This afternoon I updated my shotlist for The Dark Side of the Earth to reflect the changes made to the script last month. The main purpose of this list, at present, is to arm me against the barrage of questions I will face from any serious financier or producing partner. Thanks to this comprehensive 54-page document, I will be able to explain exactly how every single shot in the film will be achieved, what will be miniature, what will be full-size, how many versions of the Fixer puppet will be required and what actions will be required of each one, how many days of motion control shooting will be needed, etc, etc.
This raises the issue of how prepared a director should be with their shots. Where do you draw the line between sensible preparation and stifling of creative spontaneity?
I’ve storyboarded many of my films in their entirety. Soul Searcher, The Beacon and even the original Dark Side had big folders of my dodgy storyboards generated for them, and I stuck to those boards very closely. Because I had to. On all of those films I was not just the director but the producer and DoP too. I didn’t have time on set to come up with shot ideas, so the storyboards were essential.
On Soul Searcher I also dabbled with previsualisation, creating a videomatic for the climactic Hades Express sequence using a Lego train. This proved most useful in post-production, when I could use the Lego shots as placeholders in the edit and show the clips to the model-makers.
As regular visitors to this website will know, a few years ago I created several Dark Side sequences in videomatic form (which can still be viewed on the video page), and I also had some scenes storyboarded, although the script has changed so much since then that much of this work is now sadly redundant. It was done as much to relieve the creative pressure on the inside of my skull as anything else.
If the film gets greenlit, my new shotlist will doubtless be translated into storyboards for most if not all of the movie, and many key sequences will probably be re-prevized (if such a term exists).
Because of the scale and expense of Dark Side, it would be foolish not to plan to the nth degree, but I’m very keen that the dialogue scenes remain loose enough that I can react to the performances on the set, adapting my shots and coming up with new ones to best compliment what the cast do.
Yesterday’s Dark Side ’96 reunion was a lot of fun. Six of the eight cast came along: Matt Hodges (known to some as the frontman of defunct West Midlands punk outfit King Monkey), Chris Jenkins (known to fewer as “Jenkins” from The Beacon), Dave Abbott, Gaz Parkin, Si Timbrell and of course my humble self. Sadly we had been unable to get hold of Conrad Allen or lead actor Lee Richardson. But we were joined by a very special extra guest whose identity I shall not reveal. Camera duties fell to my good friend Rick Goldsmith, while Ian Preece did sound work in more ways than one.
It was a lovely day and once again it hit me how completely we failed to appreciate the beauty of Malvern when we were growing up there; it’s only when we visit it now that we realise how lucky we were. Chris was particularly lucky, having a huge dell for a back garden – and it was this garden that drew us to film there back in the day, and indeed back in the yesterday.
Just like back in the mists of time, burning things featured high on the agenda, and many cans of WD40 were cast into the flames. But the makers of this flammable product seemed to have wised up to its explosive capabilities and redesigned their cans so they just leak a massive jet of flame instead of blowing up when heated, so Gaz bravely went back to the fire and inserted my Nivea For Men deodorant, which promptly gave us a proper explosion. (Don’t try this at home. We tried it at home and it worked out totally fine, but you might be an idiot.)
I was relieved to find that it wasn’t just me that remembered things about the shooting. I was interested to hear the responses people gave when I asked them why they took part in the film – some of which were quite amusing.
Although things seemed quite tight time-wise, and we did go past the planned wrap time of 6pm, we got it all done and everyone got to leave at a reasonable hour.
While I’ve been writing this entry, Gaz called to tell me – sod’s law – he’d just bumped into Lee. Apparently his phone had been in for repair and he was gutted to discover he had missed the reunion.
This coming Sunday is the 15th anniversary of production wrapping on the original amateur version of Dark Side of the Earth. To celebrate, I’ll be reuniting with many of the cast in Malvern Wells, where much of it was shot. As is always the case with shoots, however simple they might seem, complications arise. In this case we’re under a little time pressure because the cameraman isn’t available in the morning, and the cast all have to travel back to other corners of the country in the evening for work the following day. Can we get it all done? Will anyone be able to remember anything? And how will we get around the absence of lead actor Lee Richardson? Watch this space.
This week I worked on a corporate in Derby and stayed with my friends Tom and Chrissa, owners of the production company, Light Films. They hadn’t seen Soul Searcher, despite hearing much about it, so I took a copy of it along and we watched it one evening. It’s been a few years since I’ve watched the film, so I was interested to see how I would feel about it after all this time.
The opening 15 minutes seemed slow and clunky (I was reminded of Jonny Lewis’s comment in Going to Hell: The Making of Soul Searcher that the first cafe scene should have been cut tighter), but after that the movie found its feet and I was pleasantly surprised at how well it stood up. Our script definitely needed about four more drafts doing before we shot it though; it’s very sloppy.
Whilst I feel I could get better performances out of some of the cast if I was doing it again today, I’m very proud of the way I told the story (such as it was) through camerawork and editing. The sound design, Neil Douek’s mix and Scott Benzie’s score are all first rate and raise the production values significantly, as do the many varied and interesting locations. Unfortunately some of the FX let the side down, particularly the barely-mobile banshee (if only I could have found a few more quid to allow a more articulate puppet to be built) and the charming but misjudged stop motion ascension of Ezekiel. On the other hand, David Markwick’s spectral umbilical cords, James Parkes’ Moat of Souls FX and many of the incidental things like the portals work really well. The miniature train is pretty effective too, though perhaps some of its earlier shots should have been trimmed down.
All in all, The Guardian summed it up very accurately when they said “it looks great and moves beautifully” but it suffers from “an implausible and, at times, confusing script, and some barely regulation acting.”