What was the original brief for this campaign?
Make something bold and innovative that no-one has seen before! Channel 4’s Random Acts strand is basically a sandbox where you can take creative risks, so in that sense it’s a really rare and lovely opportunity. But the shorthand that Catherine Bray (the commissioner at Channel 4) started using to describe my idea was Shakespeare at night with drones, which is pretty accurate!
Tell us about your role in the creation of this work.
I built a blindingly powerful (and highly temperamental) battery-operated light that was small enough to attach to a drone, then used it to dynamically light night-time scenes inspired by a Caliban speech from The Tempest about the boundary between dreaming and waking.
What inspired you to approach the campaign this way?
Shakespeare wrote aspects of The Tempest to take advantage of technological developments in staging and set design, and I basically wanted to try and do that again in a modern context. An American RC plane enthusiast had been posting these videos on YouTube of a ridiculously powerful lighting system he had designed that you could mount to an eight-rotor drone and send up into the sky. Basically an Arri T5 shrunk down to a quarter of the size that ran on LiPo batteries. The effect of light moving across a pitch black landscape like that was like nothing I’d ever seen before. It seemed like a really good way to capture the dreamy, mythical quality of what Caliban describes.
What was the biggest challenge you faced during the process?
Having to build my own drone light from scratch, without a doubt! My producer and I got in touch with the guy who’d been uploading these videos to YouTube and he offered to make us one, but he didn’t have time to build it to meet our deadline. In the end my Dad put me in touch with a friend of his, this Russian scientist called Ivan who had an incredible understanding of electronics and no time whatsoever for any sort of bullshit (I liked him very much). It probably took about two months but together we worked out a way to build something practical enough to use on a film set, made from parts specially imported from Chinese suppliers. Then when it came to shooting there were more than a few moments when I was on my belly in the pitch black woods, trying to re-attach loose wires with duct tape in the pouring rain while the rest of the crew waited very patiently.
What did you learn from the experience?
For me it was really the first time I dived head-first into an aspect of directing that I think is really important in the kinds of films that I admire, and that’s having the right attitude to problem-solving. If you’re trying something new there isn’t necessarily going to be a pre-defined process or an expert who’ll walk you through what you need to do. It’s down to you to collaborate with people and come up with the solution. While you’re doing that and everything is up in the air it can be really quite terrifying, but I think it’s important to remember that that usually means you’re on to something.
What’s a “behind the scenes” story that only you know about?
The woman in the veil in the water at the start of the film is my sister. While I was complaining about having wet feet she waded into the freezing water at 3am without batting an eyelid. I think she even went to work the next morning. She’s much tougher than I am!