For multifaceted filmmaker Dom Lee, 2016 has been an exhausting, epic and fantastical journey. Not only did he create a fort entirely out of cardboard boxes, but he also fashioned a spaceship out of a garden shed.
‘It’s been an interesting summer working on two different films,’ said Dom.
‘It was quite a lot to take on, doing the Phoenix commission and the biggest short film I’ve ever attempted. It’s all good fun though, and it seems to have gone ok so far.’
When we meet up, Fort Box has one more day of filming due, with a release date pencilled in for summer 2017. Rocketshed is completed and awaiting its Two Short Nights airing.
‘For the premiere, people have suggested having an outdoor screening and rebuilding parts of the fort. If somebody else can find the boxes, I’m totally up for it,’ said Dom, with a wry smile.
The story of Rocketshed follows eight-year-old Jack and his dad as they sit in their ‘Rocketshed’, a garden shed they’ve converted into a spaceship.
The script was from an initial idea submitted as part of a film competition organised by guerrilla filmmaking guru Chris Jones. But with a little re-working the story transitioned into a Phoenix commission idea. (The ever-diligent Dom got in touch with both organisations to make sure they were fine with his plans.)
Without opting for the crowdfunder route, surprisingly, of the £500 given to bursary filmmakers, Dom has squirelled away some of the cash for distribution purposes.
‘I was going to use it on festivals,’ said Dom. ‘Because festivals are quite an expensive business, so I thought I’d strategically target a few of them.’
He was able to save some money on Rocketshed through hard work and social media connections.
‘I managed to get a lot of the stuff for free on this film,’ said Dom. ‘The aforementioned shed, which we filmed in, was through Twitter.
‘I posted on Twitter asking if anyone had a shed they’d like to get rid of and that I would happily go along and collect it from them. Within 10 minutes someone replied offering one for free.’
The dismantled shed was reassembled without the roof and supporting beams were put in place to hold it together. Filming took place at Crediton Arts Centre.
‘The idea with a shed is that a lot of people would have one and that it could be made into a spaceship from things which are easily found about the house,’ said Dom. ‘In my mind I imagined blue fairy lights on the walls.’
That also meant laptops and detached car seats.
‘The set was one of the things I was most happy with, considering I’ve never really built a proper set before. I thought it held up quite well,’ said Dom.
‘We hired Crediton Arts Centre and we shot over two days. Because the film involved working with a kid, you aren’t allowed to work too many hours each day.’
Finding a young actor was a bit of a problem. Or would have been if it wasn’t for Twitter again.
‘The casting was quite tough as well,’ said Dom. ‘You can’t go through schools. The kid was also found through Twitter, by just posting and someone responding. I auditioned about six kids in the end. And the same for the dad part.’
George Bull was cast as Jack (the kid) and the Dad is played by Kevin Johnson who was cast from Patrick Management.
That drawing on the wider community seemed to work quite well, as the whole of Crediton rallied around to help create his vision. Some 3000 boxes were sourced to build the fort in the film, the mast majority of which came from businesses in and and around Crediton.
It has also been a summer of father/son relationship stories for Dom.
‘The Fort Box idea I had three years ago, and that’s when I first wrote the very early draft of it,’ said Dom. Those ideas coupled with Dom’s love of Roberto Benigni’s Oscar-winning Life is Beautiful and that father/son relationship could have fed into Rocketshed, he admits.
‘In Rocketshed it’s just three minutes long, so it’s tough to really get into a father/son relationship as such,’ said Dom.
Dom’s love of filmmaking developed rather late, he says. With his creative focus fixed on graphic design, he experimented with filmmaking during an A Level and was hooked, going on to study film at Staffordshire University, graduating in 2013.
‘When I first started, I didn’t know many filmmakers in the area, and then you meet John Tomkins and James Cotter,’ said Dom. ‘And with going to things like Shooters in the Pub, you quickly expand your network as well as just working on other films.
‘On most film shoots you end up on, you’ll always meet a new person, and obviously you quickly find some people you just gel better with and you work with them more. Me and Ben Tallamy have ended up working together with each other in various ways: we complement each other quite well.’
One of the good things about the bursary process for Dom was meeting the other filmmakers. ‘And the really great thing is you know you are guaranteed a screening at the end of it and people will actually see it,’ he said.
For Dom, it’s the editing that holds the most filmmaking allure.
‘Editing is my main thing -it’s what I really enjoy,’ he said. ‘But I do write and direct when I can. I’ve done bits of sound mixing and generally just helped out on other people’s projects in various ways.’
‘It’s quite nice to be the first person to see a film come together,’ said Dom.
‘When you’re shooting a film, you may not quite know how it’s going to turn out. When you’re working your way through it, you discover things which you might not have thought of when you were shooting it: you discover new ways to put scenes together or combine shots -you find things that aren’t what you were intending.’
As part of the editing process Dom has also developed his sound design skills.
‘I got into sound design to help with the editing. Again it’s something I enjoy, solving problems and adding in sound effects is quite fun -designing monster noises and experimenting with that,’ said Dom.
In Rocketshed, and for Fort Box, Dom has called on the musical talents of Chris McGuire for the score.
‘I’ve got a few ideas for features but am not currently actively developing any projects where I will be directing. I’m focusing more on writing, editing, and I’m helping someone produce a short film which we’re looking to shoot early next year,’ said Dom, which isn’t surprising after a year of big ideas from a shed-load of boxes for a fort and a shed that was designed for space travel.
Rocketshed is premiered at the Two Short Nights film festival at the Exeter Phoenix, on December 2
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