Never work with children, animals or...

Can you complete the sentence?

Hello and thanks for opening the blog. Welcome to the second post about my new movie I’m making this year to try and break into feature films by winning an Oscar.

On the right hand shaded area, there’s an update to the film’s progress, including the latest on where we stand with our target of reaching £10k by February 14th.

If this is your first visit to the blog, check out the first post to see what it’s all about.

More about working with children in a moment.

But first, why the new title?

happy birthday logo small

In a word, nature. Or more precisely, leaves! It’s hard to say when we’ll be in a position to start filming - it depends largely on having enough money. But filming anytime after March means they’ll be leaves and blossom on the trees.

If February 14th remained the title, meaning the film takes place during the course of that winter’s date, there should be no leaves seen on the bare trees. And we can’t achieve that by filming in April or beyond. The strange evidence of Spring (in February) would prove a distraction.

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Okay, should have thought of that.

But did you know that the original title for Casablanca was Everybody Comes to Rick’s, proving that a title change is usually a good thing!

Spielberg would paint out the trees in CGI. Bookbinder can’t afford that paint brush.

In fact,
Happy Birthday is a far better title. Its irony is striking, as I think you’ll agree when you see the film. So forget February 14th, Happy Birthday it is. I promise it won’t change again. Any number of leaves are permitted on your birthday!

So - working with children.

finding Josh

Josh is the name of the 7 year-old boy in Happy Birthday. I'm looking to cast a child between the ages of 7 and 10. The older he is and the younger he looks, the better. Older to cope with filming; younger to pass as 7.

The film centres on the Miller family: Kate, Adam and their son, Josh. It’s his Mum’s birthday when the main events of the film take place. An ordinary day turns into anything but for Josh and his parents.

The film requires Josh to be funny, likable and frightened. But above all, real. There’s nothing worse in a film than a precocious kid who seems to be vying for the limelight, or simply to be a poor actor.

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Alan Parker famously took six weeks to find his Young Frank in Angela’s Ashes. The performance of Kodi Smit-McPhee as the Boy in The Road was one of the most extraordinary from any child actor I have seen.

Click on the image to see a terrified Kodi on the run with his father. (warning: explicit)

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So how are we going to find the right boy to play Josh? Or indeed, a girl. If I thought I’d found a brilliant girl to play the child, I will give the Millers a daughter instead. But for now, they’ve a son.

We don’t have the money to tour the country looking at schools and drama groups to find the right boy, but Jane Anderson, our Casting Director, is now on board, and she will be using her experience to uncover a strong shortlist of possibles.

do you know a budding child actor?

Click on the images for more

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Of course, you may have seen the next Freddie Highmore (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Spiderwick Chronicles) or Daniel Radcliffe (some movie about magic - it’ll never catch on).

Children under 12 with a gift for acting are not always found in drama clubs or school plays. If you’ve overheard or caught sight of someone you think has some special ability, do let me know. Just click
here. We could discover the next Robert Pattinson or Emily Watson.

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It’s not a ridiculous possibility. It was a chance meeting at a party for Andy Hamilton, producer of the BBC’s Outnumbered when he came across Ramona Marquez, the familiar face of the flawlessly played Karen, who can now be seen playing a young (Queen) Elizabeth in
The King’s Speech.

How fat is too fat?
Dad is still wondering who uploaded a photo of him on Youtube, while Karen questions Gran on women’s sizes.

child’s play

But getting back to the old adage of never working with children, why is it said? What is so difficult about getting children to act? Shouldn’t it be second nature to them? After all they are always playing at being another character; they are good at pretending.

The problem probably lies in the nature of film making. It’s slow. Very slow. Children love spontaneity and immediacy. Shooting a film invloves neither.

It is the norm for a 12-hour filming day to produce about 3 minutes of finished material on screen. That’s a slow pace for anyone, never mind a young child. Actors are used to it: waiting. They read books, tweet, play cards - anything to pass the time while the crew light the scene, the set designer adds a finishing touch, the sound recordist places the mics. Two hours later, the set is ready for them to do a 20-second take. Again. And again.

You get the picture. That makes it very difficult for a child to stay focused and patient, to see the end they’re aiming for, and to do the sixth take as if it were their first.

So a child actor who can cope with all the frustrations of filming AND produce a natural, riveting performance is a rare skill indeed.

great shot, but...

Another challenge of working with children is that a director may well be asking them to do something or to show an emotion which is simply beyond their experience.

I remember one of my first encounters of directing children. I was filming for a BBC drama-documentary about the true story of a young mother held hostage by her estranged boyfriend. Imprisoned in a bedroom, he held the mother of his 5 year-old son at gunpoint for four days.

In one particularly traumatic scene, the perpetrator had to point the gun at his 5 year-old son, in order to scare the police who were trying to persuade him to give himself up.

The shot I needed was of a terrified 5 year-old’s face as the gun was pointed at him by his father. I explained carefully to him what was going to happen, but I didn’t rehearse it for fear of losing the moment and not capturing it on film.

The camera rolled and ‘Action’. I had told the lead actor (the hostage taker) to really go for it and shout at the boy to scare him. This was a considered judgement as prior to this, the actor and the boy had been getting on a bit too well, laughing and playing together - a bonding of actors that often happens in the waiting time - but that you don’t want reflected in the performance if the two are to be scared of each other.

be afraid, be very afraid

What I had underestimated was the sheer impact an angry actor might have on an unsuspecting 5 year-old. The hostage taker pointed the rifle at Ben and at the top of his voice yelled at him to 'get the f**k out of here, before I blow your head off.’ He wasn't requesting a moment's peace please, if he didn’t mind.

Ben's face was a picture, every director's delight: a moment of terrifying realism captured on camera. The shot was perfect; it said it all for that moment in the film.

I called 'cut', and showered Ben with 'well done' and 'that was brilliant!'. But despite the encouragement, and the actor's hug of 'didn't mean it, mate', we couldn't help but notice the trickle of urine coming through his trouser legs and on to the floor.

I think he was scared.

It’s a lesson I won’t forget - to be careful with handling child actors.
I used the shot though!

As far as I know, Ben’s therapy is going well and the nightmares are not every week now. I’m joking, but the episode is etched on my mind as hardly the proudest directing point in my career.

oscar nominated

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Here’s a treat of a short film, starring (almost single handedly) an 8 year-old boy,
Karl Beattie.

It reached the Academy’s final five best short films, achieving an Oscar nomination in 2010.

Luke Doolan's film has a lightness of touch in it's direction, which hides a subtle darkness to the story.

Miracle Fish
proves that short stories can work on the big screen if they are as well crafted as this.

Grab a coffee, turn down the lights and crank up the volume.
It’s worth it.

happy birthday logo small
Thank you for your interest in this fantastically exciting journey to see a movie made. Don’t forget to check out all the latest news on the right.

It’s great you’re on the journey with us!

Steve Bookbinder
writer and director
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