Kate Robinson is an actor and filmmaker based in Cambridge UK. In 2003 she founded Actors at Work Productions as a banner for various creative projects linked mostly to Stage and Film work. Early work involved filming theatre shows, editing them and creating high quality DVDs of the productions, often along with behind the scenes extras.
The idea of doing a LOTRs fan film came about at the end of 2003 when she saw a competition advertised on the Internet. Kate wanted to send a film to the Tolkien Fan Film Exhibition, which was held at Tolcon, a convention in Seattle USA in May 2004. Although work was started the project failed due to a lack of filmmaking knowledge and the support of a strong creative team.
At the start of 2005 Kate made a resolution to make the most of the new year and to fully pursue her acting and filmmaking ambitions and that is exactly what she has been doing ever since.
Kate made her directorial debut in July 2005 with an ambitious project called Into the Darkness and has also been involved in a number of other projects mostly with the Cambridge Filmmakers Network, filling a variety of roles, from set dressing, costuming and prop making to production managing, assistant directing and driving. As Kate is also an actor, when not behind the camera she can often be found in front of it.
The Born of Hope test shoot was only Kate’s second attempt at directing but she is already proving the ability to create, with her talented crew, highly professional looking work on a very low budget.
Kate likes to believe that “anything is possible” and Actors at Work Productions aims to make films that are high quality, ambitious and appealing to larger audiences.
FAN FILM PODCAST (through Christopher Moshier): What has happened on the project since your “The Journey So Far” video?
KATE ROBINSON: I find it quite funny now if I watch the “Journey So Far” because I end the video saying “I’m looking forward to the next 6 months of it…” when in fact the next 6 months all went a bit pear shaped. To be honest I kind of lost it for a while regarding Born of Hope. After my trip to The Gathering of the Fellowship convention in Toronto Canada, where I had a great time showing the trailer and footage and doing Q&A sessions about the project, the issues of copyright had been brought to the forefront and the story was also going through various changes and after months of work and stress well basically it all got too much and my protective little bubble burst leaving me wondering what the hell I was trying to do.
I spent the next few months unwilling to deal with the ‘problem’ that was Born of Hope. I focused my efforts on other things like the short films “The Horsemen”, shot in July 06 and “One Little Step” a short seaside musical shot in Great Yarmouth in Oct 06 both of which are showing at Cannes in the Short Film Corner 2007. The closest I went to BoH was trying to edit together the test shoot footage so I could actually get it out to the cast and crew. I found the editing really hard. I think this was due to a lack of self-confidence and the need to live up to my own and everyone else’s expectations.
Now that I have had some time to gather my thoughts properly I have basically decided that I need to slow the whole project down and delegate tasks more or risk throwing the towel in all together. For the first half of 2006 it felt like I did nothing but Born of Hope. I spent nine solid months working very hard on the project and basically it couldn’t continue like that. I love Born of Hope and think it could be an amazing project but I don’t think it should take over my life completely.
So after a long break from the project we are now back on track. A new script is currently being written by an American screenwriter. I am again liaising with West Stow’s Anglo-Saxon Village, our main location from the test shoot and starting work on the construction of various large props with their assistants. I will also soon be crewing up an Art Department and Costume Department to continue work and expand the collection of props and costumes we already have.
FFF: Can you give us a synopsis of the story you are trying to tell, characters involved, time frame around the Jackson trilogy, etc?
KR: From 2003 when I had the original idea to make a LOTRs fan film to now 2007 the story has changed and developed quite a lot.
Back in 2003 the first story idea was about a female Dúnedain ranger who finds herself in Mirkwood during the War of the Ring and came from my various interests like stage combat, wilderness survival, archery and the need for strong female characters that I as an actor could play. I very quickly realized that this idea was too large to attempt as it involved large amounts of Dwarves and Elves and Orcs and horses etc as you can imagine. I put that one on the shelf and started thinking about stories that Tolkien had already written, looking back through the Appendices of the Lord of the Rings.
My next thought was to do the early part of Aragorn and Arwen’s relationship, with their first meeting in the woods of Rivendell. I would need only two or three actors and Tolkien had detailed most of their relationship. I decided against this idea though because the ambitious perfectionist in me was really keen to make a film that people could watch and almost believe that it had been filmed by Peter Jackson and his team. An impossible task I know, but Viggo and Liv as Aragorn and Arwen are now so imprinted in our minds that I felt people would find it hard to believe in the actors I found to imitate them. I therefore needed a story that people would want to see but that didn’t involve any character that we had seen in the New Line Trilogy. Turns out that Aragorn and Arwen’s first meeting was actually shot by Peter Jackson though we have yet to see it.
I first read the books only after the release of the Two Towers and the Dúnedain had really captured my interest and a story about these rangers of the North really appealed. Also, as they had been cut from the movie version I did not need to compete or replicate what had been done before.
So Born of Hope is a prequel to the New Line Trilogy and my aim is to make a film that can sit alongside those films without looking too out of place. The story focuses on Aragorn’s people, the Dúnedain, the rangers of the north. We want to show people more of a back-story for Aragorn. Based on Tolkien’s writings in the Appendices of the books we look at Aragorn’s people and show the relationship between his parents, Arathorn and Gilraen. As well as giving more of a back-story we are also able to show characters on screen who had to be cut from the New Line Trilogy. Not only will we be introducing a number of new characters but we will also see the sons of Elrond and a young Halbarad who is mentioned in the Return of the King. That’s all I will say for now because I don’t want to give too much away.
FFF: To my understanding actual footage hasn’t been shot, but only test footage. What is the timeline from starting the actual shoot for the film and what is your realistic outlook for a finished film?
KR: Before the script is finalized it’s hard to say and I often under estimate this but I’ll try not to. Hopefully we’ll have the script sorted in the next few months and will then need another few months to plan even some simple filming. It would be nice to do some filming before the year is out but who knows. Maybe we’ll have shot it by this time next year but will then need some time for the edit. Don’t hold me to this but it may be ready by next summer and if that seems like a long way off to you, think how it feels to me.
FFF: Have you had any reaction from New Line or the master Peter Jackson himself?
KR: Not a squeak but that doesn’t mean I can breath easy. The copyright issues regarding fan films is obviously a constant worry because we are, in a none threatening, non profit making way, breaking the rules. I mean that’s what fan films in essence have to do or they wouldn’t be fan films they’d be original films. We are not doing a parody and there are very few LOTRs fan films that extend or add original material to Tolkien’s work, so in a way I feel like we are breaking new ground and that’s partly exciting and partly terrifying.
It’s hard to believe that the Estate, New Line and even Peter Jackson himself do not hear things on the grapevine about what fans are doing and therefore it’s extremely plausible that they know about Born of Hope in someway. I just hope that they can accept it as a complement to their work and not a threat. If George Lucas can be so generous to Star Wars fans why shouldn’t other films have the same treatment? I mean it’s been 4 years since Return of the King and even if they can get the Hobbit made it will be another couple of years so surely fan films help to keep the enthusiasm going in the Fan world.
I would love to hear words of encouragement from Peter Jackson or any other official LOTRs people but if nothing else I just hope we are left alone to finish this without any problems and that people like what they see. Once finished this will hopefully be a fantastic showcase for many up and coming actors and filmmakers in the UK and even around the world and that’s got the be a good thing.
FFF: This seems like a far more ambitious project than most fan films. Was there a consideration of starting with just a short 5 or 10 minutes film to get the feet wet? If the film was done today how long it would be – I know things are cut and added in post-production so just a ball park figure.
KR: I don’t seem to come up with short 5 minute films. I don’t have a background of studying filmmaking and therefore most of my knowledge of movies is from watching feature films. Luckily since 2003 when the idea first came up and I knew nothing about filmmaking to now when I know a heck of a lot more and actually have some decent experience including directing a 25 minute short called Into the Darkness and a 10 minute short called The Horsemen as well as working on many other films.
Born of Hope has gone from being a 20 min film to an hour and a half feature and back again but I think we may have finally come up with the best idea. The latest idea is to do about a 30 minute film divided up into three parts for easy viewing and story telling.
FFF: Is there a concern with the amount of time the project is being put together people won’t necessarily lose interest, but have other offers (paying offers) that brings them elsewhere? I’ve seen it a million times with fan made and independent productions. I guess a good question is what is the glue that keeps cast and crew involved in the project over the amount of time it has been trying to get it off the ground?
KR: Of course this is a problem and I tried to make it clear from the very first auditions that this project was probably a long-term thing. All the actors knew that they were only being cast for the test shoot but if we were to ask them back for the final film it may take a year or more to complete. Even with unpaid short films you can loss cast and crew to paid work. Making it work is often down to meticulous planning and scheduling. Even for the test shoot we had actors performing in shows in London and could therefore only work say Sunday’s for us etc.
It’s not just cast either. Just last month my friend and fantastic Director of Photographer Neill Phillips was sent out to LA with work and may not be coming back. Many of the filmmakers here in Cambridge are moving on with their careers so quickly that it might be hard to book time in their busy schedules but I’ll have to try.
Not sure what the glue is really. I guess it’s partly me trying to keep people interested and willing to work with me again but I think it’s also the fact that this project is so different from most of the low budget films people are used to making. As far as Showreels are concerned this is something you don’t see everyday.
FFF: What advise would you give to fellow Fan Film makers out there from your “Trials and Tribulations” of getting Born of Hope together?
KR: IT’S HARD! I mean doing something like Born of Hope is really hard. You have to really want it. Don’t try to do it on your own and don’t get overwhelmed by having too many people giving advice either. You need one or two people to bounce ideas off. Get the story locked down and don’t try to take on too much, advice I seem unable to take.
There are many factors that can increase the difficulty of doing a fan film, like any film. If your film has multiple characters and locations then it will be harder to do than a short 5 minute film set in one place with just two people. Doing a little parody in the back garden with a few mates and a rug over your shoulders is obviously easier than casting professional actors and making original costumes etc.
If you want to do it just picking a story you like and that you think you can accomplish and go for it!
FFF: Considering we cover comic books, action figures, movies, etc. at the BIN – what is your perspective, experiences, view on what can be changed or done to draw more women into these industries?
KR: That’s a hard one, I’m not really sure. Women are so varied. For some women the closest they ever want to get to comics is watching buff men playing superheroes in Hollywood movies where as others are real Tom Boys that do live action role play every weekend and have a huge collection of comics and action figures at home. I feel I’m somewhere in the middle. I love watching comic book movies but don’t read comics. I used to have action figures when I was younger, I visit shops like Forbidden Planet and a wall of my home has LOTRs replica swords and a Harry Potter style broomstick on display.
I guess with all the comic book movies coming out of Hollywood in the last few years it’s likely this will boost people’s interest in Comics whether they are male or female.
FFF: What do you think you bring to the realm of specifically the Fan Film and even more specifically to the world of Tolkien in a women’s perspective as opposed to a male’s view of Fan Film/Tolkien?
KR: Well I don’t really know what the male view of Fan Film/Tolkien is so I couldn’t really say, I’ve seen great fan films made by men and women. There are quite a few women involved in the making of Born of Hope so there is a nice balance of males to females. With Born of Hope I’m keen to show not only all the fun and exciting action sequences but also the humanity. If you look at a lot of Star Wars fan films they are nothing more than lightsaber duels and these are I think, mostly made by men. I’m keen to really show people who these characters are and really get inside them. I’m also keen to produce a film of the best quality I possibly can.
I don’t know if that helps, I find this a hard question to answer and could probably be answered better by someone else once the film is completed and can be held up alone side other fan films and assessed.
FFF: Outside the world of Lord of the Rings what films or other jobs are you working on and what do you have on tap that you can tell us about?
KR: Well I have actually been involved in a number of short films since the test shoot and 4 of them are going to be showing at Cannes in May in the short film corner. The films are: The Horsemen, Blood on his hands, Guilty? and One Little Step. I did a variety of jobs on these films including acting, art department, costumer, producer’s assistant etc.
I know that a couple of the actors from Born of Hope are going to be at Cannes, Christopher Dane (Arathorn) and Howard Corlett plus Emily Blickem my Co Producer and I would love to go too but I can’t make it unfortunately, maybe next year.
Any people near to Cambridge UK in the first week in June can come and see me play Jennifer in the Witches of Eastwick at the ADC Theatre. Otherwise for now it’s Born of Hope and building my acting career.
FFF: If you had an unlimited budget, the backing of any major studios, and the rights to any project what film would you either want to write, act in, or direct and why?
KR: Nice question. Well as you can imagine it’s ambitious and not a kitchen sink drama. Doesn’t sound very original now that Pirates of the Caribbean has been done so well but for a long time I have been extremely interested in the story of Anne Bonney and Mary Reed the famous female pirates of the Golden Age. I would love to make this film and play one of these characters or a similar strong character in a fun and exciting action adventure. If I have the energy to do another film after Born of Hope I am thinking about doing a short film involving these characters if nothing else.
FFF: Anything else you would like to share you think our readers at the BIN would be interested in? Perhaps people you would like to thank? Your favorite color (colour)? Favorite flavor ice-cream?
KR: Wow, what to say? I guess I just want to say a HUGE thank you to everyone who is supporting me in this endeavour! Thank you to all the cast and crew from the test shoot, all those who I have been in touch with since this first began, all those who are part of the team in one way or another, all those who have given generous donations to help finance this endeavour, all those who have sent me emails and posted in the guestbook, all those who are desperate to watch the finished film and anyone else I’ve forgotten. I would also like to apologise to those who have emailed me but have not heard back I am slowly working my way back through countless flagged emails but if you do not hear please do write again to pester me for a response. I do not mean to be rude and not reply.
So I don’t want to jinks it but.. “I’m looking forward to the next 6 months..”