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Robot World is a feature-length sci-fi that has been creating a buzz and bagged a cool distribution deal – you can pick it up in on your High Street as well as online! The film was made by husband and wife Neil and Amanda Rowe and Neil’s brother Ian. We got in touch to get down to the blood and guts of making a sci-fi in Devon on a budget
The idea of making a sci-fi feature is pretty ambitious. How did you come up with it?
Neil – When I started planning this feature length film project it was a case of using resources that were ready available to us on a micro budget. One of the key resources was my background in visual effects which naturally leaned us towards producing a science fiction story.
Amanda – The story was created and written by Neil it was all his idea!
What’s your background and why did you decide to make a film together?
Neil – I began my career as a 3D Animator and worked as a ‘lead technical artist’ for over 13 years before moving in to visual effects and film making. Film making was always an area I wanted to work in so I just thought it was now or never and then just did it.
Ian – I have always had an interest in acting. When I was younger I was part of various amateur dramatic groups. Neil and I had always talked about one day making a film together and then one day we decided to make one. And here we are
Amanda – I have a background in the arts. I studied fine art at Exeter College and university or Wales Institute of Cardiff (as it was known back then). I am from a musical family my dad was a church organist and founder of a country dance band. I learnt to play the piano and trumpet from a young age. For the film I bought a midi keyboard set up and learnt is as I went along
How did you keep focus and stay on target during the making of the film?
Neil – Mainly due to Amanda, who kept us in check and being fully on board with this crazy idea we had. We all have day jobs so it was big ask we would have to make this film in our spare time! There were times we did not think we were going to reach the end. The last few years were hard as there was a lot riding on it as we had spent so much time on it and come so far.
Amanda – It was hard at times. We were working all hours this meant targets did slip along the way. It was never meant to take five years, half way through we had a son which obviously set us back quite considerably!
On your blog there are images and films of you searching locations and making props – what hiccups did you have to overcome and what new skills did you acquire?
Amanda – I was responsible for securing the locations. Neil searched the internet for interesting locations and on the way back from work would often divert on to Dartmoor to take a look if he was happy with the location then it was over to me to find out who owned the land and approach them and get all the necessary permissions in place to film on the site.
Dartmoor National Park Authority and the forestry commission were a great help to us. I had not done anything like this before so I was grateful for their help and support. Some owners wanted money to use their land which was disappointing as we could not afford it which meant more work for us and more scouting so that did delay things.
Ian – We all required new skills, we had to as none of us had done anything like this before. We all covered as many jobs as we could. In one scene I fall over and get a cut to my hand so we had to learn how to make fake blood. We spent a weekend in Amanda and Neil’s kitchen perfecting a recipe – which can be found on our film making tips section on our website! We also had to come up with realistic looking sick again we spent a weekend or two testing various soups filming me ‘puking’ up and voting on which one looked the most realistic.
Amanda – I was costume designer, location manager, admin, caterer (well making soggy sandwiches and flasks of tea to take up on Dartmoor), composer, continuity… Neil was writer, director, editor, visual effects artist, location scout, cameraman, soundman, sound effects, producer… Ian was actor, costume designer, script advisor… It was all hands on deck. And not forgetting all the lugging around of our kit on Dartmoor.
How did you develop your postproduction skills and how did you decide what would be ‘real’, ie props, and what you’d finish in post?
Neil – All the robots are CG and some of the background buildings were composited in. The idea from the outset was to do as much in CG as possible as at the time we did not have any experience with prop making and general production elements. However, in hindsight this was a mistake as now we would have opted to build more props as this would have taken less time in post production. The cgi elements took me several years to complete, it was hard work at times.
Amanda – The robots were always going to be cg creations from Neil’s mind! Even if we had a budget they would have impossible to make/create them as props to look as good as they did.
You’ve been really successful with your distribution getting the film into shops and online. How hard was this aspect of the process, and why did the film change its name?
Neil – By entering film festivals this got us the exposure we needed. Although we failed at our first run of submissions we had quite a few rejections. We managed to get some feedback and reworked the film and continued to submit. We started getting selected and won some awards along the way this led to us being approached by various agents and we signed up with Galen Christy of High Octane pictures based in LA who toured the various film markets and successfully secured distribution rights in UK, USA, Canada, Japan, Germany and South Korea.
Amanda – We still cannot believe we won awards we are very grateful for the support of the various film festivals they are a great help with trying to get noticed in this world so to speak! We won best feature film at Unreal film festival Memphis USA, best feature effects at Other worlds film festival, Boston USA and best director at Hyperdrive film festival, Sussex UK, All the organisers of these festivals have given us such fantastic support along the way and it is a good way of meeting and getting connected with other filmmakers in the same boat.
Ian – The name was originally called Reconnoiter a little trick to say and possibly not that clear so the agent suggested renaming and Robot World was agreed upon.
What’s your next project?
Neil – we are in pre production with a sci-fi horror. It is a totally new concept with no reference to robot world!! We are moving on but we are returning to Dartmoor for the setting.
Amanda – Dartmoor is such a beautiful backdrop which is right on our doorstep. I feel Dartmoor was part of the success of Robot World that we would be silly not to return to it.
Ian – we are all from and live in Exeter we loved going up there I am looking forward to returning.
Any tips for filmmakers out there?
Amanda – Work with what you have got for us it was the brilliant and picturesque locations available to us in and around Devon and the kindness and support of the local authorities and land owners we found once you explain the situation they are more than happy to help and many wavered their fee. Throughout this process I kept a production blog which contains useful film tips and behind the scenes footage.
The blog can be found on our website – Rendered Pictures.
Neil – The internet and books. These were invaluable tools.
Neil, Amanda and Ian, many thanks for your time!