In the short indie sci-fi film BLANK SHORES, writer/director Alex Kyrou and producer Clare Shields explore an emotional topic that audiences might not immediately associate with speculative fiction—how the loss of a child impacts parents. But as movies like ARRIVAL, novels like BORNE and shorts like BLANK SHORES prove out, science fiction provides a powerful lens for viewing our very human struggles.
We dug into the inspiration and making of BLANK SHORES with Alex and Clare, including a look at their Kickstarter campaign and their approach to filming. Here’s what they had to say about their moving, beautiful film.
You can view the Blank Shores trailer here.
RECURSOR: What drew you to creating a science fiction story to examine the issues you tackle in BLANK SHORES?
ALEX AND CLARE: We’ve always loved grounded science fiction, especially the ideas and concepts the genre can explore.
With BLANK SHORES, sci-fi allowed us scope to explore the human drama at the heart of the film. In the narrative, lo-fi technology is offered as a means to heal trauma, and this in turn allowed us to experiment with ethereal visuals that are a physical barrier between our characters.
What inspired this particular story about loss and mental health?
The story was inspired by some devastating losses experienced by members of our family and friends. This deeply affected us, and we wanted to shine a light on child loss and the subsequent effect on parent’s mental health.
We also wanted to spotlight male mental health and challenge notions of masculinity and gender stereotypes.
During production of the film, it became increasingly apparent that child loss was sadly a more regular occurrence than we had initially thought; it just wasn’t readily voiced.
Why are topics like grief and mental wellness so important to address in film?
Grief and mental wellness can feel like deeply personal things that are difficult to reveal in the public sphere. These topics are understandably hard to comprehend, but they are important because they are universal to us all.
Film narratives and characters highlighting these topics will only help remind audiences that they exist and are prevalent. Hopefully this will help keep the conversation going, reduce the associated stigma, generate more empathy and understanding, and help people feel less isolated.
How was the film funded? How did you create a successful Kickstarter campaign?
The majority of our funding came from the BFI Network Short Film Fund. Kickstarter helped us raise the rest of the required finance. It was our second Kickstarter campaign, so we were able to approach it differently after learning some vital lessons from the first.
Before launching the campaign, we knew the target goal was ambitious and would require a lot of planning. Soon after launching, we asked our friends, family, work colleagues, and old acquaintances to share the campaign via social media. Our co-producer, Wes Williams, really stepped up to the challenge during this period and was essential support in reaching people online. Occasionally we invested in sponsored posts to expand our reach even further.
We created a daily schedule for the campaign and incrementally shared details of the film such as profiles of our key cast and crew, production design images, and informative interviews with charities such as ‘Sands’ (a UK-based Stillbirth and Neonatal Death charity). Online articles helped drive traffic to our campaign, including one with Forbes.
We were also lucky to receive a Kickstarter ‘Project We Love’ endorsement, as well as support from people in the industry such as film director Dan Trachtenberg (Black Mirror, 10 Cloverfield Lane, The Boys) who later mentored the project.
Running a successful Kickstarter campaign is a full-time job; the effort and time commitment required is often underestimated. (You can read more about our experience from our first campaign here.) Kickstarter is an ‘all or nothing’ platform in terms of its funding model, the pressure of which can be quite daunting and something we consistently felt throughout (something that’s easier to face if you already have an online audience).
After running two Kickstarter campaigns, I’m not sure I would crowdfund again for film financing, as there are only so many times you can bother your friends and family. (Kickstarter, however, is great!)
The collaboration between director and producer is essential to a successful film. What are the key elements to a good collaboration?
As a husband (writer and director)-and-wife (producer) team, we are able to work together in a productive manner with rarely any arguments. It’s easy to let ego get in the way of the process, but we try and keep that in check when working together.
Something that is essential is that we share the same taste in films, and the same sensibilities with regards to filmmaking and how we collaborate with fellow cast and crew.
Filmmaking requires tenacity to reach your end goal. Blank Shores was a three-year process from the initial idea, through to financing, production, and the finished product. With that in mind, it’s important the director and producer collaboration is on the same page from day one; otherwise problems will surface later on.
Your daughter was born during the making of the film. How did that affect production?
The single biggest challenge of making this film was that Alex and I were expecting our first baby, Freya, in the middle of pre-production! Unexpectedly, we were awarded BFI funding at a time when we had almost given up hope that the film would get made, and so had moved on with our family plans. We had a tough decision regarding whether we should carry on with the film around the chaos, but ultimately we were concerned that if we didn’t proceed, the film might never get made and we might miss out later. Fortunately for us, family and friends stepped in to help with childcare.
We also added some extra members to the team to help with the workload: Cherrelle Redley Murrain, our superstar Production Manager, and a second Co-Producer, Charlie Fronzoni. It was one of the most difficult times of our life, but we did it and made a film that we are proud of.
What other challenges did you need to overcome during production?
First, our cinematographer had to leave the project due to scheduling conflicts quite close to principal photography. However, we discovered a fantastic cinematographer, Benjamin Wearing, who became a major asset to the film and someone we’re excited to collaborate with again.
Our exterior location (a stone pathway extending out to a tower in the sea) was one of the most challenging we have filmed on because the pathway was only accessible at low tide, and so we had very tight shooting windows before the tide swept in. On top of that, we discovered nearby quicksand!
One last major challenge was the arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic. We were in the midst of post-production when the nationwide lockdown stalled our film in its tracks. Our visual effects team (also a working couple with family) suddenly had childcare responsibilities to contend with on top of their full-time work (and work on our film), so the VFX were inevitably delayed. Other aspects of post-production including ADR, sound design, and the colour grade weren’t possible for another three months, so we had to be patient.
With all this in mind, we would like to thank our hard-working cast and crew, Thomas Wightman (our talent executive at ICO), the Independent Cinema Office, the British Film Institute, the National Lottery, Shoot You Ltd, our Kickstarter backers, those who read the endless script versions, those who critiqued the edits and visual effects, and finally everyone who looked after Freya.
What’s next for BLANK SHORES?
We recently started applying to film festivals for a premiere release, and would like the film to tour festivals for a year (likely in online form due to the pandemic). After the festival run, we plan to explore distribution, and ultimately release the film online on a curated website.
Ultimately, the plan is to develop BLANK SHORES into a feature length version. After producing the short film, we know that there are areas that we could explore further including detailing the characters’ backstory and potentially adding more conceptual layers.
Currently, Alex and I are attending several film development seminars hosted by the BFI in readiness for developing and writing a feature film script. We are also actively looking to collaborate with other screenwriters, whether that is on BLANK SHORES or a fresh script entirely.
Alex Kyrou (Writer/Director) has directed three short films that have screened at international film festivals. His “Blank Shores” screenplay won the Grand Prize in the Vortex Horror/Sci-Fi category at the Oscar- and BAFTA-affiliated Flickers’ Rhode Island International Screenplay Competition. Additionally, it was a finalist in the 2018 Global Script Challenge at the Oaxaca FilmFest. The screenplay was awarded funding by the BFI Network and attracted the attention of BAFTA-winning Georgina Campbell to play the leading role. The emotionally raw short film “White Awake” showcased at NewFilmmakers Los Angeles and the TriForce Film Festival in London, winning Best BAME Short Film and Best Cinematography in the FILMSshort competition. Attracted to visceral filmmaking, Alex is passionate about stories that explore mental health issues and outsider characters.
Clare Shields (Producer) is a film producer who has collaborated with several directors to produce short films that have a social message. “Blank Shores” explores child loss and mental health issues; “Pianist in a Brothel” observes a creative’s talent being overlooked; “Branded” highlights illegal African witchcraft practices in the UK; “Saving Light” reveals the trauma of bullying; “Crumble” shines a light on the enlisting of 16-year-olds into the UK armed forces; and “White Awake” delves into an adult’s childhood trauma. All six shorts have garnered industry recognition and between them have featured at notable festivals such as Flickers’ Rhode Island International Film Festival, Holly Shorts, the London Short Film Festival and Leeds International Film Festival.