One year on from our last catch up with Fizz and Ginger Films, we chat to them to discuss the release of their lockdown film Infinitum: Subject Unknown through Blue Finch Films. Shot entirely on an iPhone during lockdown last Spring, using nothing but a gimbal, a rather clever app called FilmicPro. The film is written and produced by both Tori and Matthew Butler-Hart, directed by Matthew Butler-Hart, starring Tori Butler-Hart and includes cameos from Sir Ian McKellen and Conleth Hill. *deep breath.
So lovely to have you both back again and congratulations on the release. Can you give us a little recap of the film?
MBH: “In Infinitum: Subject Unknown you meet a human test subject, who has become stuck in a time-loop between two worlds. Jane (Tori Butler-Hart) wakes up in a strange attic, bound and tied to a chair, she has no idea where she is or who she is.
As panic sets in, she sees violent bright light flash in front of her eyes and once again she wakes up, same situation as before, an exact repeat. Voices bleed in from another time and place, giving Jane clues to what might be happening to her. She escapes and embarks on a journey through an empty parallel world leading her to a Quantum science research laboratory in the middle of nowhere.
There she discovers tapes from Dr Charles Marland-White (Ian McKellen) and Professor Aaron Ostergaard (Conleth Hill) and their experiment involving human test subjects.”
A story where a lead character is doomed to repeat the same day over and over again now sounds eerily familiar to all of us.
TBH: “The idea for the film came from a screenplay that we’d already written about eight years ago. The original, entitled “Infinitum” is about the discovery of a parallel world, known as The Paraverse. A government led experiment is launched to develop a team of agents who have the ability to see infinite possibilities, select an outcome and therefore alter reality. And the use the parallel world as a testing ground for their experiment.”
After watching this film, (and from your description of the world above), I feel like there’s clearly a bigger story to discover here. Any plans for a follow up film?
TBH: “Yes absolutely, we’re in discussions at the moment with various parties about filming the original Infinitum screenplay and also the TV series. There’s also a graphic novel coming out which we started work on at the beginning of lockdown last year, so should be finished
I know there will be a few readers keen to understand your process and what equipment and apps you used during filming. Can you share your insight with us?
MBH: “It was about four weeks of shooting over about a six week period. We had to wait a few days after finishing in our London location before things were eased a little and we could travel to Oxfordshire to shoot the Wytness Research Lab. We filmed the entire thing on an iPhone 11 with a gimbal, a Zion Smooth4, and 2 small LED battery powered lights. For sound we used the brilliant Rode Wireless Go mics, and a small drone for a couple of shots and that was about it!
The real game changer was using the FilmicPro app which enabled us to have much more control over the exposure and allowed us to shoot in log so in post we could play around with colour more.”
Shooting on an IPhone has become incredibly popular because of its accessibility and ability for anyone to be able to pick it up and shoot wherever. Would you use an IPhone again?
MBH: “Absolutely, 100%. Of course, there were challenges, the iPhone is not great in direct sunlight, so we had to use an ND filter over the lens. This added more weight to the phone, which then set the balance off for the gimbal. But we could still shoot in 4k, which gave us the file size to play with things afterwards.
The main thing that we loved about shooting on the iPhone though was the flexibility it gave us. Matt could experiment much more with shot ideas and for a shot that might have taken half an hour to set up with a standard camera package could be done in a few second by him standing on a chair and sticking his arm out! It allowed us time to play and experiment because it is so small and light.
Of course, that was also down to it just being us two on set, we weren’t wasting anyone’s time or slowing things down if something didn’t work. I’m actually writing a screenplay at the moment specifically to be shot on iPhone, possibly two cameras with a very small cast and crew.”
Did you have any budget for this?
MBH: “We didn’t really have a production budget, we already had the phone, the drone and the lights so it was just the gimbal and sound kit that we had to buy. But yes, we wanted to pay our editor, Will, our VFX designer Ben, our colourist Pete and our composer Tom. We also paid for a proper sound mix.”
It’s every filmmakers dream to have cameos like yours in their film but what was it like getting them to say ‘yes’ to being in this film?
TBH: “We were very lucky in that respect; we’ve known Ian and Conleth for some years now, and as like everyone, they were in lockdown, we knew that they wouldn’t be away working, and that we could potentially take advantage of this hiatus in their usual busy schedules.
At first, Conleth’s role was going to be played by my Dad because we honestly didn’t expect anyone to watch this film. We really started it for our own sanity and to learn more about the craft and to experiment. But when our editor, Will, said that what we were shooting wasn’t too shabby we thought that perhaps it might be an idea to ask Conleth if he’d be prepared to film a couple of scenes himself on his own iPhone and send them over to us while Matt offer direction remotely.
Once we were a little further along, we realised that it would be helpful to offer a little more story and context in the form of another scientist and that’s when we approached Ian. He’s a big fan of Conleth’s and so when he heard he was on board, he agreed to be a part of it as well.”
Now that it’s been released, where can we watch Infinitum: Subject Unknown?
TBH: “Infinitum: Subject Unknown is out on all major VOD platforms like Amazon, iTunes, AppleTV, Sky, Virgin, Rakutan, Chilli etc. The DVD is released on 26th April and then later in the year it will be available on subscription platforms.
Always ones for words of wisdom, do you have any advice for filmmakers during the pandemic?
TBH: “Well things are obviously starting to open up again now and filming is back up and running. As always it remains hard to get finance and so our biggest piece of advice would be to be smart, think about how you can make the most of what is readily available to you.
Pretty much everyone has a smartphone now, so you really can shoot your own film. Write with locations in mind that you know you can access and keep it contained, that way it’ll be so much easier for you to make your movie, instead of waiting for the right person to come along with the right amount of money to invest in your dream.”
What are you working on next?
TBH: “We’ve got various things at different stages of development at the moment, and we have a book coming out 30th August called “Full to the Brim with Fizz, Ginger and Fierce Determination: A guide to Independent Film Making" It’s not really a how to book, more of a look back over the past ten years of us trying to navigate our way through the industry, some tips but more what not to dos! For anyone brand new coming into the industry we hope it’ll be helpful and we interviewed some fantastic people for it from Ian McKellen and Stephen Fry to producer Margaret Matheson and director Hong Khaou. “
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