Newton Thomas Sigel on the Cinematography of “Bohemian Rhapsody”

The following article originally appeared on RedShark News in 2018.

Directed by Bryan Singer, of X-Men and The Usual Suspects fame, Bohemian Rhapsody charts the story of Queen from their formation in 1970 to their triumphant Live Aid set in 1985, with plenty of their classic rock hits along the way. Rami Malek (from Amazon’s Mr. Robot) turns in an Oscar-winning performance as larger-than-life frontman Freddie Mercury.

In his tenth collaboration with Singer was director of photography Newton Thomas Sigel, ASC. I spoke to Sigel about how he approached evoking an era, recreating the concerts, and lensing a legend.

“Every day was this wonderful trip back in time,” enthuses Sigel, who saw the movie as a chance to relive his own youth. “I love shooting music. There is this wonderful transition from the end of the counter-culture, through glam-rock into the hedonism of the eighties.”

Shooting digitally, Sigel employed both the Alexa SXT and Alexa 65. “I decided the movie needed to have a visual arc that best represented the band’s transition from idealists to rock stars, and all the issues that creates. To that effect, I did the first act with old Cooke Speed Panchro lenses on the Alexa SXT. As Queen is discovered, and begins to be known on the international stage, we transition to the Alexa 65.” Sigel later fine-tuned this arc during grading.

The cinematographer paired the large-format Alexa 65 with Prime DNA and Prime 65-S glass, testing all the lenses to find the ones with the most gentle fall-off in focus. “Each lens had its own personality, and was never really ‘perfect’. Our 28mm had a particularly crazy quality that, when used sparingly, had great effect.”

One thing that struck me immediately about the cinematography is the distinctly un-British, warm and glowing look, with lots of sun streaming through windows. This was all part of Sigel’s plan, which develops as the film progresses. “What begins as warm and golden, with its own special LUT, grows ever sharper and cooler, even desaturated,” he explains. “The beginning is all handheld and grainy, the rest much cleaner, with the camera on Steadicam and crane.”

Sigel took a down-to-earth approach to photographing Malek’s Mercury. “I always wanted Freddie to feel very real,” he states. “It is important that you sense his vulnerability at the same time as he is projecting the bravado of the consummate showman. Like so many great performers, Freddie exuded confidence and brashness on stage, and yet, had a terribly shy insecurity in ‘real’ life.”

The highlights of Bohemian Rhapsody are undoubtedly the concert scenes. To tackle these, Sigel began by watching every single piece of Queen footage he could lay his hands on, noting the development of the stage lighting over the years. “I wanted to be as faithful to that as I could, while still having it service our story,” he says. That meant eschewing the easily-coloured RGB LED fixtures so common in movies and concerts today, and going back to the traditional method of laboriously changing gels on tungsten units. “We stuck to period lights,” Sigel confirms, “predominantly par cans and follow spots.”

The sheer number of concert scenes was a challenge for the filmmakers, who at one point had to shoot four gigs in just two days. “We had so many concerts to shoot and so little time, I needed to develop a system to quickly change from one venue to the next,” Sigel recalls. “Because Queen’s lighting was based on large racks of par cans, we were able to construct a very modular system that would allow us to raise or lower different sections very quickly. By pre-programming lighting sequences, we could also create sequence patterns with different configurations of light pods to make it look like a different venue.”

The types of units change as the story progresses through the band’s career. “By the late 70s, Queen was among the first bands to adopt the Vari-Lite, which was championed by the band Genesis,” Sigel explains. “That opened up many more possibilities in the theatrical lighting, which also reflected the band’s ascendancy to the upper echelons of the rock world.”

Sigel notes that he embraced all opportunities to capture lens flares from the concert lighting. “There is a great moment during Live Aid where Freddie makes this sweeping gesture through a circular flare, and it almost seems as if he is drawing on the lens.”

The historic Live Aid concert forms the jubilant climax of the film. Queen’s entire 20-minute set was recreated over seven days of shooting. “We photographed it in every type of weather Great Britain has ever seen: rain, sun, overcast, front-light, backlight – you name it. We couldn’t afford to silk the area as I would have liked,” Sigel adds, referring to large sheets of diffusion hung from cranes to maintain a soft, consistent daylight. “So it was a constant battle and the DI [digital intermediate] certainly helped.”

Filming for Bohemian Rhapsody began in autumn 2017, but by December trouble was brewing. Twentieth Century Fox halted production for a while, with the Hollywood Reporter citing the “unexpected unavailability of director Bryan Singer” as the reason. Dexter Fletcher, who had been attached to direct the nascent film back in 2013, ultimately replaced Singer for the last leg of photography.

“A change like that is never ideal,” admits Sigel, “but Dexter was very impressed with what we had done so far. With only a couple weeks to go, he was happy to carry on in the direction we had begun. Obviously he brought some of his own personal touches, but what I noticed the most was the ease he had in communicating with the actors.”

Reflecting on his long history of collaboration with Singer, Sigel is very positive. “When you have done that many movies together, there is a shorthand that develops and makes much of the work easier because you know your parameters from the beginning. Bohemian Rhapsody was truly the ‘labour of love’ cliché for so many people involved; it was quite remarkable.”

Asked to sum up the appeal of Bohemian Rhapsody, the cinematographer declares, “The film has everything – a deep emotional core at the centre of what is otherwise an exuberant celebration of Queen’s music. I also think Freddie’s story of an immigrant outsider just trying to fit in has a resonance today that is very profound.”

Newton Thomas Sigel on the Cinematography of “Bohemian Rhapsody”

Kate Madison Interview

Kate demonstrates the action. Photo: Laura Radford
Kate demonstrates the action. Photo: Laura Radford

In the autumn of 2014 I served as director of photography on Ren: The Girl with the Mark, an incredibly ambitious short-form fantasy series, and have since been assisting with postproduction in various ways. Now that season one of the show is complete and ready to show to the public at last, I took the opportunity to sit down with director Kate Madison and ask her about some of the unique aspects of the show’s production…

Kate, many people will know you as the director, producer, co-writer, actor and general driving force behind Born of Hope, a Lord of the Rings fan film with over 35 million YouTube views. Did that film’s success open any doors for you, and what was the journey from there that led you to want to make a web series?

Born of Hope potentially opened doors even if they weren’t visible doors, in the sense that although it didn’t result in Hollywood coming calling, it created a a bit of a buzz and it became known in the industry. Myself and Christopher Dane [the lead actor] did start work on a fantasy feature film script called The Last Beacon and spent time trying to pursue that avenue. That then led into another feature film idea, so we were looking down the route of a feature film rather than anything else, and spent what felt like a number of years just not going anywhere.

I started thinking, what can we actually do when we don’t know investors or people with money. We concluded that with the internet – there’s an audience there, our audience is there. The crowdfunding thing which worked for Born of Hope is online, so we need to go back to that.

Many people will ask, “Why fantasy when there are so many cheaper and easier genres?” How do you respond to that?

For me, film and TV is about escapism, so I enjoy action-adventures and comedies and historical stuff – things that are not Eastenders. Fantasy is a huge genre. To me it’s a way to have the freedom to do whatever you want. I can take things I like – historical things, costumes, set design – and the joy of fantasy over period is, you can go, “I’m going to use this Viking purse with this medieval-looking helmet!” I like the freedom of fantasy. You can still have a character-driven, interesting story, set in somewhere fantastical, or even just a forest. There’s no dragons or creatures in Ren – so far – but the options are there, that’s the joy of it.

Having a laugh on set with Nick Cornwall (Dagron). Photo: Laura Radford
Having a laugh on set with Nick Cornwall (Dagron). Photo: Laura Radford

There was an enormous amount of goodwill and legions of volunteers who helped with Born of Hope. How important were those people, and finding others like them, when it came to making Ren?

Hugely important! Born of Hope could not have been made without a ton of volunteers, having no budget at all. With Ren, because we were in a similar position – which was a shame really, after all that time we still hadn’t got a big enough budget – we again had to rely on volunteers to make it possible!

There was an incredible sense of community, of shared ownership and very high morale throughout the production of Ren. Was it important to you to foster those things?

It’s incredibly important to keep morale high. I think it’s slightly easier when people are volunteering because they’re there because they want to be there and not just for the pay cheque. I was very keen to let everyone have fun on the project and also to have fun myself, because these projects are incredibly hard. So if the work was all done for the day, OK, I’m allowed to switch off now and grab a Nerf gun! People were staying there [at the studio], so they wanted to have a good time in the evening.

If we work a little later because there’s a break in the middle where we’re having a laugh, that means you can go later because everyone’s chilled rather than slogging away and not feeling like they’re enjoying themselves.

When people are volunteering, it feels like [the project] is everybody’s, and it is. People would come in and help and maybe end up designing a dress. The joy of filmmaking for me is the collaborative nature of it. There’s always someone behind you with an idea. You don’t feel like you’re ever on your own completely. If you’re at a loss, then someone else – whether it’s the DoP or the runner – [can suggest things].

A panoramic view of Ren's village set. Photo: Michael Hudson
A panoramic view of Ren’s village set. Photo: Michael Hudson

Very few micro-budget productions have their own studio, but Ren took over a disused factory for several months. How did that come about, and what were the benefits of it?

The benefits were through the roof, I’d say! We wonder if the project would have happened without it.

As we were going through budgets and scouting locations, we realised how difficult it was going to be [to shoot on location] – the logistics of making the village look like the village in the script and what if it rained for that week [the location was booked for]? It was just terrifying.

We started to think, is there another option here? It was just luck that Michelle [Golder, co-producer], on a dog walk, got talking to someone who knew someone. He mentioned this place in Caxton which was really big but we wouldn’t be in anyone’s way and we could just take it over. We were going to get a really good deal because it was sitting empty. It was twice as much for six months in Caxton in comparison with six days on location. And we would have the freedom to build whatever we wanted! There was all this interior space we could build in but also have costume rooms and production offices.

I’ve always loved the idea of having a place to work where everyone can come together. It’s fantastic nowadays that you can communicate with people all over the world, but you can’t beat a face-to-face conversation with someone and being able to look at the same picture and point at it and talk about it. It meant we were able to achieve a lot more in scope but also in quality.

Kate contemplates one of the interior sets. Photo: Ashram Maharaj
Kate contemplates one of the interior sets. Photo: Ashram Maharaj

Perhaps the greatest achievement of the production was creating a medieval village from scratch. Building the set, sourcing enough extras and costuming everybody were three massive challenges. How did you tackle those?

I live in Cloud Cuckoo land sometimes I guess! The set build, I thought, “It’s fine, we can do this, we can build this circular wall essentially with a few alleyways going off it and fill it with some market stalls.” Chris was in charge of building the set, and did an amazing job with a bunch of volunteers that came back over and over again. Although we bought a bunch of materials we made use of an amazing site called Set Exchange which is a sort of Freecycle for sets and we found a bunch of flats on there – that helped a lot.

Populating the village was always going to be challenging. Suzanne [Emerson] who also played the role of Ida got heavily involved in helping to find extras. She’s involved in a lot of the amateur dramatics in Cambridge. It was probably horrible [for Suzanne and Michelle] but an amazing miracle for us that we’d finish shooting one day and go, “You know we’re actually going to shoot that tomorrow and we need some people,” and then the next morning you’d turn up and people would show up to do it. We had varying numbers, but there was never a day when no-one showed up.

Supporting artists line up for a costume inspection in the car park of the Caxton studio. Photo: Michael Hudson
Supporting artists line up for a costume inspection in the car park of the Caxton studio. Photo: Michael Hudson

As for dressing them – we grabbed all of the Born of Hope costumes, Miriam [Spring Davies, costume designer] had a bunch of stock stuff as well. We ended up buying a bunch of things from New Zealand, from a costume house called Shed 11 that did Legend of the Seeker. The Kah’Nath armour came from Norton Armouries; John Peck – who had been involved with Born of Hope supplying stuff for orcs – I called on his good will again.

It was lovely to make the hero costumes from scratch. Miriam and I would go through the costume designs and then we went and looked at material. Chris and I randomly on a holiday to Denmark found some material we really liked for Karn’s tunic. Ren’s dress – I bought that material ages ago and it had been sitting around. Miriam and I took a trip to the re-enactors’ market as well. And we went to Lyon’s Leathers, spent what felt like a whole day wandering his amazing storeroom and picking out stuff for different characters, for Hunter’s waistcoat and Ren’s overdress, and we got the belts made there.

Discussing shots with me on set. Photo: Michael Hudson
Discussing shots with me on set. Photo: Michael Hudson

I’ve heard you say more than once, “If it’s not right, it’s not worth doing.” How important is quality to you, and how do you balance that with the budgetary and scheduling pressures of such a huge project?

I’m not very good at compromising. If we’re going to spend months and months working on something that none of us are going to be happy with or proud of then it’s a waste of time and we might as well stop now. I think it’s probably that I’d like to be off in New Zealand making Legend of the Seeker, so I treat it as if I’m doing that I suppose, and I try not to let the budget or circumstances stop us from doing that.

I knew that most of the things are achievable. You know, to put together a costume that’s weathered well and looks really interesting is not hard to do, it just takes more time to do than buying it off the shelf and sticking it on, but the quality difference is so extreme. People will be much happier with you in the end if you’ve worked them hard for an amazing outcome than if you’ve worked them hard and it looks rubbish.

Sophie Skelton as the eponymous Ren. Photo: Alex Beckett
Sophie Skelton as the eponymous Ren. Photo: Alex Beckett

Most filmmakers are making stand-alone shorts or features, though the medium of web series is growing. Do you think it’s the way forward? Do you think there can be a sustainable career in it?

Ren is going to be an interesting experiment – can people watch something that, if we stuck [all the 10-minute episodes] together would be a pilot for TV – will they watch that on the web in the same way they would watch a TV thing or will they get bored and go and watch cats?

It is a new field. Although web series have been going on a long time, it’s still growing, there’s no funding in the UK, there’s no obvious way of having revenue from it, because the online platforms like YouTube, the advertising revenue is absolutely minimal as a percentage of views, and there’s only so many t-shirts you can sell. We struggled to raise money for the first season and we only raised enough to barely scrape our way through while putting in our own money.

Unless it does amazingly and maybe garners the interest of a big brand or sponsorship, if we’re having to crowdfund every time and we can’t crowdfund the huge figures that we’d need to make this, then it might not be the way forward for Ren and we might need to figure out a different thing… [unless] we get picked up by a bigger corporation like Amazon or Netflix.

We’ll see how this first season goes. We’d love it to become sustainable and a show that we can keep putting out and people can enjoy, but this is the experiment for that I suppose.

You can watch Ren: The Girl with the Mark for free, Tuesdays at 8pm GMT from March 1st, at or on the Mythica Entertainment channel on YouTube.

Kate Madison Interview

Designing Amelia’s Letter

Amy Nicholson
Amy Nicholson. Photo: Colin Smith

Production designer Amy Nicholson is no stranger to period settings and low budgets. I spent all of last September in France lighting her impressive work, so when I came to crew up Amelia’s Letter, she was the only person I considered to create the script’s four distinct periods. I’ve asked her to share her experiences of the design process on this demanding short film. 

I met Neil as a DOP on The First Musketeer, a rather intense but wonderful project. He instantly won my respect and acclaim with consistently superb lighting, a real appreciation for prop details and generally being a nice guy to work with. [Neil quietly slips Amy a tenner.] So when he approached me about designing Amelia’s Letter which he would be directing, I couldn’t help but say yes, despite a recent promise to myself not to take on any more freebies.    

Amelia (Georgia Winters) in 1903
The eponymous Amelia (Georgia Winters) and her equally eponymous letter, in 1903

The script filled me with a mix of excitement and dread. On the one hand it was my dream job with four different time periods (including my favourite, 1930s) and a gothic style, but on the other hand the level of art required to do this project was massive.

The original budget set by the production wouldn’t cover the acquisition of the named props let alone any effective dressing. Luckily for me they listened to my cause and agreed to increase the figure to a point my most optimistic budget might stretch to. This was fantastic but of course still set me up on my biggest challenge ever! 

Barbara (Tina Harris) in 1939
Barbara (Tina Harris) in 1939

I was part of early conversations and visits to locations, and with Neil agreed what could work best.  This collaboration between a director and production designer is fantastic and really builds the strength and vision of a piece. The chosen location was a little semi derelict cottage at Newstead Abbey. The architecture was stunning and although the worn state and small size of the building would present big challenges, the opportunity to do whatever we wanted and really transform the main room for each time period was incredible. 

Charles (Francis Adams) in 1969
Charles (Francis Adams) in 1969

The main focus of the design and plot revolved around a period desk. Therefore it was important to get this piece right and plan all other design factors around this key item. I spent days searching for the right one, regularly sending images back and forth to Neil for an opinion. I wouldn’t normally bug a director in this way but the desk really had to support the action and shots effectively, so was crucial. I was pleased to learn that Neil was of the opinion that in this case the look of something was more important than the true accuracy of period, so this gave me a little flexibility. I eventually found the perfect piece, a 1909 roll top desk. The age and style was ever so slightly too modern but the detail and quality of wood far outweighed the five years of inaccuracy. Unfortunately the desk was 150 miles away and featured quite a bit of damage. So a road trip to collect the desk and some renovations by my dad ensued. Dad also constructed a bespoke locking drawer needed for the action. This proved a great deal of effort but worth it to get the right piece. 

There were a few other items I had to buy, including a 1930s radio, but on the whole I was able to source everything else from my personal prop store and generally doing a bit of beg, steal and borrow from friends, family and the crew. I also befriended a local antique shop and was able to hire many dressing items really cheaply. Having many sources in this way really makes a budget stretch but always involves a lot of time spent collecting, sorting and returning.

Choosing paint colours should have been quite easy but the best colours are always the most expensive and with four colours required in just three days it took careful consideration. Neil and I agreed a pallet of colours which would look good on camera and distinguish each period. He requested that the colours get bolder throughout to suit the narrative, but on a practical front this also ensured only a single coat was needed on the walls, saving time and money. I bought patterned rollers to achieve an easy wallpaper effect for both 1903 and 1969. This was a new toy for me and proved a fantastic effect that I will certainly be using again. 

Some of the present day set dressing
Some of the present day set dressing

On set I had a superb team to support with all the redressing. It was like 60-minute makeover each time we transformed to a new period and I was so impressed and grateful that all the crew got involved at some point to help us out. Once each transformation was complete the cast and crew consistently let out a genuine ‘wow’ making the art team feel very proud. 

I was truly pleased with each of the sets and it was really special seeing them combined with some effective costume design by Sophie Black, impressive lighting by Alex Nevill and intense actor performances. I can’t wait to see the finished film, as I’m confident it will be something of beauty!

Visit Amy’s website at

For the latest updates on Amelia’s Letter, like the Facebook page. The film is produced by Sophia Ramcharan of Stella Vision Productions.

Designing Amelia’s Letter

Stop/Eject According to Therese

When we shot Therese Collins‘ behind-the-scenes interview for Stop/Eject, back in March last year, it proved … shall we say… challenging to get a sensible answer out of her. Here are some of the surreal and hilarious out-takes. Therese plays Alice, the mysterious shopkeeper who knows more than she’s telling about the time-travelling cassette recorder.

If you want to see the more sensible bits, plus interviews with all the rest of the cast and crew, you need to snap up one of the last few Blu-ray copies of Stop/Eject. They’re loaded with extra material including a half-hour “making of” documentary, featurettes on crowd-funding, the Belper locations and post-production sound, commentaries, bonus shorts, an extended rough cut and an interview with Georgina Sherrington about her time on The Worst Witch.

Go to to get your copy before our campaign ends at 6pm BST this Sunday (13/4/14).

Stop/Eject According to Therese

Interview: KT Roberts and 3 Blind Mice


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

An Evening of Entertainment from the Makers of Born of Hope

Back in 2008 I helped out briefly on a feature-length Lord of the Rings fan film called Born of Hope. Directing this epic production, producing it, financing most of it, and even acting in it, was the extremely tenacious Kate Madison. “It’s incredible to see what craftsmanship, sensitivity and attention to detail is being brought to bear on this ambitious project,” said Weta Workshop chief Richard Taylor. Check the film out below – it’s an impressive achievement. And it’s had a staggering 23 million views.

Kate is now embarking on a new project, a fantasy web series called Ren, and to mark the launch of its crowdfunding campaign she’s hosting a special webcast this Saturday night. The evening of entertainment will start at 8pm with a Born of Hope screening with live commentary from cast members. There will also be a live Q&A where they’ll answer your questions about BoH or Ren or whatever you’d like to ask. There will also be fun giveaways, live link-ups, special guests (including Yours Truly), and much more.

Ren encounters the Masked Man, the leader of the Kah'Nath - Concept art by Max von Vier
Ren encounters the Masked Man, the leader of the Kah’Nath – Concept art by Max von Vier

“I’ve been keen to get another project on the go and have been contemplating various formats,” Kate says. “Web series have become a popular medium for independent filmmakers and I find that the potential for shaping an ongoing storyline for, and with, the fans is very appealing”.

The series is named after its lead character, who lives a quiet life in a small village until dramatic events, involving an ancient powerful spirit and the ruling warrior order of the Ka’Nath, force Ren to leave her safe existence and find the truth behind the web of lies she’s believed in all her life.

“The inspiration for the show is very much rooted in great fantasy stories like The Lord of the Rings, but epic books and TV series like Game of Thrones and the more lighthearted Legend of the Seeker have also influenced me in the creation of Ren,” says Kate. She adds that one of the most important features of Born of Hope was the fan base that helped finance, design and even act in the film and that she is keen to involve the fans even more in this project. “The series is in the very early stages, with only the first season written, so we will look to the online fan community to influence what happens… and yes, even be in it!”

To watch the live event and to support Ren visit
An Evening of Entertainment from the Makers of Born of Hope


Zoran and Nazir
Zoran and Nazir

Filmmakers Calum Rhys, Lawrence Donello and Matt Johnson recently launched a Kickstarter campaign for their feature film Бargain. It’s always great to see new film projects coming out of my local area (the team are based in Worcester), so I asked Matt to fill me in on the details.

Give us the pitch, Matt. What is Бargain?

Бargain is an urban thriller about the relationship between Zoran (a Bosnian asylum seeker with a troubled past) and a young Albanian girl called Nazir, threatened by loan sharks and thugs on the sink estate where they both live. Reluctantly, Zoran is drawn into what he thinks is a vigilante conspiracy by McMurtagh, a former IRA terrorist turned gangster, in order to protect Nazir. In fact, he’s being set up to murder a police protected witness. When Zoran tries to pull out of his side of the “bargain,” Nazir is threatened (and later kidnapped) to make Zoran go through with the killing. Now, on the wrong side of the law, he must use all his resources and test his moral boundaries to breaking point to rescue Nazir while confronting McMurtagh and his own nemesis from the war in Mostar.

Nazir under threat
Nazir under threat

You have an international cast attached – how hard was it to get these people on board? Did you go through their agents, and if so how did the agents response when you told them you planned to raise the budget through crowd-funding?

Something which surprised and encouraged us was how quickly significant European actors grasped the international significance of this movie, such as Amarildo Kola who plays Croatian gangster DIMITRI and was also in he brilliant and award winning THE FEAR on Channel 4.

Other key actors? We have known our lead Greg Hobbs who plays Zoran for years now and he was involved in the original teaser we shot two years ago. Greg is also now a producer of the film. He has extensive links to Birmingham’s Bosnian community, speaks serbo-Croat and has played a major role in refining Zoran’s character. The chemistry between Greg and Sophia, the young Bulgarian actress who plays Nazir, is also terrific and it would be very hard to imagine anyone playing Zoran as well.

As for our antagonist we are very lucky to have Tommy O’Neil as McMurtagh. As well as his acting abilities, (THE GENERAL, A BELFAST STORY), Tommy has the right kind of South Belfast background to play McMurtagh’s role with conviction and even knew Cahill, the notorious “General” of Dublin’s underworld, in his youth. Roger Cottrell, who wrote BARGAIN and lives in Ireland, first met Tommy at the Irish Film Centre in Dublin and was immediately impressed with Tommy’s grasp of McMurtagh’s role as Mestopholes in the narrative. Much as in TS Eliot’s poem, THE WASTELAND, or a novel or film by Graham Greene, contemporary society is depicted as a Hell in which the inmates (like Zoran) must also make moral choices if they are not to be damned. McMurtagh, in this respect, is more than just a criminal but rather the devil, in the tradition of Iago in Shakespeare’s OTHELLO, who is out not merely to destroy Zoran but to corrupt him and steal his soul. Tommy got this right away and brought to the role its emotional charge.

Zoran on a mission
Zoran on a mission

You have some really eye-catching concept art/storyboards – how important would you say these kind of visuals are to a crowd-funding campaign?

They are crucial because films are visual experiences. If you look at a film noir by a great, classical director like John Cassavetes – there was a Cassavetes retrospective in London, recently – the way that he used shadow and camera angles to depict everyday life as a threatening and hostile environment went to the core of what he was saying about social alienation. We are trying to achieve a similar effect in the digital age using the technology that is available to us. The look of a great movie is never incidental and that is why our director has meticulously story-boarded to this extent.

Is your £3,000 target the whole budget or do you have other sources of financing lined up? If not, I’m intrigued to know how you’re going to make a feature with an international cast for that figure!

Good Grief no. We’re currently seeking co-producers to help us raise more funds but the three thousand will really help us get the ball rolling. We want to shoot on Red Epic and we have had really great camera operators get in touch with us offering to come on board for expenses but, naturally, we also want everybody (including ourselves) to finally be paid the union rate! Guerilla filmmaking shouldn’t be about exploitation or antagonising BECTU but about kick-starting a project which otherwise wouldn’t be made. The actual budget, which has been meticulously worked out, is for £500,000. We have put in an application to the BFI which is currently being processed. Of course something like 99% of BFI applications get rejected but we feel we have a real strong case. We’re also looking for co-producers and for any other funding we can get so if anybody would like product placement or to talk to us about investment tax breaks or equity then get in touch.

Everyone and their dog seems to be crowd-funding these days – what are you doing to try and stand out amongst all those other project vying for people’s cash?

The visuals we have up in terms of a teaser, the storyboards, the publicity shots are important but I think the most important aspect is generating a buzz around the film. This isn’t just a film idea we have, or any old knock off revenge film that dumbs down Death Wish to Dudley. it’s a milestone urban thriller that’s also a state of the nation statement, in the solid tradition of Get Carter, The Long Good Friday, Face, Eastern Promises and Ill Manors that film students will be studying 20 years from now. It’s a great package that includes international cast, great script, global appeal yet with it’s roots still firmly in Britain. Бargain is the next big thing and we want to offer people a chance to play a part in getting it made.

You can find out for about Бargain and contribute to the crowd-funding campaign on their Kickstarter page.

Zoran rescues Nazir
Zoran rescues Nazir



Ben Lewis Interview

Ben Lewis shoots an interview for Who Do You Love
Ben Lewis shoots an interview for Who Do You Love

I recently attended a talk by filmmaker and motion graphics designer Ben Lewis about the making of his music documentary Who Do You Love: The King Adora Story. With candid interviews and access to the band’s own camcorder footage, Who Do You Love tells the story of not just King Adora but a whole industry in transition. Ben kindly agreed to answer some questions about the making of the film, how it was financed and how it was distributed.

Why did you feel that the story of King Adora was one that needed to be told?

In all honesty my initial reasoning behind the project was to document a chapter in my friend’s life. I had been working at Apple as a creative trainer and I wanted to get back into making films; as opposed to teaching others to do so. I’ve known Martyn, the lead guitarist from the band, since secondary school and I was aware he had this experience so I really wanted to delve deeper. It was initially simply a gift to him to document that time in his life. Once I had begun producing the film I came to the realisation that I could produce a piece of work that not only appealed to King Adora fans but a wider audience.

Checking the shot
Checking the shot

What advantages did knowing band members personally give you? Were there any disadvantages?

I knew all the band but Martyn was a close friend. All of the band were at a different stage in their lives and I explained to them from the outset although I had an attachment to the them, I would not let that affect me in the filmmaking process. I wanted to tell a truthful story of their journey. I did feel protective of the band but I just had to put that aside and remember that original credo. So in a sense it was a double-edged sword in that they knew me so that allowed for a more relaxed interview environment but they also knew I wasn’t going to pull any punches. I had a free reign to ask what I wanted and use that in the story I wanted to tell.

How was the film financed?

It was self-funded. During my last few months at Apple I was spending my wages on hiring the Red One and lenses. It’s certainly not the best way to get a project made but I felt I didn’t want to wait and seeing as it was such a personal project I felt why shouldn’t I pay to get it made? I was using the currency of friends too; so, I calculated that it would cost about £6K in total for kit hire and travel etc. However, had I been paying them a day rate it would have been a lot more.

Take 1
Take 1

What are the biggest things you learnt along the way about crowd-funding?

I was totally new to crowd-funding. I loved the idea of it and it fit in with the other aspects of the democratisation of the creative industries that excited me. I love the idea you can circumvent the traditional funding platforms and have a direct link to your audience. The film was in the can and ready to go so I was purely looking for distribution costs for the DVD. That clearly helped as prospective backers knew the product was ready. That said, like the entire project, I was working on the promotion of the crowd-funding whilst working full time. I learnt that to raise the funding target is a full time job in itself. I had help from a friend but I feel that the most successful campaigns require constant updates and communication with your potential backers. I raised enough for the distribution of the DVD but not my full target amount.

How long did it take to shoot and how many crew were you working with?

It made over the course of a couple of years as we were all making it around our day jobs. In terms of days it’s hard to calculate. It took us a while to get in touch with certain members of the band. Robbie (bass player) was living in New York and we had to wait for him to get back to the UK for the interview; though I had considered going over to interview him. There was also a lot of archive footage that needed logging and various other production logistics such as clearance and filming the live gigs.

The crew was very small: myself, Laura the DOP and Ash who edited the project. On certain interviews we called in help from others too but really it was the three of us who got the project made.


What cameras did you use and did you encounter any technical problems?

I knew from the outset that I wanted the interviews to have a very intimate look with a shallow depth of field and to look nicely lit to contrast the grainy archive footage. I’d recently been on a Red One training course with my DOP, Laura. I thought that the image these cameras gave would be ideal for the look and feel I was trying to achieve. We shot the first three interviews with the Red but it became too cost prohibitive and we moved to the Canon 5D MKII. Laura did a great job lighting the interview but unfortunately she wasn’t available to shoot Dan’s interview so I shot that interview after getting advice from her.

Once we got to the edit stage we had mastered all the Red content to 1920×1080 Prores files as I wasn’t sure my machine could handle the R3Ds. When it came to the grade we relinked to the original Red files. Shooting with the 5D was great but the Prores conversions took some time. I’ve recently moved to Premiere CS6 and love how you can use H.264 natively. This saves a lot of time… and space!

What problems did you have with licensing the music?

Well this was a whole new world to me. I had lots of issues with the clearance of the music. I initially had to clear a couple of tracks and clips from one of the band’s videos for use in the first trailer I released. I had contacted Universal for international sync rights for online distribution which would allow me to use the songs and footage for six months but the initial cost was too steep. I managed to negotiate a lower rate as I was an independent but when it came to the rights for the entire film I just couldn’t afford the figure the record company were asking so I had to look into other options.

The music was intrinsic to the story and I had to think of another way to use the tracks. I contacted Dan (drummer) and asked if he had access to live tracks that had been recorded that didn’t have copyright. It turned out that he had lots of tracks available from various gigs over the years so we ended up using those. Having the audience noise actually added something. The extra ambiance gave it an additional energy which worked really well.

In the cutting room
In the cutting room

Do you feel Who Do You Love has helped your career, and what will your next project be?

Yeah, the film’s helped me many ways. It has given me a lot more confidence as a producer/director and it is a calling card that I’m incredibly proud of.

It’s a film that a lot of people have thought had a large crew and a budget that was far more than it actually cost to produce. It was really the three of us that made the film in our spare time, around our day jobs and on an ultra-low budget. After completing the film I honestly didn’t want to go near a long-form project again. I was looking to do a music promo and was in preproduction to do a video for a local band which unfortunately didn’t work out. I had been looking for examples of Brutalist architecture and was on a tour of Birmingham City Library when it dawned on me how many great stories that place holds. The gentleman who was escorting us around spoke with such passion about the place that I was re-energised to make another documentary. It’s still at an embryonic stage but the ball’s rolling and I’m looking forward to it.

Good luck with that, Ben. And finally, where can people buy or view the film?

The film is available to buy at The DVD contains the feature, full interviews with Steve Lamacq and John Cornfield and a vox pops feature.

I’ll be doing a digital release at some point too either via Vimeo Pay per View or Distrify.

Ben Lewis Interview

Brendan O’Neill on his 48hr Film Challenge Entry, “Fled”

I recently served as DP and postproduction supervisor on Fled, writer-director-producer Brendan O’Neill’s 2013 entry to the SciFi London 48hr Film Challenge. I asked him to share what he’s learnt from this and other film challenges he’s entered.

Brendan, this is not your first 48 hour film challenge. How many have you done before and what are the biggest things you learnt from them that you applied to this latest one?

Gillian Twaite in The Black Widow
Gillian Twaite in The Black Widow

I’ve done several now, 3 straight 48’s and 2 London Sci-Fi Society 48’s plus a time limited music video competition. My first ever film Black Widow was made for a local Birmingham competition called Film Dash in 2008. My second film What Goes Up Must Come Down was shot over a weekend for a non time limited competition run by Filmaka in the USA. I did a lot of ringing around and pre-production for this one as I wanted to really push the number of locations I could fit in. I found that by getting through to the right people, explaining who you are and what you want help with in a structured way can be very successful.

I made another 48 hour film Seconds Out for the same Film Dash competition in 2009 which placed 3rd out of 24 entries. I achieved some good production value by piggy backing a real event – a boxing contest held in a Birmingham hotel – with the help of the promoter who is also a local filmmaker.


The first really big production I put together was for Internalised – our first attempt at the London Sci-Fi Society’s 48 hour filmmaking competition in 2011. I spent 6 weeks pre-producing, location scouting, auditioning etc. and assembled a cast and crew of 50 to help us make the film. I also fed them all via an in-kind deal with local vegetarian catering company ChangeKitchen.

I suppose the first lesson I learnt on that was to not try to do it all on your own. The second being to be very careful who you take on board to help you and define clear roles and responsibilities for those involved. It can be difficult when you are working with volunteers but if you can convey the ambition and vision of what you are trying to do and have some previous track record then you can build feature size crews to help.

The shoot went very well but we were let down in post-production by not getting all the VFX/CGI we wanted into the competition version. You need to have your VFX/CGI team in the same place as your editors as it’s asking too much to render and then transmit the large files involved from remote locations when time is at a premium.

Around Again
Around Again

Our second attempt at the London Sci-Fi society 48 hour competition in 2012 was a World War II themed film called Around Again. We were looking for unusual locations with built-in production value and had identified a Midlands WWII era tunnel complex as a good location. We then found out that the person who controlled access to the tunnels also owned an extensive WWII costume wardrobe that had been used on Atonement and Band of Brothers so we dropped the tunnels location idea and went for battle/bunker scenes. The production value that all the great uniforms and replica / decommissioned firearms gave us was superb.

We were also very fortunate that our friend with the costume wardrobe Craig Leonard and his pyrotechnics colleague Matt Harley of Trinity VFX knew lots of German army / SS re-enactors who were more than happy to appear in the film. It shows the value of networking and being pro-active as that one contact expanded in all sorts of interesting ways to help us make a great looking film. I’m still reaping the benefits as Matt supplied the SWAT team outfits and arms for Fled as well as the GCHQ-esque second main location.

We were very surprised that the film didn’t shortlist but I think as producer if we’d had more clearly defined sci-fi elements in it then that would have helped.

Moving on to Fled, how much work had you put into writing and producing it before the challenge began on 10am on Saturday?

I spent about 6 weeks in pre-production. I hadn’t directed for a while so the first thing I did was do a smaller 48 hour competition which was running as part of the Stoke Your Fires festival.

[The next thing] I did was launch a crowd funding campaign via Indiegogo. I raised about £850 after fees so it helped a lot but it was a very labour intensive way of doing it with limited results. I didn’t have any donors who weren’t already linked to me in some way – mostly through Facebook.

Fortunately an established writer who I’d met twice at the Screenwriters Festival helped me a lot with an early and substantial individual donation. I think he likes my DIY attitude to getting films made. The previous year I also received a substantial donation via a Twitter relationship I had developed so it demonstrates that both traditional and social media based networking can’t be ignored.

Once the Indiegogo campaign was out of the way I worked on getting everything together. I had hoped for some substantial co-producer support but this didn’t really happen and the fact that I had to produce it nearly all myself definitely affected the amount of time I was able to spend on developing the script with my pal Dominic Carver as script editor. That said certain people such as Ella Carman, Matt Harley and stand in make-up artist Kerris Charles helped restore my battered faith in people.

The cast and crew of Fled
The cast and crew of Fled

I was surprised at how large the crew was (around 20). Do many hands make light work on a time-pressured project like this? Was there a degree of over-crewing in case some people didn’t turn up?

I’ve been on shoots where I haven’t had enough production assistants and runner/drivers so I tend to have some over-capacity just in case. The nature of the competition also means that it’s better to have more people to help in case the criteria you are given by the organisers are particularly difficult to handle. You are given a title, a line of dialogue and a prop/action by the organizers on the morning of the competition.

Although I did have some crew drop out prior to the competition I was able to replace them. My regular sound person dropped out with a foot injury so it was fortunate that Nicola Dale who was going to be post sound runner assisting Matt Katz and Joe Harper on the Sunday was able to step up to the mark and deliver great production sound with the help of Chantal Feliu Gurri on boom. Fortunately I’d met Nicola at a networking event a few weeks earlier and offered her the chance to come and work with some more experienced talent.

I do wish I had had some actor back-up however as someone dropped out on the Sunday morning pleading illness. It’s difficult to ask actors to turn up unpaid for what might only be extra type roles in a 5 minute film but it’s also VERY damaging when those who say they’ll do it drop out at short notice. It was especially galling as I’d written a role especially for this young man.

The consequence was that I had to bump someone who was only meant to be an extra into a role with lines which in my opinion definitely affected the quality of the film. For me Quality is King – with so many people having access to great technology you really have to try to ensure production values are as high as possible across the board in order to make your film stand out.

How did you approach integrating the challenge criteria (line of dialogue, prop and optional theme) into the film?

I try to build mechanisms into the script to deal with those things i.e. the wireless in the bunker scene in Around Again. That was there to help us field any difficult lines of dialogue we were given. Unfortunately last year we were given a very modern day line about the SEIS investment scheme so it was a bit clunky which is ironic given that it is a scheme that can help filmmakers raise finance!

We were lucky in that the criteria [this year] were very easy to integrate into the script.

Title: Fled

Prop: A key. A single key is put on a key ring with three near identical keys.

Roger the Controller
Roger the Controller

The initial idea was that [the entity] was an alien civilization that had had to flee some dying star millennia ago and had lain dormant on Mars until the first manned landings. This fitted the FLED title well. The key scene in the church echoes this when you can just make out the ethereal voices saying, “We can’t go back, we can’t go back.”

I was able to fit in the compulsory dialogue line as part of the NASA controllers trying to contact the Mars Explorer. The key on to keyring action/prop was easy and was the same one we got last year!

What was the schedule for the 48 hours in terms of when you started and finished filming, when the edit was locked, etc.?

At 10.00am DoP Neil Oseman and his gaffer Colin Smith went to the church location to pre-light and set up ready for filming whilst I awaited the criteria from the organisers. That way we could hit the ground running once we had a script finalized. The criteria arrived by text at about 11.15.

Filming at "GCHQ"
Filming at “GCHQ”

Fortunately the criteria given were very easy to integrate into my script so I arrived on set around 12.30 – 13.00 having picked up the VFX team at their hotel on the way. We needed to shoot the scenes they needed first in order to give them as much time as possible to work their magic.

I had planned to try and finish by 8pm so that the crew would be reasonably fresh for an early start the next day. I think we finished at around 21.15 and had a quick drink together before heading home. The next day we were all on set for 8.00am and set up for the first scenes quickly. I intended for us to finish around 2pm but there was a bit of creep to 3pm even though we trimmed and dropped some non essential scenes on the way. At both locations Neil and his regular gaffer Colin Smith, who was well assisted by Jay Somerville, did a brilliant job with the lighting.

Brendan directing
Brendan directing

Any plans to take part in future 48 hour challenges?

No. I don’t think so. I think I’ve done enough of them now. I want to either do some really high quality, well planned and developed festival oriented shorts or hopefully a first feature. I think 48 hour contests are a good discipline for young or emerging filmmakers as it gives you a focus and stress tests some of the relationships you might be developing. All a bit frantic but I’ve learnt a lot from them and come out a stronger and hopefully better filmmaker.

I think for this year’s contest just doing one high production value location per day and insisting that the VFX team were at the same post-production site as the edit team really made a difference. I was really fortunate to have really strong post-production edit and sound team and a great composer in Hans Hess who was at the ready to do the score. Hopefully people can see the difference those elements made in the quality of the competition version of the film.

Lastly I couldn’t have done it without Neil Oseman and a great international team of volunteer cast and crew. I hope that I’ll be able to work with them all again at some point. I’d particularly like to thank “King of the Indies” actor Michael Parle who came all the way from Ireland.

Thanks Brendan. You can visit Brendan’s blog at Scroll back to the top to see the film or click here to watch it on Vimeo.

Fled photography by Ian Jones – – and Oliver Charles Woolley –

Brendan O’Neill on his 48hr Film Challenge Entry, “Fled”