Stories from the Set: Growing Shadows

   By now, many of you will have watched Growing Shadows: The Poison Ivy Fan Film. It’s had over 7,000 views on YouTube alone, with many lovely comments posted underneath, and the film’s producers (Aislinn De’Ath and Robert Dukes) and I are so grateful for the response it’s had.

   It’s been two months today since the film was released, and so I thought it was time for me to write another one of my ‘Stories From The Set’ blog posts. I’ve already shared details of what went into the development of the film – but, for those of you who want to know more, here’s what happened when cameras rolled on everyone’s favourite green goddess…

April 4th 2018 - The Night Before

  Many people aren't aware of this, but Aislinn and Rob's flat was basically the Ivy hub during production. It even had a 'welcome to the bat cave' style doormat on our arrival! The majority of the crew slept there, ate there and even watched a movie together: I put Gilda on that evening, to help get everyone into a ‘Film Noir’ state of mind, but we had a few giggles at some of the 1940s acting while we were watching it (not laughing at Rita Hayworth, of course: she still comes across as glorious and inspirational to this day!). 

   The crew arrived in stages (some of who had to pick up kit or set dressing en route), and it was a flurry of activity, with scripts, air beds and fake plants everywhere – but we also had a moment when we looked around and realised, for the first time, that the majority of our on-set crew was female. We hadn’t set out to do this intentionally, but it created a lovely atmosphere from the get-go. Needless to say, the bonding began quickly.

April 5th 2018 - Shoot Day One

[The morning of shoot day 1. Photo credit: Anna Lucia Sadler]

   There were slightly less smiles and laughter at 5am the next day when, blurry eyed, myself and Aislinn De’Ath (and by default, 1st AD Charlie Clarke, who was sharing a room with me!) got up and began the long process of sewing Aislinn into her Ivy costume. Because the costume was supposed to look like a natural extension of Ivy’s own skin, we couldn’t have any zippers, so hand-sewing was the way forward – and Aislinn had to stay in the costume for the rest of the day, both days, from dawn until dusk. What a trooper!

[Above: Robert backstage.
Photo credit: Anna Lucia Sadler]
   It was a relatively early start for the rest of the crew, too. As Aislinn moved into make-up with Monica Montalvo (see above), Charlie started rounding up the rest of the crew so that they could all get to set by 8am. We could only afford a limited window of time on location, so every moment was precious. At this point, I need to give a shout out to DOP Will Price – not for being amazing at his job (although he is that too), but for downing a hot cup of coffee faster than I thought a human being could possibly do, as Charlie ushered him out of the door! Every morning felt like a military operation, and my brilliant crew were the A-Team.

   Day One was a complicated filming block because we had to capture all of the dialogue between Poison Ivy (Aislinn) and Bruce Wayne (Rob), with no budget for any of our days to spill over. This meant that we had to limit the amount of takes we could get for each set-up, and we also had to cut a couple of my intended camera angles - but luckily, in spite of the pressure, Aislinn and Rob both delivered some stellar performances. This was also the day we shot Bruce's entrance (homaging Batman's cowl through a use of shadows), which was a complicated lighting set-up that required precise blocking, in order to make the light hit his face in exactly the right place, but we nailed it by the third take.

[Above: Robert Dukes & Aislinn De'Ath on set. Photo credit: Anna Lucia Sadler]

  With so much dialogue to be recorded on the first day, the main challenge came from the location itself. We were filming in The Vaults in Waterloo - an incredibly atmospheric place which our Location Manager Konstantinos Lyrakis sourced for us - and the brick tunnels surrounding our set were actually long-disused tube lines. While this looked incredible, and made a perfect stand-in for Arkham Asylum, we were underground, and there were still tube trains running in the lines above us. These trains came more frequently as the day went on, and shook the location while rumbling noisily every time. So we had to be clever with our takes as much as possible, timing them around the London rail services - but no matter how hard we tried, the tube trains always seemed to arrive overhead at the worst moments! Kudos to our cast and also our Sound Recordists, Matthew Jones (day one) and Ben Metsers (day two), for being so tolerant.

   But in spite of all the above challenges, there were plenty of smiles too - particularly when inappropriate jokes were made about the 'golden shaft of light', created by the camera crew to shine on Poison Ivy's dying plant (!). We also made time to eat together while we were backing up the rushes that evening, but everyone went to bed pretty early that night, ready to start all over again the next day.

April 6th 2018 - Shoot Day Two

[Above: Aislinn De'Ath's first close-up on shoot day 2. Photo credit: Anna Lucia Sadler]

   Compared with day one's jam-packed filming schedule, there was a lot less for us to shoot on day two. The battle of wits between Ivy and Bruce makes up the majority of the script, leaving only three short scenes at the end of the film for us to capture on this second filming day. We did have another character in these scenes though, so enter Clair Gleave as... and this is a bit of a spoiler if you haven't seen the film yet... Dr Quinzel, aka a pre-Joker Harley Quinn. 

   Clair proved to be the queen of patience, because she kept her involvement in the film completely under wraps - even when our post-production overran - so that audiences could enjoy her surprise reveal. She brought a great energy to set, and perfectly captured a younger, slightly more carefree version of Harley. Her and Aislinn also had great chemistry together (which Aislinn obviously had with Rob too, as he became her husband five months after we wrapped!) so we were able to bring their iconic pairing to life on the screen. Shoot day two was also the first day I met Clair Gleave in person, but she was a breeze to work with.

   However, although there were less shots and much shorter scenes for us to film, Day Two was logistically the most difficult. We had a full set change, and unfortunately our tight schedule meant that the set had to be dismantled, taken outside and fully re-painted, THEN re-assembled and filmed in again, all on the same day! We only had one set of bars, and they had to be adapted to look like two completely different cells for separate scenes. These are the joys of low-budget film production, and I am indebted to production designer Charlotte Ball for her enduring calmness. Art Department Assistant Inma Cook, and any crew who weren't directly needed on set (such as Rob and Monica), all helped to change the set, but it was still no mean feat - and I'm impressed they managed to stay healthy with all that quick-fire spray paint flying around!

[Above: it's all smiles from our Art Department, in spite of a challenging set change!
Photo credit: Anna Lucia Sadler]

   Another challenge on day two was the second-to-last scene, in which Dr Quinzel and Poison Ivy walk down a corridor. The scene was very simple on paper, but I had planned a wide shot which covered the full scene with subtle jib movement (sorry, crew!). Timing was crucial for this shot to work, for both the actors and the camera team; the camera needed to go from ceiling to eye-level, riding the focus the whole time, and land exactly as Ivy and Dr Quinzel reached the end of the corridor. What's more, the jib we were using was the old one I 'rescued' from a knocked-down film studio years ago, and it's slightly temperamental, so the move took a few takes as a result. In fact, the jib's dodgy behaviour caused so many takes that we ran out of time to film any extra shots for that scene - which added an extra pressure for everyone to nail every bit of the scene. But, through a good deal of skill and a great amount of perseverance, we got it in the bag. Massive kudos to Will Price, again, but also his camera team: 1st AC Seb Hawkins, and 2nd AC Samantha Harris. 

  And all the time we were shooting that complicated jib shot, Charlotte and her team had to turn off their drills, so they had to quickly finish re-assembling/painting that cell set in-between takes so that it was ready in time for us to film the next scene. Talk about a mad rush!

   We were filming right up to the wire, and because The Vaults turns into a wicked night club in the evenings, we had to break the set and pack up all our kit very quickly. But Aislinn took the time to make sure everyone (who wasn't driving) had a glass of champagne, in order to make a toast, and she delivered a really lovely, emotional speech. Rob also left his mark - literally, on the public graffiti wall outside The Vaults - to express his love for our wonderful little crew. Then it was time for everyone to hit the road, most of whom weren't just leaving set, but leaving London as well.

After The Shoot

[Above: post-production. Taken during sound mixing by Tristan Powell]

   Although I carried on working with Aislinn and Rob in post-production - and we recruited some equally brilliant new crew members during that stage - it took us a long time to stop missing our on-set team. It was one of the nicest shoots we've ever done, not only because of the buzz of excitement at making a Batman film, but because everyone was so supportive of one another, even in spite of the hard work and strict time limits. 

   Often, when I finish a shoot - even one I love - I'm looking forward to going home and sleeping in my own bed. On this production, it went far too fast, and I just felt cheated. I could've carried on going for a full week, at least - and I know that many of the team felt the same.

   We did shoot everything we needed to get within those two days in April 2018. The finished film is proof of that - and it's time to move on to new productions. But if I got the opportunity to go back to Gotham one day, either on another gorilla level production or (dare a I say it) through a big studio budget, you wouldn't have to twist my arm to get me to say yes. What's more, I know exactly who I'd call to come back on set with me...


p.s. check out more behind-the-scenes photos on the Triskelle Pictures Facebook page now.


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