In June 2014 the team behind Predator: Dark Ages started their Kickstarter campaign to fund their vision for a Predator fan film set in the Medieval times. It barely made the minimum they wanted, the amount that would have allowed them to do a short trailer.
Thankfully director and writer, James Bushe, and director of photography, Simon Rowling, were able to secure the remaining fund privately and that allowed them to go ahead and create this amazing fan film that has proved to be a hit, placing above Predator 2 and Predators in the IMDB rankings.
James and Simon kindly agreed to take some time to answer some of our questions about Predator: Dark Ages.
AvPGalaxy – Thanks for taking the time to chat with us about Predator: Dark Ages. Before we talk about the film, let’s have a little introduction about you guys. Can you tell us a little about yourself and your history with film making?
James Bushe – I have been collaborating and writing/directing independent short films for many years. My previous short films ‘Blackout’ and ‘Cannibals & Carpet Fitters’ have been in numerous film festivals around the world, and have both won best short film awards. I am currently developing feature versions of them too. Predator Dark Ages is definitely my most ambitious film to date.
Simon Rowling – I initially started out as a model maker and SFX technician working on anything from independent films and commercials to big blockbusters, but I soon realised I preferred to be part of the creative than blowing stuff up! I ran a small production company where I learnt a lot about filming, editing and producing, and then from there I went freelance as a DP. Now I am working on short and feature films as well as TV commercials.
AvPGalaxy – Can you tell us a little about the origins of the project? When did you decide you wanted to make a Predator fan film?
James Bushe – I never had any plans originally to make a Predator fan film. I have been a huge Predator fan since I first saw it when I was 10. Everything about it was just perfect. Even today it still holds up so well for me as a lean action/monster movie. Not bogged down by too much story or building characters backgrounds. You knew everything you needed to know by a few lines etc. It was so good.
My dream was (still is) to one day make a Predator feature for Fox. After Predators didn’t do too well and the franchise seemed dead I thought one day ‘I’ll reboot it” [laughs]. Once I realised this probably wouldn’t happen and I discovered Philip Lane and his Predator costume I decided maybe a fan made trailer of my film idea would at least get it out there. Possibly fool a few people too into thinking it was a real film. Unfortunately (though I am also happy and excited) Shane Black announced he was rebooting the Predator franchise. This was announced as we were beginning our Kickstarter campaign doh.
AvPGalaxy – The Predator series is, in my opinion, insanely versatile in its story telling. The comics have portrayed it as Jack the Ripper, the games have seen the Predator in the future and my personal favourite is having the Predator hunting during the World War. Why did you guys decide to go for the medieval times?
James Bushe – I also have a big interest in Medieval/period films like Braveheart and Kingdom of Heaven etc. A few years ago a friend and I were going through various possible Hollywood movies we’d love to do in the future and of course this was when the idea of a Predator film came up and instantly we wanted to set it in the past. This was something first touched on at the end of Predator 2, when the Elder Predator handed Danny Glover a flint pistol. Instantly combining it with my love of medieval films sprang to mind.
For me, as a fan, I thought the combination felt perfect. People mention that if the Predator can not be beaten by guns (like in the modern films) how can Knights with swords win, but with Predator 1, 2 and Predators, he was defeated by hand to hand combat. So to me makes for a very interesting confrontation. Not to mention how people in the past would mistake an alien for a demon or magic. Roman times and samurais/ninjas, in Feudal Japan were the other ideas on the day. But knights won out for me.
AvPGalaxy – Predator: Dark Ages features Adrian Bouchet as its headline character. Adrian had played a role in Paul Anderson’s Alien vs. Predator. How did he come to be attached to your project?
James Bushe – Adrian actually contacted us, which was amazing. Not only was the AVP angle a great connection, but he had just done a couple of medieval films and sent over pictures and he looked perfect. Simon had also worked with him on a previous project so that helped.
AvPGalaxy – Some of your other actors have also appeared on the big screen. It’s becoming increasingly common for “fan” projects to have professional actors involved and for their productions to look much better. What do you think of this increase in quality of “fan films”?
James Bushe – I think it is a way of making the viewers believe they are watching something more then just a few friends mucking together over a weekend. For me, the best fan films are the ones that try to make you believe you are watching something at least semi-professional, so you can enjoy it for what it is instead of thinking “bless them for trying’.
Though regarding our actors we didn’t really go out and hold castings or anything. Ben Loyd-Holmes and Jon Campling I am friends with and asked them if they was interested in doing this fan film. They loved the idea and jumped straight on board before we even had the script. Simon knew Joe Egan and Amed Hashimi too so it was a similar situation. Sabine Crossen was the only person we had to cast last minute and she was so positive about the project it was great she could come on board. They all helped bring a bit of gravitas to the film.
AvPGalaxy – Predator: Dark Ages is thirty minutes long, a short film. How much of a challenge was it for you to write and direct a story within that short runtime?
James Bushe – I don’t think it was too much of a challenge. Yes we had to streamline it a lot and throw out anything that slowed it down. But the script came in at just over 20 pages once we had stripped it all back. With the intention that possible it would run for about 20-25 minutes. That it was a bit longer was down to trying to make each of the scenes feel complete and not too rushed, especially with the Predator moments.
At the end of the day I had the same 2 long weekends we had planned. We just needed to shoot as much as we could over that time. I had to drop shots or combine ideas to make sure we had enough of the whole film completed come the end of the shoot.
AvPGalaxy – Was there anything that ultimately had to be cut and left out?
James Bushe – We originally had hoped to include an extra one or two characters. I would of liked to of had another 10 minutes or so to take our time building the character a little more. We wanted to have a scene that showed how skilled our team was at the beginning, dealing with a bunch of mercenaries or something. This would have been another throwback to the original Predator and a perfect way to show how worthy our team was.
We also had a prison scene too, which became the camp scene. Originally Sied was going to be a prisoner, with a deal to help hunt the beast for his freedom. But that really only worked if we had set our film in Jerusalem. This was the perfect setting we really wanted, for the Crusades War and of course the extreme heat. But with our small budget it just wasn’t possible.
AvPGalaxy – Predator and Predators were both filmed in more exotic jungle locations. Can you tell us a little about the challenges you faced filming in the English woodland and how you made it look so good on screen?
Simon Rowling – Well the English countryside was certainly a lot easier than any jungle would have been, but it still has its challenges. It was more the man power and manoeuvrability of the whole film unit that was difficult. We were filming in fairly close proximity to each location, which was good, but being in the middle of nowhere doesn’t help.
We chose to film in Autumn, to give the old, rustic look to the film, as the leaves and trees were all starting to turn orange and die, which in the aerial shots has a really nice effect.
The most important thing was to look for varied locations, and ones that looked creepy, or looked open. It really is about discussing and then searching for what you want.
AvPGalaxy – One of the things that really helped give Predator: Dark Ages a large sense of scale were some of the big sweeping shots of the forestry. How did you accomplish those?
Simon Rowling – We used an Octocopter (eight bladed remote helicopter aka. a drone) Which had a small camera underneath (GH4) and we then just graded it the same in post to the rest of our footage. Thanks to the guys at ‘Out Filming’ for that!
AvPGalaxy – You guys had done a Kickstarter campaign which managed to fund your minimum. I had thought this meant we wouldn’t get a full 30 minute feature which you managed anyway thankfully! How did that Kickstarter campaign effect your filming?
James Bushe – Yes originally if we got 5K (our minimum) we were just going to shoot a high concept trailer, like I had originally started out with. But if we got 20k we would have shot our intended full short. If we got 10k we would trim the film down and make a smaller scale version and see how far we could push our budget.
So yes we only got enough for the trailer to begin with. Simon had said a lot of people would still be expecting a short now though, but I had no interest shooting a short for that little. We would have had nothing in it. Luckily after the campaign finished, one of our backers, Tim Clayton, asked us what we needed to at least shoot a version of the short. We told him and he offered to come on board as Exec producer and basically gave us another 7-8k to film it. This helped us immensely and got us to where we are today.
AvPGalaxy – One of the challenges a lot of fan films face is making the extra-terrestrial creatures look good. A lot of the newer films are utilizing a great new resource, cosplayers, something you also did. You tapped up Philip Lane from Sentient Creatures to perform as your Predator. How did his involvement come about?
James Bushe – So as I mentioned I already had this medieval Predator idea in the back of my head, waiting to take to Hollywood. Then one day I was browsing Facebook and came across Phil and his costume and was amazed how good it looked. So I messaged him and asked if he had done any video work and did he fancy doing a (then) trailer. When I told him the idea he jumped at the chance to get involved and from that point the fan film became a reality.
Phil was really the main building block for the short. Without him and his costume I would not have bothered. I know some people have mentioned we should have designed and built our own costume etc, but the amount that would cost would have dramatically affected our budget and what we could do. I know another campaign was running on Kickstarter to create a suit but I believe already having our suit helped us in our initial campaign. We were able to use it to shoot a teaser and make posters. Besides I still think the Predator 1 hunter is still my favourite out of the lot. Yes we had to work around the suit but it was a great starting point.
AvPGalaxy – How difficult was it to choreograph and shoot the fight scene between the Predator and Thomas?
James Bushe – Quite. Obviously we didn’t have much time to really choreograph or shoot the fight scenes. Also our Predator suit obviously had very little flexibility in its movement so we had to work more around it’s limitations and let Ben & Adrian drive the fights more.
Filming the end fight at night just made things that more complicated, especially as vision out of the Predator mask was so restricted. As it involved some complicated moves we had Ben put on the suit for this part, as he is a professional fight choreographer too.
Simon Rowling – We also shot it in a particular way so that it we wouldn’t see any of the issues with the suit, such as not doing many wide shots, and filming with certain camera settings applied.
AvPGalaxy – I found the ending to be particularly refreshing in that the Predator isn’t killed nor does it attempt to use the self-destruct device. The fight ends due to respect. How did that ending come about?
James Bushe – Originally we were thinking of having Sied team up with the Templar and together they defeat the Predator. But we felt that this had already been done before. Plus, considering the Predator is meant to be the ultimate hunter, it has never survived any film, which is a bit lame. So I wanted to technically have the Predator win, although I didn’t want to kill off the main Templar in the fight either. Once we decided on Sied being a scholar and not a fighter it all made sense.
I know some people are not sure about the ending, thinking the Predator wouldn’t accept defeat, but that is not what we were suggesting. The Predator has beaten the Templar; having showed several times he could of ended the fight and is more playing with him. When Sied sneaks up on the Predator from behind the him, first he thinks that Sied wants to continue the fight to spare the Templar. It is only when Sied puts away his weapon and holds out his arms in submission, with no eye contact the Predator realises he does not. Having racked up several kills and skulls he decides to spare Sied as he respects what he has done. I wanted to play a little on their honour in that moment.
AvPGalaxy – Your Templar costumes were also fantastic! Did they also come from a costuming group?
James Bushe – Yes our costumes were made up from various people and groups who loved the idea and wanted to help out. From re-enactment groups to stage fight groups. I wanted the costumes to look as authentic as we could get them, with real chainmail etc. I think it really helps sell the film.
AvPGalaxy – Considering how well received Predator: Dark Ages has been, would you be interested in doing another fan film? Would you attempt another Kickstarter now that the world has seen what you can do?
James Bushe – Maybe a little series of similar journey’s into the past at different time periods, yes. It depends on various factors. We love the idea, but it takes a lot of time and effort. A lot of people have said they would love to see different era of history, which would make for a great miniseries or something. But time and funding is the main problem we would face. Unless Fox got involved of course. [laughs]
We would hope that if we did another Kickstarter we would possibly hit a higher target this time, which would help things out no end. But you can never tell. I think most people would rather catch a solid fan film, but not necessarily donate towards one? We would need to find fresh ways to tell the story too.
AvPGalaxy – Thank you for taking the time to our questions. Before we sign off, is there anything you’d like to tell our readers?
James Bushe – We just wanted to say a huge thanks again to everyone who helped us make Predator: Dark Ages! Without them it would never have happened. And of course all the Predator fans out there who watched it and are helping to spread the word! We really appreciate it.
Who knows maybe we will get to make another venture in the future. We’re also huge Aliens fans too [laughs]. Also please come check us out and some of our other work at www.jamesbushe.co.uk and www.srcinematography.co.uk. Thanks again and it’s been a pleasure chatting with you.
Thanks again to James and Simon for taking the time to answer our questions about Predator: Dark Ages. If for some strange reason you haven’t already, make sure you head on over to YouTube to check out Predator: Dark Ages in its entirety. Also, be sure to pop on over to the Predator: Dark Ages Facebook page and give them a Like and let them know what you thought of the film!