Do you remember that (not very memorable)
sketch in Little Britain where David Walliams went into go into a
video shop owned by Matt Lucas, and asked for a really outlandish movie
that would never be made. Something like:
Iím looking for a film. A retelling of
Dickens A Christmas Carol,
featuring stars of 80s kids' TV show Rainbow
and former CBeebies
stalwart turned ‹ber-babe Sarah Jane Honeywell. And a former Doctor
Who. And maybe the
original lead couldíve been a fading acting great, who shuffled off this
mortal coil just as filming started, like Bela Lugosi in Plan
9 from Outer Space. And I
want it mainly shot on blue screen.
Well, we spoke to co-directors Chris Clark
and Richard Dutton to see if they could meet this very specific request.
Tell us about your background, and your roles in Shadows
of a Stranger?
Chris Clark: I'm co director, I play Xander and I'm
also the visual effects artist amongst other things.
Iíve been making films ever since I was a young lad when I used
to borrow my dadís camcorder. Iíve always made films local to
where I live in Lincolnshire, collaborating with different filmmakers and
drawing in local actors. The area I live in is not often recognised
as a place for making films, but instead of it inhibiting my ambition
Iíve tried to work against the odds. When things were looking
bleak with my filmmaking endeavours, I dug up an old script of mine that
had been put on the shelf because it was way too ambitious for anyone
without a 7 figure budget. I showed it to my friend Chris, who read
it all in one night and said that whatever happens, this film had to get
made. We soon realised the only way that would happen was if we made
it ourselves, and so Chris came up with the idea of shooting it all on
blue screen, all in the one place, and then constructing comic book style
environments in post. As I had written the script and knew the
characters best of all, I directed the performances of the actors during
the shoot. As Chris had devised his own technique for the visuals,
he co-directed with me so he could direct the technical side of things.
Chris Clark: A handful of us are going to end up hogging every
credit - some days I'd be nipping behind the monitor to supervise a shot,
running onto the bluescreen to deliver some lines, then holding the boom
for the next shot still in full costume!
screen! We are getting closer to David Walliams fictional request (and the
tenuous opening to this article!) Whatís the film about?
Richard Dutton: The film is about a private investigator who
takes on a job to find a missing man, and also happens to meet a psychic
whom he teams up with. It naturally leans towards film noir with its
dark, psychological elements, and has a strong emphasis on characters and
What was the
inspiration for the movie?
Chris Clark: Obviously Rich was inspired by A Christmas Carol
and films like Se7en when he was writing the film, but my inspirations are
mainly relevant to the visual aspects of Shadows of a Stranger. My task early on seemed
to be finding a way to bring Rich's amazing script to the screen in the
most original, cheap and visually pleasing way possible and one evening
the idea came to me to shoot it against a green screen (later to become
bluescreen (thus fixing the entire shoot to one location and set... nice
and cheap!)) and make it look as if it was an existing comic book - I was
watching Watchmen at that particular moment. I immediately sent a text
to Rich, asking if he thought I was mad. The reply was a wary but good
one! So that week we sat down together and watched Sin City for our main
source of inspiration.
Richard Dutton: Yes, Se7en was heavily in my mind when I wrote
the script. When I saw that film I thought it was exactly the sort
of film Iíd like to make, a descent into the dark depths of the human
psyche, so Shadows of a Stranger was a case of writing the sort of film that I would
like to go see at the cinema. With all the dark things in my script,
I thought a backdrop of Christmas would make for good counterpoint in the
film, and so that it didnít become monotone. Because of the
Christmas setting, Iíd deliberately put in a couple of references to A Christmas Carol, but when I redrafted the script, I realised it ran much
more deeply than this. Understandably at this stage, I donít think
many people quite get where weíre going with the A Christmas Carol
allusions Ė I hope when people finally get to see the film itís
something that will get them thinking. I think that on a narrative
level and also on a visual level, there arenít many filmmakers that have
taken the path that we have.
assembled an impressive cast. Colin Baker! Are you a big Doctor
Who fan? What
was it like to work with the 6th Incarnation?
Chris Clark: I've always loved Doctor
Who. I started watching
during the Peter Davison era when I was very young indeed and the first
regeneration I saw was the one into Colin Baker. I guess I would refer to
Colin Baker as My Doctor, so I was very excited to be able to work with
him but also insanely nervous at the thought of having to direct him! My
nerves soon subsided on Colin's first day though. He's great fun to work
with and he enjoyed taking the mickey out of me! We were very lucky to get
him - he's absolutely perfect for the role of William Fallon.
Richard Dutton: I count myself as a Doctor
Who fan, although
Iím not as geeky as a lot of the other people Iíve worked with on this
film! Colin was Ďmyí doctor of course, and I was absolutely
thrilled to work with him. For filmmakers such as us, when you have
someone like Colin Baker saying yes to your script then you know youíre
on some very good lines. It felt surreal when he first turned up for
filming, but he gave a mouth watering performance and I canít wait to
see his part within the context of the completed film.
running a good line in kidsí TV nostalgia. Sarah Jane Honeywell,
recently exiled from CBeebies for those pictures, and Rainbowís Jane
Tucker (Rod, Jane and Freddie) and Malcolm Lord (Bungle). Is that by
accident or design?
Sarah Jane Honeywell (center)
Chris Clark: It started off with Jane. She was the first to
agree to play a role in the film. Around the same time, I'd started
chatting with Malcolm Lord and thought it'd be great to have him involved
too. Next came Sarah Jane - aren't those pictures great! And how come she
gets into trouble when we regularly see Big Cook Little Cook and
'Archie' from Balamory swearing all over Channel 4 at night!?! Haha! I'd
seen Sarah Jane on TV a lot (I have young daughters!) and she just seemed
to stand out. She's entrancing to watch and listen to. After stalking her
a bit on Facebook(!), I learnt that she was keen to be in films so I
decided that we HAD to contact her. I think by that point it was
definitely becoming a conscious decision to get kids' TV stars involved.
Rich and I loved the juxtaposition of these bright children's telly stars
being put into the sinister city of Meridian!
Richard Dutton: I always find it refreshing and intriguing seeing
actors perform in things that are completely different from what weíre
used to seeing them in. Again, I think it helps with our filmís
contrast between darkness and lightness, and maybe itís part of a theme
of corruption, innocence turned into something sinister. Even the
most radiant of people have a shadow.
I looked over
Janeís IMDb-profile, and it doesnít look as though sheís graced our
screens since Rainbow got cancelled Ė over 20 years ago. How did you
convince her to come back?
Chris Clark: Well, Jane is a good friend. My sisters and I
were Rainbow fans when we were kids and we wrote letters to Rod, Jane and
Freddy! Remarkably, they always wrote back and so as we grew older we sort
of made the transition from fans to friends! I'd talked to Jane a lot
about collaborating on something and out of all my hairbrained schemes to
do something arty, Shadows of a Stranger seemed to be the thing that interested her the
Richard Dutton: I identified a great point in the script where
she could appear so I specifically wrote the role for her Ė I was really
pleased that Jane loved the role and completely made it her own.
Itís definitely going to be one of the best scenes of the film.
stick his Bungle head on for you?
Chris Clark: You'll never believe this, but yes, Rich and I
did get to see Malcolm with the famous head on! He even let us play with
Zippy and George!! We have photographic evidence too!
Richard Dutton: And there was also the time we went into his
panto dressing room and admired all of his amazing frocks. I even
got to feel his (fake) breasts.
How long have
you been trying, and what did it take, to get this project off the ground?
Chris Clark: Rich and I had talked about doing our own movie
project from about late 2008 I think. Once Rich had actually let on that
he'd written this amazing script (early 2009 I think), we discussed
various ways of making the project actually happen. We approached funding
people but as we had no back catalogue to show them, it was a dead end.
That's when we decided to put our hands into our own pockets (Rich's
mainly). We soon came to the conclusion that if we could make an amazing,
original film on no budget, then we'd probably be pretty unique!
Richard Dutton: Before Shadows of a Stranger weíd worked on various different
projects that didnít take off, so this was kind of a last chance ride
for me. We could only do it with total passion and belief and by
being completely bull-headed. With this approach things naturally
fell in place for us. We did pursue funding but it soon became clear
that it would take a monumental effort to get anything and I didnít want
this to drain our energies, so we decided to throw caution to the wind and
finance it ourselves, making it all about the art rather than the business
side of things. If youíve got people that share your vision and
believe in what youíre doing then you can make things happen.
How long did
the process take to get to the finished product?
Chris Clark: We haven't finished yet! But it'll be done this
year! Promise! I guess it's going to be over 3 years by the time we're
done. Preparing the project to be shot took nearly a year in itself. We
then shot for about 4 months in the summer of 2010 and we've been in post
production ever since!
did you have to overcome in the making of this film?
Richard Dutton: We had a couple of major problems before we began
filming. First of all we built an entire blue screen studio in a
place that we then got kicked out of. That was a major setback but
strangely it didnít deter us at all Ė with hindsight we know this was
a blessing in disguise. The other problem we had was the death of
our lead actor, James Aubrey. Jimmy had been in some big films but
had somehow ended up in our backwater and like Ed Wood [Ed
Wood bio - click here] with Bela Lugosi [Bela
Lugosi bio - click here], I
wanted to grab the opportunity and make films with him (hopefully a lot
better ones, of course). Jimmy had health problems though so it
wasnít a complete surprise when he died, and because weíd been pretty
thorough with our auditions, we were able to find a replacement.
Iíve just been putting together a little tribute film about Jimmy and
his involvement in our project, now on YouTube at
all the made up, tenuous film request in the start of the article covered!
It sounds brilliant! On with the interview. Who are your influences?
Chris Clark: As a director my main influences are probably
Terry Gilliam, Jim Henson and Frank Oz! They bring/brought uniqueness to
their films and a lot of magic. As an actor, Gary Oldman - He's just so
Richard Dutton: Filmmakers like Robert Rodriguez and Gareth
Edwards are a big inspiration, guys who went out there and made impressive
films with limited resources. I suppose I take influence from a lot
of different areas. To make a good film I think it helps to
understand and study the whole of the human experience, not just
techniques on making a film, and plus I donít like to be too led by
other filmmakers and end up making stuff thatís been done before and
everyone has already seen. So I take inspiration from everywhere.
Do you think
this is the genre you will stick with, or do you want to explore other
things in your next film?
Chris Clark: I love this genre and I would return to it for
definite but I'd like to do comedy too (especially comedy acting). I also
love horror. I really want to make a puppet movie though. Something like
the Dark Crystal. Something that won't rely too heavily on CGI - it's all
done in camera!
Richard Dutton: I think thereís a danger of becoming a one
trick pony if we stick to the blue screen route, and plus I think weíre
fed up of keying out all this blue! As for genre, I think my natural
comfort zone is always going to lean towards darker, psychological
material but thereís a lot you can do with that; Iím not set in a
particular genre. In fact, Iím really interested in merging genres
within films, stepping outside the box. As long as itís something
that people relate to and find relevant, thatís the most important thing
like to say a few words about your cast and crew.
Chris Clark: They're all pretty magical people for being so
generous to our project. Their belief in what we're doing is invaluable
really - especially when it's late at night and I've been animating the
same 7 seconds of a scene for the past 12 hours!! You really rely on that
kind of support to keep going!
Richard Dutton: I think when youíre making a film itís really
important to find people who are on the same wavelength as you. I
think the general excitement of the project naturally drew in people who
wanted to be a part of it. Iím particularly pleased with the
casting process we undertook as we spent a lot of time finding the right
people and putting together a great cast Ė itís a combination of well
known actors such as Colin Baker, and also local actors - itís possible
we may have unearthed one or two emerging talents here.
Have you seen
any movies recently that really impressed you?
Chris Clark: I usually disagree with the masses about which
are brilliant films - Planet of the Apes for instance was average and
didn't make me cry once! I watched Bunny and the Bull fairly recently
and I loved it. It's so original. Submarine was nice too. I finally
watched Brazil after all these years and that blew me away. Terry
Gilliam is an absolute genius! I love all of his films actually.
Richard Dutton: One that comes to mind was a film I watched over
Christmas, In Bruges. The Swedish version of Girl
with the Dragon
Tattoo was pretty impressive, and has some similarities with our film
actually. Thereís a few films that Iím really looking forward to
seeing this year: Dark Knight Rises, The Hobbit, and Prometheus.
bigger budget, is there anything youíd have done differently with this
Chris Clark: I'm sure there are loads of things that we'd have
done differently but I'm not sure the project would benefit. Often it's
the creativity displayed by filmmakers whilst trying to overcome the
inevitable problems/restraints that a low budget project brings, that make
it more original and interesting. Take the old Red Dwarf for example. It
was budget problems that made that show so quirky and when they actually
had money, it seemed that something was missing. Star Wars is an obvious
example too. We use the budget limitations to our advantage all the time.
Richard Dutton: If money was no object Iíd probably have gone
to a big city and shot it (maybe in America), but then maybe the film
would have had a completely different vibe to it if weíd shot it with
significant financial backing. I think the spirit in which a film is
made can translate itself into the end product, and certainly with Shadows
of a Stranger we have a film made with total creative freedom and nothing has been
contrived through an attitude of trying to create what we think audiences
want to see.
What are your
ambitions for this movie? What would you like to achieve with it?
Chris Clark: The sky is the limit as far as we're concerned. I
think my dream would be to gain a real cult following like Donnie Darko
did (another movie that I love!). We've been overly ambitous on purpose and
made the film to suit the big screen so I'd like to see it in a few
cinemas if possible.
Richard Dutton: Iíve never wanted to put any limitations on
what we could achieve. It would be really great seeing it in
cinemas, but for a film with virtually no budget it would be difficult to
get there. But you never know.
your advice be to someone who is thinking of making an independent movie?
Chris Clark: Don't be scared by lack of money! Just have the
audacity to try and make another Avatar with 12 pence if you want to!
Even if it's a pile of poo, it'll be a learning curve!
Richard Dutton: I would say donít dwell too much on your
limitations or your obstacles, and believe in yourself. George McFly
in Back to the Future is a good demonstration of how that works (and
Time for a kooky question. Would you ever consider a duet with Justin Bieber?
Chris Clark: Possibly. Would I be allowed to take a baseball
bat with me?
Richard Dutton: I think a duet with him would eclipse the
awesomeness of the song The Long and Winding Road by Will Young and Gareth
Gates. I hope we get to sing Youíre The One That I Want. We
could even put it on the soundtrack to the film. Oh I hope I get to touch
crosses their fingers that heís reading! Anything else you want to plug?
Chris Clark: Yes! We need to mention Barnaby Edwards and Ian
Cullen. They are late additons to our cast and they're ace!
Thanks for the interview!
find more out about the film go to www.shadowsofastranger.co.uk