Interview: Alan Lambert, writer and director of ‘The End Of The Earth Is My Home’

| May 28, 2013 | Comments (0)
TEOTEIMH_Cork_Poster

 

The End Of The Earth Is My Home is a science-fiction adaptation of the traditional Asian stories of the Monkey King and Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

 

Written and directed by Alan Lambert, the film tells the story of a young boy, who witnesses a failed assassination attempt at an airport on the island of Hai-Wan.The assassin, a young woman called Mei, abducts the boy and brings him to her superior, the Metal Dragon. The Metal Dragon is the last of an old order of immortals living secretly in Hai-Wan. He resides on the top floor of the Gold Hotel, from where, via ‘all-seeing’ security surveillance, he presides over the four dragons of the island’s districts. These dragons are mortal men. Despite Mei’s objections the Metal Dragon imparts the secret of long life to the boy before banishing him onto the streets of Hai-Wan

 

The film has been described as a sensory experience rather than a narrative one and is an intense trip into a stunning visual and auditory dreamworld.

 

Steven Galvin caught up with director Alan Lambert to find out more about this unique colourful audio-visual experience.

 

How did The End Of The Earth Is My Home originally come about?

The origins of The End Of The Earth Is My Home go back quite a long way and have several inroads. Firstly I was making low-budget music videos and live visual mixes for Irish techno acts in the late nineties, but I was simultaneously doing most of my commercial artwork in Asia. So all of the footage I collected in China and Japan, which was all Super8 and Hi8, provided the backbone for my video work. After a few trips, and a lot of time spent in hotels in Shanghai, which was only just opening up to the West at the time and was undergoing massive reconstruction, I reckoned I could shape a film of some sort from the footage I already had if I set it in hotels and mostly at night. But I would need some sort of premise that would let me have a lot of my characters simply viewing all the outside action on screens in rooms. That would enable me to reshoot all my Super8 from TV monitors and shoot the actors in hotel rooms in Dublin. I also wanted to avoid the constraints of a shooting schedule. I wanted to be able to work on it bit by bit. So I needed a premise that could provide 3 or 4 distinct environments that could be mini-projects in themselves.

On the last Shanghai job, in ’98, I picked up a paperback copy of‘Monkey, and read it on the flight. Monkey is the legend of the Monkey King that we know better as the famous Japanese TV series Monkey Magic. It gave me everything I needed. The Buddhist world of the stories provided 3 separate time zones, with the differences in time between Heaven, Earth and the Underworld. The immortality of the characters gave me the freedom to move them around from one time zone to another without continuity problems. And the abstract nature of many of the environments that Monkey happens in – mountain plateaus, cloudbanks and so on – made it easy to translate the basic situations into dark hotel rooms.

As a director you take a very poetic approach to the material…

The poetic approach to the material comes partly from a very tangential method of adapting the material. Although I had referred to Sid Field’s famous script paradigm. I didn’t really want to go down the road of tackling a script head on as that wasn’t really where the project was coming from. So I took a much more holistic approach. I simply went through Monkey (and I added Dracula to it because I was reading it at the same time and it overlapped in many areas, particularly in terms of immortality) and I underlined anything that caught my attention and copied into a word document, without any notes or formatting. I then discarded the source material and regarded that wall of text as my first draft. On reading that, any thematic or stylistic threads that started to telegraph through I then identified as characters. Go through that a few times and then re-format it as a script and you will have something that works almost entirely as poetry. And the abstract nature of the environments I had already established lent themselves well to this oblique approach.

What influences were at play creating the film?

Apart from very obvious filmmakers like Kubrick, Lynch and Kurosawa, my main influences in terms of film are much more experimental. I’ve always loved re-cutting commercial films, making found-footage collages (which does touch on live visual mixing ) and one of my favourite experimental filmmakers would be Joseph Cornell. He made a wonderful, seminal experimental film called Rose Hobart, which is a Hollywood movie East of Borneo, but with all the action cut out. So, all you see is what precedes and follows the action – a door beginning to open, a shadow disappearing from a balcony. Watching it really heightens your awareness, you look at all the details instead. You also lose your sense of time because, like many experimental film practices, you are not given the normal cues that audiences are accustomed to in a commercial film that tell you how long to expect the film to be. In The End Of The Earth Is My Home I think I wanted to create something like that, a film which, although containing all of the above, would also give the viewer a sense that they were witnessing all this from a unique perspective. Almost like a film flipped on its back, wearing all its subtexts and stylistic devices on its sleeve with the main storyline submerged.

Can we talk a little about the international cast you use and the locations of Japan, Egypt and Dublin…

Yes, to backtrack a little bit –  what I have discussed above was the first incarnation of the project, around the turn of the millennium, which only resulted in 3 music videos. I actually then shelved it until 2010, by which time I had also expanded my commercial work, and experimental film curation work, to North Africa – Egypt in particular. With a bit of a break from the project, I had moved on from the Asian footage I had originally collected and felt that a more international mix was better, the source material was after all, changed beyond recognition. And as a visual artist I found the prospect of blending Far Eastern backgrounds with Middle Eastern ones irresistible. There were all kinds of little juxtapositions that I found interesting, like seeing a Japanese street but hearing an Arabic song on a radio – or seeing an Egyptian marketplace with a traditional Chinese Er-Hu playing somewhere in a side street. It does remind one of that other very obvious point of reference and classic hybrid, Blade Runner.

Junshi_Murakami_Teoteimh

Junshi Murakami

In terms of the cast, I was very happy with the cast I managed to assemble. They are all based in Ireland, or have Irish connections, but of course bring something of their own cultural background into the mix. Not all of the cast are professional actors, but they are all involved in the arts in a professional capacity so we were always able to find a common ground. Junshi Murakami and Mona Gamil are both performing artists, so I related to, and worked with them, in mainly visual terms. I found that they both moved very gracefully and their expressions were subtle but clear, and I built the shots around that quality.

Mona_Gamil_Teoteimh

Mona Gamil

Dominique Monot does a lot of voice-over work, and I gave him all the dramatic and romantic Bram Stoker dialogue – which perfectly suits his continental delivery. I gave him points of light beside his eyes, so even in the dark hotel room you can see where he is hovering as you hear the disembodied voice. Keshet Zur is also a performer and fine artist and I trusted her and actor Ademla Oladeji to get a chemistry of their own going as the younger generation of characters. But then in another more authoritative role, similar to Dominique’s character, I let Fionnuala Collins bring her own flare to the Police Chief, the only character that I thought it would be fun to make clearly Irish (in keeping with the Hollywood tradition that New York cops are Irish).

Dominique_Monot_Teoteimh

Dominique_Monot

Vicky Langan I probably trusted most of all to simply bring her stage presence as a performance artist into the mix, which she does, holding down the final dinner scene with a steady gaze. Some of the best portrait photography I’ve done in my career so far I think I achieved in this film, with the help of this particular cast.

Vicky_Langan_Teoteimh

Vicky Langan

The film was made on a super micro-budget, with funds raised entirely from a crowd-funding campaign, which you were one of the first to do – how did that work out?

That worked very well, it ran very smoothly. Everybody got their rewards and I only went over schedule by 3 months. The nicest thing about it now is that it has come back to me again and again that the funders did appreciate the film and funded it not only because they appreciated my project and wanted to support me, but because they also actually wanted to see the film. They liked the idea of it and they did watch it when they got it. So it works as funding and distribution all rolled into one.

Can you tell us a bit about the production techniques you used for the VFX sequences in the film?

Most of the artistic experience in my life so far I have acquired without computers, so I tend to try to solve problems in real space, not in software. So, although there is some green screen in The End Of The Earth Is My Home, most of what you’re looking at is achieved in camera – with back-projection, models, or just lighting and atmospheric sound. For example, there are scenes where you see Junshi Murakami ( the boy character, based on Monkey ) speeding through a tunnel on an unspecified vehicle (the cloud which Monkey flies around on). He is simply leaning forward towards a windscreen with the tunnel footage projected onto a screen in front of it, with hairdryers below the camera line blowing back into his hair, and I’m shooting it hand-held over his shoulder. When he looks back to see two bikes following him, they are static models, with small key-ring torches fitted inside them. They’re standing in front of a projected background and then I’m shooting it hand-held from a low angle and shaking the camera to create the impression of motion. In other sequences we see what appears to be a vehicle turning a corner in a psychedelic Chinese street. What you’re looking at is actually a simple matte technique ( achieved mostly digitally now ). A still of the street is simply printed out, the area of action cut out and then the same key-ring torch is shot through it and then recombined with the original shot. These are all simple photographic techniques that were practiced in studios for most of the last century – this is how the Méliès was making films in Paris over 100 years ago – and this is how Charlie Chaplin worked. Screens, lights, stands, cutting holes in things, turning the camera upside-down. In other words, Fun!

Filmmaking has to be fun!

Check out this video outlining some more of the VFX techniques:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0N5_wMwWVWw

The soundtrack is integral to the film’s experience  – how did you end up working with  European Sensoria Band on the film?

European Sensoria Band are Dave Carrol, Anto Carrol and Fergus Cullen. I knew Dave and Anto from their first band ‘Wormhole’ – we used to jam together and we had a joint release as the last release on the Dead Elvis label in 1999. I met up with the lads again around 2008, after they had formed ESB. We did another gig in The Shed, joined by Gavin Duffy from Thread Pulls. We improvised for about 2 hours and that reminded me of how well we had clicked years earlier and it really gave me the taste for more live stuff.

So, for the last DEAF festival in 2009 we did a similar improvised set in the basement of Filmbase (where I shot some of the film). This time we were joined by harpist Junshi Murakami, who wasn’t attached to my film yet. It was a great gig and Junshi’s presence, combined with some kind of zither type slide guitar contraption that either Gavin or Fergus had rigged up on stage, set Asian undertones and a vibe that was as oblique as a ‘Rose Hobart’ – and I came away thinking, I should just lay that gig down on the timeline of my editor intact and start to build the film on top of it, which is pretty much what I did.

The film is screening at the Triskel Arts Centre, Christchurch Cinema, Tobin St., Cork City – what are your future plans for the film?

Well, each time I’ve screened it so far it’s been a slightly different version, and each time it has been a different but equally ideal context. I was delighted to be able to Premiere it at Darklight last year, it was the perfect platform to launch it and they did a great job of integrating it into the VFX themes of last year’s festival. When it was invited to the Kerry Festival it was in the inflatable cinema, which really extended the atmosphere of the film out into the screening venue, with subtle Christmas tree style lighting across the arched ceiling over the screen. But the Cork screening will be the first screening of the newly finished sound-mix.

So, for the future, I have several discussions going in terms of international premiere, most likely an Eastern European screening in September, collaborator TBC ( and will probably involve some sub-titling ) or an NY premiere in early 2014, again, collaborators TBC.

But the most immediate next step is to do a 20 minute cut for Super-8, subtitled, for club and party screenings with live soundtracks, and to arrange another event in Dublin, perhaps in one of the haunts that spawned the project in the first place.

What other projects are you working on?

I want to keep the momentum going, and I want to build on both the crowdfunding model and the lo-fi VFX techniques. But now I’d like to make something less psychedelic and a little bit more drama driven. So, my next project is also a Sci-Fi, but it’s based on the possible future of climate change, and is loosely inspired by John Wyndham’s The Chrysalids.

It’s called Pushtar and is set in the Himalayas in 350 years time. I’ve started another crowdfunding campaign on Rockethub to run over the summer. I’d call it an environmental sci-fi.

 

You can find out more about Pushtar here:

http://www.rockethub.com/projects/26350-pushtar-an-environmental-sci-fi-film

You can watch the early music videos ( for D1 Recording artists ) at this link – just scroll down the page:

http://www.thearchiver.net/data/video/video.html

 

The End Of The Earth Is My Home is screening on Friday, 31st May 2013 – 6.30pm at the Triskel Arts Centre, Christchurch Cinema, Tobin St., Cork City.

For screening details and to book tickets, please visit:

 

http://triskelartscentre.ie/events/2339/the-end-of-the-earth-is-my-home/

 

Websites: TEOTEIMH: http://www.teoteimh.com / METAL DRAGON: http://www.metaldragon.net

 

NOTE:

THE CORK SCREENING IS IN COLLABORATION WITH BLACK SUN CINEMA AND IS ALSO SUPPORTED BY DUBLIN CITY COUNCIL

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Category: Exclusives, Featured, Interviews

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