Adventures of a Film Scholar – Part III

OK, so OXV: The Manual.

This is a project that I’ll be talking a lot about in future posts. It’s an independent feature that I like to refer to not so much as a “vanity” project as a “sanity” project. (And I’m being deliberately obscure as to what OXV means).

Those who know me know that I’ve made no secret of the fact that for various reasons I’ve been unhappy with my first two features. I make no excuses. The mistakes were mine to make – and I made them – but neither Inbetweeners nor Popcorn are films I wish to be remembered by.

The idea behind OXV: The Manual was to make a film which, successful or not, went some way to redress this shortfall. And therefore keep me sane. If it makes huge money, great. If it is a critical success, great. But ultimately, the goal was pure creative expression… with no compromise. Well, as little compromise as possible.

The great thing about independent film, if you set up the production in the right way, is that you get to make a film that can take risks. If I were to point to one consistent error in my work it’s that I have not been brave enough nor bold enough. So, no more. Meet OXV: The Manual – the world’s first scientific-philosophical romance.

No film ever has enough money or time. No film has a director who makes all the right choices. Of course, the film inevitably will be a somewhat compromised piece, but with this project I wanted to make sure the compromises were the right ones (yes, there is a difference). I’m a great believer in the positive effect of the tension between art and commerce, but there IS a tipping point: a difference between creative compromise and creative fire-fighting. One is about nuance, the other is about forced compromises that mean the film does not work.

The anatomy of OXV: The Manual was thus: I wrote a spec script using the age-old method of writing a film I wanted to see. I like to think of it as the uniquely self-indulgent method (where the unique part is the part that might make it sell): I like plot, I like science, I like romance and I like philosophy, so I mixed them all together. (I also like complex structure, so they’re very mixed up).

I did not write a treatment, a synopsis nor an outline. Well, not for anyone else to read. The pitch was a non-pitch. Potential investors/producers were told: “It’s called The Manual [note, no OXV yet]. In terms of story and audience its somewhere between Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Primer and (500) Days of Summer, a left-field romance set in a not-quite-here-and-now-world...”

And that was it. If they were interested, they could read the full script. That was not me being especially contrary, the script was just not the kind of story that worked well as a “25 words or less” summary. Ultimately, I got lucky: a producer I’d worked with before backed the project and off we went…

And now we’ve nearly arrived. The film will be finished in the middle of the year. And if you’re interested, yes, compromises were made, but they feel like the right compromises (although, as of this writing, the compromises are not over and there may yet be a sting in the tail). Very soon we will see whether the film is unique or simply self-indulgent… but either way, at least it’s my film (as risky and brave as I could make it) and I still have my sanity. For the moment.

*In future posts, I’ll discuss the evolution of the project through the shoot and post production as the shooting method was unconventional and the project has evolved much further as a creative enterprise than initially planned. At some point, I’ll also get to what “OXV” means.



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