After their stunning success of Robot World, Rendered Pictures are back with Alien Outbreak. The sci fi horror is a thrilling ride, pitching people against aliens with gruesome effects. We chatted to Neil and Amanda Rowe about their bigger aspirations, staying in a budget and getting a cast and crew from the South West.
D&CFilm: After the massive success of Robot World, how did you approach Alien Outbreak? Where did the idea come from and why did you think it was a good follow up?
Amanda: Robot World proved more of a success than we ever hoped for on such a small budget and although it gave us just enough money to go again, we are still small scale in the grand scheme of things. We knew we had to be wise when it came to designing our next film to make the most of our budget and make it spread as far as it could.
Neil: We knew we had to make this film much bigger and we needed to step it up a gear, therefore this time round we needed more actors and a larger crew. A luxury we did not have last time. We wanted to do a completely different movie move on from RW.
D&CFilm: Can you tell us a bit of the story of Alien Outbreak?
Amanda: This is a horror sci fi film filled with visual effects.
We follow two police officers SGT Zoe and PC Patrick in their small community. Their shift starts normally, however, the pair soon realise something strange is going on around them and they have no choice but to battle through the night trying to save their community. They become cut off from the outside world and it is up to them to stop the spread of mass panic which results in some messy deaths! Throughout the film they encounter various aliens, drones and alien ships.
D&CFilm: In terms of style, themes and the film, what are the similarities and differences from Robot World? And how did making Robot World inform Alien Outbreak – were you pretty sorted or were there new problems to overcome?
Amanda: We consulted our agent before starting work on AO and asked what the current climate was like in terms of saleability and what the distributors are looking for when deciding to buy our film. It seemed that cgi / visual effects were still in favour and were advised to continue with robots/aliens and big explosions etc which we happily did.
Neil: To keep the cost down it was essentially still going to be me running around with the camera. This enables us to move quickly from shot to shot, I can also make quick decisions when VFX are required. ‘I’ll fix it in post’ was a common phrase on set! This does mean it has a bit of a documentary style to it as did Robot World, which I think helps add to the atmosphere of the film. As for themes, it’s hard to say too much as the main theme of the film is only revealed at the end.
Amanda: This time we moved in to special make up effects and worked with a great special effects artist Ash Linton. Neil and him created the look of the alien who during the majority of the film is hidden by robes and a mask, but the scenes where we get a glimpse underneath his clothing this is Ian made up. This was a days worth of filming on greenscreen in our garage. The make up took a couple of hours and the filming took several more. It was a long day, but we are happy with the results.
D&CFilm: A bigger budget meant certain freedoms, but did it also bring added pressures?
Amanda: Yes, we now had to turn our hand to casting which none of us has had to handle before. We also had to find and recruit some crew members and as this was a bigger production Neil went a little crazy when writing the script and wrote in many more locations meaning more work for me. Neil was very specific on what he wanted, so my brief was a little insane on such a small budget. As with RW Neil searched the internet and then passed me the details of the various owners etc. I would then make contact and start negotiating the hire of their property. I found, as with RW, the landowners were very helpful and accommodating to what we wanted from them. It helps that we travel light. I mean we do not rock up with lots of equipment or trucks for example, we simply drive to the location and carry in the equipment from our cars!
Neil: Yes, this was no longer heading out to the location with just my wife and brother. We were now working with a team and organising everyone was a lot harder. We had to work around everyone’s day jobs which was Amanda’s responsibility. We had to collate rotas / work commitments and agree on a date then secure the locations. Thankfully this did all run to plan and we were all where we were meant to be.
Amanda: We all had other jobs so this did prove tricky at times but we all made it work.
D&CFilm: Can you tell us a bit more about the cast – you’ve got the fab Katherine Drake – who else is in the film, how did you find them and what was it like working with a bigger cast?
Amanda: well as I mentioned we turned to casting for the first time. RW was a one actor piece so this area was new to us. Google and online research commenced! Together we compiled a casting sheet for each character and asked for help from various online resources such as yourselves – D&C who kindly posted our casting calls along the way as did Exeter Phoenix and various other acting groups around the South West.
Actors then submitted their showreels and we watched and selected the most suitable and asked them to do some readings from our script. From there we made our final selections. I found it a tough job it is not nice having to tell someone they were not successful on this occasion. But it all worked out ok as we are thrilled with our cast.
Katherine Drake – we actually lowered the age of the character after finding Katherine. We had a slightly different Sgt Zoe Norris in mind but from seeing Katherine’s work we knew she was the one and did a slight rewrite. Katherine is actually British so she had the extra pressure of speaking with a Canadian accent. Our sound engineer is Canadian so he was on hand. She does a great job we think.
Ritchie Crane – again once we checked out his work we knew he was our ‘Patrick’. We are really pleased with how Katherine and Ritchie worked together on set, which I think really comes across in the film. They feel like a team with Katherine slightly wearing the trousers more! They certainly do make a good duel and are really believable as police officers trying to take back control of their community.
Phil Baker, who plays Mitchell, has a vast experience within the film/acting world and was a great resource for us. He really helped find our way, after all this was only our second production and we tapped into his knowledge and contacts a lot. Phil is also a sound engineer and on the days our hired sound engineers could not make it he filled in. It seemed there was nothing he couldn’t do. Although we cast and chose our main actors there were other characters that we were casting along the way and I would often chat to Phil on set and pick his brains for anyone he thought would suit each part.
There is also Chris Barnicoat who plays our crazy farmer he has some great scenes with alien who he ‘unmasks’
Michael Terry, who plays Dale, has some great comical lines and he lightens some of the scenes which can be quite intense and gory. Aaron Deakins and Gemma Wilks who appear in our pub scenes again both lovely to work with and did a great job in getting across the fear and panic.
They have quite a body of work between them check them out on IMDB.
We also worked with a lovely actress Peggy Salmon. She plays the part of Mrs Peters she is in the opening sequence her vast experience certainly shows. I am sad to say though that Peggy passed away before she got a chance to see it. We all really enjoyed working with her she was very kind on set and offered very kind advice to the younger actors.
Working with a bigger cast was great it was less lonely for one thing! We really enjoyed working with all of them. Everyone did amazing performances and were great to work with on set.
They were all more than happy to get stuck in. Poor Chris Barnicoat I think got the rawest deal. There is a scene where he has to be sprayed with fake blood. As previously mentioned we are a small team and it was over to Ritchie to stand off camera with a spray bottle filled with ‘fake’ blood and on cue his job was to spray Chris in the face. It ended up in his mouth/eyes well simply everywhere. But it makes for one of the most gory and messiest scenes.
We were lucky to find our sound recordist Alex Stephens he proved invaluable on set and in post production. He was a great support to Neil when filming they often bounced ideas off each other. There was no gap Alex couldn’t squeeze into to make the shot work for us. His technical ability was proven. We were also joined by sound recordist Dajain Daley on some filming days.
We were also joined on set by makeup effects artist Hannah Moore who together with Neil created the various cuts/wounds and bruising you see throughout the film. Hannah was on set to make sure there was plenty of blood over the wounds!
D&CFilm: Devon and the South West have some great locations. Where did you shoot, what was your experience and what do you think they add to the film?
The great thing with filming in this part of the country is the beautiful landscape. There is such a natural beauty down here that we do not have to manipulate or dress. Having an actor simply walk across the Moors, for example, makes for an instant and very dramatic scene.
Due to our limited budget we had to choose locations that were fairly nearby to cut down on travel costs, after all we had to get all our cast and crew there. As with RW we utilised local locations. We were very pleased with the look of RW the barren and isolated landscape of Dartmoor proved very successful and it fitted in with the overall feel of AO also so we once again approached the Dartmoor National Park Authority and the Duchy of Cornwall to ensure all filming permissions were in place. We then looked around for a few holiday cottages and specifically a farm setting. These were mainly holiday lets and through chatting they kindly allowed us use of the properties for a day or two days if needed.
The property/location owners involved were very kind to us and were extremely helpful allowing use of their properties sometimes for a lower fee – a much needed entity for a small budget.
Amanda: Plym Valley Railway in Plymouth, a charity run heritage railway site were extremely helpful to us. Originally, we were just looking for a stretch of disused railway track for our actors to walk along. However, from speaking to Daniel this soon changed and a re write of the script ensued. Daniel kindly offered full access to the station platform, track, trains and carriages. This led to Neil rewriting the script and making the location the scene for the finale. This makes for an explosive ending with the train being surrounded by alien ships, drones and the alien figures.
Neil: We filmed at this location over two days in July 2017. One of the days we had about 15 extras who kindly sat in the carriages in a heatwave pretending to be dead. We did get them hand held fans which sort of helped!
These scenes make for some of our favourite scenes in the film. It was a great two days of filming. We even got a train ride back to our cars.
We filmed Alien Outbreak over 17 days, these were broken up over the course of 4 months. We used local actors from the South West who, like us have day jobs, so we fitted our shooting schedule around everyone’s work. Not an easy task and one of Amanda’s jobs to do. We really do have to thank the cast and crew for their flexibility and hard work it was not a glamorous shoot we all made our way to the numerous locations in our own cars and our own packed lunches. We also had to work with Dartmoor weather which can change within seconds.
We also filmed on a farm in Peter Tavy, in some holiday cottages in Buckfastleigh and Widdicombe in the Moor.
We also filmed a large chunk at the New Inn Pub in Broadclyst just outside Exeter. Tony, Barb and Josh were fantastic they kindly let us have use of the premises for a few days and even for a few night shoots and laid on teas and coffees to keep us going. The scenes in the pub were very exciting as these were scenes we worked with special effects and visual effects.
Our friend Tony Mitchell played the pub landlord, who has a raw deal in the story as he ends up getting tied up in the skittle alley. Tony was tied to a chair with bandages over his eyes and covered in fake blood for a day. We were literally pouring blood from a bottle over his head and body. He was brilliant, didn’t complain once!!
D&CFilm: Technology is constantly moving on – how has CGI and your use of it developed? When we chatted about Robot World you mentioned you’d have built more props to cut down on post-production. Was that the case for Alien Outbreak?
Amanda: We did intend to use more props to cut down on the visual effects work in post, but it did not end up that way. In fact the majority of our post work was working on the visual effects, which meant Neil was kept very busy.
Neil: My approach was to take what I had learnt on Robot World and build on it. I knew the types of VFX shots I could turn around quickly and would have maximum impact. I had also developed a more efficient pipeline to capture the shots on set and record the data I needed (lighting and camera setup etc) and then turn them round in quickly in post production. So I was keeping the same tools, but using them a lot more efficiently. We did shoot in 4k 10bit this time which meant a lot more data, with over 700 VFX shots the project is just shy of 12TB in size.
D&CFilm: This is a question we’re tending to ask – what is the role of the artist / filmmaker in society?
We try to tie current affairs into the story, although this is not the main purpose. We are ultimately trying to produce high concept sci fi films at a small budget scale that we can base a sustainable business model on. We are making films to make money and therefore we do our research before committing to an idea.
D&CFilm: Rendered Pictures is a family business – what are the pros and cons of that arrangement?
Amanda: well the pros are working with my husband and brother in law. We are lucky to be in a position to work for ourselves and call the shots!
Cons is juggling childcare with filming days. I was pregnant with our second child during filming of AO and our eldest was at school, so childcare was an issue and we really had to juggle our family life to get everything done. We are lucky and have great friends and family around us who helped us out at times. Sometimes I was leaving the location early to get back for the school run. This meant that Neil and Ian then had extra work to do on set.
Neil: Our eldest is now 7 years old and he loves helping us out where possible. So for example many a weekend was spent on Dartmoor just me and Jake filming pick up shots or filming extra bits and pieces. Jake has definitely earned his ‘Directors Assistant’ credit!
D&CFilm: Amanda is the composer. What approach do you take to the score and are you developing a Rendered Pictures ‘sound’?
Amanda: So RW was my first feature film I have a musical background, however, in terms of using a midi system set up this is still quite new to me. My digital audio workstation of choice this time round was Cuesbase 8.5.
In terms of developing a sound for this film, I took influences from various TV shows we were watching at the time. I am a big box-set fan and would listen out for any styles of music that felt would fit with our film. I would note it down and then recreate in Cuebase and adapt to fit our sounds. Like with any trends there were sounds that seemed to flow through many shows for example there were lots of variations on a drum beat to drive the story along. This was something I experimented with and came up with a beat that feeds through the film. I regularly chatted through my ideas with Neil and there was a point that we both liked the idea of having a beat to symbolise time ticking by. The residents have a set amount of time before disaster will strike and I wanted to get this across in my music. I used various instruments to convey this beat as the film moves along with the finale mixing together all the sounds to reach a crescendo.
I am very much about keeping the music to a minimum and keeping it subtle. I will often strip back the music and try not to flood the scene with it too much.
And not forgetting my love of John Carpenter’s music he always has a big influence on my music.
D&CFilm: You’re way successful in securing distribution deals. What do you put that down to – is it storytelling, ambition, subject matter, themes, good planning?
Good planning and a good agent – we consult with the experts before and during our projects. It is all about having a sale point. For us it is cgi. We cannot afford a big named actor so we concentrate heavily on our visual effects which is in our ability. Buyers are always looking for a key selling point. For example the current market may be more favourable for a horror genre and in a few years time that may swing towards an action movie. We keep an eye on the market and produce within reason to get in amongst all that.
D&CFilm: What’s in store for the future?
The next film. We have already started pre production we are in the early stages and are location scouting and exploring script ideas at the moment.
D&CFilm: The UK distribution deal is yet to be secured (please let us know, so we can do another story). Where can we see Alien Outbreak and where can we find out more?
Our release date for USA DVD / streaming on Amazon is set for 11 February 2020.
UK deal has been done but release date not known at this time.