We are thrilled to chat with director and co-writer Ben Wicks about Shoreditch Pictures' recent project The Wynters Men with a particular focus on the challenges he faced in production. The film was largely shot outside in the Hampshire winter of 2016, and the story follows three convicts, Irving, Henry and William, who escape the notorious Wynters Prison in 1854.
Looking back, what were the biggest challenges of filming outside during winter in remote locations?
As with any shoot that had 90% of the scenes set outside, we knew there were going to be difficulties. Firstly, the weather. The first week was exceptionally cold, luckily we had written into the script that the lead characters huddle around a fire, so that kept the cast and crew warm during set up!
Secondly, the light. We were very much governed by an exact amount of hours for daylight, which meant that our turnaround of scenes in a day had to be quick enough to avoid losing it. Unfortunately, we lost light on a few occasions, resulting in some pick-ups being shot at the back-end of principal photography.
When co-writing The Wynter’s Men did you envision these challenges? Did you write with logistics in mind or with ambition?
When Sarah (my co-writer and producer) and I started writing The Wynters Men, we always knew that we wanted it to be set in winter. We always write our scripts with locations, logistics and viability in mind. I think that comes from me being a director and Sarah a producer. Having our own production company, Shoreditch Pictures, we always make sure we can definitely produce the movie/television series we are writing. To be honest, it was definitely an ambitious script to shoot on the budget we had!
We shot over 12 days (including the pick-ups) and had scenarios that included throwing our lead actors into a freezing cold lake, shooting in a church until 6am and having one of our leads taken to hospital! However, through all of the setbacks, we have come out with a film that I am immensely proud of.
The quality of the finished piece is a testament to the commitment and passion of the hardworking cast and crew who gave their all to make this film a success. I really cannot speak highly enough of them. This project is the epitome of why I got into filmmaking n the first place – a group of talented people coming together to create something that excites and compels an audience!
How much time was required for pre-production? It must have been important to have a strong crew and team around the project?
I am very, very fortunate to have a strong, dedicated and talented crew behind me who believed in my vision and wanted to make it a reality. Sarah Culverhouse, my co-writer and producer, was fantastic. She backed me all the way – even when I suggested some (probably outrageous) things at the time –and she secured some amazing locations for us, which add a whole new dimension to the film. Amber Tunstall, our DoP, was also amazing. This was her first major DoP credit and she nailed it. She shared the same attitude as me in making the impossible, possible.
We wanted to leave audiences in awe with wondering how we achieved some shots. With an goal to prove that you don’t need Hollywood budgets to make a camera do amazing things! Preparation on this project was key. We spent around 4-5 months in pre-production, working out logistics, locations and shot lists. Elizabeth Lobach, my First AD and her team were brilliant at keeping moral high and everything running smoothly in the cold and the rain!
Before shooting did you work with the actors to prepare them?
Once castings were confirmed, I made it very clear to the actors the nature of the project and what would be expected of them. I couldn’t have asked for a more committed lead cast.
All four of them gave it their all, in all weather conditions, to ensure the film was perfect. We set up several rehearsal dates, where we blocked and walked through key scenes of the film. This inevitably helped speed things up on set, which was vital when we were filming in the harsh British weather.
We filmed the rehearsals, which we then sent out to the leads so that they could watch back to help them to develop their characters. It also gave us points to reference to when we worked on characterisation together. On previous projects, we never really had the time to rehearse and I really saw the impact and value it can have on a film during the project.
How did you maintain the well-being of the cast and crew on set?
The production team were great at trying to keep cast and crew warm and dry! We were fortunate enough to have a caravan (owned by a friend of the producers) on set for most days. We also had a gazebo which kept us dry and allowed us to store kit away from getting wet.
With the story set in the 19th century was it difficult finding locations suited to this time period?
When we had our first Head of Department meeting, we all knew that the locations were vital and would both drive the narrative forward and help sell the story. Trying to find locations that were true to the period was always going to be tricky, so we opted for timeless locations such as The New Forest, The Hamble, Micheldever Woods and Virginia Water Lake.
These locations were all fantastic and offered something different to one another, which made each of them unique to the scene. We were also very fortunate in having Sarah securing us a 16th Century Barn and Farm, along with a church! Footage from those locations in particular looks stunning.
What practical advice would you give filmmakers wanting to shoot outside in harsh weather conditions and recluse locations and how to tackle this for a small or big scale production?
Preparation, preparation, preparation! Surround yourself with a committed team that understand what you are trying to achieve as a director and be brutally honest with yourself on what you can and can’t achieve. Having said that, don’t let small budgets hold you back in creating something spectacular. Know the locations well and have contingency plans for any unforeseen errors...like the weather!
What’s next for you? Have you any other projects coming up?
I had a few days rest after The Wynters Men, but I am now smack, bang, wallop into the rough assembly, as well as tidying up the edit of a TV pilot I directed entitled Red Light. Along with that I have been asked to direct two smaller projects, so jumping head first into pre-production on them both.
The first one being a short thriller entitled Chatterbox, which looks at the effects of the dark web and the second is a teaser reel for a new fantasy film! So two polar opposite projects – which is awesome! On top of all this, I have some other bigger projects that are starting to come to fruition. Some exciting time ahead, I hope.