Action! Trials and tribulations of making my film debut

Not many directors must multi-task before the cameras roll. but Yorkshire Post Arts Reporter Nick Ahad had his hands full making his first movie.

I don't really have the distance to look back yet. The timetable of events makes my head spin and writing it down makes me a little vertiginous. Here goes.

Thursday, March 12, I'm at the Northern Student Scriptwriter's Conference to learn about writing for theatre. Someone says a short film is a good way to get your work seen.

It's the first time I ever consider venturing into the world of film.

Two days later I'm at the Bradford Film Festival Film Industry Weekend. The idea is snowballing. If I'm going to make a short film, then I had better get educated.

I hear about a "pitching" competition and the competition deadline is Tuesday, March 17 – that's two days away. In for a penny...

I pitch. The Bradford City of Film Competition is being run by an arts organisation called Fabric. They want films on the theme of Made in Bradford. My concept is a simple one about a boy from Bradford whose identity is questioned. I hand-deliver my pitch one hour before the deadline and attempt to forget about it.

"It was a good experience," I tell myself. "It will come in handy the next time I pitch." Nine days later this message arrives in my email inbox: "Dear Nick, Many thanks for submitting your proposal Where You From? to the Bradford City of Film short film competition."

"Oh well", I think. "It was worth a go." Then I read on.

"I am delighted..." (my fist punches the air), "to tell you that the panel has selected your film..." (both fists punch the air) "as one of the six we have decided to commission." I'm out of my seat.

The first meeting is a week later. Gideon Seymour and Alissa Juvan of Fabric are generous: they don't laugh in my face (I'm still expecting this to be revealed as an elaborate wind-up).

"You've no experience – we're taking a real punt on you," I'm told about 15 times during the hour-long meeting. Don't I know it. "How long do you think the film will be?" they ask.

"Oh about eight to 10 minutes," a figure I pluck out of the air. "So, what happens now? I assume you'll be giving me a producer and everything else I need?"

They smile. I'm to be the writer, director and producer. The film's budget could be spent on bacon butties on a single morning of a Bond film. Just for Daniel Craig. What was I thinking when I wrote the script which calls for: a scene inside a moving taxi, a scene in a classroom with lots of schoolchildren, a scene on top of the moors and photographs blowing in the wind on top of the moors?

Those are the less complicated things I need to get on film. First, the kids. I return to Bradford Grammar School and the head of the junior school is as helpful as I hoped. We can film at the school. We can even use boys from the school in the film. This might actually happen.

A week later, I hit rock bottom. Someone at the school changes their mind. They will no longer be involved.

I am exhausted and have achieved nothing. Every film ever made must reach this moment where you feel it can't possibly happen. I would have to slink back to Fabric and tell them their gamble on this first-timer had failed.

I make a decision. This is the dark night of the soul of this film. If I get to the end of this day, then the film will get made.

My brother, Jason, comes on board as co-producer and things begin to click.

You know when directors win an Oscar they have a boring long list of people they need to thank? Now I understand why.

My list starts with the Bradford theatre school Stage 84, Morrisons, Tyersal taxi company, my mum, Bradford Playhouse, West Yorkshire Police, Lancashire County Council, composer Alan J Moore. And that's just the tip of the iceberg.

I hold open auditions at Bradford Playhouse and take posters around local schools advertising the auditions. A total of 40 kids turn up and I run ridiculously brief workshops to try and find the key characters of Amir and Ben. Ben's easy, I narrow it down almost immediately to two. But I can't find Amir – the film's main character.

My partner is a dance teacher and she suggests a young boy who is part of a dance troupe she works with. Shakeel is a revelation. He's perfect and when it comes to filming, his professionalism is extraordinary. Deborah McAndrew, better known as Angie from Coronation Street, is an angel. I approach her and she agrees to take part in the film. As does Dominic Gately, an actor I've seen several times at West Yorkshire Playhouse. Jonny Walton, the Yorkshire Post's digital news journalist and a father of a two-year-old and a baby (a relevant fact when you ask people for this amount of time and dedication), will film it for me. A friend at the BBC, an award- winning film-maker, will advise on the filming.

Click, click, click.

When I read that film-making is a collaborative process, I had no idea how true that was. I go to Northern Film School to put up recruitment posters. But I can't get in. I've been up all night and I can't get through the doors. I chuck some posters through a gap in the door and hope for the best. Christopher Martin, a lighting expert, Ami Tuttle, an assistant director and Michelle French, an art director, all came through those optimistically-posted posters.

And so it begins. On April 18, we meet at Lister Park in Bradford at 8am. We've insured the film, got permission from Bradford City Council, everyone is standing around. I talk Debbie and Shakeel through the first scene we'll film. The crew of eight are waiting. Debbie and Shakeel are in position.

I call... "action."

Debbie nails it.

Then – we crack on with filming. We run the scene dozens of times, Jonny's shoes are making too much noise as he follows the scene – so he ends up walking around the park in his socks.

The first morning of filming is over. I buy lunch and then it's off to the moors, firstly over near Cowling, then up to Haworth.

We're standing on top of the moors waiting for the wind to pick up. Shakeel casts photographs into the wind, the crew run around collecting them up each time. We go to Haworth and get the final take of the day.

"That, for today, is a wrap."

The ball's rolling. We've done our first day of filming. Three more to go. The following day is the one I assume will be the hardest and most complex. I have two brilliant actors, Dominic Gately and Jag Sanghera, but it's the scene inside the moving taxi. When I called Dom I was delighted that he would take part. I was less delighted when he told me he didn't have a full driver's licence. He's playing the taxi driver.

We work a way around all of this and the first weekend of filming is finished. The rest of the week passes in a blur. I'm averaging around two hours sleep a night.

The next Saturday comes and 20 kids turn up at Stage 84. The stage school's principal, Valerie Jackson, is a huge help and she has given us permission to use the school for filming.

About halfway through the day my head explodes – it feels like I've just shut down. Perhaps it's the lack of sleep? The 12 Diet Cokes I've had that day or the 40 cigarettes? Either way, I have to hand over the reins to the friend from the BBC. Half an hour's breather and I'm back on track.

The final day approaches. We gather at my auntie's house in Bradford. Family, friends, favours – these are the things

on which a film on this kind of budget gets made. I make one enormous mistake. Actually, I make about a million, but the worst is when the final shot is in the can. I'm surrounded by cast and just me and Jonny – and I forget to call on set the other people that have made filming possible before I say, this time with no proviso: "That's a wrap."

We await the premiere, but it doesn't matter. Somehow all this came out of my head, into a script and on to film.

With luck the team I assembled won't read this. Because the greatest thing is that I've learnt so much for my next film.

Where You From? will be screened at a VIP event, along with the other five films commissioned by Bradford City of Film, on June 1 at Bradford Playhouse. They will also be shown in the film tent at Bradford Mela, June 13 and 14.