Here is an account of our first two years with this film project.
To get an overview it is probably best to begin at the hub, i.e. with the drama group as a part of the larger Otterhayes community. At the beginning of 2016, this enthusiastic group of individuals were interested in making a sci-fi film. To that end we had been experimenting with many ideas for stories and the group had chosen ‘Silverhawk’ from a selection of possible names which gave us a start. At this point in time, we were experimenting with making ourselves look radically different by wearing masks – a variety of aliens, authority figure and green man characters, all of which were adding a little pizzazz to the drama! We were also were making props – in particular a geodesic dome approximately 1.00m in diameter which we decided were to be part of the ship’s engines.
The group had made this dome from scratch, beginning with 40 plain cardboard triangles and there was a certain amount of pride in its construction. We also had attracted the interest of a skilled videographer, Simon Tytherleigh, who I had met during 2015 and who was advising on the project and coming in intermittently to meet and work with the group. There is always a good deal of excitement when Simon or any of the people collaborating with the group arrive!
However we had no money. Our lack of funds meant we could not afford to invest in any of our ideas and so the beginning of 2106 was also characterised by us making several large funding bids all of which were unsuccessful. It was clear that we needed to downsize the project into something that would appear to funders as being more realistic and so in the latter half of the year we simply asked the National Lottery’s Awards for All, for £442.47 to create a piece of drama and to our surprise we were successful! This encouraged us to pursue our film funding agenda with another Trust – The Rix-Thompson-Rothenberg Foundation & the Baily Thomas Charitable Fund, who it turned out were sympathetic to our ideas and plans and so at the very end of 2106 we were delighted to receive £5000.00 from them.
These awards immediately produced an improved sense of optimism for everyone and enabled us to properly begin the project in January 2017. We were able to invest in this some useful equipment such as a good quality mic and sound recorder. It also meant that we could expand on our collaborative community by seeking out someone who could help make costumes and sets. This was in addition to our videographer / editor whose services we could begin to pay for. We were also able to buy many of the necessary items for sets, props as well as costumes.
It was clear that we would need to make a model Silverhawk for filmic purposes and so we had a design day where the group created drawings of how they viewed the spacecraft. Circles were the key theme and so Chris took on board those ideas and, having collected some basic materials, chiefly several plastic serving -platters and the parts of an old Dyson vacuum cleaner, began to construct one.
Developing the story was also an important endeavour at this time. The group’s previous film, The Otter Inn was a Soap and so the story was about ‘everyday life’ –companionship, parents, birthdays, good people and bad people, a darts tournament, a music night, money etc. The group seemed very comfortable with these themes. During 2106 we had been experimenting with all kinds of new narrative ideas and following the ones that the group responded to more strongly. One of the delights of making a sci-fi story is that it allows room for imaginative leaps – anything can happen! However, when creating pieces of drama around ‘far off’ places, the drama group’s take was that somewhere very far away was the adjacent county of Cornwall. It was clear we had to be realistic in our expectations and so I began incorporating elements of the story-line that had been successful during the Otter Inn.
In the Otter Inn, one of the strongest responses was towards the only ‘outside character’, a ‘bad man’ the group named Phil and based on the East Ender’s character. Phil steals another protagonist’s money and so strongly invoked the wrath of the group for his bad actions. It seemed to me that this new sci-fi story required more outside characters of all persuasions – some authority figures, some antagonists, and some allies which could be overlaid over the sci-fi themed territory. This also enabled further expansion of our community with the addition of further collaborative dramatherapist actors into the mix to play various parts. The drama group are consistently a happy bunch and so we consolidated the Drama Group’s ‘Happy Disposition’ into a real crystal called ‘The Happiness’ and then had a powerful authority figure called the Emperor steal this crystal! The story then began to evolve around how our heroic band of space travellers manage to get their ‘Happiness’ returned to them with each of the characters playing to their strengths in their efforts to accomplish four tasks. This version of the story immediately took hold with the group and began to work well dramatically. So now we have a good working-model story-wise which we have continued to work on and develop into its final narrative form and are now considering possible external locations for some aspects of the story.
Another challenge has been to transform the wooden activity hut into the main set of the story – the Bridge of the Silverhawk spacecraft. Naturally we wanted something that looked futuristic but we have had to be realistic about what we can achieve – our aims were along the lines of an early Doctor Who set rather than Star Wars! Once again the members of the drama group have been involved with designing and constructing this set as far as is possible. We took the bold step of having a false ceiling installed having found a company who were willing to do it for a reduced price. We also bought some large-size grey muslin backdrops and had them sewn and hemmed to the correct dimensions by a local disability collective. These now act as the walls of the Silverhawk and are ready to be overlaid with various futuristic designs. The control centre on the bridge of the spacecraft needed an array of flashing LED’s and controls and at the central hub is ‘The Happiness’ on its own special plinth. Everyone has their own silver operating consul with lights and buttons as well as a separate navigation array and other necessary equipment.
So at the end of our first year since funding was a awarded I am happy to report that the main set is up and running. Each person’s control consul is in place and waiting for electronics to be installed. The story is finished and the screen play for the opening sequence is written and ready for the film maker’s attention. The local press are interested in our project and have already run one piece on the project. In addition our small community of actors is now working in collaboration with the artistic and therapeutic community in the surrounding locality and the plan is for this to continue with the addition of dramatherapist actors, an electronics maker, some office support and someone to help oversee the writing of a blog which everyone will be able to contribute to. There are also tentative plans to include other folk from the local learning disabled community in the final scene. If we are successful in making this film we want to challenge the stereotypical images by emphasising our learning difficulties group’s capability rather than their disability. To that end , our community is expanding!
Finally I can report that we are ready to begin some preliminary filming some time during early 2018!