This project happened so fast that it is only now that the events can be pieced together through a combination of emails, calender notes and recollections. Somewhere we will catch up with the present.
Me and Martin talked for a long time about doing a film for ourselves, it was always just a question of right time-right place. The only real manifesto we had was “We take what we can get and won’t miss what we don’t have” and “ If it’s too complicated throw it out” and “Let’s not pay for anything”. It all started the day England played Spain…
Awkward-looking pinstripe suit vs. natty yet comfortable jazz sweater
The tawdry hawking of trendy sunglasses vs. Ordering folk to get leathered at the drinker
Trotting down a red carpet after Tom Cruise vs. Starring in a cult classic alongside Michael Caine
From: Martin Parry
Sent: 14 February 2009 13:21
To: alex ross
Subject: Re: Bob or Becks?
Bobby Moore everytime…
Maybe get a flight for £60 either on the 8th for a few days or over the weekend starting the 10th April flying into Berlin (Schonefeld). Waddaya think..?
From: Martin Parry
Sent: 14 February 2009 14:25
To: alex ross
Subject: Re: Bob or Becks?
Tell u what I’ll bring my DV cam and we’ll make a mini feature film over a weekend in Berlin… Have a think about it. We can meet all our old acquaintances from the past 10 years.. Could be interesting I’ll cut here on my Avid then post it on you tube. Then I’ll c you at the awards… Boom shanka. Pay dirt..!
Think about the content. Doco stylee Oover the hoover/flapper producer/New Zealand bird/Actors from move on up.. I think it’s a winner man..
Lets do a comtemporary Doco sylee film on Berlin – 10 years after with the actors from ‘Move on up’ . Think about it..!
Sent: 14 February 2009 13:51
To: Martin Parry
Subject: Re: Bob or Becks?
A film set in and around the late-night shop. I’ll try and get some actors to come down and do some impros ala Blue In The Face.
I’ll knock out a quick storyline by then. Need a sound man and a light…?
From: Martin Parry
Sent: 14 February 2009 15:20
To: alex ross
Subject: Re: Bob or Becks?
Yeah need sound but maybe shoot with available.. If possible.. Thinking about coming out Friday 10th back Monday 13th could stay a bit longer for the film..!? It ‘ill be good
Decided to start pulling in favours. Asked for a HDV camera from Jörg and Jana at cine plus. Markus says we can use his editing room and Andreas is lending me some serious external hard drive capacity. Still don’t know what to write about although me and Martin want this to be in English so I guess it’s time for Tommy again… Rang Megan and she’s in already and says Ian is too.
Spoke to Stefan about doing the sound. He’s definitely in although he’s off to film in Georgia for a couple of weeks. He can bring the equipment himself. Waiting for Lutz to return from China to see if he can lend us some light equipment.
Wrote the one page synopsis today. Reads well. It’s going to be a mixture of acted scenes and documentary interviews, trying to blur the lines between fact and fiction.
Worked in the Spätkauf then met up with Hotte and Conrad afterwards. I pitched the idea and Hotte said yes! No-one has ever been allowed to film in the shop. It was always a matter of principle. Conrad wants to get involved so I have appointed him as my right hand man, he can get the neighbourhood involved and will begin by translating the synopsis. Want to send it out soon to all the actors I know.
Thank fuck for my European flat rate! Speaking on a daily basis with Martin now. The only thing we have is our enthusiasm and energy. Got to keep talking the project up! It’s like an old band getting back together. We feel like 25 again!
Met with Conrad in the Schwarze Pumpe. Our first production meeting. Just throwing ideas about. Who can we get involved? How shall we move forward? Descended into general chat but that’s okay. We still have time.
Sent out the invitation to the actors today along with the synopsis…
Dear Friends & Colleagues,
Between 6-13 April I am shooting a new film “Tom Atkins Blues” at the famous Spätkauf in Choriner Strasse. A film self-financed, a mixture of documentary and fiction: “Blue In the Face” being our inspiration. I am asking you all to contribute to the project by providing small improvisations in and around the shop. As long/short, funny/serious as you want/can. Everyone involved in this project is working for no fee and contributing what they can. This is a our answer to the lengthy and weary task of trying to win over commissioning editors and financing bodies. Just do it! being the motto. So please get in touch and lets talk up some routines. A short synopsis is attached for a bigger impression.
Guerilla Film making is alive and kicking on the streets of Mitte!
Hope they bite…
Jakob says he’s in even if it’s just buttering bread. Come on! He should play Applejack, the busker outside the shop. I mean this man can really play – he’s one of the most gifted guitar players I ever saw. And I have seen a few. Another feather in the cap of this film.
From: Martin Parry
Sent: 27 February 2009 14:19
To: alex ross
Subject: RE: Tom Atkins Blues
This is good … Very good..! No. No.. Extremely good.
I’m liking it. It’s all about moving on with your life. We all want to hold on to what we know. But you have to move forward – or ‘YOU’ die Mr Bond..!
I can see lots of character piece’s in this. Remember the actor who delivered the summons to ‘Max’ in Jacobs ladder… Could be a nice meaty slice of the changing face of Berlin…
We got a winner..!
Daniel Saltzwedel offered me some tapes today. Another sponsor. He works for the Medienboard now. Won’t be the last he hears of me…
Now that this is a going concern I have to address all that serious stuff. Will have to draw up deferred payment contracts with all cast and crew and release forms for the documentary protagonists. After another conversation with Martin today it is obvious although not yet inevitable that I will be playing Tommy. Certainly for all the non professional actors this will be advantageous, as they know me. Plus the fact that I know the shop inside out. But can I hold my own as an actor? I am sure I can, Martin (speaking from experience) is not so sure. So I have decided to dust off a few old characters from rejected scripts and introduce the world to Kalle who can only be played by Stefan Lochau. If he is the second lead then I have a safety net in case I fall short as an actor. I’ll just feed him more scenes. Just hope he has the time…
I am regularly playing the Stone Roses very loud which is proving to be inspirational. How I just love “Waterfall”. I will make them Tommy’s favourite band and lob ten years off his age!
Got a mail from an actress who we all know from TV here in Germany. At first I thought it was a hoax but no, she came to us through Wolfgang Wimmer. She likes the idea of just doing something and wants to get involved. Wow.
Spent hours discussing the whys and wherefores of HDV with Olaf. Progressive format on the canon camera can only be edited on final cut and as we have only got free avid at our disposal we have decided to go for 50i and slap some after effects on it later. There is always an if and a but with this new technology. Shouldn’t dis it too much. It is a godsend for me and Martin. There is a tendency to shoot now and think later but we were raised on pic-syncs and three machine beta editing. If we apply the thought processes to HDV we’re on the ticket. All my three films were made on 16mm so this all relatively new to me as a director. I intend to embrace HDV with my fingers crossed behind my back…
Got a reply from an old friend, the agent Frank Splanemann. I would give anything to get Udo in as Viktor. I wrote the part with him in mind years ago. He is just such a great actor. Will just have to hold out on this one.
Lutz has returned from shooting (another) feature in China. He is loaning us all the lighting stuff he has – redheads, polys, French flags etc. Another sponsor and a lovely man.
Conrad is away working and I’m mainly on the phone. Asked Dani to edit the film with me. She has the right sensibility for this project. We have to remain open and free til the final cut. Another circle, as she did script continuity on “Move On Up” with me and Martin. If things continue Mart will get his reunion after all.
On the way to meeting Conrad and in the Black Pump I popped in to see Nora at the cafe next door to the Spätkauf. I wanted to ask her if she wants to act in the film. On seeing her in purple I knew what her scenes would be about…
In the Pump we talked to Joe about acting in the film, which he agreed to. Something to do with basketball as that is his life anyway. Me and Conrad ran through our lists of things to do. I really rate him. He just gets on with things and I don’t have to ask twice. That’s the way it should be. I am a little nervous that no actors have responded to the email… Still got four weeks to go. There is the question of lighting and Ronald has offered himself for free and we said yes. We will need an extra hand, especially Martin. So we are a team of five. No frills, no costume or make-up or art department. Keep it real is the motto of the week.
Another weekend translating scripts to keep the wolves at bay at those mouths fed. Nearly done now.
Another shift at the shop on Sunday. Just like old times… It’s also the only time when the shop is open during daylight. Rushed back to finish off the translation, so I can return to my film on Monday morning.
Took Megan’s advice and just belled the actors. Stefan Lochau is in as is Billy. Fantastic! What great actors they are. Put them in your film is what I tell people.
My ex-neighbour Kalle responded to our mail by offering to cater for us on a couple of days. The neighbourhood is beginning to rally around the cause. Must work on the script sometime. Difficult to know whether to wait longer before I write parts for specific people, or just crack it out. Decide on avoidance and to wait
Spoke to Tessa, the actress we all know from German TV. She’s defintely in. And I finally got hold of Annette. She had a small part in “Move On Up”. I really rate her and don’t understand why she isn’t cast more. She teaches a lot now and offered to talk to some of her students about some of the smaller parts. She knows a Korean and an Argentinian, who would be great as the arguing couple – in their mother tongues!
Met with Megan and Ian. Had a real feeling of things starting proper today. Give me a couple of actors and I’m in my element. Still don’t have a script but we talked through ideas and characters. They want scripted dialogue to work from which is fair enough. It will push me to write something. Another evening working in the shop, which was great for the inspiration. My mind is rushing with ideas. Some people write down every idea they have. Me, I let it swirl around as long as possible.
Decided to put pen to paper or finger to keyboard and write down all I have… characters, situations, voice-over, archive material, documentary protagonists. Came out over six pages long and sent it to Conrad and Herbert – who has worked as my dramaturg on a number of scripts now. I sent it to Conrad with the instruction
ABSOLUTELY FOR YOUR FUCKING EYES ONLY
I think that gets the point across.
Another weekend – another script to be translated…
Not a great script… yet another white European man wants to tell me about the suffering of the third world… Still I did the work correctly and kept my opinion to myself..ish.
Three weeks to go. Met Conrad in the Pump. He really liked the six-pager, which is very important to me as he is more of an insider than me in the shop and neighbourhood. Met up with Stefan Lochau to talk about Kalle, then met Kotti and Sebastian, the young talents, who will play the arguing couple. They are motivated and determined and up for it. Thanks to Annette I’m sure, who they hold in great esteem. Things just get better and better which makes me look nervously over my shoulder…
Jakob has offered to help me with all the contracts. A wise old sage after twenty years in the music business.
Wham Bam! After resisting for so long I knocked out the script today. 40 pages. I followed the eight point plot plan of my old friend John Costello. It was just a joy to write and I can spend the next couple of days honing the dialogue and embellishing the scenes.
Stefan is back from Georgia and still on board. Collected all the equipment from Lutz and stored it in my office, which now smells of his cellar. He gave us an HMI for emergencies too. Stuff on the walls, photos of actors, piles of equipment. I’m making a film!
Returned the van to the shop and hung out with Conrad. We were visited by Petra and Ingrid. It was their first time in the shop. They were enchanted (who isn’t) and are definitely up for appearing in the film. Hurrah!
From: alex ross
Sent: 29 March 2009 23:25
To: Martin Parry
Passed on the script to the inner circle (Martin, Conrad, Stefan, Herbert). Actors were sent their scenes only – it works for Ken Loach!
I spoke to Udo Kroschwald’s agent: maybe we get him. That means three scenes for translating over the weekend, plus a small character biography. Can the Eagle cope?
Still chipping away at the script translation…
Finished the translation. I am nothing but not professional. It was rubbish.
Two weeks to go and I feel fine. Spent most of the day with Jakob doing the bloody contracts. A tedious and meticulous task but essential in the long run. Another evening in the shop passes by with few customers. Life imitating art?
Decided to push my luck and ask for a HMI 575 and a Dedo box from cine plus. When Martin sees how dark the shop is he’ll be pleased. Ronald is also bringing some of his own lights to the party so we are made up.
Met Petra and Ingrid for a late lunch at Monsieur Vuong. What a delightful couple they are. Full of ideas and brimming with enthusiasm. They share the joy of just doing this and sense our moment in history..
Went on to meet Tessa and ran into Andre at the bar, looking worse for wear. My date with Tessa proves to be a delightful couple of hours. She seems to have the character nailed already. I pop by the shop afterwards where Sebi gives me 50 Euros for the film: what a cool guy. We’ve got the daily bread rolls covered now. This project just seems to be capturing people’s imagination. Just do it. Abso-fucking-lutely!
Ordered 50 tapes for less then 100 Euros. Hopefully my only real production costs
And the joy continues. As I said just put me in a room with Actors… Met up with Stefan Lochau and Annette who is playing his ex. We rewrote some of the dialogue over tea and biscuits. This is is the best time. Developing without having to make any final decisions.
Met up with Andreas in the evening where we took in Mickey Rourke in “The Wrestler”. Fantastic. Mickey is the coolest guy on the planet, right? I met him once you know, but that’s another story… Got home late to find..
From: Martin Parry
Sent: 25 March 2009 11:47
To: alex ross
Subject: “You’re a good man in a tight corner”
Read script.. It’s a winner.. We get some good performances – see you at Sun Dance.!
Like the Korean and Spanish couple, I’ve got this image in my head of them coming into the shop almost shouting – causing chaos on the language front..!
Also, when Walter’s muttering numbers under his breath he could mutter them in German, suddenly stop, look up and come up with a number – like 86 in English. It means nothing but the audience doesn’t know that. Might be a good German English crossover… His laugh works well.
Ending’s good, we don’t have to have a solution. It’s all about the journey.. I do see a bit of Tommy in me. Like I’ve spent 15 years working in Old Blighty sometimes on the wrong path, but now it’s come to an end. Time to move on and I suppose Tommy running up to Ronald is me saying to you “let’s make a film” Life imitating Art or is it Art imitating life… Hmmm.!
Check this out.. Hilarious..
Met Herbert for a script discussion. He rates the script too. We went over some details and tried to focus the documentary elements, which are still vague because we don’t know who will be facing the camera yet. This whole project operates like the shop with a Jamaican come see attitude – if it comes we’ll see. The rest of the day was taken up with copying, checking and stapling the many contracts I have drawn up to protect my ass the day an offer comes knocking…
Met Andre for a coffee and talked through his small part. Being with him just raises my energy levels. We spent five weeks on set together during “Land’s End” and we just get on so well. Shame his part is so small but hey.. he’s on board. Met Melissa who was recommended by Annette. Another young determined actress with bundles of energy. I like her.
My Mum has come for the weekend as the twins turned ten. I am coming down with a cold and have to work most of the weekend in the shop. I try to battle against being ill then settle for giving in – better to be ill now than in a week. A few paracetamol and lots of peppermint tea help. Saturday night I’m kept company in the shop by Stefan Lochau who is slowly slipping into the roll of Kalle and later Sascha who brought his mellow vibe with him and we passed the later hours swapping stories of being stoned in Blighty…
Feeling better, well enough to watch “Michael Clayton” with my mum on DVD with glass of wine. What a great film. My favourite of last year. Some people say they don’t buy the horses… well look again they’re in the book!
One week to go. Meeting with Conrad, another list. He is Eagle, all seeing and all knowing, my left and right hand. He is doing a lot behind the scenes, harrying, chivvying, writing, calling. He’s organising the props.. something my friend Jarkko will appreciate (another story – ask him). He has also enlisted Lina as the sixth team member to take photos and make food. Hurrah for catering is what I say.
My Production plan..
Met Billy and talked about the role of Walther and his costumes. This will be our third film together. Making one without him is unthinkable. This part was written for him years ago and is suited to his great comedy timing.
Went to my osteopath for a session to ease any stress out of my body before the shoot begins. Herbert rang full of joy and enthusiasm for the project, adding a few last ideas and suggestions. Not for the first time I notice how this project seems to have captured people’s imagination. Wow.
On for a late lunch with Petra and Ingid who are going to utilise their acting and cabaret skills in a documentary style for our film. They are great company, but then again women always are.
Then on to meet Benno, who is also a young determined actor recommended by Annette. Showed him the shop and the bench where his character will sit drinking for most of the film. He looks the part. Annette has been worth her weight in gold already, and she hasn’t even started acting yet…
Rehearsals in the shop with Megan and Ian. There was never really a discussion about me playing Tommy. But we were never going to get an English actor for ten days for free. I know the shop, I know the neighbourhood. I’m just going to do it. We agree to work together on our performances. Megan and Ian put me through my paces and are so fucking hard on me that I am knackered by the end of it. They taunt me about what it will be like when we shoot, but I am made of sterner stuff…
I take a break to meet Udo to talk about his participation. A difficult hour: he was in, then out, then in, then out again… we just couldn’t find a day and a time that we could both make. When all seems lost he makes another call and I change the shooting script and find a window. He’s coming into town to play two scenes for a bottle of wine. I am made up.
I come home smiling like a fool.
More rehearsals in the shop with Stefan and Annette, then Tessa and Stefan. I am in my element. I love rehearsals, go this way, or that way but no need to make a final decision. Everyone seems to be nailing their character with very little chivying from me. I change the geography of the scene with Annette and the problems evaporate. Haven’t lost my touch yet…
Rehearsing again in the shop with Kotti and Sebastian and Melissa and Benno. When he played his drunken routine a lady walking past shook her head despairingly at the state of this young man. Hilarious!
Go home early and watch “A Soldiers Story” on DVD with a large glass of red wine. Mmm.
Last day. Spend the morning deciding on Tommy’s costumes. Then make my way over to meet Katharina and Ronald to discuss their parts. A lovely couple, and in Ronald a good friend. She is a heavyweight amongst actresses and I am delighted that she has the time for a scene late on Monday night, after a heavy day of theatre rehearsals. Fan-fucking-tastic.
Pass by the shop on the way home and help deliver a fridge to Miriam with Hotte. Helping out the neighbourhood you know… Come home early. Tomorrow Martin arrives and we start. Wow. In seven weeks – from nothing to this. I smile and say to Uli “Fucking hell, I’m going to make a film..”
Shooting Day Zero – Monday 6th April
Woke up full of beans, the sun shining. Looks like the weather people were right and we are finally due for some sunshine. I use a very reliable website with a five day forecast. It predicts nothing but sun for the week. A film like this needs that kind of good luck. Zip down to Schoenefeld airport and pick up Martin, who breezes out of departures with a tiny rucksack and nothing else. We reckon we haven’t seen each other face to face in at least three years. Back to my place where the twins help load all Lutz’s gear into the van. Hotte rings and asks if we can pick up wine for the shop. We arrive too early and end up taking in a coffee in the sun; typically Berlin and probably our only chance.
At the shop it’s meet and greet with Ronny and Conrad who are waiting for us. Ronny brings his lights to the party and we start rigging. There is a lot of banter as we are not under any real pressure of time. We take in a big lunch at the Pumpe then me and Martin nip off to cine-plus to pick up the camera. Stefan arrives with his sound gear and we take a look at the park around the corner for the basketball scenes. Helmi has offered his flat to shoot from and we realise this can double as Tommy’s flat and we have a new scene! Back at the shop we shoot some tests of me in behind the till and outside the shop to check not only the camera but the light levels. We also have some generic stuff of me working in the shop. It’s all very gentle and easy going, because we all know come tomorrow it will be anything but. It remains to be seen how we will cope with trying to shoot dramatic scenes in the shop at night time if customers keep arriving frequently. We all agree to finish early, leave Conrad to man the shop. We drop Stefan off before me and Martin return to my place for a cold beer and a chat. Martin is a bit pooped having had such an early start. No chance of catching up sleep this week I point out, and anyway this film was your idea I add. Probably not for the last time. We crash with excited anticipation.
Shooting Day One – Tuesday 7th April
It’s been a long wait of nearly five years but I’m back on set as a director. Fan-fucking-tastic. First day keep it simple. We’re doing a lot of the bitty stuff. Nora steps up to the camera in the café and is a natural while Jakob turns up with his guitar and brings a great vibe to the set. We chat about the great Pat Garrett soundtrack which then seems to inspire the music he plays as the busker Applejack. I am loathed to say cut, just content to watch him play. Joe comes down to face the camera for the first time. Another person from the neighbourhood doubling up as an actor. He shows no nerves and delivers his lines with aplomb, showing an instinct for being on set. The street proves to be louder and busier than I remembered but isn’t that always the way. Every twenty minutes there is a dustcart or a delivery truck. Nora is also under a bit of pressure to finish filming as we are holding up business in the café. We agree to do her third scene on Sunday. We are a bit squeezed for time when Ronald turns up as he has to dash off to Leipzig at six for some gratuitous television work. We get both exterior scenes done before he leaves, knowing we can come back to the interior scene on Friday. We have a longish break waiting for the sun to set so me and Martin go for a Vietnamese around the corner and chat things through. It all feels good so far, nice little team, Ronny is an enormous help already.
The evening sees us filming with Stefan and Ian inside the shop. We are blessed with great actors again including Megan who is there to film her coming and leaving with Ian to splice into the big scene tomorrow which will be day for night. The shooting goes well, it is the first time in years I have worked with both British actors and cameraman, and the set is full of funny asides and one-liners. We finish the evening filming Megan And Ian arguing in the car. Everyone finds my last line “What about the Olives” hilarious, I don’t know why, and is banded about during the apres shoot drinks on the bench outside the shop. First day down, two scenes behind, but plenty of time yet. Me and Martin return home for a beer and a chat at the kitchen table. We are very pleased with the day, and have no real issues with my acting. Just as well really.
Shooting Day Two – Wednesday 8th April
We have already developed our early morning ritual. Me and Martin pick up Stefan, arrive at the shop at 9:30. We discuss the set ups, I sweep the pavement, Lina brings us coffee at 10:00 and we are ready to go by 10:30. Billy joins us briefly for a visit. Having him and Stefan Lochau on set always lifts my spirits. This is our third film together now. Hotte drops by to check on things. Our silent partner. Helene has taken over daytime catering as she lives in the house and brings her French touch to the open rolls, embellishing them with fruits and vegetables. Yummy. We shoot the big scene 24 with me Megan (playing my ex) Ian (playing her new boyfriend) and Stefan, playing Kalle who is always hanging around the shop. There are a lot of set ups as the scene has scenes within scenes (the face-off between me and Ian at the counter, Kalle chatting up Megan) and the characters are displaced all around the shop. It takes a long time but works out well and again a majority of Brits keep spirits high with constant banter. We are a little behind as we move the camera outside to film one of the last scenes of the film between me and Megan on the steps of the shop. Martin shoots the wide shot across the street while munching chips. By the time we get onto the close-ups, we have lost the light (it is only the beginning of April after all). We will have to pick the cu’s up on Sunday. Again we have a longish break before it gets dark.
The evening sees Andre on set. He immediately lifts our sagging energy before we get inside to shoot the first encounter between me and Megan. She is flagging, so am I. Stefan Lochau sits in to help with the directing, while Megan pushes me too. Then we have to film the second scene with Andre. It is already after midnight but he single-handedly carries us forward with his boundless energy. It must be after 1:30 before we can unwind with a beer on the bench outside.
Shooting Day Three – Thursday 9th April
I don’t believe in hierarchy amongst actors, nevertheless to have someone of Udo’s standing and calibre is a coup for this film. He turns up early, does his scenes in four hours and departs with a bottle of the best wine from the shop. To play a character who gets lost in drunk monologues is not easy but this man knows how to play it. Everyone is on top form, the crew sense his quality and we leave all our usual nonsense and banter out. A highly concentrated shoot. It’s all about mutual respect. I never imagined anyone else playing Viktor and it was worth the wait.
Next up is Billy playing Walther the accountant who suffered a nervous breakdown. We do the scenes in reverse order, Billy having not shaved for a couple of days. This is what I love about Billy; wearing only an old dressing gown and slippers he wanders down to the Pumpe for a coffee. He is Walther. He puts so much into his little scenes. Extraordinary.
Food is supplied by Mayo and Helene who bring down a fantastic fish soup with baguettes. Good home cooking lifts the spirits as we prepare for the night shoot of scenes outside the shop. Tonight I notice the lack of an AD as halfway through a take, Stefan the sound man wanders out of the shop and picks up his boom. He wasn’t nearly so amused as I was. As tomorrow is good Friday, the neighbourhood starts gathering for a barbecue after the shoot, also curious to see just what the hell we are up to. The last scene is me losing my rag and shouting at the guys outside the shop. I find myself having to do eight takes as I am watched by an ever-increasing crowd of onlookers. Scary. Lina comes into her own when she suggests Conrad let down the shutters so it all happens quicker in front of the camera. She knows her onions. We wrap and Sebi gets the barbecue going – over forty people stand around eating and drinking on the street. How I love Berlin.
Shooting Day Four – Friday 10th April
We feel tired today. One less hour of sleep every night. Still we are outside for the basketball scenes. We are interrupted by a long procession of believers from the nearby church who gather in the background, holding onto the resurrection, on which hangs their whole faith… but that is another story, often told. The scene is about Tommy getting bashed about and hurt in a game of basketball. Keep it real I say, so an hour later I have been hit twice in the face and taken a few blows that will bruise nicely. I have never played this game and I have no idea where I should be. Perfect for the scene. I take a shower at Joe’s afterwards and return to set feeling refreshed and revitalised by the exercise. Ronald has returned from Leipzig telling me he wants to do his own stuff again; our spirit is infectious then. We act out the pivotal scene where he tells me he is closing the shop. We play it quietly and intimately. After one take Martin shouts out “That’s cinema!”. I’ll buy that for a dollar.
We film our first interview today. I have decided to do them all with the same framing – sitting on the steps, with the shop highlighted in the background. I think of “When Harry met Sally” and how the interviews always had the same setting. It helps the audience know where they. It is with Ghe and Dunya who met through the shop and are still very much in love, obvious by their body language. A week before Ghe wasn’t sure if he would have anything to say. Now, he not only talks well but casually refers to Tommy the fictitious shop worker. The lines between fact and fiction are blurred some more. The street is fucking loud though and we will have to try and get our interviewees to wait while cars pass. Might add some extra mystery to the interviews
The real Kalle arrives with his delivery bike and a fantastic vegetarian spaghetti with parmesan and salad. The neighbourhood pulls it off again. He won’t take any money for it either. What can you say? We eat. A lot. Then Kotti and Sebastian arrive to perform their two scenes. They are a couple who argue in their native languages of Korean and Argentinian. The evening is jinxed by a never ending stream of customers. It takes forever and we all get cabin fever, reduced to giggles and nonsense. Not quite sure what Kotti and Sebastian make of it all but they seem happy enough. We finish late. By the time we have had a beer outside the shop, driven home and had another beer in the kitchen it is after three.
Shooting Day Five – Saturday 11th April
Running on adrenaline now as sleep deprivation kicks in. First up though is the big scene between Stefan and Annette who plays his ex. Shot in the shop before it opens, we have a cool, calm set with me having a minor role in the scene, able to do more direction. It goes smoothly. 17 set-ups. Annette blossoms in the role caught between anger and desperation. Stefan, not only one of the nicest guys you could meet, is proclaimed the one-take wonder by Martin. His part gives him the chance to showcase his comedy talents. In the afternoon we shoot the infamous “Fuck” scene and then the scene with Benno, who plays the character Frank who is always too drunk for his own good. A great talent, very physical, very convincing. Martin is very impressed. Andre pops down with his family to say hello; much mutual praise and back slapping, and why not. I get a photo from my brother who is spending his birthday at the Emirates watching Arsenal. Lucky geezer.
We have to wait until ten for the scene with the lost tourist as Melissa is playing theatre, so we spend the evening shooting stuff outside the shop; different characters and situations, to provide me with lots of scene links in the editing room. Melissa arrives and the scene goes well until… yet again we save my shots til last and when me and Stefan throw a comedy look to each other I get the giggles. Then Martin gets the giggles. Then Melissa gets the giggles. Then I get the giggles again and again. We end up doing twelve takes! Something for the bloopers, as Martin tells me he left the camera running the whole time. By the time we have wrapped, had a beer or two, taken Melissa and her bike back to Kreuzberg, had another beer in the kitchen…
Shooting Day Six – Sunday 12th April
We are very tired this morning. We are just shooting me opening the shop and stacking the shelves. Just as well we don’t start with anything more demanding. We slowly pick up speed, shooting the missing scene with Nora, then the close-ups of me and Megan – and we are back on schedule. We then set up for the interviews. Stationary camera, new tape for each interview, chat for an hour. The interviewees then stare into the camera for a minute like a portrait. Just as well as Martins ankle has swollen up. He produces a Hawaii shirt from that very small rucksack and chills with Ronny in front of the monitor. Regarding Ronny – he has come into his own the last couple of days. This is what you need on projects like this. People who are willing to learn who just blossom given the chance. Like Lina. And Conrad. He is contributing to the questions too. First up are Helmi & Bernd followed by Kate and Miriam (Both form the US of A). Miriam concludes the interview by blowing her saxophone a few times, but says it is too cold and wants to come back tomorrow when the sound will be warmer. Okay. Peter heard her sax wafting down the hill to the Pumpe which put a smile on his face he says. Micha and his family turn up to talk about the old neighbourhood and their interview earns them a round of applause from the assoted people gathered behind the camera. Kalle return with his delivery bike bringing with him a spicy vegetable soup. Wonderful.
We shoot the remaining scenes with Benno at night and incur the displeasure of the neighbours who have had enough of us and our lights, which makes me worry about tomorrow night which has a right proper argument on the street. Even though the scenes aren’t that long, we still finish late because of the inevitable breaks for the customers. We don’t care any more. We just keep going.
Shooting Day Seven – Monday 13th April
Start off slowly and tiredly, me doing stuff in the shop. Sweeping, mopping and stuff like that. What I would normally do. We shoot some other stuff of me in the park and some generic stuff of the neighbourhood. Me and Conrad decided to drop a couple of interviews today as the shop will be busy late afternoon as we are the only place open for all those people who went away for Easter but need stuff upon their return. Regrettable but wise. Petra and Ingrid turn up and I sit with them for an hour on the steps as we improvise stuff in front of the camera. It was a lot of fun and quite abstract. Great for the editing room. Then Ahne and Falko turn up worse for wear to tell some hilarious stories of times gone by, shortly after the wall came down when anarchy ruled and everybody was drunk all the time. Miriam returns (wearing the same clothes) and so we do an interview together on the steps before she plays some more beautiful and warm saxophone. Everybody feels she has brought a flavour of New York to the mix. Then the band Mighty Grin Department show up to play some music for the shop funeral sequence. Now it was never sure quite how this would pan out but it becomes obvious as they roll huge amplifiers up the street! We shoot the band twice, me orchestrating Martin into getting all the key shots. A crowd of over fifty gathers across the street and we plan to get them all over and into shot… when the police turn up. People have complained (it’s 6 in the evening?!). Of course we don’t have a shooting permit so I am told to stop immediately. I ask if I would get a second warning? No, a fine of a thousand Euros. To be fair the copper was very sympathetic, said he thought it was cool, but well you know, he’s doing his job. The sequence has changed so we shoot the scenes of just me and the band sitting around. Adapt and survive as Martin always says. Perhaps it will be better that we have a low key finale. The editing room doesn’t lie.
The evening sees the scene with Katharina and Tim. Now again I am not one to bang on about the importance of certain actors but having Katharina is a huge bonus for me – a real quality actress from the Deutsche Theatre here in Berlin. We have to adapt the scene for inside the shop; after the complaints yesterday and the police today I feel safer doing the scene inside. Events conspire against me. Rehearsing and blocking the scene in the shop in between the seemingly never ending stream of customers and shooting Tim and Katharina first leaves me totally exhausted by the time we do my close-ups. In one shot I realise I am just staring at Katharina as she acts in front of me. We end up shooting pick up after pick up. For the first time I feel a little uncertain about a scene and my performance. Oh well, was bound to happen. We have a beer outside but we are all exhausted and a little flat. We struggle home a for a few hours kip.
Shooting Day Eight – Tuesday 14th April
The last day sees us bright eyed and bushy-tailed for the scene with Tessa. It doesn’t take long to notice her incredible professionalism and experience working with camera. We are at our slickest, knocking out the scene in 17 set ups in a few hours. We are a lean clean oiled machine. Big shout to all of us! Tessa even takes over directing me. Then we sit around waiting for Peter Handtke who is the last coal merchant in the borough. When I first lived here in the early nineties nearly all the flats were heated with coal. I sit on the steps with him and we shoot the breeze for an hour in front of the camera. Totally cool bloke I tell you. Then we go inside and shoot an interview with me as Tommy, conducted by Conrad. It lasts an hour. On finishing Martin describes it as the longest crap-on he ever heard! I am confident it will be invaluable in the edit. I just talked as if I was Tommy, about the other characters and the story. Well done Conrad for the interview. We never talked about it, we just did it. Stefan leaves early as he is meeting his girlfriend at a concert, and it is down to me and Martin to shoot the final shots alone. It is all very fitting. Just me and him at the end. Then it’s a booze up outside the shop. I introduce everyone to the brilliant “Oh My God” by Spearhead which instantly becomes our anthem for the film. It’s the vibe I guess. Much later we take a taxi home. We did it. Fucking. Did. It.
Shooting The Day After – Wednesday 15th April
We have to rise before seven as Martin gets a taxi to the airport. I see him into the taxi, say see you soon mate and crash for another hour. The twins bring me a coffee in bed and we chat for a while. Then another long day begins. First to Sebi who being the cool guy that he is, has lent me his van for the day. Then to the shop to hear “Oh My God” playing. Me and Ronny sort out the gear, I load it up then head off to Schoenberg to pick up Markus and his sound gear to take him to Tegel airport as he is off to shoot some his tuna documentary. If I get to use his editing room for free the least I can do is drive him to the airport, right? Then it’s back home to unload all the gear from Lutz before I take the camera and tripod back to Andreas, then the van back to Sebi and the underground back home for the Champions League and two cold beers. I am exhausted but overjoyed. Making this film was one of the best decisions I have ever made in my life. The editing room beckons. Before I hit the hay I send out a thank you to everyone…
Dear Friends & Colleagues,
Eight weeks after the initial idea, “Tom Atkins Blues” completed principal shooting last night. We made this film for the price of a few coffees, some tapes and a plane ticket.
A big shout goes out to every one of you who contributed and supported this project and helped make it happen.
The enthusiasm, energy and willingness you showed will surely come across in the film.
It was a week in the Spätkauf that I will not forget.
I’ll send word from the editing room, have a great summer, see you at the counter some time…