Prepping A Cautionary Tale

The Turn of the Screw, one of my references for A Cautionary Tale
The Turn of the Screw, one of my references for A Cautionary Tale

In the new year I’ll be directing a short film called A Cautionary Tale, written by Steve Deery and produced by Sophia Ramcharan. This will be my first time directing without (co-)writing or (co-)producing too. (Steve got in touch with me after seeing the Stop/Eject trailer at a FiveLamps Film Night in Derby.) As usual, I’ll be documenting the filmmaking process on this blog.

A Cautionary Tale is a drama with a supernatural twist, featuring various authors who visit a cottage retreat to write, in several time periods from 1903 to the present.

It’s interesting in this prep stage how things I did unconsciously or which were inextricably entangled with the writing on other projects, require much more conscious thought and are much more clearly delineated when solely directing.

Other than providing notes on the various drafts of Steve’s screenplay, my first job was provide character breakdowns so Sophia could issue a casting call. First of all I went through the script and picked out all the clues Steve had provided about the characters. Then I sat down to compose backstories for them. There was an easy way into these, because two questions immediately arose for each of the authors: what kind of novel were they writing, and why had their publishers felt it necessary to pack them off to this retreat?

Another image from the moodboard
Another image from the moodboard

In the case of the 1903 authoress, I was highly influenced by a compendium of Frankenstein-related stories I was reading at the time; I decided to make her a gothic horror writer, with Mary Shelley her heroine. This fit neatly with the supernatural elements of the story, and led me to a key decision on the tone of the film: that I would give the whole thing a gothic edge.

I immediately began researching the genre, watching The Others, Sleepy Hollow, and The Elephant Man at a convenient BFI Gothic Season screening. I noted how framing and pacing were used to create atmosphere and sense of dread, and arrived at a keyword for my vision of A Cautionary Tale: trapped. Soon I had a page of notes on how this would come across in the camerawork, to go with my two pages of backstories for the characters and the house.

I’ve also started a moodboard on Pinterest. It’s weird to think that a year ago, before doing FilmWorks – on which, incidentally, Sophia was a fellow participant – I’d never even heard of a moodboard. Now I can’t imagine going into a project without one of these scrapbooks (virtual or otherwise) of visual references. The images in this post are from the board.

That’s all for now. Stay tuned for all the latest news on the making of A Cautionary Tale.

Prepping A Cautionary Tale

Interview: KT Roberts and 3 Blind Mice

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Earlier this year I met young filmmaker KT Roberts on a shoot in South Wales, and I remember her telling me all about her idea for a time travel feature film. This got my attention (a) because I love time travel movies and (b) because I always like to hear about low budget filmmakers who are not afraid to tackle a sci-fi or fantasy story. But before KT embarks on this feature, she’s making a short film called 3 Blind Mice. She asked me to help out and before I knew it I was the director of photography and drawing up an equipment list for Panalux.

KT, where did the concept for 3 Blind Mice come from?

I wrote two thirds of 3 Blind Mice on a plane back from a diving trip in Lanzarote – I’d had the ideas rattling around in my head for a while, but hadn’t yet put pen to paper but on that plane journey it came spilling out rather quickly. This is actually the first short film I’ve ever written that I like enough to want to take to the shooting stage. I have this writing thing all backwards in that I’ve already written a feature and have another in the pipeline, but I find it much harder to write short films as there’s so little time to explore anything in any detail. Paradoxical as it may seem, features are easier for me to write (though not necessarily to write well – only time will tell!) because they give you time to explore, examine and dissect your characters: a deep sea dive in the Caribbean as opposed to pressing your nose against the glass in an aquarium.

With this in mind I didn’t want to focus on just one character as I didn’t feel I’d be able to do them justice, or tell the sort of story I wanted to tell, in the shortened format of a short film. Instead I decided I wanted to make a film about a single idea and examine it in depth from different angles and perspectives – through the eyes of different people. I’m not entirely sure what drew me to death – no-one I know has died, not even a pet, so I’m not drawing directly from my own experience on that front. However I have had a massively overactive imagination since a very young age (I was one of those hyper children battling dragons with wooden sticks) – and I’m fascinated by the very human tendency to tell ourselves stories to help us deal with things we don’t understand. The stories we tell ourselves about death – from concepts of heaven and hell, to ghosts, the supernatural and the grim reaper- allow us to categorise and quantify this great unknown and thereby make it less scary. All three stories depict someone struggling with death and making up an imaginary companion to help them through it – each is coming from a different perspective and has a different outlook on what death means, but each of them must come to terms with it. I hope I have managed to convey the idea that while death can be scary and sudden and confusing, there are other, brighter facets to it if you look in a certain way.

How does 3 Blind Mice fit into your plans for future filmmaking?

I’m really looking forward to making this short and hope it will mark the start of a career which sees some of my bigger projects realised. Ultimately I would like to make one of my feature films, and my producer Julia and I have already discussed how we might film the opening to use as a pilot to try and raise the necessary funds. My work is slightly tricky in that I almost always have a science fiction, fantastical or supernatural angle in my writing, which can be difficult to bring to the screen for obvious reasons! However my work isn’t fiction in the same vein as something like Star Wars – it normally has just one element (for example my finished screenplay, Timelines, revolves around people who live in our world, but who can move through time). This means that with clever camera work and minimal special effects, my stories can be realised without the multi-million pound budgets that most science fiction films made today need. I’m not aiming to make art house films and I am very much aiming to entertain not preach, but if I can sneak in themes and perspectives that interest me or I feel strongly about then the story is always better for it, even if many people watching don’t realise it’s there. I want people to work to understand the storyline and the characters, not just sit back to watch mindless fluff.

So if I could look forward 20 years, I hope I’ll be writing and/or directing that sort of film and be able to look back on 3 Blind Mice as the first step on my way.

Right now KT and her dedicated production team are in the middle of a crowd-funding campaign to cover the modest costs of making 3 Blind Mice. Myself, Colin and the rest of the cast and crew are volunteering our time, but there are some costs you can’t escape. This is an all-or-nothing campaign, so if we don’t reach the target we get none of the money and cannot make the film. So please head on over to the Kickstarter page, contribute what you can and help get KT on the road to achieving her dreams.

Interview: KT Roberts and 3 Blind Mice