Imagine a world where every breath you took, every move you made and every person you interacted with was monitored by the government. If the trailer to Shadows, is anything to go by, then this new sci-fi short film directed by Luke Armstrong and produced by Johnny Sachon, is sure to be a fascinating take on George Orwell’s vision of society.
By the year 2037, the UK government – along with many others, has become an autocratic, totalitarian dictatorship. In order to control dissent and prevent revolution or potential civil war, the government exercises a policy of automated surveillance of the entire population through all smart electronic devices, and a drone program called ‘The Shadow Initiative’. Discreet drones are used to shadow people of ‘significant interest’.
The story revolves around two characters – Lee and Jess. The young couple are quintessential revolutionaries; they’re romantic idealists, and their relationship is built on their emotional commitment to the hope of a better future.
Interview with Shadows Director Luke Armstrong
Shadows director, Luke Armstrong kindly took some time out of his busy schedule to talk about what went into this project, from conception, creation and promotion.
Q: Tell us about your up and coming short film Project- Shadows?
A year ago we both decided we wanted to collaborate on a short film, having worked on previous projects together with mutual friends. We were looking for a solid, believable concept to inspire our project, and went through a handful of ideas.
Ultimately we were struck by the surveillance stories that were, and still are, in the news. The seesaw argument between security and freedom is compelling, and one that we feel needs to be reinforced in people’s minds. So, we developed a script that we felt was fun, based around that theme – hopefully audiences will enjoy it too!
Shadows’ is essentially an Orwellian vision of the future.
The inspiration for the story comes straight from the revelatory news headlines concerning the Edward Snowden leaks about government monitoring of phone calls, emails, social media etc. Recently it emerged that there is even a ‘backdoor’ to the iPhone that can be exploited by GCHQ and the NSA, allowing them access to microphone, camera, messages, contacts and other data on the phone – even when it’s apparently switched off. This actively places thousands of these devices in our own security services’ tool-boxes . How many other devices could also be affected? ‘Shadows’ is an exploration of these ideas…
Q: You’ve been in and around the film festival circuit for a while. For up and coming directors, tell us about what your process looked like to produce your short film from concept to festival?
We just threw ideas down on the table in a brainstorming session over a few days until we found one we were really sold on. We decided it was going to be quite big as shorts go, as we’ve both made a few now and wanted to take the production value to the next level and attempt something different as well as challenge ourselves.
The ambition was to create something that would not only do well at festivals but would be commercially appealing. We looked at films with similar themes and watched a lot for reference, such as Blade Runner, Minority Report, The Dark Knight, and V for Vendetta, to name a few.
A number of drafts were worked on until we reached the final shooting script. During this period, we gave each other constant feedback on every aspect of the film. Although the creative process tends to be subjective and personal, we believe that constructive criticism is crucial to making a solid film.
Once we had a draft of the script we were happy with, test shots were filmed (we found this particularly beneficial when developing the VFX ). We also had an artist produce storyboards for the entire movie and worked on a written director’s vision as it’s usually needed when pitching the film for funding or submitting it via withoutabox or film freeway.
Ultimately, we decided the best development route was a crowd funding platform, as it would also help build an audience for the film. We put together our pitch video and began sending the Kickstarter campaign to everyone and anyone who might be interested. We emailed people, went to networking events, talked to other film makers, contacted online platforms that might share the film and, of course, used social media sites like Facebook and twitter a lot. The Kickstarter ran for just under a month; we knew we wanted to shoot soon to utilise the long days and maximise our use of natural light for outdoor shots, so that gave us some time to hold auditions, lock locations and confirm crew.
When it came to actors I was already sold on Johnny, having seen his previous work.
We knew we needed two really strong female leads to play Jess – the leading lady, and Scarlett – Lee’s sister, who has a pivotal moment in the film. We both decided that we wanted to hold auditions to find the right people. A friend of mine put me in touch with a very talented up-and-coming casting director who was working with Hubbard Casting at the time. She was brilliant and supported us by getting a casting call out for the movie on Spotlight and interacting with agents.
We had hundreds of applicants, saw eighty actresses that day, and ended up casting Holly Georgia – an actress Johnny had actually invited, having worked with her on American horror Rage: Midsummer’s Eve – after she gave us a stellar performance that really got our attention.
We also cast Katie Goldfinch as Scarlett, whom we didn’t see on the day, but her self-taped performance was so interesting and different that we felt we had to cast her. Of course, physically she also looked like a pretty convincing sister to Johnny’s character, which was a must.
Filming, even on a ‘no-budget’ film, still costs a lot, so we chose to make our schedule as tight as possible – three and a half days in total – and spaced it out over two weekends. The first was an internal scene, so we had control over the lighting and it also gave the cast and crew a chance to get to know each other and get used to everyone’s working methods. The following weekend we shot the two major scenes that consisted of a VFX heavy alley shoot-out and a nightclub scene in which there was also quite a complex action sequence and lots of people.
After we had filmed everything we needed, Shadows went straight into editing, as we didn’t want to miss festival deadlines. We both worked closely with the editor and VFX artists over the next 6 months. We even got to a stage where we thought we had the final edit, but then decided to look at it again and tighten it up. You can sometimes get too close to a project to see it through fresh eyes, as you are working on it every day and the choices we made in the final edit weren’t easy, but we believe Shadows is a much better film for it. Once the film had been graded, the music composed and the sound design completed we held a private screening at BAFTA 195 Piccadilly for cast and crew. We were very pleased with the overwhelmingly positive response the film received and the next day we submitted Shadows to over 25 international film festivals, ranging from specifically sci-fi to BAFTA and Oscar accredited international festivals.
Why should directors enter their films to a film festival?
I think it’s the best way to showcase a film like this as it’s hard to get distribution for a short unless the film is recognised with an award by a festival beforehand, or screened at a festival – so it’s certainly a great first step. Many feature films also first appear at the bigger film festivals, as it’s a great way to get the word out there through enthusiasts and industry types and gauge reaction. It helps build an audience for your film. If it is screened or wins an award you have gained a ‘seal of approval’ from a festival that probably has thousands of applicants every year and it gives you a way of promoting your film.
Once your film has done the rounds on the film circuit what is your strategy online promotion?
Well, the ideal would be that it wins a few awards and is screened at festivals; we would then be able to gain distribution and release it via sites like Vimeo and youtube. We will be approaching several online media platforms and organising interviews to help get Shadows into the public eye and direct online traffic to it so that it reaches as wide and audience as possible.
Show the team some love and follow their progress