What the hell is the matter with me? I’m back for more punishment. Welcome one and all to this, the shiny new Director’s Journal for the proto-movie Shadowland: The Dark Side of the Earth, formerly Nightland: The Dark Side of the Earth.
Shadowland (not to be confused with the Richard Attenborough film about C. S. Lewis), will be my third (professional) feature film, following the critically acclaimed Soul Searcher(2005) and the critically shite The Beacon (2002). I parenthetically add “professional” because as a teenager blessed with a Video-8 camcorder and several coerced friends I made, at a rough estimate, 60 amateur films of varying lengths – two of them feature-length. And one of those two, The Dark Side of the Earth, was the starting point for Shadowland. Little from the original 90 minute cringe-fest survives into the new script, currently at first draft stage, aside from the basic premise of a post-apocalyptic earth which has stopped spinning in space, rendering one side in unerring daylight whilst leaving the other in constant darkness. Note to the geeks: Yes, I know technically to achieve that effect it wouldn’t stop spinning but merely slow down so that the length of a day becomes equal to the length of a year, but – damn it! – it’s just easier to explain this way.
There’s another matter of physics I need to clear up. A staggering number of people have said to me, on hearing the film’s premise, “but surely there’d be no gravity if the world stopped spinning?” NO, NO, NO! This is a common misconception. I don’t know, maybe everyone skipped GCSE physics that day except me, but gravity is caused simply by the mass of the earth. All objects naturally attract each other, it’s just it’s imperceptible unless they’re huge – i.e. planet-sized. People who bring up centrifugal force are even more sadly deluded, since centrifugal force pushes things OUT from the centre of rotation. So the spinning of the earth actually COUNTERS the pull of gravity slightly. It’s a scientifically established fact that things weigh about 0.5% less at the equator than at the poles, due to the greater centrifugal force acting against gravity. So if the world stopped turning, gravity would increase at the equator to match that at the poles. But the difference would be very small.
Anyway, to go back to the movie, it involves airships, steam-driven robots, Victorian dialogue and time travel. My main influences in developing the script so far have been Return to Oz, Labyrinth, The Time Machine (both the book and the sixties film), Journey to the Centre of the Earth (the book), the sublime Back to the Future trilogy and the work of Ray Harryhausen. In fact I wrote to Mr. Harryhausen to invite him on board as an executive producer. Well, no harm comes of trying. The octogenarian stop-motion master promptly wrote back with courteous thanks, declining of course, and reminding me that he’s been retired from film-making for twenty years. D’oh!
Shadowland will necessarily be a humungous step up from Soul Searcher’s pitiful budget due to its epic requirements in the production design department amongst other things. For this reason I’m sure you’ll be reading about much frustration and failure as I try to get a company or companies to put money into this over the coming months and (oh dear God) years.
Besides myself, there are a few other people on the Shadowland stage. There’s producer/lecturer Carl Schoenfeld, who has been giving me feedback on the developing treatments and script. There’s Scott Benzie, composer of Soul Searcher’s brilliant score, who sent me a possible main theme for Shadowland before I’d even written the first draft screenplay. And there are concept artists, initially just Ian Tomlinson, Soul Searcher’s Production Designer, but in August I advertised on mandy.com for more artists and received an excellent response. I subsequently added Michael White, David Ayling and Anna Naberrie to the team. Michael is an experienced sculpture, having made dead bodies for Silent Witness amongst other things. For now he’s working in two dimensions, designing airships, as is David.
I’ve sent out the script to one or two production companies, but obviously I can’t be any more specific about that. I must be equally vague in saying that I have taken some baby steps in the direction of assembling a cast.
I discovered that Screen West Midlands was running another round of their Lottery Script Grant scheme. I had applied to the previous round in the spring, to develop the treatment into a first draft screenplay with the aid of Malvern-based writer Al Greenall. That application was unsuccessful, but I am now reapplying for funding to develop the draft one script into draft two and beyond.
The other night I went to see Al Murray, a.k.a. The Pub Landlord, doing stand-up. For those of you who aren’t familiar with his style, his act consists primarily of asking audience members what they do for a living, then mocking them.
“What do you do?”
“I’m a filmmaker.”
Al makes whistling noises and suggestive gesticulations.
“No, not that kind of film.”
“Name a film that you’ve made, then.”
“Has anyone here seen Soul Searcher?”
No-one has, of course.
“Not a very successful filmmaker, are you?”
Shortly afterwards the exchange turns to what I’m working on now, and when I tell him I’m writing a script he asks what it’s about.
“The world stops turning, so one side’s in constant day and the other’s in constant night.”
Al mimes falling over as if a cessation of global rotation has caught him unawares. “What happens then? We all fall over.”
“Yep. Then there’s a little town formed from the survivors on the daylight side, and they build an airship and go to the dark side.”
“Ooh, the Dark Side – eh, Luke? The DARK SIDE!” (This remark Al addresses to a guy called Luke in the front row, who has already been the butt of several Star Wars jokes.) “Then what happens?”
A serious attempt at outlining the plot is pointless, so I just say, “They get attacked by monsters.”
“Grow up! See, it started off well. If you’re going to make a sci-fi film, make it believable. The world stops turning – that COULD happen. A town forms from the survivors – again, that COULD happen. They build an airship and go to the dark side – that COULD happen, but why would they go to the dark side when they’re already on the light side? Surely it’s far more likely that the people on the dark side would build an airship and travel to the light side! It’s stupid. You haven’t thought it through.”
He then discovers that an insurance underwriter on the row behind me has that very day “written under” a Korean semiconductor plant. Al suggests that a fire at an inadequately insured Korean semiconductor plant is a better premise for a film.
Right, well I think that about brings you up to date. Every journey has a first step. Let the misery begin…