Telling a story within the confines of a short film can be challenging enough. Throw in songs, dance and a story about stories and you’ve got a singing / dancing short-form extravaganza. We spoke to Dom Lee and Grace Hancock about their new musical Between The Lines
Why a musical?
Dom Lee: Towards the end of 2019, me and Grace were part of a team which entered Exeter Phoenix’s 48hr film challenge. For years I’d wanted to try making a musical entry… because why not make something which is already somewhat stressful/complex even more so! I like making films in different genres, so a musical seemed a fun one to try.
We were lucky enough to win with our entry ‘Counsellors’. This led to wanting to make another musical…but not in 48 hours. So at the start of 2020 we thought discussed ideas alongside teammates Elisabeth Burnette and Camilla Joyce, one of which loosely resembled what Between The Lines would become…Then lockdown happened and it got put on the back-burner. Come February 2021 we really started working on it again and it’s been non-stop ever since!
What’s the story and why did you think it would work as a musical?
Grace Hancock: The story is about shy book lover, Jane who is unexpectedly tasked with saving her beloved library from closure. We follow her adventures as all her favourite literary characters help her to find the words and overcome her anxiety.
You can’t have all those familiar faces from familiar books in one place without having a song and dance about it! A musical seemed perfect for this story’s genre because it accentuates the feel-good factor we wanted to create.
How did the songwriting process work? Were there any particular challenges?
Grace Hancock: Once the characters with songs were decided upon, I would work closely with the script and discuss with Dom what each song should convey in terms of emotion and message for the overall film, as they all tackle different aspects of Jane’s anxiety. I would then get too excited and write the fully-fledged songs and send them to Dom in the hope he’d like them. Luckily, he shared my enthusiasm for the first draft of each song so the edits thereafter were relatively slight.
The particular challenges came when producing/mastering the songs in the time frame needed as, at this point, I’m fairly new to the process but it was a fantastic opportunity to learn more on the subject. The end product is something I can say I’m very proud of.
A musical short is a bit of a rarity, did making Between The Lines highlight why that is, in terms of workload? And were there different things to consider?
Dom Lee: I think musicals are a bit of a love/hate genre, both for audiences and filmmakers alike so there are probably quite a few directors out there who would never consider making one! The time it takes to film well is potentially a factor (as we found out), dance routines and syncing the singing to backing tracks takes longer than a ‘conventional’ shoot. Our fabulous choreographer Rebecca (Bex) Melvin Phillips did a brilliant job as well as teaching everyone the routines that were needed.
In terms of workload, it was certainly the most prep I’ve had to do on a film before shooting. It involved going through each of the songs and working out blocking, or what actions we see on screen as many were timed to the beats or lyrics of the songs. It certainly adds another element to think about.
The makeup and costumes look amazing. What can you tell us about how they were created?
Dom Lee: The costumes are all the work of the incomparable Minna Gibbs-Nicholls – her creativity and designs really were incredible. Every time she unveiled a new costume it was ‘Well that’s my new favourite!’ The amount of care, attention and detail which went into the Dictionary character, in particular, is still jaw-dropping really. We were so fortunate she got involved in the film as I’m not sure what we’d have done without her to be honest!
The amazing make-up was the work of Ash Linton and Molly Mulcrone. They did a fantastic job working on our Dracula (and his brides) as well as our take on The Mad Hatter and March Hare (which involved a prosthetic nose) from Alice in Wonderland.
What hurdles did you have to overcome to find and shoot at the locations?
Dom Lee: We were very lucky with how all the locations panned out really – Minna had connections with a few local schools, one of which became our primary library location and from the other we recruited students to play school children in our homage to Gulliver’s Travels. The library location itself was difficult to film because of the somewhat flat ambient lighting and white walls but we’re navigating around it the best we can with a little ‘fixing in post’. She also helped source the woods for our ‘Alice in Wonderland’ scene which was on a private farm near Buckfastleigh.
The Golden Hind in Brixham was the only location in mind to shoot our Peter Pan scene – it was a tricky shoot in that we had to film specific angles to minimise the amount of VFX work needed, i.e how much of Brixham you could see in the background… which wasn’t quite how I imagined Neverland to look like. It’s probably a good example of being realistic in what we could achieve with limited resources to work with.
Like many filmmakers before, we made use of the Cellar Bar at the City Gate Hotel in Exeter to film our homage to ‘A Christmas Carol’. The other locations are streets, beaches and woodland which were mainly found using Producer Jeff Sleeman’s knowledge of Devon.
Was editing and post-production a challenge?
Dom Lee: It was certainly the most challenging film I’ve edited! Being tied in that most footage can only be used at particular moments because it needs to sync with the songs does make things more limiting than a non-musical film. We did still adjust sections of the music during editing, extending instrumental sections or removing a few sections completely.
Somewhat ironically, the trickiest scene to edit was actually the opening sequence which doesn’t contain any songs! It was a tough balance between setting up the story/characters Vs wanting to zip the film along and get to the songs.
Alongside the music there are quite a lot of sound design elements which really help bring the film to life and hopefully give it a magical quality. There’s also a large number of VFX shots which range from adding tiny school children onto a beach to adding an inflatable crocodile leaping from the sea. I’ve deliberately not counted how many there are to do as I think the number would scare me!
Do you plan on a normal festival run and are there specialist events it could be screened? And where can we watch it?
Dom Lee: Festivals are certainly the plan so hopefully an upbeat musical comedy will appeal to some. We’re sorting some screenings across a few local libraries in Devon over the coming months so that will be the first chance for a wider audience to see it. Keep an eye on our social accounts for the dates/more info. We’re also considering doing a couple of screenings towards the end of the year in a different format to the library ones.
Dom Lee: Between The Lines was certainly the most complex film I’ve ever attempted but I think you’ve just go to do these things! It was certainly made easier in that we were surrounded by the most incredible cast & crew who made filming such a fun process. It’s been a long ‘journey’ full of ups and downs to get to this point but we’re so excited to finally start sharing it with everyone.
Thank you! Looking forward to watching Between The Lines
top image: Poster by Luana Picard-Boni.
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