Production of the insanely ambitious British fantasy adventure movie The Dark Side of the Earth begins with a single pilot scene, featuring a Victorian swordfighting robot. Director Neil Oseman and Sword Master A. J. Nicol put the puppet robot through its paces. Filmed by Gerard Giorgi-Coll and Simon Willcox.
At 10:15 this morning I was wheeling the lower half of the Wooden Swordsman through the streets of Ealing, like a Roman measuring a mile. Now I come to think of it, there was a passing resemblance to the occasion twelve years ago when I wheeled the “magneplough” through the streets of Malvern on the way to film a scene from the original Dark Side of the Earth.
Reunited minutes later with his upper portions, Sir Diddymus – as he is now known amongst the crew – was ready to be put through his paces. Wrangled by four puppeteers (three at any one time), the Timber-Based Blade Bloke slowly came to life. We tried out the drunken unicyclist movement that I had envisaged for the character, which immediately brought a spark of life to the Swordsman in the skillful hands of the puppeteers. AJ got a feel for what the puppet could and couldn’t do and was able to try out some basic choreography.
Proceedings came to an end earlier than planned when, after a particularly vigorous bit of sword work, the puppet’s arm fell off. (“You are indeed brave, sir knight, but the fight is mine.”) Which is why you have test days. We also established that a few minor modifications are needed to facilitate the more complex swordplay.
One of the chief aims of today was to discover the amount of room needed for the action, so that the set designs can be finalised, allowing construction to begin. To that end Ian marked out the boundaries of his design – based on Ealing stage one – on the rehearsal room floor. It was cramped, but do-able. At lunchtime we recceed stage one and were pleasantly surprised to find that the website had been overly modest, and the stage was actually a good few feet bigger.
There are still issues to solve – chiefly that of how to achieve the ceiling mechanism which supposedly controls the Swordsman most economically – but good progress was made today. Most exciting of all is that Hank Starrs is now officially on board as producer for the pilot.
To round off the day, we met up with Joseph Flavell, a maker of armour and other speciality suits, to discuss a special outfit for a second major character who has sneaked into the pilot scene.
And some of our Morning Glory is already three inches high. Ian’s hasn’t even poked above the surface yet.
Yesterday Katie and I planted Imopomoea Purpurea, a.k.a. Morning Glory. This “exquisite climber” is the MacGuffin of a subplot and as such is required to be strewn about the Training Room, lair of the Wooden Swordsman. Ian and family are also going to grow some. If all goes well we should have plenty by the time the pilot shoots.
I finished shooting the Snow Harvest videomatic, twice. Twice? Yes, I had to do pick-ups just like on a real movie. The reason was that I had used the wrong actor. Somehow I put the scowling blue-suited “Julius Gale” figure into certain shots instead of the scowling grey-black-and-white-suited “Red Darwing” figure. Even though they have stickers saying “JULIUS” and “RED” on their foreheads.
Last week I met up with a number of puppeteers interested in helping to bring the Wooden Swordsman to life. A filmmaker called Gerard Giorgi-Coll also got in touch and very kindly offered to shoot behind-the-scenes material for the pilot, not to mention putting me onto a friend of his who might be able to make a certain special costume for us.