Sleepyman is a supernatural short film starring Taskmaster alumnus Mike Wozniak and actor/stand-up Will Adamsdale, based on the story by Emmy award winning author David Quantick. Set in the 1890’s, Mike plays Jeremy, an academic plagued by glimpses of a figure – the eponymous Sleepyman. Increasingly haunted by these visions, he confides in his condition to his closest friend Alfred (Will). Is Jeremy’s affliction in his mind, or is there more to the tale of Sleepyman than meets the eye….
Filmmaking is hard. Filmmaking without a budget is difficult. Filming a period piece without cash is genuinely foolish. So how unearth did Sleepyman get made?
Four years ago:
I’d become a little obsessed with David Quantick’s short story Sleepyman, a creepy tale that immediately appealed to me as a fan of M. R. James, BBC Ghost Stories for Christmas et al. David graciously granted me the option to adapt his gem of a story. But to make it, I’d clearly need a budget – big locations, horses, costuming… I’d need a budget right? So I made a teaser with my friends Carl and Chris to get the ball rolling, foolishly attempting to attract some money from somewhere. Anywhere. Maybe someone? Anyone?
At the time of making the teaser, my dear Dad had been diagnosed with Motor Neurone disease. The irony of the teaser stating ‘I’m not sleeping too well’ mirrored my worsening sleep pattern. I’d wake up with a jolt most nights, thinking about my Dad and his devastating deterioration, as he became increasingly hemmed in by the horrific lack of bodily function. The downstairs dining room in my family home had essentially been transformed into a minute hospital ward and my night-time terrors envisaged him there, trapped, unable to communicate – and my utter powerlessness to help from afar. As a full time teacher, it’s hard to carve out moments for creativity at the best of times and this sustained undercurrent of grief as Dad worsened any hope, or indeed interest, in pursuing Sleepyman.
And then Covid lockdown landed.
An insane layer of complications heightened the nightmare scenario – my parent’s increasingly insular world, with Dad’s lovely carers understandably disappearing behind face masks and my amazing siblings in overdrive trying to keep my Mum from burnout. However, the otherworldly lockdown gave rise to this odd little film:
I can barely watch it now. It captures the profoundly strange time we shared as a family (and my Dad himself pops up on screen as the likes of FaceTime became the norm). It’s three years old but feels a lifetime away, with our kids appearing tiny in stature, gamely running around for their lunatic film making father.
The year after, Dad died.
The ghastly truth is, Dad dying was a relief. The grieving process had started with his diagnosis – you end up anticipating the death ever more more keenly as each incremental symptom manifests itself, gradually processing the loss of someone fading before your eyes. He had escaped from his broken body and the absolute terror of still housing a finely tuned brain. He loved his family so much (and probably would have held on longer if he could), but the brutality of the disease was a slow-burning horror in the cruellest form I’ve ever witnessed.
I went straight back to work (probably a bad idea) after his funeral to a (former) workplace that was institutionally incompatible with my grief aftershocks, although incredible individual colleagues reached out and supported. And I needed something else to think about – a positive headspace that I could rejuvenate in. Film making started creeping back into my consciousness and Sleepyman floated back. Can’t I just try to shoot it? Beg/borrow/steal – but just make it somehow?
I did my usual approach – outrageously cheeky emails to people and places (in this case the incredible Devon and Exeter Institution and the phenomenal Norman Lockyer Observatory in Sidmouth). Mike Wozniak gamely jumped back on board after Surveyor and fruitfully brought in Will Adamsdale who slotted in perfectly. Asking ANYONE and EVERYONE helped – in one of my classes, I jokingly asked the group if anyone had a horse and a period carriage I could use for a film. And it turned out they did. One of my brilliant students piped up with ‘I think my mum does’. A day later, a horse and carriage was booked for the shoot.
And so we filmed with horses, costumes for the cast (courtesy of the marvellous Cygnet Theatre), period props sourced by my workaholic producer Emma, bespoke books created by graphics maestro Jeremy – all shot at the beautiful locations. Due to my VFX naivety, a huge amount of post-production ended up dominating the lives of Chris and Graham for months in between their regular gigs. And just so much genuine kindness and skill from everyone involved.
A case in point – I’d never worked with the composer Richard Beadle before, but it was immediately apparent from our first phone call we were singing from the same hymn sheet – he even went to the lengths of recording with a string quartet because he wasn’t happy with the original mix. And I hope to meet him in person one day!
Four years after the teaser, here we are with a new film, seemingly made against the odds. It’s a personal victory after the last few bleak years. The shoot was such a reminder of the joy of working with old friends and new recruits (who, like Theo Moye, have become new friends). Mike and Will just clicked immediately and it was lovely to let the cameras roll while they bounced off each other. Lots of things went wrong as always, but everyone worked frantically to overcome the time-pressured complexities that frequently presented themselves.
My wonderful friend Moose had been seriously ill before filming, but had recovered enough to be on set as an extra which filled me with much hope. The post-shoot shindig at Karen and Moose’s house was a singular joy. As I stressed about storing video files, I found myself gradually wallowing in the warmth of fine company, a diverse bunch of pros, amateurs and interested parties – folks who had just wanted to join us on (an admittedly exhausting) two-day shoot. It might seem like stress inducing artistic lunacy (it is), but the last four years has prompted me to understand filmmaking as:
- My social life
- My support network
- My playground – lo-fi filmmaking held together by the love, enterprise and creativity of my wonderful collaborators.
Right – what’s next?
- The Girl on the Moon | landing an award-winning video - February 21, 2024
- Screams By The Seas |“a welcoming place to meet people and celebrate cinema” - February 19, 2024
- Cornish/Kernewek language feature development fund launched by Screen Cornwall - February 17, 2024