The week before last we at CWR were given the opportunity to review a sci-fi thriller short film called NEON. In addition to that director Mark J. Blackman was also kind enough to answer a few of our questions about his work. He did change my correct spelling of “favorite” to the British-Canadian “favourite” (because he and all his lobsterback brethren are a bunch of heathens) but we’ll try not to hold that against him.
NEON definitely presents some surprises with the development of the story. What was the inspiration behind the plot?
The truth is, NEON was a story that just wouldn’t die, based on a very graphic, stark image of a man silhouetted in the rain who had fallen from grace and was the epitome of a lonely heart.
I was trying to work out what this man wanted and what had got him into such an emotionally dire predicament. I awoke in the middle of the night just knowing it was about love and shame: it was about keeping another out of love’s way for your own selfish desires – and then it all just clicked: the tone, the mood, the emotion, why it was raining, why he was bald and his place in the world around him.
I was developing another short to direct, a haunting medieval horror, but pitched this to my producer and exec. producer instead – we then spent a year developing the script and working out the best way to present a narrative that goes far beyond what shorts usually handle, as there’s an entire history and world-building element to NEON that is intrinsic to it working. Narratively, we knew we were taking a monumental risk in how we were presenting our story but we figured go big or go home. We went big.
We really enjoyed that NEON was able to present such a vibrant world on what I can only assume was a bit of a budget. In your experience as a creator, what are some of the challenges and rewards in making a short film like this?
NEON is the first film for a while that I’ve directed in such a meticulous manner. I usually like to direct and shoot more organically – a bit more ‘guerilla’ – and feel things out as we go along following rehearsals and workshopping – but NEON was not that sort of film at all.
With so much backstory and world-building to accomplish, every second counted. The way in which the script was written was VERY prescriptive and we even made an animatic of the entire film to check our timings throughout. Every moment was accounted for – every angle, reason for a shot… the timing of an actor’s blocking was rehearsed in my head a million times before the camera ever rolled.
Was it rewarding? It was and it wasn’t. I like to be surprised on set, I like to encourage improvisation and to find new details or moments that are unexpected delights as they can often make a scene. However, the ambitious nature of NEON meant we had less time to allow for such moments and, as such, it was quite the military operation schedule-wise. Having said that, it was the very ambition of what we were trying to achieve with the story and emotion, the cinematography and saga-esque nature to the film that made the process rewarding. Up until NEON I’d been making films with what I could, budget-wise, resource wise – films I could make with what I had access to. NEON was a film for which my producer and I said to ourselves: “What’s the film we want to make?” And we put our money into that. Continue reading