MCM Birmingham Comic Con saw writer and director Tom Paton introduce a panel for his upcoming action horror film Black Site. He was joined by cast members Alana Wallace, Angela Dixon, Samantha Schnitzler, Mike Beckingham and Phoebe Robinson-Galvin.
The film tells the story of Ren Reid (Samantha Schnitzler), orphaned as a child when a member of an ancient race known as The Elder Gods killed her parents. 20 years later and a fractured Ren now works for Artemis, an organisation set up to contain and then deport these entities back to where they came from. When the Elder God responsible for killing Ren’s parents is caught and brought to The Black Site for deportation, Ren decides to partner with an unlikely ally as the last line of defence against a wave of worshippers hell-bent on releasing their deity back into the world.
The panel began with the trailer for film played to the audience.
Asked on where the idea came from, Tom explained that his original idea was a film set in a prison that housed Lovecraftian monsters. “It evolved from there and it became this government black site where they deport Lovecraftian creatures back to the dimension they come from,” said Tom, describing his film as Lovecraft meets The Raid, with a John Carpenter vibe.
The cast were then asked what their first impressions were upon seeing the script. Mike explained how he had worked on Tom’s previous film Redwood and that Tom had essentially written the part of Sam Levy in Black Site with him in mind, a character he described as “the human element in this very brilliant story.”
“I fell in love with the script and the character,” said Samantha, who plays Ren Reid. “Sometimes you’re lucky enough to be considered for a character that feels like it’s kind of been written for you.”
Angela said that Tom was “really mean” because he initially only sent her the first 48 pages of the script, which really grabbed her. “You hope and pray that you get the rest sent to you,” said Angela. “One of the many things that’s fantastic about this film is that there are so many strong female roles in it.” She exemplified this by describing her character Jennifer Wilkinson as “the auntie” of the site and a “tough cookie”.
Alana said that she also initially received the first 48 pages of the script. “The way Tom writes his scripts is a lot more in-depth and a lot more beautiful than a lot of writers and directors write their scripts,” said Alana, who plays Helen Reid, Ren’s mother.
Phoebe explained that she had been working as a stunt woman for a couple of years and heard that a part was available for a female with a martial arts background. “It was one of the first acting opportunities I had,” she said, describing her character Ker as, “really dark, gritty, layered,” and that it was “so fun to play something so evil and twisted.” She revealed that Tom also gave her creative freedom and this meant collaborating with the stunt team, as well as being able to do all of her own stunts.
Tom then expanded on this, saying, “It was very important to have female actors that can do their own stunts.” Of the action itself, he said, “When Samantha and Phoebe are fighting on screen, it’s vicious, it feels real and it’s tangible.” Samantha and Phoebe shared a knowing glance and both nodded in agreement. “Whenever you get female-driven action films, the villain tends to be male and that tends to be the final fight,” explained Tom. “I feel like we’ve kind of rewritten the rulebook on that. We just made a film about people. Some of them happen to be women and two of them lead the movie.”
As talk turned to the location, Tom explained that they filmed at the Drakelow Tunnels and joked that it was “the coldest place on Earth.”
“It was generally really cold, generally really dark and generally really atmospheric,” said Mike on how the location enhanced his performance. “The less you can imagine, the more you’re in that environment, and within that universe.”
Anglea revealed that she suffered from the cold the most, saying “My brain shut down and my jaw locked. I had a winter coat with me, but I had to borrow Tom’s ski jacket.” She also mentioned how there were hot water bottles on standby, which they would grab as soon as Tom yelled ‘cut’.
When asked about their favourite part when working on the film, Angela answered, “The way that the team worked together, and the way that the atmosphere on set was about facing any challenges positively.” Of the latter Angela gave an example, citing how Tom was unable to film the last scene as originally intended because some people didn’t want them to film near them. So Tom quickly changed plans and shot the scene on the other side of the tunnels, a scene which Angela described as “way better.”
Similarly, Alana said how her scenes are in a “gorgeous house,” and needed to be shot at night. But they were racing against the sun rising. “To get that shot quickly, Tom made really quick decisions on how to get it,” said Alana. “That was really exciting as an actress.”
Phoebe mentioned that she already knew Samantha, but the two of them got closer during filming. “I felt extremely privileged to have been brought into an environment that I was completely accepted in, and encouraged to be exactly who I was,” said Phoebe. That it was her first acting role, she didn’t feel like the rest of the cast were looking down on her. “Angela became a very important person for me. She really encouraged me as an actress, and I felt a lot of self-belief by the team.”
“Working with Tom again was one my highlights,” said Mike, who went on to praise his fellow female cast members, calling them, “absolutely kick-ass.”
Samantha described her time on the film as, “the most fun I’ve ever had on any set.” She went on to say how every day was extremely enjoyable and how most of that was down to Tom setting the atmosphere.
Tom did not list his favourite moments during the making of the film, but the most bizarre. One of which involved turning up late to shoot his film, because he ended up having help the owner of the manor house they were staying at by rounding up her sheep that had escaped. “I had to chase around these sheep with this old lady,” said Tom. “Sheep do not want to do as they’re told! They’re tough! I’m getting phoned by George [Burt], the producer, like, ‘Where are you? We got to start shooting in five minutes.’ I was like, ‘I’m a bit busy right now, I’ve got sheep.’ I was about an hour late to set, but we did save all the sheep.”
Given the camaraderie with the cast and their director, they were then asked how long it took for that to come into effect. “This is my third movie and you learn from every film,” said Tom as he explained how one of the things he really wanted was for everybody to get along, and so he spent longer than usual involved in the casting process with the casting director. “Trying to build a team of people that I knew would get along; I was trying to employ people rather than cast them. I think it’s something I’ll do on every movie now because the results speak for themselves.” He also noted that he went out of his way to find actors that were “on the verge of being much more,” describing how his cast are on the cusp of much bigger things.
Before the panel came to a close Tom said that Black Site will be released in 2018, and there may be a special screening at a future MCM convention.