How To Make A Scifi Epic


Simon DaVison, proud director of sci-fi B-pic ?Captain Eager and the Mark of Voth? (out on dvd on the 24th of November 2008), offers his five tips for the low-budget film director

1. Film in Card-o-scope
Otherwise known as ?Cardboard and Gum Imagery?. In the months leading up to principal photography on the film, you?ll need to accumulate as many cereal packets and toilet roll inners as you can. These are excellent for making space rocks, planet backdrops and even alien plants complete with space foliage.

Bonus Tip: As we learnt on ?Captain Eager and the Mark of Voth; cardboard sets are prone to wobbling or even falling over. If this happens, make it clear to the actors that they must carry on as if nothing has happened.

2. Write your script
Yes of course you need a finished script? or do you?! Nobody will say it but everybody knows it; the moment you start filming, the script goes out of the window. It certainly did on this film. The editor happily deletes expensive scenes, characters get sidelined, and sometimes the ending completely changes. So save yourself time and money by finishing the script after filming.

Bonus Tip: Try and include some kind of speaking machine in your story; a robot for example. This can be re-voiced in post-production to explain any gaping plot holes that will undoubtedly appear after filming. In ?Captain Eager and the Mark of Voth? we have the Expositionite which explains large chunks of otherwise unintelligible plot.

3. Pick your actors wisely
You can skimp on cardboard sets but you cannot skimp with actors. I was very lucky to have the sensational Tamsin Greig, Mark Heap, Rick Leaf and many others. As for James Vaughan; how many actors can bring you to tears whilst kneeling in front of cardboard gravestones?
Bonus Tip: Have a big musical number somewhere in the film. Everyone likes to see people jiggling about to a snappy beat.

4. Use animals
In ?Captain Eager and the Mark of Voth? we have Scamp the Rocket Dog, a brave and loyal sidekick pooch. This was an excellent low-budget saver ? how many actors are happy to be paid with tins of dog food? As we later found out, not that many.

Bonus Tip: Animals do have limitations. Scamp the Rocket Dog for example was not particularly adept at flying with a rocket pack and managed to destroy quite a lot of cardboard set before we caught up with him.

5. Scrimp on sound
For some reason many producers waste a lot of money in expensive Soho facilities making noises they could easily achieve in their kitchen. Careful manipulation of a sink plunger, for example, will create a thrilling sucky monster attack. Also, pushing a small piece of bread through jelly can sound remarkably like an alien dictator putting his helmet on.

Yes I go further than this: Why even use expensive jelly at all when you have your very own human sound generating apparatus ? the mouth. Footsteps, screeches, tractors parking; these can all be accomplished with very little difficulty. My two sons are expert at space weaponry of all kinds and their astonishingly realistic ray beams and explosions are used throughout ?Captain Eager and the Mark of Voth?. Cost? Two sherbet fountains.

Directors Statement – Simon DaVison

I can say with clear conviction and a steady gaze that you have never seen a film like Captain Eager and the Mark of Voth.

It began when I was watching a bit of kids TV from the black and white 1950?s. It was a live drama with a terribly English, square chinned hero. He was sitting in front of a curtain holding a steering wheel that was obviously not attached to anything, he was speaking into a cardboard microphone and he was under attack? which you could tell because he kept swaying about on his village hall chair. Then he told us he was dropping a bomb.
Cut live to a model boat in a tank hit by a cardboard bomb and sinking!

CLUNK on a staggering and beautiful scale?and I just wondered? how would a hopeless wooden dope like that survive in our current rather smug version of the future. So the square chinned pilot became Captain Eager, a hero whose natural environment is lots of cardboard, exposition and things falling over. Clunky and naive, yes! But? when it comes to duty, honesty and bravery ? He?s the man!

So I had the idea. I had a bit of cash from doing lucrative music for adverts and selling a script to Kate Winslet, I had a ready supply of cardboard and was receiving signals from Panvolkian aliens. James Vaughan I already knew would be perfect. Then serendipity ? I met Tamsin Greig and Mark Heap doing a radio play at the BBC… Jenny and Scrutty standing there before me! In fact Mark Heap was lying on the floor. They both bravely said yes and within six weeks we were filming.

So good fortune yes? but then the hardships – Professor Moon?s heart attack on set resulting in a swift exit from the storyline. Scamp the Rocket Dog?s unfortunate tangle with his jet pack ? another (horribly swift) exit. Producer Rebecca Bazzard going down under a cardboard pillar during the thrilling Panvolkian Temple fight scene, then her near asphyxiation inside the rubber monster. But all was overcome in a triumph of pioneering CGI – Cardboard, and Gum Imagery.

But not only cardboard! Under the steady and inspired leadership of Damien Creagh sets were created out of yoghurt cartons, elastic bands and bits of spaceship found on the hills in Wiltshire. Three extraordinarily realistic rocks were moulded out of toilet rolls. A breath taking space helmet fashioned from two salad bowls. Four sheets of brushed steel were bought, used as hi-tech back drops, and then sold to a prophet. I see from the envelope in front of me that the art department?s entire materials bill was ?1,438.64 ? Fact! Of course it?s true we also used some green screen trickery and a small band of volunteer 3D modellers sent me footage through the internet. I still haven?t met Nick Forshaw who designed and modelled Captain Eager?s Rocket ? the Victory. These were the methods used to create an unbelievable future world. This and of course a blistering hot B-Ray script?

I do believe broadly in the concept of script structure ? especially the satisfying end. But Captain Eager rockets off in a B ray of unusual directions before he comes back to this satisfying end. Characters disappear; plot lines stop dead, space-craft that nearly crash suddenly land easily. Then there?s the Golden rule: Never ever any exposition! But we have our very own Ministry of War and Safety Expositionite ? and it explains everything. Which is just as well? because the way the story unravels you need all the exposition you can get. Yes it?s true; you have never seen a film like Captain Eager and the Mark of Voth.

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