Thursday, 3 November 2011

A Catch Up On Our Autumn Activities

Well I planned to have this uploaded weeks ago but things have just carried on filling up our schedules.  But here we are, with a more detailed catch up on what’s been occurring, in a few more than 140 characters.

A whole year after the commencement of post production on a feature film and you’d quite possibly expect the film to be completed (or at least soon to be).  For us in Shadowsland we still don’t have the end in sight, and this past September / October has seen even more filming taking place.

So why are we still filming this thing?  Well, certain things we didn’t have time to film last summer, or some things we’ve reviewed and wanted to change the direction of them, and sometimes new ideas have come to us.  These are the reasons why we set up the blue screen again to film more material. 

The beauty of shooting a film this way is that re-filming elements later on is a much easier process.  Sets don’t have to be rebuilt and not all actors from the scenes have to be called back.  This is quite handy if certain actors have changed their hair colour or added facial piercings to themselves (see Chris).

As you’ll have no doubt seen in our social network updates, we were really thrilled to welcome two more actors to the production who have appeared in Doctor Who.  After tweeting Barnaby Edwards, chief dalek operator in the new series, we then asked him if he would be interested in coming up to Sleaford to film a couple of important scenes.  Ian Cullen (who appeared in some Doctor Who episodes with original Doctor William Hartnell, and who also once worked with James Aubrey) had actually written to us when we were filming last year.  I suddenly remembered his email when we were talking to Barnaby and then it hit both Chris and I what a great pairing they would make for these particular scenes.

Instead of setting up in the garage again, this time we gave ourselves a bit more room to move about as we were kindly allowed to set up at the Live Lounge in Sleaford.  It was a fantastic day working with two fantastic actors, and they even helped us pack up the studio again afterwards. What more could you ask for?

The day before this we began work on our soundtrack by recording a 30 piece choir in a local village church.  This was a dream come true for us, quite literally, as the idea started as one of those seemingly farfetched thoughts “Oh wouldn’t it be great if we had a choir singing old Christmas carols on the soundtrack?”  We didn’t know if this was ever going to be realistic, of course, but sometimes you just need the vision and the belief and the universe will make it so.  “Build it and they will come” as the famous line goes.

We were really fortunate to meet a great choirmaster in Eric Wayman who arranged the particular tunes we wanted and made some great suggestions for other carols to record.  The actual choir, Cantemus, produced a sublime sound and it was great meeting the individual choir members.

So what else have we been filming?  Well, we brought back to life our main character (played by Ian Mude) for a couple of brief pick up shots.  It was just like old times when, seconds before calling action, a nearby lawnmower started up and destroyed the sound.  It brought back wonderful memories of us all standing around on the Billywood blue screen in suspension as we waited for the many planes to clear the sky. 

And the other thing to report on is our visit from Sarah Barzyk-Aubrey, the Parisian daughter of our departed friend James Aubrey.  If you didn’t know already, Jimmy worked with us on the casting of the film and was set to play the main role.  I first met his daughter Sarah at his funeral, and earlier this year Sarah contacted me and asked if she could do anything as a tribute to her father.  So, in early October, Sarah travelled back to
England and while she was over here, we filmed a cameo with her, along with an old friend of ours, Oliver Fabian.  Oliver had acted with Jimmy in a film we’d worked on (unfortunately unreleased) and so it felt apt to work with Oliver again by pairing him alongside Sarah.  


It’s been a long journey making this film, but bringing Sarah to the film has given our story extra poignancy.  We’ll be talking more about Jimmy in the not too distant future…

So, as you can see, it’s been a busy time for us.  We’re now getting re-focused on the visual effects as we knuckle down at the computer for the winter.

We have just one more filming day of Shadows left, when we’ll be having one final extras day.  And then there’s the matter of making the final casting in the Shadows of a Stranger film, as we look to record a voice role.

Oh yes, and Chris has also been working on a music video for Sarah Jane Honeywell, which has only just been released.  This was shot in our beloved Billywood at the end of principal filming last year.  It’s a bit of a hard hitting video but the pre-warning says it all.  You can see it here. And yes that’s me on the keyboard.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Back to Blue and Teasers

So here it finally is, what we’ve been talking about for the past few weeks (or has it been months?), the first Shadows of a Stranger teaser trailer!

It seems it was a little while back when Chris met up with Colin again to record this voiceover.  Although we’ve had the voice and the visuals ready for some time, we’ve just had a bit of a challenge on our hands getting together some suitable music.  Not being a major Hollywood studio, we can’t just pinch some music from a previously released film, so this particular track we have here is something we created especially for the teaser.  As for the actual soundtrack to the film we do have things in motion, and next time I write I should have another exciting announcement. 

So, like we’ve been saying, this Colin Baker narrated teaser is going to be the first of three teasers, with the second teaser narration set to be recorded soon.  Perhaps around September time we’ll be ready to release the next one, and then the last one by Christmas, small vignettes for you of the world we're creating. 

We’ve tried to avoid being too contrived with these trailers, going our own way with it rather than making something that’s just like everything else out there.  Which has been our ethos all along in case y’all hadn’t noticed.  Editing trailers can become a bit like painting by numbers – the same old dramatic thuds leading to a crescendo of people screaming and people running.  So yeah, we decided to avoid all that.  Remember these are just teasers at this stage; they’re not the full trailer – this will come at a later date (when we have a lot more completed material).  We’re making them to give a taste of the mood and themes of the film and hopefully build anticipation.  So yes, they are a bit ‘cryptic’ as teaser trailers are supposed to be.

Recently we’ve also had the camera rolling again as we began our pick ups.  We've been gathering more supporting artists so that we can populate our environments with lots of different people.  The beauty of filming this way is that we’ve been able to get the main actors’ performances down on their own without having to coordinate a set full of extras at the same time.  Some of our shots will have people filmed in different years.

Here's me on the mini blue screen with one of our extras, Aicha.  We were listening to a band that hasn't even been filmed yet.

The other beauty of making a film this way is that as people have got to hear about us, we have been able to add to our cast of characters this long after principal filming.  And on that subject I should have some very exciting news to tell you about next time… So stay tuned.

Aren’t I such a tease?

Sunday, 22 May 2011

A Year In The Life

May 22nd 2011 marks a year to the day that the cameras started rolling on Shadows of a Stranger.  On this day last year we were somewhat nervously shooting what is part of the opening sequence to the film with the two Craigs.  Quite fittingly, a year on and that is the scene that we’ve just been working on with the visual effects.

It’s probably unusual for films to have such a long post production period, although for the first six or seven months we were essentially just laying the groundwork by editing the rough cut.  It is only now, as we create the dimensions of the Meridian environment, that the scenes are truly coming to life.

Although we can’t wait to get this film out there into the world, I think that all this time we’re spending on it is helping to define the sort of film this is going to be, one that has been meticulously planned and refined ever since I sat at the computer writing it all those years ago.  Every decision we make with this project is done with plenty of careful consideration.  I hope that this time spent will ultimately give us a film of substance rather than something that was just pulled out of the air and hastily thrown together.  I think the attitudes and spirit in which you make a film somehow shine through on the final product, no matter what the film is about.  Hopefully people will perceive Shadows as a film that means something.

Of course, the slow rate of progress is also down to the fact that there is only a small amount of people working on it.  This has its obvious downsides, but with the upsides it gives us total control over every aspect and gives for a more coordinated production.  Whilst we have moved on to visual effects, we do have other aspects of post production that we’re juggling: calling actors back for ADR, taking photographs, scheduling pick ups.  We also want to film more extras so that we can populate our scenes better.  Some of these things we could easily overlook or feel we don’t have the stamina for, but our goal has still not changed, to make the best possible film we can.

So while I continue to post these blogs and we deliver our little Facebook updates and Tweets, all we can essentially say to people is "This is definitely going to be a good film, honest!"  We’re still at the stage where we have little to show people to keep their interest sustained.  Even though we’ve still got a long way to go, hopefully, however, next time I’m blogging I will have something exciting to reveal.  And no, I’m not talking about the Susan Boyle sex tape.

The one question I’m asked most of all, the big question, is how long will it be before it’s finished?  Well, it is a difficult one to gauge still.  I don’t think we’re going to make our initial goal to release it for Christmas 2011, but I hope it won't be too far into 2012 when you’ll get to see it.  Certainly by this day next year eh?

Monday, 14 March 2011

In Post Production

The solemn winter months rolled along as the next phase of the Shadows of a Stranger project started: post production. Gone was the daily fun and excitement of cast and crew getting together each day to shoot scenes – now us producers isolated ourselves in the edit suite as the long task began of putting this film together.

A couple of months into the new year and we're now three quarters of the way through the initial edit of the blue screen material, and a much smaller way through the special effects work. There's still a long way to go, but the point is it's moving along.

The conscientious stitching together of each frame of video, and the solitude of the edit suite seems to have inspired a bit more reflection, an introspective look into what this film is really about, what we intended when we set out at the beginning.

One thing we'd wondered about as we were filming was whether there was anyone else out there who was making a film in this way. Were there any other micro-budget filmmakers who'd taken inspiration from the Sin City method of filmmaking, shooting it all in the controlled and comfortable environment of a digital backlot, then creating the environments in post production?

We thought we were the only ones, but we were wrong. Last year a film was released that strongly echoes our approach. Called Snowblind, the film was made in Germany, a futuristic spaghetti western shot through self-finance. It was all done on a green screen, made by passionate filmmakers who evidently didn't want their ambition and vision to be hampered by a poverty of means. The film is really worth checking out and can be seen in its entirety on Youtube.

It was fascinating to watch Snowblind and I was full of admiration for what these filmmakers had set out to achieve. I wasn't convinced that their audience truly got what it was all about – some people seem to take things a little too literally. It's something that worries me a bit with our film; it's not supposed to be real! We're not following the same rules of reality. Yet, I suppose it is the skill of a filmmaker that will encourage the audience to suspend their disbelief in order to be drawn into the film.

It's probably a very fine line. One, for example, that I think was crossed between the original Star Wars films and the newer prequels. The originals made everyone want to be Luke Skywalker, the prequels had us asking… midi-what?

The George Lucas of the original Star Wars is quoted as saying that a special effect without a story is a pretty boring thing. In an interview with Irvin Kershner (director of The Empire Strikes Back), he talked about how he was going to follow up one of the most successful films of all time, and said: "I was just supposed to make a terrific film, one that was better than the first one. But how do you make a terrific film? Do you put in more action than the first one? No, action is not what it's about. It's about characters, and caring about them. And that's where I wanted to put the emphasis - on the people."

When we followed the blue screen route with Shadows, we did so because we wanted to make the story that I'd already written. It wasn't an attempt to 'make another Sin City'. In fact, my script really wasn't an action film, not supposed to be a visual spectacle. It was about the characters, about the story. It was about trying to communicate relevant emotions, another exploration of the dimensions of the human soul.

This is something we've had to remind ourselves of as we're in post production. What excites me most about the film is that we're using these production techniques that wouldn't normally be used on a film of this nature, but we're not using them as an end to themselves.

It's exciting, but also daunting, when I wonder how the world will receive our film. It feels a bit of a gamble in some respects – our originality, if we have any, is not that we're trying to be groundbreaking with either our visual effects, or the humble way we attempted the sort of project that the Hollywood guys take on. It's more that we're taking things back a bit, putting emphasis on what we're communicating, not just on how we're communicating it.

Rich – March 2011

Introducing... Shadows of a Stranger

This blog originally appeared on Myspace in September 2010:

It's been, quite simply, an amazing past twelve months for the Shadows team.  September 2010 and we sit with our hard drives full of video footage, a feature length film that we'll be putting together over the next year (or two), and memories of an exciting whirlwind of a summer that saw us filming with Colin Baker and other famous actors.  So how did this journey start?

It was around the spring of 2009 when I presented Chris with a script I'd written, and the two of us tried talking to people 'in the biz', asking for advice, asking if maybe these people we knew could possibly put this script in front of other people, all the while fueled by a compulsion that this film somehow needed to be made.

Things started to look promising... but, to cut the story short... they eventually fizzled out.  We always knew that the film would be too difficult to make on our own at the level of filmmaking we're at, we always knew that we'd need some help... but then sometimes you come to the realisation that maybe you don't need the help you think you need... that perhaps with determination and bullheadedness, that 'if you put your mind to it, you can achieve anything' as George McFly would say.

And that's what we did.  After watching Sin City one evening, Chris came to the conclusion that we could actually make Shadows of a Stranger as a blue screen production, that we could inject an interesting stylisation to the project, and something of an unusual technique.  The script already lent itself a comic book style.  All we'd have to do is film the performances, the many performances, and then we'd fill in the environments afterwards.  And 'all we'd need' to do that was... to build our own blue screen studio.

With Brad roped into the project, the three of us filmed a test scene in a pub in Swineshead one late summer's day in 2009.  Brad had a portable green screen which we set up for the day, Chris had some storyboards, I watched with eagerness to see if this would all work, and all three of us played little roles in the video, what would become our Shadows of a Stranger Showpiece:

One thing it showed us, which we knew already really, was that we were gonna need a bigger blue screen.

The search for somewhere to construct our own studio was one of the most difficult challenges, but through a lot of fortune and a lot of misfortune we eventually wound up in a remote farm on the Lincolnshire fens.  Yes, we had a lot of difficulties ending up where we did, involving building our studio twice, but that was probably a test... to see how much we really wanted to do this... to see if we were going to roll over and play dead or we'd just pick ourselves up and carry on.

It was around this same time that we had our other major setback, the passing of our friend James Aubrey.  Jimmy had been with us during our audition process, had helped bring together all the local actors we brought into the production.  He himself was set to play the main role, a character that he was perfectly suited for.  But it wasn't to be.  One of the actors who came to our auditions in early 2010 was Ian, and even from the beginning there was curiously something a little 'Jimmy' about Ian... 

Within the tribulations of finding our studio and finding our leading man, we somehow came through it all, pure commitment and belief carrying us through it all.  It was this same belief, and maybe a bit of boldness and opportunism too, that made us start approaching various well known actors.  Doors were opening up, and things were going our way.  It felt that the universe really wanted this film to be made, and we were honoured to add such actors to the cast as Colin Baker, Sarah Jane Honeywell, Malcolm Lord, and Jane Tucker.

With camerman Alex joining the production, completing the core production members, we gradually and meticulously put our cast together.  If we could pull this off, we knew we'd be having the filmmaking time of our lives.  And somehow the plan did come off.  Despite making this film with a budget of next to jack shit (sterling), things came together like clockwork.  I think it pays off sometimes being a bit of meticulous Virgo planner.

We gave it our all and we all felt that we'd done something truly special, and something quite unique.  There's still a long way, but we know it'll be with the same inspired passion that we put our film together, a deep excitement for when we get to the point where we can finally put this film out there into the world...

Rich - September 2010