Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Mortus Illumina 3rd Incarnation (AKA How not to make a feature film)

The 1st Incarnation
The 2nd Incarnation

Here below is the presentation I gave at Bettakultcha on Mortus Illumina. I honestly did not mean to swear that much. (those of you reading this on facebook, can see it here)

Watching the video back, there are a couple of points I did mean to mention, but had to drop them because of time (BettaKultcha format 20 slides at 15 seconds a slide - it goes quicker than you think). The first of these, is that if we have even put one tenth of the planning that went into the shoots into post production. Then that would of been a year wiped off the time it has taken.

The second thing is, a project like this does take over and consume your life. I think for sanity reasons, over the last few years I have put some distance between myself and it, but this point leads nicely onto the third carnation of the script.

I mentioned that the second incarnation of the script took us through several shoots,in fact it was the  the bulk of filming. Come June 2002 after the chapel shoot, all we had left to shoot was a studio shoot to get some interiors. These would of included scenes inside the convent and scenes at Mary and Rico's flats. Below is the storyboards for one such sequence.

We had planned it would be a two week shoot and even had scale models made of the sets, ready to go.

The London shoot and Chapel Shoot happened extremely close to each other and part of the London Shoot involved shooting a 1940's Bar scene. In this scene, there is also the longest continual shot in the film ( 4 minute track) and the most expensive shot. I worked it out , taking into condsideration equimpent costs, location costs etc to be £2500 for that shot. But  definitely worth it.

Do  not think it was a luxury shoot as we had the bare minimum of lights and equipment to make this scene work. The photo below, you can just make out the track and literally we had everything in pool of lights around the track. Everything else was in pitch black and the following photo sequence should give you you an idea of the end result.

This shoot wasn't without its fair share of glitches in the run up, the band that were meant to be in there, pulled out at the last moment for starters. But the shoot itself, I think was one of the most succesful bits of shooting in the entire film.

The chapel shoot as well, was a very succesful shoot and it was nice having the two shoots close together. This was acheived by the fact that I was effectively working full time for one client (40 hours) and then working 40 hours for another client at the same time - which you can only do for so long before cracks appear (add on this 30 hours a week prep for the shoots) both personally and in what you are doing. 

I've mentioned more about this in a journal I put together in 2003 which you can read over here. To cut a long story short, financially doing the shoots so close together was a huge financial gamble which did not pay off.  Secondly on a personal level, my father also passed away a few weeks after the chapel shoot.

The next year was extremely tough both mentally and also around that time, the bottom fell out the market and I was no longer able to earn the money I was earning. Where I said about how something like this engulfs your life, from experience it is gut wrenching when other things in your life began to fall apart and then you watch what you have created begin to full apart too. It goes hand in hand as you are so involved. 

This resulted in a year hiatus from Mortus illumina and then an attempt to try and pick up the pieces after that gap.  I think I was only left with one option which was to sink the old MI ship and build a new one. Which is what I did and this is the third incarnation.

Before getting to the third carnation I want to stress this point. I have, and always be entirely greatful for all those who have put their time and effort into Mortus illumina. I was always aware that doing this would always be a one off in the fact of getting so many people to give their time to this project, which has taken far longer than anticipated. I am aware the onus is very much on me to deliver and believe me I will. We are extremely close to that point. The casualty list of unfinished low budget films, I would say out numbers the completed and I am determined that MI won't end up on that scrap heap.

I threw a party roughly 14 months on from the last shoot at the time (which was the chapel shoot) armed with a  polished promo of the film cut so far, with the aim of judging what the enthusiasm was. It was not a success and whilst there was a slim chance of having all and sundry back, I think if we had gone that route. It would have shown on the screen. I have included below "The wrap email" I sent out to everyone at the time.  It's interesting from my point of view,  reading that  back now.  I think at the time, I was quite disheartened and a bit bitter to be honest.  Whilst horribly over schedule, I am quite proud of how the final film has turned out -It is far better than originally intended.

The third incarnation  was to fill in all the gaps in shooting with stop motion and puppetary. I must also stress here, that stop motion sequences were always going to be apart of the film, right from the early days of the hammer head incarnation. This was taking it a step further and introducing the puppetary element. To give you an idea of how this works, the storyboard of the scene Imentioned  earlier was meant to take place before this scene below which we had filmed.

So hey presto, missing scene with puppets

I was reading Faust at the time when coming up for the script for the third carnation and what struck me most, was the opening bit where the director is talking about the play "faust" they are about to put on. I got caught up with this idea of having a world within a world and that expanded out to create this entire new "outside" story.

Two new characters were added, The Puppeteer and a character called "Tony" who went from early draft in the scripts from being everything from a Medieval knight to a soldier in the second world war; before finally becoming a guy with a bag full of cash, a gun and a motorcycle tire  - naturally.

Which from then, built up the idea that the original Mortus illumina tale was being told by the Puppeteer to Tony. There were several major chops made to the second incarnation story. The main being that where the book in the second carnation was made central to the storyline, in the third carnation the books message of knowledge is the more central theme.

The puppeteers dialogue is the favourite thing I have every written and there are 100s of hidden references, not only in the dilalogue but also in the visuals.

We filmed these new sequences in 2004 in two shoots, the first here which was at a disused print works in St.Albans(where they also shot Inspector Frost) and then a second shoot in Frome, concentrating on the puppets a few months later.

The third carnation is  the final film that you will see. I know this, as a cut of 86 minutes without credits sits on my harddrive. Here is proof

Those of you who have been following this blog and MI, will also be pleased to hear, That all the VFX has been completed. Which leaves only the sound design and music  to do which is getting underway. I will stress that is the only thing left to complete the film and the people are their to do it, it will be finished.

7th Septmber 2003

Hi all,

I'm calling a wrap on Mortus Illumina, Basically I feel that the project has gone on past its natural life. If things have worked out differently over the last year we would be sitting around with a finish feature. But unfortunately things didn’t work out that way. Whilst there is still life in the old ship , I think now is the time to bow out gracefully.

I think over the three years the project has been running everyone involved myself included has learnt a lot, and to say it’s been one hell of a experience is a understatement. From the Dusty freezing Rainthorpe Hall and the “We don’t like Strangers” locals, to the wind swept beaches of Kings Lynn and the Erie Church at St. Agnes. I hope that everyone is at least walking away with some memories and not a sick bag from the roller coaster that has been MI.

To explain my decision to wrap MI more. I feel that the enthusiasm and support that kicked of MI in the early days over the three years has now gone. With any project whether it be film or not has a natural span, it is only natural that people move on to better and greener pastures and the focus that was once there shifts to these pastures, hell I somehow clocked up two Hollywood credits in the last 6 months and I know a lot of you have been successful in your own fields and continuing to be. Whilst there is still some life in MI , the energy that would be needed in completing the film I feel can be spent starting new projects and moving forward which is what I intend to do.

But its not all doom and gloom, ,as some of you are aware the Promo version has been cut in with the animation. My intention now is to use more Animation along with some puppetry (VERY EVIL PUPPETS)to fill in the gaps.  Basically those of you who are familiar with Faust, Faust starts of with the director and clown talking about the play they are about to put on (faust)  and I'm going to take a new twist on that along with the film becoming more of a character piece.  The story is going to change somewhat (when hasn’t it!) but I am confident that I get a good hour long film out of the footage. In a Blaze of publicity the film will be hosted on a Website on a pay to download basis. With broadband becoming more popular and films already to begin to appear such as This Is Not A Love Song
I believe that this is going to be the best distribution medium for the project, I have a really shit computer game posted on the web somewhere which has had over 7000 downloads, plus the old MI site has had over 13’000 unique hits. So with a bit of publicity especially the story behind the film itself I'm confident of MI reaching a wide audience. Also I'm hoping to take the film to Cannes next year and it will begin to do the festival route next year. So this is not a case of MI disappearing and all your hard work being for nothing. Just more of a different film than when we started out which looking back on the original script is a hell of a lot different anyway.

For me the highlight of the shooting of Mortus Illumina has to be the Bar shoot followed very closely by the chapel shoot, the main thing has been working and meeting everyone of you. I can’t express my thanks enough, In total there have been over 20 days shooting on this film and I feel honoured that so many of you have dedicated so much time to the film. I would like to stress this again  I hope that everyone has got something out of Mortus Illumina, even if it’s just Jason walking into the Matt box or chasing a bit of Polly board on the beach you cant but that sort of entertainment. Also Zoe’s Singing Nun will always have a special place in my heart.

I would like to take this opportunity again to thank everyone for their efforts over the years and to wish everyone the best of luck in the future. This is not the end of 5YLAC films either, a couple of projects which I'm kicking in to pre-production are “The Stranger” a short which I will be filming later this year, and I'm on the look out for a short to direct as well. Pre-production on the feature length Version of Deadlights is going to kick off mainly because I can get my hands on lots of guns and explosions oh and a helicopter too.

I’ve attached the script’s For anyone interested in getting involved to run a bit more about them,

The Stranger (set in two locations a record by my standards) is about a worried bunch of Ye Yokels whose children and livestock are going missing,. So they hire guns from a Stranger to deal with the person who they think is responsible and theirs a wee bit of a twist at the end.  Basically I'm doing this as more of a atmos piece , whilst there is a script I'm looking more to create an environment and improvisation piece.  The feature length version of Deadlights Is in its second draft at the moment and I'm looking for a script writer to collaborate with to complete the next draft.  In case your wondering no it probably doesn’t make the short make any more sense ;-) a couple of other projects in the pipeline involve a pretty much blue screen film and I am going to be collaborating on other peoples projects in the immediate future.

If you are interested in getting involved with Stranger’s then please let us know asap,  I am going to be shutting down the smartgroups (never liked it  ) in the next two weeks,  before I do please make sure your contact details are correct , nearer to completion on MI I will have some paperwork which will need to be signed off. basically a “release” and more importantly if the film is successful on the web then you are all entitled to a share of the profits and there will be some paperwork for that too. I will send another e-mail about any outstanding expenses shortly so watch this space.

Once again a big thankyou to everyone who has been involved, when the film is ready  next year  You will each receive your copy so another reason to make sure those details are correct!

Salutations et All


PS, Wimples going spare


  1. So there is life in the old dog yet!
    I might get the chance to wear the Tuxedo yet!

    Good luck, really excited that you are still working on this :-)


  2. Will get there in the end !



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