January 2001; Like most suburban kids I grew up getting told by misguided parents, teachers, and the government that if I went near drugs (besides the cigarettes and alcohol they all put away) I'd be addicted, my teeth would rot, my nuts would fall off, and I'd be dead. Then I grew up, tried it anyway, and found out it was generally pretty enjoyable, nothing fell off, I didn't end up dying in some skag den somewhere, and the blissful evenings I spent smoking dope and playing Playstation with friends had nothing in common with the media's world of crack whores and junkie addicts, there wasn't even a drug dealer lurking by the school gates to "Just Say No" to.
As such I decided to make Dealer; quite simply a true film about drug taking outside our apparently crumbling inner cities that aims to dispel a few urban myths and provide a few genuine warnings. A story about hash, E, acid, and the people that take them, told by the poeple that take them, all seen through the eyes of the guy in the middle of it all; the dealer. It also seemed a great idea that after 5 years of shooting zero budget analogue stuff with my friends on the Coffee team, it would be great to put all those experiments together in a final project before moving on to digital technologies and (hopefully) celluloid itself. So my trusty 3 year old Sony Hi-8 camcorder and VCR decks were dusted off one last time, parts were cast from the people around me, and after a ton of research and a couple of false starts we were ready to shoot.
January 2002 Shooting opened, as is only right, with coffee, spliff and Playstation. Dave Smith had the misfortune of taking on the central dealer role; I wanted someone against the type of the grubby evil scumbag as it simply wasn't always the case, plus he was naturally the kind of laid back and understated person the part needed; all the colour came from the people he came into contact with. I don't think either of us fully appreciated how much work it was going to be though, I seem to remember saying something about "3 months, tops", what a prick. Sorry Dave for taking up two years of your life with "there's just 3 scenes left and that's it!".
Much of the film takes place in the Dealer's flat (my flat, sorry landlord) and we got off to a great start, the acting was surprisingly natural and simple, with Neil Jordan and Gelli Graham doing great jobs of their parts, things went great, but it soon became clear it was going to take a lot longer than expected.
Spring 2002; As the weather picked up we started on exteriors in the backstreets of town, and occasional evening shoots in the Dealer's sitting room, I started shooting the acid trip sequence with Matt Bremerkamp, and Kev Rye did an impressive turn as one of the dealer's mates. Unfortunately for me Dave was starting to get busy with his job and couldn't give as much time, plus as the "easy" scenes got shot we started getting down to the "difficult" scenes; requiring large numbers of people, or out on location in town, and every time a shoot was about to go someone got tied up with something else or the weather would be wrong; for a film intended to look like winter the weather was getting pretty wrong all round.
Summer 2002; Shooting continued in the Dealer's sitting room, by now I was pretty resigned to having to shoot into and possibly beyond next winter; we slacked off for holidays and work and other projects, it was also around this time my now 4 year old trusty Sony camcorder caught it's peripheral lens on a doorframe and split into two pieces. Lots of panic and sticky tape later it came back together but refused to playback and would only switch off by removing the battery. Continuity became a concern in terms of hair growing and shortening and stubble and beards appearing from nowhere, or simply when Dave wore the wrong socks, we did all we could and kept Jackie Chan in mind.
Autumn 2002; We returned to exteriors of the house and immediate area, as well as getting a few extra shots polished off in the Dealer's kitchen, I was just waiting and praying for the weather to turn shit. We did finish off the acid trip with Matt, Tim McGregor and Gary Cantan though; shooting the entire scene through Dave's POV meant I needed one less actor which was just as well as it took a lot of filming. We did about 20 takes on one line Matt just couldn't get out without sounding like an oak table (finally got in the bag the day before he left for Australia for a year), innumerable miles of trekking through the local countryside, blagging of hire cars to cope with breakdowns, lots of digging up my back garden, and the all encompassing "well it can be part of his tripping" excuse whenever fears about weather, car, or hair continuity were raised.
Winter 2002/2003; Things began to pick up pace again, off set I finalised a great soundtrack featuring twelve original compositions by four different artists; Amir Baghiri, an Iranian tribal ambient composer living in Germany, The Committee, a collective of young hip hop artists from the USA, Cliff Lassnig, an English musician, and Gary Cantan, one of the Coffee faithful. Chris Malbon got to work on the designs for marketing at festivals, and Rob Fairlie came on board sorting out a bucket of duplication for the finished product. Sequences started getting finished, a structure started to take shape, and eventually it really was just 3 more scenes; the most difficult scenes of all, needing actors to trek all the way down from Scotland and London, one scene with lots of extras on a really tight schedule, 3am shoots, and the all important ending to the film, the only scene genuinely requiring "acting" in the whole film.
Summer 2003; Summer saw the project stretch out painfully trying to get everyone required free for those last three scenes, gradually though they came together; we never got enough extras for the extra scene but the final shots were still pretty cool. Next up was the complicated and acting heavy finale; the last scene to be shot in the flat which was just as well as we were moving out having hung on for months in the horrible place trying to wrap shooting there. This same scene needed the Green sisters; one in London and one in Glasgow, both with plenty of other things to do in their lives, eventually we all got together and shot the entire scene in a very hard working 6 hours on the last day that the flat was ours, unbelieveably it all came out really well and Liz discovered a remarkable talent for puking vegetable soup puke all over Dave. The remainder of summer was packed with moving house (which also involved moving the company), and shooting my other short How To Disappear Completely, leaving just that niggling 3 am shoot.
Winter 2003/2004; I got started on editing; when the project was conceived to be shot on the worst equipment possible it was primarily because that was all I had access to; 2 years on we had numerous relationships with post facilities and Avid suites all happy to give us free time; everyone thought I was nuts saying no but it seemed a bit pointless shooting the whole thing on a couple of hundred quid only to rack up post time worth thousands; it certainly wasn't something accessible to your average person. Rob Fairlie kind of sealed the deal when he checked out my VCR/camcorder/Argos editing desk set up, smiled to himself and said "well, there's a lot less to go wrong man". Unsurprisingly editing was incredibly frustrating trying to cue up music beats and so on with nothing more accurate than a VCR pause button, and our low grade production kit started showing it's weaknesses particularly in the sound department. Like all the projects edited in this way before it there was a lot of gratification in getting any kind of result from this, but the process started dragging me down and when I reached the key and complex "acid trip" sequence it became just a bit too much.
Summer 2004; How To Disappear Completely made it out to festivals and was a huge success, keeping me incredibly busy with it's festival campaign, our music agency Coffee Artists was also starting to get moving and I simply didn't have any time to work on Dealer, but I did start to get familiar with PC based editing and found a few days to shoot the simple short 3 and cut it all at home; I realised this was the only way I was going to get not only the acid sequence, but most likely the whole film finished.
Winter 2004/2005; Time continued to block up, Disappear took everyone by surprise and continued to pack in mountains of screenings and our first awards, people wanted more material from us for streaming sites and festivals, I put my PC to the test again re cutting our ancient 4 minute short Televisual Man, and 3 started getting reviews telling us it was going to hit pretty well if not as spectacularly as Disappear, talk was starting of a shorts DVD compilation, and I knew if I didn't get back to Dealer now I probably never would.
Summer 2005; with mountains of work piling around me I started transferring the 10 hours of raw footage onto mini DV and then my PC; the (at the time) vast file sizes meant I had to cut it in sections as my hard drive started getting jittery if you went much over 2 hours, so there was constant archiving and juggling of data. At the same time I was packing in trip after trip to Scotland to film wildcats and by the start of 2006 Dealer yet again got shelved for the wildcats edit. As that project wound up and I came back to Dealer's editing and grading I realised it was 75% done, and just needed the final section cut and graded to be in with a chance of finally appearing at festivals in 2007.
Spring 2012; inevitably, new things came up. The wildcat film lead to a lot of media and a whole new side project setting up a conservation charity for their protection. Side tracked for several years and being the main spokesman for something as conservative as a wildlife charity just made it seem a poor idea to bring out a marginally controversial film on recreational drugs. I found my way back into film as the wildcat charity grew it's own legs and I felt I could move on, but was immediately sidetracked with the long running Killing Joke music documentary and then more features after that, time just never came up to finish off the Dealer edit until a small gap emerged over a decade on from picking up the camera on the film for the first time...
Dealer is currently editing, and is expected to be at festivals in 2013, it really is.