Tag Archives: film

Designing Hopeless, Maine for film

Hello again people (and others).

As some of you will know, we are working on translating the Blind Fisherman (The prelude to Hopeless, Maine) to film. Towards this end, I’ve started sketching settings that will appear in the film to help me visualise the settings so that I can move on to storyboarding. Once the script is finalised, we’ll storyboard and go on from there. In order to help make all of this possible, I’ve begun studying producing and other aspects of filmmaking. We have a studio, cinematographer, production design and an art director. Our plan is to make this the first in a series of Hopeless, Maine set films.

In the words of our cinematographer, Gregg McNeil ” We’re making a strong statement with this first chapter of the Hopeless Maine Anthology and we hope to continue this with other filmmakers, directors and storytellers each weaving their own visual tale.”

We will keep you up to date on our progress!

Hoping this finds you well, inspired and thriving.

Dustcats!

Dustcat news!

We are very excited to announce that we have raised enough money to fund a dustcat puppet for our Hopeless Maine film. Many thanks to everyone who chipped in! If you’re new to all this and have a sudden urge to get involved, start here – https://hopelessvendetta.wordpress.com/bringing-hopeless-maine-to-the-screen-one-creature-at-a-time/

 

The dustcat will be a marionette, able to waft about and gesticulate in charming ways. There will be updates and progress shots, so, watch this space.

Finding a Blind Fisherman

The Blind Fisherman is, unshockingly, an essential character in the film called The Blind Fisherman. For a long time, we had no idea who was going to play him. As a small outfit with whatever budget we can cobble together, we could hardly go the normal recruiting route. We were going to have to use our network of people to find someone who might be suitable.

There was a collective wracking of brains amongst existing team members.

Nothing.

No-one.

We started thinking about the qualities our actor would need – that he would have to be a younger man with a light build, and that he would need a physical skills set. To fight the sea monster plausibly he would have to be athletic. As we have a team member who can choreograph fight scenes, we didn’t necessarily need someone with a fighting background, but someone who could easily learn how to do the right things with their body. That opened up dance, gymnastics and circus as potential backgrounds alongside someone with a background in a martial arts or other combat disciplines.

So I asked our friend Ruby, who does a lot of circus stuff and is young and therefore could be expected to know other youthful personages. She asked if we knew Edwin, and we admitted that we did not. She told us he is lovely – which is an important qualifier for being involved with this project. Given how we’re all investing time and effort, with no one knowing how any of it will work out financially, we cannot afford to bring anyone in who might make any of us miserable. Being able to work easily together and enjoy that process is non-negotiable.

Edwin Forster is turns out, is not only lovely, but entirely perfect. After we got into lockdown, we started asking our actors if they could do photos for us to share, and this is his, alongside the cover image for the original project this is all based on. Got to love anyone prepared to go that extra distance!

The film story – going public

For some weeks now I’ve been telling the story of the Hopeless Maine film project, how it got started and what’s happened along the way. The decision to go public with it as a process came some way into the journey.

Normally films turn up in the world as finished items. We may have had some teasers along the way – usually around casting, but the process remains largely hidden. This is fine when you have a massive budget to make a film and another massive budget to promote it. We started with only our own money. We aren’t a studio, none of us are famous enough that our names guarantee the project success. We can’t whip out a Hopeless Maine film from nowhere and expect many people to care.

The two main considerations were, how we fund the film and how we find an audience. So, it made sense to go public as a way of tackling those specific issues. We’ve started crowdsourcing to fund the puppets, which means we can get started there and hopefully the progress we make will enthuse people and build interest around the project as a whole.

There are also a lot of other, less businesslike reasons for doing it this way. We’re a team of steampunks, for the greater part. We belong to a community and we met each other through those community spaces. The desire to feed back to said community is strong. We want to bring people with us because we feel there are a lot of people who are our people, and who are a key part of the context in which this is all happening. And we want to give back by sharing what we’re doing.

Hopeless Maine was always intended to be a community project. Tom has brought all sorts of people into it in different ways over the years. Not all of them stuck around, some of us did. I’m not his first author, but I am the one it’s been hardest to get rid of! As Hopeless lays its various strange eggs in other people’s minds, we want to say yes to that, to open up space for other people and other visions.

Also, this is the bit that I can do. I can tell you the story of what happened. I’m the least experienced team member, the one with the fewest relevant skills. It is incredibly exciting watching what everyone else is doing with this and seeing how amazing the team are. But from here, I will mostly be loitering at the edges, because there’s not much I can usefully do. Hold the odd puppet maybe.

I’m telling the story of the project as it unfolds because that lets me feel like I’m still involved, which is nice. Thank you for giving me that space.

Questions of setting

One of the key questions to ask when making a film, is where you are going to do the filming. We have one camera that isn’t going to be that mobile. At present, we’re crowdfunding the project so it may be fair to assume that our budget is small. That in turn means filming quickly and not using multiple locations.

Happily for us, the early film makers faced similar problems, so their solutions can be our solutions. Many early films were made on sets that were painted and owed far more to theatre than the real world. This of itself creates a dreamlike unreality, very different from conventional modern films and wholly suitable for capturing Hopeless Maine.

With a script in place, we started talking in earnest about how, technically, we might do any of this. The conclusions we came to were that our best bet would be warehouse space. Sets would be painted, dressed, we’d have to figure out workarounds for the sea, because there’s a lot of sea in this story but we don’t want anyone in real water with actual boats. Matt Inkel, our puppet maker alerted us to the fact that he can also do models, so exteriors of buildings will be handled that way. Loretta and I are both comfortable wielding paintbrushes, so we might be doubling up on the painting for skies and backgrounds and whatnot.

There’s a lot to work out. We aren’t at this point a studio, we aren’t used to thinking as a group about what needs to be done. We’re figuring out how to develop ideas collectively, and finding out what broader skills we have that might be relevant. There are two processes going on here – one of sorting out all the technical bits and pieces that need figuring out in order to make a film. The other is a process of figuring ourselves out as a team. Who we are and what we do. Where the spaces are that mean we need to bring other people in to help us. Who those people are. How we work together is an essential part of the process, so the existing relationships we have are key.

And of course as we work together, those relationships grow and change, we find new potential in each other, new relevant skills, and things we might do moving forward. There is a magic to it, definitely.

 

For the love of Dustcats

Dustcats are one of a number of Hopeless Maine cat species. They are adorable, floating cats who use their long tongues to slurp up dust. In normal circumstances, dust is their main food, but it is important to remember that dust is basically particles of dead skin. A hungry dustcat might not wait for the skin to naturally fall off.

Dustcats have been known to eat people’s faces. Island lore has it that they only eat the faces of the beloved dead, so this is only going to happen to you if you have a dustcat who loves you very much. Probably.

Like all cats, Dustcats are pointy in way they can use to attack and defend. However, they have additional capacities for violence. They can regurgitate dust – a process not unlike throwing up a hairball, only this is a dustball and can be launched from higher up.

In extreme circumstances, dustcats form a wrecking ball – knotting their tails together in the middle and putting all the pointy bits on the outside. It is a formidable thing to encounter.

What would a dustcat look like in motion? What would it look like as a puppet? We want to know. We know we are not alone in this. If you want to know these things, and you can spare a few pounds to help us make dustcats, we’re crowdfunding puppets for the Hopeless Maine film. If you aren’t able to chip in but want to help, please share your love of dustcats and help us find people who can help! We have social media badges and everything. More over here – https://hopelessvendetta.wordpress.com/bringing-hopeless-maine-to-the-screen-one-creature-at-a-time/team-dustcat/

The very expensive paperweight

The heart of the Hopeless Maine film project will be a hand wound camera. We’ve known that for a long time. So, early in 2020, the hunt for the camera began. At this point we had no idea what might be out there, what it would cost and what would be possible.

Then, an amazing thing happened. An early camera came up for sale in Italy. We could afford it. We were all silly amounts of excited. The purchase was made. The waiting for delivery began. Some of us were over emotional and cried a bit (ok, that was me).

The camera arrived with Gregg! Photos of it pinged between the team. We were all very excited. Then on closer inspection, it turned out to be missing the crank for winding the film. Fortunately there are a lot of clever and practical people in the team so plans commenced almost at once for how to make that part.

The camera was so old that the lens wouldn’t adjust. Gregg’s guess was that it might well be clogged up with hundred year old camera grease. So, while Gregg sought out help from a lens expert, some of us wondered if hundred year old camera grease might be the kind of thing to scrape into small jars and sell on ebay to people who get very excited about old cameras. (Me again).

However, it turned out on closer inspection that the fundamental problem with the lens, was there wasn’t one. We had bought a singularly expensive paperweight. There followed some trying exchanges in which the camera seller tried to persuade us that selling the camera without crank or lens was entirely reasonable.

Ebay did not agree, so we were able to get most of our money back. That at least was a relief, but it was also a setback and a moral blow for all of us. However, there was a collective getting up and dusting off and determining to try again. The hunt was back on. We were not going to be beaten that easily!

If you’d like to help us keep the film project moving, do check out this page for details about how you can get involved https://hopelessvendetta.wordpress.com/bringing-hopeless-maine-to-the-screen-one-creature-at-a-time/

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 – https://www.patreon.com/DarkboxImages