Red Tusk set themselves a challenge of making a film for less than your average take away. What they created was the absorbing sci-fi, love and revenge short Rebel. We chatted to director Lewis Nadin about embracing limitations, getting creative and the reality of fight scenes.
D&CFilm: Rebel was your sci-fi no budget challenge – what appealed about making the film and why sci-fi?
Lewis Nadin: We hadn’t made a short film for a long while and I’d been itching to direct a film again. We really liked the idea of testing ourselves to see if we could make a film for as little money as we could, can we make a film for less than an average takeaway? At the time of planning the film Blade Runner 2049 had just been released, which became our biggest influence to head into the world of sci-fi, a genre we enjoy in general.
D&CFilm: What’s the story and what inspired Rebel, and where does it fit in with your other films – are there themes or styles you pursue?
Lewis Nadin: I was drawn to making a love and revenge story, I felt it’s a timeless theme that the viewer can immediately recognise without having to rely on any exposition or dialogue scenes. Which was key because neither myself or Sam are actors, delivering convincing dramatic dialogue is not our forte. I have a bit of a penchant for not showing the beginning of stories, our films tend to start in the middle of a situation. We were watching BR2049 at the time we wanted to replicate the slower pacing and lingering shots of vistas, however, we knew it needed a hook to draw you in so we opened on pure chaos of the ship already under attack and in its final moments before we could slow everything down.
I have a particular soft spot for lower budget and B-movies of the 80’s, so I wanted to give Rebel that VHS rental vibe. There’s a roughness to it, a lot of grain and noise, the images have a lot of colour and the props and FX feel every bit as DIY as they are. Actually, I think a lot of my work has that vibe, we know we have no money, self taught and using lower end equipment, I can either make excuses or just lean into it and embrace it.
D&CFilm: Where was it filmed? (The location scouting film on your site looks fab!)
Lewis Nadin: We really are lucky with our moorland and wooded areas here, half hour drive from my house or 15 minute walk and you’re in some stunning areas. We’ve really got to move away from woodlands now though because we’ve pretty much filmed every project in or around the woods!
The spaceship interior was a boiler room at my workplace, in the middle of summer we were running around a really small space in thick outfits, I think Sam suffered the most having to keep the full suit and gasmask on. We had just one side of pipes and controls to work with and about 4 metres of space to run up and down so there’s a lot of creative angles we had to deploy to make the space seem like the engine room of a ship. Because we were trying to add confusion to the viewer to match the confusion of the crew, it hid a lot of the set reuse or flipped shots.
The opening escape pod shot was a big cardboard box I painted black. At 31 years old, I sat inside it on the floor of my bedroom, holding the camera in my hand pretending to get sucked into space. Filmmaking…
D&CFilm: You’ve made loads of films – how important is it to keep your skills sharp through making things and challenging yourselves?
Lewis Nadin: In this day and age of YouTube it’s so easy to find tutorials and new ways of doing things that it pays dividends to keep watching and attempting new things even if they don’t pay off.
We made a music video for The Experimental called Long Time Dead, we filmed for an evening using the Red Tusk crew running around in green morph suits with the plan that I turn them into warped see through monsters. However, I got the technique completely wrong and we had to reshoot it all. That was a sore lesson learnt, though in hindsight I probably should have done some test shots… Maybe count that as two lessons learnt.
D&CFilm: You’re renowned for making music videos, what was the difference with making Rebel, and what was it like adding music to a film rather than film to music?
Lewis Nadin: Actually there wasn’t too much difference. A lot of the time a band will come to me with a track and I’ll listen to it until a vision of a story manifests, then I’ll write it and present it. When writing Rebel I spent a lot of time listening to Vangelis’ score for Blade Runner and other 80’s synthwave style tracks, which inspired the way I wrote the film with the music pushing how I imagined the shots looking.
David Wells, our composer for the film, was in a band that had a similar vibe to what I was listening to and created a wonderful score that gave it the sound I was imagining.
D&CFilm: No Budget feels like it’s going to become even more prolific. What’s it like making things on a shoestring, the ups and the downs?
Lewis Nadin: I think no-budget is more prolific now simply because of how accessible camera equipment is. Most people are walking with full film packages right in their pockets. But to me, no budget filmmaking has always had its place.
One of my biggest inspirations in wanting to make films was Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead and the slasher genre, those films especially early on had very small budgets, obviously huge in comparison to us but in terms of other genre films? Not much at all. Those filmmakers had to create new and ingenious ways to get their visions done and we’re seeing that in a new generation but now you can shoot and edit and release all at home.
On the flip side with so many having access to film equipment and so many social media platforms it’s really, really hard to get your voice out and be heard. It can feel like screaming into a hurricane and it’s actually pushed us to deactivate all of our accounts bar Facebook and Youtube, one for updates and one for hosting our videos. Instead of competing across the board we’re focusing our efforts at film festivals and at those people who want to view the films like the ones we make.
D&CFilm: It’s a pretty good fight scene – did anyone get hurt?
Lewis Nadin: Long story short we shot a fight scene but we felt it was too short and needed more oomph, so we reshot it with the idea that I’d be picked up and slammed through a tree that had fallen as the big finale. The tree was gimmicked so it would snap easier on impact and break my fall, however, in the film you’ll see Sam hit me and we both fall through instead.
At that point I had no better ideas so we continued regardless and the slam you see in the film was just how it was, Sam lifting me up and throwing me pretty much straight to the ground, no pads or SFX. Not going to lie, being slammed to the ground is about as much fun as it sounds. I was owed it though because I had hit him with the log at the beginning of the fight a fair few times. Although on reflection he did actually punch me in the face for real when he stood over me… I’m owed one, I’ll have to even that out in the next film. Still apart from a bruise here or there, no injuries to report.
D&CFilm: What’s the role of the artist / filmmaker in society?
Lewis Nadin: I think there’s always a need for escapism and entertainment, there’s always a need for the documentarians who keep telling the stories of those who need to be heard or keep us seeing the wonderful world we live in. The world and art of film hasn’t been as vast or easier to consume and in this current period we’re in, it’s actually very important to have a positive or meaningful distraction.
D&CFilm: How long did Rebel take you to make and how have you distributed it?
Lewis Nadin: Around 14 months all in. Definitely the longest we have taken on a project, I have a reputation of being able to turn around a music video in under two weeks, one of the Dead Frames videos took under a day, so that felt like an eternity.
We had a group discussion on how to release it and reach the biggest audience we could, we could’ve uploaded it straight to Facebook and boosted the post which in our experience would’ve gained us a lot more views overall but the compression and downgrade of the file would’ve made all our hard work seem pointless. We don’t have many YouTube subscribers so it became a hybrid of uploading to YouTube, sharing via Facebook and Twitter and boosting posts where possible.
We used a site called FilmFreeway to find festivals and started throwing Rebel wherever we could, honestly we were rejected way more than we’ve been accepted but that’s part of the game, to even get one laurel felt like a huge achievement.
D&CFilm: We noticed that you’ve got another film brewing – what can you tell us about it, and how has lockdown and the aftermath affected you?
Lewis Nadin: There is another film on the way, it’s from one love of mine to another, this time we’re moving into the Slasher film territory. I love slasher films, from the well crafted to the grimy schlock, but I feel they fell off a cliff during the 2000’s and we want to head back to basics and make something creepy and scary.
Rebel featured a lot of work in post with the effects so I’m looking forward to making a film that strips all of that away and is very practical in nature. We were looking at making a cool action film we had ready but with COVID finding interior locations is a big stumbling block.
Which ties into lockdown, it really slapped us back, we were gaining momentum after a year of vlogging and getting ready to release Rebel and it felt like two weeks after we finally got it out there we locked down. While I praise those who managed to keep going during lockdown and make films in their house, I really didn’t want to. I never felt like I had something to say and in truth I was about as keen to make content based on lockdown as people were of watching it.
D&CFilm: Looking forward to it and seeing more from Red Tusk. Thanks for your time Lewis.
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