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MURMAID [Short Film]

Murmaid was a cursed project.

It started as a drama production. A group of drama students and I were devising a stage play that followed Antonin Artaud’s ‘Theatre Of Cruelty’. I came up with many of the images by lying on the floor of the drama studio in the dark and listening to Krzysztof Penderecki’s ‘Threnody To The Victims Of Hiroshima’ on full volume in surround sound. In keeping with the ‘Theatre Of Cruelty’ the drama group chose a well known fairy tale (The Little Mermaid) and we adapted it to include rape and deformity and death. The themes were of body image, ugliness, beauty, deformity, the desire to look ‘perfect’. We performed the stage play to a live audience and it went a bit wrong. Most notably, we had a lot of things floating around the stage on invisible (but very strong) fishing wire, which added to the surrealism. However, the fishing wire became very tangled up during the performance and some actors nearly got strangled by it. We were under prepared, it wasn’t as good as it should have been.

This played on my mind for a long time. So much effort (almost a year of work) had gone into one failed performance. Eventually I settled on the conclusion that I should remake it as a film. But, little did I knew, the curse would live on and the film version would be even more traumatizing than the stage version…

I’d organized one weekend to shoot in Ealing Studios and I would be using my regular team of actors who’d be traveling up from Bristol (which is why the film had to be completed in only 2 days). One new actor I’d cast was Tim Jennings, who -following an impressive audition- was to play the role that I’d originally performed on stage. The story remained almost the same, with some scenes from the stage version cut or altered (for example, instead of having deformed mermaids underwater, I now just had deformed creatures in hell).

One addition was a 10 foot tall vagina which would give birth to deformed creatures in the climax of the scene. I stole that from another Artaud-inspired stage play which starred one of my regular actors Allie Downing (being in the audience, it was the most terrifying and disturbing thing I’ve ever seen in theatre). However, when I came to shoot the vagina sequence we’d ran so badly out of shooting time that I made a terrible mess of it and it looks pathetic in comparison to what it should have been (the most disturbing thing you’d ever have seen).

Let me explain why things went wrong. It was a few things, mostly that luck wasn’t on our side (which sounds stupid but some films are lucky and some just aren’t, and everything that can go wrong does go wrong) but also that I was using a cheap red head lighting kit and the bulbs kept going. We had maybe one spare bulb, but very quickly that was wasted. There were three lights, they all worked perfectly whilst we shot the Warlock scene on friday evening (without the Bristol actors).

Yet, on Saturday morning our very tight schedule was interrupted by the loss of one light, then two, then three (the third was actually broken by a crew member). Then began a desperate pursuit of spare light bulbs. Of course, everywhere was out of stock, despite being in London, despite being in Ealing Studios. We must’ve waited four or five hours before we finally got hold of new bulbs (the first few round of bulbs all turned out to be the wrong sizes, our runner actually quit after about two hours). We shot the first scene, that was meant to only take a couple of hours, then the lights broke again. I sent most of the actors away for the rest of the day as the vibes were only getting worse and worse and I kept the two lead actors on set whilst our 1st assistant director searched for an entirely different lighting kit. When we had the new lights I shot a very simplified version of the scene, nothing like it should have been, and went home. I knew that on the second day we’d pretty much be shooting two days worth of stuff, which isn’t possible. I cut bits out of the script in hope of achieving a final film.

The second day came and I actually enjoyed myself in the morning. It was a relief to actually be on a set where everything was working as it should have been. I could actually do a bit of filmmaking finally. The only disaster that followed was that time was running out and by lunch time I knew we were going to have to rush. It became apparent during the dance routine sequence that the space we were filming in was far too small and couldn’t really be lit effectively without revealing the bright white walls of the room. There was no time to find a solution, I just carried on despite the bad lighting. As we reached our last hour I just had to start cutting out all the detail and simply wrap up the story as quick as I could. We didn’t have time to go for more than one take. My 1st AD, by this point, was incredibly ill and had to leave.

The final scene begins with a rape, then Murmaid was intended to begin giving birth following the rape, which would lead to a terrifying moment in which the giant vagina spewed creatures everywhere, which -when rushed- looked pretty terrible and they were then intended to eat their rapist father (make-up effects I now had no time for). We ended, and some actors actually missed their coaches back to Bristol (oops…). I still hadn’t managed to shoot the entire opening scene, which I eventually shot back in Bristol, once again with many alterations as we were shooting in a house instead of a studio.

The first ten minutes of Murmaid is almost how I wanted it to be, I achieved some of my best visuals probably, but then it starts going downhill for me, straying further and further away from my intended vision (its meant to get better and better, not worse and worse). Its what you call a “good learning experience” which is filmmaker speak for “it turned out shit”. Ultimately the story failed.


It looked so promising on paper, but the stage version and film both prove the project just wasn’t to be. It is the final film in my short film trilogy -after ‘Extrasensory Perception’ and ‘Subconscia’- and is the horror film.

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