Interview: Fergus Thom sets his sights on Brocken Spectre
Deep in the Cairngorm Mountains, something is stirring. Thankfully it's not the Big Grey Man, the creature of legend who threatens unwary travellers, but a young film crew working hard on their first feature film, Brocken Spectre.
At the helm is 19-year-old director, Fergus Thom, who has been making films in the Highlands since the age of 13. Separating fact from fiction, Jonathan Melville spoke to Thom about his filmmaking experience to date and how he set about developing a feature film in Scotland.
Jonathan Melville: What's the premise of Brocken Spectre?
Fergus Thom: Brocken Spectre is based on the legend of the Big Grey Man of Ben MacDhui, a mythical bigfoot-type creature that is said to roam the plateau of the second highest mountain in the UK - Ben MacDhui. A "brocken spectre" is an enormous, magnified shadow of an observer cast upon the clouds below them, when hiking in the hills, and this has been put forward as an explanation for a number of Grey Man sightings.
The film follows the story of Olivia as she breaks free of her structured and monotonous city life in pursuit of a new start in the Highlands. Buying a remote bothy nestled in the mountains, she settles in with little drama. However, it's not long before the echoing footsteps of Ben MacDhui find their way to her.
What's your background in filmmaking?
I've been making films since I was around 13 years old - at that time with a digital camera (the photo-taking kind). I was given a proper MiniDV camcorder for my 14th birthday and with this I decided to create Hag of the Bridge a film featuring friends and locals that was made over 16 months. We had no schedule, script or story-line and the film premiered in Carrbridge Village Hall raising funds for the development of the hall.
As part of creating the wondrous world of Hag of the Bridge I set up Carrbridge Films an independent, non-profit, youth run film company with aims revolving around raising awareness of and interacting with the local community. Through this I've been lucky enough to work on lots of exciting projects, collaboratively working with events, national cultural programmes and even delving into the education side of things.
In October 2009, and after a lot of planning, I launched Carrbridge News. A first for community news sharing in the Highlands (and maybe even Scotland!), this new initiative would see the quarterly release of a digital video community news programme. This project has been very well received and has since developed to also incorporate written news. In February of this year we were lucky enough to be awarded the prestigious Best Use of Journalism on the Web award as part of the Highland & Islands Media Awards.
When did you decide to make Brocken Spectre?
I had been keen on making a "proper" feature film for some time. A lot of lessons were learnt while making Hag of the Bridge and in all the other films I have made since then and it's exciting to bring all those together and take on a challenge far bigger than anything else I've done before. It's pretty daunting working on a "big film" because there are so many things that need considered and such a lot of ground work required before the camera can even start rolling, but at the same time it's incredibly exciting especially when you see all the pieces of the jigsaw fall into place.
How did the story come to you?
I began thinking about ideas for the feature film last January, because one of the things I wanted to do after I left school in June of that year was make a feature film, and the other thing, to start a business delivering services in graphic and web design as well as photography and video production.
Anyway, for quite some time I was planning on calling the business MacDhui Creative and I'm not even sure why but I thought I'd research the name a bit so that I could start to develop the identity. Some googling later and I had landed on the story of the Big Grey Man of Ben MacDhui - something that I knew of and had heard before but it wasn't until then that it clicked and I realised that this could be made into something filmic!
It seemed too good to be true, and too much of a coincidence that I had just stumbled across this being related to the business name. I ended up calling my business something completely different but the feature film was a goer!
When did you start the funding process? Was it easy to come by?
I knew from the outset that this would be a "zero budget" film, however, it was also clear that some investment would need to be made in equipment in order to produce something with the kind of production values we are aiming for.
To this end, I started off by going down the crowd funding / sponsorship route. We quite quickly got a few folk on board and then got support from Carrbridge Community Arts and Landmark Forest Adventure Park - a local visitor attraction - which was great and took us a great deal closer to our goal.
I ended up easing away from the crowd funding route as although I know it has incredible potential I didn't feel entirely comfortable asking for money for the project and it wasn't moving at a fast enough pace so I put my own money in to get things rolling a little quicker.
How did you assemble your cast and crew?
Lots of my friends are interesting in acting and have had experience in acting through school and drama clubs so I've been lucky enough to be able to call upon their talents. Many of them have already given incredible enthusiasm to the project and I couldn't be more grateful for their support. My family have been incredibly supportive of my endeavors and this means a lot to me. Similarly, friends have been great supporters of the film and have also been wonderful in taking on different roles within the film.
How different is working on a feature film compared to a news video? Are the basics the same?
It's been interesting comparing working on Carrbridge News and producing Brocken Spectre. I guess the main difference is that there is far greater attention to detail and far more artistic license with a feature film. With news videos the aim is to show things as they are but with the feature film you can play more with accentuating specific details. It also is a far more lengthy process, not just to shoot but to plan and script. Having said that, I do enjoy working on them both and the differences they entail!
What have been the highs and lows of the project?
The most fun part, for me, is when we are out filming because that's when you can really start to pull all the strings together and see an image come to life. I think I'll also really enjoy it when it comes to editing the film together as that will be another big milestone reached. There's not been a part that I really haven't liked, but I would say that all the planning can at times be a bit of a struggle...
What do you want to happen with the finished film?
I've got a number ideas of what we might do with the film once it's done and I'm not entirely sure which route we'll go down yet, but the main thing will be to try and get people to watch it.
Do you know when it will be released?
I can't really put a release date on it yet because there is still such a lot of work to do and we're all doing this in our spare time so can't stick to a rigid production schedule.
Follow the production of Brocken Spectre on the official website, on Facebook and on Twitter.