Tom Paton’s impressive directorial debut, titled ‘Pandorica,’ revolves around the leadership trials of the “Varosha Tribe.” Eiren, Ares, and Thade are all in line to lead the next generation of their people. They journey out of the safety of their home toward a dark forest miles away, with the tribe’s current leader, Nus. Here they will take part in an age old tradition where Nus will choose his successor. Only one of them will return as leader, but who will it be?
‘Pandorica’ is an edge-of-your-seat action/horror that keeps the twists coming thick and fast. Paton took time out of his busy filmmaking schedule to speak with Casting Networks, and answer some questions about his debut film.
Casting Networks: Pandorica is an epic achievement, both on and off screen. You came up with the idea, wrote, and shot the film before delivering it to UK cinema screens in under 12 months! Was it always your plan to make the feature film that quickly?
Tom Paton: To answer your question simply, yes. I was working on another movie I had written that was doing everything the traditional way – higher budget, Hollywood sales agent, all that jazz. The film got stuck in development for two years and during that time I learnt a great deal about the movie industry. My dad always told me that if you want to be noticed, then you need to approach an old idea from a new perspective, and so that’s exactly what happened. I formed The Film Label with Nick Sadler and George Burt, with the idea being that we would co-opt the digital record label model for creation and distribution of music, and plug it into indie film, i.e. made for a small amount of money in an exceptionally fast amount of time, and released using new age outreach like social media and cross pollinated marketing with brands/people with existing followings. Pandorica was written shortly after as a method of proving the model worked, and so here we are, one year later, with a theatrical release in the UK and the worldwide release just around the corner.
CNI: Very inspiring for new filmmakers. What inspired you to make the film and tackle this particular narrative/genre?
TP: I’m a huge John Carpenter fan, and I’ve always been amazed by what he achieved in his early career on the small budgets he had. His films were never constrained by the budget, he simply found ways to frame his big ideas and use the budget to it’s fullest. I approached the idea of Pandorica in the same way, I knew it was going to be low budget but I was determined to do something conceptually big . . . like the end of the world. I’m also a big fan of “mission” style movies where the characters and the audience are going from A to Z, and the journey has an explicitly stated destination early on in the film. I loved the Battlestar Galactica remake for that exact reason, and pretty much everything I write has a “destination” built in to it. Genre films allow you to explore the modern world in a totally different context, and I think thats why it’s such a popular story type for blockbusters. I’m a commercial director at heart and I felt that I wanted to stretch what is normally an arthouse budget and aim for something more commercial in tone.
CNI: You shot the film in just 10 days which is an incredibly quick turn around for an 82 minute film. Were there any moments during production when you thought you wouldn’t get the film in the can?
TP: To be honest, no. I had an amazing team of people around me and films aren’t solely built on a director’s vision, they succeed on the blood, sweat, and tears of the whole crew. The actors and various departments were all in the trenches with me right off the bat and we were all so determined to make this thing a reality. We shot entirely at night in the middle of a dark forest and it was never easy, but I work hard as a director to remind everyone that we are living out our childhood dreams and getting to craft stories for a living. For me, the priority on set is to remind myself and the crew of that fact, and to have fun. I think that shows in the finished movie. The key is to never let problems phase you and find quick solutions that don’t cost money.
CNI: Pandorica cost only £70k to shoot the film, but it looks extremely cinematic and more like a multi million dollar movie. What camera did you shoot on and what other equipment did you use to achieve such a cinematic look?
TP: Thanks, that’s a really big compliment. I’m a really tech orientated person and I’m also trying to use the latest stuff to push boundaries. There is a huge amount of innovation happening at the lower “prosumer” end of the market. We shot Pandorica using the Sony a7S and a Shogun 4K recorder. The whole movie was at an incredible 20,000 ISO using only 2 lights. We used a £30 helium balloon, meant for brides on their wedding day, to create a portable moon effect that we moved around with us throughout the shoot. Figuring out how to get the Hollywood look with no money and £2000 camera was a load of fun. On my next movie, I intend to push it even further, and have some great tricks up my sleeve for that.
CNI: The film is backed by a very strong cast. How did you go about finding the actors? How did you attach Bentley Kalu who has worked on big Hollywood blockbusters including Edge of Tomorrow (2014) & Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)?
TP: We had a great cast. I’m so proud of what they did on the movie and how they brought the characters I’d written to life. Bentley came on board because he knew Adam Bond, who plays Thade in the movie. They’d worked together in the past and Adam told me he knew the perfect guy to play Nine . . . and he was so right. I loved Bentley, he’s just such a huge character, and when he’s onscreen I feel like he just makes you afraid of what that character might be capable of. Marc Zammit, Adam Bond, Luke D’Silva, Laura Howard, Amed Hashimi, and Adam Ford all delivered in a big way too. I’m so pleased I have them all in the movie. As for Jade-Fenix Hobday, she was a real gem of a find I think. We used her modeling photo on our mood board for the initial concepts behind Eiren. Then we were pulling our hair out trying to find an actress that fitted the part. In the end we called Jade in, really as a last resort, and she just blew us away. She’d never acted before, yet the whole film rides on her shoulders, which I think is an amazing achievement and we will see big things from her.
CNI: One of my favourite things in Pandorica is Hobday’s fantastic strong female lead performance. Were you worried about casting a unknown actress in a lead role or whether this might hinder a distribution deal?
TP: Sometimes you just get a feeling about someone during the casting process and you have to trust your gut. Naturally there were people on the team that were nervous about casting someone who had never acted before in the lead role, but for me it just seemed like the right choice. Jade’s audition tape was amazing and I remember showing it to my wife who said “She’s Eiren.” After that it was a done deal for me. It was really important for me to cast someone that embodied Eiren’s attitude and reliance on herself, and Jade brought that by the bucket load. In terms of distribution, I was never worried. Times are changing and the days of needing a big star in your movie are coming to an end; the only people that don’t realize this seem to be the buyers. Thanks to social media and the ability to reach out and engage your audience, people can tell the difference between a good story and a shit one with a good actor in it. Increasingly, people choose what they watch based on story content and not cast, and that gives low budget films like Pandorica the opportunity to do something that big budget films can struggle with, and that is find an audience. We’re are doing some pretty innovative things at The Film Label and Pandorica is only the start.
CNI: Pandorica has a very unique visual style, but were there any films/filmmakers that you referenced or were inspired by when making the film?
TP: I think all artists are essentially remixing the work of other artists they look up to. For me, I have always been influenced heavily by the likes of John Carpenter and Sam Raimi. They managed to push the envelope visually with very little resources around them and that’s something I wanted to do on Pandorica. I wanted to play with low-light filming that hadn’t been done in a full feature before, and that’s why the film has such a distinctive look. I think Neil Marshall is a big influence on me too, because his films are always character driven with these big, implausible backdrops, and by doing that they feel like they could totally happen in the real world. Quite a few reviews compared Pandorica to early Neil Marshall and for me that was huge compliment.
CNI: How do you see the future of the independent filmmaking landscape? Pandorica certainly instills hope that good stories can still find an audience.
TP: Everything is changing in terms of not just production, but the ability to reach an audience. The key to it though is the same as it has always been, and that is to tell good, relevant stories that connect with a section of the population. There is a big panic going on in the industry at the moment in terms of how to keep the revenue intake as high as it has been in the past. For me, that’s like trying to hold back an oncoming wave. The music industry has already been through this drastic shift and the labels standing now found a way to reduce costs, push boundaries, and reach nice audiences. With the right push, they cross over into the mainstream. The money intake for a single release has definitely dropped, but they account for this by making better songs for less financial outlay using modern tech. That’s what we are doing at The Film Label, and we see ourselves as a franchise incubator, creating franchise movies for a fraction of the cost with the view that the successful ones will have bigger budget sequels made by the studio system that they can put out in confidence that a audience is already there.
CNI: What is the best advice you can give to any filmmakers about to embark on their first feature?
TP: The best advice I can give you is to stop listening to people telling you “how it is” or “this is the way the industry works.” As the next wave of filmmakers, it is our job to tell the industry how it’s going to be and constantly push forward. The audience now has a voice to dictate what they want to see and you don’t need $100 million dollars to listen to that, just go on Twitter and find your audience, then craft a film for them using your available resources. Basically, just go and do it.
CNI: What’s the next step? Any plans for a sequel or second feature film? One assumes you have some extremely happy investors.
TP: Everyone is super happy, which is relieving! There are plans for a Pandorica sequel called Assault On Pandorica and I’m also working on a new project called GLOW, which is going to be truly epic, I think. It’s got elements of Tron, Wanted, and The Running Man in there, but I think it’s not quite like anything we’ve seen on the big screen before. Me and the guys at Film Label are continuing to push forward with introducing our model to the wider industry, and innovating distribution by creating new marketing platforms and aggregation techniques, so hopefully in a few years, the success of Pandorica will be the norm in the indie scene.
Pandorica was released internationally on June 15th and can be watched on all of the usual film streaming hangouts. Find out more here.