It is always a challenge to do a fantasy movie, as the visual effects are very important for the genre. When you have to do it on a low budget you might feel quite challenged. However, Marco van Belle, the director or Arthur & Merlin, took that leap of faith and actually managed to pull it off. He found the cast, some were easy to spot, others required quite a search, and the crew that would be there for all the required support.
The premiere took place Saturday, the 11th of April, at the BFI Southbank and both the cast and crew attended, together with press and dear ones. The movie will be out starting today, the 16th of April and can be ordered via their Official Website. Also, if you haven’t heard about it until now, you can also find its trailer there.
In short, as we are focusing on the actual chat with Marco, Kirk Barker (Arthur) and Stefan Butler (Merlin), the film takes place in dark ages Britain, a time of magic and legend, where a powerful druid is bent on destroying the Celtic people. Arthur, a banished warrior, and Merlin, a hermit wizard, are the ones to embark on a heroic quest in order to stop the druid and save their people, before the Celts are lost forever and become a myth themselves.
Denisa: First thing first, how was the project born and actually tuned into a film?
Marco: Well, Paul Osbourne came to me and another producer called Rob and said he had an idea for making a fantasy film as Arthur and Merlin haven’t been produced in a long time and he wanted to put the film together in the authentic way, how it was in the dark ages, and I thought it was a great idea. After, he told me about his plan regarding how to release it, which was online and using various new technologies like pay by text message that would make it easier and cheaper for people to buy, only £1.50, and he sold me the idea. So, from that point on, it wasn’t too different from any other film, we had to raise money, investment and Paul handled that from the business point of view . As for the rest of us, it didn’t feel any different from making any other movie, we just didn’t have as much money to do it, which just meant that we had to put a lot more time in pre-production, about 5-6 months, to find exactly what we needed.
Marco: Finding both of these guys took a bit, but we wanted people that were good and also had the experience and would understand easily what we wanted from them. Stefan was second person we saw, the very first person we auditioned was actually Charlotte (Olwen in the film). However, we couldn’t find a good enough actor for Arthur and I think we must have seen around 40-45 actors for the role, until Kirk came in, and when he did, we pretty much knew we were sorted.
Denisa: What attracted you to the roles of Arthur and Merlin?
Stefan: For me it was certainly the script, I really like odd characters, I like people who are detached from the normal humanity. When I pick up a script, if I can read the line and after know it instantly, then that means it is a script for me, because sometimes you get a few lines and you can’t remember it, which is most probably because it is either badly written or not for you. With this, that first scene where I appear, I learned that the first time I read it, I read it once and I knew it. And that is how I knew the part was for me.
Kirk: I grew up at the country side and as a kid I spend most of my time outdoors pretending to be Robin Hood or King Arthur and my agent gave me a call telling me about the role and saying that it just might be for me. So, I read the script and went to audition and got along really well with Marco and I believe King Arthur is just a gift of a part to be able to play. When I was at drama school I would think about all the roles that I would like to play and King Arthur was on that list of people.
Denisa: What was the most challenging for you when it came to this movie?
Stefan: For me the most challenging thing is combat because I am not very good at it and I got a weapon that is really heavy at the wrong end. And I was thinking why does he have to use it and not just go “Magic time!”, so, yes that’s my cross to bear.
Denisa: Did you take any classes? As I saw Kirk did.
Stefan: I had about three classes and one fight and that was when they decided that they will just stick to that one fight scene. And probably that scene got get shorter every time we filmed it.
Denisa: What about you guys? (Have to note that by this point, thanks to Stefan’s answer, everyone was laughing.)
Kirk: The most difficult?
Denisa: The most challenging.
Kirk: Having to work with Stefan! (Again a serious and welcomed burst of laughter.) No no, seriously now, quite the opposite, on the first day of rehearsals when you know that you have to work with someone that closely over a period of time and you know it is going to be a challenge and that you will have long days, you really hope that you have a chemistry and camaraderie with the person you are working with, and on the tea break of the first day I remember thinking “Oh, I will get along with this guy!”. And, as we continued filming, we were such good mates and that makes a huge difference, whether the camera is rolling or not. I think it’s great to have someone in between the takes whom you can talk to or run your lines with or just have a complaint about the fact that it’s raining, and that really makes a difference. And when the camera does roll, I haven’t said this until now, but I truly believe that I upped my game massively in all the scenes that we have shared.
Marco: A big challenge was time, and shooting the scenes in the time we actually had. It is related somehow to the budget, because when you have a small budget the number of days you have is also smaller and we had a total of twenty five days and one of them was just for filming the landscapes. And there were some scenes that were like six pages and we shot them in six and a half hours, which is challenging and scary.
Stefan: If you would do that on a full budget, how many days would you be looking at? (Thank you Stefan!)
Marco: At least one or two days and you would have more than one unit. If I would have had a full budget I would have gone two and a bit days on that certain scene.
Kirk: Also, I just finished shooting a relatively low budget film and we were often filming ten or eleven pages in a day, but it was a Christmas romantic comedy and the scenes are sitting down at a coffee table or walking down the street, very pedestrian, and there are two actors and you can work that fast. However, with Arthur & Merlin is a completely different story, as you have extras and battle scenes or you have to compete with the weather changing conditions, so it’s not the same at all.
Marco: So true, so yes, that was the biggest challenge, because it was the biggest risk.
Denisa: Would you have done anything differently?
Stefan: There are certain lines that maybe I would give less or more weight to, but you can change that forever. That was what I wanted to get across at the time and I am glad I did.
Kirk: A lot of the things that I might be criticizing myself about is connected to the way that we shot it, the actual speed that we shot it at. So I have to try and forgive myself for any mistakes that I may have made because of that, as overall I am very happy with it.
Marco: I am as self-critical as any director is or should be, but I don’t think I’ve done something from where I have come out as acceptant of what we have achieved. I wouldn’t actually change anything, because yes, there were things that didn’t go according to plan and there were things that would have been different if we would have had a million dollars, but given what we had to do and what we wanted to achieve, I am really proud of the work everyone has done! I would think it would do an injustice if I would say “I wish we would have done this or that.”. I am grateful that they did it and amazed that we are here!
Kirk: And the main thing is also to say that myself or Stefan or the rest of the cast wouldn’t have achieved a lot without an incredible crew who just worked every bit of hard as we did and that is the thing that goes sometimes unmentioned. We would be standing there naked with nothing to say and no lights or anything else without the crew.
Marco: And this one especially, working over twelve hours a day.
Stefan: You could well expect people to walk, but no, they didn’t, and that is an incredible feeling and some amazing people.
Denisa: OK, last but not least, why should people buy the movie?
Marco: For fantasy fans it is a version of the Arthur & Merlin story that they haven’t seen before. Either people are missing the BBC TV series, or they liked the legends, this does it for them, but will do it differently. And second, it is for people that just enjoy movies. I think it is worth to see what can be done with this cast and crew and a small amount of money. I am not saying how awesome we are (which they are, but let’s not tell them that!), but as a kid I would have been fascinated to hear the story and to watch it. So I suppose it is what we have delivered and how we have done it that is just interesting.
Stefan: It sort of makes the dream a bit more achievable to people, it is not millions that they have to gather to make a low budget movie.
Marco: Yeah, you just got to sell your house.
Stefan: Maybe your bike too.
Marco: And boom, there is the movie!
And, as we calmed down for another session of laughter…
Kirk: I think that as much as it is an incredible achievement, it shouldn’t necessarily just set a precedent that you can just have this small amount of money and make a film. It’s just down to the efforts made to make it and this pretty much includes a lot from Marco’s side. I’ve never seen a man giving so much to make it work and to bring it to life and it is truly inspiring to witness. And, I think it is just an absolutely beautiful film and our director of photography is simply a genius. Plus, the country side is amazing, and if for no other reason, watch it because it is a beautiful film.
So, there you have it, straight from the people that thought it and made this dream come true!