Watch the Film4-backed short film Flytopia for free here, from Friday 18th October 2013…
Flytopia from Karni and Saul on Vimeo.
Karni and Saul on Flytopia’s journey from page to screen.
The dark side of the moon
We read Flytopia in the collection Tough, Tough Toys for Tough, Tough boys about six or seven years ago, and it blew us away. The way it sucked you in and spat you out was fantastic, and we loved the surreal, sticky, dark yet funny world it presented. But at that point we had only made commercials and music videos and felt we weren’t ready to make it as a first short film. So first we chose ‘Turning’ – an adaptation of a Lynda Sexson story that we made with the BBC.
When Turning was nominated for a Bafta in 2010, people went on about how we had created this soft, magical fairytale land… and we said, “right , we’ll show them fairytale…” and so we set out to make Flytopia. It’s still fantasy, but on the dark side of the moon, and a lot more twisted – in a good way!
Of course we had to get the rights, and being Israeli originally, we like to take the unconventional route – so I went with our producer, Alison Sterling, to a Will Self reading… and in the Q&A, I basically harassed him about making a film out of his work until finally he said “let’s talk after”. And we did, and I gave him Turning to watch, which he liked, and then immediately agreed to give us the story. We believe that we were made to make his stories into film – dark meets-fantasy-meets-funny is rare – and we really connect to it.
Bugs and rotting meat and sex and heat and craziness
One thing we always say is that it was one thing reading Flytopia and another being in the real Flytopia on set, with the smells and bugs and rotting meat and sex and heat and craziness of it all. We weren’t quite prepared for what a journey it was going to be emotionally and physically.
We shot in rural Hungary, in a fishing lodge where it felt like there would be a real Flytopia. Our crew was Hungarian, as was our fabulous DoP Mátyás Erdély. Proton Films were our base there and were amazingly professional and serious about the film! Our actors braved it all – incredibly, Ashley Artus who plays Jonathan wanted real bugs in his underpants, and spent days going crazy or acting crazy. Joy, who was played by Rebecca Palmer was very exposed, like meat, and very scrutinised, and we kind of tortured her, smearing her naked body with honey by a lake – she was super brave.
Weirdly, the bugs were cleverer than we thought, and never obeyed the command “action”. Our animal wrangler tried to breed thousands of flies on set, which he said was the only way to get flies, and every day Film4 called wanting to know whether the flies had hatched! The answer in the end was no – they were all dead. You can’t control nature…and that relates back to Will Self’s story as well. So we put a sound of buzzing flies on set and Ashley acted to an empty room. The flies were then created by Saul using CG. We did have some real bugs and rotting meat to attract more creepy crawlies, which was tough, but helped with getting the right mood. We wanted to be out of our comfort zone, and we were!
An insectoid sex scene
Ashley, our main actor, loves insects and researched them, so lucky for us, he was up for anything! And Rebecca was very earthy and loved getting down and dirty, so together they really pulled off our insectoid sex scene. We put some Led Zeppelin and Alicia Keys’ and Jack White’s Another Way To Die on really loud and let it play out. Rebecca had loads of tracking markers on and a cap, for CG work in post to track her. They needed to use their skills and imagination for the rest, but since they had hung out a couple of days before it didn’t feel too awkward. They were real pros.
What we had in mind was to make every viewer feel a little drawn to this fly-woman… to make it feel dangerous, to make a huge sex scene with a fly seem attractive! We laugh now that we only ever shot one sex scene in our career so far, and it was fly-sex.
Support, funding and dodgy uncles
Jo McClellan (Film4 development executive) told us she had been following our work for years but until we made our first short film, she couldn’t really bring us into Film4 properly – we were considered more commercial directors. We clicked right away, and she gave us a lot of support and freedom, together with Katherine Butler (deputy head of Film4) to make our vision and create a piece we wanted to make.
They helped shape the script, and then gave us as much room as possible, only returning in the edit stage to have a look and give minor comments. We had support from Creative England and Stink Productions as well, and we had Peter Carlton as our exec producer – or as we like to call him, our “dodgy uncle”! When things felt out of control, Peter said he’d seen it a million times before, and would calm us down. Generally, it was a super-positive yet challenging and slightly creepy experience and we really credit Film4 in giving us a safe, supportive environment to play and work in.
When we had our first screening, before the animation was finished, I watched the Film4 people start scratching and itching and squirming a little in their seats, and we knew if it was effective at this stage then it would only get stronger and better once the animation was in properly. What we wanted was a reaction – that’s what mattered to us most. It’s so hard to feel these days – we are quite numb. The final touch was adding the soundtrack by Adrian Utley (Portishead) and sound design by Adrian Rhodes… and it worked the magic. We call it an “itchy film”.
Read Will Self’s blog about seeing his short story Flytopia turned into a Film4-backed short here.
Flytopia was produced in partnership with Creative England.