Growing Ivy

   As filmmakers, even independent ones, we often have projects that we can't talk about. For that reason, we can work passionately on things for years before they are ever mentioned on social media. This was definitely the case with my next short, currently nicknamed The Poison Ivy fan film. For my followers, it looked like I suddenly dropped the news on Facebook, along with a surprise funding campaign; the truth is it's something that has been going on behind the scenes for a very, very long time.

Teaser poster by Strelka Design
   I mentioned in an earlier blog post how much I loved Poison Ivy. When I was a little kid, she was my favourite character in Batman: The Animated Series, and I enjoyed Uma Thurman's portrayal in 1997's Batman & Robin to the extent that I bought my first Poison Ivy action figure. My view of that interpretation of Ivy has unfortunately been ruined over time, and as this geeky kid grew into a geeky adult, I realised how the character has been underrepresented in films and TV in recent years. Whenever people asked me if I'd do a superhero film, given the chance (a question that often comes up over drinks in the filmmaking community), my answer would always be "only if it was Poison Ivy".

   The reason we kept the project quiet was a fear that it would get shut down by the bigger studios. That once happened to a friend of mine who worked on a Doctor Who fan project (enforcers even confiscated the production's Weeping Angels!), and it was hard to ignore the recent news story of the makers of a Star Trek fan film who ended up being sued! But we have repeatedly stressed the fact that our Poison Ivy fan film is just that, a fan film; we are not endorsed by DC or Warner Brothers in any way, and no one is going to make a profit from the film or its campaign. And - touch wood - so far we've been met with nothing but a warm reception.

   So, how long has this film been in development, and what have we been up to all this time? Let's start from the beginning...


It all started with Pinterest. I was waiting for my usual bus to Giltbrook Studios one morning (corporate agency Dynomite Productions used to be based there, before the studio was turned into a warehouse), and I was scrolling through Pins on my phone when I spotted something actor Aislinn De'Ath had posted: a modern piece of fan art, showing Poison Ivy kissing Batman. Ais and I had just finished filming The Dress just a couple of months previously, and we'd met a couple of times in London before then, but the fact that she was a fellow Ivy fan had never come up. 

The seeds were planted...

   Aislinn and I started going into more detail via private messages. Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy had come to a close, but the Gotham City Sirens film hadn't yet been announced, so we both shared the same disdain at the lack of Ivy in the movies.

   We talked about the things we wanted to see in the script. We definitely wanted to get Ivy right for the lifelong fans, whilst still finding a way to make the supernatural character appeal to gritty-loving modern audiences. Ais' biggest inspiration was the chemistry and the surprising shared understanding between Iyy and Bruce Wayne, so she wanted to Bruce to visit her in the story. My biggest inspiration was the Arkham Asylum setting (I love Asylums!) and the effect that place would have on Ivy's mentality, particularly when she was locked away from nature. So Aislinn looked at Cast Shadows by Ann Nocenti for research (we also later looked at Neil Gaiman's stories of Ivy in her cell, among other comics), and she excitedly started writing the script.

  We both agreed that Aislinn would be perfect for Ivy, and her partner (now fiance) Robert Dukes for Bruce Wayne. In terms of a filming date, at the time I said "I have nothing on in January..."

   That definitely changed...


   Of course, we didn't shoot Poison Ivy in January 2016. I had an email from Creative England in December 2015 saying that Songbird (then just a script by Tommy Draper) had reached the interview stage for the iShorts scheme, so I spent all of the Christmas break preparing for that. We didn't get the funding, but Songbird went into production anyway because the team and I loved the premise.

   But I did get to meet Rob Dukes for the first time in January 2016, which led to our first official production meeting. I invited Ais & Rob to join me at London Short Film Festival, where we watched the 'Gothic' line-up of shorts, and I then stayed over at their flat. Needless to say, the three of us got on together like a house on fire, and I knew we had a great little team in place. The following day, Night Owls premiered to an audience of hundreds at LSFF's 'Girlhood' event.

Can you tell what it is yet? An unpainted teaser image I shared in February 2016

   Aislinn had managed to work on various drafts of the script by this point, so the story was pretty much locked.  I also had a week off from the 'day job' in February, which I used to write out my shot list for the film, and to develop the first test run of materials for Ivy's costume (see above). Things were going well, so we all thought we'd be back on track to shoot the film in Autumn of that year.

   I think you guys know what happened next, although I certainly didn't expect it at the time...


The Songbird shoot, during a very rainy day in August 2016. Photo by Robert Brown.

   Songbird ended up being the biggest project of mine to date. We were lucky enough to get X Factor star Janet Devlin in the lead role, and she brought her incredible fan base with her - resulting in a funding campaign that completely smashed our original target. We upped the scale of production to match our new budget, but that scale meant almost all of my time was taken up by Songbird, and Songbird alone.

   Aislinn and Rob also continued to work on various projects, and both appeared in Rachel by Karen Anstee around the same time I was shooting Songbird, and which also had a successful funding campaign.

   We hoped that, in spite of everything, we'd still be able to film Poison Ivy in September 2016, but other commitments got in the way for all of us. For me, my life was then all about Songbird's post production, which was a heavy feat, and which went on longer than expected. Which brings me on to...


BTS from the initial make-up tests with Sarah-Jane Lyon. Photo by Anna Lucia Sadler.

   Life and careers moved forwards, with many exciting things happening for all of us. But it also meant that, apart from a Skype meeting in the Spring, we'd had very little time to see each other in 2017. I was still working on Songbird's post-production by this point, but Ivy had progressed as well. Aislinn had enlisted the skills of top Make-Up & Body Artist Sarah-Jane Lyon, and we hatched a plan to get a photograph of Ais in full Ivy make-up to show to potential investors. 

   We finally found a date where we were all free in October 2017, and photographer Anna Lucia-Sadler got not one but a whole suite of gorgeous behind-the-scenes photographs (which we've just released online). We also used my time in London to rehearse for the film, and to do some intensive character development. It was a wonderful couple of days.

  Things were back in business. Shortly after my visit, we created some materials for investors and started trying to raise funds (and interest) by privately contacting a few people. The response was good, so we set a new plan: filming in February 2018, when the nights are still dark. We also did a shout-out for a location scout, and film graduate Konstantinos Lyrakis answered the call. It also meant that he spent his entire Christmas break searching for the perfect Arkham Asylum in London, on a tight budget. The guy is a trooper!


Aislinn records her interview for
the funding campaign
   And now we're up to date. Although we did receive a lot of interest behind-the-scenes, we haven't been able to raise enough funds through private investors, and now we have returned to the old necessary evil that is crowdfunding. But the plus side of this is that we've finally been able to share news of the project with you guys, and we've had some beautiful merchandise made by Strelka Design and The Phoenix Workshop to give away as rewards.

  We've also locked in more great crew members (including production designer Charlotte Ball, who I've had attached to the project since pretty much the moment Songbird finished filming!) and made great progress with Ivy's costume, thanks to the pattern cutting skills of the inimitable Jema Hewitt.

   Yes, this film has been a long time coming. but we've never stopped loving it. Waves of excitement are constantly felt among the team - particularly as the shoot days (now finally locked in for the start of April 2018!) are quickly approaching. There's a lot to do, and we still need more funds in order to make the film the way that we want to make it. 

   We haven't got long until the campaign ends, and we still need a push to reach our goal. So please, support our funding campaign by donating, or by sharing it far and wide. Do it for every geeky child that dreams of bringing their favourite superhero to the big screen.



  1. I am so glad you are giving Poison Ivy the credit she deverses. Also, is your film going to be a complete adaptation of “Cast Shadows”? I really loved that book, and it was a perfect look at her releationship with Batman. Apart from the scene where Batman has been poisoned by the flowers, and he must kiss Poison Ivy for the cure, and he at first decides to punch her, hesitates, then willingly shares a romantic kiss with her instead, curing him, and at first assuming Batman dead, a distraught Poison Ivy tries to kill herself, further revealing her feelings for him, my favourite part was at the end of the book when Batman filled Ivy's cell at Arkham with flowers as a gift, to make sure her time there wasn't as daunting as it might have been. I don’t know if you are going to adapt the whole story of “Cast Shadows”, or even those two scenes, but I have always felt that story should be adapted to screen, not only because of how perfectly Ivy was written, but also because I feel that she has been underrated as a love interest of Batman.


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