unfortunately, it then comes down to the individual rates of the photographer. You can be the best hands down but if they know some chap who has taken up photography recently and will do it for far less than you, regardless of skill, then they will get the job. There are no rate cards for photographers or film makers and the more kit and lights you bring it just feels like it's just too much hassle.

I once did a job in Sri Lanka about 3 years ago for a swimwear brand. They did the usual and showed me a reference photo of huge well known company that spend $ millions on their campaigns. I asked what kind of budget we were looking at? It ended up he was paying for the 1 model, travel, accommodation and my fee.  He said I couldn't have any assistants this time as he couldn't afford it. I have no idea why I took the job? When I got picked up in the morning and he looked at my kit he said I couldn't take it. I know, I know, I should have just said no right there. I did say we are taking holiday snaps then? Which went down as well as a cup of cold sick. I did the job, the pictures were very average and I let this one guy bring out the worst in me as far as being a photographer. It didn't happen again and if I didn't know this guy before the shoot it wouldn't have happened then either. 

Lesson to learn very early on is to spread your wings wide. Don't rely on the local market to supply you work. Look to other countries close by and go for it. 


I am hopeful for 2015 as so much has happened already. My adopted home of Sri Lanka has a new president and already the country feels on an all time high. Then in the first 3 weeks of Jan, The Pope paid a visit and lifted everyones spirits even higher. I would go down the political road to explain what having a new government meant to this great country but that would take too long. 

The work is already coming in for various commissions from shooting luxury villas, documentaries and portraits.  The only downside, is that Sri Lanka hasn't got the money to spend on decent advertising and commercial photography. The idea that a good photograph sells the product, service or lifestyle is just too much bother and expense.  I still get the odd the enquiring from companies that don't really have clue what they want. They want ideas, something edgy, something different then when they see what that involves revert back to, "Can't you just come in with a camera and photoshop the rest?" It is frustrating but change is coming. 

So, crack open whatever your favourite drink is as say cheers to a successful 2015 to everyone.