Impact spoke with director Jack Delaney, whose seven part miniseries Making Sparks has just been released. The supernatural thriller is the first genre series to exclusive to mobile devices and is downloadable from both the Apple App Store and Google Play.
How did the project come about? And how was the decision made to distribute the series primarily on mobile devices?
A suitcase full of cash and some hastily scribbled notes on a stained KFC serviette. Ha! I wish. I was working on Persona, a daily soap show also for apps and got chatting with the exec producer on that who let me pitch on new shows they were looking at commissioning. We had a couple meetings and they liked the initial ideas so told me to go for it. The decision was made to go app-only because it’s the company’s whole USP – it’s actually a huge market place which very few people are taking hold of. Of course you have Youtube but that’s mainly cat doing flips and nonsense and you’ve got the normal streaming devices such as Netflix/iPlayer etc but that’s all long-form content rather than short snippets that people can watch on the go without Wifi or super good signal it’d take to stream an hour-long show.
What inspired you to the begin the project?
I love storytelling and wanted a calling card project to show off my skills with that – I’d also been really excited about the possibilities of new media. It’s a savagely competitive industry with a lot of gate-keepers and if you’re a young guy (I was 23 when I got it commissioned) there’s no way they’re going to trust you with say, £100k’s worth of feature film, decent dramas on the TV etc. but you can use more innovative ways to reach an audience for a fairly small budget.
When did you bring Adrian Reynolds on board? And how did working with a writer change the project?
I’ve been a huge fan of Adrian’s work for a while now – he script doctored my first few shorts at uni and so getting him in for this was a no-brainer. I love that his work is so fresh and has so many shades of grey. A lot of the time with low budget scripts you have either really shit comedies or really dark, portentous ‘single mother with cancer on skag’ type affairs in the style of social realism but with none of the humanity of the best examples of that movement. Sparks goes to some pretty dark places but there’s that humour and lightness of touch which helps alleviate these traits – the characters really engaged me from the off and Adrian really found a great way to work progressively within the trappings of the genre to give people something new.
How many people worked on the project?
I think end to end about 50-ish including post production etc – there’s credits for everyone on the website.
What prior experience did the key cast and crew members? Did this pose any problems on set?
Not really – they were all pros and we had a great team considering, everyone get on well and there were no real politics which there usually are… We were lucky enough to pick up Merv who starred in Skins and Jon Campling who was a death eater in Harry Potter – so some cool names. Like I say everyone was just great. Quick shout out to Sarah Pinchemain who was the production manager and without who the show just wouldn’t have happened and sound designer Chris McCloymont.
How long did shooting last?
6 days – though felt like 6 months!
What were the biggest challenges you faced making the show?
Er… just the usual lack of time, lack of money, lack of talent on my part hehe!
Knowing the series would be consumed primarily on mobile devices, did you have to make any special considerations when shooting it?
I think the style of filmmaking for the show naturally favours closer shots over your traditional widescreen framing so I’d have probably opted for it no matter what the output had’ve been. That said every time I got an assembly cut in from the editors I’d down res it and watch it on my phone as well as a computer just to check it actually worked in that format too.
The cinematography is something that really stands out in the trailer. Who did you work on this with? And how did you decide on the look of the show?
George Allen the director of photography (DP) and I worked together to give it an edgy look, I also worked closely with a colourist to fine tune the palette – it was key to not have it too desaturated such as all those hoody dramas you get but more of a vibrant, slightly heightened feel.
What advice can you give to aspiring filmmakers looking to break into the industry?
I’d say don’t. It’s competitive enough as it is and they’re gonna be pitching on the same gigs as I am in a couple years time. Just kidding! I know it’s cliche but just stick at it – it’s a marathon rather than a sprint so be in for the long haul. It’s great that it’s so meritocratic right now – you can get a DSLR with a kit lens for a few hundred quid and the images look pretty great for that money, something even a decade ago you’d need S16mm or 35mm film to do properly. Funding has opened out a bit too as you’ve got crowd funding platforms like Kickstarter etc. so you don’t have to go through your Creative Englands etc. to get a bit of cash. I’ve never gone that way myself but a few friends have to great success. Depending on the popularity of Sparks could see myself doing it in the future…
Do you think app delivered content will play a big role in the future of film/TV distribution?
Categorically, there’s a paradigm shift away from the traditional methods of distribution – it’s more narrowcasting out to specific audiences and demographics. Back in the day you’d have to spend a heap of money on a film, then as much again on marketing and hope to attract a sales agent who would hawk it in Cannes, Sundance etc. in the hopes of getting distribution, then you’d have to worry about territories, theatrical, shipping prints more marketing and DVD manufacture so it could be years before you get your work in front of an audience, if at all. The stats on distribution of low budget indies is truly shocking and the odds aren’t in your favour. With this method of vertical integration distribution we used there’s never the option that people won’t see it, perhaps not as many as a break-out indie hit but there’s a real advantage to that lean, agile method of production and something which excites me a great deal about the medium as a whole.
What other projects are you currently working on?
At the risk of sounding like a hateful ponce – can’t say much about the big gigs but needless to say they’re very exciting. I’m doing a Victorian set psychological horror short early June which is completely dialogue free which should be an interesting challenge. Also waiting to hear back on a few music videos – could always do with more projects though – like to keep busy!
More information on Making Sparks is available at http://makingsparks.tv/