On the Set of Dark Encounter – Yorkshire Made Sci-Fi Film
by Roger Crow / @RogerCrow
It’s the tail end of the beast from the east when I arrive at the set of Transcience (later to be re-named Dark Encounter) in Bubwith. You’ll recall that fierce winter which rocked the nation to its core in 2018. The last time I was here, writer/director Carl Strathie was making his feature debut with Solis, the ambitious, microbudget sci-fi thriller. With just one on-screen actor, Steven Ogg, there was not a huge cast to juggle obviously. For his follow-up feature, Carl is pulling out all the stops.
When I return to the same Bubwith studio, Alice Lowe (who lent her voice to Solis) is talking to co-star Mel Raido in the lobby. (You may have seen him in Krays drama Legend). As ever Goldfinch (aka Highfield Grange) Studios is a hive of activity with technicians helping to transfer Carl’s vision from script to screen.
They’re more than half way through the five-week shoot, with all the exteriors already in the can. They’ve done a pretty convincing job of turning the local forest into American woods. Amazing what you can do with a US police cruiser and a cast dressed in authentic period costume at Escrick Park estate.
Set in the US during the 1980s, it’s the tale of an abducted child, and the family and relatives coming to terms with her loss a year after the event. There’s a strange sadness that drifts from the set, and that’s compounded by the mood of actors like Mel, Grant Masters and Sid Phoenix.
I’d interviewed Grant years earlier on the set of superb twisted sci-fi chiller Await Further Instructions, also shot here. I barely recognise him when he says hello. The moustache and American cop jacket has done a good job of disguising him.
Over a couple of visits I chat to almost the entire cast, from Laura Fraser and Alice, to Mel, Grant, Sid, Vincent Regan and rising star Spike White. The mood during one of those trips is as sombre as that I felt on set as tech crew set up the next shot, and I explore the impressive attention to detail.
As I’ve not read the script, it’s hard how to gauge things. I can tell this is not not going to be a screwball comedy, but it’s a while since the actual tone of a film has informed me before any actors open their mouths. Something bad has happened here. It feels like a crime scene rather than a movie set. That’s the power of the mood created by Carl and his crew.
“You do feel a bit depleted, no matter whether you’ve really committed and you are ’feeling it’, or whether you are just getting into it,” explains Breaking Bad veteran Laura Fraser. “The overall atmosphere is… I suppose not depressing… upsetting. Yeah.”
While I’m chatting to the cast, Carl merrily strolls by and says hello. It’s hard to believe the weight of this film is not crushing him, but he’s like a kid with a new toy on Christmas morning. And why wouldn’t he be? He’s attracted an amazing cast; the set from his script has been recreated in meticulous detail, and the buzz from his first film Solis has helped give this a green light. I’m both hugely envious and incredibly proud.
It’s hard not to flashback to that first day on the Solis set a while ago when I first met Strathie and producer Charlette Kilby. It was like meeting kindred spirits who gambled everything to make Carl’s dreams a reality.
If Solis was the grandchild of Silent Running, Alien and Sunshine, then the obvious progenitor of Transcience is Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Sid Phoenix admits he’s had an amazing time making the movie, especially while watching “…a couple of drones the size of half a car flying around in the middle of the night.”
“It’s quite a unique film in the British independent landscape; very unique,” adds Mel. “With the emotional undertones of this, and a missing child and the drama of it, it’s really interesting.”
Spike, the 17-year-old co-star of Rob Brydon comedy Swimming with Men, was in college when he found out he landed the part of Noah. His dad joked that he’d failed all of his courses, but he had got the Transcience job. Earlier that day, he’d landed a new film with Ian McKellen. It’ll be very interesting to see his career trajectory in the next few years.
Beverley’s own Vincent Regan (seen recently in Poldark) is no stranger to the studio. “I’ve worked here before. I did Dementamania here way back when… five years ago? I don’t know what happened to that. Quite an interesting project,” he explains.
“Every piece of the jigsaw”
That 2013 offering may have vanished, but at least Yorkshire’s answer to Pinewood is going from strength to strength.
“I always thought this (studio) was really great,” he adds. “It’s nice to see it’s still going. It’s doing really well.”
Alice is no stranger to life in front of and behind the camera. She directed cult black comedy Prevenge while pregnant, and has nothing but praise for her director on this project.
“He works in a very different way to me actually. He has a very complete idea of exactly what he wants. He likes to do one set-up, and get the whole thing in one set-up without cutting away. I think it’s a very Spielbergian way of doing it.”
Fast forward to September 2019, and I finally get a screener for the movie, now re-titled Dark Encounter. Every piece of the jigsaw from my two set visits slot into place.
With Carl Strathie now planning his third film, I can’t wait to see how that turns out. My gut feeling about him that first day on Solis was right. He’s one of the brightest new stars of the British film industry, and his second movie is testament to the fact.
With thanks to the cast and crew of Dark Encounter, released on DVD & VOD on October 21