Thursday, May 14, 2015

Darren Scales on "The Drift"

What was your filmmaking background before making The Drift?

DARREN: I had been making movies, shorts and documentaries since 1992. I started out with my brother and a local friend to create Backyard Productions. In

1994 we made our first movie, Geriatric Park, a spoof on Spielberg’s dinosaur spectacular. That was shot on VHSC and edited using 2 video recorders. From then on we focused a lot on spoofs.

As video, editing and VFX became more accessible, we made more adventurous spoofs including 2 Star Wars parodies and an Indiana Jones called Doom Raiders. Around 2005, after our last Star Wars movie, The Emperor’s New Clones, I began to want to make something original yet familiar.

Our Fan films had exposed us to some connections on TV and Pinewood Studios, so I decided to look at branching out beyond the parody. We made a test short called Cinders, A kind of extended trailer, which was shot at Pinewood and a theme park.  From there I was able to really get stuck in to creating my own Sci Fi. With the lessons learned from our parodies combined with the industry practises picked up along the way, I was ready to make The Drift.

Where did the idea come from and what was the writing process like with Sue Morris? 

DARREN: I had been working on a much bigger story called Starlight that focused on a future universe where mankind loses the power of light speed travel in an instant. I developed how that universe would become, where the impacts would lie and how the authorities would maintain order.

The set up was huge and my story just as big. I decided to look at expanding one location where the impact would be felt, a starship convoy that was now stranded in Space. The Drift is set 20 years after this event so things would have moved on, probably for the worse.

Working with Sue, was a blast! We had worked together before on the Cinders project. As well as the screenplay writer, Sue was a kind of “Story Midwife.” Whilst I created, developed and delivered the story, Sue was always there to ask me the difficult questions about plot, points, structure, authenticity and credibility.

When I completed the story, in some ways the roles were reversed. Now I was asking Sue about the same things in the script. Throughout the whole process it was an open-door arrangement, where both of us could and would suggest options, style and content; it worked very well, especially that the story and script was produced in less than 3 months.

The effects in the movie are wonderful. Did you two write to what you could do ... or write it first and worry about how to do it later?

DARREN: Making The Drift as a zero budget movie means that in order to move the production forward you sometimes have to simply “leave it for post.” The key is to know what you want to leave and what you can do to mitigate the pain that is going to come later.

We left a lot of the VFX decisions until well after we filmed. Our lead VFX artist Jon Carling, was already maxed out making all the Computer screen displays you see in the movie (yes they all real and there on set with the cast!).

But our experience working on our Star Wars parodies, had informed us as to what we needed. There are 2 min CGI sequences in The Drift. We ensure that we had plenty of dialogue to cover the yet undocumented story arc. We also made the crew wear headsets which whilst was an artistic choice, also allowed for much more authentic ADR later.  

Can you talk about how you raised your budget and your financial plan for recouping your costs?

DARREN: Backyard Productions has been around longer than the Internet. When we started, there were no crowd-funding websites and access to media funding opportunities was also extremely limited (especially when you are making a spoof!).

We would raise our funds through monthly contributions from the company members. We would raise around £100 a month; making a movie every 3-4 years meant it soon added up.  Each of our productions also raises money for charity through sales or suggested donations on premiere nights; The Drift is no different – It is this model that enables us to make the film for less money. For example, by raising money for charity, we were able to secure a large room for 6 months to build the sets.

How did you cast the film and did the script change much once you had your cast in place?

DARREN: Having made several films before we were lucky enough to be able to secure many of them for The Drift. It was not easy as most were located in London and we were shooting 150 miles north.

We did have some new and welcome additions, Jonny Black who played the Captain and Lee Grantina (Astra). The cast attended several read-throughs and as Sue knew the actors from previous productions, the changes were small.  There was some improvisation on Set; many of Reg’s lines (the Captain’s pit bull) were suggested on set (“Oy! Tossers!”, “Happy Days!”)

You wore a lot of hats on this project -- Director, Editor, Sound Design, Visual Effects Supervisor. What's the upside and the downside of that approach?

DARREN: As a small production it was easier for me to take on a lot of these roles. We did try to push some of them out to others, but making a feature is a huge commitment and most could not give the time needed - even though they wanted to. 

The upside, was that as the creator and director, it was very quick for me to edit the picture (6 weeks). I have been making sound effects since the 1980’s so for me, that was a joy. Producing, managing, leading is what I did in my (previous) day job as an Officer in the Royal Air Force, so whilst frustrating at times, it was something I was able to do well.

The downside was adding all those tasks together and putting them into one brain, meant that from time to time, mistakes were made and the production took longer to complete.

What kind of camera did you use to shoot the movie -- and what did you love about it and hate about it?

DARREN: We filmed on the cameras that we owned: a couple of DSLRs and a Sony EX1 Documentary camera. The Sony was great as a safe camera – easy to grade and captured the sounds well too. The Canon DSLR’s captured a more instantly rewarding shot and provided a nice shallow depth of field. However many shots lost focus when the actors moved too quickly and grading was not so simple with more degradation afterwards.

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

DARREN: The smartest thing we did was plan everything… and I mean everything!  It allowed us to make the big ship sets feel big by reconfiguring them, redressing them and change the shape. Once we struck the set configuration, there was no going back to that set up. We had to know we got everything – and we did. Make up, costume, props all had to be prepared and ready – it was like a military operation, but it worked.

The dumbest thing? More difficult as we made lots of deliberate “mistakes” such as the chroma key backdrop was too close to the set (but we wanted the set to be as big as it was so we rolled with it). I suppose not giving lighting the priority it deserved; there were a lot of shots that were just too dark.

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

DARREN: Without trying to sound too negative, I learned that this will probably be the last time I make a movie on a zero budget. Making a movie set in Space is hard, even when you have a budget and full crew – we were insane! I am so proud of my cast and crew; it was never reasonable to expect to be able to make a movie like this with £5000 and a team of motivated but relatively inexperienced crew.

But we did, you can’t buy that type of loyalty, energy and dedication.  However, for me? I think after more than 20 years of working my butt off just to make a movie that looks cool given the budget, I want to work my butt off to make a movie that looks cool, period! That means investment.

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