Hidden Nowhere is a lockdown time-travelling sci-fi short set in a field and pulls in references from genre classics. Writer-director Grace Fox combined guerilla filmmaking tactics and big ambition for the intimate film. We chatted to her about the inspiration, application and inner geek
D&CFilm: A field wouldn’t be everyone’s idea of where to set a time-travelling sci-fi. Where did you get the idea and what inspired you to make it?
Grace Fox: The idea came simply from a location I had access to. I love sci-fi films and wanted to create something that fell into that genre, but I also didn’t have much money to spend, so couldn’t build a fancy set that allowed me to shoot an epic night time sci-fi battle with futuristic space guns and bog monsters! So, I used what I had available… which was a field! Quite boring in comparison BUT, the power of writing allows you to set anything anywhere… and make it interesting.
Inspirations came from quite a few places and my inner geek definitely shone through as the film makes subtle references to Doctor Who (the Time Traveller’s scarf), Back to the Future, The Terminator, and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (the Time Traveller is wearing Arthur Dent inspired pyjamas). I also took inspirations from Pandora’s Box (will he open it, won’t he open it) and HG Wells’ The Time Machine.
Hidden Nowhere was made during the first UK coronavirus lockdown and I was inspired to make it mostly by what was going on around me. I saw friends making films and staying creative and I knew that I wanted to do something too. However, I wanted to make something slightly different to what everyone else was making. I watched a lot of lockdown films about pandemic-inspired stories, or horrors shorts with similar themes. Nothing wrong with these at all. They kept me entertained, but I wanted to create something that was uplifting, fun and enjoyable. I wanted to put a smile on people’s faces and leave them intrigued and wanting to find out more about the story. But most of all, I wanted to help them take their minds off of the worrying COVID situation for a few minutes.
D&CFilm: As a director, what are the challenges of a two hander – what are the positives and negatives of that style of storytelling?
Grace Fox: I love two handers. I’ve written and directed my fair share of them now.
As a filmmaker, two handers are great when it comes to making a low-budget film. Everything in general can be smaller. The cast is smaller, so the crew can be smaller. You don’t have to worry so much about spending out tons on accommodation, food, costume, etc.
As a director, I always feel that two handers are a bit more intimate. Having a smaller cast is great as it means I get to spend more quality time with my actors. They will have my full attention and focus and I don’t have to worry about splitting it between lots of people. The quality time that I get with my actors is crucial with a two hander as they are the only two who will be carrying the story.
Grace Fox: Emma and Rory are two truly amazing people who have become very close friends of mine. I just love working with them and they are also very generous with their time. I’ve learnt a lot from them over the last few years and they continue to teach me new things… even now.
When I worked with them both for the first time on my directorial debut short film Serpentine back in 2018, one thing that really charmed me about them both, was their willingness and joy at teaching and sharing their knowledge with the younger generation. They’re both very humble people and do what they do because they love the arts and being creative and telling stories. They’re easy to talk to. Easy to work with. And good fun to be around.
They’ve helped me grow as a filmmaker and I love them for that. And I truly value their friendship.
D&CFilm: Hidden Nowhere was made during lockdown. How did that time affect you as a filmmaker and is there anything you learnt that you’ll take forward into non-lockdown projects?
Grace Fox: Lockdown was a strange time – as I’m sure it was for most. At the start of 2020, and only a few months after I’d graduated from university, I got a full time job as a videographer and editor – which was amazing as it was a job that would sit nicely alongside my indie film work.
I was in the office for about a month before we were told we would be working from home. It was strange, as I hadn’t got the chance to get to know my colleagues very well. And I was furloughed for a couple of months too which was a worrying thought long term. But I used that time to develop some of my film skills – getting more comfortable with cameras, sound design, etc.
One big thing that I learnt from lockdown in regards to shooting a film, is that I don’t always need a big crew, which is what I had been used to with my other films. With Hidden Nowhere, I decided to shoot it solo. It was a no brainer as I figured, the less amount of bodies on set, the smaller the risk of potentially spreading COVID.
It was hard work working without a small crew and it took a little bit longer to film, especially as I was directing, d.o.p-ing, and monitoring the sound all at the same time. It was a real juggling act, but it was also great fun and I learnt a lot and gained new skills by doing it.
My new film, Up All Night, which was shot back in July this year (2021), was also a solo shoot. But it was a bigger film, and a lot tougher than Hidden Nowhere. There were lots of scenes with lots of movement. And it was also set at night so I had lighting to figure out too. Although it was really cool doing it by myself, I would definitely have a small crew for a film of that length in the future, as it took a long time to shoot, and it was exhausting. But worth it.
So, one thing that I have learnt from making a film in lockdown, is that you can make a decent film by yourself – of a certain length. The smaller the project, the easier it is to do alone. But the bigger the project, with more movement and lighting needs, the harder it gets. It isn’t impossible though.
D&CFilm: You’ve got another sci-fi coming, in the form of Up All Night. What is it that attracts you to the genre, and what interests you in the stories you write and the characters you create?
Grace Fox: In 2005, as an eight year old, I can remember sitting in front of the TV when the first episode of the newly rebooted Doctor Who started. Seeing shop mannequins come to life with laser guns for hands, was the moment I fell in love with the sci-fi genre.
Mannequins with laser guns for hands? Sounds ridiculous, right? But that’s what I love about science fiction. The most ridiculous thing can make sense without too much of an explanation.
What I really love at the moment, is the idea of a world in which things aren’t quite right. Like the sky suddenly turning a blood red signalling the start of an alien invasion, fish creatures crawling out of the sea to claim revenge on local fishermen. Or a whole village being terrorised by strange bog monsters at night. It’s typical sci-fi (and fantasy) and it’s a genre I’m totally enthralled with.
If I had to choose a genre of film that I could only write and make for the rest of my life, then I would definitely choose sci-fi. I’m starting to tip-toe further into the genre by exploring ways to make them well, but cheaply (at the moment).
One day I’d love to make a big feature film onboard a massive spaceship and have huge sci-fi battles with futuristic space guns and bog monsters! But for now, as an independent filmmaker, making films (mostly with the money that comes out of my own pocket), I have to work with what I have available to hand and what I can afford. But I try not to let this get in my way because like I said previously, you have all the power when it comes to writing.
I’ve made three sci-fi films (including up All Night) so far over the last three years, and you could say that my next one also fits into the sci-fi genre. So it is definitely a genre that I keep going back to, and will continue to in the future. You’ll hear more about my new one on social media in the next few weeks…
As for the characters I create, I like writing about all sorts of different people, but I’ve always enjoyed writing older characters. Characters who have lived a bit. Have experienced the world and its wonders and joys. As well as the pain and suffering it can bring. Older characters are just a bit more interesting to me. They seem more three dimensional. More believable. There’s more to explore with them. I’m also a big fan of films with older leads.
D&CFilm: Thanks Grace!
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