INTERVIEW

Paul Dudbridge - Director

Paul Dudbridge - Answer our questions!

Why go down the route of a web series?
We had made short films, features and music promos before and we will continue to do so. Episodic TV is something we all enjoy watching and this different format and distribution avenue was attractive. We loved the idea of playing with the notions of setting something up and paying it off later. Each episode in true TV show style would also finish on a little cliff hanger. What was fun was then holding off revealing the outcome of this for a whole entire episode or two whilst we followed another bunch of characters on their journey and a web series allowed us to do that. People have to tune in the next day to see the reveal or find out what happened. We are all fans of TV shows like 24, Walking Dead and Lost and liked the idea of making our own version of those.

So what kind of pre production went into Horizon?
Well, the writing was intense. Juggling the characters and their outcome took a lot of working. Sometimes we found ourselves having to double back and re-write stuff when we realised a major plot hole would cause audiences to question things. They were fun and exhausting creative sessions that we eventually cracked. So the challenge was to write an episode in about 5-8 pages and get all the story and character points across. We knew some of the locations we wanted to film in and had access to and some episodes were written around that. Sorting locations was a biggie to be honest. We wanted each episode to be in a different place and these places had to be visually interesting too; not just a field, or someone's car. Casting was also a huge factor. We ended up having over 25 speaking parts, so it was a nice opportunity to work with old friends and new energetic talented actors.

And how did the shoot go? The shoot went very well. We had a few hiccups along the way as you do. The Horizon schedule was demanding on the cast, shooting throughout the month of January 2014 and required commitment without which the show wouldn't have happened. In true TV show style there were about 5-7 pages of script to cover in a day, as each episode was planned as a single days shoot. The scale of each episode varied from one to the next. Most required a lot of organising and preparation, whether it was locations, extras, action, special effects or make up. From a producing stand point each episode presented it's own challenges. One episode might feature some characters just "talking" in a room, however that room might require a big lighting set up or shooting at night but with the scene in the show set during the day. From a directing standpoint I relied on the actors a lot to know their stuff as there wasn't time for "creative" discussions on the day. Coverage was pretty standard just to be able to get the episode in the can.

Some filming days even saw two episodes being covered due to a location or cost restriction so the cast really had to be on their toes. With time being short there wasn't much room for discussion on set of things like character motivation, so all of that work had to be done before hand.

While some locations fell in to place quite quickly, others weren't so easy. After dealing with the security of a local abandoned site for a possible location setting, communication with the staff wasn't very forthcoming and previously arranged costings and deals started to be retracted. With only two days before shooting the decision was made to arrange a new setting or be left with nothing come the shooting day. The race was on to find a new location and adapt the script to accommodate this. Luckily, Bristol's Film Office came to the rescue with a new alternative which we were able to use on short notice. This however did have an impact on the script, with scenes now taking place much closer to the city, the focal point of the action and drama in the show. One episode was scripted to take place in a supermarket that was being looted. The idea of filming in a real supermarket, even at night when closed to the public, was dismissed fairly quickly due to logistics, and so the episode was scaled down to be set in a local shop instead. However, a chance conversation with the managers of a new Bristol studio location changed all that. The Bottleyard Studios is a new site in Bristol housing multitudes of studios and warehouse locations. Some other episodes were already due to be set at this site and make use of their facilities. When site managers Fiona Francombe and Katherine Nash mentioned that the set for Sky TV's supermarket based show "Trollied" was housed there, I saw an opportunity. I rang the show's series producer and I was informed the day rate for renting the set to outside productions was... £2000. So, an exchange of services was suggested. I offered to work as a camera operator on their TV show for a week, free of charge, in exchange for the use of the set for a day. The offer was accepted very kindly and they said they were more than happy to help out independent film makers from the area. So now episode 4 is one of the larger scale episodes with a host of action, extras and visual effects thanks to the producers of "Trollied". We wanted at least one episode that featured some sense of scale to show what was happening in the city and this was it.

You've also used a lot of VFX. Can you tell us about that process? Horizon was a nice opportunity to create something on a very big canvas and really push our visual effects knowledge and skills. Some things we knew how to do and others we didn't, which is the way its been on most projects. I met Al Tabrett on a music video a few years ago and he has now become my "go to" guy in visual effects. Al is self taught and hasn't been in the business very long but like me has an amazing fascination with the world of science fiction and how those worlds are created. For Horizon we knew there would be a lot of varied effects. These covered; CG modelling, sky replacements, green screen compositing, adding muzzle flashes for gun fire, changing mobile phone screens, digital displays, explosions, car accidents and of course spaceships! In total there are 115 shots to be completed over the ten episodes.

I would cut the shot/background plate in to the timeline and export it to Al, who then can add the visual effects necessary. He then exports it back out and gives it back to me to place back in the timeline. It's fun coming up with the shots and then reverse engineering how you might be able to put them together with all the elements. "I want this shot but how can we create it...?" I like to be able to use the tools to help tell story points without drawing attention to themselves too. My last short drama film "Ashes" contained 9 visual effects shots including sky replacements when we ran out of light, making a car dashboard dial look like it was registering the car overheating or maybe painting out a corner of a reflector that creeped in to shot on the perfect take. I think visual effects should be studied by young and new directors a lot more, just to know what is achievable. Small things like painting a boom pole out or changing a sign in shot might save you from having to make compromises on set that you don't need to.

What did you learn from this shoot? I think you never stop learning. Never. It could be what a brand new piece of kit does, a grip tool you've never used before or just how light falls in through a window at a certain time of day. With this project I learnt to listen to my intuition a little more as there were things that weren't right and that were bothering me and then I only just managed to catch them in time. That little voice inside your head is always trying to tell you what's what, it's just a matter of learning to listen to it.

And anything you'd do differently next time around? Not shoot in January for starters. Losing the light was a headache.

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