Director’s comments (to be read after watching the film and not before):
Digital Christmas sprang from an original story by Ken Rickwood, who also took on the lead role of Bert in this film. The story was scripted by John Howden who added number of original touches to Ken’s tale. A few additional changes were also made by the director before it morphed into its present form.
From the start, the director John Groslin was keen to have Ken play the main part as he looked and sounded just right. His performance is understated and Ken poignantly conveys the sense of loneliness and fear experienced by an old man at the loss of his beloved wife and the onset of senile dementia. What started as a “tale of the unexpected” became progressively a study into the effects of Alzheimer’s Disease. His irrational behaviour and facial expressions, balanced against his matter-of-fact perseverance in committing an act of self-mutilation constitute a chilling portrayal of what a person can do when his mind has lost any sense of the rational. At the same time, it is a testament to love as the act itself is motivated by a distorted sense of duty towards his dead wife.
The first challenge was to find a location, which Ken very kindly supplied by allowing us to film in his own house and garden. With its extensive variety of plants, statues and secret corners, the garden lent itself particularly well to the dreamlike setting for the opening scene. The house itself was in keeping with a man of more mature years who had somehow allowed the digital age to pass him by. Although by no means antiquated, it eschewed too many signs of modernity and so was an ideal backdrop. The beauty of this location was that we were able to return to it on five separate occasions to film the whole day through without incurring any costs.
Of course, an ace cameraman was needed to achieve the many complicated camera moves demanded by the story board and for this Henry Keep was the perfect choice. A consummate professional, nothing was too hard for him. Working closely with the Director of Photography (John Simpson) and his first and second assistant cameraman (Roger Allen and Neil Rowe), Henry created the magical mysterious garden the director was after, by blending a whole variety of techniques from soft focus to the iconic circular shot round the main character’s head.
In Andy Merz, we had someone willing to lend his hand and considerable expertise to a whole array of tasks: green screen, lighting, sound, visual special effects - a real team player.
Our other characters (the ghostly apparitions of Bert’s grandchildren) were played by 2 talented young professional actors (Josephine Carter and Tom Campe) as well as a very promising amateur actress, Natasha Philbrick.
One of the challenges we faced was that the ambient sound was always far from ideal, which means that 90% of the so-called live sound, including the actors’ parts, had to be re-recorded and foleyed in. Fortunately, we took the precaution of recording our actors’ entire parts in a sound-proofed room and obtained our own foley sounds in a range of locations, from Colchester to the mountainous slopes of north-eastern France!
This shoot also revealed the importance of continuity. We were well supported by Sue Howden and Neil Rowe in that respect but, as they were unable to fulfil that role on every occasion, continuity errors did arise, meaning that compromises had to be made in post.
Along with a whole horde of Colchester Film Maker volunteers who helped with sound recording, outdoor and indoor lighting, props etc. and who are listed in the credits, we ought to mention the excellent clapper board work done by Anthony Gibson. It is really not as easy as it seems, as the director found out to his cost when he tried to step in on the occasions Anthony couldn’t make it.
To round off the shoot, we were extremely fortunate to have Scott Garton to fly a drone for us for that great crane shot at the end of scene 1.
Some of the greatest challenges however came in post when John Jones and Barrie Gibbard spent endless hours with the director editing and colourising the footage. Fortunately for us, the company Audio Network was able to provide at relatively low cost a fine selection of beautiful music to enhance the mood throughout the film.
This was one of the rare occasions when we worked as a proper film making team and we welcome the opportunity of many other such occasions in the future!