After seeing the short film “Roach” we absolutely had to interview the writer/director, Kevin Tuck, who happens to be a London filmmaker. It’s such a well designed and produced effort, and highlights what you can do with a small budget.
How long have you been making films? I wouldn’t say I’ve been making ‘serious films’ for most of my life, but there hasn’t been a time when I wasn’t looking for a method to make some sort of movie. Gameboy Camera allowed for a solid 10-seconds of filming, which was great for those silent stop-motion recreations of my favourite Jurassic Park scenes on my bedroom floor. Dusting off my family’s old, bulky, busted up camcorder when I was around 9 or 10 was my first attempt at anything remotely movie-like. I’d write up nonsensical stories based on an especially nonsensical comics series I drew, dress my friends in costumes made of bristol-board, and go to town staging stupid little episodes in my living room. Then the kitchen, after we broke a lamp. Then the basement after we started slipping on the kitchen floor. Fortunately, these tapes have long since deteriorated.
What prompted the character of Roach? The main character of Roach, known in the script as The Drifter, was a spontaneous creation. I’m obsessed with isolation, with hermits and introverts. Most of my projects start with that in mind. I had read Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian the year before starting this, and it left a big impression on me; namely in it’s disconnect from culture, and from any notion of humanity – despite the fact that every character is still a human being. It was a scary thing to face; these monstrous people in no context but their own, with these horrendous philosophies they’d grown into, or up with. I wanted to make a character that had grown the same way – in a void, completely devoid of even the understanding of humanity – who’s brain developed and clicked in ways a regular person couldn’t understand. That lead to The Drifter, and to my insistence on letting him tell the story in his own broken way (for the most part). I also watched Blade Runner a lot.
How many drafts did you go through? I went through so many drafts. I wish I could count, but because of the disorganized way I wrote them, they’re mostly overwritten. But there were a lot. I know there was a lot of discrepancy over how it should end, and the ending was re-written a lot. It’s also worth noting that the structure of the script is very different than the final movie – mostly in how it’s narrated.
At what point did you decide to make a longer film? Every day of editing, “Roach” got longer. I wanted so badly for it to be a 10 minute little short I could shoot and edit and send off in a month or two. I cringe thinking about that.
How long did the shoot take? It’s very hard to figure out how long the actual shoot took. I can think of a couple full days of shooting, where we got large chunks done in great sweeps. In one day, we shot all the interior ship shots with Mark, and the entire bar scene with Mark and Lucas. That was a dream. We did prosthetics and makeup in the morning, shot the front of The Drifter‘s ship, took a break, then shot at the bar with Lucas, Mark, extras, and a decent sized crew, then we finished with the back of the ship where all hands were on deck blowing fog and flickering lights. No other day went that well. Overall, the shooting went from September 2012 to as recently as May 2013 – broken, of course, and consisting mostly of pickups near the end.
How did you do the space effects? The space effects were brutal. Brutal brutal brutal. I had no idea how I was going to be doing them when filming started – I considered them a post-dressing that I’d worry about after all the arduous real-life filming was finished. My original ideas revolved around practical effects – set up a black room, simulate stars with lights, build a model of the ship and the space station, and go from there. And I did that. It worked alright considering how cheaply made it all was, but I could never get the movement of the ship right. Only in the simplest shots did it look realistic, and I didn’t want it to be simple. So I took a huge risk and purchased a 3D program I’d heard about [Element 3D] and decided to do it with that. Only I’d never done 3D modelling in my life, let alone animating, and I had minimal exposure to the parent program, After Effects, since Danny [Director of Photography Danny Dunlop] usually did the effects I needed in past movies. So I had to teach myself. Every step, from the ground up, on a computer not fit for any of it. It took months. But it was worth it, I think, and it extended to creating much more scenic cityscapes inside Sasha Biostation (though I did cheat and buy a few building models for that – but damn, you should see the city I had going before I went with Element). As for the interior of The Drifter’s ship, I built that out of drywall and various pieces of junk. That was fun.
What prompted you to use such a long intro? Much of the intro was largely extended from what I’d originally planned. I’ll stay a little tight-lipped about what was and wasn’t intended, but I guess at some point during editing I fell in love with watching The Drifter drift. It was such a weird balance between the serenity of long travel and the wiry delusion of being locked up in a tight space with nothing to do but think. It started to feel more like a journey or something. I’m a big fan of adventure in movies, and I guess the intro kind of struck that chord in me.
What was your working budget? Just over $300. That went to building the sets, the props, and buying the 3D program. Everyone involved volunteered their talents, which I’m eternally grateful for.
The lighting is fantastic. What did your lighting set up look like? One ten-dollar construction light from Wal-Mart and a bunch of coloured finger-lights from the dollar store. I’m ecstatic that people liked the lighting, because so much of it had to be so spontaneous and it always fringed on being flat. I’m a big fan of minimal lighting, so most of the time we tried to make due with natural light or just an indirect fill from the construction light. A lot of the visual style came from colour correction, as well. Not a recommended way to achieve a look, but Danny and I aimed for it to be grainy and gritty, so we weren’t worried to muck it up a little in post a bit. Consistency was the bottom line.
What sort of cameras were you using? We shot the entire movie on DSLR – a Cannon T3i. What was special was Danny’s anamorphic lens, which he’d adapted to fit on his camera rig. Danny is phenomenal at capturing that real, immense, cinematic look, and he pushed that DSLR to it’s limits on this shoot.
There are a lot of hints at a larger universe in “Roach.” Are there any plans to elaborate on this? One of the most exciting parts of writing/creating “Roach” was establishing the universe that held it. I didn’t want to just focus on what was being displayed in the movie. I wanted to develop everything that surrounded it – from the history of how and why mankind invented “Bio-Metropolitan Technology” (a fancy way of saying ‘Cities in Space’), to what the individual, primitive Sasha Biostation was in relation to other, more modern stations yet unseen. I mapped the stations out, I developed the cultures of Sasha, the political and legal systems, the layout of the interior of the city, the mechanics of travel, importing, and resource management in this pocketed little space-station. It was fun, and I loved expanding this place I’d invented. I initially wanted “Roach” to be a series. I even have future episodes written in rough, and a broader story I would love to build up to. By the time I finished “Roach,” however, I was burnt out. I’d love to return to it someday, but we’ll see if I ever get the chance.