So without further ado ladies and gentlemen I give you...Jack!
What was it like taking the books from page to screen?
It was amazing! A dream, really. I had directed the Night School book trailers since 2012, and the same cast and crew came back to do the web series – with new faces of course. To that extent it felt like getting a great team back together, only this time to make something much more creatively challenging and demanding for all of us. It was terribly exciting.
Why did you go with short webisodes as a format?
That’s generally how web series are. The Lizzie Bennett Diaries and other big American web series are just a few minutes long per episode. So it’s a characteristic of the medium. But the other reason was money – making films is very, very expensive and takes a long time to get off the ground. A web series was a way to give Night School fans something of what they wanted, while we all keep hoping that a film or series will one day get off the ground.
What is the best part about being able to do that?
Despite the budgetary constraints I found the experience of crafting a series for web to be incredibly liberating. The episodes can be as long or as short as you want, depending on the needs of the story. Why not? You’ve got no schedule to keep to. Some episodes had to be longer in order to tell the story properly – such as Power and Flashback. Others worked best short and snappy. The Gilmore Girl is only 3 minutes long, and yet it feels just as long as it should be. No need for padding. No need to follow any rules. Web series are kind of like the Wild West in that way. We’re still experimenting, creating the format, discovering what works. We’ll make our own damn rules!
What challenges does this present?
With such short episodes, you’ve got no time to waste. The storytelling had to be extremely economical. But it also had to have the feel of a proper series, with time enough to get to know the characters properly. And it had to be fun, exciting, atmospheric, funny, emotional... All in a few scant minutes!
Otherwise the main challenges were how to make it look and sound as good as a proper, big budget film or television drama, on the tiniest fraction of a budget. The money available to us wouldn’t have paid for the catering on an episode of an average TV drama, and that’s no exaggeration. We had to be as innovative as possible. It helped that I’m very much from an indie filmmaking background. But it helped even more to be working with an incredibly talented and professional cast and crew.
Ooh... Probably the school trashing scenes in Flashback. They were very exciting to film as I’d had a very clear idea of how that should be look really since I very first read Night School. Aside from that I’d say it would have to be... how do I say this without spoilers? The penultimate scene of All the Pretty Killers. The one that made people gasp at the press screening. I think I’d better stop now. J
Can you tell us how you decided on Locations?Some of that was dictated by the budget. There was no money for faraway locations or overnight stays. However, CJ and I are very lucky in that the area in which we live is absolutely filled with cracking filming locations! A lot of the time it was a question of going over the mental database we’d built up and getting excited because a certain scene gave us an excuse to use a particular place. In some cases the script was actually written with locations already in mind. (In The Other One, the scenery through which Carter jogs – and gets his kit off an impromptu swim – is basically a tour of the places we take our dog for a walk!)
However, some locations we did have to look hard for, such as the amazing World War 2 tunnels featured in Bang. However I’m actually forbidden from telling you where they are! (Honestly!)
Which was your favourite location to shoot in?
Waverley Abbey, where we shot parts of All the Pretty Killers and Bang, is an incredible place – so atmospheric and beautiful, with the most amazing tree I’ve ever seen! The abbey was built in the 1100s and demolished by Henry VIII. Today it’s the most ethereal ruin you can imagine, surrounded by fields and forest.
Which was your favourite episode to shoot and why?
I know this sounds like a cop out, but I really enjoyed all of them! However, I know that won’t do as an answer, so I suppose I’d have to say The Gilmore Girl was the most out-and-out fun to make. For a start the script is so lively and funny – everybody loves mean girl Katie!
We only had a single day to film absolutely everything, which meant we were running around frantically between different locations (or, in one case, being driven in the back of an extremely nice car, which makes an appearance on screen). It was also one of the hottest days of the year, so with such a busy schedule tempers could easily have gotten frayed, but it wasn’t like that at all. Everywhere we went, people were so helpful. A local spa let us in (and refused to take payment!) We even got one of the waitresses in the restaurant where Katie stops for coffee to join in and do a little bit of improv.
So it was manic, exhausting, but incredibly good fun. I remember Grace, who plays Katie, got a fit of the giggles while we were doing the final shot of the day, simply because we’d all been having such a fun time and were feeling a bit giddy. If you can say that at the end of a gruelling shoot, something’s gone right.
Which was the hardest episode to shoot and why?
Definitely Flashback. Everything set in Brixton Hill School – that’s most of the episode – had to be shot in about seven hours. And it wasn’t simple stuff either. There were some incredibly complicated scenes, with special effects, production design and about 60 shots in total. I don’t know whether you’ve ever been on a film set, but that is an insane amount of material to have to shoot in that time. But we pulled it off and I’m very proud of that! It’s an absolute credit to the talent and professionalism of the cast and crew that you simply can’t tell how high pressure it was on the day.The other huge challenge on Flashback was on our final pickup day, when we came back to do all the crane shots at Frensham Heights. We only had the one opportunity to get it done and it rained buckets all day. The crew spent hours setting up in the pouring rain just in case it stopped, but there was no let up at all... until about 20 minutes before we’d have lost the light and had to go home anyway. The filming gods finally smiled on us, the sun came out, and we were able to get the shots we needed – including that fantastic shot that ends the episode, when the camera rises up into the trees revealing the school in all its glory. I think that’s my favourite shot of the whole series.
But I suppose my favourite location overall has to be Frensham Heights, the Hogwarts-like boarding school that stood in for Cimmeria throughout the series. It was one of the original inspirations for Night School, so it felt like fate that we were finally allowed to film there. And the school staff were so supportive and helpful. We loved being there.
Can you tell us a little about the editing process?
Well it involved a lot of very late nights to get everything finished in time! But in terms of how it works, you start by looking through absolutely everything you’ve shot – which in this case took HOURS, because we were doing sometimes well over 100 takes per episode.
Then you do what is called a first assembly, where the whole thing is just pieced together from start to finish in a very rough, unpolished way. You’d never want another human being to see this – it’s like the first draft of a novel, very rough and messy around the edges. Then you recut and recut and recut until eventually you decide that maybe it is going to work after all, and declare it ready.
Then right at the end there’s an incredibly fun process called grading, when somebody very skilled does very clever things with very, very expensive equipment that makes all the colours match properly and the picture look amazing. It’s at this point that it suddenly starts to look like a movie.
Then you mix the soundtrack – also great fun – and you’re done! I edited five of the web series episodes myself, and co-edited the final one with Tom Blount (who was also the director of photography on a couple of them, and played Gabe – he’s a multi-talented guy!) So I could hibernate for a month when we finished.
Are there further elements of the books you would like to bring to screen?
Well the big dream is to turn Night School into a TV series or a feature film, and adapt all the books from beginning to end. But if there was another web series, I’d love to bring in more characters from the Night School world. We’d definitely do a Zoe episode, and I’d love to cast Rachel too. Just imagine how much fun it’d be to see Zoe running around extolling her love of pain and violence, Katie exchanging bitchy barbs with Allie and Rachel, and then putting them all though hell together when they least expect it.
Argh! How can I pick? OK, I can actually make a case for all of them. I think the best we did was probably Power. That’s the most adult and sophisticated episode. But I’m going to cheat and say my actual favourite is All the Pretty Killers [MEE TOOOO]. It was the only chance we had to do fantasy – who wouldn’t love doing a dream sequence? I loved playing with dream logic. Things like the locations changing mid-sentence, Jo carrying a glass of champagne through the woods, the fact that the characters never actually look at each other until the moment where things really start to go pear shaped... And of course the performances by Jessica Sargent and Jodie Hirst are really moving. There’s a lot going on in that episode and I just love how it turned out.
Hooow amazing does that all sound. So that was a whirlwind insight into the life of a director! Check out our twitter @DarkRReviews all next week as we question the cast of the #NightSchoolWebSeries in the run up to the last episode (tear). We'll also be sharing some of out favourite moments and running a little give away!