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Filmmaker Q&A: Tim Fraser-Granados on Blood's a Rover

Blood's a Rover is the debut feature from Tim Fraser-Granados, telling the story of a detective chief inspector, a millionaire's wife, a psychiatrist and a loner whose lives unravel in a labyrinthine plot of murder, blackmail and political conspiracy in Scotland's capital.

We chatted to Tim about making a Scottish neo-noir, navigating first-time feature-filmmaking and the possibilities in micro-budget filmmaking shortly after he'd wrapped principal photography earlier this month.

Tell us a little bit about Blood's a Rover - what's the story and what inspired the script?

Blood's A Rover is the story of a detective chief inspector, a millionaire's wife, a psychiatrist and a lonely man whose lives come undone in a story about murder, blackmail and political conspiracy in Edinburgh. DCI David Boyd leads a murder inquiry into the death of Frankie Morrison, and as the case develops, Boyd has reasons to believe that this murder may be related to the murder of his father five years ago. Eileen Ballantyne, married to millionaire landowner Henry Ballantyne, is well-liked in her community as a kind and generous woman doing charity work for worthy causes. Something happens that forces her to confront a secret from her past that she doesn't want anyone to know about. Psychiatrist Alan Torrance has been leading a good life too, until the death of a patient in his street draws him into a murder investigation. Blair Eadie's a loner who falls in love with Eileen's daughter Kerri but he is haunted by a trauma from childhood and he is struggling to start afresh.

I was inspired by many things, especially classic and modern crime novels, and film noirs. Books like The High Window and American Tabloid; I love murder mysteries and crime stories and wanted to set such a crime story in Edinburgh. Film noirs like Out of the Past (Jacques Tourneur), Touch of Evil (Orson Wells), Double Indemnity (Billy Wilder), The T Men (Anthony Mann). I always responded to the ideas of fear, mistrust, bleakness, loss of innocence, despair and paranoia in noir and the cinematography of those films.

Blood's a Rover has a really distinctive look to it and you've said that the film will be the first Scottish neo-noir. How did you come to this visual concept? What were your inspirations here? How do you go about achieving this, technically?

Visually, I wanted to try a combination of the film noir look with an approximation of the three strip Technicolour look [the promo shots in this post are fresh out of the shoot - there's more to be done to get them to this look! - YZF]. Wherever possible, we tried to use low-key lighting and shadows, high contrast, low angle, wide angle and skewed shots, and having the cast reflected in mirrors, shots through curved or frosted glass. I've always loved the three strip Technicolor as seen in Black Narcissus (that film is directly quoted in our film) & The Red Shoes and John Stahl's Leave Her To Heaven. Visually, I think a film like Leave Her To Heaven is precisely what we're trying to mimic here.

This is your first feature film as a director. How did you know it was time to take that step?

I felt that I naturally gravitated towards telling longer stories that are hard or impossible to compress into short film length. It's been a bruising challenge at times but I've learned so much from making this film that I can't see myself going back to short films now.

Talk us through the process the film has been through to this point, from first inspiration to completing principal photography.

I first started researching for the script in late 2015 and wrote a treatment. The research took about 4 months. I then spent most of 2016 writing the first few drafts. Back then, I wanted to make it as a three-hour feature so the first draft was 192 pages. I then started casting in September 2016. Cast and crew came together quickly and we started filming in 2017; this involved the teasers for the most part but a few scenes were also shot in the first three months. We then realised that a three hour film was too much of a logistical challenge so I spent the next two months shortening the script. This was easier to do than I thought it would be: I focused on the four characters that mattered most to me and stripped out every storyline that wasn't connected to them. I then realised that the story I wanted to tell the most was really a two hour film rather than three so it didn't feel to me like I had to lose things that were very dear to me. I rewrote it further and the shooting script ended up being 112 pages. We had a crowdfunder in the summer of 2017 and it brought in £5000 if I recall correctly. By September with the revised script in place I was keen to get moving again. The delay inevitably meant that we lost some people to other commitments so I needed to make some new hires and we finally started shooting from scratch in October 2017.

On top of writing, producing, directing and editing the film, I wanted to do and am doing the sound design myself, but I effectively also had to cover the location scouting for the most part, the scheduling and the camera work myself. While I have learned a great deal from this (especially with regards to lighting and AD duties), I also don't want to do it in this way again: it was very stressful at times.

We filmed on Sundays from October 2017 to 3 June 2018 as well as five consecutive days in February. I am so proud of our cast and crew for their commitment and hard work: we made a 2 hour feature with an ensemble cast of 40 actors, 20 extras and filming on 27 different locations and with practical effects within 36 filming days, and you've got to appreciate the immense logistical challenge and the accomplishment of us having come through on the other side.

Have you come up against any challenges you didn't anticipate in the process so far? What have you learned from making Blood's a Rover?

The three hour film was too much of a logistical challenge and realistically, not a good commercial prospect so after long discussions in the spring of last year, I rewrote the script as I mentioned before. I was reluctant to do that initially but once I realised that the story and the characters I cared about the most could be told in two hours, it was easy to let go. During filming I discarded further scenes that we never shot in the first place, and they were replaced by new ideas I had. Q: How have you funded Blood's a Rover? A: It's been a mixture of funds: I largely financed the film out of my own pocket and have spent £17,000. I also had a generous supporter who has chimed in with £5000, and we had £5000 from the crowdfunder. So the film's expense to date is £27,000. We still have to cover film festival submission fees and to that end, we are going to launch a new crowdfunder in the next few months.

From what I've seen so far of Blood's a Rover, I think it really shows the scope of what's possible in micro budget filmmaking. How ambitious do you have to be to make that happen? How did you make that happen? Was it more important to learn certain skills yourself, or make connections or both?

I think for me it was more about learning certain skills and getting things done, like location hunting and liaising between cast and crew and the landlords and nailing down dates of availability. In one case, I got help from friends who owned one of the properties that we filmed at, and an industrial estate office where we filmed the Police HQ scenes, but I'd say the majority of locations I sourced through AirBnb sites. I rented those places which added to my spending but it gave us so much leeway with filming. I'm much obliged to Graham Hughes (A Practical Guide to A Spectacular Suicide) for that tip - it made life so much easier in terms of locations.

You've just finished principal photography for the film - how are you feeling about it and the anticipation of post-production? I feel very good about it. To see what you've been thinking about and hoping to achieve take shape is a beautiful thing. I am now seeing long stretches of the film coming together in the edit and there are many scenes and little touches I am very happy with. Since I've been editing the film on weekday nights since shooting started, it doesn't feel any different to me from what's been happening since October. I like to work fast and the advantage of editing scenes very soon after filming gives me the advantage of still knowing which takes I liked etc. I could also see early on what needed to be re-shot or re-recorded and I then figured that into the regular shooting schedule.

When and where can we hope to see the completed film?

The plan is to have a cast and crew screening this summer. Once the final cut is in place (the assembly edit is 80% done already), we'll submit the film to international and local festivals for next year. I hope that enough people will respond positively to what we have done that we can secure a theatrical release and a home video release on Blu-Ray & DVD. In the summer, we plan to launch another crowdfunder to help us cover the cost of the festival submissions, so keep an eye out for that one; the crowdfunder will feature a trailer from the finished film which we hope will convince people to support our festival run financially.

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