Thursday, 31 July 2014

It All Started With a Text...

I still remember clearly a particular moment one day in July five years ago. It was break time in my day job, and my phone buzzed with a text message from Chris. He’d been having some thoughts about the future and had come up with a few options. Either we gave up on filmmaking or it was time to just bite the bullet and make our own film.

A couple of months previously, Chris had read my Shadows of a Stranger script (or Strangers as it was simply called back then). It wasn't written as a script that two filmmakers with no money could make in the rural land of Lincolnshire. It was a multi-million pound film to be shot in a sprawling city. But Chris had a plan, which he mentioned in the text, and which was crystallised in my head when we watched Sin City a few nights later. We would shoot the whole thing on blue screen, get all the performances on camera before putting them in a stylised world in post-production.

Actors in the blue... The 'Before'...
I was immediately sold by the idea. In all honesty, I didn’t have much else going for me at the time, and it would be a dream to make my own script with the ambition that Chris was showing.

The downside was that with a 2 hour feature shot entirely on blue screen, it was going to give us a hell of a lot of post-production work to do. I didn’t imagine that it would be five years before we reached the finish line, but that was the case, essentially to the day that Chris had sent me that text. I still have that particular text you see, as it was on an old phone which I happened to replace soon after. So I know that today, the 31st July, is exactly 5 years since he sent it, the moment the Shadows of a Stranger journey started.

My old mobile phone - isn't it amazing how much they've come on in the last 5 years?

The other day I was watching some of the bonus features on the season 7 DVD of 24. One little video took my interest in particular because it was about the program makers’ use of green screen. I know green screen is used a lot these days, but shows such as 24 aren’t really associated with green screen being an intrinsic part of the production process.

The video informed how green screen was used in a small scene in an airport. To save on production costs, this scene was actually shot with the actor on green screen, which was then superimposed onto a background plate of the baggage collection in Washington airport. Instead of lugging an entire crew with actor into a busy location, it was deemed simpler to plop a camera in the airport to film a quick bit of footage, and then film the actor in the much more controllable environment of the green screen studio.

Another green screen shot before and after: Jack Bauer and Tony Almeida in Washington.
I bet all of that new series where Jack is in London was all filmed in a green screen studio in Los Angeles.

In essence, that was the reasoning behind why we took this approach with Shadows of a Stranger. The chroma screen route has enabled both of us to tell our stories using the budget available.

Whilst you wouldn’t really know this scene in 24 was shot on green screen because you wouldn’t be expecting it or looking for it, obviously our project has been described as a blue screen film from the outset, and so the audience would have preconceptions about how our film is going to look and feel. Our blue screen approach isn’t therefore meant to be one giant trick – can you believe this whole thing isn’t real and was in fact shot on blue screen??? Nope, that wasn’t our plan. The blue screen route has enabled us to tell our story, but we’ve also embraced the limitations that blue screen brings and built our style around that.

But seeing this 24 featurette after 5 years of working on this project was reassuring in a sense, that we would have something in common with a massive television production. With a big budget we would certainly have been out in the real world shooting our film. The ultimate goal though has been to tell a story using the resources available as creatively as possible.

The After: this is how that scene above ended up.
So now it’s all finished, we’re very much looking forward to seeing what the world makes of our film. And I guess whatever I do next, if 24 is anything to go by, I probably haven't seen the last of working with green screens and blue screens!

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Interview: Kit Tinsley

As part of a blog exchange program with horror writer and fellow Stranger Kit Tinsley, I interviewed Kit this week about his writing and his involvement in Shadows of a Stranger. The talented and versatile Kit has just released his third novel, The Wilds, and he explains below how it was based on a film project that we’d both worked on before commencing on Shadows.

We’ve worked together on a number of film projects before over the years. Can you tell how you got into filmmaking in the first place?
Well as long as I can remember I've wanted to be involved in film. Since childhood, films have been my passion. I think for a few years I wanted to become an actor, then I wanted to be a writer / director.

What was your involvement in Shadows of a Stranger?
My official title on the film was Associate Producer, but the job entailed some admin, some health and safety, and generally helping out where I could. The nature of the film meant it was all hands on deck where needed. I also acted in the film, playing 3 separate characters, and contributed to the soundtrack.
Kit working the sound desk in 'Billywood Studio' whilst filming Shadows.

Generally speaking, how do you think Shadows of a Stranger is going to turn out?
I am really excited to see how it turns out, after all the hard work everyone put in, and the few examples of the visual effects I've seen I'm really looking forward to it. I think it's going to be a hit, a thinking-man’s thriller.

I’ve just started reading your latest book, The Wilds, and already I’ve noticed many similarities to a script I read of yours. Can you tell me why you decided to turn this script into a novel?
Well yes, the novel is based on the script I wrote for the film Red Route. Which we were both involved in making, yet never saw the light of day. Without naming names, I was unhappy with the way my script was changed and diluted by the director. I felt there was a good horror story there, but he took all of that out. So I decided to revisit the story in novel form.

Me and Kit on the film set for the project that later became The Wilds.
Not that I want you to give too much away before I’ve finished reading the book, but how have you found the writing process of the novel compared with the script? Has much changed with the storylines / characters?
The novel follows the final draft I wrote of the screenplay, but obviously there are some deviations from it. There are a few extra characters in the novel. The main characters haven't changed all that much, their back stories and motivations are pretty much the same.

You’ve published 3 books now I believe, Beneath, Dark County, and The Wilds. Do you have a favourite?
Ooh now that is a tough question. I am very proud of all three, but I suppose the one that is the most special to me is Beneath, because it was the first. The sense of achievement on completing your first novel can never be beaten.

I’ve noticed you’ve been a guest at a few horror / scifi conventions recently. Are we going to see you popping up anywhere else in the future?
Yes I have been. It's great to get out there and meet people. Talk about my work, sign books and make new friends. Next month I will be doing the 'Geeks' event in Scunthorpe and in October I am attending SCARdiff, a large horror convention in Wales. 

What other writing and filmmaking projects are you working on at the moment?
I have recently completed another novel, which I'm in the editing phase of now, and started writing a new novella. Film wise I have a script for a film it am very keen to direct. So maybe next year that will go ahead, if I can get some financial backing.

What advice would you give to up and coming filmmakers and writers based on what you’ve experienced?
Don't give up, and don't let anyone tell you you can't do it. Between us we have proved that with determination you can make a film or publish a book. It's hard work, but it can be done.

In addition to being a filmmaker and writer, you’re also a musician. Are you still performing with the Dog Goblins and do you have any more material out soon?
Dog Goblins have been taking a little break recently, due to everyone having other commitments, but we will be back soon hopefully with some new material if I can find time and inspiration to write songs.

BONUS QUESTION: If you were offered 50 grand to front a tribute band for a one off gig, which one of these tribute acts would you pick to sing for: Simply Red, Roxette, The Lighthouse Family, or Michael Bolton?
Another tough one. My hatred of Mick Hucknall rules out Simply Red, so I will go for Roxette as they had some great songs and I think I would suit spiky blonde hair and the slinky dress.

Thanks for Kit for taking some time out for this interview. Check out Kit's website where you will find my interview with him where I talk about Shadows of a Stranger.