Growing Shadows: An Insider's Perspective

[Above: myself and Growing Shadows actor and co-producer, Robert Dukes, chatting off set - under the careful, time-keeping eyes of 1st AD Charlie Clarke! Photo by the AMAZING
Anna Lucia Sadler.]

    As many people do, I adore behind-the-scenes photographs - and I've been lucky to work with some of the best BTS photographers on my short film projects over the years. As a result, my hard drives are full of stunning images, capturing numerous memories, but doing so in a way that is beautiful enough to send to festivals or journalists. They're some of the best marketing materials a filmmaker can have, but do these glossy images capture the full truth of a shoot?

  Shortly after finishing the fantasy film Songbird, I invited Production Assistant Steve Giller to share his ground level stories from the shoot, which I put together in a blog post along with some photos Steve had taken on his phone. The blog post spread a fresh light on a film which had already been talked about at length, and the photos showed the crew from a unique and personal perspective. Furthermore, it was one of the most popular posts in nearly a decade of me having a blog!

  So, I thought it would be good to invite another crew member to share their on-set stories and personal photographs, but this time we're looking at another short film: Growing Shadows: The Poison Ivy Fan Film. Today, I'm delighted to be joined by one of the film's brilliant lead actors and producers, Robert Dukes. Rob jumped at the chance to share his thoughts, and also agreed with my opinion of 'phone photography':

   "I’ve always loved taking BTS pics on my phone whilst on set. You’ve spent days even weeks with the cast and crew, which brings a sense of familiarity and warmth to the photos, as you all bond along the way."

  After browsing his personal collection, Rob has chosen to share the following photos because he believes they "capture the fun of our job, but also the hard work that's been put in by everyone". To me, these images have brought back some lovely memories from one of my favourite shoots of all time - but for those of you who weren't there, I hope you enjoy this insider's view of the Growing Shadows set and crew...

Above: Definitely not your usual, perfect promo photo! Here's Rob in the car with me and Aislinn De'Ath (who played Ivy and also wrote and co-produced the film), with MUA Monica Montalvo just out of shot. I love how this photo captures the pre-shoot nerves combined with subtle excitement, as it was taken on the way to set at the very beginning of the shoot.

   Above: Bruce's entrance was lit in a way that was a visual reference to the character's alter ego. This brilliant moment was actually Rob's idea, and he couldn't resist a selfie

   On the subject of playing such an iconic character, whilst also juggling the co-producer role, Rob had this to say: "It was a privilege. Being part of all the discussions, the scribbled drawings, the screen shots, even Pinterest posts about the look and feel of the film, was wonderful. We had the ability to take our time with this, to really try and create something that we ourselves would want to see for Poison Ivy. Juggling the Actor/Producer role was actually easier than I had imagined, mainly because of Sophie; she had made sure that once Aislinn and I stepped onto set, all we had to do was act. We just had the pleasure of playing in the world that had been created."

Above: angles of the set we've never let you see before - and with the full house lights on! For certain shots, the set had to be moved away from the wall, enabling us to set up the camera behind Ivy's bed.

   Rob has some lovely memories of the first time he saw the set. "Walking onto set as Bruce, with Aislinn in the cell (created and built by our fantastic Production Designer, Charlotte Ball), was perfect. Everyone had clearly brought their A game with this; we had managed to put together a cast and crew who loved Batman lore as much as we did, and it showed."

Above: sound recordist Ben Metsers, and Aislinn De'Ath on set as Ivy. She's wearing sandals here because her legs are out of shot, but most of the time Aislinn had to walk around bare foot!

   Continuing his thoughts on the atmosphere of the set, Rob says: "the room was dimly lit - so dim in fact that we couldn't see into the corners of the room (kit needed labeling with bright LX tape just so it could be found again). The lights pitched shadows up the walls, creating tricks of the mind. The soft green hue played across the floor. The 'cell' smelt damp; there was the occasional drip of water from the ceiling and the lighting captured the dust in the air beautifully. I was thrilled - we had found and orchestrated our Arkham Asylum!"

Above: production designer Charlotte Ball (shown here in a pre-pandemic mask!) had to disassemble the cell, spray-paint it white, and reassemble it again, in the space of a couple of hours! Luckily we had a lovely crew full of people who volunteered to help her, including Rob.

  "What was rather special was being there to see the cell taken down, repainted and reassembled in a different corner of the room. Plants were brought in - more plants than I had imagined! They adorned the set as the camera team created our 'sunshine through the window' moments. Ivy's new cell had sprung up, just like her plants. I just stood back and smiled; I knew we had assembled the right team."

Above: Aislinn was constantly podded, pulled and painted throughout the course of the shoot - it wasn't the easiest costume in the world to wear! - but I love the smiles Rob caught in the middle photo of Aislinn having her foot painted green.

  "I'm not actually sure if this is widely known," says Rob, "but Aislinn and I - at the time of filming - were engaged. We are really very lucky because we work well together. This wasn't our first time acting together, we get to do it more often than either of us had thought we would. One of the most enjoyable aspects of finding our Ivy and Bruce was seeing what aspects of ourselves began to drift into the performances, something that we were able to work on together with Sophie as our director. Sophie has known Aislinn for a number of years and I was delighted to be the third musketeer to them."

Above: Clair Gleave's portrayal of Dr Quinzel has gone down really well with our YouTube viewers - and the patient Clair was able to keep her involvement in the film secret for nearly two years!

  Rob was equally impressed by Clair, who created a fantastic chemistry with Aislinn within minutes of meeting her on the day of filming. "I would be remiss if I didn't mention Clair Gleave here, our third and final member of the cast. Clair brought her character to life in a way that hasn't really been explored before - which meant that she had a blank slate to play with and she smashed it."

Above: moments of candid joy among our (predominantly female) crew, all caught by Rob's camera phone.

   "As our film is predominately about Poison Ivy, rather than Batman - we wanted this to be reflected in our crew; we wanted to have as many women as possible. The 1st AD can often have the unfair mantle of unpopular person on set, but our Charlie Clarke side-stepped that with ease. She ran the set with an enthusiasm that permeated the film itself." 

   Other female members of our crew included: "the incredible Inma Cook (assistant to Charlotte Ball), Sarah-Jane Lyon (who designed Ivy's look), Monica Montalvo (our on set MUA), Samantha Harris (2nd AC), and my life long friend, Anna Sadler, who caught BTS shots for us throughout - a perspective no one else could have captured."

Above: DOP Will Price, lining up the camera for one of the final shots - and on the right, a fake camera, which met an untimely end at the hands of an iconic prop!

   At the time of writing this, Growing Shadows: The Poison Ivy Fan Film has just over 22,500 views, with 255 comments and more than 600 likes - all of which, Rob admits, is incredibly touching: "I’m blown away that over 20,000 people have seen Growing Shadows! To those people I say: thank you! Thank you for taking the time to jump into our world, our Arkham, our Poison Ivy. "

   I hope you've all enjoyed today's guest blog post (and huge thanks to Rob for his contributions! It's such a pleasure to work with him.). For those of you who haven't seen our beloved fan film yet, you can watch it below or on Vimeo - because what's better to watch during Hallowe'en month than a film set in an Asylum?



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