Geraint Huw Reynolds writes about the process of adapting his wife, Sarah Reynolds’ award-winning short story for the screen.
Out of the Editing Suite and into the Director’s Chair.
I have wanted to direct a short film for years but I never seemed able to find the right story; something that really captured my imagination, that was unique and that I knew I could do justice to, on screen. When I read the first draft of ‘Catch of the Day’, I knew I had found that story. My wife, Sarah, went on to win the Rhys Davies Prize with it, and I set about adapting it for the screen.
Telling a story in words is an entirely different prospect to telling a story on film. Adaptation is a kind of reimagining and I had to stray from the words of the original story in order to capture their essence visually. This meant losing certain elements and inventing new ones. I had to make the story my own and to do that I translated it into Welsh.
It took time to write a screenplay that I was happy with and that also met Sarah’s approval. Armed with a final draft, I began scouring the coast of South Wales for locations and approached the actors on my ‘wish list’. I was extremely lucky to secure the interest of experienced, gifted actors Alun Elidyr, Sharon Morgan, Saran Morgan and Rhys Downing. The Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama put me in touch with Georgina Illingworth, who agreed to take on Props and Costume design. I had a cast, a partial crew, a location and a script. Now all I needed was a budget.
I had been applying for funding left, right and centre but without a proven track record, no one was willing to take a chance on me, especially as my film entailed some ambitious visual effects. I felt terrible having to explain the situation to the cast and crew but to my delight, they agreed to contribute their time and talent for free. It was wonderful to receive such a show of faith in the project but I also felt a growing responsibility: this film had better be good.
I was extremely fortunate that my employer, Telesgop, stepped in at this point with a contribution towards production costs, as well as giving me permission to borrow some talented staff members and work on the film within working hours. Without their help, we might never have got the film in the can.
After months of painstaking preparation, securing locations, scheduling, organising insurance and risk assessments, storyboarding, production design and practical effects, we arrived at the starting line – the first day of the shoot.
There was the weather to contend with. Armed with tide charts and weather forecasts, we could only plan for the worst and hope for the best. Then there was the schedule. I knew I was asking a lot of everyone – we were going to shoot at sunrise and again at sunset, and in the freezing water of the Bristol Channel. I’ve never felt pressure like it.
Once I stepped on set, all that pressure disappeared. I felt sure of myself and of what I wanted to achieve – I even had fun. It was hard work and there were some bumps along the way – our DOP had to drop out due to illness so our B camera became our A camera. I had to make some compromises. I had to make some sacrifices and when we wrapped on day three, I knew that there was no question of pick-ups: we were out of budget and out of time. Whatever we had shot was going to be the film.
Back in the editing suite, I handed over the reins to Rhys Ap Rhobert. I’ve spent twenty years editing other people’s work; it was time to sit in the director’s chair. To my relief, the story was all there in the rushes: not exactly as I had imagined it but different, better, a new interpretation fused from the collective efforts of the entire team. When our composer came on board, the film transformed again. He found fresh nuances in the story and a different rhythm in its telling. By the time we reached picture lock, I felt sure we had something we could all be proud of.
After a year of hard work, love and attention, Helfa’r Heli is complete and the festival circuit awaits. It’s time to send our little fledging film out into the world and see if she flies.
Helfa’r Heli can be seen today at Chapter Arts Centre in Cardiff at 4.45pm.
Geraint Huw Reynolds is a BAFTA nominated editor with over twenty years’ experience working in film and TV. ‘Helfa’r Heli’ is his first short film as a Director and Producer. For more information on the film, visit www.helfarheli.com or follow Helfa’r Heli on Facebook.