When The Chips Are Down (2004)

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The Making Of Essay

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I hadn't heard of Late Night Poker before this film. A world of high stakes poker filled with self fashioned characters who walked away with big jackpots. Back in the 00s this kinda of show filled the late night slots that used to be old TV shows. It the kinda of show that I would of lapped up, if I was still working nights, but I wasn't, so I hadn't seen a frame of it. That was until James and Matt sat me down and showed me an episode.

James Berkeley, who I had met on a short called What Will I Be When I Grow Up? and who would do the sound editing on my shorts, and his friend Matt McKay had watched a lot of these shows and they wanted to make a spoof about the subject. They invited me around to Matt's place to talk to me about the idea. First thing that happened was that I was taught how to play Texas Hold'em, the style of poker that play on these shows. I was familar with Black Jack and the standard way of playing poker, but I wasn't familar with this style of play. It was very easy to pick up. One of the reasons why these shows were so popular, as it's easy to play and to follow.

Once we played a couple of hands, James and Matt told me their idea. The idea was to take the piss out of these shows. I hadn't seen one of these shows, so the guys showed me an episode they had recorded. I remember they all had nicknames, like Big Daddy and the Hendon Mobster. They would wear sunglasses. When the heat was on, one of them would get up and walk around the table before making a decision. And of course there was an insightful commentary from a British and American presenter. (The American presenter was over enthusiastic and the British presenter was always reserved) Plenty of elements to make a comedy of. I was sold and I wanted to help the guys make their short.

After that meeting, Matt went off and wrote the script. The idea was that our late night poker show would come from a fictious TV channel, called The London Pub Network, that was in the same vein as LIVE TV. (LIVE TV was a cable channel that would have shows like Topless Darts and Topless Weather. It was considered to be a tasteless channel) They would broadcast poker tournments from pubs around the country, featuring the best and worse players out there.

James found us the location, a pub that was close to him in Pinner. They let us use half of the bar for free, and we were going to give them free advertising through the film. Though we only had one day to shoot there. Knowing this, I decided to make this a two camera shoot. Up to this point I had only worked with one camera shoots, so I was looking forward to trying out this different way of shooting. As I was always prepping to shoot Goodbye, at the same time, I got both Matteo Prezioso and Rishi Opel to camera operate. Also, to keep the cost down we hired a pair of Sony PD-150s, instead of the Sony DSR-570 I used on Goodbye. (PD-150 was a consumer camera and the DSR-570 was a professional camera)

I was able to use the rest of crew from Goodbye on When The Chips Are Down, so I didn't have to look for anybody else. I had a tight crew who I wanted to use on future shoots, but this was last time I worked with them. What happened was that after we wrapped on this short, they were all worked on a feature that was a nightmare. That experience was so bad, that it made a lot of them quit the film industry.

When it came to casting, it was a case of using people we knew and open auditions. Andrew Lawden (you all know from my previous films Fire Power and Blocked) played the American Presenter Desert Thorne and Max Somerset played the part of the Russian Poker Player, Parvil Getsmeoff. Neil McNally (Mark Wallis - the British Commentator), David Lewis (Johny "The Daddy" Stone) and Jo Knotwell (Shirley Pimple - The Dealer) were both friends of James and Matt, and this was their first times on screen. Fransisco Labbe (Jose "Deuce" Diego) had appeared with Ashvin-Kumar Joshi in a film and so I contacted him through Ashvin. Simon Knuckley ("Miami" John Holland) and Andy Pandini (Steve Gardener) we found through advertising for actors on Mandy.com.

A week before the shoot, and just after I finished shooting Goodbye, we got all the actors together and did a read through of the script. It was a lot of fun. I hadn't laughed like that in a script reading before. The combination of actors and non-actors worked out really well.

The fun would carry onto the shoot. All the cast and crew joining in the fun and silliness of this shoot. We even got an advert for the end of the short from the camera crew mucking about during the lunch break. But everybody was very professional and we didn't run over on our time in the pub. The strategy of using two cameras worked in our favour. I would run between the two cameras, checking their angles. Matteo was camera 1 and doing the main shots, and Rishi was camera 2 and getting the closeups and pickup shots.

For the opening credits, I went out one night with a friend of mine in his car. I shot through the windscreen as we drove around the streets of London, catching the landmarks like Tower Bridge, The London Eye and Big Ben.

For the commentary, we got both Andrew and Neil to come to James' studio to record their lines. We spent the afternoon recording their lines. Again it was a lot of fun. As well as appearing in the film, Max Somerset provided the music for this short. This was the last time that I worked with Max, because after this he started to appear on TV as a magician. To my knowledge, Max hasn't composed any other music after this film. The graphics and advertising in the flim was designed by Matt.

I will say that this film did get overshadowed by Goodbye when it came to it's release. We got it shown at a few film festivals, but it didn't get as many as Goodbye. I didn't give this film as much attention as I should of, but saying that, this is a fun to work on and I think it's well worth a watch.