Mike Ogden is an international award-winning film-maker with 20 years film-making experience as a cameraman, producer and director. I first met him when he took up my proofreading services for his sixth screenplay (and first full length feature as director), ‘Charlie’. I’m delighted to welcome him to Writesofluid for a Tuesday Chat!
Welcome to the Writesofluid blog, Mike!
You’ve fulfilled many film-making roles, including the writing of “Charlie”. Which role came first in your career? Had you always wanted to become a film-maker?
I’ve aways wanted to make films. When I was aged ten I edited our Super 8 holiday movies, trying to make a story out of what I suppose was ‘found footage’ that my father, uncle or whoever had grabbed the camera had shot. My mother interrupted me, asking what all these bits of cut film were and why I’d chopped up their holiday movies? I replied that they weren’t ‘in continuity’, made no sense, and I was going to discard them!
My parents bought me a Super8 camera and editing kit just before this as I think they knew I had a very active visual imagination. I was always acting out films, building mini sets out of cardboard for my action figures and driving my friends crazy. It’s all their fault.
In my teens I learned how to practically script write on a typewriter with a copy of ‘Cole Haag; Standard Script Formats’ by my side.
Beginning screenwriting today is so much easier. Cheap software, books, articles, websites. I think if you can’t do it with all that to hand you should do something else.
In my ‘career’, it was being a lighting gaffer on short films which ‘got me in’ back in 1990 working on student 16mm projects. I actually walked out of a horrible job to pursue what I really wanted to do. Then they started paying me (the fools) although I’ve always been a writer/storyteller at heart. What makes a story compelling fascinates me.
Do you prefer any one role over the others? Why is this? Which would you say is your least favourite role?
I’m coming late to directing but I really enjoy it. Being able to shape a story in reality with a talented cast and crew is exciting because you see the story unfold and start to shape it before you go into the edit and shape it again, refining it. It’s writing but with other people, kind of like when I was a kid organising games in the playground from television and films I’d watched. I have a very funny short film I want to do based on that.
My least favourite role is producing for other film makers which I discovered to be very frustrating because my own storytelling ‘id’ wouldn’t lie down.
I’m a terrible producer. I can do it but just don’t expect me to sit there and not care about the story.
This isn’t to say I don’t enjoy writing. I love writing a screenplay when I’m pleased with my step outline. I get excited completely visualising a story in my head.
You started out making shorts – did you find that this discipline taught you a lot about the craft and set you up well for feature-making?
I did work on an awful lot of short films mainly as a way to learn the craft of film making. I’m a good organiser and scheduler maybe because I also have a business background and qualification. Film making is boring paperwork, having a structure to the project as well as telling a story.
Many short film makers don’t realise that they have time constrained on set. Time spent pondering over one insignificant element of a shot leaves them with less time elsewhere on something more important.
Making a short film is a great discipline. It’s criminal that there’s no money out there to do them with a little financial support like there was with the UKFC regional lottery schemes, which admittedly were over bureaucratic and meddlesome. I wish the BFI would address this. It wouldn’t take much.
What’s the top piece of advice would you give writers and film-makers who are starting out?
Starting out, you can’t afford to turn things down because you’ll learn from every project at every level.
I’ve learnt things about film making from every job in film & television I did. Not just on drama projects but documentaries, corporates, all sorts. You name it, I’ve done it.
Writers should always be writing, even in their heads. Carry a notebook always. I find ideas and think about them all the time. How they’d work, what their structure might be. So, always carry a notebook and pencil/pen and turn nothing down. That’s two for the price of one there.
Tell us a bit about Charlie – what’s it about?
‘Charlie’ is a coming of age story buried within a dark action adventure story set during World War Two Italy as the Allies invaded in 1943. It concerns a teenager, ‘Marco’ whose life is thrown together with an on-the-run Allied spy code named ‘Charlie’. It explores a main theme of growing up inside such a chaotic, life threatening time and having to deal with it both physically and psychologically. Marco goes through A LOT during the story.
What inspired you to write such a story?
Researching another story, I came across a series of pictures taken by Robert Capa in Naples 1943. They were of a funeral of several boys who’d assembled a barricade then with some stolen weapons, tried to hold off the Germans. The Germans caught and hung them. The idea of young teens doing such a brave, forlorn act stuck with me and wouldn’t leave me alone. This germ of an idea I had to get out of my head.
How did you go about researching it?
I wrote an outline then a first draft without much research. I then began the rewrite alongside research which changed the project enormously. It’s a much darker and realistic story than the original outline and bears little relation to its origins. I read an awful lot of books about the situation in Italy and life during the Second World War, I’m practically an expert now.
Did you know that ninety-five percent of every village and township in Italy was destroyed during the fighting, mostly by the Allies? That the original landings in Italy were bigger than those at D-Day? A crazy time to be growing up and having to deal with all that.
Did you find that, being a director, your script writing was influenced by your directorial vision? How did you approach feedback?
I’ve developed a style that leaves no doubt about what is happening on screen visually and emotionally without resorting to clumsy camera instructions which, as every screenwriter knows, is a big no no. The more I wrote ‘Charlie’ (and other screenplays) the more I realised my ‘style’ is quite dark. I think any project I do is going to be quite dark, exploring that side of life. That’s just who I’ve realised I am as a writer. I’ve only arrived at this notion recently after going through several projects of mine (and others) realising a common thread ran through them.
That’s why you have to do as much as possible to find your voice and be comfortable with it. It’s a realisation. You can’t write that in.
Feedback? I’m lucky that in the 2000’s I ran a production company which developed several screenplays and short films with our regional film body North West Vision and the UK Film Council Lottery script schemes. I think we had about 15 awards in development. I also attended several script development courses with Arista, First Film Foundation and the Script Factory (amongst others) and learnt an awful lot. So I’m aware that when I’m screenwriting I have to do certain things and to avoid falling into common writing traps. However, for ‘Charlie’, I sent out the script for feedback with two current development services and also had feedback from a third outfit who were originally interested in the project. All of them had the same criticisms.
I tend to have a rule of thumb that from any evaluation; fifty percent will be off but in the other fifty percent will have something you’d best pay attention to. So I rewrote ‘Charlie’ based on an aggregate of those reviews which kind of said the same thing.
The ‘Charlie’ script is even better. I firmly believe in the idea of script editors and evaluation; just don’t rely on the same source.
What stage is the project at now, and how long did it take to get to this stage?
It’s taken eight years to develop the script and four years to piece together, with a few false starts. It’s at a key financing stage with Blue Pencil Investments and some private investment. I can’t say much else at the moment because I know my producer Paul Forrest is working hard at something incredibly difficult but we’re almost there.
Both myself and Paul believe in this story so much we’re like a dog with a bone, hard to shake off. To get your film made independently this is how it is. The long haul.
Plus, I promised someone dear to me I’d make the film and have to honour that. It’s very much a personal project, even for my producer.
Teaser trailers are different from the sorts of trailers people are used to seeing for movies because they have a different purpose; their aim is toi attract investment and support for the film campaign. Can we see the teaser trailer for Charlie?
What are your hopes and aspirations for the film?
I hope it strikes a chord and gets people talking. Even though ‘Charlie’ is set in 1943, much of what’s going on is relevant today within Syria, frankly any conflict. Not just war zones. On the streets. Violence is casual, even peer approved.
I don’t want to get on a soap box about it but I think films should provoke discussion as well as entertain. ‘Charlie’ does both.
What’s next on the cards for Mike the writer, director and producer?
I want to develop a few other script ideas floating around my brain and laptop. A low budget thriller set in the UK, an innovative science fiction story, a 3 part TV drama set on the home front of WW2 with a female protagonist (so’s the sci fi), a post western biopic set in New Mexico at the turn of the 19th Century. I’d also love to find a good script I haven’t written that I connect with. So, just a few things but let’s get ‘Charlie’ away first.
Ways to connect with Mike…
See Mike’s work…