Honestly, ‘overwhelming’ doesn’t quite cover it. I knew the screening of Look At Me – the short film collaboration between director Dan Turner and I – would be fun and nerve-wracking, but it was infinitely so in both departments. Here’s the timeline breakdown…
I walk from heat magazine’s offices on Shaftesbury Avenue to Wardour Street’s Moving Picture Company screening rooms, feeling like my legs are hollow and there’s a bowling ball in my stomach. I’ve had a few handfuls of crisps for tea, but feel too nervous to have anything else. It’s strange: mentally, I’m telling myself that this screening won’t be stressful, but my body seems to have other ideas. I’m grateful that a posse of heat colleagues are joining me in this walk, and attending the screening, because (a) they’re very nice people; and (b) the conversation keeps my mind distracted from what’s to come.
Arrival. I sign the MPC foyer guest book, then head down some stairs to the bar, where pre-film wine-and-canapes action is taking place. At this kind of time, I expect to see a few early-birds in small clusters. So I’m truly stunned to see that the bar is practically full, from wall to wall. And I know most of the people here. It’s really superb to see that so many people are here, knowing how (understandably) fickle folks can be with their social lives and schedules. I start by saying hello to FrightFest co-organiser and Cinema Store owner Paul McEvoy, then work my way through the room. I’d been intending to stay sober until after the screening, but it soon becomes clear that red wine is absolutely necessary. And quick.
Where’s my super-girlfriend? Ah, there she is. I make a bee-line for her, then carry on circulating. The crowd features a pleasing number of blogger peers: Danny, David, Piers, Helen, (who hands me a congratulatory card – the very height of sweet, eh?), Stuart (no card from him – what a complete bastard! Of course, this is only funny because Mr Perry is one of the nicest men on Earth), William, Elinor, Lianne and the truly heroic Jon Peacey. Why heroic? Because he’s come all the bleedin’ way from Caerloyw in Gloucestershire, solely for this event. And he dislocated his thumb the night before! Peacey rocks, end of story. Plenty of non-blogger buddies here, too (see a load of 'em in the pic below), including several former colleagues from Kerrang! magazine, writer/editor/film biz mogul Jay Slater, directors Sean Hogan, Matt Hope and Hakan Besim, writer/editor Rebecca Levene, The Development Pool's Sarah Olley, producers Yazz Fetto and Hannah Billingham, two members of the British Board of Film Classification… One of the nicest things about the night, on a personal level, is my ex-girlfriend making the effort to come up from Brighton. I meet her fella David for the first time (he’s a really nice bloke! Hooray!). But if I carry on naming attendees, this will simply become a big ol’ list, and we don’t want that. So I’ll end by saying we also have a celebrity in our midst, in the shape of Maggot from Goldie Lookin’ Chain/Celebrity Big Brother. Tremendous. And he’s an absolutely top bloke.
Christ. So many people have turned up, that we’re having to screen this 18-minute film twice! Magician Pictures, who have brilliantly orchestrated this whole evening, are fully prepared and have handed out numbers to each attendee, which will determine which screening they will enter. Meanwhile, I have micro-chats with as many people as possible, quacking like a fool about how “overwhelmed” I am. “Overwhelmed” is a big word for me, for the next few hours. In fact, I overwhelm people with my multiple uses of it.
We enter the stylish screening room, which is comfortably full without people being shoe-horned in. For a moment, though, I think there may not be two adjacent seats free, before we spy the front row, which is where we settle. I grab my girlfriend’s hand very tightly, feeling hypertense. So this is what rigor mortis is like when you’re alive. A silence descends on the room, then the lights go down. Look At Me begins. My first thought? Loving the healthily high volume.
An intentionally funny moment gets a good laugh. Thank God. Dan and I later reflect that this laugh probably relaxes the audience and hopefully signals, to some extent, that they may enjoy the film. I’m still very tense, however, and in danger of breaking my young lady’s hand. But I’m loving the way this film looks and sounds. The High Definition visuals are gorgeous, while the soundtrack thumps out brilliantly. I’m trying to see it as though watching it for the first time, but this is nigh-on impossible.
An intentionally funny moment, during a remarkably well acted, directed and edited scene between Shaun (Richard Glover, seen chatting in the pic below) and the creepy Lionel (Nick Simons) doesn’t get such a good laugh. My theory: people are unsure whether to laugh or be weirded out. And I rather like that.
Oh. My. God. I love the credits of this movie, and the way Dan’s had them designed. But this is the most cripplingly tense moment of all. When, exactly, is the audience supposed to applaud? Will they applaud at all? Tension… overload. Then, when the credits reach their very end, applause breaks out. Pretty enthusiastic applause, too. Needless to say, I exhale hugely.
There’s still the latent worry, of course, that people are just applauding but didn’t really enjoy it. So it’s great when William Gallagher makes a point of strolling to the front of the screening room, shaking my hand and telling me how much he liked it. And that I’m a bastard for telling him it wouldn’t be scary. I then turn to see the likes of Piers, Stuart and Helen, standing there waiting to congratulate me. They still seem fully able to look me in the eye. Relief all ‘round.
Back out in the bar, positivity abounds. First-screening people offer congratulations. The second-screening people have been waiting with fantastic patience, fuelling themselves on booze and the last of the canapés. There’s just time to get a wine refill and chat to a few more lovely people – so many people comment on tonight’s “incredibly friendly crowd”, and they’re not wrong – before heading back inside the screening room.
This time, we sit much further back. I’m much more relaxed. And people laugh at the Early Funny Bit once again. Then applaud at the very end, just like the first crowd. Waiting for that applause, that validation, is still excruciating, mind.
Back out into the bar, where plenty of mingling is going down. The actors were in this last screening, and it’s great to see that Kimberley Butler – who appears naked in the film – doesn’t run screaming out of the room, weeping about being used and violated. Quite the opposite: she seems utterly delighted by the finished result, as do her fellow stars Richard Glover and Nick Simons. I meet Nick for the first time (see picture, above), feeling like something of a fan, as I love his performance in this film: he’s funny, scary and fascinating, all in one.
Conversations continue, with Dan and I receiving a lovely amount of positive feedback. Of course, the odd person doesn’t mention too much about the film, suggesting they weren’t exactly delighted – but even then they seem to find something positive to say. Maybe they “liked the surrealism” or thought “it looked great”. It’s also very strange to have words like “saucy!”, “kinky!” and “disturbing!” aimed at you, when you’ve long-forgotten that the film is a little bit warped and indeed racey. Dan and I had become blind to Look At Me’s weirdness, but tonight we’re properly reminded. It’s really nice to later get a text from heat’s TV editor Boyd Hilton, who brands the film both “perverse” and “a triumph!”.
Dan (pictured left, with Kimberley Butler) makes an announcement, telling attendees that the revelry will continue in the Slug & Lettuce, a mere few doors along Wardour Street. Everyone present gets Look At Me on DVD, with its full colour sleeve, plus a really nice Look At Me booklet. We head over there, where a large area has been sectioned off. The drinking now begins in earnest. I switch from red wine to numerous pints of beer, which will surely account for my bad hangover the following morning. But it’s well worth it: I feel absolutely elated. I start a tab behind the bar and buy drinks aplenty.
The next couple of hours are all about enjoyment, celebration and alcohol. I talk to friends, the actors, everyone I can. It’s still not enough, though: I really regret, for instance, not getting to properly talk to David Bishop, who I meet tonight for the first time. Still, my stress levels sink beautifully. I become a shambling goose of a man, saying hello to people I’ve already said hello to, attempting to hand drinks to the wrong people and generally being delighted with life. Me and Dan catch the odd word, grinning furiously and exchanging reports on how happy we are. Bizarrely, I’m asked to sign a couple of DVDs – even though I warn the recipients that my signature will halve the eBay value.
As far as I can remember, my lady and I (see pic below) are the last ones out of the Slug. Jay Slater has left his black jumper behind. Stuart Perry has lurched off into the night, cackling about probably having missed his last train back to Brighton. Piers (see pic further below) is squawking evilly, having viciously forced Dan and I to each knock back a shot of Jack Daniel’s, despite us already being 70 sheets to the wind.
And that’s it. As I said, one of the finest nights of my life. And I’ve had some pretty fine nights. On the day of this screening, someone said something to me – perhaps unintentionally – which could be construed as patronising: like they naturally assumed Look At Me would be some tin-pot production that I’d only be able to drag very close friends along to. They were a whole world of wrong. Edging away from journalism towards a life of screenwriting, as I am, there will always be people who want you to stay in your box. Every now and again, it’s perfectly healthy to suck up some confidence, believe in yourself and shrug off anyone who makes the mistake of underestimating you. Tonight was one of those every-now-and-agains.
Thanks again to everyone who came along – and of course to those who wanted to come, but just couldn’t, due to geography, scheduling or being trapped under heavy, fallen furniture.
Next up: Look At Me, hopefully touring the world’s festivals, as well as hitting the plasma screens of industry movers and shakers. And the feature-length ASK, which is coming along seriously well. What does the hitherto-secret acronym ASK stand for? Dan and I will announce it shortly…