26th Raindance Film Festival 2018
UK PREMIERE - BEST UK SHORT | UK, 15 min | Tickets
When Keir decides to re-establish contact with his estranged father, he returns to his hometown by the sea, and quickly discovers that all is not as it seems on the surface.
Hey Nick, thanks for talking to TNC, how is everything going?
It's a great pleasure to speak with you, I am very well thank you.
What does it mean for you to be at the 26th Raindance Film Festival with Ellston Bay?
It means a huge amount to screen Ellston Bay at Raindance. To be part of such a prestigious festival is a wonderful reassurance to myself and the entire team that there are audiences out there who enjoy and appreciate the final work.
Not only is this your European Premiere but it is also nominated for Best British Short, has this given you any additional nerves ahead of your screening?
To be a part of the Official Selection and nominated for Best British Short is a fantastic achievement for us all. The most important thing is that audiences enjoy the finished film and that it leaves a lasting impression long after leaving the theatre.
Tell me a little bit about Ellston Bay, how did the film come about?
Ellston Bay is the story of a man's (Keir) desire to re-connect with his long-estranged father in his hometown besides the sea. On arrival, his father is nowhere to be found. Keir enlists the assistance of locals to help locate him, but they seem to be hiding something from him. Meanwhile, Keir is increasingly drawn to the hypnotic power of the ocean, which seems to have an intoxicating hold over the town and its inhabitants.
Ellston Bay came about due to a number of factors, the most important of which was a desire from myself to direct an original piece of work and to put the knowledge I have gained as a Director of Photography to use on a personal narrative project. Around the same time, I was discovering H.P. Lovecraft for the first time, and I became very passionate about a number of his short stories, many of which felt as if they had great potential for adaptation into a short narrative format.
I communicated this desire to Screenwriter Ed Carter, whom I had previously collaborated with on 'The Funeral Director' (2012) and we started working on the screenplay together. It took us a great deal of time, but we both strongly believe in the importance of a good script and didn’t want to rush anything. We were very hard on both ourselves and each other, but it was well worth the effort, and I genuinely feel that we did a good job in capturing both the energy and spirit of Lovecraft’s work.
What was the inspiration behind your script?
The single biggest inspiration behind Ellston Bay was the H.P. Lovecraft & R.H Barlow short story 'The Night Ocean' (1936). I particularly loved the mood and atmosphere of the novella and found myself drawn to its unusual narrative structure. For all intents and purposes, ‘The Night Ocean’ is a one-act situation, not to be resolved or necessarily understood.
When you're writing a screenplay, are you inspired by any of your own life experiences?
Ed and I never attempted to make any specific allegorical references to either of our own personal lives. That said, I am sure that subconsciously we cannot help but be drawn to experiences and feelings that we can relate to emotionally, but I don’t feel this was ever a conscious intention of ours.
What has been the most challenging scene for you to film?
The most challenging scenes to film in Ellston Bay were those that took place on the water. Filming on the ocean has its own set of unique requirements. The sea swell needed to be calm enough to be able to launch, and land, both our filming crafts. Whilst the swell may look calm to the eye, it doesn’t need to move a great deal to make launching and landing the boats problematic.
Co-ordinating the movement of both boats is a challenge in itself, so this is something I thought about a great deal ahead of time, and I did my very best to communicate our requirements to our vessel captains Dave and Sam prior to principal photography.
In addition, shooting on VistaVision meant that our runtimes were vastly reduced, no more than two minutes per 400ft roll of film. This effectively meant that we would capture a couple of takes at best before having to land the craft, re-load and launch again. Such a procedure would take a good ten minutes or so, and therefore we had to be careful to ensure that we always maximised our time effectively.
Apart from that, I feel that the shoot was relatively straightforward. For me, the biggest enemy on any film project is time. I am very conscious about the importance of being well-organised, making decisions quickly, and working fast. There is a lot to be said for getting on with it, and not ruminating too much into what could have been whilst working.
You have an incredible cast, how did you go about pitching Ellston Bay to them?
With regards to pitching the project to cast, I wanted the script to do the talking where possible. I was really looking for a deep connection to the story and didn’t want to muddy the waters by discussing our visual ambitions, or the technical aspects of production.
I recognised Richard Kovacs, Christina Hardy and Gareth Lawrence early in our casting process as great talents, and had no doubt they could deliver on-screen. Thankfully, they all had a real connection to the text, and our initial meetings took the form of lengthy discussions regarding their characters and the greater narrative. I did not feel that auditioning was necessary after these meetings and felt very comfortable that we were all on the same page, and could overcome any questions or obstacles that faced us.
Producer Tristan Loraine had previously worked with John Rhys-Davies and recommended that we consider his presence in the role of Keir’s father. The prospect of working with John was very exciting for me, as I have followed his work since I was a teenager. John loved the script and really responded to what we were trying to achieve. The final scene in the film was actually the very first that we shot, so it was certainly a case of being thrown in at the deep end. John was very gracious and kind, and wrote me a lovely email following principal photography, which really meant a great deal to me personally, especially when you are deep in production battling creative and practical doubts.
Have you always had a passion for filmmaking?
I have long had a great love of cinema, and I think my passion for filmmaking really took hold in my teens when I started to begin to understand the process of how films were made. That process of discovery has never really stopped, and I am always learning new methods and techniques to improve my creative contribution to projects.
How much has your background as a Cinematographer helped you with directing Ellston Bay?
My background as a Cinematographer has been invaluable in giving me the creative and technical knowledge to helm a personal project of my own. From my many close collaborations with Directors, I have had the privilege of being able to learn and observe the many different ways of communicating complex ideas and concepts with both cast and crew.
"Trust in your cast and crew to open your eyes to possibilities that you may not have considered. "
What was the first film you saw that inspired you to become a Director?
That’s a very difficult question to answer! There is an incredible number of great films out there that contributed to my interest in cinema. Firstly, I think it is fair to say that I see myself primarily as a Cinematographer, rather than as a Director. However, if I had to choose one film that set me on the path of committing to filmmaking from an early age, I think it would be ‘Infernal Affairs’ / 無間道 (HK, 2002).
Being a Writer, Director and Cinematographer on this film have you found it hard to balance these roles on a project like this?
Balancing the three roles certainly had its benefits and drawbacks. On the one hand, I always had a very clear idea of what I wanted to achieve visually, and so working both as Cinematographer and Director on the project felt seamless in many ways. I was very careful to ensure that most of my decisions with regards to shot choices, lenses and blocking were made well in advance of principal photography. I didn’t want to be in a position where the artists felt they couldn’t talk to me creatively because I was preoccupied with the camera side of things. Thankfully, my exceptional crew were able to step in and support the setting up of all the shots I desired and took away a great deal of the practical work so that I didn’t need to be present all the time.
On the other hand, juggling all three roles is a huge amount of work, and there were times that it felt a little overwhelming, but that’s just part of the filmmaking process and you have to embrace it. I wanted to challenge myself and be out of my comfort zone, I didn’t want the process to be easy. Whilst it can be difficult at times, there is no greater satisfaction when the project is completed than knowing that you overcame all the obstacles in your path.
How would you describe Ellston Bay in three words?
Mysterious. Atmospheric. Grand.
Do you have any advice for any fellow Directors?
Believe in your vision and do not compromise your ambitions until absolutely necessary. Trust in your cast and crew to open your eyes to possibilities that you may not have considered. Foster a creative working environment for all involved.
And finally, what do you hope people will take away from this film?
I hope that audiences will enjoy the film and have unanswered questions that provoke additional viewings.