Category Archives: Hopeless Film

Casting Durosimi

As I commented in the last blog, we did not initially know who should play Durosimi in the Blind Fisherman film. Suna Dasi and Loretta Hope were the obvious choices for Melisandra and Annamarie, respectively. As soon as John Basset joined the project, it struck me that he’d make a fine Reverend Davies. But, these three characters don’t really feature in the original Blind Fisherman piece while the two who do – the fisherman himself and Durosimi – were turning out to be a challenge.

Looking back, we started unconsciously figuring this out at Steampunks in Space, with a conversation about the team member all of us knew least at that point. What does he want, we asked each other. What would he enjoy? Because the heart of this project has always been about people doing what they love, and for one of our team we weren’t sure we’d pinned that, and we knew it mattered. Tom, Gregg and I had quite an involved conversation on that score, and still, at the time, the penny did not drop.

Eventually it struck me that we should ask Dr Abbey Masahiro if he would like to play Durosimi. At this point, we knew he had a background in directing and producing films and we knew he was up for working on a Hopeless Maine project, but that was about it. Only after we asked did we find out that he also has a lot of acting experience.

We knew before we asked that Dr Abbey is something of a wizard. But, our experience of him – as with this portrait Tom did – is of him being a charming and whimsical sort of wizard. Durosimi is not that sort of wizard, he is the sort to sacrifice children by throwing them into the sea.

Consequently, when Dr Abbey’s Durosimi photos came in, we were both startled and delighted. Tom had a very strange moment of realising that this was pretty much the face he’d been seeing when he was drawing Durosimi twelve years ago. So here he is, slightly terrifying and absolutely perfect.

Casting The Blind Fisherman

It was obvious from very early on that as a motley crew and not an organised studio with a proper budget, we could not approach casting by putting a call out. We would have to find our players. We’d got Reverend Davies. Fortunately, two of the cast were blindingly obvious in terms of who we wanted, so as the project got moving, we got in touch with them to ask if they would be up for it…

I’ve known Loretta Hope since she was a kid. She’s a fantastic human being, an actor, dancer, model and aerialist and more. Multitalented, lovely to deal with and someone who very much looks the part. She’s always been the person I wanted to have playing Annamarie Nightshade. I asked, and she said yes, she would be up for doing this with us. You can find out more about Loretta here –

There’s some good moody seaside Annamarie relevant content here…


The other obvious choice was asking Suna Dasi to play Melisandra. Singer, dancer, voice actress and longstanding supporter of Hopeless Maine, it had to be her. She agreed, so that was all charmingly straightforward!


That left two characters to find. We needed a young man with circus or combat skills to be our Blind Fisherman. We wracked our brains, and came up with nothing. Loretta couldn’t find anyone suitable in her circus circles. We asked other circus folk… and eventually the perfect young man appeared. More of him soon.

Our other missing cast member was Durosimi, and it eventually dawned on us that he had been staring us in the face all along…

Film progress

Hello lovely blog readers! Mostly we’ve been sharing the history of the process of making a film on Fridays, and mostly what you’ve been getting is the backstory, not what’s going on right now.

But, what’s going on right now is rather exciting, so, below is a little video of the 3d model Matt Inkel has made as part of the process of developing puppets for the film.


Script Writing with John Bassett

A great deal of work went into trying to get me up to speed so I could write a film script. Scripts are not my usual stomping ground. Add up the total pages of Hopeless Maine graphic novels, and I’ve not written that many words as comics’ script. There have been a handful of small, silly plays in the mumming play form. By late autumn it was apparent that I was the least experienced and least qualified member of the film team.

What I needed was someone who would work with me, who could bring script experience to the table. I approached John Bassett because I was confident I could work with him. Amongst other things, John runs Stroud Theatre Festival and Stroud Steampunk weekend, and I’ve been to some of his plays and had a bit part in his Chartism film. So I asked, and he said he would be delighted to help.

We had a few really good sessions drinking coffee while John gave me things to think about. He turned out to have a deep interest in old films as well, so there was a lot to draw on. I needed to figure out how to think about this film in terms of structure, number of characters, number of scenes and settings and John was a great help with this. During this process it struck me that he’d make an excellent Reverend Davies, so I asked if he’d like to join the cast as well.

It became necessary to pin down the characters and have a sense of who would be playing them, so that was all going on at the same time and I’ll be talking about our actors next week.

Around Christmas, I wrote a scene by scene description of the film. I didn’t try and write a script, I went for the structure and what needed communicating and what the emotional tone should be. I passed this over to John, and he went through and turned this into dialogue that would work for the actors – a tricky thing for a silent film because some of that dialogue will carry to the viewer and some won’t. John also looked at text boards, although I think what we need to do with those is film, and then see which ones we need to deploy.

It was a very exciting process seeing my structure fleshed out as a script. The resulting text was passed around the team and, assuming we hit no technical issues, it looks good to go. I am greatly enjoying working in this even-handed way, where anyone who needs a say gets one, and authority is based on need or experience – what is technically possible, what is affordable, what it is fair to ask of another team member. So we may have to negotiate things as we go along, but I see that as a tremendous strength. It’s a wonderful way of working with other people.

Film Studies with Gregg McNeill

Having spent a lot of time at Steampunks in Space talking about early films with Gregg McNeill, we clearly had homework to do. Film is not a medium I’ve ever worked in and I don’t have a very visual mind. I have written scripts – for the comics, and also for mumming sides, so I knew just enough to know I was out of my depth. We set out on a process to steep me in old films in the hopes that this would enable me to write a viable script.

Some of it was a bit random, as Tom and I wandered about on youtube and online archives. Some of it was very deliberate as Gregg steered us towards things, and alerted us to details we should be considering. How the text boards are done. How the sets are put together. The lighting and mood. I would have to write for period appropriate technology, one camera that can’t move much, a small budget… there was a lot to think about.

Several period films became key to us during this process. One was Nosferatu – the way the lighting and shadows work there. The one that most impacted on me was The Cabinet of Dr Caligari because of the way in which the sets are painted. I realised this was the kind of look I wanted for us, and after consulting with Gregg it became apparent that this might be the most realistically affordable approach for us.

Having started this whole venture from the observation that there are parallels between silent films and comics, it because vital to dig in on those mechanics. A silent film needs a script for the actors to work from, and it also needs text cards to support that and guide the viewer. Gregg directed us to early Buster Keaten films for the most effective and minimal use of text cards. That became a bit of an obsession all by itself and there is a part of me that wants to make that kind of film. This may be a story for another day…

So much would depend on finding a team of people for the human characters who could embody what’s going on and get it across. The acting style in silent films is not the same as modern films. I admit that I love the more overblown acting approaches, and for several of our characters – Durosimi and Melisandra – that would make a lot of sense. The more we looked at films, the more aware I became that I needed to know who I was writing for. It wouldn’t work for us to have a script and try to cast it.

There was only ever one person I wanted to have playing Annamarie Nightshade. There is only one person I could imagine playing Melisandra. But would they be up for it? And who else should be in that team?

Check back next week for the next instalment of how we did all the crazy things…

And do have a look at Gregg McNeill’s patreon page –

Steampunks in Space

Back in November, Tom and I went to Steampunks in Space, in Leicester. It turned out to be another key point in the development of the film. We were a few tables along from Gregg McNeill, so were able to spend a lot of time talking about what had happened, what could happen, and the sorts of things we needed to think about. Being in the same place is powerful, creatively, but with Gregg in Scotland and us in Gloucestershire, we hadn’t had much scope.

Also at Steampunks in Space, was John Naylor, who is an absolute powerhouse when it comes to all things Steampunk. He was there selling hats. John is the man with the vision behind Asylum and the Ministry of Steampunk. Thanks to him, Abbey Masahiro was in Lincoln last summer and we were able to get a book to him (see this post for more backstory). So, I took the opportunity to update John on how this had all gone, and to thank him for once again being a source of magic. He has a rare talent for creating spaces in which amazing things happen.

After that conversation I had one of those double take moments of realising I had made a serious mistake. I went back and asked John if he wanted to be in the film project, and he very generously said yes. It’s all too easy to lose track of what people do in their day jobs. John does film and television work professionally, with more knowledge and skills than you might want to try and shake a stick at. He can also do fight choreography.

That weekend felt like a tremendous consolidation of the project. Adding John Naylor to the team massively expanded the capabilities in the mix. It continues to amaze and delight me that all these highly talented, dedicated, serious and professional people are looking at this madcap thing and wanting in. Thanks to their amazingness, we get to turn a bit of lunatic ‘what if’ into something that really could work.

More monsters and Matt

I blogged a few weeks ago about how Matt Inkel first got involved with the film project –

As things started to get moving in the autumn, we went back to him to talk in more detail, establishing that yes, he really was up for this. We talked a lot about different kinds of puppets, how they might be deployed to interact with actors, and what we would need puppets of.

At this point it became clear that child Salamandra would have to be a puppet. Those of you who have read The Blind Fisherman will likely know why, for the rest of you, here come the spoilers…

The central action in the story involves Sal as a baby being thrown into the sea by her father, encountering agents of change, and then being rescued by the fisherman. Clearly we could not throw a small child into water to make this film. Further none of the team has a small child to whom they are not overly attached and people don’t often rent them out on these terms. So, our child character would have to be a puppet.

On the plus side, that means an adult who knows what they are doing is entirely in charge of making that child character do stuff. On the downside, this character is key emotionally and evoking complex emotions with puppets needs thinking about. It’s been a consideration while writing the script.

At some point, when we have funding, Matt will be building both a child Sal, and a sea monster to fight with Seth. How many puppets he makes is probably going to be dictated by funding. There’s scope to have puppets of the same thing at different scales to allow different kinds of scenes to be more easily filmed. Basically, we can go utterly mad with this if the money is there to enable it…

Dr Abbey casts a spell

In the summer of 2019, Dr Abbey Masahiro was at the big steampunk gathering in Lincoln. For a whole host of reasons, we weren’t. Tom had one of his moments (not unlike the stuff he gets up to on Facebook) and arranged to get a copy to Dr Abbey via the fabulous Lyssa Lopez Wain (who we later killed in this blog post).

Much to our delight, Dr Abbey was rather taken with Hopeless, Maine and started talking to us about what we do, and might do. The film project had been languishing on a back burner for some time at this point because none of us knew how to proceed.

As luck would have it, cameraman Gregg O’Neill was at an event with Dr Abbey a few weeks later and it gave them a chance to talk about all things film. There was a conversation about the Blind Fisherman project. Then, later in autumn, Dr Abbey took some Hopeless Maine posters and books to the Tokyo Film Festival to see if there might be a potential market for us. People involved with film festivals around the world had a look at us, and the response was positive.

It lit a fire under us, simply. Dr Abbey cast a spell on the project and we knew we were willing to invest a lot more energy and resources to make it work. The whole tone of the conversation changed, from largely daydreaming to entirely serious. We started thinking a lot more seriously about what and who would be needed to make it work, and everything stepped up a gear.

What Tom does on Facebook

Some of the most important developments in the Hopeless Maine project as a whole have been due to what Tom does on Facebook. It shouldn’t work, and yet somehow, it does. I put it down to how alluring he is. I say this based on having been entirely lured, back before Facebook existed, when Tom was in the habit of doing his thing in yahoo groups.

Having decided that a Hopeless Maine silent movie would be a cool thing, Tom posted on Facebook to see who wanted to make that happen. I don’t think there are many people for whom this would be a viable way of developing a project, but there it is, this is his super-power.

In a very short time frame, two key people stepped up to say that yes, they would be up for that.

One was Gregg McNeil – who I have blogged about here. we met him through Steampunk events, and were smitten with his tintype photography. Gregg knows about period film and cameras and was keen to get involved.

The other person to step forward was Walter Sickert, of the Army of Broken Toys, offering to do the soundtrack. We love Walter’s work. Further, this is someone with experience doing scores. It’s Walter’s music that you hear in the background to this video –

A vote of confidence from two people who know what they’re doing far better than we do. It was a powerful moment. It took us from ‘this is a lovely idea’ to ‘this could work’. We started talking to each other a lot more seriously, and Tom spent a lot of time talking to Gregg. It was around this point that we realised a hand wound camera would be the heart of the project. This would be our key magical item, moving forward. All we had to do was find one that works…

Monsters, Matt and Muppets

We met Matt Inkel at Asylum in Lincoln back in 2018. He was sporting a fetching Steampunk Ghostbusters backpack of his own making, and we got chatting about what he does as a maker with his Arcane Armoury hat on. This was just after we’d started looking at old, silent films, so the timing was perfect.

After the event, Tom and Matt continued chatting online. He expressed an interest in making Hopeless Maine stuff and this led us to the Salamandra’s Key project – Matt made a version of the key Salamandra has in The Gathering. You can find out more about that over here –

One of his keys ended up in the award winning Case of Good Fortune – and more of that story over here should you feel so moved.

One of the things Tom and Matt have in common, is a love of Jim Henson. Hence me sneaking muppets into the title! Matt talked about his experience with Jim Henson’s creature workshop and how cool a Hopeless Maine film would be. Tom of course had a series of muppet-moments.

At this stage it was just a bit of shared daydreaming. The kind of conversation where you go ‘wouldn’t it be lovely if…’ But, this is often where serious projects come from – those idle speculations that at first seem too preposterous to take seriously. And so you keep playing with them because it’s just messing about, and before you know it you’ve set your heart on a Hopeless Maine silent film with puppets and live action.

And so it was that Matt Inkel joined the film project before there even was a film project. He will be making puppets of some of the island creatures, and of course the sea monster whose fight with The Blind Fisherman is a key part of this little story.

You can find Matt Inkel’s Arcane Armoury on Etsy –