Thursday, 18 November 2010

An Interview With Sloane U’Ren; Director/Production Designer of the movie Dimensions

Sloane behind the scenes with Henry Lloyd-Hughes (as Stephen) and Olivia Llewellyn (as Annie) in the Rose Garden

Pinky: How did you and your husband first get inspired for the story of the movie Dimensions, Sloane?

Sloane: Visiting the location we used in Cambridgeshire was very inspirational; it's a lovely property on the River Cam and its grounds include an apple orchard which felt timeless. There is something about certain buildings and places that already have stories in them and we are there to release them. And concerning specific parts of this story, Ant (my husband and the writer of 'Dimensions') saw a youtube video that explained multiple dimensions and theories. That started off a train of thought in his mind that led to the story.

Pinky: What kind of background experience did you and Ant Neely have in the film industry before starting work on this epic project?

Sloane: Though I've lived in the UK off and on for almost 20 years, I'm originally from Los Angeles and was a child actor there, so I have had experience in front of the camera. After studying Art History at UC Berkeley, I got my training in Art Departments in the UK and worked my way up over the years. I've worked on projects such as 'Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince', 'Batman Begins', and 'Being John Malkovich' and having designed commercials and short films, I've learned what the filmmaking process entails. Ant was a music composer before he became a screenwriter and has created music for everything from features films to animated series. His credits include having music on television shows such as 'Six Feet Under' and 'Boston Legal'.

Pinky: Would you be able to give us a brief synopsis of the story of Dimensions, without giving too much of the plot away?

Sloane: 'Dimensions: A Line, A Loop, A Tangle of Threads' is the story of Stephen, a brilliant mind, who lives in England in what appears to be about the 1920s – but nothing in Stephen's life is quite as it seems. As a child, he meets a charismatic and inspirational professor who demonstrates to Stephen and his friends that by manipulating other dimensions, time travel may actually be possible. As Stephen's life unfolds, events lead him to dedicate himself to turning the Professor's theories of time travel into reality. Love, obsession, jealousy and greed surround him, influencing his fragile mind and the direction of his work.

Pinky: Dimensions has the interesting distinction of being both a period drama and a science fiction story. Does it have any unusual special effects?

Sloane: Not having a huge budget, we've had to keep special effects and visual effects to a minimum and concentrate on using them only when really needed. The effects we do have had to feel in keeping with our time...we didn't see this as a hi-tech sci-fi, it's more brilliant-English-boffin builds machines and experiments in his ram-shackled workshop. His equipment is made of brass, wood, leather, valves, and mechanical parts; when experiments go wrong, it's more meltdown than huge explosions so our SFX and VFX have to reflect this.

Pinky: You sold your house to help to finance the Dimensions movie. I'd like to know more on how that came about.

Sloane: Ant had written a couple of television pilots that were making the rounds in L.A. as well as a few film scripts. We had both been working on other people's projects for years – Ant was composing and I was art directing on films and designing commercials -- when we decided we'd like to create and realise our own film. Of course, it's prohibitively expensive to just go out and do it, but we put together a budget and discussed that fact that we could actually make our own film if we sold our house and topped it up with a bit of private investment We know people who have been trying to get the money together for years to make their films: they'll have a few million pounds in place but need 5 or 6 and then they might get close, but one or two investors pull out and they're back to square one. We didn't want to spend years chasing the money, we just wanted to make our film. We've been really fortunate that we were able to stretch our tiny budget by calling in favours from a huge amount of industry friends and colleagues. The real cost of the film far surpasses the actual amount we had to spend and we will be eternally grateful for the help and support we've received from those who have been a part of this.

Pinky: What has been the most expensive scene (or piece of purchased equipment) so far?

Sloane: That would be telling! What I will tell you is that we had a set build by Leigh Gilbert's construction team based at Pinewood Studios. This particular set piece was absolutely integral to the story and had to be just right – we are really fortunate that Leigh's team are some of the best in the business and they did us proud.

Pinky: Costume Designer Rose Bennett designed all the beautiful costumes for the movie. Did it take a long time working out all the styles and colours, and getting all the actors fitted out?

Sloane: Rose is amazingly talented. As our story takes place in the 1910s/20s and then jumps to the 1930s/40s, she had two different time periods to work in but because we weren't actually ever in an exact year, we could play with the different styles – mix it up a bit -- and not feel beholden to a certain fashion of a year but instead, could create the feeling of the era. We talked about styles and colour schemes, and we were both on the same page so it was very easy for me to let her run with her costume design ideas. She was very sympathetic to our locations and sets, and the details of the characters' clothing added that much more to the flushing out of their personalities. Rose didn't have much time with the actors before the shoot. The lead actors had initial fittings with her and then she went away and made some of the costumes from scratch herself; others, she hired or purchased and then tailored them to suit. Generally, she didn't see the actors again until they were with us at the location, and she could finish working her magic.

Pinky: What has been your most memorable experience so far, in making Dimensions?

Sloane: It's hard to pick only one memorable experience. Our shoot was so very quick at just 4 weeks (we usually shot between 3 ½ and 6 ½ pages of script per day) but we were able to do it because we had a great team who were all talented and professional, and that enabled us to shoot quickly without sacrificing quality. Sure, I would love to have had 3 months to shoot this but we just didn't have that luxury. What I suppose is most memorable, at the risk of sounding corny, was watching the magic unfold once the cameras started rolling and watching the story, that was previously only words on a page, spring to life before our eyes.

Pinky: Is there anything you wish you had been told before you started it all?

Sloane: To get as much sleep as possible before you start shooting because once you've begun and you're on that rollercoaster that is principal photography, you don't have time to sleep. I think Ant and I averaged about 5 hours of sleep a night.

Pinky: The BBC did a very good news feature about Dimensions on Look East, which showed some beautiful photography in outdoor clips from the film and behind the scenes. Where were the main locations?

Sloane: The main location is a beautiful house and grounds on the River Cam just outside of Cambridge. We also shot at a local pub, The Bridge Pub in Waterbeach, and at Downing College of Cambridge University and Wesley House, a theological college. One of the great things about this area is the amazing combination of historical buildings and beautiful countryside, so I had a big canvas to work with.

Pinky: What have you been mainly doing online to create a buzz about the movie?

Sloane: We have our own website which has updates and blogs, photos and interviews, and we also have facebook (Dimensions the movie) and twitter (dimensionsmovie) sites. We were written up on Boing Boing before we starting filming, and we have youtube videos up (dimensionsthemovie's Channel). Basically, asking friends and fans to share with their friends and family (and fans!) our progress of making 'Dimensions' your good-self! Unfortunately, we don't have as much time as we'd like to do promotion at this stage so we really appreciate people passing on our links and helping us out.

Pinky: Finally, Sloane, what advice would you give to new film makers out there, who are thinking of starting an epic movie project?

Sloane: Don't make the film if you're not passionate about it – you will spend so much time with it, so many, many months, that if you don't love it, you might as well not do it. And plan the heck out of it...preparation, preparation, preparation. It's exhausting but exhilarating. In our case, of course, selling our home to make the film isn't the most sensible financial decision but life is short and if you're passionate about something, you have to go for it.

Pinky: Thank you for the interview, Sloane.

Sloane: Thanks again, Sara.

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