Film director Stuart St Paul wants to make
his movie in Britains remotest island
community, the Shetland Islands. And he says
it could be a movie Shetland can be proud of.
Following a planning visit to the islands, after
a search that took in Australia, Tuscany and
Galway, he describes Shetland as the place he
likes, full of unseen movie visuals that he
can use as a canvas on which to set the Hitchcock-style
mystery drama. Anywhere else he says, would
simply be "making do."
"Devils Gate is a film, not about
Shetland, but about a girl who goes back to
the isolated island she was born in, and ran
away from. When I look anywhere in this movie
I want her to be exposed to the elements, the
stark nature of the land, the isolation. I want
the audience to feel vulnerable and in danger;
they must feel for her, feel trapped. I dont
want to see houses or trees, and when it rains
it should pour. When it blows, it should blow
you over. So for me, other places would just
be making do."
The director points out that Devils Gate
is a cinema movie, not a TV film and on the
big screen the visuals are extremely important.
"The ability to see small clumps of land
in amongst sea, to feel you are far away from
the mainland with no means of escape is what
the film demands. This is not Shetland, but
it is something Shetland can produce. More importantly,
these are not visuals we are familiar with from
TV watching. Shetland holds unseen movie visuals."
He praises Shetlands incredible light
and skies, but foresees a number of difficulties
that need to be resolved to make filming possible
in the islands. Time of year will be a crucial
factor. The film needs darkness as well as light,
so early or late winter is preferred to long
hours of summer daylight. Although windy and
rain would help the production, snow would not,
so snow-risk periods need to be avoided.
"I can bring wind and rain machines, but
I cannot cover such a vast land in snow making
machines. The reason for these is that one cannot
depend on the weather. If I shoot half a scene
one day in rain, and the next day there is no
rain, to make it match, I have to recreate this."
As there are no ready-equipped movie-making
units stationed in Shetland, equipment would
have to be trucked from the mainland by a 200-mile
ferry link. The cost of getting film vehicles
and personnel where they are needed is costly.
The director has already discovered it is cheaper
for him to cross the Atlantic than to fly to
The film has a tight budget, far below Hollywood
budget levels, so has to do everything at reasonable
cost, not inflated prices. Low budget, the director
says, really means tight budget.
"Having a movie does not mean big bucks.
I have seen the words low budget mentioned.
They are always mentioned, and I think it is
done because everyone thinks movies have money.
They do, for the movie. Not a penny is wasted
or misspent. It is only low budget because we
have only five main actors, no big studio builds,
and no extras. The crew are expensive and talented
people. No waste means our commercial funders
get the value for money, and the cinemagoer
gets value on screen."
Indie film crews work long hours. Stuart St
Paul says they have a lot in common with crofters
in terms of the hours they regularly put into
"With independent movies, money is not
wasted on infrastructure and over staffing.
Independent movies and films often are more
frugal than TV and TV films; they have smaller
non-union crews, not the broadcast company
staffing and training levels. We work longer
hours than broadcast employed staff would, just
like a crofter would on his own land if he had
St Pauls plan is to bring a small but
highly talented crew to Shetland, but a further
constraint is juggling the availability of star
cast and key crew members.
"As we plan our schedule and when we can
shoot, against daylight hours and tide timetables,
we also have to look at star actors diaries
and availability. And it is not just actors,
but crew. My lighting cameraman rang me while
I was in Shetland to ask if he could take a
commercial in Mexico. That will pay him in three
weeks more than double what I will pay him in
7 weeks. My camera operator emailed me to tell
me he had been offered the new Bond film, and
to ask if our dates clash."
Although the place in the movie will be Devils
Gate and not Shetland, the islands get a chance
to star as themselves in a documentary on making
of Devils Gate, released as extra support
material when the movie goes from cinema to
home distribution on DVD. Slated Shetland co-producer
Penultimate will be recording that material
as a part of their contribution to the project
once filming is underway.
The directors next move is to report
to the movies commercial funders about
what he has seen in Shetland and the suitability
of the islands for the project. Even with so
much in Shetlands favour as a location,
the film could still end up being shot elsewhere
through external factors, such as generous tax
inducements that made locations very attractive
to film funders.
"None of this means Shetland is definite.
If the figures dont stack up, I will be
forced to visit Canada where British films can
be shot, receiving Canadian tax credits and
very experienced crews and facilities are on
tap. The Isle Of Man is also on the possible
list as they offer financial incentives and
have units there now. It is never easy. However,
I have seen the place I like, and I know I could
make a movie Shetland would be proud of."
The cast of Devils Gate is unnamed as
yet, but St Paul has said he intends to make
use of substantial screen talent. Richard Harris
has been suggested as a possible male lead.