UK Film Interview 2019
Dominic Jackson: "I do not think we broke any laws when I looked into the laws around it but its something that could easily come back to cause problems in the future, especially if Polar was successful and a proper distributor wanted to sell it."
POLAR | Dir. Dominic Jackson - UK
Indie movie made following "Mumblecore" principles dealing with issues such as substance abuse, love, friendship and self-development.
Hi Dominic thanks for talking to TNC, how is everything going?
It is going well just hard at work wrapping up the audio mix and artwork for release on Amazon and hopefully some other outlets.
How does it feel to have Polar completed?
I have some final adjustments to go and have got around some technical issues that were affecting the audio mix, so I am very happy the sound is clearer than ever before on this latest edit! Been a long journey so I am VERY happy to finally have this coming to completion, now I can focus on the next project!
Are you looking forward to sharing this with audiences?
Yes, I am so glad we can finally get this out there, we have had amazing feedback after every screening we have put on and some great feedback from festivals. So I am sure this will be enjoyed by many! Good to finally have this complete and free us up to move on to greater things.
Polar is as pure an independent film as it gets, what was the creative idea behind this feature?
A good question. In a way, the creative idea behind Polar affected every single other element of its design and production. The basic thing we were out to prove was; you don't need money to make a decent feature-length film! Using this as the basis for all elements of production it made our decision making easier. So I chose to follow the Duplass Brothers style of the "mumblecore" genre, which in turn is heavily influenced by the Danish film movement "Dogme 95". Dogme has a set of rules and principles about time and place, also you are not allowed a tripod, and lighting and many other restrictions. I found that these restrictions actually gave us a tremendous amount of freedom to move around with lightweight equipment and minimal crew. We were also able to write and adapt Polar during the filming process, the script we began with is nothing like what we ended up with. If we wanted a shot on a train, we just got on a train, if we wanted a taxi we asked a neighbour if they could drive their car up for us. It was really amazing the amount of support we had locally and from the talented cast and crew, the film was really built on love which is one reason I believe it is so special. Using the fly on the wall handheld style of these genres and movements and adjusting or compromising to lighting and sound conditions made Polar a very organic production, things were never set in stone and many of the best lines in the film were improvised by actors, not written in the original script.
What are some of the challenges independent filmmakers face when working on a project like this?
Wow, I don't want to write a novel but there are many, in fact, every step of production is a heap of challenges, problems to solve and restrictions to work around, especially with low or no budget. We were restricted to a very simple range of gear to record and shoot Polar, I used my Black Magic Pocket Cinema Camera on a £14 plastic shoulder rig I still use now! I used one lens almost the entire shoot as it was the fastest (widest aperture) lens I had. And as we had no lighting I knew that I would be fighting against low light a lot. Also the opposite I had no ND filters at the time so if we had a very bright day I had to mess with the shutter speed breaking the 180-degree rule of shutter speed to frame rate. It basically messes up the motion blur and we had an entire scene ruined because of this. I would say always be prepared for the elements! You never know when it will get dark or very bright, you might need a faster lens, a slower lens or an ND. you'll kick yourself if you cannot expose a shot right and you had a tiny light ND filter you could have easily chucked into your bag!
"Stop moaning about complaining about technical or money related issues holding you back."
Another big thing was the legal side of it all, we had no permits and no release forms from the thousands of "extras" that happened to appear in our shots. I had to blur a bunch of faces and signs out to try and cover us a little, but it is what it is. We were under the impression that if you got a shot you "stole that shot" and you were away scott-free. Well, we were wrong and after talking with a producer friend of mine for a while I realised we made things a lot more complex by not being aware of the legality of shooting in public places. I do not think we broke any laws when I looked into the laws around it but its something that could easily come back to cause problems in the future, especially if Polar was successful and a proper distributor wanted to sell it. So I would say, be guerrilla to an extent, but be aware of the laws and possibilities of lawsuits against you. Don't get the public in your shots and get permission from any business or private land you want to shoot on. At least try so you have a paper trail to prove. It is all about paperwork and insurance when you want to sell your film to the world!
I said I wouldn't write a novel so I will leave it at those two things! Many more but have to wait for another time.
Looking back is there anything you would do differently on this film?
I kinda believe in no regrets and also, Polar was an experiment, we were uncertain of its outcome so it is hard to say I would do anything differently as stepping into the unknown was all part of it. I have grown massively as a filmmaker since then, completing an MA in Cinematography and working in several different jobs. So if I shot it now it would be much "better" technically. But then it wouldn't be Polar. I would say I wish I enjoyed it more! I got so stressed out at certain times when there were problems or a big scene we needed to shoot, I kinda wish I enjoyed the flow more at the time instead of steam pouring from my ears! But again that was all part of Polar, nothing like your first film!
Can you tell me a little bit about Polar, what can we expect?
It is a fly on the wall journey into the life of Robin, a man with lots of problems, he cannot seem to find a girl or do well at work and his drinking and weed smoking is getting out of control. Things escalate as his friends turn out to not be so friendly and he meets a girl that could be a potential love interest. It is a drama-comedy and we have had people moved, laughing and everything in between at our screenings. I think it's a real laugh and can see it appealing to many walks of life!
What was the hardest scene for you to film?
The party scene definitely, I had never really directed a proper film before let alone with a bunch of actors and extras! Also, we had time restrictions and needed to get it all done swiftly. I was so scared before we were shooting it and I remember we did a couple of rehearsals and then it was suddenly 12 at night! And we hadn't even started filming! Then weirdly it all just fell into place and we nailed the entire first section of the scene in one long 7-minute take that was perfect! somehow everything came out very well in that scene, it is probably my favourite scene in the film and a huge turning point for Robin plotwise. I can't wait to hear peoples reactions about that scene! I asked people to drink some alcohol to get that party vibe, and I think it really came across well in the film.
How different was your approach to Polar than with your previous film?
I had only written and directed a little short film that was a kinda crime fantasy thing. Completely unrelated to be honest! Hard to compare. I think I needed to make my first film to get the confidence to make Polar. When I discovered The Duplass Brothers everything clicked together in my mind and I knew how to write and shoot a feature film! My first film was just an experiment really, well I think every film should be an experiment to an extent and push your boundaries creatively, otherwise what is the point? It is called "Awaken" you can find it online probably on my Vimeo or such, a bit of fun! I wrote, directed and edited it.
Has filmmaking always been a passion of yours?
No, strangely my father is a filmmaker and photographer so I chose to go more into the sound aspect of production when I was a younger lad. I was a live sound engineer for bands for many years, I did some studio work and even boom on a couple of feature films. Photography was always a passion of mine and visual arts in general. In about 2012 I realised that combining my skills in the visual and auditory arts; filmmaking was the perfect medium for my creative work. Ever since then it has been my sole purpose and outlet in life!
What was the first project you worked on?
It was Pub Monkey a UK drama-comedy feature film, that was zero budget also! I was a boom on that.
When working on a film like this, and juggling all the hats you wear, is it hard to not get "too attached" to the project?
I have to say Polar was an incredibly personal project so there was never any chance of not being "too attached". Even now when I watch it, I find it very hard. I have been through a lot of the issues that Robin experiences in the film, so it is very hard for me to watch it! I was a healing process in essence though and I am very proud that it might help other people feel less outcast and stand up to get help with their problems.
Do you find it is easy to let go and hand it over to audiences?
I mean there is always a fear that it is "not good enough". I think all creative people have this in the back of their mind... It is normal. But actually, there is a huge relief to give it over and clear the way for a new project to form. This has gone on for a long time, we shot most of it in 2016 then re-shot the first scene and shot a new ending in 2018, now it's 2019 and I am still editing and mixing it! I am very close to finishing it off so glad it is the last stint.
What are the plans for Polar now that it is completed?
We will just promote it ourselves as much as possible, with screenings but mostly online. We hope to get a bit of exposure and make some sales on Amazon. Really ideally it will lead to more work, its purpose was never to make money. I want to keep the price low so it is very accessible to people of all incomes. I hope we get some recognition and contacts to work with and I get some funding to make another film or a series in a similar style to Polar but refined.
What is the one piece of advice you would offer a fellow filmmaker?
Just do it. Stop moaning about complaining about technical or money related issues holding you back. Focus on the story and acting. Put your heart and soul into it, write what you know, remain open minded... I guess that is more than one piece of advice? I think there is no reason to not make it now, the price of the technology has made accessible to all. You could buy a microphone, recorder, camera and lens for under £1000 and go and shoot tomorrow!
And finally, what do you want people to take away from this film?
I hope that people open their eyes a little to the fact that it's normal to go through periods of your life feeling "lost" or like you do not fit in. I think it is a normal part of our personal spiritual evolution, finding our tribe and forging connections is all part of growing up and maturing. I think it's normal to rely on substance abuse in our society, drinking is a huge problem no one seems to want to talk about, they're too busy drinking a pint! I just hope it at least it brings smiles to peoples faces, the best I can wish for is it actually helps expose the issues of mental health and substance abuse that plague our society.
I Hope it might help and inspire more people to tell their stories!