There is a spectacular Indie Feature Film in the works that you must know about. This film, Knights of Newgate, is a hugely ambitious project, as the work rests solely on the shoulders of WJ Carter (Director), and his father, Sidney Carter (Producer). With the cast already filmed entirely on green screen, everything else is being done in post. That's an awful lot of work for two people, but they have been committed to their vision from the start. And nine years in, it's really been a labor of love, and soul, for this father and son team seeing to its finalization. I had a chance to talk with film director, W J Carter, about Knights of Newgate, how the project started, and what they need to finish it and bring it to the big screen.
Knights of Newgate Synopsis:
In a secret chamber beneath the temple of Solomon, crusading knights Tyburn and Morgan discover the Holy Grail and an ancient amulet which contains the spirit of a Demon. After drinking from the Grail the two knights become immortal, but the Demon of the Amulet gains an evil hold on Tyburn.
60 years later Morgan finds Tyburn in London living as the governor of Newgate Prison. Morgan discovers that using the amulet, Tyburn has opened a doorway to Hell in a secret temple far beneath the prison. In a mighty battle, Morgan manages to separate Tyburn from his amulet and trap him inside his secret temple.
Six hundred years later Morgan discovers that archaeologist Kristina Segalman has found part of the amulet, which is soon stolen by daring cat burglar Addison Rossini and his younger brother Lester. Only the Immortal Morgan knows the truth that it will take them to Tyburn and his Hell-spawned army...
Watching the teaser trailer and reading the synopsis for your film, Knights of Newgate, I am very excited to see it on the big screen. It's an excellent story, and the acting looks fantastic. How did this film come about?
The idea for "Knights of Newgate" has been around for years - it's based on an idea my brother Dan had for a comedy script. Sid and I took the script off him and re-wrote it as an action/fantasy movie. Over the years, we hammered it into shape and nailed down the technical aspects of how we were going to shoot it on the limited budget we would have. It's been a true labour of love for both of us.
Tell us a bit about yourself. How did you get your start in filmmaking?
I grew up on a diet of Ray Harryhausen movies. My Dad (Sid - the film's producer) bought us an 8mm cine camera when we were kids, and after seeing Star Wars, aged six, I knew what I wanted to do. I've worked in and around the business of independent film and video for a while - as a musician/composer working on scores, a storyboard/concept artist, and sculptor making props and maquettes. In the 90's Sid and I started a recording studio business where we branched out into post-production; it was there that I got the bug for digital effects and animation working on short films and pop promos.
I understand the cast was filmed entirely against green-screen, with backdrops and characters to be done digitally in post. Why did you choose to go this route?
The decision to go entirely green-screen was both artistic and economic. We considered going to London, but the film's shooting budget wasn't enough for us to use either sets or real locations. Some people have argued that we should have waited until we had the money, but there's a million scripts out there waiting years for finance that never comes, and we didn't want to be one of them. We knew that the job of compositing, creating, animating and rendering all the backgrounds and other effects would be huge, but we already had some experience with that, so we went with the assets we had available in our own skill-sets. In the industrial unit where we filmed, we had a permanent lighting set-up for the screens, which allowed us to concentrate our efforts on lighting the actors. That saved a lot of time as opposed to a normal shoot where each shot takes an eternity to set up. We did some tests using partial CG/green-screen, but every time a real location or asset was mixed with the painterly style CG we wanted, it took us out of the world where our story is set. Total CG environments allow the viewer to become immersed in the world presented to them and accept it as 'normal'.
It would seem shooting this way would make it particularly difficult for the actors, as well as for your direction. Were there any particular problems faced in this regard?
The actors were amazing. I just quickly outlined the environment that they were in - sometimes I had a CG rendering or sketch, but other times it was just a description. Difficult issues were that often we would move the actors, rather than the camera, to film a new angle. That got a trifle confusing sometimes, especially on scenes where there were lots of cast all interacting.
Speaking of the actors, you found a great cast for your film. How were you able to get this cast together, and did any of the performances particularly surprise you? Did anyone bring anything new to the original ideas you had for the film?
I think all of the performances surprised me. We wrote a script where the parts were fairly loosely sketched, which allowed the actors to bring their own interpretation of their character to the film. Dan Jordan was exactly what I wanted and imagined as 'Tyburn,' the film's central villain. Rob Reina had a tough job playing cat burglar 'Addison Rossini' - a role somewhere between Indiana Jones and Cary Grant's John Robie, but he nails it perfectly, especially in his scenes with archaeologist 'Kristina Segalman,' played by Vee Vimolmal; there's a real magic when they're together on the screen, and Chris Fenwick delivers a stoic and deliberate presence as the immortal knight 'Morgan'. My biggest surprise, though, was my brother Charlie. He had recently graduated from University as an actor and I said I would give him a part, but was wary about his inexperience, especially playing one of the main supporting roles as 'Lester Rossini,' brother to Rob Reina's 'Addison'. My fears were unfounded though, and he just blew me away. The massive post-production period working on this film has meant I've had to live with the actors' performances each and every day. If they had been in any way sub-par it would have been a difficult job to carry on, but, if anything, their work has helped spur me on to see them get some recognition for their talents.
What equipment did you use in shooting the actors, and were there any difficulties on set?
Most of the kit was improvised - lights were a mix of pro kit from Arri, high wattage daylight halogen bulbs, and garden lamps from the local hardware store. We used two cameras during the shoot, a Sony CineAlta and a JVC HD100. Both were excellent and have captured some beautiful images for us. I think if we had access to today's kit such as the Blackmagic range of cinema cameras, it would make for an easier shoot, as there were problems with in-camera sharpening artifacts on some shots, which we had to spend time fixing in post.
What software are you using for post-production, digital characters, and backdrops?
Our compositing software of choice is Fusion (formerly by Eyeon, but now Blackmagic), 3D is split between Maya and Blender. I modelled, textured and rigged the characters myself in Maya because it was a work-flow I was familiar with from previous work. Animation was then done in Motionbuilder and exported back to Maya. Rendering was done in Blender, as it is free to add more nodes to our renderfarm. Free is a word we like around here. For editing, we started out using our trusty old Avid kit from years back, but in 2010 we changed over to Lightworks.
What is your post workflow like? Any custom programming you've had to do so far?
I've been programming with Python for a while, so I've developed a number of custom scripts and programs to consolidate our work-flow into a steady film production factory. The hardest bit of making this film has been how desperately short-handed we are. Finishing any single shot means constantly swapping between 3D modelling, texturing, lighting, Animation, dynamic animation and simulation, green-screen compositing using primatte, then compositing the whole shot together in Fusion. Each of these tasks can be a considerable headache on its own. Because of this, it was decided that we complete each task in its entirety throughout the film. For instance, all the green-screen keys have been completed and rendered out as 32-bit .tiff images, complete with alpha channel. Next, all the models were made ready to be used. The animation was next, and so on and so forth. The trouble with this workflow is that we work for years, but without showing any finished footage. This meant that when we needed to cut a trailer, all of the jobs on each shot had to be finished, not just on their own in isolation, but in context with the other shots within the scene. The python scripted work-flow to consolidate everything was the only way to get the work finished in anything resembling a reasonable time-frame.
As you are working with your father on this film, how has this experience been? What have each of you brought to this film?
It's been a privilege to work with him on this film. Sid has the ability to cut through the nonsense to the heart of a situation, something he's gained from a long life of hard work. he's kinder than me, tougher than me, and I respect his opinion on most things. Sid sold his home to finance this film, so that has put a lot of pressure on both of us. It's fair to say we both underestimated the task of finishing this film, and if we knew in 2007 what we know now, would we have started? On a good day, yes, on a bad day, no way!
I must mention to our readers that you have a Kickstarter campaign set up so that you can finish the film. I realize as you have so much already invested in this film, it really would help to get as many backers as you can. Can you tell us specifically what still needs to be done to properly finish the film?
The film, as I mentioned earlier, is being finished a job at a time rather than a shot or scene at a time. We have a final edit with all the green-screen composited into OpenGL renders of the environments, so we have a finished cut of the film, albeit at very low quality. Jobs left now are to render the environments, finish the animation (which has all been roughed in, and lots completed already), Dynamic simulations, final composites, final grading and colour correction, then finish the dialogue, music and fx mixes. It's a lot of work, but compared to what's been done already, not much work at all.
You are offering some excellent incentives with your Kickstarter campaign, even the possibility of backers becoming digital actors in the film. What else could you convey that would be an especially big incentive to get involved?
Well, if you want to be attacked by a monster in a film - this is the place to come! Also, if you want an IMDB credit as an executive producer, or want to advertise your brand logo onscreen on a billboard in Piccadilly Circus, then we can do it. More than that, though, this has been a very personal film for us - it's been our lives for a long time. The funny thing is that now we've sent "Knights of Newgate" out into the world, it's been given a whole new life of its own. We want this film to be loved and enjoyed by an audience. That's the important thing. It looks unlikely at the moment that we will reach our crowdfunding goal, but a pledge to the campaign or just a word or two of encouragement on Twitter or Facebook makes a big difference. Give us an audience. If you think you might want to see our film - please let us know and we will make you a film you can be proud to know you were part of.
What has been the most difficult part about creating this film thus far?
Sticking with it. Pushing along for such an extended period of time without any concrete guarantees of distribution or financial gain at the end of it has been hard, especially when you come into contact with the occasional person with a negative outlook. Luckily, we've also had positive words of support from many people, including some high on the corporate ladder at major studios who continue to urge us to get it finished.
I know it's probably a tough one to answer at this point, but do you have ideas for a future film? Moreover, after all your work, would you do this again? And, if so, is there anything you would change in how you approach a future film project?
From "Knights of Newgate," one of the main characters in the film is 'Morgan,' a knight made immortal by the Holy Grail. In this film, he is seven hundred years old. That seven hundred years is something I would enjoy exploring. Also, the further adventures of cat burglars Addison and Lester Rossini could be fun. For myself, I just love a good yarn. I sincerely hope I will get the chance to do this type of film again, as I know the technology has now caught up with my initial vision for this process of filmmaking. The big difference being, that I would ensure an income stream is present to facilitate the successful completion of the film.
Have there been any hard lessons learned, whether on the initial shoot, or so far in post?
Not really hard lessons, but more a feeling that I could do it all so much easier now with both the knowledge I have gained from this film and from the benefits of new software and hardware technology.
Are there any words of advice you would give to others wanting to get into filmmaking?
Have a vision that is all your own and stays true to that vision. Also, spend your time in pre-production. A good script will save your butt.
Thanks so much for your time. You are doing some incredible work bringing this film to life.
Thank you, Nick. I'm really grateful you took the time to do this interview.