Last week I reviewed the film Dawn of the Dragonslayer, a fun independent fantasy film. This week, I spoke to director/co-screenwriter Anne K. Black about some of the decisions behind the film.
Me: What sparked the original story idea, and how did the script develop?
Anne: This project began with an assignment to write a fantasy script that was low budget and included a dragon(!). We wrote an initial script for about six months and when it was finished, realized it was way too big. We ended up scrapping it and wrote Paladin [the original title] in just over a month. The scope was small and a coming of age seemed appropriate.
The scenery is spectacular; even the supposedly run-down castle is visually striking. How did the setting influence the script?
When we first arrived in Ireland the castle we’d originally planned on using was, unbeknownst to us, surrounded by suburban neighborhood! We scrambled to find a new place and, through nothing short of a miracle, found Fauddaun Castle. It is one of the prettiest places I’ve ever been. We changed the script to suit the castle, and moved quite a few scenes to that setting. The sea cliffs in the third act were another location treasure. The third act used to be in several additional locations but we consolidate because the cliffs were just so dramatic.
Your cast is mostly unknowns (to me, at least), but they’re uniformly good, and they fit effortlessly into the period setting. How hard was it finding that sort of actor?
We were so lucky to find our actors. We posted auditions on the Internet and thousands of people sent audition tapes. You know instantly when you’ve seen someone special–their voice, their eyes, the way they react to the lines they are hearing. Our actors were all tremendously hard working and all of them, without exception have beautiful voices–which, I believe, in turn, gives them a charisma and watchability.
How did the final design for the dragon develop?
The dragon, the dragon, the dragon. That thing was a lot of work! Wow! We used pre-Raphaelite paintings as a design source on this film. The result is a look which is not strictly period, but rather a romanticized version of the medieval period…that means there are quite a few, although controlled, anachronistic elements. Because of this, it seemed appropriate to have the dragon look more like a fairy tale beast rather than a viable living reptile.
You were also involved as a writer in another flying-reptile film, Age of the Dragons, one of the stranger concepts I’ve seen for a fantasy movie. How much of your idea what in the final film?
I really loved the idea of using Moby Dick as a pattern for an adventure about hunting dragons. My then husband, Andrew Black, my writing partner Justin Partridge and two of my producers, Kynan Griffin and Jason Faller were all sitting around a table. Andrew said, “If we’re making a hunting story about dragons then we should be adapting a great hunting story, like Moby Dick.” Everyone laughed–Moby Dick and dragons??!!! But then I said, “No, it’s a good idea! Let’s keep it going.” I think good ideas often seem strange initially and die prematurely. We kept the dialogue going and came up with the basic idea for Age of the Dragons. We worked a 13 page outline and then sold the idea. In the end, the film had very little in common with the ideas we batted around that night. Probably the two main things I contributed that endured were the ideas for harvesting highly flammable liquid from the Dragon’s neck glands–which Andrew called “Vitriol”–and the Steampunk angle.
What draws you to high fantasy?
Fantasy provides a great platform for metaphor, romance and adventure. Our world can be so sceptical and rigid. It’s fun to believe in heroes, magic and unbeatable odds even if it’s just for a couple of hours. The audience for fantasy loves a world full of magic, romance, beautiful costumes, good and evil circumstances and high stake quests. They want to imagine that world, and imagine themselves as a part of it. If I can help someone escape from the grind for a while and remember all the beautiful things that inspire them, then I feel like I’ve made a real contribution.
Thanks to Anne and producer/co-writer Kynan Griffin for taking time out from their current project The Virgin and the Warrior to arrange this interview. You can find out more about Dawn of the Dragonslayer at its Facebook page here.