The NFTS celebrated Sci-Fi and fantasy television and film with a special Fantasy Day at Channel 4.
Students were treated to a day of inspiring speakers including Game of Thrones production designer Gemma Jackson; Torchwood, Doctor Who and Primeval writer James Moran; Monsters producer Allan Niblo; Torchwood composer Ben Foster and Doctor Who and Merlin director Jeremy Webb.
Writer James Moran emphasised the importance of locating fantasy in real, human experiences: “I start with the ‘what if’ idea. What if the Doctor landed in Pompeii? What if you found out you were an alien sleeper agent? Then I ask if I was in this insane situation, no matter how bizarre, how would I react?”
Recent NFTS graduate Len Rowles, producer of Encounters award winning short Orbit Ever After, advised students about being inventive to achieve high concept, stylish looking fantasy with a limited budget.
Composer and orchestrator Ben Foster, who graduated from the NFTS in 2003 talked about his extensive work in film and television including composing for Torchwood, orchestrating Doctor Who, conducting the Doctor Who Proms as well as orchestrating Prometheus and The Grey. Discussing his work on Doctor Who, Foster admitted, “It's daunting and you have a respect for the legacy of it.” But he added, “There's an opportunity to be inventive with sounds that people have never heard before in sci-fi – it's an opportunity to do something new."
Foster explained he found working in this genre particularly inspiring because, “Sci-fi needs a lot of music; directors often want you to hold the audience's hand through an alien landscape but they also need to provide an emotional pull and music can do that.”
Gemma Jackson, head production designer for the first three series of Game of Thrones, showed students some of her background research and talked about the creative process that inspired her designs: “When you're doing fantasy, you don't do a 'fantastical' set – you make a world where all your different characters can operate. You don't want it to be ridiculous or farcical.”
Writer-director Caradog James, whose new film The Machine has just won Raindance film festival, told students about early mistakes he felt he’d made and hoped to steer them away from the first mistake is sending out scripts too soon: “Once you send that script out to financiers and producers that first impression lasts…It's not good enough these days to just send a script – package it with visual material.”
Students also heard from NFTS graduates Allan Niblo, producer and co-founder of Vertigo Films, and Tom Green, director of forthcoming Monsters: Dark Continent. He showed early trailers for Vertigo films’ Monsters: Dark Continent and robot film Kill Command.
Green, whose previous work includes the first series of Misfits, said of Monster: Dark Continent: “I had this mantra that I would tell the human story of it and if I got that right then the monsters would be the allegory that I wanted them to be.” He encouraged young filmmakers not to be intimidated by a small budget: “It's really about imagination and being limitless with that, expanding your vision.”
Allan Niblo agreed adding: “What they're [financiers, producers and critics] looking for is ambition – someone who can really show that whatever they've been given, they can take that and make it much more than anyone could have imagined. Had Monsters (dir. Gareth Edwards) been a 10 million film it wouldn't have been noticed but because it was made on 1 million the industry sat up.”
The day was rounded off by graduate Jeremy Webb, director of Doctor Who, Merlin and Downton Abbey who was introduced as ‘the king of Saturday night TV’ by the NFTS’s Steven Boneham who hosted the day. Webb described directing Merlin as, “tremendous fun - it's melodrama, fundamentally, so you're allowed to have fun.”
Pictured above: Allan Niblo, Gemma Jackson, Caradog James, Tom Green, Steve Boneham