Laughter

Simon's Notes

Laughter is part of a Super 8-mm black and white trilogy I shot in the early 90s when I was working as a production manager for a corporate video company. By this stage I'd shot shorts on Video 8, all edited in camera to bands I was into like Crass, Conflict, Pop Will Eat Itself, The Ramones etc. 'Smiles Laughter and Insanity' was a concerted effort to start making longer stories with proper actors, proper dialogue and a proper script.

Of the three, the second one, Laughter is absolutely the best and earned me an interview with the Royal College of Art for their film course where I remember being somewhat stumped by one of the comments from the senior lecturer - 'your film's so good I don't think you need to come here...' Although I tried to argue otherwise, his view prevailed and sadly I didn't get in ( although ironically, my second feature The Truth Game ended up receiving a joint release at London's National Film Theatre with the excellent 'The Nine Lives Of Thomas Katz' directed by one of my interviewers - Ben Hopkins. Around our NFT joint release Ben confided that one of the other rejected applicants was Chris Nolan.)

Co-writer James Burleigh and myself shared a joint fascination for mental instability and breakdown so it seemed only natural we should join forces and make a film about such a subject. Given that we both lived in Brixton and used the degenerate infested Brixton tube every day, it meant that we were never that far away from some unfortunate who would from time to time provide material for the film; I think in the end half the scenes we made up and the other half one of us had seen somewhere about London. As well as co-writing credits we also shared producing credits (which meant we both paid a few hundred £s for film stock and processing), editing credits (going back to Molinare Post-Production Facilities where we'd originally met to do all the editing during their downtime) and filming credits (we originally had a camera man but the day we planned to shoot, it rained and after that we decided to shoot it ourselves and hope for the best).

The two main things I remember about the writing process were 1/ Deciding to incrementally build the film's intensity and visualcomplexity by adding an extra shot to each scene. So, the first scene has one shot, the second two shots, the third three shots etc; whether this worked I've no idea and it was undoubtedly on a sub-conscious level if it did. 2/ Working as Production Manager on a shoot at St Andrews golf course and being very excited about being able to fax my final script additions to James from my bedroom in the hotel.

Robert Hamilton played 'the madman' and was actually recommended by another actor who was my first choice but who had commitments after the (above) rained-off weekend when we'd initially planned to shoot. Robert had learnt his craft at East 15 drama school but had erred towards the writing side of things and even at that time was a prodigious playwright. He later went on to win the Sunday Young Playwright of the Year not once but twice in succession, after which he still couldn't find an agent - something which I felt summed up the British industry pretty well.

Robert shared an equal fascination for our subject matter and with his incredibly worn but detailed physiognomy was absolutely perfect for the role. He did an excellent job and at one point was stopped in Trafalgar Square by a couple of passing policemen who tried to move him on as he was screaming and shouting at all the pigeons. Even when he explained he was acting in a film, they still didn't believe him so James and I had to butt in and save the day. The film was shot with no sound, no lights, no make-up, nothing, just the three of us wandering around London - West and East End - with a camera and a tripod, our whole lives ahead of us blah blah blah.

Most films take long enough to finish when you do have money, let alone when you don't have any and I can't remember exactly how long this took but it was probably about a year or so. I remember showing it at various cinema clubs around London and generally wondering why I bothered. This sentiment reached its peak at a half empty screening at the now defunct Minema (?) in Knightsbridge over an Easter Bank Holiday Weekend when the projectionist started the film 3 minutes in - which for a 10 minute short is a lot. Absolutely horrified, I rushed up the aisle and struggled to find the projection booth. When I found it, the film had only 3 minutes to go and I was met by a completely disinterested projectionist who claimed not to be able to start the film again which was obviously a lie. By the time we'd finished arguing, the film had reached its end credits anyway and I drove home completely fucked off.

On a more positive note, Laughter was ultimately short-listed for the annual ICA 'Dick' Award, hosted/funded by Joe Mennell and named after the success of his 'Dick' short (lots of guys' private members accompanied by womens' generally facetious but amusing comments about said members). Joe Mennell very kindly came up to me and told me that all his friends in San Francisco had watched all the nominated films, had liked mine the most and were going to kill him if Laughter didn't win; it didn't but I'm assuming Joe's still alive...