Thursday, February 24, 2011

David Tristram on "Inspector Drake: The Movie"

What was your filmmaking background before making Inspector Drake: The Movie?

DAVID: In a nutshell, there wasn't one. To be fair, I have made quite a few corporate video programmes over the years, but a movie is a very different thing altogether. So in many ways it was a leap into the unknown.

What was the process for adapting the stage version of Inspector Drake into a movie?

DAVID: Even though it pinches a few of my favourite gags from the stage plays, this is essentially a new script, written specifically for the movie. With a stage play you're constrained by the physical aspects of the theatre and the set, and by only using a practical number of characters. With a movie, in theory, there are no such constraints, so more actors, more locations - but of course the budget acts as the ultimate brake on the imagination. I would have liked to have shot some scenes in New Zealand, with huge panoramic sweeps from aerial cameras - but had to settle for a tripod in a forest in Shropshire.

What are the three key requirements -- in your mind -- for making a successful movie for a ridiculously small budget?

DAVID: Rule One: Turn any weakness into a strength. Our film is laced with low budget jokes - it becomes an important part of the narrative - the characters refer to the obviously rubber snakes as "low budget snakes" for example. There's also a low budget cartoon torch, and a low budget foam rubber ceremonial sword.

Obviously Drake is a comedy with surreal boundaries, so that means anything goes. We often had to invent our way out of a problem - such as the time we were due to shoot a night scene in the forest as Drake "makes camp." Night scenes are difficult to do properly without a lot of equipment- generators, lights, and so on. The usual low budget solution is to shoot in the day and then add a rather unconvincing night effect in the edit suite. I didn't like the idea of doing that for such a long scene - I also realised that a lot of the visual gags wouldn't as work as well by darkening the footage artificially. Our solution? We shot in the daytime. It goes dark for a few seconds. Then Drake comes across a bathroom light cord dangling from a tree. He pulls it, and switches the forest lights back on. We were literally making something from nothing, which in the end heightens the sense of creativity.

Rule Two: Tell a good story. In the end, high budget films might have exciting special effects or action sequences - but they're never the best bit of a good movie. The best bit is always the story, and the characters. So concentrate on those - they needn't cost money. My movie is a surreal comedy, but nevertheless it's still important to have a credible story to anchor the whole thing. And the audience always has to care about the main characters.

Rule Three: Get the technical basics in focus, good sound. Nine times out of ten what lets a very low budget film down is the sound - it's probably more important than the pictures.

What was the biggest obstacle you had to overcome to make this movie ... and how did you overcome it?

DAVID: I'm going to be coy here and say that the biggest obstacle was probably me. Budget restraints meant I was on camera and also trying to direct, but in reality most of my brain was taken up with the fear of not getting the technical aspects right. The thought of getting it back to the edit suite to find that something was out of focus, or not exposed properly, or the sound was missing, was very scary.

I suppose I overcame the problem by preparing as well as I could, and crossing my fingers. Most of the time things were fine - there were one or two problems, as I'm sure there are with every film, but nothing I wasn't able to fix in the edit suite.

What was the smartest thing you did during production? The dumbest?

DAVID: The smartest thing was using decent actors. The dumbest was possibly using me as cameraman, but as I say, the budget left us no other choice, and in the end at least I knew what I was getting every step of the way.

And, finally, what did you learn from making the film that you can take to other projects?

DAVID: I think the film we've ended up with is far, far better than I would have first imagined we were capable of. So I suppose I've learnt how to successfully exploit our limitations. We're already considering whether or not to make Inspector Drake 2 - The Seagull. We'll wait to see how this effort goes down first.

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