Filmmakers, artists and anyone with a vision hold something powerful and beautiful in the palms of their hands. They are able to create worlds. Like God wielding a creative brush and fleshing out words with colours and spectrums, directors, actors and the FX team all huddle together to Captcha our imaginations. No that isn’t a spelling mistake, because one of the greatest short films of this year, Captcha, is a visionary treat that sees a whole new world encompass a tantalising spy thriller.
For the release of the film exclusively on We Are Colony, writer/director Edward Tracy, Doctor Who star Arthur Darvill and visual effects producer Luke Colson gather in The Electric Cinema, Portobello, to talk about how this visually rich and spell-binding film came to be.
Captcha came to be thanks to the faith of the makers and with help from Film4. “I co-wrote, directed and created the comedy shows Fonejacker and Facejacker” says Tracy "so writing a thriller was a new venture. Film4 expected me to do a comedy, but that wasn’t going to work with the story we wanted to do. So they teamed me up with writer Justin Trefgarne.”
Many people will recognise Arthur Darvill, who was sporting a rather fetching moustache for this event, from the Doctor Who series as well as Broadchurch and his stellar turn in the Broadway musical Once. Here he plays Mel, a scientist injected with an unknown device that makes him fall in love with spy Katya, played by Amy Beth Hayes. “I conceived the film with Amy playing the lead role” continues Tracy, both Arthur and Amy gloriously gift the film with humanity and emotion. “A Film4 executive brought Arthur onboard. We met and both said let's do it. It was a simple decision as I knew he'd nail it. The film shoot was one thing, but the visual effects afterwards was an insane amount of work".
“The scale of it is what took me away,” says the Arthur, who is used to jetting off to different worlds in the TARDIS, even so he was still was stunned by the intense details that Tracy and his team implemented into the film “And how it was realised on a relatively small budget was astonishing".
Alongside Tracy and Darvill sits Luke Colson, a visual effects producer and studio manager at the Academy Award winning post house The Mill, which gave life to Tracy’s vision. “It was a combination of the script and Pete Amachree's matte paintings that drew us to the project. Ed soon convinced us it was a great project so we said ‘Let’s do it.’ This is the first time I’ve seen it in a cinema and it is mind blowing".
Captcha is sublimely epic in its imagery and visual effects, so it’s surprising to learn that the majority of the short was photographed in a tiny green screen studio. “It was so bizarre” says Darvill, as he recalls the difficulty that he and the wonderful Amy had in getting their heads around the non-existent sets, “It was a tiny room and was specifically mapped out so it was a real challenge to work out where we were meant to be. When we saw what they'd created around us afterwards we were amazed".
“Amy and you bonded so well together” says Tracy. The director had a tricky time making his ambitious project, bringing sets into a small studio. “There was a lot of time spent together on set and we had to work very closely,” continues Darvill. “We became good friends after that.”
“At some points,” laughs Tracy, “the cabin fever started setting in. Also we had used a lot of my bedroom furniture for one set, which meant at the end of a hrs days shoot I'd head home be sleeping on the floor. And in some shots, Arthur Darvill was asleep”.
Darvill, who at the time was also performing nightly in a West End play, sheepishly admits this. “Yeah, those scenes I was supposed to be asleep wasn’t acting. I’d actually fallen asleep.”
“I’m just glad you were so relaxed,” Tracy says in retort, prompting some giggles. The rapport on stage clearly shows that everyone involved had made a difficult film, but had a lot of fun whilst doing so.
Tracy laughs and says, “I gave it to The Mill in early 2013, thinking it’ll be done by March. Cut to a year later.”
“Ed had a habit of changing the edit” says Colson in retort, “He’d slowly add more and more shots in. He definitely pushed us as far as we would go".
Tracy and Amachree had worked on the initial designs, meeting the director's astute eye for detail. “Pete's designs were given to us and we'd never seen anything like it. His mind works on a 'beautiful mind' genius level of detail. He'd basically built the whole of steam-punked London in 3D, even the backs of the buildings.”
“You may not think it but the most difficult shot was the corridor because Ed had a very specific idea in mind,” Colson continues, speaking about the development of the backgrounds in every single scene which clearly took a long time, “You’d think that something as simple as creating a hotel corridor would be straight forward, but Ed was very particular about what he wanted”.
“The level of detail made it really exciting,” Arthur Darvill chimes.
On top of a whimsical story, impressive visuals and great acting, Tracy was also keen to enthuse the tale with seductive music into Captcha. “Good music is key to a good film. I was lucky enough to find Sam Williams, who’s sat in the back row!” There is a small wave from the score genius himself, “He’s a multi-platinum selling producer. We initially worked with keyboards and samples, planning to multi-track it. Then I happily met Graham Walker who organises orchestras for films. On a shoe string we were off to Hungary, recording with the Budapest Symphony Orchestra. We ended up with a 32 piece string section which gave us a sublime sound.”
Colson, who at The Mill has hundreds of pitches from filmmakers each year, states that it was Tracy’s passion that engaged them. “We always ask ‘why should we commit to this,’ but this was so ambitious we couldn’t resist. Working with passionate people who believe in the product was incredible. We decided to invest in Tracy’s film that year. And the year after…..and the year after that.” There’s laughter so clearly it ended well.
After briefly talking about the stunt sequences, the hospital scene being particularly difficult to film, Ed Tracy gets excited about the upcoming feature film based on the Captcha short. “I’ve promised Luke a million for the feature” he laughs, before divulging in any story. “We’re developing the feature version at the moment, we’re unsure whether or not it’ll be the same story or characters. This is definitely the pilot for it in terms of the world and we’ve got two writers onboard. Hopefully, it won’t take us long to get it off the ground.”
And Arthur Darvill?
“In three years, who knows where he’ll be” says Tracy.
“I’ll hopefully be with you!”
Captcha is now available on We Are Colony. Check out our review of the film!