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netribution > features > interview with kenneth d barker > page one
"Some People Keep The Greatest Secrets….."
As film entered the digital age and low-budget filmmakers began to realise what had come within reach, some wit remarked someone would create Star Wars in their bedroom sometime soon. Kenneth D Barker would not lay claim to that, but he is in the running as contender for the first bedroom Jurassic Park, complete with CG imagery of dragons rather than dinosaurs. These are family-friendly dragons, but they move pretty convincingly and interact with the human cast successfully and they breathe fire, as dragons should. How did Kenneth D Barker create his Kingdom, all 96 minutes of it, on a budget of just £43,000? James MacGregor’s been finding out.

| by james MacGregor |
| photos by tom |
| in london |

JM What’s the story of your feature film, Kingdom?
KDB Kingdom is the "fictional" tale of the world’s last dragon sanctuary. I see it as a ‘modern urban fairy tale’. The film is primarily aimed at the family audience with a bias towards children. In fact, anybody can enjoy it without being offended.

JM What’s your background in film, Kenneth, how did you get to become a filmmaker?
KDB As a child I enjoyed entertaining people and being entertained. I particularly remember the class teacher at primary school reading aloud, classic adventure stories. Because they were the spoken word, my mind created its own visuals to accompany the author’s words. Formative memories like that stuck with me. I see producing films as a linear progression from my childhood memories. 

JM The genre you chose for your first feature film is unusual, brave even. What attracted you to the fantasy world, dragons, dank dungeons, dragon catchers and the like?
KDB Let the record state that I like all genres and not just dragons! I wanted to get away from the standard Tarantino rip-offs, sex and violence and kitchen sink angst — the kind of thing so many first-timers churn out. To be honest, fantastic creatures and magical adventure stories always intrigued me and I knew there was a lot of interest in Dragons. Essentially, the dragons are a novelty to hang a fun story on, plus nobody expects to see such a relatively complex film on such a modest budget.

JM So, you have had your great idea, you have written your script, how did you go about raising the finance? I can imagine the usual low budget funding agencies might be a little cool about this one!
KDB I’d left film school and was gagging to make a feature. I figured that once I’d made it, at least I could sell copies at the local car-boot if there was no conventional interest. Most members of the public buy feature films, how many of them will buy a short? All the usual funding agencies said "nice idea — but bugger off." Then in a strange twist of fortune, I kept meeting all these talented people who were also looking for a break in films or television. They were model makers, make-up artists and computer graphics geeks. That’s when I realised Kingdom was achievable on a modest budget. A month before we were scheduled to start filming, I had GBP200.00 pounds and a High 8 camera to my name, which was not quite enough… It was only after a very convoluted set of circumstances that I heard about a Business Angel network and they were prepared to listen to me. 

JM Presumably your funder could invest his money anywhere he wanted. Why did he particularly want to back your project?
KDB He saw the potential in what I was trying to build. And I had a comprehensive business plan I had prepared. All the Angels I spoke to were initially more interested in me as a person, then me as a manager. They wanted to know if I could be trusted with their money — which is a fair way of assessing a risk. Perhaps more importantly, I was genuinely excited about making Kingdom and I’m sure my excitement over spilt during my presentation. 

JM What kind of relationship do you have with your film angel? Who owns the project, you or him?
KDB I set up a company and he sits on it as a non-executive director. Day to day operations are handled by myself, but we both co-own Kingdom and all its rights. My advice to any other film maker looking at the Angel route is — be prepared to give up a lot of the project to get it financed, but ideally you need to retain artistic control. Then be grateful that somebody’s interested in backing your wild notion. 

JM Crew and cast. The budget must have been a severely limiting factor. Who did you find and from where?
KDB I used some wonderfully talented professional actors for the major characters and semi-pros for the minor roles. The crew came from Ex-film school peers and other media players who were regionally based (Yorkshire). I was honest with everybody from day one saying that there were no fees involved. The benefit to the individual crewmember would be an opportunity to showcase their contribution in a quality production.

JM Let’s talk dragons. When you animate a tyrannosaurus rex you need awesome, you need potent strength, terror maybe. Your dragons are user-friendly but you didn’t go for ET cute, but each of your dragons had to be a character in their own right - needed to have character- AND they had to be child-friendly as well. It wasn’t just a simple design matter, was it? What process went on there?
KDB Kingdom did not call for photo-realistic dragons so we could take artistic license in whatever direction was appropriate for us. We played around with dozens of different forms until we settled on dragon shapes that characterised each dragon. For instance Vanity is basically ugly and scaly, while War the Warrior dragon is big, green and mean! Finally, casting talented vocal artists really bought the dragons to life and added ‘credibility’ to their performances.

JM What about the CG processes? No bottomless money pit, so how did you manage to get such good animation work on screen for so little and who was driving? Was it really just a hook-up of a lot of PCs rendering away for months?
KDB I meet a couple of ‘embryonic’ CG artists who wanted to push their personal boundaries with some film work. Three quarters of the way through pre-production we elected to go completely CG because, ironically, it would be cheaper then trying to mix puppet work and CG. The dragons were modelled in clay then scanned at Framestore in London, the CG team (3 guys literally in a back bedroom) did everything else. The biggest expense was setting up "Daisy" the Render Farm. Daisy was a custom built series of computers, wired together that spent all day, everyday….rendering. Having a machine like Daisy to do that task removed an immense strain from the individual animator's computers, allowing the workflow to keep moving. 


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