More than one filmmaker has been on Dartmoor this summer. Local indie kids Lawrence McNeela and Andy Baker were busy shooting The Moon Shines Bright, as Lawrence explains.
Filming on Dartmoor involves a challenge, the weather sees to that. It also offers fantastic opportunities, especially as the location for a ghost story. There are strange tors, eerie prehistoric remains nestling within the most barren of landscapes and abandoned properties stood as memorials to bygone lives. There is scenery that simply screams, ‘desolate beauty’.
In the south-west corner of the moor lies a place not so far away, geographically speaking, from the centres of civilisation of Tavistock and Plymouth. Culturally, however, it could be another world. A mysterious complex of menhirs, cairns and hut circles date from the Bronze Age, the adjacent ruined farmhouse from the 16th century. For a classic English chiller in the style of the spooky tales of M R James, it makes the perfect setting.
A walk among those relics of the past inspired Andy Baker to pen The Moon Shines Bright, originally conceiving it as a short story, then a novel and finally a film. Shooting was scheduled for last November but had to be shelved due to that old clichÃ©, ‘unforeseen circumstances’. I came onboard in February and, after working hard all spring to rewrite the script, inventing new characters and scenes, and bringing a folk music element to the finished piece, we knew we had something to be excited about.
Locations were scouted and casting went better than could be hoped for, and we assembled a great team to act the parts of troubled archaeologist Thom Stukeley and the various women in his life. Londoner Chrissie White plays retired professor Audrey Wheeler, Scottish actress Tricia Stewart his wife Dora and Emma MacNab the mysterious stranger Lesath.
The weather was surprisingly kind while we filmed. Yes, this summer was unseasonably cold, but it remained dry while we were up on the moor. How awful it would have been trying to shoot near Princetown in the pouring rain! Especially when a four-year-old girl was acting the part of a ghostly child and we’d missed out on the chance of an events shelter. My Charlotte really enjoyed acting; I don’t think she would have done so had the Heavens opened!
Beautiful newcomer Emma MacNab suffered for her art, however. The Exmouth-based actress had to wear the skimpiest white summer dress possible for her role as Lesath. That appeared fine on paper; we were filming in August, afterall. However, as anybody familiar to the area knows, even summer can be freezing on Dartmoor and poor Emma only got through the last take by being told, ‘Act like you’re not cold or we’ll have to take it again and again until it’s right.’
She’s since admitted, though I’m not sure she thought so at the time, that it being so cold made the setting more authentic. A ghost story wouldn’t have looked right filmed in dazzlingly warm sunshine.
Sorry Emma. I’m sure it will all be worth it in the end!
(images: top, the Moon Shines Bright crew on location on Dartmoor; above, Charlotte on set)